Essentials

The Windowless Room

Peter Corney points out the cramped and impoverished world that the modern materialist lives in. Peter writes, speaks, mentors and consults on leadership for various organisations

Materialism as a philosophy or world view is now the dominant framework of the Western mind, the lens through which most people view and understand reality. Materialism is the idea that the only reality is a material or physical one, there is nothing beyond the physical, no supernatural or spiritual, nothing that transcends the material: only particles, spaces and energy. At the biological level everything is explicable by the process of natural selection and the physical neurological activity of the brain.

One of the wonders of the times in which we live is that every day, it seems, we are discovering more and more of how all this material world works. We sit fascinated as the Professor Brian Coxes of this world explain it all to us via brilliant BBC documentaries and expand our minds and knowledge. We gasp amazed as some new and marvellous medical breakthrough is announced on the news.

But at another level our understanding is impoverished, limited and entirely enclosed in this immanent world of the material. It’s as if, with the threat of rain, the roof of the Tennis Centre has slowly closed to the heavens as the game proceeded and we didn’t notice. Now we are shut off from the transcendent and enclosed in this immanent mental framework. Indeed if you listen carefully, that is the view of reality that the charming and erudite Professor Cox assumes. Charles Taylor in his writing on secularism claims that this closure to the transcendent is what is at the heart of contemporary secularism.

To change the metaphor, it’s as if we are locked in a windowless room which is brilliantly lit by the scientific method that enables us to see and explain more and more of our physical world but is paradoxically a profoundly reductionist space. It reduces and limits all explanations and descriptions to the material and physical. It has no windows onto wider and bigger explanations of reality. It provides no answers to our deepest and most important questions, like what the meaning and purpose of our lives is, how to understand right and wrong, the nature of justice, beauty, love, shame, guilt, honour, duty, evil and good, why we desire social and personal accountability. The list of enduring human questions it fails to deal with goes on!

The present prosperity of consumer Western culture and the distractions created by our technological mastery temporarily shield us from these deeper questions but they cannot be repressed for ever. The present crisis in the mental health of our young people—one in four in Australia are suffering some serious mental health issue—is a warning sign. The list of global problems grows daily and our present politics seems unable to solve them. It may be that the other wisdom that modernity has put aside for too long may be sought again. Let’s hope and pray that it may be so!

Book Review: Liturgy of the Ordinary

Liturgy of the Ordinary:
Sacred Practices in Everyday Life
Tish Harrison Warren, IVP, 2016

Liturgy of the Ordinary could become a contemporary classic. It was the Christianity Today Book of the Year in 2018. As a staff team we look over this annual listing and pick one book each as a summer read. This was my pick and it was surprising, refreshing and renewing. I’d go so far as to say it was the best book I’ve read in years. The concept of the book is unique and the writing is beautiful, honest and theologically rich. Being on holidays I read a chapter a day and it was a rich experience. None of that getting the book out with good intentions and finding oneself asleep an hour later!

Tish Harrison Warren is an Anglican priest (in the ACNA), a writer, a wife and the mother of two girls. When she wakes up each morning she faces a formidable to-do list. How does one find time to pursue holiness amid the rush of responsibilities?

The answer comes in this, her first book. Chapter by chapter, she explains how the most routine tasks, if done with an eye on the eternal, become extraordinary. ‘We are shaped every day, whether we know it or not, by practices—rituals and liturgies that make us who we are’, she writes. And that makes the ‘small bits of our day . . . profoundly meaningful because they are the site of our worship. The crucible of our formation is in the anonymous monotony of our daily routines.’

The opening chapter begins with getting out of bed and then proceeds to look at the seemingly ordinary things that make up our lives. The chapter headings could make it all seem very mundane, covering topics like ‘Losing keys’ or ‘Fighting with my husband’. But this is what makes it so refreshing. Each day we see that everything in life is touched with holiness. Warren’s writing is very personal, honest and fresh, and each chapter takes you to surprising places. Some might be tempted to think this is a woman’s book. Presumably many women will find this especially refreshing, seeing she is a young mum. However it shouldn’t be boxed. It helped me to see my daily chores with fresh eyes and lifted my mind and spirit into new places in order to reflect on the extraordinary in the ordinary. I can’t recommend this book more highly.

