This is the second time I have reviewed one of Steve Chalke‘s books. I didn’t particularly enjoy reading Intelligent Church – at least as not as much as I thought I would. It is too light to provide a robust framework for building church. It is too “motherhoody” to provide that practical potpourri that can be found elsewhere.

In the introduction he says he will be considering the relationship between “theology, missiology and ecclesiology” in some different marks of “authentic Christian spirituality” (page 14). While he achieves that aim, I am left disquieted, as if I have spent the time hearing only the voice of Steve Chalke and not of Jesus.

This is not to say that the content is all bad – although perhaps a little bit “same old, same old.”

Chalke is obviously passionate about the gospel and about transforming the world. Here is something of his vision for what church should and could be in the (Western) world: Encompassed by leven adjectives describing the church – Intelligent, Inclusive, Messy, Honest, Purposeful, Generous, Vulnerable, Political, Diverse, Dependent, Transforming.

I don’t have time or space to precis them all, however highlights included for me:

  • a balanced critique of institution in the chapter marked “Intelligent Church.” It is as if we, the harvesters, have “locked ourselves in the farmhouse” (page 25).

    “A saved world would certainly result in a saved church. The reverse is not necessarily true. If we huddle in our trenches (however well equipped they may be) making occasional forays farther afield to win converts in order to bolster our numbers, we are condemend to watch as the church, and the world along with it, perishes.” (page 25)

  • a recognition of the inherent messiness of true mission – a recognition that collides with my own present experience.

    “Any church that truly welcomes anyone and everyone – whatever their problems and issues – is bound to appear (and indeed be) both chaotic and disorderly at times. What’s wrong with being neat and tidy? The only problem is that it indicates that the church has scared the messed-up people away.” (page 55)

  • an acceptance of the limits of church planning (or perhaps, the nature of church planning, recognised or not!):

    “The greatest lesson Pele ever learnt in football was simply this: winning is all about restarting from a position you never expected to be in.” (page 87)

But I must also offer a critique.

While I admire (and agree with to a large extent) his vision of church as “inclusive” and “generous” I don’t think he’s quite hit the “both-and” that lies in the typical false dichotomy of personal evangelism and social justice.

Quite rightly, Chalke wishes the church to take on a transforming role in society, to be the “twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week” accessible, inclusive “hub of the community.” And he calls for the church to tackle not just the problems of rescuing people from the mire, but to work towards the changing of structures that create that mire, or fail to protect people from it in the first place (consider his section marked “The Political Chuch” on pages 126-127).

But if we mix that with his tendency towards the (impossible) aspiration of having a church that has “clear goals, objectives, targets and outcomes” (page 79). And if we add in a propensity in his inclusive and generous kergyma away from concepts such as a “call to holiness” or the exhortation of Christ to “Go and sin no more.” What do we have?

Not so much an ill-centred gospel but one that is so loosely draped around the central figure that one could pull back this veil of mission to find a Barack Obama or some abstract form of Christian socialism being able to bear its weight.

There is a hint of social triumphalism in his handling of the Kingdom of God. Just as Jesus stands on his manifesto at Nazareth in Luke 4, so we are to “proclaim God’s favour through our genersoity” (page 92). But where do we walk with Jesus to the cross? Where is it that, empty of ourselves, we simply fall upon his gift of faith and repentance to minister not in our own strength, but in his?

We are currently studying the Galilean part of Luke as a sermon series at Connections, but we have just been through 1 Corinthians. “Release for the captives” (Luke 4) and “nothing but Christ crucified” (1 Cor 2:2) must go together and point to the same thing.

Chalke talks well about the we need to be “vulnerable” and he points to Christ’s self-emptying and kenotic understanding from Philippians 2 (page 110). If so, and maybe it’s just me, why then do I leave this book sensing that I have been filled with myself, or with the ideals of some other person, and not with Christ alone?


I often find books that I really appreciate reading. Very rarely I read a book that I wish I had written – or one that communicates the thing that “one day I’ll write a book” about. Michael Klassen’s Strange Fire, Holy Fire is one of those.

My Christian background has two roots – Pentecostal/Charismatic in my teens and early twenties, and a strong reformed theological foundation after that. Oftentimes these two camps are at loggerheads and that saddens me. I have learned much from both and I have seen how a strong church and a strong spirituality is one which brings Word and Spirit together.

I believe this is similar to Klassen’s framework. Like him I am both a critic and an apologist (page 12) of the charismatic movement. He does this well. This is why the book is called “Strange Fire, Holy Fire” – there is much in the charismatic movement that is strange, but there is also much that his holy. Sometimes things are both!

Klassen defines the nuances and variations within the Charismatic Movement – a useful quick insight for those who lump all “happy clappies” together and so often miss the point. He then goes through some of the key charismatic theological and cultural distinctives. Many of his conclusions I share – I was saving them up for my own book, “one day”!

With regard to tongues, for instance, he critiques the way in which tongues are made the “litmus test” (page 28) and how they are often used as a disunifying factor rather than a building-up resource (page 29). Yet he delights in the gift much like I do:

“Tongues was, and is, a very helpful gift that has enabled me to pray about situations when I didn’t know what to pray. It has served as a weapon in spiritual warfare and has given me insight into God’s ways. And it has definitely cultivated a deeper, more intimate walk with Christ.” (page 29)

His take on theological study, and in particular, his delight in the study of church history, matches my own thoughts:

“… as we study church history, we discover that many of the challenges and false teachings we face today have appeared sporadically since the first Pentecostal movement (in Acts 2). Why repeat their mistakes and struggles when we can avoid them?” (page 53)

His consideration of charismatic “hype” and emotive manipulation is a critique I share (for instance in my analysis of the Todd Bentley phenomenon). He paints John Wimber as a positive example:

“Then a person nearby started weeping. Then another. Then another person dropped to the ground, slain in the Spirit. By the time the meeting ended, most of the people at the front were either weeping or lying on their backs under the power of the Holy Spirit. Wimber, however, hardly said a word, and hadn’t laid a hand on anybody.
“God doesn’t need someone to whip the crowd into a frenzy in order to pour out his Spirit.” (page 57)

And he makes the point that is close to the heart of my own kerygma that “power comes through weakness (really!)” (page 59).

