Author Archive

CULTURE CLUB

This is a paper I presented recently at a discussion/mentor group for a small group of younger clergy and youth workers new in ministry, called “Culture Club”

“How should the Church respond to rapid and major social and cultural change?”

I have just read and reviewed three books on the history of the Australian Church with an emphasis on a time of radical and major cultural change in Australian life. The particular focus of one of them was on the dramatic and far- reaching changes in the late 60’s and early 70’s but the other two also cover part of this period. They are: The second volume of Stuart Piggins two volume history of the influence of Evangelicals in Australian history from 1740 -2014 “Attending to the Nations Soul” and his biography of Harry Goodhew who was Archbishop of Sydney from 1993-2001.  The third book is by the historian Hugh Chilton “Evangelicals and the end of Christendom – Religion in Australia and the crisis of the 60’s and 70’s.”

These books all raise the question of how the Church and Christian ministries should respond to periods of rapid social and cultural change. Periods of rapid change tend to come in waves. The last big wave was in the 60’s and 70’s and Chilton makes the case that this period was the beginnings of ‘Post Christendom’ in Australia. It coincided with the population bulge of the high number of post war births – the ‘Baby Boomers’. This population bulge drove the changes for the next 60 years. They are all now retiring and still creating waves – in retirement pension costs, health costs and elderly care!!   

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31/05/2021 at 01:59 Leave a comment

Women, Men and Ministry by Peter Corney

Women, Men and Ministry by Peter Corney
The following takes a ‘meta theological’ or overall Biblical narrative approach in trying to answer the question – ‘What are the big Biblical ideas that help us to find our way in these issues?’

  1. Creation: We are all made in the image of God and therefore equal – Gen 1:27. Both the man and the woman are given the role to rule over creation – Gen 1:28. In marriage they are described as “one flesh”, a unity of equality – Gen2:24-25. It should also be noted that the Hebrew word translated as “helper” to describe the woman in Gen 2:18 means one that corresponds to the man or the other side of the coin and is most commonly used of God inthe OT. But the fall disturbs all this and introduces inequality and oppression –“he will rule over you” – Gen 2:16. The fall introduces into our natures the propensity to “the will to power” 1, usually over others and frequently men over women. There are of course many other ramifications of this disturbance in the created order like fear and shame – Gen 3:8-10. The whole plan of salvation is to rectify this disturbance and restore Gods original intentions, which of course includes the relationship between men and women.
  2. Redemption: The goal is to reconcile, restore and renew what has been disturbed and fractured. This plan is worked out in history through Israel and the Old Covenant and then finally through the Church in the new Covenant and so unfolds progressively. In the OT the sign of membership of the people of God, who are called out to be the instrument of Gods plan of redemption is circumcision, born by the male members only as the full plan of redemption is not yet fully realised. But when we come to the fulfilment of the plan, with Jesus’ death, resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the Church, it becomes baptism. This sign is now given to all, men, women, children, slaves, Jews and Gentiles-Gal 3:26-28, Coloss 3:9-11, Ephes 2:11-22, Philemon 15-17. So we begin to see the redemptive process of reconciliation, renewal and restoration beginning to work itself out in the relationships of gender, race and status (e.g. slave and free). Baptism incorporates us all into Christ where we are united as one. The NT in fact encourages us to see ourselves now not only as equals but in a radical new relationship of servant love (literally slaves) of one another just as Christ served us – Phil 2:5-11, Ephes 5:21, Mark 10:42-45.
  3. New creation: So the new people of God, the Church, are to be signs, examples and foretastes of the new creation, the Kingdom that God through Christ is bringing in now and which will be finally consummated when Christ returns and the whole creation is healed and renewed – Rom 8:18-27, Rev 5:9-10, 22:2 (‘the healing of the nations’.)
  4. Ministry: In the new people of God all are equal and servants of one another, therefore ministry and role are by gift (Charism) of the Holy Spirit – I Cor 12:1-31, Rom 12:3-8. Roles and ministry are no longer to be determined by gender, inherited position (OT Priesthood), the world’s cultural constructs of hierarchy and imposed authority, but by the Spirit.2 The proper ordering of the gifts of ministry is a function of the new covenant community operating in its new understanding of itself as a community of redeemed equals in which the disturbed relations between people and particularly men and women and the judgements of the fall are now in the process of redemption. So all tendencies to the fallen “will to power” over one another must be eschewed and excluded from whatever method of ordering the gifts a particular community or group of communities decides.3 The other factors to be considered when appointing people for ministry and leadership roles in the new redeemed community include matters of character, spiritual maturity, sanctification and trustworthiness and those of the kind listed in – 1Tim 3:1-12, Titus 1: 5-9. There is no essential or ontological hierarchy in the Church apart from Christ who is the head of the body.

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28/04/2017 at 04:22 2 comments

Teaching the Bible in State Schools and a Significant Anniversary

 

 

 

Teaching the Bible in State Schools and a significant anniversary –2011 is the four hundredth anniversary of a key influence on English, Australian and American culture.

