Grand Designs

I’ve been thinking a lot about architecture recently. This is strange, because I resolved at the end of 2004 that I would never again be subjected to an assignment that required me to consider the built form (or fibonacci numbers, for that matter). A year of sleepless nights consumed by balsa wood models and two-point perspective drawings well and truly extinguished any lingering gusto I initially had when I started my architecture degree as a fresh-faced high school graduate. Or at least I so thought.

Earlier this year, I had the absolute privilege of travelling to Israel for three and a half weeks to take part in a biblical studies field trip with Alphacrucis. Of the countless things that stand out retrospectively, I can’t help but find myself still overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the Greco-Roman architecture found in places like Beit She’an (otherwise known as Scythopolis) in the north of the country, where to this day you can sit in a column-flanked amphitheatre and walk within metres of exquisite mosaics encrusting the shop floors of antiquity.

In understanding that these ridiculously grandiose structures were strategically placed to symbolically impose the values of the Roman Empire in regions resistant to imperial maxims, I’ve found myself reflecting on the potential influence of architecture and space design in conveying and reinforcing power structures – and how this is subconsciously carried out in the church building as it is formatted to connect in relevance to its community. I don’t have any answers, but I think there are serious questions we ought to consider, because we too often overlook the implicit theological messages we send out when we design our church spaces.

When we organise the individual seats of our church auditoriums to be focused on a colour-lit stage where the same few regularly tread, what does this imply about our understanding of the priesthood of all believers? We want to be relevant by engaging people in a familiar environment – but can our church buildings encourage a phenomenon whereby some become more powerful simply because they are in this colour-lit position more frequently than others and gain greater esteem?

When we have individual seats, all facing in one direction towards this stage, with the screens up the front drawing our individual attention, do we have any need to interact with the person sitting next to us in church? In our organisation of space, do we encourage an experience of faith that is in the presence of others, yet almost entirely individualised – that is only pseudo-communal?

I guess what I’m asking boils down to one question: if we had the chance to go back to the drawing board and reorganise the space of our churches so they would reflect and reinforce more fully an understanding of God’s kingdom as truly communal, equitable and inclusive… what would they look like?

Nile – Ban the Burqa and the Tie

Fred Nile is in the news again. For at least the third time, Nile is introducing a private members bill to the NSW Parliament seeking to ban the Burqa.

I understand his frustration. I myself have made numerous attempts to ban the tie at my college. It is a well known fact that tie wearers are 10 times more likely than T-shirt wearers to engage in acts of corporate terrorism. The tie conceals the true nature of the person. When you look at a tie wearer, what you think you see is a respectable citizen. In fact, however, Christopher Skase wore a tie, as did Bernard Modoff, the biggest fraudster in history.

As Nile suggests of the Burqa, “an open society has no place for the tie.” Tie wearers generally have no choice in the matter, forced by their corporate oppressors to “tie the knot” daily. More worryingly, under the supposedly respectable veneer of the tie is concealed an iphone with offshore bank details, and trails of money used to fund Japanese whaling and mining explorations of the barrier reef. We must do all we can to protect ourselves from corporate greed. Banning the tie is the only answer.

Anyway, i am interested to hear your comments – what do you think about the ban on the burqa (and the tie).

Full Gospel and the Environment

I recently had the pleasure of contributing to a chapter to a book edited by Amos Yong, The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth. The chapter is entitled “Preaching the Full Gospel in the face of the Global Environmental Crises”.  Sometime in the next little while I intend to respond to a review of the book, and my chapter in particular, written by Raymond Hughes on the Renewal Dynamics blog.  In the meantime, let me briefly summarise the argument of the paper.

The logic of the paper is based on a critical analysis of the Pentecostal “full-gospel”.  Those of you familiar with the full gospel may be aware that Pentecostals have traditionally proclaimed a fourfold (or full) gospel; Jesus saves, baptises in the Spirit, heals and is coming again. In more recent decades this fourfold gospel has been extended to include a fifth element relating to the gospel of blessing.

