Sunday, October 26, 2008

billboards and parables

When I first saw the billboards from the Green Party I thought immediately of worms.

Two NZ-elections ago the 'worm' was the difference-maker. The leaders of all the political parties participated in debates and the audience responded as they listened and this response took the form of worms crawling across our screens. The main beneficiary was the leader of a minor party (Peter Dunne - United Future) and he carried this momentum into polling day and Parliament was changed.

These billboards from the Greens are the difference-makers in 2008. They are simple. They are clear.

And in the company which they keep, surrounded as they are by air-brushed politicians with impossibly happy smiles, they are so subversive.

I am pleased to see effective billboards getting so much attention at the moment as they form a big part of where my own thesis is headed...

Take a look at the old Engel Scale for a moment. It maps the spiritual decision process through various stages.

Now take closer look. Do you see how there is a column for God's Role and a column for the Communicator's Role? And do you see how the Communicator's Role kicks in at -7? Do you see that empty space next to -8? Does the Scale think there isn't a role for communicators at this stage?

It is filling that empty space that has intrigued me for almost twenty years. It is a space that is out-of-reach of the preaching ministry of the church (to which I am committed from -7 through to +3 and beyond). It is a public space. It is a space which increasing numbers of people in NZ occupy. How can this space be filled with meaningful communication? I am not sure the soap-box and the bumper-sticker and the TV preacher is quite the way forward. Shouting louder just ain't goin' to cut it...

I am making a case for the literary form we know as the parable to be the inspiration for a response. Over the last century the parable has been understood (almost in this order) as a narrative, comparative, secular, paradoxical, occasional, polemical, oral, fictional, artistic, brief, subversive and political text.

I reckon - when you soak in these features - I reckon that two of the communicative analogies of this ancient literary form in 2008 are the editorial cartoon (which Ken Bailey once acknowledged in passing) ... and the billboard.

With the latter I am pleading for churches to use the public space outside their facilities more creatively. Stop the soap-boxing. Stop the inane cliches. Research what people resistant to the gospel and to the church are thinking. Hear their perceptions and their criticisms. I would start with the books by Tim Keller and David Kinnaman . But why not survey your community as well? Then get your artists and your thinkers together and start playing with ideas and images... Make the billboard outside your church a topic of intriguing conversation.

If a whole bunch of churches could be as simple and as clear and as subversive as the Greens we might re-discover the parabolic in our own day and watch numbers of people move from -8 to -7, nudging them closer to the gospel. It might well be a difference-maker.

"That's why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge people toward receptive insight." (Jesus, Matthew 13:12 in The Message)

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

the next generation

The children have given me the permission to re-post this link.

They had been watching a TV preacher go on about fatherhood and then digress to speak about how God wants us to own multiple houses ... and so on a lazy afternoon on Waipu Beach with too much time on their hands, they decided to have a go as well - and with a single take and minimal editing this is what they produced.

Click here to enjoy the next generation of prosperity doctrine preaching.

nice chatting


Sunday, October 19, 2008

ethics times four

Political elections are in the air. Both in the USA & here in NZ. I am wrestling with what I always wrestle in these seasons. Ethics. Neither the Right nor the Left is ever totally compelling for me. This is frustrating. Four documents are open in front of me to help guide me.

(a) One is the perennial best-seller from John Stott entitled Issues Facing Christians Today. There have been editions from 1984, 1990, 1999 - and now 2006. [NB - While I have this latest edition, I regret getting rid of the earlier editions as a study of the changes and revisions over the years would be fascinating.]
Here are the topics listed in the 2006 Table of Contents:
GLOBAL: War and Peace; Caring for Creation; Living with Global Poverty; Human Rights.
SOCIAL: the World of Work; Business Relationships; Celebrating Ethnic Diversity; Simplicity-Generosity-Contentment.
PERSONAL: Women, Men and God; Marriage, Cohabitation and Divorce; Abortion and Euthanasia; the New Biotechnology; Same-Sex Relationships.

(b) Then there is Samuel Waje Kunhiyop's African Christian Ethics (Hippo/Zondervan, 2008). As we might expect, the Table of Contents changes a little bit!
POLITICAL: Church and State, War and Violence, Strikes.
FINANCIAL: Poverty; Corruption; Fund-raising
MARRIAGE & FAMILY: Procreation and Infertility; Reproductive Technologies; Contraception; Polygamy; Domestic Violence; Divorce and Remarriage; Widows and Orphans.
SEXUAL: Rape; Incest; Prostitution and Sex-Trafficking; Female Circumcision; Homosexuality.
MEDICAL: HIV/Aids; Abortion; Euthanasia and Infanticide; Strikes and Medical Services; Drugs and Alcohol Abuse.
RELIGIOUS: Witchcraft

(c) Then there is just the Table of Contents of a book I saw over the weekend. I've read some reviews and it is climbing my 'must-read' list very quickly. Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths (IVP, 2008).
While maybe not a book directly on ethics, the Table of Contents does raise ethical issues:
Terrorism, Religious Violence, Human Rights, Multi-culturalism, Science, Post-colonialism.

