Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Individualism and Relativism

By God’s grace, over the past few weeks I’ve been able to spend some time with a few people under 30, chatting to them about the gospel. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone who does this regularly, but being the minister of a congregation where the average age is a bit more than 30, I’ve been struck by how closely individualism and relativism are tied together. Let me unpack that a bit more.

There’s no doubt that the majority of people in our society are individualistic. The primary unit in which they think is themselves. This is not to say that individuals do not see themselves are parts of communities, or of larger groups, rather that the base unit in which they think is them-as-an-individual. I would suggest that as you rise in age in our society, individualism generally decreases (I’m talking very broadly here), and also that individualism also decreases (in terms of how predominant it is in people’s thinking) as you move in distance away from cities – country folk appear to be less individualistic than city people.

There is also no doubt that relativism is our new creed. I’d be a rich man if I had a dollar for ever time someone says “we’ll that’s good for you, but for me…”. Again, I think there is a relationship between age and geographical location and relativism, but I don’t think it is as strong as what we observe in individualism.

As I’ve been observing this, I’ve been asking myself which one leads to which. Does our sense of individualism lead us to relativism, or does our adherence to relativism lead us to individualism. At this stage in my thinking (which may change!) I’m not sure that this is the right question to ask. For it seems that they are inextricably linked. They breed and feed off each other.

For if the base unit of thinking and identity is the self, then any external demands on that (such as an objective, absolute truth) immediately (or at least potentially) threaten the self which you are. And if there is an absolute out there, and I adhere to it, then my identity is formed not so much in relation to myself (as the individual) as in relation to it, and those others who adhere to it. Similarly, if my belief and value system are of my own selection, I am not tied to anyone else (necessarily). I am free to be me, and if I want to be joined or in relation to another, that is my free choice - it is not of necessity.

I wonder, too, if these factors sit very close to the heart of sin. Don’t hear me wrong – I’m not saying that to think of oneself as an individual is sin – the Bible clearly calls on individuals to take responsibility for themselves (although it also calls on them to take responsibility for the collective groups of which they belong, but that’s another story). However, when you think of the fall, both individualism and relativism seem to come into play. Humanity’s decision is individualistic. It was a choice to promote the individual (man and woman) over the community (man and women in relationship with God). It was a choice to relativise (through the serpent’s help) the word of God. ‘Did God really say…’. It was a move from absolute to choose your own adventure. Of course there is a lot more going on in the garden than this – my concern is to observe that individualism and relativism are Siamese twins – they are, I think, organically joined together.

And of course the gospel deals with both. For in the gospel our identity is created not in relation to ourselves, but to Jesus. We are His. United to him and the Father by and with the Spirit. We are united to each other by that same Spirit. We are, to borrow a phrase, beings in communion. And this communion and community grows out of and is formed by the absolute gospel. Jesus is Lord.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Living with Death

I had a conversation today with a group of people about a video we had watched last week. The video was a number (~15) of years old, and followed the story of an elderly man, his wife, and his doctor in the Netherlands. The documentary told the story of this man's death. Or, more exactly, him being killed. For it was a documentary about this man's journey to euthanasia. I choose the word 'killed' carefully, and not for generating undue emotion, for the doctor himself comments, and recognises, that what he is doing when he injects this man with a lethal dose of a narcotic is, in fact, killing him.

The group I was with was discussing the issues of pastoral care in this situation. While we discussed the overall ethics and morality of the subject, the purpose was to consider pastoral care in such cases. It appeared (and this is only my perception) that some people I was talking to were of the opinion that the most caring thing in these situations is to assist in, or certainly not hinder, the decision to end life. I disagreed, for many of the reasons set out here.

Additionally, much time was spent speaking about the care of the doctor. He suffered terribly - he noted that his practice of offering this service left him depressed; he often couldn't sleep after it had happened; and at times, when he was cycling and his mind wandered, the images of people dying came back to him. Clearly this man has been horrifically affected by what he does. There needs to be support for him, it was argued, because of all that he had gone through.

But there was another person who requires care in this situation, and indeed should possibly be more fully considered in discussions about the topic. It was the man's wife. For after he had died, she was heard weeping, and asking herself if she had done the right thing. She was complicit in what had happened - she was by his side the whole time, and yet he is now gone, and she is not. She has to live with what she has agreed to. And how do you live with that? What answers are there when you wake up in the night and ask yourself, was it right? Was it his time. Might he have rallied? Was he depressed when he asked to die? What affect must this practice have on those who remain, who were intimately involved in the decision making.

I'm not saying that this is an easy issue. Anyone who has sat with someone in extreme pain, who has seen the massive and rapid degeneration of a loved one, is aware of the plethora of emotions which erupt. But I am saying that euthanasia should not only be thought of as an end. For it is also a beginning. The beginning of a life where those close to the dead person have to live with uncertainty and doubt. It's the beginning of a life where one has to live with death.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008


The latest offering in the All Saint's Methven parish magazine.

There’s not a lot good on TV these days. And by that I don’t just mean that there’s no sport on pauper-view, nor that it’s all reality shows and so on. But there just isn’t a lot of good around. There’s not a lot of good news, not a lot of hope. Everything is rising – violent crime, petrol prices, living costs, floodwaters in the US, the number of atrocities in Zimbabwe. Everything is rising. Well, everything except wages!

There is very little hope. Last week as we worked our way through the book of Genesis in our Sunday sermons, we came to Genesis 3 – what is known as the Fall. And there we learnt why the world is the way it is – humanity has disobeyed God – and as a result the world is disordered. We call that sin. Things are not as they should be – they’re not as they were made to be. But knowing that doesn’t really help us a lot. Knowing the name of the disease you have doesn’t take the sickness away.

