Archive for April, 2015

Let’s talk about PSA?

Posted: April 30, 2015 by J in General

A couple of years ago I posted this post. No go. I’m thinking it might be time to run this flag up the mast again, see what happens.


For a long while now there’s been aundefined question on my mind: are we at The Grit ready for a discussion about PSA? Penal Substitutionary Atonement: the way we use and abuse this doctrine has been a concern to me for a long while. I reckon its an area of our theological life that’s in the doldrums.

However, the doctrine is so politicised, PSA has been treated as a litmus test for orthodoxy for so long, that it’s difficult to achieve a calm and openminded discussion. Easy to generate more heat than light.

What do you reckon? Could we do it? Is anyone open to it? Willing to rethink, or be challenged or stretched a little in their thinking about the atonement? Is it the right time to talk PSA?

I’m really not sure – looking for guidance here.

“We must stop giving nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth-century questions and try to give twenty-first-century answers to first-century questions.”

N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture.


I love this quote. It sums up so much about how we got into the mess we’re in. Or didn’t you notice that no one much is listening to us anymore?

gavel1When they bring you before the synagogues, rulers and authorities.”      This seems to be an extract from Jesus’ later Jerusalem teaching, recorded in all three synoptics. It fits in well in this discussion of fear and confession. It is also apposite to Jesus’ journey: he himself is soon to be ‘hauled before authorities.’ But Jesus seems to project forward to a future time of more widespread persecution, such as we read of in Acts. The disciples will then be called on to confess him before courts. In fact, many chapters of Acts will be taken up with arrest or courtroom scenes of one sort or another (cf. Acts 4-7, 12, 16, 18, 21-28).

Do not be anxious about how to answer their charges or what to say.”     These human courts are not the ones to fear. But how will these uneducated fishermen stand up and be unafraid under such pressure? How will they be able to function under intense public scrutiny and condemnation? ‘The Holy Spirit will teach you at the time what to say.’ They will receive help so they can operate ‘above their pay grade’.

This is not to say that they will mount a successful defence and avoid condemnation: certainly Jesus did not. Rather, because they have placed themselves under the jurisdiction of the true judge, less is at stake in the outcome of these merely human trials. Defence may not even be the right response. Jesus mounts no defence of his conduct before the Jerusalem authorities (Luke 22-23). Nor does Stephen seem to in Acts 7.

hear-no-evil-see-no-evil-speak-no-evilAnnouncing Jesus is no simple task these days!


McCrindle research has just surveyed more than 1,000 people from across Australia on behalf of the Centre for Public Christianity. According to the poll, only 21% of those surveyed are confident the resurrection of Jesus happened, and 13% don’t think Jesus even lived. And a significant 60% believe the Bible is a book of myths.

Director of the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX), Simon Smart says the findings indicate that Australians are moving away from conventional spiritual beliefs … the overall picture is one of polarisation.

“You’re seeing people at very different ends of the spectrum there indicating a gulf between those who are confident and those who are a very long way from that.”

He says the main application for Christians is to face the reality of where Australians are at and where they are headed in terms of their beliefs, and to find new ways of engaging them.

“What we are seeing is a rapid loss of belief among many people. The church in the West must learn how to speak into a new environment where around about half the people think belief is unsustainable, they think it’s nonsense.

“It’s important that the Christian community learns to speak into that environment and not one they wish was the case or perhaps misconstrue and believe it’s more positive than it actually is.”

See more at


These are compelling figures and confronting advice. We need to ‘face the reality of where Aussies are at’ and ‘learn how to speak into a new environment…and not one they wish was the case’.


Sounds like hard work. Brain work. Can that really be true? Can gospel faithfulness really require of us that we do serious brain work? Cultural analysis?

Actually there’s two schools of thought here.

1. The Timeless Gospel will break through

One view says surveys like this will probably send us down the wrong track. Because there is something supernatural about the message of Jesus that overrides all normal rules of communication. The gospel is so powerful, God uses it to call people whether or not it makes sense in their cultural context. Surveys and so on are appropriate for everyday communicating, but the Bible message is a special case, it’s in a class of its own. Whether or not it connects with anything our society believes or cares about, quite apart from all that, God’s Spirit uses the gospel to cut through to people and call them to faith. The message is timeless, and in any time He can make it make sense in a wonderful and unexpected way.

The ultimate expression of view 1 is the Catholic church using Latin for the mass, regardless of which language the people spoke.

2. The Contextual Gospel

According to this view, although the content of the gospel message is the miraculous acts of God, the medium is not supernatural but rather that of ordinary human communication. The message can only do its thing as it is understood and appreciated by the hearers. First it has to engage them and connect with them. Then it can be used by the Spirit to transform people.

In other words the gospel is not timeless. It comes clothed in a culture: Jewish, and it also needs to be ‘enculturated’, or contextualised or presented in terms and categories that the hearers can understand in their own culture. This can take a lot of brain work on the part of preachers, especially if they are speaking across cultures.