Klassen is honest about the seduction of power and the drives in leadership that can make it defensive or self-focussed. Here is another echo of my own experience:

“Our heavenly Father appointed Jesus – not the pastor – to be the head of the body. News flash! God never intended the life of the church to revolve around the pastor. Nor should it revolve around the body. The intended focus of the church is Jesus, its head.” (page 68)

I share his broad view on the gift of prophecy – drawing a similar line on that gift’s application and excess, it’s misuse by the overly-charismatic and its unfair dismissal by the cessationist-leaning who expect 100% accuracy from prophetic words with no provision of training or support for their prophets (page 85).

His critique of the prosperity movement (compared to deism on page 138 and superstition on page 147) is adequate. He defends experience, but does not overplay it, as an input to spiritual growth and theological understanding (page 184). And he recognises spiritual warfare in a manner that I appreciate and understand from my own personal experience:

“On a personal level, agree to step into Christian leadership and immediately you’ll sense an invisible taget on your back… Anyone who denies the reality of the demonic hasn’t read the Gospels closely enough.” (page 213)

I am with him as he shows how spiritual warfare is waged by focussing on Jesus, not the enemy. Jesus is the armour of Ephesians 6 (page 221).

While it is well-balanced, this isn’t a rigourous book. It has theological holes and the odd mis-placed anecdote or illustration. The various exegeses are adequate but not in-depth. There is still room for me to write my own book which would have a more theological flavour 🙂

But I share most if not all his conclusions. I will be lending this book to some of my more “out there” friends on both sides of the spectrum so that they can understand that there is life – much life – in the centre, bridging this particular divide, worshipping our Lord in Spirit and in Truth.


One of the increasingly frequent tasks I have in a growing church is the need to lead engaged couples through preparation for marriage. I find it useful to be on the look out for better resources and fresh input and insight – and find the benefit to Gill’s and my own relationship a blessed side-effect.

When it comes to books the stock-standard resource we use has been Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages. I will now be adding Smalley & Cunningham’s The Language of Sex to the pile of “recommended’s” and have some on hand to give away when appropriate.

There’s a whole bunch of Christian pop-pysch “improve your sex life” books going around at the moment. Most of them can’t seem to get away from some sort of giggle-factor adolescent “married Christians are allowed to be naughty” type shallowness. I find Leman’s Sheet Music to be a bit like this and of little value. They often read like a breathless over-eagerness to catch up with the sex of the ’90’s presuming (and wrongly so, most twentysomething Christians don’t need to be told, yet again, of the non-proscription of oral sex) that Christians are still repressed in the ’50’s. And for those who are genuinely struggling there is often a tantalising picture of marital sexual freedom painted with little help provided or light shed to actually help them get there.

Smalley and Cunningham’s book is different. It takes an appropriately long time to get to issues such as technique and sexual education – and even then only covers them relatively briefly. In their own words, they explain:

“You’ll notice that this chapter about creativity [in sex] is not near the front of the book. That’s on purpose. The foundation of honor, security and intimacy is the bedrock on which to build creativity. One reason affairs get started is because individuals are looking for “greener grass.” Greener grass deceives you into believing that you must go outside the marriage to experience greater heights of sexual intimacy, without all the responsibility. That’s simply not true.” (page 147)

Their key framework is their “formula”:

Honour → Security → Intimacy → Sex

“… honor creates security. Security creastes intimacy. And intimacy sets the stage for great sex. The truth is that you cannot have great sex without honor and an open spirit.” (page 16)

And so they spend the bulk of the time effectively and usefully teaching the readers to build honour, security and intimacy into their marriage before they get to the “sex ed” detail. The path to sexual fulfillment is through investing in the other person and in relationship – and that’s where they concentrate their teaching.

Much of it is common sense. But it is usefully constructed and presented common sense. It makes the book a useful tool for helping get past the presenting issue to the actual issue. It is advice that, while not exhaustive, is followable and practical and solidly cognisant of the realities of Christian growth and the difficulties and stumbles that often come on the road of maturation.

Some of those who are significantly struggling or facing overwhelming abuse-recovery or addictive behaviour issues will quickly reach the end of what this book has to offer. Yet, even then, I could see the material providing a “way in” to understand and so be an effective stepping stone on the path to finding necessary help.

I found this book to be biblical, gentle, and real. Recommended.


I obtained a copy of Graham Cray’s Disciples & Citizens at last year’s EFAC Conference where Graham was speaking. I was enthused by Graham at that time and that enthusiasm continues having now read his book.

For those of us who are caught up in the perpetual lurch from creative crisis to creative crisis that so often defines church planting and fresh expression ministry this book is immensely valuable. Without prescribing or proscribing direction or methodology +Graham unveils and delivers substance, weight and foundation to those wrestling with on-the-ground applied ecclesiology of the Christ-centred kind.

