Sunday, October 28, 2012

Universities and mission

Ralph Winter was a highly influential missiologist. In 2007 he gave a paper Learn from our Mistakes to a group of Asian mission leaders. He lists various mistakes made by Western mission organisations in the twentieth century. Here is the first one. Winter gives no justification for his view. More on that below.

The Mistake of Starting Bible Schools, Not Universities
The Student Volunteer Movement [I wonder if this is confused with the World Student Christian Federation], in which John Mott [who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946] was a leader, is noted for the number of universities that it established around the world. The missionaries who went to China made sure there was a university in every province of China. However, in later years Evangelicals, who had never been to college, went out across the world and established Bible schools, Bible institutes or theological schools that either replaced or ignored the university tradition. In the last 50 years the majority of American mission agencies have not founded a single university. 
The curious thing is that, even though Western missionaries cannot be given credit (except in the earlier period) for establishing universities, the hundreds of thousands of national leaders who have been a product of Western mission agencies have been able to see what the missionaries could not see. They have recognized the great influence of the university pattern. As a result they have taken the initiative to found over 40 universities in the last 40 years. I myself was, somewhat accidentally, part of the founding of an evangelical university in Guatemala, which now after 40 years has 37,000 students. No missionary can be given any credit for the founding of this university. In my case I merely stood up for a photograph of the founding board of directors two weeks before leaving the country to be a professor at Fuller Seminary. 
Why is it that missionaries have not realized that Bible schools, no matter how high the quality of instruction and curricula, simply do not represent the global mainstream of the university pattern? In the last 100 years in the United States 157 Bible institutes eventually, after sixty or seventy years, have converted over to colleges and universities. Why haven’t missionaries applied the same practical wisdom in their work overseas? This has been a serious strategic mistake. We can at least be glad that national leaders have taken the initiative to found universities without the help of Western missionaries.
Why does Winter think this is a mistake?
My guess is that Winter realises that universities train leaders and give them a world view and the world view and values of the leaders ultimately shapes a culture and a nation.  Furthermore, well educated graduates in science, education, medicine, engineering, and economics with a servant heart can be involved in transforming communities and building nations. Bible college graduates cannot do that.

A concrete example of what Winter is talking about occurred recently in Tanzania. Australian missionaries have been involved there, particularly through CMS, for more than 100 years. Yet, only a few years ago St. John's University was started completely on the initiative of national leaders in the Anglican church.

The problem one has to face though is the historical trajectory chronicled in George Marsden's  The soul of the American university: from Protestant establishment to established unbelief

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Questions for reading Genesis

A home group at our church recently went through the Test of Faith video series. People found it helpful and stimulating.
To follow up this past week we looked at the first three chapters of Genesis.

First we watched an excellent video Science and Genesis from Biologos.
Then we read Genesis 1-3 and discussed the following questions:

How do these chapters describe God?

How do they describe the natural world?

How do they describe humanity?

How do they describe the relationship of God with humanity?

How do these chapters fit into the rest of Genesis?

How do these chapters relate to the rest of the Old Testament?

How do these chapters relate to the New Testament?

What literary genres are present here?
Poetry, history, parable, myth, law, science, journalism, polemic?

What do I learn about thinking and acting in a manner that is pleasing to God?

These questions are adapted from the book of Tremper Longman III, How to read Genesis (IVP, 2005)

Friday, October 26, 2012

The role of science in missions

Ralph Winter was a highly influential missiologist. In 2007 he gave a paper Learn from our Mistakes to a group of Asian mission leaders. He lists various mistakes made by Western mission organisations in the twentieth century. It is worth reading in full. For now, I just post one mistake I thought was particularly interesting.
The Mistake of Assuming Science Is a Foe, Not a Friend 
When I was a young person, missionaries were showing science films 2,000 times per day in the non-Western world. The Moody Institute of Science films were shown even more widely in America. Many times in history Christian scholars have recognized that God has revealed Himself in “Two Books,” the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture. As Psalm 19 indicates, the Book of Nature does not even need to be translated into the world’s languages.
Every missionary must take with him to the mission field both a microscope and a telescope if we are to properly glorify God. Even more important is the need to take to the field a true reverence for the glory of God in Creation. This requires a substantial knowledge of nature. Science is the study of God’s creativity. Art is the study of man’s creativity. 
We cannot truly expect educated people to accept Christ if our hymns in church reflect no awareness of anything discovered in nature in the last 400 years, or if our young people are being led astray by recent and superficial theories that the world is only 6,000 years old. That is an improper reading of Genesis 1:1, as well as a reckless ignoring of thousands of honest Evangelicals who are outstanding scientists.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Moltmann's journey to Jesus

