a spot of shameless self-promotion

My article on ‘non-combative apologetics’ came out in the May issue of The Briefing.

It’s not (yet?) available online. So you’ll have to get hold of a print copy of the magazine.

Here’s a teaser:

I am not suggesting that we give up on trying to pepper our conversations with incisive, Christ-centred content — especially in responding to any questions or objections to faith that get thrown our way. Nor am I suggesting that it’s wrong to put effort into relating well to inquirers — even hostile inquirers. It is not wrong to be credible, appealing, or winsome. Rather, it’s about where our primary focus is. Is it on proving ourselves before others (either by ‘winning’ every argument or by so desperately striving to be ‘winsome’ that we may even let go of our Christian integrity, fear of God, and consistency)? Or is it on pleasing and honouring our Lord?

In other words, if we want Christian apologetics to be genuinely Christian then we need to do some work on our hearts.

In the article, I argue that this change of heart will become visible in a non-combative approach to our conversations about Jesus. An approach which promises to be less polarising and more fruitful.

Of course, this still names more of an aspiration than a lived reality for me. (I tend to pendulum swing between Full-On Combative at one extreme and Avoidance Rather Than Apologetic Engagement at the other.)

But I’m more and more convinced that it’s part of a deeper and wider need to reform our Christian engagement with culture — ensuring that it is actually Christian.


A friend of mine recently retweeted this (yes – I’ve joined Twitter!):

“There’s a life outside the internet. Hang on, I’ll send you the link.”

This life outside the internet has pretty much totally derailed any attempt to post here lately.

But there’s plenty of stuff brewing. Here are just a few of my current projects:

  1. Trying to figure out some spiritual translations of the best ‘hacks’ from the world of time management, productivity, and getting things done.
  2. Working out how the gospel should shape evangelism — not only in terms of what we say but how we say it (drawing on Bonhoeffer and Family Systems Theory).
  3. Preparing to venture some risky thoughts about biblical ethics, marriage, and sexuality.
  4. And attempting to put into words some misgivings I’ve begun to develop about the traditional evangelical emphasis on ‘conversion’.

Hopefully some of these will make it out of draft in the not-too-distant future. I’m looking forward to resuming the conversation!

the burnt toast syndrome

Is it just me or are all toasters pretty much designed to either undercook your toast first time down — and then overcook it the second time around?

We just replaced our toaster. Our old one did it. And our new one does it too.

Unless you hover attentively throughout the second cooking cycle, it inevitably emerges as burnt toast.

As the smoke rose from the charred wreckage the other morning, I had this thought:

The ‘burnt toast syndrome’ more or less accurately describes how things seem to go with me in life and ministry.

Hmmmm… What do I mean by this?

Well, things never seem to go that well the first time I do something new — or that I implement a new ministry initiative.

I may be convinced that it’s right or addresses weakness in how things currently stand or whatever. But that doesn’t guarantee that it’ll work well straight away. There’s often a lag as I learn the ins and outs of the new thing — and sometimes discover unanticipated downsides that need to be mitigated against.

But, assuming I don’t want to make do with the equivalent of a piece of underdone toast, I’ll usually have another go a it — better armed this time with a sense of the probable outcome and the challenges along the way.

However, my tendency (as it is with the toaster) is to be less attentive the second time around. I get too confident and start trying to multitask with a bunch of other things. And, well … once again I’m contending with charred wreckage.

Let me give you an example of this from the campus ministry I’m part of.

Last year we made a pretty major structural change in our campus ministry — we moved from an ‘in house’ training meeting (with dinner) + ‘front door’ lunchtime public meeting + decentralised small group structure to a single public meeting with dinner and small groups + an ‘in house’ lunchtime training meeting.

There were some good reasons to make this move. We’d hoped to capitalise on the way the evening training meeting with dinner included had begun to function as our main community hub — and even the ‘front door’ for many people getting connected to our group and exploring Christianity. It was also supposed to help us address some pathologies that had developed in the way we were doing things.

But it didn’t go as well as we’d hoped. As well as requiring us to get the hang of a new way of doing things, there were some unanticipated drawbacks to the way we structured the ministry (alongside some pretty major gains, it must be said!).

So, with a slight twist of the dial here and a more major correction there (we’re bringing back mid-week, decentralised small groups — rebaptised as missional disciple-making teams), we’re ready to pop it down for a second cycle.