By Peter Corney

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible (KJB), sometimes referred to as the Authorized Version. Its influence on the development of the English language, our values, imagination and culture has been profound. It’s phrases still echo in common speech – an eye for an eye, like a lamb to the slaughter, as old as the hills, sour grapes, love thy neighbor, am I my brothers keeper, be sure your sins will find you out, pride goes before a fall, the salt of the earth, the sign of the times, the laborer is worthy of his hire, all things to all men, etc. The largest section in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations is the KJB section (28 pages).

 

But its influence goes beyond language into our art, music, literature and film. It ranges from the explicit text in Handel’s Messiah to U2, Bono and Nick Cave where the phrases and illusions abound. From William Blake’s poetry and Steinbeck’s East of Eden to a recent work, Atonement by the novelist Ian McEwan, and the film that followed, the influence continues. To fully appreciate the poetry of John Milton or T S Elliot requires an understanding of the Bible. It is also hard to read the words of the Prophet Micah (6:8) or Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55 ) or Jesus’ manifesto of his ministry (Luke4:16-21 ) without being inspired about justice, fairness and equality!

 

Even an aggressive atheist like Richard Dawkins has said You can’t appreciate English literature unless you are steeped to some extent in the King James Bible… not to know (it) is to be, in some small way, barbarian. (1) Andrew Motion, former British Poet Laureate, and self confessed non believer, in an interview in The Guardian, laments the widespread ignorance of the Bible today. He made the point that Bible stories are an essential part of our cultural luggage. He recommended that all children should be taught the Bible in school, since without it they can not hope to understand history and literature. (2)  Melvyn Bragg in his recent “The Book of Books – the radical influence of the King James Bible” outlines its deep positive influence on English speaking culture, society and politics, it has, he says, driven the making of that world over the last 400years.(3)

This is an important observation in the light of the current push from a vocal minority for the dismantling of state legislation that provides for religious education in public state schools in Australia.

Many of the critics of religious education not only seem to have developed a form of cultural amnesia, they also seem ignorant of the very critical role the Bible has played in English culture in the forming of the very liberal freedoms they espouse so loudly.

 

 

 

 

 

In fact the translation of the Bible into vernacular English was deeply influential in the development of democratic ideas in England and America. The availability of the bible to ordinary people inspired many egalitarian and radical movements in 16th and 17th C England. It was strongly influential in maintaining the importance of the elected Parliament over the powers of the King in the Commonwealth period. Other examples are the push for equality of access to land by groups like The Diggers and Levellers (17th C) and the demand for freedom of association and the right to organize their own labor in the early 19th C by  farm laborers like The Tolepuddle Martyrs , forerunners of the modern Union Movement. These democratic movements were long before the advent of Marxism and were inspired by Biblical ideas of justice, fairness and equality.

 

To remove the study of the Bible from schools is like a form of book burning by the misguided secularists who either have no cultural memory or are simply ignorant of the forces that have formed our culture and its values, including those they cherish. Values are like water in a storage dam they leak away if they are not replenished from their source.

 

The KJB was commissioned by James I in 1604 and completed in 1611.Its forerunners were Wycliffe’s translation from the Latin in the 14th C and Tyndale’s translation from original Greek in 1526. It is interesting in the light of what we said above about the Bible’s influence on the development of democratic ideas, that James’ reasons for the project were partly political. When James ascended the throne of England the most widely read Bible was the Geneva Bible. This was produced by Protestants who had fled to Switzerland during the persecutions under Queen Mary. It contained marginal notes, or commentary on the text, some of which was critical of the absolute power and authority of monarchs. James’ plan for a single official Bible gave him the opportunity to displace the Geneva Bible and its notes!

 

The aims of Wycliffe and Tyndale were to put the Word of God into the hands and language of ordinary people so they could read and interpret it for themselves without the controlling filter of priest, prelate or ruler. They also believed that the key to the reformation and renewal of the church was a true understanding of scripture and a restoration of its authority in the church.

When Luther was faced with the criticism that putting the Bible into the hands of every plowboy would create controversy and confusion he replied that he would prefer the hurricane of controversy to the pestilence of an authoritative error, a not so veiled reference to Papal authority and ex cathedra pronouncements!

Once again in these comments we see the desire for freedom of thought and expression that the Reformation and the accessibility of the Bible to everyone promoted. It is ironic that the secular beneficiaries’ of this legacy now want to exclude its study from our schools.

 

In a time when multiculturalism is being challenged and there is anxiety about the divisive role of religion in the world, the story of “The Commonwealth” is worth reflecting on. It is not perfect but it is one of the more successful political unifiers’ in our troubled world. As well as a commitment to democratic government, part of the glue that has held The Commonwealth together is the English language and also the place and influence of the Bible in its educational systems. This has been far more significant than people often realize, particularly through the schools established in the colonies by Christian Missions in the 19th and 20th C’s. Many of the first nationalist leaders of post colonial governments were educated in these schools such as Julius Nyerere the first president of Tanzania. Nelson Mandela the first black president of South Africa is another outstanding example.

 

The words of Paul in the NT have had an impact, that in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:27-28) In spite of its faults the Christian Church is one of the most powerful examples of multicultural unity in our world.