A classic example of this approach is the Protestant reformers, who insisted on getting the Bible translated into everyday language for the common people. Their catechisms tried to explain what the gospel meant for people in c.16th Europe. These guys were willing to rethink and reform communicative practices for the sake of connecting with people.


Is the CPX survey worth paying attention to? Depends on which of these views you hold to about the way gospel communication works.

If you hold to View 2, then we need to pay attention. More than that, we need to find a new way of addressing our society that doesn’t assume they believe what we are saying. Our traditional model of preaching and evangelism is all about asserting facts with confidence, indeed with certainty. We tend to deliver a message that only makes sense to those who agree. We don’t usually acknowledge the possibility of a different view point. This leaves our hearers with a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ set of options. The CPX survey suggests we will be preaching to an ever-shrinking audience.

If you hold to View 1, then rather than rethinking anything, we just need to stick to our guns and keep the message pure. The gospel will break through.

It’s probably worth noticing that View 1 doesn’t seem to be working in Australia. There’s a whole lot of people out there keeping the message pure, but what they’re reporting back is that they don’t get traction. Ask your local Anglican minister. And the survey confirms this: ‘a rapid loss of belief.’  The gospel as we are preaching it, is not breaking through.

It’s probably worth noting also that among cross-cultural missios, View 2 is considered basic mission practice. It’s only here at home that View 1 still finds a home.

But does anyone really believe View 1? There are signs that we are living under its influence. for example: where are the denominational forums in which Christians can discuss the challenges of communicating across the gap to our own society? Where are those discussions taking place? Where is the hard thinking going on? At CPX, for sure. But at the denominational level, nowhere that I know of.

Which colleges are training our next leaders to do this sort of contextualised ministry? Not the one I went to!

In Sydney we Anglicans had ten years of mission. You might think after that would come a stock-take. People who had led the mission called for a rethink. But no, instead we launched into another ten years of mission. Without the thinking. How could we do that? It’s View 1 at work. There’s theological blinkers stopping us from looking. Bad theology –> bad practice.

And that is why we can confidently predict that this new CPX survey will be ignored by the people we are counting on to lead us in mission, here in Sydney’s churches.

Which gospel did you preach today?

Posted: April 3, 2015 by J in Bible, Church, Theology

how-to-become-a-career-coach-1There are two different gospels that got preached in our churches today. The more popular one is:

The gospel of individual salvation

“Christ died for your sins so that you could be forgiven and released from the wrath of God.”


individualist: about the individual’s problem and need. Centred around that need.

abstract: the problem is not felt or experienced, but is ‘out there’ somewhere in the spiritual realm. The solution is also not experienced or felt, but also happens elsewhere: it is justification

forensic: largely confined with questions of guilt and punishment

– propositional: there is no real narrative attached. The cross operates as an isolated mechanism, rather than part of a larger story.

vertical: about our relationship with God but not our relations with each other.

escapist: doesn’t offer any help with ordinary everyday life, but rather distracts attention away from the everyday to other, ‘higher’ things.

Friday heavy: the important work is achieved on the Friday. There’s not much left that needs doing on the Sunday.

Spirit-lite: the Holy Spirit doesn’t usually get a mention in this gospel. Not needed! The message works fine without him.


But there’s another gospel that some preached today:

The ‘kingdom of God’ gospel

“Christ came announcing and demonstrating the arrival of God’s kingdom on earth. At Easter that kingdom really and decisively arrived. We are invited to join it.”


– narrative: placing the cross within the wider story of Jesus and of God’s purposes. Propositions arise out of the narrative rather than being overlaid onto an event.

– Christ-centred:  rather than centred around our needs. The cross is really the main event in itself, rather than just a mechanism that allows for the important event to happen in our lives.

– creation-conscious: a story about God’s world, and about all humanity, rather than about me. The individual is addressed as a part of that larger picture, rather than in isolation.

– this worldly: expressing God’s commitment to his creation and the value and importance of all that happens in it. It is therefore

horizontal as well as vertical: right relationships with one another being an integral part of joining in with God’s arriving kingdom.

broad-focussed: concerned with forensic issues, but also with matters of relationship, identity, belonging, well-being, purpose and a thousand other things that all form part of ‘the kingdom of God’.

concrete and ‘earthy’: interacts with and speaks to felt needs and experiences as well as more abstract ones. Relates to actual human flourishing in the here and now, as well as the future.

– Sunday-focussed as well as Friday: while Friday was death to the old order, Sunday is the real beginning of the new. After Friday the work was only half-done.

– Spirit-rich: this kingdom only arrives because of the mighty act of God’s Spirit on Sunday, bringing in a new creation through the resurrection of Christ. It only arrives in our lives by that same Spirit doing the same work in us. (0f course you’d probably talk about this on the Sunday more than today…)

Which gospel did you guys preach at your church this Good Friday?