Stephen Hale, Vic

Book Review: People of the Risen King:

People of the Risen King:
A History of St Jude’s Carlton, 1866-2016
Elizabeth Willis, St Jude’s Anglican Church, Carlton, 2017 

Encouragement and gratitude to God and his faithful servants: it was with these emotions that I closed this skilful interweaving of church and society through 150 years at St Jude’s Anglican Church in Carlton. Carlton’s socio-economic conditions and demography, clerical and lay personalities, theological emphases, liturgical practice, the Melbourne Diocese, and national and international affairs are colourfully integrated. Through testing times, diverse personalities and ever-changing ministries, the life and mission of the ‘People of the Risen King’ at St Jude’s Carlton is brought to life. Carlton larrikins blocking the entry of worshippers, the decline in attendance following the First World War, the depression, bulldozing to ‘clear the slums’, the building of Housing Commission estates, the opportunity to welcome New Australians, university ministry, discipleship training, parish partnerships, new congregations and relations with the Diocese of Melbourne: throughout it all we see the faithfulness of men and women to the work of God.

The ethos of the times is well captured. By way of example, the loss of faith following the First World War is highlighted: ‘subdued and grieving at the end of a horrible war when people were picking up the pieces and trying to make sense of a world where old certainties about progress and security had been shaken’ produced stark challenges for the church. A ‘Come to Church Sunday’ in 1919 seemed to miss the mark when it ‘exhorted people to go to church because it was a good thing to do, because it was a duty owed to God, and because their mothers would be pleased!’

Anecdotes tell amusing incidents and memorable characters. Vicar Lance Shilton in the early 1950s was challenged at his first Women’s Guild meeting: ‘We’ve heard that you don’t believe in gambling. We want a “yes” or “no” answer. Can we have raffles at our fete?’ The vicar concluded his ‘no’ with, ‘I am confident that by not having raffles at the next fete, you will make more money than you would ever have made before.’ The President replied, quick as a flash, ‘Would you like to bet on that?’ This reader could not help but laugh!
The parish’s social work encompasses the ‘free seats’ of the nineteenth century and the Debt Centre of the twenty-first century: a wide embrace of society that is at no time loosened.

In the 1890s wealthier people moved away from Carlton and the Depression hit Carlton and the parish hard. ‘In the winter of 1892 St Jude’s began a twice weekly soup kitchen . . . On one Wednesday seventy-six families representing over 300 people were provided with forty gallons of soup . . . and 140 loaves of bread, as well as tea, sugar and a large quantity of clothing.’ These impacts of changing demographics bring their own demands to parish priorities and possibilities. Hardly imaginable in 1866 would be the translation of sermons into Mandarin and Farsi in 2015!

The issue of liturgical changes and their cost to parishioners and clergy is not avoided nor the struggle to settle the culture of a congregation—and indeed of the parish. Would a congregation’s services have robed clergy, hymns, public prayer, charismatic expression, expository sermons? Would it be family/children friendly, welcoming to the outsider, have lay or staff leadership or some combination thereof? (And all in ninety to a hundred minutes.) Change is costly: the cost not always appreciated. A gracious and poignant reflection in 2004 from a now senior member runs: ‘Us young things took little notice of the cost of all this to the older parishioners, who had continued faithful through the hard times, and to whom we owed the continued existence of the church. We failed to respect the work of the Spirit of God amongst them.’

Insight is given to the significance of the gifting and emphases of the clerical leadership on the life and ministry of the parish. I appreciated the honesty of the personal challenges faced by clergy and the conflict within the life of the parish. In particular, conflict between staff is acknowledged without assigning blame or descending into a ‘tell-all’ narrative. This history is no hagiography, and praise be to God for that!