The key consideration is the promotion of a biblically-grounded framework for the essential mission of the church – corporate and individual spiritually applied publically and with integrity. As he explores the necessary distinctives between the ways of the world and the way of Christ we have a useful lens for observing the world, that of citizenship:

Citizenship is becoming increasingly passive… Perhaps most serious of all is the decline in concern for or confidence in the concept of the ‘common good.’ (page 19)

This finds its clear expression in a correlation with the biblical city of Corinth:

Corinth was a materially ambitious, multicultural city. It was governed by personal ambition and self-promotion, sustained by a culture of spin. (page 31)

If Christ came to such a world as this, how, then, does the church? +Graham lets us grasp a view of what it means to be a Christian citizen:

Our nation needs a vision of the public good, combined with a proportionate willingness for self-sacrifice. As citizens, Christians need to respond to these challenges… we will serve our nation and world best by being ourselves, by offering our nation a genuinely biblical vision (page 21)

Indeed, citizenship for the Christian can be defined as “public discipleship” (page 19) – the simple, obedient following of Christ in the world. This means living lives of “involved distinctiveness” (page 32ff) and “subversive engagement.” (page 41ff)

Involved distinctiveness can be summed up as a call to be a countercultural community which also seeks common ground with its society whenever possible. (page 32)

Subversive engagement involves a proactive community, actively doing good in its society (because the good can last, in the light of the kingdom of God), while subverting many of society’s key social values (because they cannot last, in the light of the kingdom of God). (page 41-42)

The middle parts of the book explore how public discipleship can be disinctively involved, and subversively engaged with issues such as individualization, consumerism and constructivism through Christ-focussed discipleship and cultivation of character. (As an aside, this includes a short discourse on the characteristics of Generation Y which explicitly mentions an aspect of Generation X that I very rarely read or see but keenly feel – “Generation X was a hinge generation, experiencing both the old and new modernities in conflict.” Page 91).

The eleventh chapter (“The role of the church”) and the final section (“The Transformation of Community”) connects it all together – the engine of biblical citizenship is attached to the vehicle of the church. Church is begat by and begets disciples of Christ and so provides the location for distinctive, subversive citizenship of the life-giving kind.

The statement… that governments do not and cannot create the values upon which both government and citizenship depend, raises an obvious question. Where are they formed, then? Worship provides a major part of the answer, not just for religious communities, but for all people, because all people worship… What we serve shapes us. Our heart will always be where our treasure is… Christian worship is transformative. (page 122)

Just as 1 Corinthians ends with the vision of resurrection hope in chapter 15, so the involved transformative church, producing distinctive, subversive public disciple-citizens, can only do so when it lives out its eschatological identity. The church can only be the church when it lives on the truth that in Christ the kingdom has come and in Christ the eternal things of this life and this world will pass through to eternity.

Earth and heaven will be shaken. Only those things which can endure the consuming fire will remain. But then there will be Sabbath, as the new creation is complete…

Jesus… saw human history as divided between two ages… the critical dividing point was not the final judgment, but his own proclamation and ministry…

In the new heaven and earth there would be no more blindness, lameness, deafness or death. There would be no poverty. The Son of God would be at the heart and centre of the new creation. But this was no longer completely future. In and through Jesus, it was starting now. (pages 148-149)

And, quoting Backham and Hart,

Christians care called to identify and to become involved with God’s Spirit in all that he is doing to fashion a genuine presence of the new within the midst of the old, drawing it into self-transcendent, albeit partial, anticipations of what will ultimately be. (page 172)

And so the fundamental call of the book is to be Christlike, to follow Jesus. Jesus, who did not self-actualise but lived only in obedience to the father, by the power of the Spirit. Jesus who came to the world, identifying with it, having compassion on it, teaching, taking action, building community and counting the cost – the cost of suffering – that would make it happen. That way doesn’t just dictate the labels of individuals, it transforms lives and shapes hearts, and, when done well in public, it changes the world and lasts for eternity.

This book is theologically firm and kerygmatically fervent. It captures the heart of Christ-focused emerging churches around the world – from Driscoll to Church Army to the Imagine Project here in Tasmania. I will be using this book again and again because it shines a light.


How do you review a book from 1886? Do you review it on it’s own terms or do you consider it as an indirect commentary on its own era? Perhaps you have to do both.

I read this book for an “easy read” during the summer and out of mild curiosity. Designed to be a “familiar talk with young Christians” (presupposing that young Christians know latin and greek of course!) it is not intended to be substantial.

The topic is the use of “wit” and “humour” by Christians, and, in particular, Christian orators and writers. Both terms – “wit” and “humour” – are extensively defined in a manner that would give endless enjoyment to the semantically pedantic. Interestingly, the common device of puns (much used and abused in my familial banter) is considered to be such a worthless device as to not fit in either category:

…everyone is ashamed of a pun: when convicted of having just made one, he is apt to look like a convict; and when one takes him by surprise, he thinks it is just like its impertinence – it hurts his dignity, and though he may laugh, he laughs under protest… To pun is to pound, or beat with a pestle. Can pun mean an empty sound, like that of a mortar beaten, as clench, the old word for pun, seems only a corruption of clink?” (page 19,20)

The main thesis of the book is that wit and humour can and should be used by Christians, although they can also be abused by Christians. Much is made of an evangelical tendency to avoid humour as worldly frivolity (“evangelical Christians have all something better to think of” (page 39), although the author can find an example of humour in the writings of our friend Mc’Cheyne:

“A camel once provoked our beloved McCheyne to the only approach toa smile in print of which he has been convicted, when, speaking of how a pilgrim feels as he mounts a camel, and as the great thing slowly rises, the good man remarked – I quote from memory – ‘As he goesp up, with you on his back, you feel as if you were bidding farewell to all sublunary things; but when he begins to move, you are again strongly reminded of your terrestrial affinities.'” (page 46)

With more profundity, however, the connection is made between the use of humour and the consequence of freedom that is inherent to the gospel.

“Why tell the Creator that in it [humour] He has created within you a sinful energy , which you must fight against directly you become a follower of His Son? Believe me, Christ will not destroy that, nor anything else that helps to make a complete, symmetrical man. He came not to destroy, but to save.” (page 58)

And elsewhere he derides those who have a “gloomy religion” and exhorts, “Levity! brothers, distinguish between light-headed and light-hearted” (page 69).

Stanford does not avoid the abuse of humour. An entire section is devoted to speaking against scoffing and mockery and self-centred speaking. He speaks of what he calls “counterfeits” – devices such as hoaxes that mimic humour but are vacuous rather than substantial. Of particular interest, and personal anachronistic amusement was he reference to the device of a “Bull” which gives me insight into our contemporary phrase, “a load of bull”!

