Sunday, July 26, 2009

narcissism and more

Here in New Zealand we have been watching in disbelief as a case makes its way through the courts.

Having inflicted 216 stab wounds in killing his student/girlfriend, a young university lecturer occupied the witness stand for days as he defended his actions in an effort to gain a 'manslaughter' conviction, rather than a 'murder' one. Read about it here and here and here.

A crucial part of the debate revolved around the assertion that he suffered from a narcissistic personality disorder - and that this somehow excused his actions to the degree that manslaughter, rather than murder, could be the conviction.

He failed.

However it has been heartening to see narcissism in the headlines. These "-ism" words are so useful. They speak of worldviews. The invisible roots which provoke the visible behaviour in society. Hardly ever discussed and rarely ever seen. Integral to Christian mission is the need to surface these worldviews, to be distressed by their influence, and then to engage them. That is why it has been good to see narcissism in the headlines. The unspoken has been spoken.

It is interesting to listen to Christians speak of the "-isms" which concern them the most. Humanism? Secularism? Consumerism? Maybe even postmodernism? Yep. All of the above. But I wonder if there are a Deeper Four:

Naturalism. The defiant slamming of the door in God's face. The cosmos, the creation 'is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be' (Carl Sagan). God is shut-out from his creation. Life is lived 'under-a-lid' (Brian Smith). God is left out of history. There is no Mind behind it all. This "-ism" owns the university.

Pluralism. The global culture has arrived and pluralism is its first principle and essential lubricant. It is the air we breathe, the reigning assumption at work in popular culture. Tolerance replaces truth (which was just a cover for power and its abuse anyway). There are oh-so-many beliefs and values out there and each one has an equally viable and valuable place in the marketplace of ideas. Go on - sit down to the sumptuous belief buffet and feast.

Narcissism. Life is lived by looking in a mirror at myself, rather than through a window at the world. It is all about a soaking in the self until totally self-absorbed. Everything that happens in the world is viewed from the perspective of how it impacts me. It is 'self-centeredness elevated to an unrecognized principle of interpretation' (DA Carson).
[A later article in the paper develops this further]

Technicism. Ellul had his concerns about 'technique'. Postman has his about a technopoly. 'The prophecy of technicism is simple: If it can be done, it will be done ... the ethics of technicism follows immediately: If it can be done, it should be done. In fact, doing it constitutes progress' (James Sire). This cultivates a hope that technology will be the means of solving the world's ills.

These are the tap roots which need to be surfaced. These are the idols over which I feel the most distress. They cause far more pain than any one recognises. The response? Well - there are Deeper Truths that match these Deeper Roots. You fnd them in that most relevant and practical piece of literature, the systematic theology textbook.

As an antidote to naturalism, there is nothing more powerful than the people of God believing and living the truths of theology and eschatology. Theology is about lifting that lid and allowing the transcendent God to reveal himself and to draw near with love and justice and purpose. Eschatology is about God's presence in history and an affirmation of the reality of the Christian hope.

As an antidote to pluralism, there is nothing more powerful than the people of God believing and living the truths of christology. Christology is about holding fast to the 'unique and universal Christ'. It is about being cruciform. It is about coping with the discomfort that "I am the way, the truth, and the life" causes in this world - knowing that it is not only the good news, it is the true news.

As an antidote to narcissism, there can be nothing more powerful than the people of God believing and living the truths of anthropology and ecclesiology. Anthropology is about understanding what it means to be human, made in the image of the trinitarian God. The tension of dignity and depravity. The paradox of 'I do not know who I am until I know whose I am'. The wonder of 'make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free'. Ecclesiology is about reflecting the trinitarian God as communities given to interdependency and intimacy, losing themselves in lives of worship and service.

As an antidote to technicism, there can be nothing more powerful than the people of God believing and living the truths of pneumatology. Pneumatology is about the Spirit at work in creation, in revelation, in salvation - and in the life of individuals and the church. Here is where the displays of the power and the hope for which the world so craves really take place.

Don't ever believe those who tell you that a sustained and systematic feeding on these "-ologies" is irrelevant. It isn't. There is nothing more relevant than having biblical preachers open the text with one eye on the ologies and the isms. There is nothing more strategic than a community setting apart a tithe of its people to engage the Deeper Roots and the Deeper Truths in a sustained way through theological study - and then to be that yeasty beach-head for a renewed commitment to mission.

Sickened to the core as I have been by this court case, I am reminded again that I am swimming in this stuff as well. In the quiet and private recesses of my own life naturalism, pluralism, narcissism, and technicism have an allure just as they have an influence. It remains a battleground. And it is in the transformative truths about God and history, about Christ, about humanity and the church, and about the Spirit where I need to soak and where I find solace.

nice chatting


Friday, July 24, 2009

offense and defense

As someone who enjoys sports, has played basketball, and lived in Chicago, I do keep an eye on those Chicago Bulls. This week the Chicago Tribune carried an interview with the chairman of the Bulls, Jerry Reinsdorf, in which he states the following:

"I absolutely believe that in every sport that I'm familiar with, defense is more important than offense. Even in tennis, just hit the ball back and the other person will eventually make a mistake ... Clearly in the Super Bowl the defensive teams win. In baseball it's pitching and defense. I'm absolutely convinced that defense is more important and that we need to become a better defensive team than we were..."