Photos add to the narrative. After viewing the impressive 1905 St Jude’s Football Team, I looked in vain for recent vicars Boan, Adams and Condie in the football team pose of crossed arms, attired in football shorts and sleeveless footy jumper!

A deftly placed photo of a fully robed bishop, robed vicar, two women wardens in smart casuals and a male warden in shorts and thongs, delightfully illustrate the Vicar’s words to the 1988 AGM, ‘I think that St Jude’s still retains a great deal of its off-beat, imaginative and risk-taking style. It is still fun to be part of and, despite the apparent order and sameness of our life, the erratic, the irregular and the very funny still occurs!’
The relationship between St Jude’s and the diocese of Melbourne is honestly traced with its ups and downs - and current healthy state.
The irony of writing of the seemingly endless struggle to maintain the parish buildings fit for purpose at the very time it is uninhabitable due to a deliberately lit fire in 2014 is not lost on the author. A multimillion dollar building project is currently underway.

This truly is a stimulating read! Do leave time for reflection along the way, for this history is a reminder that through the changing circumstances of parish and societal life the church is the ‘People of the Risen King’. Thank you, Elizabeth Willis, for your fine work in bringing this parish history to us, and to the faithful saints of St Jude’s Carlton. Copies are available via St Jude’s website. An insightful and inspiring history!

Bishop John Harrower, Vic.

 

Book Review: All Things Made New

All Things Made New
Writings on the Reformation
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Penguin, 2017 

Alongside his larger works on various aspects of the Reformation, MacCulloch has also written smaller pieces, book reviews, and occasional lectures. Some of these are gathered together in this volume. He has a few themes which run through the collection. His common sub-theme of sexuality is a very minor part of this book. One of the bigger ones is his crusade against the rewriting of Reformation history by the Oxford Movement

The first part concerns the Reformation in Europe. He has excellent chapters on Calvin, the Virgin Mary, Angels, the Spanish Inquisition and a very thoughtful book review of John O’Malley’s Trent: What happened at the Council. He regards this as the best history of the Council yet written.

The English Reformation is the second part and includes chapters on Tudor image making, Henry VIII, Tolerant Cranmer, the Prayer Book, the two Tudor Queens, and the King James Bible. A lot of helpful and new insights in all of this.

The third part is a look back at the English Reformation. It includes a number of chapters critical of modern studies on the Reformation. He critiques what he calls the “hegemonic narrative” of the twentieth century. The hegemony was Anglican – but specifically High Church Anglican. There had once been another narrative, the Evangelical Anglican Narrative but this had been lost in the Victorian era. So the “adherents of the Oxford Movement, or the wider world of Anglo-Catholicism, were dominant in the practise of religious history at university level ...” (240). This first chapter provides an excellent overview of the progress of historiography in the last century. McCulloch gives an example of the mythology of some history by recounting research into the removal of rood screens in certain parts of England. 30 – 40% disappeared in Norfolk churches in the nineteenth century, and 40-50% in Dorset, the work of High Churchmen who wanted the congregation to be able to see the consecration on the High Altar.

He has a similar critique of Thomas Cranmer’s biographers. Perhaps the best chapter is the 42 page essay on Richard Hooker, and the various people who hijacked him for their own purposes, not least John Keble. This chapter I think is worth buying the book for.

MacCulloch’s penultimate chapter concerns two reformation myths. He calls it a cautionary tale. One concerns the sermon Cranmer preached at Edward VI’s coronation where he referred to the King as like King Josiah. The other is the story of Queen Elizabeth berating the dean of St Paul’s for giving her a copy of the Book of Common Prayer adorned with devotional pictures. MacCulloch, says neither of these things happened although they have become part of the legend of the Reformation.