“A bull has nothing to do with wit : it is not even a poor relation… The pleasure arising from with proceeds frm our surprise at suddenly discovering two things to be similar in which we expected no similarity; the pleasure arising from bulls proceeds from our discovering two things to be dissimilar, in which a resemblance might have been suspected… practical bulls originate from an apparent relation between two actions, which more correct understandings immediately perceive to have no relation at all.” (page 148-149)

Such linguistic curiosities also extended to the use of the adjective “electric” (pages 48, 86) and the noun “parachute” (page 43) which I had always assumed would have been 20th Century additions to the English language.

The book ends with an entire chapter devoted to a presentation of the gospel and what it means to be a true Christian – an evangelistic message at the end of a curiosity. Perhaps this book is the 19th Century’s equivalent of “rock band and altar call” youth ministry!


Metavista, written by Colin Greene & Martin Robinson is a socio-philosophical, cultural, ecclesiological and missiological commentary. “Our context in the twenty-first century… is radically different,” they say in the introduction (page xiv), and continue:

We shall argue that it is post-Christendom, post-secular, post-colonial and post-individualistic, in no particular order of priority, and therefore post-postmodern. And that “postist” reality requires an entirely new mission agenda that will not be adequately understood through adherence solely to church-planting strategies.

Those who know me will understand my engagement with this book. I share a frustration with typical church-plant/growth/renewal strategies. I resonate with the authors’ premise which is later on expressed thusly: “the technology of mission… we are dealing here [is] art, not science” (page 187)… “an organic process rather than a ready-to-go formula” (page 197) and of “tension” between “a more sophisticated recalibration of the church” to “a deeply postmodern context” and those who look, rather, for a “fundamental reimagining.” (page 180)

I’m one of those seeking a reimagining. But what are the whys and wherefores, where is the framework, what gives it life, how is it found? The value of this book is that it helps to remove the blinkers to the Holy Spirit at work.

Greene spends the first part of the book considering the cultural and sociological landscape. He unpacks the powerful narrative of modernity and secularisation from the 19th century – looking at it not just in philosophical academic terms but with regard to how it all engaged with the people’s imagination.

At this moment in history… these creative ideas came together to form a stirring emancipation narrative that caught the public imagination and led irrevocably to fundamental changes in the way people experienced the world. To “indwell the world” no longer meant to be bound inevitably to the accepted social order instituted by God and maintained by the authority of the aristocracy. Neither did it mean to accept one’s appointed lot in life which, for most, was one of grueling poverty, hardship and suffering. Nor did it mean to view religion and the church as the only safe refuge from a harsh and mercurial world that did not appear to operate according to any particular inbuilt order… The sociological achievement of the Enlightenment was the rise of the new bourgeoisie, and it was among this new class of rich merchants, bankers and industrialists that the narrative of emancipation was most venerated. (page 14)

He then unpacks postmodernity in the normal terms – touching on the “incredulity towards metanarratives,” the rejection of absolutes and “fiduciary frameworks”, and the “preference for individualized spirituality over and against organized religion” (page 42).

Greene wants “a way out of the postmodern impasse of no legitimating foundations to knowledge, ethical and political practice and, indeed, religious belief.” (page 42). Indeed:

To date postmodernity has been unable to provide us with a satisfying or legitimating account of why local stories are any more credible and authentic than the universal theories and archetypal myths we once found determinative of human existence and therefore believable. (page 50)

And so the “cultural transition we are presently experiencing, that which we have called ‘metavista,’ the age of imagination” is introduced. And at it’s heart lies not just subjective postmodern mininarrative, or imposed modernistic metanarrative, but the “power of retold stories.” (page 51)

This framework imperative to “retell the story” resonates with current experience. The ills of the First World can be seen in the loss of a defining story. What does it mean to be Australian, or British, for instance? Modernity reduces us to economic units, postmodernity reduces us to individual characters in our own self-centred fantasy. How do I fit in the larger whole, what gives me purpose and reason-for-being?

I watched the inauguration of President Obama last night and recognised within his speech the ability to retell the American Story – spinning phrases such as “Yes, we can” that are not mere words but reimaginings, calls, echoes of longing that seems to be speaking to Americans and giving them a metanarrative that is not imposed but to which they run. Similarly, the church story, the Jesus story needs retelling.

And so Greene tackles the main locus of that story – the Bible. He critiques the historical-critical hermeneutical and exegetical approach that modernistically asserts that the Word of God is reserved to the domain of the educated and academic. He suggests a return towards allegorical or typological reading – certainly not to the level of medieval excess but, dare I say it, with the same heart as biblical theologians such as Goldsworthy, and in the same vein as “many of the biblical writers [who] linked the two testaments into one unified story” (page 106):

Now it is very interesting that while the typological and the allegorical meaning was what the Reformers must distrusted… it is precisely this convention… figuration, that allows the Bible to be perceived as a unified narrative. (page 105)

And so Greene and Robinson place the Bible at the heart of the story that needs retelling in a metavista age. They identify, in particular, the “four subplots” of the Bible – The creation story, The Israel story, The Jesus story, and The church’s story. The gospel as theological assertion – you sinned, Jesus died – is replaced by gospel with flesh and bones – no less centred on the death and resurrection of the Messiah – but well-rooted, flourishing, bearing fruit in the reality of history and the imagination of today – a perichoresis of narratives that reveals Christ to us.

A crucial aspect of this perichoresis is the story of God at work in the church. The Church is no longer relegated to the epilogue of Christ’s passion but is caught up in the gospel dance itself. This is no heresy, and no surprise. After all, even Bill Hybels holds to the vision of “The local church is the hope of the world”!

Greene finishes his contribution by considering the church in this respect, retelling the church story particularly in terms of political engagement against the modernistic relegation of the church to the merely private.

