Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “evangelism”

An Orthodox hipster?

A few weeks ago I came across a Facebook group called Ask an Orthodox Hipster.

I’ve always had a yen to be a hipster, but I don’t think I’ve ever made it. I suppose the closest I got was a wannabe.

What is a Hipster?

My Concise Oxford Dictionary c1964 doesn’t have it, though I’d been using the word for at least four years before I bought the thing.

But my Collins English Dictionary (Millennium Edition) has:

  • hipster n 1 slang, now rare 1a an enthusiast of modern jazz 1b an outmoded word for hippy
  • hippy or hippie n, pl -pies (esp. during the 1960s) a person whose behaviour, dress, use of drugs etc., implied a rejection of conventional values.

It also gives hippy as meaning having large hips, which is why I prefer the spelling hippie for the other meaning.

Nowadays, however, hipster seems to have come back into fashion and is no longer outmoded, but probably about ten times as common as hippie.

I suppose the term hipster was first popularised with that meaning by Allen Ginsberg in his poem Howl:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

And after a few weeks as a member of the Ask an Orthodox Hipster group I can see that yes, it is a place for those burning for the ancient heavenly connection to ask questions.

Christian World Liberation Front, Berkeley, California, 1970

And even before the Internet took off, other Orthodox Christians have had a kind of hipster missionary outreach, or started a hipster ministry and then were drawn to Orthodoxy, such as Fr Jack Sparks of the Christian World Liberation Front.

From here on, this gets personal, so quit now if that’s not your thing.

I discovered that the Ask an Orthodox Hipster group differs from other Orthodox groups on Facebook, in that people do not seem to be angry, or attacking each other. If someone asks a question that people can’t answer, they don’t denounce the question as stupid and the questioner as stupid for asking it, they just pass on to the next thing.

I’ve also found that quite a lot of the questions are ones that I have already answered, at least to some extent, in blog posts I’ve written over the last 10-12 years, and if they aren’t, the question is also sometimes a good prompt for a new blog post.

And this perhaps can provide me with a useful occupation for retirement.

Before retiring one thinks of all the things one could do if one had the time, but one does not have time to do when one is working. Many of the things I hoped to do when I retired had to do with Orthodox mission and evangelism, and visiting Orthodox mission congregations and helping them along by teaching and training their leaders and so on. But they are fairly widely scattered, and visiting them costs money. And I think well, I can’t afford to get the car serviced this month, because I have to pay the doctor, or the dentist, so maybe next month. But next month the car not only needs a service, but also a new battery. And the month after that something else is broken, and the price of petrol keeps going up.

But helping people with answers to questions asked on the Internet requires no physical travel, and can actually reach much further, all over the world, in fact. So I think this Orthodox hipster business could be quite fruitful.

We still continue to visit the mission congregations at Atteridgeville (35km west) and Mamelodi (18km East) on alternate Sundays, but travel farther afield will be much more rare physically, but not necessarily electronically.

 

 

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Ridiculous beliefs

I came across this when someone retweeted it on Twitter, with the comment “Ridiculous beliefs”.

I agree.

The problem is, though, that I cannot recall ever meeting anyone who actually believes that.

Can you call something a “belief” if no one believes it?

If any member of the Orthodox Church said they believed such things, they would, sooner or later, be told that they were heretical. The whole thing is heretical, and every single clause is heretical.

The Roman Catholic Church, I should think, would have a similar reaction. I don’t know if they still have the Inquisition, but they’d revive it pretty quickly if lots of people started saying that they believed that stuff.

Protestants?

Well, it’s a bit harder to say with Protestants , because there are so many different varieties of Protestantism that it is conceivable that there is some sect, somewhere out there, that might believe one or more of those things. But, as I said, I haven’t actually met anyone who believes them.

But, in one sense, that would be beside the point. It’s obviously a caricature, and it’s not meant to represent any beliefs that anyone actually holds.

So what is it meant to represent?

What is it supposed to communicate, about what, and to whom?

Perhaps we could try to deconstruct it.

Here are some of my attempts at deconstruction. If anyone can come up with other ideas, please add them in the comments.

1. My first thought is that it is a piece of “feel good” propaganda by militant atheists for militant atheists. By caricaturing Christian beliefs, and presenting them as ridiculous, they can feel smug and superior when comparing themselves with Christians. So it enables them to feel good about themselves. Some may be aware that it is a caricature, others may not, but that doesn’t matter much, because the main point is to feel superior.