 Science and Christian Belief has a fascinating article by Jurgen Moltmann, "From Physics to Theology - a personal story". It is based on a Faraday Lecture at Cambridge which you can watch here [Search under Moltmann]. He recounts living in a British POW camp without any hope and feeling shame for what Germany had done.
Then I read Mark’s Gospel as a whole and came to the story of the pas- sion. When I heard Jesus’s death-cry: ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ I felt growing in me the conviction: there is someone who understands you, who is with you in your crying to God, and who felt the same forsakenness that you are living through now. I began to understand the forsaken Christ, because I knew he understood me. He was the divine brother in need, the companion on the way who goes with you through this ‘valley of the shadow of death’, the fellow sufferer who carries you in your pain. I summoned up the courage to live again and was slowly but surely seized by a great hope for God’s ‘wide space where there is no cramping any more’. This perception of Jesus did not come suddenly overnight, but it became more and more important for me. I read the story of the passion of Christ again and again and discovered my little life story in his great story.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The end of the Week

I was really sad this past friday when I learnt that the Australian version of The Week went bust. I had plugged it before on this blog. It provided a very nice summary of news from Australia and around the world. As a subscriber each friday I enjoyed receiving my copy and dipping into it over the weekend.

In today's issue of The Australian there was an interesting analysis in the Business section. It put the demise in the context of the general decline and decreasing financial viability of magazines. I thought the following extract concerning the decline of Newsweek and Time was quite insightful:

Steve Waterson, who was editor of Time's Australian edition for 11 years (and is now a senior editor at The Australian), believes the newsweeklies' slide gathered pace when they began to displace their traditional news coverage with more and more opinion and analysis. 
"Time used to have about 300 reporters all over the world. They were extraordinarily good at getting the news and aggregating it for readers," he says.
"But as people turned to the internet much more they looked at the costs of that reporting and realised it was a major expense.
"Newsweek in particular seemed to have the vanity to think the brand would keep readers even when the actual newsgathering had diminished.
"The thought was that the quality of their analysis would make up for the lack of hard news, but that conceit was soon overtaken by the ubiquity of analysis on the internet. If you're interested in something, you can find a hundred people giving their opinions online for free, and some of them are big names."

Vanity and hubris lead to self-deception and ultimately to failure.
A general problem in life and warning to us all.

Not sure what I will do now. Maybe buy the Weekend Australian or subscribe to the Economist. Although the latter lacks Australian news. Alternative suggestions welcome. I still enjoy hard copy...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Moltmann on science, theology, and the military

The latest issue of the journal Science and Christian Belief has a fascinating and stimulating article by Jurgen Moltmann, "From Physics to Theology - a personal story". It is based on a Faraday Lecture he gave at Emmanuel College (Cambridge, not UQ!) earlier this year. You can watch the lecture here.

Moltmann first gives the very moving story of how as teenager in the German army he ended up in an English POW camp searching for redemption, hearing the Gospel, and starting to read theology. I will post some of that later.

He then moves on to discussing Francis Bacon's notion that "[scientific] knowledge is power". He then makes the poignant observations:
Gaining power was, and is, a modern motive for the exploration of na- ture, but it is a very dangerous one. The twentieth century saw the politicisation of science as fascist and communist ideologies took possession of the sciences. The twentieth century also saw the militarisation of science during two world wars and the cold war that followed. The twenty-first century has brought us the economisation of science. Knowledge is not only power, but profit as well. These interests are alienating pure science from nature. Do we want to know nature for its own sake, seeking truth and correspondence with nature and finding what we have in common with nature? If so, the sciences are better preserved in fellowship with theology, than in the service of politics, economics and the military.                                                                     

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Christian view on climate change

John Cook gave a really nice talk Climate change and the weightier matters: A Christian view on global warming in August at the Centre for Science, Religion, and Society at Emmanuel College at UQ.
You can watch the whole talk and/or view the slides on his widely acclaimed blog skeptical science.

Of particular note and concern is the graphic below which shows that those who contribute the least to global warming (poor countries) will be those whose lives will be affected the most. This is a significant social justice issue that Christians should be concerned about.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An ode to Australia

My wife and I watched the movie Red Dog. I found it quite endearing and amusing.

On a more analytical note, to me it also captured certain Australian cultural distinctives: the importance of mateship, beautiful wide open spaces, the challenge of the forbidding environment, a simple unsophisticated multiculturalism, the centrality of beer drinking in social interactions, disrespect for authority, crude masculinity, and a yearning for community ...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Australia is "led" by student politicians

This week the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard became an internet sensation when a video of her attacking the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, went viral.

There is a lot to be concerned about here, particularly the context of her speech. It all reflects extremely poorly on both Gillard and Abbott.  They have both failed to exercise servant leadership, act with integrity, and to take responsibility for government.