(d) Then I turn my attention to a document produced by FamilyFirst(NZ) which reveals how every current NZ parliamentarian has voted on a range of family-related ethical issues. I congratulate them on doing some homework and putting a document like this into the public domain. For the record, their 'table of contents' (sort of?!) looks like this:
The Pro-Family Vote opposes recent legislation/policy on Prostitution, Civil Unions, Relationships Bill, Euthanasia Bill, Care of Children Act, Anti-Smacking Law.
The Pro-Family Vote supports recent legislation/policy on Parental Notification, Marriage Ammendment Bill, Drinking Age (raising it).

As I try to vote sensibly, let me try and articulate my frustrations (and leave you the opportunity to add yours).

1. I do not respond well to being told what the Pro-Family vote looks like.

2. While the word 'Christian' is absent from the document, for the vast majority of NZers this document will be perceived to be the Christian perspective. We must acknowldege this. Even though I myself am sympathetic to most of their positions on things, the disturbing conclusion to draw is that to be Pro-Family is to be right-of-centre politically (with very little exception). Really?!

3. So my biggest frustration is not with what is here, but with what isn't here. That is why I listed the other books first. For example, why are money-related issues not mentioned in this FamilyFirst document? Surely a big part of being pro-family in today's world is related to the use and abuse of money? Just look at the greed at work behind the current global financial meltdown. Is that not an ethical issue of equal concern to families?
Then what about issues related to the environment? The most compelling billboards here in NZ are those from the Green Party where across photos of the earth (and also little children!) are written the words 'vote for me'. Is this not a pro-family approach?

4. I do not think God looks down from his heaven and pays much attention to nation-states and the boundary lines that separate one from the other. His heart is for all the peoples of the world and mine should be the same. Somehow ... somewhere ... sometime ... the policies we advocate should put families first not just in NZ but in the countries of Africa (as one example) and this means taking their ethical issues more seriously.

Enuf - far too much, in fact - from me


Monday, October 13, 2008


I love this time of the year. I am an early riser and enjoy going to my little study on the first floor. It used to be the walk-in closet off a bedroom.

I love having Concert FM accompanying me in the background. Then as 6am approaches the classical music seamlessly and gradually fades away to be replaced by indigenous NZ birds singing. It kinda happens without you noticing...

Outside my window is a kowhai tree in full flower at this time of the year. The blossom is not yellow, it is gold. The NZ tui (bellbird) lives amongst its flowers. Let me tell you - 'bell bird' is a most suitable name!

Once or twice a year, as 6am approaches, I will hear the tui on the radio inside and then there is this delightful resonance with the tui in the kowhai tree outside. It sounds like I am hearing it in stereo...

To me it speaks of the way God guides. The music from within, in my inner and subjective world, needs to resonate with the music from the outside, in that outer and objective world. To enjoy that resonance is one of God's most gracious activities in our lives.

It is a lot like Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire and that classic line: "When I run, I feel God's pleasure". The tui inside him was singing and he was so confident that there was a tui beyond that was singing too. The resonance became compelling for him.

I wonder if it is a bit like "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." Because as we delight ourselves in Him, a transformation in our desires seems to take place - and His desires become our desires (and maybe even vice versa!). The resonance becomes compelling for us.

nice chatting


Friday, October 10, 2008

the best bit of new zealand

The research and publication profile of Carey Baptist College has just reached new heights - well, new sights anyway. The other night Mike Crudge held a book launch for his new book, Abel Tasman Coastal Track: the best bit of New Zealand.

So much of what I have enjoyed about Mike over the years comes through in this book. Firstly, his talent. Here it is his exquisite photography that is on display. Secondly, his entrepreneurial flair. He put this entire project together on his laptop - and the product is both professional and contemporary, just as I would expect from him. Then there is his love for people. Every summer for ten years he has taken people to walk the Abel Tasman with him, introducing them to the 'best bit' of NZ with his own brand of gracious hospitality. Our family were the beneficiaries in 2007. Finally, there is Mike's delight in the creation which God has asked us to steward, a task at which we tend to be very average.

Order your copies (NZD17 + postage) from this website.