2. The second one is a little more sinister. This is that it is propaganda by by militant atheists for ordinary don’t care atheists, for agnostics, for anyone who is not a Christian, and who is ignorant about Christianity, with the aim of getting them to reject Christianity because they reject a caricature. It is possibly calculated to stir up hatred for Christians. In other words, it is a caricature verging on “hate speech”.

But in deconstructing it, we need to go a bit deeper than that.

Where did the caricature come from? What is its source?

A friend of mine, now a retired Anglican bishop, once wrote the following about Christian mission:

The Church exists for mission, not merely by words, but by representing Christ. Its work is not to convert, that is the Holy Spirit’s work; ours is to preach (Mark 16:15). `Think not of the harvest, but only of proper sowing.’ We bear witness, whether they hear or whether they forbear’ (Ezekiel 2:5 etc.). Our task, and it is quite sufficient to keep us going without bothering about the consequences, is to make sure that if people reject Christ, they reject Christ and not a caricature of him, and if they accept him, that they accept Christ and not a caricature. If they reject, we remember that Christ got the same treatment – in fact half our problem is that we require something better than the success of Christ. We are not to cast pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6) – we are not to try to `fix up’ people’s salvation against their will; `to try to force the word on the world by hook or by crook is to make the living word of God into a mere idea, and the world would be perfectly justified in refusing to listen to an idea which did not appeal to it’. This is the way we seek Christ’s success. The Church is not to be like a mighty army, pressing on regardless; it is more like a bloody doormat – a phrase which could even fit the Master of the Church himself, for it is only by the cross and precious blood of Christ that we are what we are, and he himself is the way on which we must tramp and maybe wipe our boots as we come to the Father (John 14:6). This is the kind of Saviour we represent.

And I suggest that in many ways the caricature has come from Christians themselves, from Christians who have done some of the things suggested in the paragraph I quoted — tried to fix up people’s salvation against their will, tried to make the living word of God into a mere idea, tried to present a caricature of Christ rather than Christ himself.

And that is in fact the original sin, because it goes back to the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve presented a caricature of God to the snake.

God said to Adam and Eve that they could eat the fruit of any tree in the garden but one. And the snake asks what God said, and Eve said that God had told them not to eat from that tree, but also not to touch it. That is an extensive exaggeration of what God said. An ogre God sounds more impressive than the true God. And right up till now there have been Christians who have presented an ogre God.

I was once at a church youth group where an evangelist was speaking. At the time there were some popular bumper stickers on cars that had a picture of a smiley face, and the legend, “Smile, God loves you.”

The evangelist denounced these in no uncertain terms.

“That’s wrong,” he said. “God doesn’t love you, he is very angry with you because you’re a sinner. He was so angry that he killed His Son.”

That was presenting an ogre God, a caricature. And one doesn’t have to take the caricature a whole lot further to get to the statement, in the picture above, “I will kill myself as a sacrifice to myself.”

So I would say that if atheists want to reject Christ, then it is better that they reject Christ rather than that they reject a caricature of him, or even accept a caricature of him.

But it is much more important that Christians should not present a caricature in the first place.

Tall Skinny Kiwi: Get Ready for Lausanne World Congress

For the last couple of months I’ve been keeping an eye on the Lausanne Conversation, but there has been very little about it in the South African blogosphere. Perhaps a prophet is not without honour, except in his own country. Here’s what a New Zealander living in Europe has to say about it Tall Skinny Kiwi: Get Ready for Lausanne World Congress:

The global mission event of the century is only a week away! Its the Third Lausanne World Congress on World Evangelization also known as Lausanne 3.

Its huge.

We’re talking 5000 invited delegates from all over the world.

Its bigger than Lausanne 1 and even bigger than Lausanne 2.

Its bigger than Edinburgh 1910 and 2010

Its the most wired, webbed, blogged, twittered, streamed missions event EVER!

Its also more SOUTHERLY than any missions conference you have ever followed.

It happens in Cape Town, South Africa and it starts next week. Like Oct 16 – 25th

Overblown hype? A lot of South Africans seem to think so, to judge from the way most South African bloggers are ignoring it.

Andrew Jones, alias Tall Skinny Kiwi, is one of the gurus of the emerging church movement. you can engage with him on his blog, or at the Lausanne Conversation here.

Evangelism, or cultural imperialism

Since the US invasion of Iraq, Western-style Protestant evangelical Christianity has begun to appear in that country. It is not, however, converting Muslims to the Christian faith, but proselytising among other Christians.