So where is hope? Or is the world without hope, and we should try and just minimise the hopelessness we feel in any way that we can? The message of Christianity is fundamentally one of hope. It is a message that God has stepped into the mess of the world, and has dealt with the cause of it. In the person of Jesus, and most perfectly in his death, God has conquered sin and reordered the world. The resurrection is tangible and permanent proof of that hope – that sin has been conquered, death has been defeated, and that those who commit themselves to Jesus are guaranteed rightly ordered life. The hope is that because God has done that in the cross, he will bring it to full completion when Jesus returns.

Brilliant, I hear you say. More pie in the sky when you die. Yes it is. But before the pie in the sky when you die there is steak on your plate while you wait. Belief in Jesus doesn’t take away rising fuel prices. It doesn’t take away the stress and difficulty that financial hardship brings to a family. It doesn’t mean an immediate end to pain, suffering, stress, sickness and feelings of despair. But it does offer an entirely new perspective on those things. Hardships are not to destroy us but test us. God uses tough times to draw us closer to him – to refine and strengthen our faith. We can look on these things as opportunities, for we know that they are only temporary compared to the hope we have in Jesus.

Faith in Jesus – the Christian hope – also validates the feelings of hopelessness we can have. It’s not wrong that we look at the world and are filled with despair, for things are not right – they are not the way they should be. We don’t just see pain and suffering in the world and ignore it – we grieve as well. Not just for the specific situation, but also for the travesty of sin which has marred God’s good world.

Lastly, we find the steak on our place while we wait at church. For the church is Jesus’ body – we are his people – his family. And Jesus works through his church by his Holy Spirit for the good of his people. In church (and by that I mean not only what happens on a Sunday morning, but more properly the people who have committed themselves to Jesus and therefore to each other) you will find help, if you need it. You will find a listening ear if you just need to vent. You’ll find financial help if this month things are just stretched too thin. You’ll find someone who can take your kids for an afternoon just so you can get a rest. You will hear encouragement to keep on trusting in Jesus even in the midst of the hardships you are going through. You will find other people who are like you – people who are struggling to live faithful lives in this world as they wait. And together we can help each other.

Hope. There isn’t a lot of it around these days. But there is in Jesus. Come to him. Come to his people. And hear and see and experience the hope that he offers. (image:

Friday, 13 June 2008

Peter Adam on Preaching

The Gospel Training Trust ran a preaching conference this past week with Peter Adam, principal of Ridely Theological College in Melbourne. The week was a great blessing, with Peter giving some very pastorally sensitive sermons from 2 Corinthians, as well as teaching on how he finds the central ministry purpose of a book (similar to Dick Lucas’ melodic line). I thought I’d just bullet point some of the key ideas, thoughts, and issues which came out of the week.

  • The Bible, and in particular the New Testament epistles, were written primarily to congregations, not to individuals. Therefore, our preaching needs to be targeted at this congregational level, not just the ‘you and your relationship with God’ level.
  • This has implications for repentance – there are times and places where whole congregations need to repent.
  • Our aim in preaching is to communicate the entirety of the text. This means that not only the central message, but the motivation, emotion, structure, and so on are also communicated.
  • It was a huge relief to hear that I’m not the only one who finds himself getting frustrated and angry at not being able to get the big idea of a book/passage quickly and clearly.

The three days were also a great encouragement – it was great to see a number of MTS trainees and young preachers from around the country wrestling with the Bible and trying to proclaim God’s word clearly and faithfully. I also learnt that Peter Adam’s does a fantastic impression of Leon Morris, so if you ever meet him, ask him to do it for you!

ESV Frustrations

I love the ESV and use it all the time...but sometimes it furstrates me. So, in Jeremiah 33:8 there is a distinction (in the Hebrew) between sin and sins. The ESV renders both as 'sin'. Then, in v 11 it uses the archaic 'mirth' even though the Hebrew is the same as in v9 where the ESV uses 'joy'.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Fun in the snow

Church went ahead this morning, and, aptly, we preached on the majesty of God in creation and the power of his creative word. Then we went out and executed snowpeople.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

There is no shame...

... in losing to the best team in the world. Which means actually beating them is an amazing achievment. Well done to Dave and all of NZ on a famous victory!

The future of our church...

... is looking pretty bleak. Well, for tomorrow at least, as I'm not sure many will be able to get there. Because of this:

6 centimetres and still falling. But GREAT for the mountain!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

If I had more time...

... I would start working my way through some of these. Although, have a look here on how Don Carson manages to read 500 books a year!


Of course in my last post I didn't really need to add Baptist to Reformed as to be truly Reformed is to have a Biblical position on baptism! [I am taking advantage of the fact that my co-blogger is so busy at the moment...]

The Fallacy of Race?

Thabiti Anyabwile is an African-Amercian Reformed Baptist Pastor. He has written some very stimulating stuff on how he considers that race is a false category. Here is a recent article, and here is an excellent sermon.

Australian Church Record

The latest edition is now available to download.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Being humbled

Last week I thought I preached a pretty good sermon - afterwards it was pointed out that it wasn't as good as I had thought.
This week I preached what I thought was the worst sermon ever to be preached - afterwards I was encouraged by how the Lord had used it...

1 Cor 1:31 Therefore, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

Sugar with that?

This is telling...

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Don't waste your...

Some excellent comments on how to waste your theological education. It's scary how accurate some of these are, and not only in college but outside as well. Thanks Pete, for the encouragement not to fall into the last one!

(HT: Between two Worlds)