While it will be the ideal Christmas present in 2008, I reckon they'll be making coffee tables to put under it in 2009!

nice chatting


Saturday, October 04, 2008

in london with langham

While I don't commence employment until 1st April the powers-that-be encouraged me to attend the annual International Council meetings of Langham Partnership International in London this past week. There were many highlights...

I loved attending All Souls, Langham Place on the Sunday (my birthday!) before the meetings started. This is where John Stott has been a minister for decades and the organisation takes its name from this 'place'. A worship-filled service sparked by a masterly biblical/topical sermon from Mark Meynell on 'What gives you a monopoly on the truth?' (ANS: A. We don't ... but B. We know Someone who does) - to which you can listen here - will live on in my memory.

Located outside All Souls was a panel advertising some upcoming evangelistic activities. I was fascinated by a "warning" right at the bottom of the panel. It looked like this:

The warning states: "Guest events contain Christian content". Interesting?! I have had an enduring concern that our community-bridging activities here in NZ can be a bit shy about having a clear evangelistic purpose guiding them. My mind goes to the research done recently exploring the perceptions of the 'unchurched' attending a selection of one of our well-attended community-bridging franchises. As I remember it, 65% of these 'unchurched' people were open and keen to hear more about why host churches were doing what they were doing - thereby opening the door to gentle, but more intentional, evangelism. That is a very high percentage. Maybe we might not lose as many people as we think...and maybe there is too much emphasis on grace and salt and not enough on truth and light...

To hear again the Langham Logic, first espoused by John Stott, was as compelling as ever. The logic moves from the Problem and the three Convictions to the Question and the three Strategies.

The Problem facing the church in the Majority World is one of growth without depth.
The three Convictions which shape a response are 1. God wants the church to grow up in maturity; 2. God's church grows through God's Word; and 3. God's Word comes primarily (but not exclusively) through preaching.
This then provokes an obvious Question: what can we do to raise the standard of biblical preaching?
The answer is found in three Strategies: 1. Langham Scholars, providing scholarships for teachers and leaders to gain doctorates before returning home to key positions in places like theological colleges; 2. Langham Literature, providing books for pastors, students and libraries - but also empowering and multiplying indigenous literature, writers, and publishers; and 3. Langham Preaching, developing biblical preaching movements in the countries of the majority world.

Other highlights revolved around these Strategies...
At one point a newsletter circulated and as I turned the pages I came across a full A5 sized spread listing all the Langham Scholars (by country) that there have ever been - 282 of them! It was breath-taking... This has been going on quietly for 30 years and now the impact is being felt. Just imagine the ripples of influence that can flow from each one of these men and women. I hope it won't be long before NZ joins the party and has some Langham Scholars studying among us.

Once back home, these Scholars have the capacity to take publishing initiatives like the remarkable Africa Bible Commentary where Africans have provided the scholarship with commentary on the text as well as articles on the context.

This has sold so well that it has enabled Langham Literature to make a splash with Hippo Books as an indigenous African publisher whose books are distributed through Zondervan. And now South Asia and Latin America are lining up to do their regional commentaries as well. Just inspirational.

Increasingly the Scholars are initiating and the Literature is resourcing the work of Langham Preaching, now active in 50 countries. This is where I will be working as Associate Director alongside Jonathan Lamb. I will have some responsibility for Asia and the Pacific (with visits to Thailand, Solomon Islands, Hong Kong, Pakistan, India... already in the diary for 2009) as well as working with the trainers worldwide to develop a consistent curriculum that can guide us all. Pretty cool, eh?!

There are huge challenges facing Langham. Using the direct link to its Founder (John Stott) becomes less useful as a generation emerges who have not heard of him. And the current global financial crisis can feel ominous in an organisation which is so dependent on the generosity of Americans. With Langham commencing in NZ just this past March, I am praying that NZers will catch a vision for this remarkable work and begin to share in the financial responsibility to keep it growing.

The meetings were held at Farnham Castle built by William the Conqueror's grandson and the oldest building in Southeast England with continuous inhabitants - and only 15mins drive to Jane Austen's home to which I made a pilgrimage and spent too much money buying gifts for the women in the family.

I did manage to read The Shack while I was away - a topic to which I will return soon I suspect! I haven't read all the reviews and blogs (although I've heard people talk about them) but I reckon a lot of Christians need to chill out, get a life and enjoy the book for what it is and not for what it isn't. I applaud our theologian at Carey, Myk Habets, for deciding to make it a required text for one of his classes in 2009. They are going to have some great debates!

Oh dear, I couldn't quite make it to TEN.
Never mind. You've done well to get this far :)

nice chatting

Paul Windsor