Evangelicals Building a Base in Iraq – washingtonpost.com:

The U.S.-led toppling of Saddam Hussein, who limited the establishment of new denominations, has altered the religious landscape of predominantly Muslim Iraq. A newly energized Christian evangelical activism here, supported by Western and other foreign evangelicals, is now challenging the dominance of Iraq’s long-established Christian denominations and drawing complaints from Muslim and Christian religious leaders about a threat to the status quo.

The evangelicals’ numbers are not large — perhaps a few thousand — in the context of Iraq’s estimated 800,000 Christians. But they are emerging at a time when the country’s traditional churches have lost their privileged Hussein-era status and have experienced massive depletions of their flocks because of decades-long emigration. Now, traditional church leaders see the new evangelical churches filling up, not so much with Muslim converts but with Christians like Tawfik seeking a new kind of worship experience.

There is much talk in Western Christian missiological circles about inculturation and contextualisation, and the need for Christianity, when it enters a society of a different culture, to become part of that culture.

But this seems, on the face of it, to be the opposite: taking already indigenous Christians, and converting them to an exotic culture.

On the other hand, globalisation is such that exotic cultures often seem attracive. Some traditional Christians in countries like Iraq achieve their desire to identify with exotic cultures by emigrating. Others, perhaps those who can’t afford to emigrate, do so by joining exotic churches, like Western Baptists, and enjoy the foreign cultural ambiance.

So is it evangelisation, proselytisation, or disinculturation (or could one say “exculturation”? Is that a word?)

Gossiping the gospel, AIC mission to the West, Baptists in boots

Notes from a Common-place Book: On Pork-pie Hats, Nigerian Evangelists and Baptists in Boots – an interesting post on a variety of topics. A chance encounter while buying Sunday newspapers after church leads to “gossiping the gospel”:

As I walked out, only one of the young people was still hanging about, a man/boy wearing a yellow pork-pie hat. We spoke in passing, the typical “how’s it going,” and I walked on towards my truck. He called out to me as I passed, saying “so you didn’t go to church today, either?” I stopped and turned around, because I understood what he meant, and took it as a high compliment. I was in faded jeans, although my shirt was tucked-in, which is not always the case. I gather that he assumed that I had not done the “Easter-thing” because I was not suited-up.

And on reading the papers he finds a couple of articles on what missiologists are pleased to call “contextualisation” — an African independent church evangelising the West, and cowboy churches in Texas. The last reminds me of a song sung many years ago by Liberace, the King of Kitsch, about a Rhinestone cowboy.

I found it well worth a read, so go over to Notes from a Common-place Book: On Pork-pie Hats, Nigerian Evangelists and Baptists in Boots and read the full story.

See also Neopentecostalism in Africa, and abroad: Khanya for more on the African independent churches aspect of it.

Iambic Admonit: An Odd Christian Genre?

Iambic Admonit’s blog has some interesting thoughts about that odd Christian genre, the Testimony:
An Odd Christian Genre?:

in practice, the giving of testimonies is rather odd. First of all, people often add strange emotional responses into their delivery. More disturbing than that, however, is the pre-determined narrative structure into which testimonies are supposed to fit. There are, in my experience, only two narrative forms that are permissible—and really they turn out to be the same. The first is the “I was born into a Christian home and accepted Christ at a young age, but it didn’t really make a big difference into my life until such-and-such life changing event or decision happened and everything has been perfect since then.” The second is the “I was born into a non-Christian family and lived like the devil until such-and-such life changing event or decision happened and everything has been perfect since then.” You see? So the first really big problem, in my observation, is the assumption that everyone’s life ought to fit into one of these two almost identical story-patterns. And what’s worse, this assumption is built upon certain theological beliefs that (I think) are unexamined and probably wouldn’t hold up to severe doctrinal critique or exegesis.

I once participated in an evangelism training programme, Evangelism Explosion. One of the first things that new trainees were required to do was to write out a testimony, and read it out to the training group. And most of these testimonies did in fact fall into one of the two categories that Iambic Admonit describes: the “Christian upbrining” model or the “reformed gangster” model.

And when trainees went out to evangelise (two trainees with an experienced trainer) then at the beginning the only thing the trainees would be expected to do would be to give their testimony.

Since the Evangelism Explosion training programme was developed by a Presbyterian minister, D. James Kennedy, I assume that its basic presuppositions were Calvinist, but that also seemed a bit odd — if Calvinists believed that people were predestined to be saved or damned, a testimony seemed to be redundant.