Here, at times amidst the fleshpots of Babylon, at others under the oppressive strictures and tyranny of empires, where the mission of the church is curtailed or controlled, the church must, nevertheless, fulfill her task to image the kingdom of God, proclaim judgment, and actively resist the idolatry of the oppressors. (page 149)

Robinson then completes the book delivering one of the best overviews of nineteenth and twentieth century church history I have ever read.

In recent year
s, observing my own church – Anglican in Tasmania – I have noted how the vigour (and orthodoxy) of nineteenth century Anglo-Catholicism seemed to have collapsed across the world wars to a generation who ended up retaining the tradition but not its content. Having ministered in congregations defined by this generation I can testify to the contemporary echoes of the death-throes of Christendom which crescended, as Robinson states, in the 1960’s.

Robinson continues the story through the 70’s, considering the Lausanne evangelical resurgence of mission. He helpfully notes what many often ignore – the transition in Pentecostal churches from sect to mainstream, and, in the 80’s from what I call “classical pentecostalism” focussing on the work of the Holy Spirit to “new-style pentecostalism” focussing on entertainment techniques and management programs.

It had become apparent by the 1980s that the revivalist hopes of the charismatic movement were misplaced. However much some individual charismatic and Pentecostal congregations had grown, the hoped for scenario in which a renewed church would see hundreds of thousands clamoring to become Christians in the context of signs and wonders came to be seen as a false hope… New solutions would need to be found. The 1980s and 1990s saw a succession of solutions presented… programs of one kind or another. (pages 176-177)

All of this provides the background for the necessity of a “fundamental reimagining” of the church. Robinson picks up on contemporary concepts of Emerging Church and offers some critique and balance while working towards a presentation of a “Missional Community” at the heart of his reimagining. He tells a counter-cultural story of church “constituted not for itself, nor even for the world in an abstract sense, but towards the remaking of human communities as deeply incarnational expressions of the church in mission.” (pages 188-189).

His comments provide a helpful balance that has been missing in contemporary urgings to be more missional. We don’t always realise that the dying Christendom story can express itself outwardly ad well as inwardly in activities that look like mission but are no longer missional. In my own experience I have heard a call to mission answered by yet another round of people volunteering for charitable programs or “doing their bit” for the “work of the church.” Why did I find such goodness frustrating? Because such “mission” would not retell the story or reimagine the church and live out the gospel. Robinson provides an excellent quote from Robert Jenson:

All that talk a few years ago about the world setting the agenda, about seeing where God was at work in the world and jumping in to help, etc., was just a last gasp of the church’s establishment in the West, of its erstwhile ability to suppose that what the culture nurtured as good had to be congruent with the good the church had to bring. (page 189)

Even the best intentions can fail to resonate when they either merge with culture, or find no point of connection. Robinson, rather, calls for a reimagination of a counter-cultural life. “To live counter-culturally will mean to confront rival ideologies and not to be subverted by them.” (page 189).

Again, I find this resonates with my own kerygma in recent times to bring to the church the eschatological impetus to actively, passionately, “do life well” all the more as the Day approaches – for each to know their place in the story so that they can retell it in their living.

This lies at the heart of the difference between “attractional” models of church and missional models of church that happen to be “attractive.” Such attractive communities “are that way partly because they have a high threshold of expectation in terms of what members will do” (page 195). Participation is expected – but not a simple volunteerism for programs, rather a participation in counter-cultural life itself.

There are many other gems in Robinson’s thoughts – comments on leadership for instance and citations of a book by Alan Roxburgh that I have bought and will review at some point.

I will finish with one final quotation. Like most of the book it gives voice to my heart that I hear echoing in others. In this case let me note a congruence with Mark Driscoll’s theory of “reformission” in the collision of the three “narratives” of Gospel, Church and Culture where the church has to “live adventurously”:

To live this kind of counter-cultural life the church has to “risk” living at the interface of the collision of all three narratives… It has never been a safe option to live a genuinely counter-cultural Christian life, because such a life deconstructs old cultural verities and ignites new habits of the heart. It invites old men to dream dreams and young men to have visions. (pages 226-227)



This is going to be one of those book reviews where I end up reviewing the issue rather than the book itself – the issue of who should administer the sacrament of Holy Communion within the Anglican Church – just priests (also known as presbyters), or also deacons and lay persons?

So let me indulge just one paragraph on the book itself. This book is a defense and promulgation of the argument by those in favour of lay and diaconal “administration” of Holy Communion. The authors are influential members of the Sydney diocese and they clearly and concisely present their argument, backing it up with the weight of discourse and evidence – including pages and pages of endnotes and citations. It is a very specific book – go to other places for a generalist discussion for the theology of the sacraments or on ecclesiastical orderings. Simply put, it gives voice to those interested enough to ask the Sydney diocese “What are you doing and why?” The chapters range from theological overview, to historical commentary, to summaries of synodical legislative processes. If you are interested in this debate and wish to provide a voice to be taken seriously – it doesn’t matter what your conclusions are, but you simply must engage with this book.

There are two areas that I wanted this book to cover – the area of theology/ecclesiology, and the legislative/political arena. It covers the latter very well, the former only reasonably. So let me consider the latter first.

As George Conger states on his blog the legislative/political key behind the recent Sydney synod decision rests on grammar. What does “assist” mean? What does “administer” mean? And can we construe the Ordination Service for Deacons Canon 1985 such that it meets the 1996 Appellate Tribunal’s requirement for a General Synod canon to authorise the otherwise-constitutional practice of diaconal administration?

This is indeed asserted by Davies et al. who draws heavily on the conclusion of a more recent Apellate Tribunal consideration of the involvement of women in the episcopate:

“…they expressed the view that legislation is to be interpreted by the meaning of the words used and not on the basis of any supposed intention by the promoters of the legislation.” (p75)

In other words – “if you can argue that way and get women bishops, then you can also argue that way and get diaconal presidency.”

