NT Wright on the Colbert report

NT Wright is one of my favourite theologians. What’s more, he’s also a bishop in the Anglican church.

I came across an interview he did with Stephen Colbert, one of America’s best (and funniest) social commentators today. The interview, which seems to be a promo for Wright’s new book Surprised by Hope was really quite good, and I wish it could have gone on for a bit longer. Needless to say, I’ll be reading this book very soon.


Via Revolution in Jesusland

A Generous Orthodoxy (Part 1)

I’ve heard a lot around the traps about Brian McLaren’s book, A Generous Orthodoxy. The views are pretty polarised — people either gush about it or want to organise a book burning with McLaren’s still-kicking body as the fuel. I’ve heard recordings of McLaren speak, and as far as I can tell a lot of the people charging McLaren with heresy seem are either misunderstanding him or misrepresenting him.

So, in order to find out what all the fuss is about, I’ve got hold of the book and I’m going to read it. And, because I can, I’m going to blog about the experience.

I’m no further than the front cover, but the subtitle has already drawn me in:

A Generous Orthodoxy: WHY I AM A missional + evangelical post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentalist/calvinist + anabaptist/anglican + methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished CHRISTIAN.

Wow. If he can keep the sentences down to a reasonable length I think I’m going to enjoy this book!

Salvation and other religions

There’s been an interesting discussion going on lately over at TCSpeak,
the blog of our Territorial Commander, Jim Knaggs.

The discussion has little to do with the blog post, but a frequent contributor makes an odd observation. Dave writes:

According to Billy Graham, people of all faiths, or of no faith, may end up in heaven. Here is a quote from the man himself:

“What God is doing today is calling people out of the world for His name. Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts they need something that they don’t have and they turn to the only light they have and I think they’re saved and they’re going to be with us in heaven.”

This comment has sparked a bit of discussion, as it seems to have surprised Jim. I can see why: the idea of followers of other religions being saved without even knowing who Jesus is seems quite contrary to evangelical Christianity, and it is certainly at odds with much of the teaching of Billy Graham.

I’m not so sure it is, though. I am certainly aware of Bible passages that suggest this statement is out of line: for example, Romans 10 and John 14 come to mind. I wonder, though, if the problem lies in the confusion of Christ with Christianity. Here’s my reply to Dave:

Dave, I think your first statement subtly misses Graham’s intent:

According to Billy Graham, people of all faiths, or of no faith, may end up in heaven.

I think you mean ‘religion’ as opposed to ‘faith.’ The point of the Billy Graham quote seems to be that God doesn’t care what religion we are, so long as we turn to him in faith. It is through Christ we come to the Father, not Christianity.

I made a similar point in an RE lesson I taught a few weeks ago. I was teaching a class of ten and eleven year olds about the story of Jesus and the ten Samaritan lepers (Luke 17). An interesting thing about this story — and in quite a few other gospel stories — is that Jesus doesn’t seem too concerned about people’s religion. The religion of the Samaritans was different to the religion of the Jews — you might say it was a cult. This was quite eye-opening for the children. They thought Jesus came to change everyone’s religion. ‘No,’ I said. ‘Jesus wanted people to follow him. That’s quite a different thing.’

There’s still a problem here, though. To paraphrase Paul in Romans 10: how can people follow Jesus if they’ve never even heard of him?

Paul doesn’t answer this question directly; rather, he starts talking about those who have heard the gospel but not listened to it. He wonders if they mightn’t really have heard it, to which he answers, all have heard.

Paul also discusses this in Romans 1 and 2. There he talks about Gentiles who have never heard about God’s law:

All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.

Rom 2:12-16, NRSV

Nobody is without excuse when it comes to sin. Even if nobody has told us what God requires, his law is still written on our hearts.

Yet if God’s law can be written on our hearts, and in one way or another God has made his good news known to everyone, is it at least possible that God can save people outside the Christian religion? It makes sense that such people would respond to God the only way they know how — by faithfully practising their own religion. Now don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that salvation is to be found on another path or by following a different god. I am talking about the way people express their desire to follow the God who has spoken to them.