I felt a bit awkward about this requirement. I could see the point of it in the training. If you are trying to commend the Christian faith to others, then you need to be able to articulate why it is real to you, and many people, faced with the need to do that, don’t know where to begin. Hence the training, awkward as it may seem to begin with, is intended to help people become confident in speaking about their faith.

Yet in my experience the best testimonies have been spontaneous and unrehearsed, called forth by circumstances. There’s an Afrikaans saying, “wat die hart van vol is, loop die mond van oor” — what fills the heart flows out of the mouth.

What seems most odd to me about the genre is the expectation, in some Christian circles, that people can be put on the spot and asked to give a testimony in front of a bunch of fellow Christians. For some, indeed it is a fixed part of the ritual. It is that, rather than the genre itself, that strikes me as odd. I’m glad to say it is not part of Orthodox ritual.

But I found Iambic Admonit’s thoughts on the matter interesting.

Iambic Admonit: An Odd Christian Genre?

Iambic Admonit’s blog has some interesting thoughts about that odd Christian genre, the Testimony:
An Odd Christian Genre?:

in practice, the giving of testimonies is rather odd. First of all, people often add strange emotional responses into their delivery. More disturbing than that, however, is the pre-determined narrative structure into which testimonies are supposed to fit. There are, in my experience, only two narrative forms that are permissible—and really they turn out to be the same. The first is the “I was born into a Christian home and accepted Christ at a young age, but it didn’t really make a big difference into my life until such-and-such life changing event or decision happened and everything has been perfect since then.” The second is the “I was born into a non-Christian family and lived like the devil until such-and-such life changing event or decision happened and everything has been perfect since then.” You see? So the first really big problem, in my observation, is the assumption that everyone’s life ought to fit into one of these two almost identical story-patterns. And what’s worse, this assumption is built upon certain theological beliefs that (I think) are unexamined and probably wouldn’t hold up to severe doctrinal critique or exegesis.

I once participated in an evangelism training programme, Evangelism Explosion. One of the first things that new trainees were required to do was to write out a testimony, and read it out to the training group. And most of these testimonies did in fact fall into one of the two categories that Iambic Admonit describes: the “Christian upbrining” model or the “reformed gangster” model.

And when trainees went out to evangelise (two trainees with an experienced trainer) then at the beginning the only thing the trainees would be expected to do would be to give their testimony.

Since the Evangelism Explosion training programme was developed by a Presbyterian minister, D. James Kennedy, I assume that its basic presuppositions were Calvinist, but that also seemed a bit odd — if Calvinists believed that people were predestined to be saved or damned, a testimony seemed to be redundant.

I felt a bit awkward about this requirement. I could see the point of it in the training. If you are trying to commend the Christian faith to others, then you need to be able to articulate why it is real to you, and many people, faced with the need to do that, don’t know where to begin. Hence the training, awkward as it may seem to begin with, is intended to help people become confident in speaking about their faith.

Yet in my experience the best testimonies have been spontaneous and unrehearsed, called forth by circumstances. There’s an Afrikaans saying, “wat die hart van vol is, loop die mond van oor” — what fills the heart flows out of the mouth.

What seems most odd to me about the genre is the expectation, in some Christian circles, that people can be put on the spot and asked to give a testimony in front of a bunch of fellow Christians. For some, indeed it is a fixed part of the ritual. It is that, rather than the genre itself, that strikes me as odd. I’m glad to say it is not part of Orthodox ritual.

But I found Iambic Admonit’s thoughts on the matter interesting.

Juggling with Jelly: A new church

There’s a lot of talk these days about the emerging church. Here’s a story about church growth and the submerging church.

A church building closed for rebuilding, and the congregation split up and scattered, and, as it were, sank out of sight. Then it re-emerged after the building alterations were completed, and found they had added 100 members.

Juggling with Jelly: A new church

Before closing the church building our net annual growth had been an average of one person. Transfers out as people moved away, transfers in as people came to the area, new converts. Balanced. During our nine months without a building the net growth has been over 100 (yes one hundred). And that’s just counting new converts. We have well-known evangelists amongst the congregation. They had little to do with these local converts being off elsewhere in the world.

I discovered this story accidentally in a moribund blog that hasn’t been updated for years. I sometimes want to read something different, and went interest surfing in Blogger profiles. I click on one of my interests, and see who else is interested. In this case I clicked on one of my favourite books, The Greater Trumps. It seemed quite an interesting story and worth sharing.

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