I'm not sure how agreeing with Jerry Reinsdorf impacts my prospects for heaven, but I do agree with him. If I was a betting man it would be easy. In those big, ultimate games just go for the team with the better defense and you'll come out ahead over time. But, if it is OK with you, I think I'll end my career as a tipster right there and turn to more sanctified reflections.

'Thinking Christianly' is part of what it means to be an in-Christ, following-Jesus person. And I reckon Peter makes a case for having a Christian mind that can play both offense and defense. [NB - This is some distance from Os Guiness' observation that Christians can seem to be about "having buns of steel, brains of silly putty."]

In the very first imperative in 1 Peter he makes a case for an offensive mind. "Prepare your minds for action (1:13)" - or, as the KJV picturesquely states it, "gird up the loins of your mind". There is initiative here. There is action.

And may I go on to suggest that the double connotation of 'offensive' is appropriate? Yes, taking the initiative and prepared to go on the attack (graciously) is true - but so also is carrying a bit of a stench and being prepared to cause some resentment and division. In today's world, a Christian who never, ever is accused of being intolerant (graciously) must ask themselves questions about whether their understanding of Christ - and committment to him - is as complete as it needs to be.

Later in 1 Peter he makes a case for a defensive mind. "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (3:15)." This is something different. This is reactive. In cricket parlance, here we are on the back foot, rather than the front foot.

And may I go on to suggest that the double connotation of 'defensive' is appropriate? Yes, falling back in order to protect, prepared to preserve and to guard valiantly is true - but so also are those times when we refuse to admit we are wrong (graciously) and are unwilling to give-in (graciously). Afterall the calling is to bear witness, before it is to win (although, if the offense is good, this will happen). As a chap called John Stott expresses it, 'we need not be afraid of the truth, nor for the truth - but just be committed to the truth.'

And what is the question that is begging? Is Jerry Reinsdorf's observation true about the Christian life? When push comes to shove, is defense more important than offense?

nice chatting


Friday, July 17, 2009

langham delights

It is not every year that you can spend consecutive weeks in places as diverse as the Solomon Islands and Pakistan (with an exactly 50hr door-to-door trip in between!). But that is what Langham Preaching gave me the opportunity to do - and here are my favourite photos:

rembrandt in honiara

gender-specific open-air collaborative learning

"it is a truth universally acknowledged ..." that children are beautiful

the other incarnation

when calligraphy meets sermon
(a participant's proposal for an outline on Amos 3 & 4)

some things never change

nice chatting - well, viewing anyway


Friday, July 10, 2009

a chapter two first eleven

"God wants your being more than he wants your doing."
I heard it again last week - and it was one too many times.

Sorry, folks - but that statement is a load of rubbish. I just do not know what New Testament these people are reading. Not only is the NT full of the importance of 'doing' - it is just such 'doing' that the church needs to become known for as it struggles with credibility, even plausibility, right around the western world. Doing is what will put 'runs on the board' and what the Spirit will use to open peoples' ears...

Three observations before I marshall a First Eleven (afterall, the Ashes has just commenced!) of Chapter Twos in the New Testament to prove my point. Firstly - the classic statement of John Stott: "we are justified by faith alone, but that faith must not remain itself alone." Secondly, have a think about why Luke might have placed the Good Samaritan next to Mary and Martha in his gospel? Thirdly, picture the Christian life as a timeline which passes through a door which marks the moment(s) of conversion. Before the door 'doing' means nothing; after the door 'doing' means everything. Another Stottian one: "we are justified by faith; but we are judged by works".

Now for my First Eleven of Chapter Twos:

For an opening pair I want to match an aggressive Chapter Two with a solid one, so I have chosen Ephesians and Galatians. Ephesians 2: 8-10 and "For it is by grace you have been saved through faith ... not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works." In Galatians 2:7-10 Paul places his credentials on the line, "entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles ... (James, John, Peter) recognise the grace given to me ... (and ) all they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do."

Then I need to pick a middle-order line-up. A bit of flash-and-dash batting around someone who can build a long innings. The flashy strokemakers are James and Peter without a doubt. James hits so strongly and so simply, it makes every fielder wince: "You see that people are justified by what they do and not by faith alone" (2:24). Mid-off is looking silly about now. But they cross and Peter comes down to the striker's end. We sing about "chosen people, royal priesthood." We delight in "once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (2:9-10) Oh yes - sing it! But just keep reading as you do so: "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (2:11). The long innings comes from (1) John. The entire letter is about knowing how you can be sure you are a Christian - and the assurance comes in the form of a tightly woven and adhesive braid with strands that cannot be separated: a deep love and a true belief in combination with a full obedience. Belief and obedience cannot be separated! Being and doing weave together! "This is how we know we are in him: whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus walked" (2:5-6).

For the all-rounder I opt for the Chapter Two which has been preached more often than any other passage in the entire Bible in the past generation in NZ. It could carry the team. Acts. Those that gather to hear that first Pentecost sermon are "cut to the heart", their 'being' is transformed - and they respond with "what shall we do?" They settle on 'doing' a life together that is stunning in its simplicity and influence (2:42-47).

For my strike-bowler who can bat a bit I turn to another match-winner: Titus. "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people. It (ie grace!) teaches us to say 'no' to ungodliness ... to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives ... (while) we wait for the blessed hope (Jesus' return) ... (a Jesus who) purifies for himself a people who are his very own, eager to do what is good." (2:11-14)

Then we arrive at the bowlers. There is one more aggressive fast bowler called Romans: "To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour, and immortality, he will give eternal life ... (and) glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good" (2:7; 10). Then there is a stock bowler, content to shut down one end and bowl over after over, "continuing to work out their salvation" (2:12). This is Philippians. We need a wily spinner and find one in (2) Thessalonians. "from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth ... (and so now) may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father ... strengthen you in every good deed and word" (2:13-17). Completing the tail is a Chapter Two accustomed to coming at the end: Revelation. Be it Ephesus, Pergamum, or Thyatira here is a Chapter Two where we discover Jesus himself "holding this against you" (2:4); "having a few things against you" (2:14); "having this against you" (2:20) ... and each time it is their 'doing' that just does not measure up.

Yep - here is my team to bury "God wants our being more than he wants our doing" in the ashes where it belongs. He wants both. You cannot separate them from each other. Here is a Champion Team of Chapter Twos.

1. Ephesians
2. Galatians
3. (1) John
4. James
5. Peter
6. Acts
7. Titus
8. Romans
9. Philippians
11. Revelation

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

pakistani scandals

First you need to understand that I am an Indian lad.

And as a boy in India, I could never understand why that country which fills the space between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans stood behind Pakistan, while that country which provided the shoulders on which the Arctic Circle sits stood behind India.

It seemed like the baddies were supporting us, the goodies, in India. I felt even more self-righteous whenever I crossed the border into Pakistan (which I once did a hundred times in 5 minutes as my brother and I jumped back and forth across the painted line) because they had much nicer cars and seemed so much more advanced.

Not any more...

I came home to New Zealand and opened the newspaper to discover Pakistan named at #10 in a list of "failed states" - behind Zimbabwe and Sudan and ahead of Burma and North Korea ... whatever "ahead" and "behind" actually mean.

I am still troubled by what I encountered in Pakistan. Maybe writing a post will help me process it further. Let me identify two scandals...

(a) How is it possible that the USA can pour billions of dollars into a country over the decades and it be listed as a 'failed state' in 2009? I don't understand this. Where has all this money gone? Sure - I know it is complicated with all sorts of political and social and economic factors...

But isn't part of the answer found in the fact that the money has more to do with protecting the interests of the USA than it has the interests of Pakistan? The Christian community in the USA should be up in arms about this, shouldn't they?
I felt so sad for Pakistan and Pakistanis - watching the world's only superpower and the world's most infamous terrorist organisation fighting a war on their own soil...

(b) I am still reeling from the revelation that in the entire Christian community in Pakistan - numbering maybe 8 million people ... that among the loosely and spaciously defined 'evangelicals' there is not one single Pakistani with a PhD in New Testament or Old Testament or Theology. WHAT?! Across the border there are dozens of Indians with such qualifications. How can there be absolutely no one in Pakistan?!

This may not sound so significant to some of you - but believe you me, if you gave me 60minutes I could draw the line from having the best PhDs in these areas through a healthy growing church and on to a nation building on and up from a 'failed' status. It takes a generation, but it can happen. God must look down from his heaven and shake his head with a bewildered sadness that some parts of his global church have so many PhDs they start arguing over silly minutae just to keep themselves fully occupied, while other parts are a biblical and theological wasteland.

Sorry - I am just really upset by this situation.

Here's to giving our lives to de-scandalising scandals like this one. I am going to give myself to (b). I hope there are others who will give themselves to (a).

We can make a difference. Go on - give up your small ambitions.

nice chatting


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

pakistani chuckles

I had some great laughs while in Pakistan:

on the biblical basis for drinking chai (tea)...
"Comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1)
"Come for tea my people, says your God"

on how to make major rupees as a taxi-driver...

on pastors remaining students...
"Just look at a pastor's bookshelf and discover when they died intellectually (- or became distracted by faddish topical paperbacks)."

on savouring the options at a local restaurant...

on using Greek and Hebrew in your preaching...
"Wear your knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew language like you wear your underwear - it is needed for support, but it is embarassing if you display it publically."

on the satisfaction of rediscovering Urdu/Hindi...
For years it has been irritating for me that the questions with which I like to commence sermon preparation do not all start with 'w': who, what, where, when, why ... and how. Why can't 'how' start with a 'w'? It ruins the symmetry. Crazy English.
And then this past week, listening to the translators, a deep wound in my literary soul was healed as I heard them say: kawn, kya, kahan, kub, kyun ... and kaseh. They all start with the 'k' sound. That is more like it!

on making sense of how things happen Pakistan...
"You either subscribe to the conspiracy theory or to the chaos theory." [You tend to last longer if you believe in chaos, rather than conspiracy]

nice chatting