The only problem is, we risk inattentiveness at this point. And we really can’t afford to fall victim to the burnt toast syndrome!

one for the coffee lovers

If I was more pretentious, I might say that blogging at its best is like a good shot of espresso. Short. Sharp. A perfect balance of syrupy, mouth-filling oomph and that lingering subtle perfume and complexity — with hints of red apple sweetness or whatever.

But really that would just be an excuse for pointing out that blogging has a kind of ebb and flow — a lot like coffee fashions.

While sometimes requiring an almost medieval-looking apparatus, alternative brewing methods (pourover, cold drip, syphon, aeropress) have been ascendant here in Melbourne for the last couple of years. So much so that many coffee houses are now using lighter roasts in their blends — which are much better suited for these other brewing methods but kind of lame in espresso form (particularly if you take your coffee with milk).

And I’m beginning to sense a similar shift in some of the blogs I read.

On the one hand, there’s an increasing lightness — a willingness to dive in and even distribute before ideas are fully roasted. On the other hand, posts are becoming longer. And thrusting complexity and subtlety to the fore rather than simply trying to land the grab-you-by-the-scruff-of-your-neck-shake-you-and-wake-you-up punch that I’m used to.

(I guess this is part of what I’m trying to do with my Alice In Wonderland series — to which I promise to return … when it’s had enough time to brew.)

Again like with coffee, the rewards can be substantial but the consuming of this new wave blogging requires patience — and an adjusted palate. You’ve got to give up on cookie-cutter perfection for one thing. And start to really embrace process.

And you know what? I think I kind of like it…

come with me down the rabbit hole…

Photograph by Jenny Ihn (detail of a work in progress)

Photograph by Jenny Ihn (detail of a work in progress)

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve sort of disappeared underground lately.

And I’m not just talking about the past few weeks. In reality, I’ve been gone for months — hoping to distract everyone (myself included) from this fact by chucking a half-baked post up here and a rambling collection of thoughts there.

Instead of explaining or trying to excuse my absence, I’d like to invite you to come with me down the rabbit hole I’ve fallen into.

But be warned! Things down here are a little bit awkward. The proportions are outlandish and kind of dizzying — you never seem to know if you’re too big or too small. And you may well be surprised by some of its denizens…

To cut to the chase, James K. A. Smith’s 2012 New College lectures — which you can download and listen to HERE — have helped me bring into sharp focus something I’ve been catching blurry glimpses of for the last 18 months:

Right theology (or, more broadly, an integrated Christian worldview) isn’t an end in itself; it’s got to open out onto right worship — in action as well as adoration.

Sounds simple. Uncontroversial even.

But the impact of taking this insight seriously… The alien light it throws on everything I’ve learnt… The dissatisfaction it has instilled in me when it comes to my otherwise perfectly serviceable preaching and Bible teaching…

It’s massive.

I’d love you to join me on the adventure!

catching up with reality

You’ve no doubt noticed that the pace of posting has slowed down here lately. Long gone are the days of one (and sometimes two) posts a day. Now one or two a week feels like a stretch!

What’s changed?

Well, I guess you could say I’m finally catching up with reality.

You see, about seven and a half months ago my life was invaded by the most charming, beautiful, absorbing, and fascinating little person — my son, Benjamin. And my reality changed. Forever. (For the better.)

Since then, I’ve been playing catch-up. My schedule, plans, and expectations — about how much energy I have, how productive I can be, etc — keep needing to be adjusted. Downwards.

I’ve resisted it, of course. Kicking and screaming at every turn. Swinging erratically between denying I need to adjust at all and feeling crushed by my sense of inadequacy.

But the new reality keeps pressing it’s claim. And, while I don’t want to speak too soon, I think I’m finally responding.

This dynamic isn’t unique to new parents, mind you. I experienced a version of it when I first got married — my experience and expectations took a while to catch up with that new reality too.

And every Christian experiences it throughout our days as we wait for Christ’s return.

We’re swept up in the new creation, the new humanity God’s launched in Jesus. In him there’s a new reality.

Like Ephesians 2 reminds us, we were dead in sin, subject to the evil one, objects of wrath, strangers to God, at war with him and his purposes. But now things have changed. Because of what God’s done through Jesus everything is different.

But we’re all still catching up with the reality. Fighting it. Denying it. Falteringly recognising and embracing it. Regretting how far short of it we keep falling. And occasionally, by the mercy of God, reveling in it.

Thank God he’s so patient with us!

we got reviewed!

Cuba Gallery: Urban / Lightroom preset rose vogue / city / umbrella / reflection / walking / rain

From Cuba Gallery (on Flickr)

A couple of weeks ago, our friend Carla gave a very flattering review of this blog on Hope 103.2FM.