This is, I would suggest, the intent of Billy Graham’s quote. I’ll leave the last word to C.S. Lewis who made a similar statement in The Last Battle, the final book in The Chronicles of Narnia. In this passage Emeth, who has faithfully served the false god Tash all his life, recounts his meeting with Aslan, who is an allegorical type of Jesus.

“[Aslan said]…’I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?’

I said, ‘Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.’ But I said also (for truth constrained me), ‘Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.’

‘Beloved,’ said the Glorious One, ‘unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.'”

Separated by a common language

Some time ago I had lunch with some pastors from local churches. The conversation turned to the difficulty we all had communicating with those outside the Church. One person bemoaned the fact that it is so hard to walk up to somebody and have a conversation about the ‘claims of Jesus on their life.’ Another told us of the vision he had for his church to ‘impact this generation for Christ’, and how he was sure it was about to happen. In the meantime, though, he recognised his church was ‘in a season of seeking and waiting on the Lord.’

I understood completely. Or more to the point, I didn’t understand. I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about!

My friends had a problem, but it wasn’t what they thought it was. They wanted to lay the blame for their lack of evangelical success on the people with whom they were trying to communicate. The problem was a little closer to home — they couldn’t speak the language of the people to whom they were taking the gospel.

I don’t think my pastor friends are the only ones suffering this malady. Christians have always spoken a different language to their neighbours in the world. The Army has its own peculiar lingo, as does any other group you care to mention. That’s only natural.

Of course, this problem is more than linguistic. The Church has developed an alternative culture that is separate to the culture of the world. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because there are a lot of things in the world that don’t belong in the Church. However, it can lead us to retreat into our holy fortresses and have nothing to do with the world.

Yet it is the Salvationist’s duty to take the Gospel to those outside the walls of our citadels. That’s more than just being involved in an outreach program at the Corps. Don’t get me wrong — Corps outreach programs can be a fantastic way to be involved in our mission. But taking the Gospel to those who need to hear it is far more than just that.

It means leaving the safety of our Christian friends and speaking with people with whom we wouldn’t ordinarily associate. It means being a disciple of Christ amongst people where such a calling is the exception rather than the norm. It means loving the unlovable even when it encroaches on our own personal space.

For some, it might mean joining a non-church sports team in a secular league. For others it might mean joining the town band. It might mean befriending the homeless man who lives at the local train station. It might mean taking your kids to the council play group rather than the one at the Corps. It might mean helping at a local public school — and perhaps even enrolling your children there!

To some these suggestions will sound scary, or even blasphemous. But we’re not doing anything Jesus wasn’t prepared to do. After all, he left the safety of Heaven to live among us. Are we willing to do the same for the neighbours we claim to love?

A few thoughts about uniform wearing

One day I was at home working on my message for Sunday’s meeting when the phone rang. Trudy had forgotten to take her lunch in to the office and she was hoping I could take five minutes to run it up to her. So I picked up her lunch, got in the car, and delivered it. I had just about made it back to the car when I bumped into one of the saints of the Corps. ‘Hello Captain!’ he said, to which I responded. His next comment was interesting.

‘Oh, you don’t look very captainy today.’

What he meant was, ‘You’re at the Corps and you’re out of uniform.’ He’s the sort of person who would never question his officers publicly, but you could tell when he disapproved of something. This was one of those times. Whilst I didn’t see any need to justify myself, I explained that I’d just popped in to do a couple of quick things, and that I was going back home to work. Thankfully, he approved.

I’ve always liked wearing my uniform. I remember a Corps Cadet lesson many years ago where uniform wearing was explained. I don’t remember the details of the lesson, but I do remember Elijah Cadman’s exclamation: ‘I would like to wear a suit of clothes that would let everyone know I meant war to the teeth and salvation for the world!’

Now, as an officer, I’m the one teaching the Corps Cadet lessons and training recruits to be soldiers. The question of uniform wearing comes up frequently, and I’m always ready with the story of Cadman. Yet as I look at the reasons we really wear uniform I wonder if I’m being completely honest.