To me an article in the Australian, Players in a Risky Game by Tom Dusevic, appropriately takes all parties to task. Here is a small extract.

Stripped down to basics, this week showed that the political class is obsessed with "the game", petty point-scoring and the concerns of insiders, rather than the big issues the Australian people expect Canberra to focus on: productivity improvement, education reforms, better hospitals, broadband and roads, indigenous disadvantage or Australia's trading and security interests.... 
The debate in the capital, such as it is, amounts to a collective regression to the sound and fury of student politics (where many of today's leading players learned their trade and found their purpose). 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Following Jesus and leading amidst strife

There is a very moving and challenging article in Christianity Today Ajith Fernando: on the anvil of suffering about the long-time director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka.

Should you believe the media?

Media reporting of the discovery of the Higgs boson, highlights just how unreliable the information and interpretation contained in media reports about science can be. I tried to bring out this issue in my recent talk. Unfortunately, it is not solely the media's responsibility. Scientists may feed a slanted perspective to the media if amplifies the significance of their research results or their personal philosophical perspective.

David Cook pointed out to me that unfortunately, media portrayals of basic Christian beliefs can exhibit similar distortions. For example, all Christians believe the earth is 6,000 years old. Faith is blind: belief without any evidence. In Galileo's time, the Roman Catholic church was opposed to science and reason...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Talk on the Higgs boson

On friday I am giving a talk The Higgs boson: scientific reality vs. the media hype at the Centre for Science, Religion, and Culture at Emmanuel College.
Here is a draft of the associated slides.
The talk features 3 videos.

The One Minute Physics video, the Higgs boson: part I.

The superconducting hula hoop. This is the demonstration of the Meissner effect in superconductors, which can be interpreted as photons acquiring mass due to physics similar to the Higgs mechanism (spontaneous breaking of a gauge symmetry).

Simon Conway Morris, Professor of Paleaobiology at Cambridge University, briefly discussing why he is a Christian.

I welcome any comments.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Why would a scientist be a Christian?

A group from my church is going through the Test of Faith video series. I think it is an excellent introduction to exploring the relationship between science and Christianity. Much of it is based on interviews with leading scientists who are Christians and some theologians who have backgrounds in science.

The website also has some excellent resources.
I liked this brief interview with Simon Conway Morris (Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at Cambridge University) about why he is a Christian.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What should motivate Christian ethics?

Christian ethics is the human reaction to the coming of Christ into this world and is an anticipation of his future in the new world. That is why every good Christian ethics ends in doxology, so as with the praise of God to intensify the cry of hope, "Amen, come Lord Jesus!" (Rev. 22:20). For in Christian ethics it must be clear that, we do not make use of God in order to change the world, but we change the world in order to enjoy God, as Augustine said.
Jurgen Moltmann, Ethics of Hope, page 229

Friday, October 5, 2012

Can atheism be detrimental to science?

A common caricature of religion is that it is opposed to science and has even hindered the development of science. The New Atheists certainly promote this view.
A previous post discussed why most modern historians disagree with this caricature.

One might ask an alternative question.
Is atheism always good for science?
Have there been historical examples where atheist ideology has been opposed to scientific progress?
Helge Kragh has a nice paper The Universe, Cold War, and Dialectical Materialism
which discusses a significant example in the former Soviet Union. Although, it was at the centre of many advances in theoretical physics, research in big bang cosmology was opposed because it was considered to be "religious" and opposed to Marxist-Leninist theory.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A life lived in fear is a life half lived

This is the key line in the movie Strictly Ballroom. I first saw it many years ago after it first came out in 1992, but watched it again this week with my family.
It says something about Australian culture. But, I am not sure what...
It also shows how parents should not try and live their lives through their children..

The trailer below captures some of the passion. But, to an Australian the American accent is hilarious and spoils it...

Monday, October 1, 2012

Nike ministry

Just do it!

This is something I have been challenged by the example of Christians I have met in the developing world.

In the affluent Western church it seems that new initiatives require planning, policies, fund raising, formal approval, hiring and training full-time paid staff, meetings, administrative staff, offices, more fund raising, buildings, organisational structures, ....

These all may have some role in Christian ministry and mission in a Western context. However, I am struck [within my limited experience] by how in the developing world most of the above does not seem to constrain or determine what Christians do. If there is a need to start an orphanage, or plant a church, or grow a theological college, they will just do it. They don't seem too concerned about having a salary [let alone a good retirement fund!], staff with all the "right" formal theological education, or all the right policies.
They tend to just start things and then later as they grow try to put in place appropriate staff and structures.

The non-Western model encourages initiative, risk taking, sacrifice, and volunteerism. It is efficient and frugal, and reduces bureaucracy and careerism.