And I have a lot of sympathy for Davies’ legal argument. But that sympathy results, in the main, not from delight in the present outcome, but in annoyance with how (not the fact that) women were allowed into the episcopate in the Anglican Church of Australia. A ruling on semantics – and it’s resultant inconsistency with respect to Assistant Bishops – stole away conversation and debate on that issue – at least in the public arena. And so a maverick part of me enjoys the riposte from the other side of the divide.

But another part of me is saddened that ecclesiological debate in our church has come down to this – the back door of legal loop holes rather than the kerygmatically charged fervour of nutting things out together. In my mind semantics is, frankly, an insipid way to promulgate ones desires about issues that impact the whole. Even if the semantics can be argued – bring the explicit proposition anyway and debate that in the light of day. The “women bishops” issue will always have the dishonour of having been shoved in the side door. Do the proponents of diaconal and lay administration want to walk that same shadowy road?

The other political issue, of course, is the relationship with GAFCON. Technically this shouldn’t be an issue. As Robert Tong mentions in the last chapter, the Jerusalem Declaration states:

“We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters. We pledge to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us.”

And Tong then reiterates:

“It is our hope that those who disagree with our views willi n a spirit of generosity and freedom accept such differences in secondary mattes within the Anglican Communion, as together we continue to seek the mind of Christ.” (p118)

And, while GAFCON should be the place where the difference between primary and secondary is clear and biblically sound, the feeling around the internet traps seems to be that many of the orthodox GAFCON leaders struggle mightily with one of their number going down this road. I can only hazard a guess what the Anglo-Catholics and African clericalists might think and say about this. If GAFCON is going to work, something more than awkward silence will be needed. The centre is only won through engagement and freedom to be vociferous.

Turning now to the ecclesiological aspects of the book, the first thing I noted was a congregationalist tendency. Although this was somewhat offset in later chapters, emphases such as these from Mark Thompson will do little to help build the breadth of support:

“The congregation should be able to authorise its own leaders, whether episcopally ordained or not.” (p24)

“It is hard to reconcile the notion of the diocese as the local church with the New Testament terminology of church… The normal context of Christian ministry and fellowship is the congregation.” (p31)

For me, at the heart of Anglican church order, for better or for worse, is the episcopate. We are led by bishops. We may not organise or release episcopal ministry very well. And indeed the present circumstance, such as Lambeth, seems to be a testimony to what happens when bishops don’t bishop. But when it works, it works well – and it’s what we’ve got.

And so I appreciated Peter Bolt’s quoting of Canon Synge from the 1960’s. I don’t know Synge at all but Bolt’s quote of him strengthened the overall argument.

“… The clergy have entrenched themselves in the area of oversight or episcope as though they had the right to be there, thus converting a twofold tool of Christ, episcopate and laity, into a twofold institution, laity and clergy; the laity’s vocation now becomes the support of the clergy and the vocation of the episcopate becomes the oversight by a senior clergy man of clerical machinery.” (p101)

Episcopacy is more than just sacramental ministry – it is about oversight and “governance” in a spiritual way of God’s people. It means carrying the burden of vision and the heart of Christ for people. It is “apostolic” in the sense of being sent and of sending people into gospel ministry. In my mind, episcopacy (with a little “e”) is at the heart of the burden of Christian ministers for the “cure of souls” in their care. So, when Sydney Standing Committee affirms (as quoted by Bolt) “Ordination is primarily to a cure of souls: therefore only those in charge of parishes would be i
n priests’ orders.” (p40) what we are basically seeing is an affirmation of episcopal leadership (with a little “e”) in congregational life. The framework thus restricts incumbency to the order of presbyters and releases sacramental ministry, in an orderly manner, to all.

And I agree with much of it. It is silly to have Communion alone isolated as something magical when deacons and lay people can do everything else. And I do know of some priests who are more interested in celebrating communion than of exercising leadership and being gospel-and-people-focussed in their “cure.” I know what I see as prior and more important!

Consequently, I do not see lay or diaconal administration as inherently involving a downgrading of the role of the presbyter.

However, I can see a weakness in the argument and have one major concern.

The weakness is the lack of answers to these: Much is made of the fact that there is no biblical mandate for presbyteral administration. But where is the biblical mandate for the three orders at all? (I’m reminded of a friend who when asked if he believed in women’s ordination, said “I don’t even believe in men’s ordination”) More specifically – where is the biblical mandate for linking eldership with incumbency? Where is the biblical mandate for a diocesan (as opposed to congregational) college of presbyter-elders?

The concern is this: Incumbency inheres institution to the little-e episcopal function of the presbyter. What about church planters? It will be nice that a church-planting deacon might now be able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with a new church and church-planting team – but why not make the church-planter a presbyter – surely he has a “cure” and is exercising eldership, albeit in terms defined other than an institutional incumbency? When will a church plant become a “parish” worthy of a “presbyter”? (I’ve heard the tongue-in-cheek answer referring to early synagogues – when 10 good men can gather around the torah!)

What I want to see in this debate – and from Sydney in particular – is an exposition of the biblical correlation (if any) between “orders” (bishop, priest, deacon), roles or functions (incumbent, assistant, church-planter, chaplain etc.) and giftedness (particularly in Ephesians 4 terms – Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher). Without this the “being consistent with the Bible” argument weakens and will be overridden with poorer arguments of tradition and legalese.

All this matches my intrigue with this line in the book:

“Nicholas Taylor speaks of advocates of lay administration amongst the ‘fresh expressions’ church planting initiative within the Church of England” (p80)

I don’t know Taylor but I can sympathise with those he references here. Fresh Expression ministry in an Anglican Context often feels like an experience in shoehorning square pegs into round holes and liturgical restrictions are a part of that. Unfortunately, this book also feels like I’m still being shoehorned – just in the other direction – because it argues from institution rather than to it.

So do I support lay and diaconal administration?

As a fresh expression person my answer simply is – whatever makes us free-er to be the church we are trying to be. And so at this stage:

Yes – theologically I cannot see a biblical reason why administering Communion should be restricted to priests/presbyters.
No – politically and pragmatically – it’s a secondary fight, not a primary fight. I don’t want to get caught up in the politics of semantics.

I just want to gather around the Gospel proclaimed in Word and Sacrament and see lives transformed.


Steve Chalke’s Change Agents is literary finger food. Basically it is a series of 25 articles of the kind you would normally find on a blog somewhere as Steve Chalke, the leader of the and Oasis networks in England gives some snippets, some insights, some self-indulgent catharsis, and the occasional gratuitous anecdote. It’s a good “toilet book” – by which I mean the sort you leave in that smallest of rooms to pick up and dwell on when you have a moment of necessary leisure.

And by all this I mean that this book is good – quite good actually. Light, but good.

The 25 lessons are short and honest and occasionally give you that hit between the eyes (or is that a smack on the back to stop you choking?). By way of example consider the following titles for some of these lessons:

“Action leads to insight more often than insight leads to action.”
“Vision and frustration are the same thing.”
“Success is three days between two crises.”
“People follow people not disembodied principles.”
“If it ain’t broke, break it.”

Indeed, it is the honesty of the book that gives it it’s value. I have come to value honesty – emotional honesty in particular – as a significant virtue in others and an aspiration for myself. Chalke exhibits this. Consider this from the lesson entitled “Nothing is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood.”

“I’ve got some stuff to get off my chest… Someone that I spend a lot of time working very hard to help complained that they felt undermined by me. Half an hour later, another friend casually remarked that he sees me as a guy with good people skills who is just too busy to use them. That was a clever one; the mother of all bachanded compliments – and the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. I’m tired. I’m busy. I’m fed up. I’m overworked. I’m exhausted. I’m exasperated. I feel overwhelmed and undervalued. It seems like nothing I do is so simple that it can’t be misunderstood. Am I condemned to spend my life working myself into the ground for people intent on misreading my motives, misinterpreting my actions and, no doubt, misrepresenting my character behind my back?” (pp97-98)

His leadership pseudo-motivational speaker stuff is quaint (he even quotes Covey at one point). His theology is only implied and is somewhat questionable. And the Bible is not, shall we say, right at the centre of his discourse. But the honesty allows you to leave what is bad and take what is good – and there is much of that.

It is worthy of a place next to your toilet.


It’s been a while since I read a book that was as academic as Clive Hamilton‘s The Freedom Paradox. The book is centred around a desire to construct a philosophical basis for morality, ethics and societal operations that are beyond modernistic rationality but which is not dogmatically asserted or mystically ungraspable. It is a dense book but with a style I came to appreciate – “long words, but short chapters” might be a good way to sum it up.

I am not a philosopher. I cannot critique Hamilton as to the accuracy of his use of the likes of Plato, Kant, and, most frequently, someone I’ve never even heard of – Schopenhauer. But I’m pretty sure I was able to get a grasp on some of the concepts that he attempts to communicate. And I can bring to these concepts my own considerations as an applied theologian.

So to put myself out on a limb, my take on what Hamilton is trying to say goes something like this:

Beginning with the age-old philosophical construct of how I, the observer, the thinker, the only thing that I can take as “given” (I think therefore I am), interact with the world, Hamilton takes us through the concepts of phenomenon and noumenon. Phenomenon relates to the things that I-the-given can see, hear, cogitate about and consider. Noumenon relates to the ideal that lies behind the things that I see. For instance (my example) – if I see another person I interact with them through observation, relational interaction (conversation and the like), and thoughts (rationality) and emotions – these are things pertaining to the phenomenon. But the other person is more than just the conglomeration of my own reasonings and feelings and observations – that person is something in-and-of-themselves. The other person exists beyond the phenomenon in the unrealisable but real “noumenon.”

Hamilton seizes on this notion of the noumenon and disagrees with rationalists like Kant who assert that the noumenon is unknowable. Indeed, Hamilton says, it cannot be known by rational thought, but only by an “unsensible intuition.” And through such intuition we can know not only the noumenal self of others but also our own noumenal self – which are one and the same Self (capital “S”). This possibility of noumenal engagement then becomes a philosophical and post-secular (non-religious) basis for moral engagement, ethics, considerations of the meaning of life and so forth. For instance, I will treat another person differently if I can recognise (intuit) in them a noumenal essence (part of the Self that includes myself as the Subject of the engagement) rather than simply treating them as a (phenomenal) Object.

I hope that’s not too much of an abuse of his argument! And there are a number of things to commend that flow out of it, for instance:

  • This is one of the more robust engagements with the thinking of postmodernity that I’ve come across – in tearing down the idol of pure rationality Hamilton does not slip into (de)construction and the like.
  • His consideration of true freedom being “inner freedom” that is far beyond the unfreedom put forwarded by populist capitalism and advertising has truth to it. On page 21, for instance, he writes, “Western society is characterised by an ever-devouring conformity flimsily camouflaged by a veneer of confected individuality…”.
  • He often lends weight to ethics I would agree with – on page 120 he affirms the noumenal interaction of the sexual act and notes, “Sex in porn is not the exploration of one with another; it is an act of relief, like defecation.”
  • His conclusions embrace some fundamental ideas that I also embrace – the innate (not merely socially constructed) value of life, for instance, and the recognition of a “noumenal” (what I would call “spiritual”) foundation to our worldview.

The main chasm that appears when you interact theologically with this book is wrapped up in a question asked me once by a young man at an SU camp – “Will, do you believe in Jesus, or in the idea of Jesus?” Hamilton presents some ideas and some of them align with the idea of Jesus. But without an historical, phenomenal narrative to hang them on Hamilton’s arguments and considerations about the noumenon lack authority or weight – they become ironically, or perhaps appropriately, his own intuitions of what noumenally is. This flaw is starkly present throughout but especially in the very last paragraph of the book which contains this sentence:

“So, if we suppose that the noumenon’s manifestation in the phenomenon is not without purpose but that the noumenon is intentioned, creation has a meaning.” (p247)

Hamilton has simply intuited (or supposed) that the noumenon is “intentioned.” And despite the fact that I, for different reasons, happen to agree with him on this point, the meaning of life, in his argument, simply rests, frankly, on hiw own intuitive guesswork.

All Hamilton’s comments on the content or nature of the noumenon rest on such a basis. Because of this propensity to simply rely on some self-revelatory “special knowledge”, and also because of the many allusions to Eastern philosophies and religions, I found myself quickly comparing Hamilton’s arguments to the ancient view of gnosticism – against which much of early Christian (even New Testament era) thought is presented. Indeed a contemporary gnostic website defines gnosticsm as “the teaching based on Gnosis, the knowledge of transcendence arrived at by way of interior, intuitive means” which seems to affirm Hamilton’s basic thrust. And, by way of example, Hamilton’s “avatars of virtue” come across as positively (while not literally) aeonic – i.e. be construed, as the website puts it, to “exist between the ultimate, True God and ourselves”:

“… the noumenon needs interpreters, individuals who by common consent represent metaphysical empathy in the phenomenal world. These are individuals whose life story emobides a message that echoes powerfully in the consciousness of ordinary people. Whether these figures are secular or religious, their moral selves are closer to the surface and cause them to radiate a kind of moral greatness.” (p166, emphasis mine)

And this ancient hue also colours Hamilton’s view of Christ, evidenced when he tackles the issue of “Eternal Justice” in which he posits that categories of justice and compassion cannot belong in the noumenon and writes:

“Jesus’ appeal from the cross for divine mercy was a moment of human weakness in which he forgot his own teaching.” (p173)

Which brings us to the main crux (pun intended) of the Christian engagement with this book. Hamilton can in the end only appeal to his own gnosis wh
en he puts transcendance, “unsensible intuition”, or some form of engagement with the Moral Self above atonement as the answer to the human predicament. He places his idea of Christ into his own framework of ideas and does not interact with the glorious scandal that it is at the heart of Christian thought and spirituality – that, to borrow Hamilton’s words, the noumenal can and has been made known in the phenomenon – God made flesh in Jesus Christ. If we are to engage with what truly is we must engage with the one who “was and is and is to come” and speaks to us the words of Truth. We know the noumenon because the noumenon has been made known.

And so this meaty book has bits that can’t easily be swallowed. While churches are acknowledged as being “keepers of the transcendant” there is no spiritual significance afforded the church in an implied kowtowing to the age of post-secularism. I would disagree – we are not bastions of dogma, we are the place where, in Christ, ordinary phenomenal people are able to eat, live, work, relate on a noumenal, spiritual foundation.

There is some fantastic exploration in this book. There are some moments where the reader says “mmm, interesting perspective, I hadn’t seen it that way before.” The man has an intellect and I admire how he has put his thoughts together. But in the end, and perhaps this is unfair as it may not be one of his aims, this book presents us without hope or assistance to those who find themselves stranded in the phenomenon of this fallen world.


It’s not often that I read a book that makes me smile and wince for all the right reasons.

Cory Doctorow’s latest novel, Little Brother, has been available for some time now. I have had the Creative-Commons licensed on-line version for months but being handed a tree-ware copy gave me an excuse to read it.

Having read reviews, and having heard the cheers from the techno-geek rebel wannabes that clip on red-copycat-capes as they seed the blogosphere with attempts at profundity, I wasn’t surprised at the story or the plot. In fact it is a rather a linear plot with some clumsy sequences and character introductions – but right on the money for the apparent mid-teen audience. (Note to the discerning parent: my classification would be an Australian M-Rated, adult themes, mild violence, drug use, nudity, sex scenes)

But it’s not the literary weight of Little Brother that gives its value – it is it’s subject matter. Set in a very slightly futuristic San Francisco in the days and weeks following a significant terrorist bombing it explores the very topical and present issues of freedom and security. Questions are raised about the fundamentals of (American) political freedom – and the psychology behind giving up freedoms for the sake of security only to arrive at the reality of security theatre that masks an ever-growing bureaucratic control of society. As I was reading it I was constantly thinking about issues that Bruce Schneier often raises only to find that he had written an afterword in the book itself!

Doctorow teases open issues of how the so-called War on TerrorTM gets used for manipulation and places this within a generational and cultural milieu that draws from San Francisco hippiedom alway through to the technological ubiquity of the latest generation weaving the values of the hacker into the whole thing. Surveillance, privacy, civil rights, generational angst, and a little bit of Hollywood-esque action are thrown together in just the right way to make me smile and wince for all the right reasons.

This book is bit absolutist but deliberately so. I think that what it does best is point at the hypocrisies of Western societies and state clearly in the words of a seventeen year-old hacker “The Emperor has no clothes.” It takes current thin wedge-ends and plays them out to an extreme. It is an excellent summary of the values, the angst, and the serious philosophy of a generation and sub-culture that riles at a protectionist-by-increment cancer creeping into our civilisation.

Even Doctorow’s decision to release it through creative-commons – giving away his book in the face of old-style mercantile establishment who gasp at the audacity of such a business plan – is part of the message of this book. Although it does make me wonder if they’ll ever be a movie.

From a Christian point of view: Well it’s not exactly from the same crowd behind Veggie Tales and Guitar Praise Hero if you know what I mean. And it’s certainly wouldn’t be held up as wholesome by those who confuse American patriotism with Christian spirituality. But it does remind us that all government and nations rule only at God’s pleasure. It paints a picture of what humans do to each other. I agree with much of its critique, then rest with gladness on the truth that God is in control and in him is safety, security, and sometimes the energy for counter-cultural proclamation.

Anyway. Download it. Pick it up. Enjoy it. And ponder.