I first wore uniform in public nearly twenty years ago. I was cheating somewhat, because I wasn’t enrolled as a soldier until the next morning! I’d been waiting for this for years. I had my suit of clothes, and I was ready to tell the world that I meant war. I’ve been through a few uniforms since, but I still wear it proudly.

My concern is that in practical terms the Army has lost sight of the uniform’s purpose. Instead of being a means of publicly declaring one’s faith and willingness to stand against evil it has become an internal symbol of conformity and authority.

Before I became an officer I was involved in a paradenominational mission group. One Sunday afternoon this group had a particularly important meeting that I needed to attend. Consequently I wasn’t going to be able to go to the Army that night, so I explained the situation to my officer, who gave me her blessing.

The mission group meeting finished much earlier than expected. On the way home I realised I could make it to the Army on time if I didn’t go home first. I wasn’t sure if that would be appropriate. I was riding my bike, and it had been a hot day; moreover, the chain had fallen off my bike a few times, and I was covered in grease. I really needed a shower. Still, the Army’s proud of the fact that we don’t have a dress code, and I knew full well that there would be people there dirtier and smellier than I. So I pushed on, glad that I was going to be able to get there.

I arrived just as the meeting started. At the end of the meeting the officer shook my hand, glad that I was able to attend after all. After she’d moved on, another person, who was very influential in the Corps, came and quietly asked where my uniform was. I explained my reasons to him, suggesting it was better to be at the Army in regular clothes than at home in my uniform.

He disagreed. He told me that as a soldier I was expected to wear my uniform to meetings, and to do otherwise was an abrogation of my duty as a Salvationist. I naively thought that fighting the war was more important than simply dressing for it.

As a cadet I never quite got why and when I had to wear uniform. For example, there is apparently a rule in our Territory that requires officers (and by extension, cadets) to be properly attired when they visit THQ. It never occurred to me that people in THQ needed to be sure of my intentions in the Salvation War. (One cadet figured it must be because the devil is winning the fight there, and the staff need reinforcements. I’m not that cynical!)

Sometime we cadets would get a memo telling us to wear full Navy uniforms for particular lectures. Generally speaking, full blue uniform would be required if we had a visiting lecturer who was an active officer with a rank of full Colonel or higher. We had at least one retired Commissioner lecture us, and I’m fairly sure we had a retired General come to speak. We didn’t have to worry about full blues then.

Our choice of uniform was dictated by our visitors’ position within the Army. Our personal declarations of war were only incidental to the apparently more important aim of conforming to the structure of the Army. For many, uniform wearing is more to do with hierarchy than holiness.

Of course, forgetting the reason we wear uniform isn’t the sole preserve of Training College staff. In College we would wear uniform to class, and then get changed into regular clothes whenever we dared venture out into the ‘Real World.’ And it’s not only cadets who do it. I know people who leave their uniforms at the Army hall and get changed into them when they arrive on Sunday. Once the meeting’s over, they change back again to go home.

Sadly, many of us wear our uniforms because it’s expected. That’s part and parcel of officership, but it’s no different for our soldiers. We want to play in the band, or hand out songbooks, and so we proudly wear the costume prescribed by the Army. Yet when it’s time to go outside and declare war on the dominion of Satan, we’re not so sure.

So what do I tell my Corps Cadets? I’ve always been told that wearing uniform signifies my desire to fight, yet my experience tells me it is as much to do with fitting in and conforming to the rules. Hopefully those in my tutelage will be clear about why they make the choice to wear it. I can only pray that they will learn to fight in a way befitting such a potent and important symbol.

Where would we be without cars?

I’m sure most readers will be aware of the rise in the cost of petrol lately. I paid $1.69 per litre this week, and there’s every chance that could rise to $2.00 by the end of the year. Most people I know are thinking twice before using the car, which is a good thing. I wonder, though, what life would be like if we weren’t able to run cars any more?

Brandon Rhodes brings up an interesting scenario worth thinking about.

When the age of less oil arrived, the Jesus radicals were all together in one place. And suddenly a great wind and tongues of flame spread through the room. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak and worship in ways that cut across tradition and theology as the Spirit gave them power.

