Saturday, August 31, 2013

Resources for engaging with the church in the Majority world

Last night I gave a talk "Engaging with the church in Majority world" to the Stanford InverVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship.

I described some of my recent experiences, particularly visiting theological colleges, and student Christian groups affiliated with IFES. I really enjoyed the questions and discussion.

Here are some of the resources I recommended:

The Message of Mission by Howard Peskett and Vinoth Ramachandra

Poor Economics: a radical rethinking of the way to fight global poverty

When helping hurts: how to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor and yourself

Africa Bible Commentary

Connecting Resources for Tertiary Chemical Education with Scientists and Students in Developing Countries. A recent article I co-authored in the Journal of Chemical Education

"Science and theology in non-Western contexts"
An editorial I wrote in Science and Christian Belief

Compassion for child sponsorship

Overseas Council for partnering with theological colleges in the Majority world.

My work/science blog has a lot of career advice and some discussion of mental health issues for academics.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A typology for Christians interacting with society

Yesterday I enjoyed being at First Presbyterian Church Berkeley. The sermon by Ian Noyes was on Romans 12:9-21 which presents many challenges to Christians on how they relate to their opponents.

Ian made use of Miroslav Volf's “Two Noes and One Yes”. I had not heard of this before and found it helpful and challenging. I found Tim Keller also invokes this in his book Center Church: Doing balanced, gospel-centered ministry in your city. Here is the relevant quote:
Miroslav Volf titles a section of his book A Public Faith “Two Noes and One Yes”. This means, first, saying no to what he calls “total transformation” - to a goal of transforming the whole culture we inhabit. What Christians build culturally is not like the modern cities (Brasilia is the best example) that are built from scratch. It is like rehabilitating an existing city while living in it. It means, second, saying no to what he calls “accommodation”. Finally, we say yes to “engagement”, which Volf describes as “expressing the middle between abandoning and dominating the culture… what it might mean to assert one’s difference while remaining within it,” of “leaving without departing”.
Similar considerations apply to Christians interacting with universities. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Turn the other check and change the world

I enjoyed watching the movie 42 about Jackie Robinson, the first African-American in Major League Baseball in the USA. It highlights the racism and antagonism that he had to endure. A key was his ability to endure silently, "turning the other cheek." Many consider that Robinson broke down prejudices, helping create the climate for the civil rights movement and the end of racial segregation.

Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers owner, who carefully recruited Robinson with a view to ending racial segregation in baseball said, "I am looking for a ball player who has the guts not to fight back." The shared Christian faith of Rickey and Robinson is nicely discussed in a post, Jackie Robinson and the pattern of Jesus.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Reading the Bible like Aesop's fables

With my son I have been reading through Counterfeit Gods: When the empty promises of love, money, and power let you down by Tim Keller.
I recommend it.

[Trivial cultural aside: the USA edition has "sex, money, and power" in the sub-title whereas I have a UK edition which is "love, money, and power"].

Each chapter considers a different idol in the modern/postmodern world and deconstructs it, engaging with a relevant passage of the Bible. Keller's exegesis often takes directions I would not have anticipated. [I mean this in the positive sense]. For example, I used to think positively of Jacob working seven years for Rachel [Genesis 29]: what an example of "true love"! However, Keller takes it as a sign of idolatry and infatuation.

Keller points out that we may read the Old Testament narratives with the wrong approach.
“The reason for our confusion [about the Bible] is that we usually read the Bible as a series of disconnected stories, each with a “moral” for how we should live our lives. It is not. Rather, it comprises a single story, telling us how the human race got into its present condition, and how God through Jesus Christ has come and will come to put things right.” (pp. 36-37)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

An admonition from Ecclesiastes in the public square

Today my son and I played tourist in San Francisco. The picture below is the clocktower of St. Mary's Cathedral in Chinatown.

The only reason I saw this is that it featured in the excellent DK guide to San Francisco that we were using. I really love DK books, particularly the travel guides.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Non-issues for the Australian election

Next month Australia will have a national election. As is now common in Western democracies much of the campaign reporting and "debate" focusses on personalities, polls, hip-pocket issues, and fear [of immigration, financial collapse, ....].

It would be nice if we could have a robust national debate about substantial issues that will shape the kind of country Australia will be in one or two decades from now.
I believe that the affluent and peaceful life experienced by the bulk of Australians is a geographical and historical anomaly. Furthermore, I believe that our current lifestyle is not economically, environmentally, and politically sustainable.
Sorry I am such a pessimist. But, the world is changing rapidly. Life in Australia is like paradise compared to most of the world and it is easy to live in denial.

Here are a few issues I would like to see discussed. The order of the list is random. All of the issues are complex. Many are divisive.

How might we move towards constructive bi-partisan policies on immigration, climate change, and indigenous welfare?

What can be done to reduce "middle class welfare", the associated sense of entitlement and future unsustainable debts?

How can Australia increase its foreign aid and make it more effective? [Details of recent disappointing government actions are here].

How can Australia move beyond a foreign policy that is subservient to the USA?

To what extent are we willing to sacrifice our short-term financial interests in order to be building a more just and peaceful world?

How can the quality of public education be increased?

Australia is a multi-cultural Western secular democracy. Yet is has been shaped [mostly sub-consciously] by ideals with largely Christian/Biblical origins [human rights, rule of law, compassion,  ....]. What is the appropriate and constructive engagement of "religion in the public square"?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Global inequality is changing

It is amazing how much the world has changed in twenty years. Somewhat for the better. The Economist recently ran a cover story about how the rapid economic growth of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) is slowing down. Embedded in the article is the graph below that takes a while to digest
[The] most populous countries [in the world] are no longer all that poor and its poor countries are no longer all that populous. Two decades of BRIC-led growth mean that there are far fewer people earning very little. In 1993 about half the world lived at below 5% of American GDP per person, according to an analysis of IMF figures by The Economist (see chart above). In 2012 the equivalent figure was 18% of American GDP per person.
The graph also predicts that 5 years from now 40% of the world's population will have an income greater than 25% of the US GDP per person.

To me this highlights both
- how incredibly inequitable global wealth was twenty years ago
- how much there has been a rapid expansion of "middle classes" in the BRICs in the last twenty years.

Noten, this does not mean that things are now just or that BRICs don't still have massive amounts of people living in extreme poverty.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

How did we get here?

Consider the following entrenched values of Western society:
  • all humans are of equal value and dignity
  • technology that saves labour is a good thing
  • public debate about political and social issues is good
  • rationality
Where did these values come from? 
Why are they not entrenched in many non-Western societies?
These questions are extensively examined by Vishal Mangalwadi

I have now read more than a quarter of the book. Mangalwadi persuasively argues that core Western values, such as those above, were driven by theology, and often by Reformation theology.
Sometimes we are told that some of these values derived from the Graeco-Roman world. However, although some of these values were present then, they had generally been abandoned or forgotten. For example, rationalism was supplanted by gnosticism and mysticism. 
The church sustained the idea of the logos because the Bible's framework provided a rationale for believing in reason. The logos had entered history and become flesh. Since rationality was a part of the nature of God that had been given to us, philosophy or rational understanding and systematisation of revealed truth ... was not something to be feared or shunned.
(page 84)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

When did immigration become "border protection"?

I just flew from Brisbane to the USA.
I am a bit slow to notice change. But I did notice that now in both Australia and the USA, "Customs and Immigration" has become "Customs and Border Protection".
I guess this reflects the increasing xenophobia, hostility to immigration, and fear in both countries.