His last chapter is a potted summary of the history of Anglicanism underlining that it is really a Reformation church, but that in the face of too much dogmatism, it should be recognised as a “trial-and-error form of Christianity”. And we should keep on debating in public and allow ourselves to change.

One doesn’t need to agree with everything MacCulloch says to benefit from his many helpful insights and research. One of the great benefits of his writing is that he has challenged the narrative that the Reformation in England didn’t really happen. And has provided lots of new evidence not just that it did, but what actually went on between 1533 and now.

This is a fascinating book and worth reading. It also contains eight pages of colour plates with important images to go with the text.

Dale Appleby, WA

 

Bible Study: A Confronting Freedom; Luke 4:14-30

'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’

Gavin is the rector of St Judes, Bowral, NSW.

The small-town boy, now the talk of the whole region, returns to his home ‘church’ in Nazareth. This is the synagogue in which he grew up. His Saturday school teachers could probably think back to when this Jesus was a young boy in their care. What a morning to be in synagogue that particular Saturday!

Jesus has returned to Galilee after his temptation, and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 14) he commits himself to a preaching tour all around the synagogues of Galilee. His teaching has given him a reputation (v. 15).

Jesus tells his disciples that the reason he was sent is to be a preacher of the gospel of the kingdom (v. 43). Teaching is what the Spirit-filled Messiah focuses on, for it is the essential form of revelation from God.

Luke gives us just one of these first sermons, and even then he only gives us Jesus’ opening sentence: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (v. 21). Let’s consider that opening sentence word by word (slightly out of sequence).

“this Scripture”

They have just had the Scriptures read, and probably at the guest preacher’s request the passage was a short reading from Isaiah 61 (see Luke 4:18-19).

Isaiah 61 is about a great reversal for the people of God, and for the holy city Jerusalem in particular. The prophet casts his eyes forward beyond the exile, to the redemption and rebuilding that will follow when they return. There will be a staggering reversal for God’s people. They had been made poor under the judgment of God because of their sin. They had become broken-hearted captives imprisoned because of the covenant curses that had fallen upon them. To them Isaiah preaches a gospel of reversal, in which God by his faithfulness will restore his people and make an everlasting covenant with all those who mourn and grieve their situation and the sin that put them there. The poor are Israel, and the answer to their poverty is the kingdom of the Messiah.

“is fulfilled”

As the congregation stands around him, Jesus sits to preach (now there is a custom we ought to reintroduce promptly!), and he opens by telling them that this hope is fulfilled because he is here.

Fulfilment is one of the great themes of this gospel of Luke. The very first verse of the gospel then tells us that the whole book is about “the things that have been fulfilled among us.” Luke wants us to have certainty about the significance of the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He wants us to know that Jesus ministry fulfils and is in continuity with the Old Testament. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is the fulfilment of God’s global plan of salvation.

Jesus says, “I am here, so this is now the year of the Lord’s favour.” The first word of the gospel is not a command or an exhortation to work harder, rather it is a proclamation of what God in his grace has already done in Jesus.

“Today”

If you are carefully comparing Luke 4 and Isaiah 61 you will notice that the Scripture reading that day stopped abruptly mid-sentence. In Isaiah verse 2 continues, “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God”.

Why does Jesus stop before he gets to that last phrase? He does so because he wants to say that “today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. This is not yet the day of God’s vengeance. Today is the day of favour and opportunity.

There are three different fulfillment points of Isaiah’s prophecy separated by centuries.

1.The fulfilment in the history of Israel for those facing the reality of coming exile. They are encouraged that God’s Spirit will anoint someone who will liberate this people. This happens through Cyrus the Persian king.

2. This fulfillment on the ‘Today’ that is the coming of Jesus as the Messiah

3. The return of Jesus in power and glory to destroy his enemies – the day of vengeance.

“in your hearing”

The fulfilment of Isaiah 61 on that day is the preaching ministry of Jesus. His preaching inaugurates the age of favour and grace, but not yet judgment. It is a call to listening ears and responsive hearts.