Now there were dwelling in Kentucky Christians, devout men from every denomination under heaven. And upon seeing this they all came together, bewildered, because each one was found to belong regardless of tradition. And they were amazed, astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Jesus radicals? And how is it that we find ourselves able to worship and belong here, even according to our various denominations? Baptists and Southern Baptists and Presbyterians, Greek Orthodox and Anglicans, Methodists from Missouri and Pentecostals, too. Roman Catholics and Mennonites, Lutherans, Korean and Black congregations are all here – we hear them telling in our own languages the mighty works of God.”

In this vision believers of different sorts are forced to worship together simply because they cannot afford the petrol to drive their cars to their accustomed place of worship.

It’s fairly well understood how the automobile has changed the way our societies operate. It is quite normal to work an hour away from where you live, and the structure of our cities reflects this. Governments and businesses can save a lot of money by building fewer but bigger facilities. Look at the average shopping centre and the accompanying car park. That simply couldn’t exist if customers weren’t able to drive for miles to get there.

Our churches are much the same. The last decade or two has seen a huge growth in the number of ‘megachurches’ in existence. I’ve been to a few, and they all have very big car parks. I suspect many of the people attending have driven a long way to be there. I know of at least one megachurch in Melbourne that has Bible study groups operating right across the metropolitan area, and I doubt it’s the only one.

Building bigger churches is something of a passion in the Army at the moment. The theory is fairly sweet: if your corps is growing, people must be becoming Christians. I’m happy with that. The speaker at a conference I was at a few years ago impressed on us the importance of building our churches. He told stories about churches in his denomination that have grown past ten thousand people, and he insisted that we should be aiming at the same sort of thing. I pointed out that it would be great, but there were only 16,000 people in my town and many of them already went to church. The answer was simple: we should concentrate on becoming a regional church. There were other towns around the area, and people could drive in from there. In fact, we should be aiming at everyone within a one hour’s drive of the hall.

In theory, this sounds nice. Yet what do we do when the oil runs out? If we are reduced to walking or riding our bikes, what then?

Rhodes’ answer is simple. If we can’t travel far to worship we will travel a smaller distance. That may mean worshipping with people from outside our denomination. It might even mean learning to walk with people whose beliefs are quite removed from your own.

For many, that would mean far less choice about music style, dress code, doctrinal differences and all those things that define each church as different from the others.

In some places nobody would notice the difference. In Colac there are about six churches within five minute’s walk of the Army. Folk in that area are spoilt for choice. Yet there’s only one church within reasonable walking distance of my house.

The idea of a ‘regional church’ sounds a bit silly in that scenario. An hour’s travel would mean, for many, two or three kilometres. We would end up with a situation far more like that at the turn of the twentieth century, with lots of small churches springing up everywhere.

The role of the corps officer may become much more like what it used to be: a circuit preacher. Instead of expecting the corps to come to me, I would go to them, perhaps over the space of a week. That would mean administrative duties would have to be delegated more effectively.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I realise how much of my role is shaped by the fact that I have a car. Perhaps it’s time to start facing the inevitable, dust off the bike, and start living my life without oil. I think we would all be wise to think about what we would all do in the same situation.

Hello world!

Well, here’s my first blog post! Shiny, isn’t it?

As the tagline says, this blog is about freedom. The title of the blog is also the title of a song I wrote a few years ago which expresses the hearts desire to find true freedom and the way to get there. So here it is!

Spirit Cry

Verse 1.

My spirit cries for freedom,
My spirit cries for peace.
My spirit cries for freedom,
My spirit wants release!
My spirit cries for freedom,
To fly in heav’n above;
My spirit cries for freedom,
And finds the Father’s love.


The Father’s heart is aching,
And his Spirit cries for me.
My spirit finds its freedom,
In the bonds of Calvary

Verse 2.

I was made for freedom,
But I was born a slave
To things that do not love me,
The evil that I crave.
With dauntless grace God sought me
His Spirit crying out
My name, with love’s devotion:
My spirit hears the sound.

Verse 3.

My spirit cries for freedom,
From chains that will not fall.
My spirit cries for freedom,
From darkened prison walls.
My spirit cries for freedom,
His gaze breaks through the night;
My spirit, finding freedom
Is led into the light.