Natalie and I really enjoyed the process of answering Carla’s questions. It helped clarify our sense of what we think we’re doing here — and what kind of conversations we’re hoping to foster.

We also appreciated the way Carla graciously reframed our (extreme) nerdiness in terms of ‘not dumbing down’ the good news as we reflect on stuff in this world that Jesus lays claim to.

At the risk of creating a universe-ending infinite regress or whatever, here’s a podcast of the review.

So thanks again, Carla!

is this the end of theoblogging?

I’ve noticed something recently — perhaps you have too: the pace of theoblogging seems to have slowed … significantly.

Maybe it’s only the blogs I check regularly. Michael Jensen is still prolific — it’s just that The Blogging Parson isn’t really where the action is any more. Ben Myers only seems to post once or twice a week (although the quality and lyricism of his recent writing has occasionally moved me to tears). I’ve hardly heard a peep out of Halden for weeks. And don’t even get me started on the pastors who’ve hit the brakes on blogging!

So what’s the elephant in the (virtual) room of theoblogging? What — if anything — has changed?

Now I’m not sure there’s a generalisable explanation (or that I’m even on the money with what I’m observing). Although, I have been pondering whether, beyond the loyalty of readers who’ll follow a blogger wherever they go, there might be something intrinsically project-related about blogging. I’m certainly familiar with the nexus that forms between the interests I happen to have when I scan through whatever lands in my RSS reader in the morning and the bloggers who hold my attention.

I’ve also observed that the discussion-generating function that theoblogging can sometimes serve (and, to be honest, that’s more than half the thrill of it!) gets satisfied in different ways these days. Several people I know use Facebook to workshop in hours the sort of thing that may have taken days with a blog post (or maybe never even got going). Shifting over to Facebook has its costs — things tend to be briefer and less subtle. But there are obvious rewards too. For instance, by starting with just your ‘friends’, you decrease the chance of a troll hijacking the conversation.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that news of theoblogging’s demise has been greatly exaggerated. But I wonder if the current slowdown might afford an opportunity to refocus on the ‘end’ of theoblogging in another sense — namely, its aim or goal.

Let me throw it over to you: If Facebook takes over some of what theoblogging used to do, what’s it still good for? Why do you read (or write) posts that have to do with theology?

To get the ball rolling, let me share how there’s something about the public and ‘occasional’ nature of theoblogging that helps me get outside my own head.

A recent Copyblogger post suggests that looking outside your own head is a great way to generate content for your blog (and then, in characteristic style, bullet-points 50 ways to do it). But apart from this strategic imperative, I find profound ethical reasons for valuing what emerges from the attempt to maintain a theologically-informed conversation about life and ministry in public.

All of which is a long way of saying that with a new 0.4 job taking me to a full complement of working days each week, there may be some changes around here too!

why I think Cezanne would have been a blogger

Rodin's Eve

Chris and I went to see the European Masters exhibition at the NGV on Sunday. It’s a fabulous, and diverse, collection of work from European painters of the late 19th and early 20th Century well worth going to see if you get the chance.

The exhibition charts the transition from works you might describe as Neo-Classical, through the Romantic movement, Impressionism and towards Modernism.

I was fascinated by the way the curators described the ethic of Impressionism.

Rodin’s Eve was described as being a pivotal moment for the sculptor — his model became pregnant before he’d finished, so he just stopped and exhibited it in (what would have been considered) its incomplete state. Similarly, early Impressionist painters were exhibiting work that resembled plein air studies — the types of thing artists might previously have taken back to the studio to assist with a more detailed and time-intesive work. They were quick, emotional responses to landscape. And it was a revolution dependent on technology; it was only in the late 19th century that they put paint into tubes freeing artists to work outside the studio.

So, compared to more classical art forms, Impressionism is quick, it’s emotional, it’s ‘unfinished’ by the standards of the time, and it’s driven by new innovations in technology. Sounds a lot like blogging to me!

drumroll for the (new) blogroll…

One of the coolest record stores Natalie and I ever visited (yes, we still buy our music in hard copy — consider us old school), categorised its CDs along the following lines:

  1. Things you probably know about
  2. Things you might know about
  3. Things you don’t know about (but probably should)

I suppose it was especially gratifying was to see how many CDs in the third category we already owned!

In a similar vein, we’d like to unveil our new blogroll (we haven’t had one for a while — to our shame). Drumroll please…

People we know (or have at least met):

Other stuff we read: