Archive for September, 2012

The World We All Want, adapted – Session 4

Posted: September 29, 2012 by J in Bible, Mission

The World We All Want Session 4 pdf

This session looks at the strange and unexpected way Jesus went about bringing in the new world God promised us. It explores the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We have tried to take up our own challenge to NOT import truckloads of our own theological framework, but to let the passage do the talking. In the end, the participants will only have learnt what the passage had to say, nothing more. We have never seen this done before in a study in the cross, so it’s a bit of an experiment. Let me know what you think!

We learn how in his death Jesus entered into the depths of our human misery and alienation through sin, and opened the way to healing. In his resurrection Jesus gains victory (on our behalf) over the power of sin, and receives (on our behalf) the Spirit who will transform the world.

This session, compared to the original, is completely rewritten. We thought this was needed.

NB: I reckon anyone who uses this gear ought to buy the Chester and Timmis book also. Those guys put in a lot of work, and our series retains a fair amount of their stuff.  The worker deserves his wages.

Here’s session 4:

The World We All Want Session 4 pdf

Those Americans are at it again

Posted: September 28, 2012 by J in General

– flocking in their hundreds to read about Luke’s use of numbers.

This troubles me.

Who are you guys? None of you ever leaves a comment. What’s it all about?

Are you all as kooky as I fear you are?

The World We All Want adapted – 3

Posted: September 28, 2012 by J in Bible, Mission

This study aims to persuade readers that we cannot create the world we long for – in fact we are part of the problem not the solution!

In other words it’s about sin and its destructive power over us and our world. Sin pushes us further from that world where God is at the centre and life is good.

This session is a pretty radical departure from the original one, but the theme is the same. We’ve avoided going to Genesis, mainy because we don’t want people to get bogged down in worries about historicity vs myth, before they’ve even had a chance to hear the gospel. There’ s time to wrestle with those issues, but I reckon an intro to Christian faith course is not that time. So we’ve just removed the hurdle and gone for passages where issues of historicity are not as in-your-face.

Genesis 3 is in the Further reading suggestion.

NB: I reckon anyone who uses this gear ought to buy the Chester and Timmis book also. Those guys put in a lot of work, and this version retains a fair amount of their stuff. And the thing is copyright. The worker deserves his wages.

Here’s session 3

The World We All Want Session 3 pdf

The World We All Want, adapted – Session 2

Posted: September 26, 2012 by J in Bible, Mission

The aim of this study is to give people a taste of what it’s like to be around Jesus. Jesus’ life gives us a sight of TWWAW. I’ve minimised the ‘right answers’. It’s not about right answers: it’s about getting to know Jesus, getting a feel for him.

NB: I reckon anyone who uses this gear ought to buy the Chester and Timmis book also. Those guys put in a lot of work, and this version retains a fair amount of their stuff. The worker deserves his wages.

Here’s Session 2:

The World We All Want – Session 2 pdf

The World We All Want – Adapted

Posted: September 24, 2012 by J in Bible, Mission

The World We All Want Session 1 – pdf

As promised, I’m going to post my attempt at adapting TWWAW for our context. I’ll have to post it as pdf links to preserve any sort of decent formatting, so I’m afraid you’ll have to go to all the trouble of clicking your mouse above!

NB: I reckon anyone who uses this gear ought to buy the Chester and Timmis book also. Those guys put in a lot of work, and this version retains a fair amount of their stuff. And the thing is copyright. The worker deserves his wages.

I’ll start by giving you my rationale. That’ll give you the chance to see if you think it’s worked.


Here’s what I’m hoping to achieve in this adaptation of Chester and Timmis’ innovative course.

Translation: I’ve re-translated the passages used. Trying for a clearer translation that does more of the interpretive work for the new readers. The challenge of taking in, say, Acts 2 for the first time is just too great. A bit of paraphrase reduces the size of the onslaught! But paraphrase has to reveal what’s there better, not fudge it. Check out the places where I depart from, say, the NIV, see if I’ve captured the greek better or not!

I’ve also abridged the stories a bit so they’re not so long.

Language: I’ve simplified the language and tried to use even less jargon. But I’ve also deliberately introduced a couple of technical terms for participants to learn: the main ones are ‘gospel’ and ‘sin’.

Dynamics: I’ve aimed to make the series more relational for participants. I’ve tried to make the opening question each time something that could help the group get to know each other a bit.

Theology: I’ve aimed to make the series more clearly Trinitarian. It was there in the original, but I want it much stronger.

Structure: I’ve shortened and simplified the structure, omitting the ‘how the Bible works’ strand in the original and going for a conceptual/logical approach:

  1.  God promises TWWAW, though his version has some surprises.
  2.  We get a taste of that world in the life of Jesus God’s son.
  3.  We cannot make the world new because sin has overcome us: we are part of the problem
  4.  God’s Son achieved the new world for everyone in his death and resurrection
  5.  We can take part in the arrival of the new world now, through the gift of the Spirit.

5 sessions instead of seven. And I’ve reduced the length of each study.

Right answers:  These studies are an invitation to people to explore stories from the NT. It kind of undermines the process a bit if, after every passage they get given a paragraph of ‘right answers’, i.e. what they should have seen there.

So I’ve cut summary blurbs to a minimum, hoping that simple, focussed questions and a decent leader will enable people to get something good from each passage.

People used to long blurbs with all the right answers, may find they miss that in these studies.

ALSO: I’ve tried to take up my own challenge about that vital study on the Cross: i.e. the ideas should come out of the reading, not be imported from my theological framework. That’s the study most radically rewritten.

Well, that’s what I’m trying for. I’d love your feedback – how can I do this better?


The World We All Want Session 1 – pdf

Reading the Psalms as a Christian

Posted: September 23, 2012 by J in Bible

We all sense that the Psalms are a rich resource for our faith. But they’re not always easy to know how to read. They never mention Jesus, for obvious reasons. They’re full of stuff we feel we could pray, but also full of stuff we feel uncomfortable praying. How do we connect with these extraordinary songs from God’s ancient people?

I’ve been thinking about an approach that might help. It involves grappling with the layered nature of the psalms. Even those psalms that were written early, got worked over and re-interpreted later in a different historical setting. In particular Israel in exile found new and corporate meanings in many of the pre-exilic psalms. And then Jesus identified with them also, as if they were talking about his life experience.

All of this suggests reading the psalms in a layered way. It could go something like this:

1. Read the psalm as being about the original guy (David or whoever)

2. Read it as being about Jesus’ own experience

3. Read it as being about the church (incl. you) now. At this point try reading LORD as Lord Jesus. See how much of it you feel you can sensibly pray now that you belong to Christ and share his story.

I just tried this out on Psalm 9, it was pretty good.

Down side: three readings, it took me a whole 12 MINUTES!

Ideally there would be a  fourth layer for many of the psalms, reading them as being about Israel.

But four readings takes longer. 🙂

Most popular post

Posted: September 22, 2012 by J in General

The most popular post of the past quarter, with twice the hits of its nearest rival is…

Luke’s use of numbers!

Numerology – perhaps the most disreputable post to appear at The Grit so far. And that’s saying something!

Why on earth is this the most read post? And why is it that on the days it’s read a lot, the blog stats usually tell me we’ve had more than usual American readers that day…

Perhaps I should try writing more things that appeal to the same audience?

  • A detailed program for the Tribulation and Millenium, with dates
  • Is Jesus another incarnation of Nostrodamus?
  • Why the King James is the only Bible
  • The muslim plot to take over the world’s bar codes
  • Why Jesus would have owned a gun

What do you think? Any other suggestions?

I’ll pretty much do whatever it takes to become famous.

Mike Bird flies the coop

Posted: September 21, 2012 by J in Church

Thanks Wellsie for the heads-up:

Ridley Melbourne has appointed Dr Michael Bird as Lecturer in Theology. Michael currently lectures in Systematic Theology and New Testament at Crossway College in Queensland.

Wow. That place is pulling in some serious talent.

A puzzling thing about Sydney’s churches

Posted: September 20, 2012 by J in Church, Mission

Had a most interesting chat with a visitor on the weekend. She’s a young Christian woman, highly committed to her church, a generous giver, prayerful, concerned for mission – a pretty impressive person, in fact.

Here’s what she said:

She said, “I think a lot of Anglican churches in Sydney are a bit like mine. A lot of people at our church are into outreach, they’re doing all they can in local mission. The church is fully committed to the mission, there’s a lot going on. Over the past 5 years we’ve got really mobilised, with Connect 09 and all that.  And giving is up too, over the past 5 years giving’s up 45% per member.

And yet, there are no new people…”

What a striking comment. You can sense the puzzlement, the disappointment and frustration, can’t you. What more can they do? They’re already, as she put it, flat chat in outreach efforts.

They’re reaching out. They’re committed. They care. And yet hardly anyone is coming in.

And this young woman is right about the diocese – at least about growth. The stats suggest that many Sydney churches are a bit like hers. Hard to get stats on outreach efforts. But results: new Christians, growth from unchurched people? Not much there.

It wouldn’t be so bad if we could say, ‘the churches are apathetic, they need to get off their backsides and do something about mission.’ But perhaps that would be an unfair thing to say. It’s a disturbing idea that the churches might be mobilised, and yet still hardly any growth – that suggests a deeper and more intractable problem.

What could the explanation be for this perplexing situation?

We didn’t get much time to talk about this, but our visitor did make one comment:

“Society has moved so far away from the church and Christianity, it’s hard to reach them and bring them back.”

Maybe she’s right – maybe the problem is with society at large. Or maybe it’s with us. Or maybe a bit of both.

It won’t surprise you to hear that we at The Grit have our own opinions about this question. But this post is not about pushing those.

What it is about, is this: isn’t it time we talked openly about this issue? I was struck by the clear-sighted honesty of the woman who told me these things. I don’t often hear people in our churches talking in that way. It’s not easy to admit to failures. Our church tradition has been strong on projecting an image of confidence and success. Read Southern Cross magazine, it seems like things are going well across the board. Lots of happy stories.

It wouldn’t be easy for them to publish an edition titled, ‘Whatever happened to the mission?‘, in which the painful issue of mission-failure was openly examined. There would likely be more questions than answers, and it might have an unsettling effect on readers. It might turn out that we have few experts to guide us, and that a discussion across the whole diocese needs to go on before we can hope for ways forward to crystalise.

These things would be unsettling and upsetting.

But isn’t it time we did this anyhow? Is there really any future in going forward doing the same things that didn’t work the past five years, without having that conversation, without doing that soul-searching?

It may turn out that there’s nothing we can change, and we’re just going to decline. But it may be that there are real solutions, and that we could learn to do better.

I’m putting my money on ‘we could learn to do better’. I think there’s hope for the future of the Sydney churches. And so I’m wishing more people were talking honestly about this problem.

What do you think? To soul search, or not to soul-search?

And how about it, Southern Cross? Am I right that this deserves a whole issue of the mag to kick off the wider discussion? Or do you have something else more important to report on? 🙂

The World We All Want

The other main problem with the series is the length and complexity of each study. Studies are up to 10 pages long, and contain several longish bible passages to study, along with questions and explanations. It’s ok for arts students, but for the rest of the world probably too much to ask in one session.

This problem is exacerbated by Chester and Timmis’s habit of placing a teaser for the following study at the end of each session – not just a few words or lines, but sometimes a few pages! The whole first section of the next study is often brought back and tacked on the end of the previous one. Now I’m all for teasers, but this is way overdone. You get through the material for one session, there’s been some focus and clarity, and then suddenly you get ten minutes on a new topic – focus lost! Bad idea, guys. Those teasers need to be cut to two sentences, max.

This length/complexity problem is the main thing stopping me using this gear as-is with our people. Around here people’s English is not very strong, we need something that’s easy to understand and interact with. Simplicity, focus, brevity. Or at least, not over-longness!

However, the good news is, Timmis and Chester encourage people to adapt their studies to suit their group. So we’re` doing that…

At a more detailed level, probably the weakest session is no.6, on the Cross. Pity to be weak here! But as so often happens, the study on the cross relies on a larger than usual number of leading questions, and even these are not enough: it then dumps a load of theology on the reader which they probably can’t see in the bible passage they’ve just read. This happens twice over – first for Jesus’ death scene, then for his resurrection. The passage is used largely to establish the historical facts – then the meaning of the events is imported from who knows where – we assume from the Chester’s own theological framework. Not very persuasive. The whole structure of the course, where people are learning from reading Bible texts, gets compromised at this point.

To be fair, every other intro-to-Christianity series I’ve seen does the same thing. But haven’t we got a real problem at this point? We can’t seem to get away from the divide between gospel-narrative and gospel theology. It’s almost as though there are two gospels: a story and a body of doctrines.

I think it’s time we said – this is really not good enough. Go back and do some more work, and fix this, boys.  Learn to use the narrative better. I’d go as far as to say – this is a major challenge facing such courses for the future.

OVERALL: Chester and Timmis would have done better to go for either a ‘bible overview’ or a ‘intro to Christianity’ course.  They’re not the same thing, and trying to do both detracts from doing either that well. The studies are a bit long and the extended teasers detract from the focus. The study on the cross is disappointing.

However, a great big-picture approach with fresh new ideas, full of potential to engage the modern person.  TWWAW represents a good-sized step forward in the ‘intro to Christianity’ genre, compared to say Christianity Explained. I’ll be making use of it.

Over the next few days I’ll post my adapted TWWAW series – keeping the best of their idea, but making it simpler and shorter. In particular I’m going to take up my own challenge re. session 6.