How do they respond? The movement is striking; verse 14, everyone was praising him: verse 22, they are amazed at his words (with a tinge of condescension): verse 28, they are furious: and then verse 29, they turn into a lynch mob!

What can explain this shift? It is what Jesus adds to his sermon in verses 23-27 by telling two stories form the lives of Elijah and Elisha.

Two stories that both teach that salvation is not limited to the Jews, but at God’s initiative, Jews were passed over for the salvation of Gentiles. It is the Gentile question that leads to them turning against Jesus, just as Gentile inclusion leads to many of the Jews turning against Paul in part 2 of Luke-Acts.

They went from praising Jesus to trying to lynch him, because he told them that he had not come to bring vengeance on the Gentiles, but had come to preach forgiveness to them.

Jesus walks through the crowd, and keeps on preaching and seeking the spiritually poor and weak who know their need and respond to the call, even the Gentiles.

Today, even as many reject Jesus’ offer of favour, we can still expect to find the most unlikely people responding to Jesus. This is the year of favour and salvation to all those spiritually poor and weak who know their greatest need.

Book Review: Together Through the Storm

Together Through the Storm:
A practical guide to Christian Care
Sally Sims. Matthias Media, 2016

The book is just as it is described in the sub-title: it’s ‘a practical guide to Christian care’, in three parts. Part 1, ‘Suffering and the God who cares’, sets out the reality of suffering in this world and points us to the God who not only understands, but who can be trusted. According to Sims, Christian care aims to anchor the person in these truths as they deal with suffering. Part 2, ‘Biblical Foundations for Care’ explores how as God’s people we share life together in all its suffering and joy, and how we are called to love one another. It then looks at what makes our care Christian, and finally turns to how Christian care can be structured across the church. Part 3 is about Christian care in action, with lots of very practical guidelines for visiting people, finishing with the specific context of visiting people in hospital.
Sims has achieved what she has set out to achieve: a practical guide to Christian care which is also well grounded theologically, and not afraid of using insights from the helping professions. This work would be useful for a care team in the local church as a basic training tool, or for any Christian keen to be better equipped for caring.

I think the title ‘Christian care’, rather than ‘pastoral care’, is helpful in practice, especially when the term ‘pastoral care’ is too open to the misunderstanding that all or most pastoral care should be done by the pastor. Also, as Sims points out, it helps us to hold onto the distinctiveness of Christian pastoral care, when the term is often used of general pastoral care in hospitals and schools and other settings.
This is a balanced book, encouraging the use of the Bible and prayer in Christian care while also underlining how we demonstrate our love by the way we listen, are sensitive to people’s needs and provide practical care and support. The practical section, the last section of the book, covers some areas that those who are new to Christian care will find helpful—everything from how you might prepare to visit someone, what you need to keep in mind with hospital visits, to what to review when you come back, including discussing and praying about this with your team so you are encouraging each other in the work.

Overall this is a good and useful book. At times I wanted a bit more depth, but as a basic tool it is great. I especially appreciated the reminders about the importance of listening as a way of demonstrating love. These were repeated throughout the book, and I think Sims is right to imagine that we need to be reminded to listen. Her repeated reminders helped me finally to hear what she is saying, and—hopefully—correct the tendency to come up with a quick answer, seeking to solve people’s problems. (See pages 66-68 and 92-93 on listening).

Chapter 8 on the body of Christ working together gave a helpful basic outline and description of how a church could provide structure to the ministry of caring. I’m always struck by how Christian care happens (without much organisation by a leader) as people are motivated by God’s grace in their lives to reach out to love and care for others. Much of this is encouraged and furthered through small group ministry in a church. However, when circumstances are overwhelming or someone has long term needs, they may need additional care that’s part of a more structured and planned approach, including a care team of people who provide care at various levels and care leaders who co-ordinate care and who equip people for this ministry.