 

(1)I am indebted to the excellent article by Antony Billington in the March 2011 edition of EG the magazine of The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

(2) The Guardian 17th Feb 2009

(3) Melvyn Bragg, “The Book of Books- The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011”, Published by Hodder 2011.

Peter Corney (Vicar emeritus St. Hilary’s Anglican Church Kew)

23/05/2011 at 09:10 Leave a comment

Why is some evangelical preaching so boring? By Peter Corney

Evangelicals have rightly always placed a high priority on preaching and in particular expository preaching, the expounding and explaining of the Bible. We do so because we believe in the authority of the Word of God for our belief and practice – for our life. We believe that it is the spiritual food of the people of God. As Jesus said, “We do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (We have seen what happens to churches that have been starved of its food, when Biblical preaching and teaching has been downgraded; their emaciated bodies are waiting for the body bags.) We believe that it is powerful and as the instrument of the Spirit of God can change and reshape us.

But out of our convictions and concerns there has developed among some evangelicals a style of expository preaching that is frankly boring! It is boring because it often lacks application to people’s lives and so, unintentionally, is not nourishing. It often sounds like little more than a reiteration of the text with some minor and obvious commentary. It’s a bit like having the Bible reading again with some explanatory notes.

This style of preaching has come about because of a conviction and a fear:

(a)    A conviction that believes that the scriptures will do their own work of application to the hearers without too much human interference. All the preacher must do is study them carefully in preparation, explain their plain meaning and pray. This high respect for the text fears that too much comment by the preacher will detract, distract or deviate from its message.

(b)   There is also a fear that too much attention to creative application and cultural relevance will overpower the plain meaning of the text or at worst distort it by amplifying the preachers own concerns and preoccupations or infect it with the preachers imagination.

Now there is substance to these concerns. We have all sat through sermons that used the text as a springboard to dive into a pool of ideas only vaguely related to the meaning of the text. Some of us have listened to preachers who had read somewhere that Karl Barth said the preacher should have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, except that there always seemed more attention was paid to the Murdoch news than the Good News! We have probably all experienced the Entertainer, where the sermon is a collection of anecdotes strung together with a series of jokes and seasoned with a text or two. Some of us have had the misfortune of sitting under preachers of a very liberal theological persuasion whose attitude to the text was that it was an interesting religious resource to be dipped into for the odd quotation, or alternatively, to be the subject of detailed deconstruction or demythologizing. This really is stones for bread.

So evangelicals are right to be concerned and cautious about preaching that departs from the text or places the focus somewhere else. Nevertheless preaching that does not apply the text to life is not evangelical preaching either and it will not feed the people of God nor challenge the enquirer.

Evangelical Preaching is a dynamic experience that involves the following elements:

(1)   The text and its priority. The preacher’s first task is to approach the text with great respect and prepare thoroughly through prayer and study to understand what it means.

(2)   To explain that meaning clearly. This will often require developing illustrations, metaphors and examples. This will require imagination and creative thought.

(3)   To ask and answer the question; how does this apply to our lives now? What does it mean for the way we are to believe, live, think and act today and tomorrow?

(4)   The preacher themselves. The whole process passes through the mind and heart of the preacher, their personality, their gifts, abilities and limitations. Preaching is proclaiming Christ, the Word made flesh, through the flesh and words of a human person, the preacher. It is, unavoidably, truth conveyed through personality, which is both its strength and its weakness. Because God has instructed us to convey his Word in this way our role and involvement is not marginal.(Romans 10:14-15)

(5)   The cultural context. All preaching takes place in a particular culture at a particular time by an enculturated person to a group of enculturated people. It is never culturally neutral. The preacher must ask themselves; who are the listeners? The closer the language, idiom, humor and culture of the speaker to  those of their listeners the greater will be the attention, understanding, learning  and acceptance. The greater the distance the greater will be the loss of attention and the failure to accept, understand and learn. (This is obvious with ethnically    different groups when the cultures and languages are radically different, but it is  also true between the sub cultures of a shared dominant culture. eg; the difference   between a person from a well off private school background who has a university          education and a job and lives in Kew and someone from a low income family  who didn’t finish high school, has been unemployed for two years and lives in  Dandenong. These differences also exist between age cohorts of  people in the same overall culture.) Preaching, like publishing the scriptures into a new language, is an exercise in translation, the greater the differences between the  preacher and the listeners the more challenging is the process of translation.

(6)   Communication skills. The preacher must ask themselves; why will people listen? Why will they pay attention? Even when the culture of preacher and listeners is similar it does not guarantee communication! Unless preachers understand the basics of communication they will fail to gain a hearing. Gifted preachers have an intuitive feel for this but all preachers can learn the basics and greatly improve the hearing of the Word of God. Relevant application is an important issue here.  The following books offer very helpful insights into the communication issues.

Three very helpful books are:

Inductive Preaching – Helping People Listen. By Ralph L Lewis and Gregg Lewis Crossway Books 1983.

Preaching to a Post Modern World. By Graham Johnston Published by Baker Books 2001.

Why Don’t People Listen. Republished as The Good Listeners. By Hugh Mackay published by Pan MacMillan 1998

30/03/2011 at 08:46 Leave a comment



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