My argument, in sum, is that Pentecostal appropriation of fundamentalist approaches to theology – literal six day fundamentalism and narrow views of salvation and end times – has worked against the development of a ‘green’ theology; against any recognition that the message of the gospel is good news for the earth.  This is because presumptions that the earth was created only 6000 years ago, and is soon to be destroyed in the apocalyptic return of Jesus, alonside concepts of salvation that prioritise the soul over and against the body, have meant that:

  • the affirmation that ‘Jesus saves’ has been focused on saving souls, and not on the broader social (and ecological) implications of the kingdom
  • the declaration that ‘Jesus baptises in the Spirit’ has been concerned with individual spiritual experience, and not on the broader work of the Spirit in the world
  • the promotion of the idea that ‘Jesus heals’ has focused on the individual only and not extended to healing of the environment
  • the belief in the immanent the end of the world has entrenched the concern for souls as a priority over and against social and ecological concerns
  • the emphasis on financial prosperity has aligned the movement with the economic systems that have generated the environmental problems we now face.

The paper goes on to argue for a reframing of the Pentecostal message in such a way that we can truly claim to be preaching the “full gospel” – one that recognises  that Jesus saves the cosmos, that Jesus heals a sick creation, that Jesus baptises in the Spirit for the sake of empowering the church to participate in His liberating of all the world (and earth), and that Jesus’ return results in the earth’s renewal not its destruction.


The Sexist Dribble of Driscoll

Jacqui Grey and I attended the Christians for Biblical Equality conference in Melbourne last weekend.  An excellent paper was presented by Denise Cooper, who answered to the question, “Are Women More Prone to Error?” The Paper responds to the assertion of conservative exegetes of 1 Tim 2.12 that men are to be in authority because women are more prone to be deceived since.

Leaving aside the interpretation of this passage for another time, one would think that we are well beyond any suggestion that women are more gullible or open to deception then men.  Stupidity, after all, is not a product of gender.  Yet despite the fact that we live in the twenty first century, it seems there are still prominent Christian leaders arguing for male headship on the basis of the supposed female tendency to deception.  Denise cited the following quote taken from Mark Driscoll’s truly horrible book, On Church Leadership (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008),  45.

  • Without blushing, Paul is simply stating that when it comes to leading in the church, women are unfit because they are more gullible and easier to deceive than men. While many irate women have disagreed with his assessment through the years, it does appear from this that such women who fail to trust his instruction and follow his teaching are much like their mother Eve and are well-intended but ill-informed. . . Before you get all emotional like a woman in hearing this, please consider the content of the women’s magazines at your local grocery store that encourages liberated women in our day to watch porno with their boyfriends, master oral sex for men who have no intention of marrying them, pay for their own dates in the name of equality, spend an average of three-fourths of their childbearing years having sex but trying not to get pregnant, and abort 1/3 of all babies – and ask yourself if it doesn’t look like the Serpent is still trolling the garden and that the daughters of Eve aren’t gullible in pronouncing progress, liberation, and equality

This nonsense certainly succeeds in making me irate and emotional.  Apart from the fact that there is simply no empirical evidence that women are less intelligent and more gullible then men, the case made in the paragraph above is absurd on so many levels.  Yes womens magazines contain much that is shallow and immoral, but so do the mens magazines sitting alongside.  Sure, women read stories about mastering oral sex, but they do so because the society we live in has become increasingly sexualised – a fact that effects both men and women.  In respect to childbirth, I can simply note the fact that at my wife and i have spent the bulk of our married life having sex but trying not to get pregnant.  And to suggest that abortion has anything to do with a supposed female tendency to deception is simply offensive.

Driscoll sets himself up as a trendy contemporary Christian but while ever this sort of argument is presented in the name of the bible, the church is doomed to irrelevance.

Outer Context

After a four week discussion on the name of this blog, we have finally taken the plunge and started with Outer Context.  It is an oblique reference to our intention to theologise in a way that responds to issues in the contemporary context, and that does just to the context of our faith.  The term ‘outer’ is not only a reference to the likelihood that we will take things out of context, but it is also a reference to the fact that we are likely to be a little “out-there”.  For those interested, we tried:

– Out of Context (taken)

– Unauthorised (taken)

– Alphacrucians (dweeby)

– Scholarshite (cool – but rude)

and a thousand others.  The main problem is that almost any name you can think of is taken.  Since we have not yet gone too far down the track, i guess you can tell us whether you like or hate the name, and suggest any alternatives.