Together Through The Storm will help the reader to grow in their capacity to care for others, especially if Christian care is either new to them, or they need some basic training or a refresher on the basics of Christian care. Chapter 8 will also help pastors who have not thought through how to structure Christian care in a church, by providing a basic structure and description of that structure. Finally, there is a helpful reflection at the end of the book about how pain and suffering is often ‘where the real work of life takes place’, and thus how God uses our own pain and suffering to change us for the better and make us better carers. That’s something every pastor or Christian carer ought to reflect on and give God thanks for, whether we read this book or not.

Roger Morey, WA.

The coming revolution in small group ministry

Bishop Stephen Hale sees small groups as poised to revolutionise 7church life again. Stephen Hale is the Chair of EFAC Australia

Way back in the 1980s a revolution started in thinking about small groups in the life of the church. The late John Mallison (my mentor for many years) wrote a classic book called Growing the Church through Small Groups. The whole focus was on growing disciples of Jesus through meeting in small groups to read God’s word together, to pray and to minister to one another. This was about a revolution in how pastoral care was expressed. It was a discovery of the power and potential of mutual care. St Hilary’s Kew was in the vanguard of this movement and offered significant leadership in this area. Steve Webster writes about this era in the book published last year Excellence in Leadership: essays in honour of Peter and Merrill Corney. At the book launch he told what a massive cultural shift it was back in the 1980s and 1990s to get people involved in small groups.

At present another revolution in small group ministry is taking place. This is a fresh discovery of the mission of God and how we participate in it together. At the heart of this is unlocking the mission potential of small groups. This is about growing in discipleship. This is sometimes captured in the ‘Up’ the ‘In’ and the ‘Out’. ‘Up’ is reading God’s word, listening and responding to him. ‘In’ is sharing each other’s lives and praying together. ‘Out’ is sharing in mission together both as a group and as we support each other to live out our faith in all of our lives.
In our church we have renamed small groups as Connect Groups, as they are about connecting with God, connecting with each other and connecting in mission together. While continuing to study God’s word and pray together, groups in the St Hilary’s Network increasingly participate in some sort of missional endeavour in some real and tangible way. This may be an outreach or social justice activity, it may be linked to the everyday activities of your lives. It is about connecting with real people and sharing the love of God and inviting people to consider the Christian faith. Groups are not told what to do but supported to discover together the mission God wants them to participate in. We recognise this as a significant shift and expect it will take time to become a reality. We hope over time all groups will embrace an outward focus.

It is true to say that growth in maturity increases dramatically, when you get your sleeves rolled up and have to do something for others in some way. This is about seeking God’s kingdom together and about us being a part of something bigger for the sake of others. I think we all know the sense of buzz that comes when we do that. For us this is about a revolution in how we see church and community. For us, this is about making our newly agreed mission (making, maturing and mobilising disciples of Jesus Christ) and vision (to transform lives and communities as we share the love of God through the love of God’s people) a reality.

This is a topsy turvey view of mission. It isn’t top down and program centred. It is releasing the whole people of God to share in the whole mission of God and to do it in the whole of God’s world. That might seem a bit pretentious! But this is a vision for all God’s people to share in God’s mission in God’s world and to share in it both when we’re together and when we’re apart. This is a vision for everyone and not just some people. This is for children and families as well as mature adults. This is about releasing the gifts of the people of God in the mission of God. This is about having a vision for church being a visible alternative community. This is about what Mark Zuckerberg recently called helping others to discover a sense of purpose (in God) for themselves.

This is also about each of us supporting and praying for each other as we seek to be kingdom people in all of our lives—at home, at work, in our street, in our communities, with our Mission partners—this is both local and global. If you think about the number of people in Connect Groups (or the equivalent in your church) and think about the number of places where we each hang out and share our lives, then you have tens of thousands of people that we have kingdom connections with. If we see this as part of the mission of God that we each share in together, then, as St Paul puts it: ‘then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.’ (Philippians 2:15)

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