Signing Off…

Hi,

We have loved you reading our blog, but like all good things, it doesn’t last.  After some time of thinking and praying we have sadly decided to close Soma.

This, of course, means we need to stop contributing to this blog.  😦 .  But we will leave it up for a while for you to get to our posts :-).

And if you still want to follow Pete, he has set up a new blog at peterdhughes.org.

Thanks for reading!

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Risen: Singing to the Choir?

There will be a number of reviews of Risen.  So let me add one more.  In short, this is going to be one of those movies that Christians will love (or at least like) and non-Christians will find odd, hence it will be one of those movies that end up singing to the choir.  It’s not up to the standard of The Passion of the Christ but its not as bad as other Christian movies that have attempted Christian themes like this in the past.

I am sure there will be a lot of criticism of the theology of the movie, forgetting that it is a movie.  I was expecting a more apologetic view of the resurrection, and it wasn’t quite that either.  But I want to focus on the movie as a movie.

As a movie, frankly, I found it disconnected.  It was very ‘bitsy’ and missed coherence.  If I were not a Christian I am not sure I would have cared if the movie resolved or not because the drama and tension dropped off very quickly.

The directing, likewise seemed disconnected.  For example here is what I think some of the directors notes would have been:

  • Peter Firth (Pilate): “You are in a Shakespearean tragedy set in first century Jerusalem”.
  • Tom Felton (Lucius): “You are in a BBC detective series like Mid-Sommer Murders set in first century Jerusalem”.
  • Stephen Hagan (Bartholomew): “Ummm….you know….just have fun with it.  Go nuts”.
  • Joseph Finnes (Clavius): “Stare.  A Lot.  Usually at the floor like you are looking for your keys”.

That being said, there were some things I liked about the movie:

  1. It was about the resurrection.  There have been some great movies about the life and death of Jesus.  But this is about the one thing that means you can’t just take Jesus as just another teacher or tragic death.  What the movie missed was why this matters so much.
  2. Yeshua.  While Yeshua (Jesus) was not the main character, a strength of the movie, it was played so well by Cliff Curtis.  He is not a good-looking anglo guy and carries the character so believably.
  3. The actors didn’t have American accents.  Because so many production companies that focus on Christian themes are based in America we get American accents in Palestine.  On the other hand here we get English accents in Palestine.  This means there are times you are thinking you are watching Life of Brian or a Guy Ritchie film but it is a refreshing change.
  4. Cinematography.  While the directing and the script let the film down, the cinematography, the usual achilles heel of Christian movies, has depth and balance.  (Hey, it matters to me!).

There are some questions you will want to ask if you were watching the movie with someone:

  1. If you were Clavius, would you have been convinced Jesus rose from the dead?
  2. Do you think Clavius’ resultant changes were consistent or exaggerated?  What would you have done?
  3. What difference would it make today if Jesus was raised from the dead?

Is it worth watching?  Yes, but don’t have high expectations.

Book Review: Delighting in the Trinity

Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 2012)

The quick review: read this book.

The longer review: Michael Reeves has attempted to give us a readable book about the Christian doctrine of the trinity and not only make it sound understandable, but essential for the Christian understanding of God and his gospel.

Reeves’ thesis, I believe, can be summed up with this quote.

If God is not Father, Son and Spirit then he is eminently rejectable: without love, radiance or beauty.  Who would want such a God to have any power, or even exist?  But the triune, living God of the Bible is Beauty.  Here is a God we can really want, and whose sovereignty we can wholeheartedly rejoice on.  (pp111-12)

There are some important things to note about this.  Firstly, for Reeves, the trinity is all about God.  The doctrine is not something that we use to try and resolve an inconvenient dilemma about how Jesus can be God and yet there is also a Father.  It tells us who God is.

Secondly, throughout the book Reeves repeatedly uses the word ‘beauty’ to describe God and the trinity.  This kept wrong footing me because I am not used to the word coming up in a theological book like this.  On one hand I think he uses it well and the wrong footing for me was a chance to stop and think.  On the other hand I don’t see the term being used as a repeatedly in Scripture (though I am sure people will now fill the comments section with Biblical references).

I think the best thing I got out of this book was how the trinity helps me understand the gospel around the idea of love.  That sin is stopping being lovers of others and becoming lover of the self.  That the character of God is to be loving of the other within the trinity and then towards creation and humanity.

This book is probably best for mature Christians, leaders and professionals in ministry.  I found it very readable, but reading through other reviews, not everyone did.  Being readable, it was also very meaty.  There is a lot to stop and think about in terms of God, his character and his gospel, and I am looking forward to reading this in a group.

Throughout the book there are several asides from church history and other theologians.  I appreciated these nods to historical theology but if you were reading this with a young Christian or a group of youngish Christians these could be tangents that need to be explained.

A trial of the first chapter can be found here.

My Top 15 Ministry Hacks

Ministry is about people and the Word.  The problem is that there is all this other STUFF that happens.  So here are a few “short-cuts-to-make-STUFF-easier” (also known as hacks) to help you spend less time on STUFF and more time with people.

I should point out some of these are mine that I have been using for a while.  Others are things that other people have suggested and I am stealing their ideas and giving them no credit.

  1. Devotional life first.  This needs to be a priority.  In fact its more of a law than a hack so if it’s not, do me a favour: flatten your hand, put it behind your head and move it forward quickly.  Some of the hardest moments in my life have been more bearable because I invested here.  While this is not the primary reason, a nice side benefit is that I work more efficiently for the rest of the day when I make this a priority.
  2. Devotional life: get a plan.  The adage is true for this as well as most other things in life: “Failing to plan, is a plan to fail”.  The easiest plan is to have a reading plan to work through the whole Bible.  Start here.
  3. A Prayer Book is not just for church.   If you are seeking to develop your devotional life, including prayer, then grab a prayer book or connect to a daily collect which you can subscribe to on…..
  4. Prayer Mate is Your Mate.  One of the most useful tools I have used to organise my prayer life is the app PrayerMate.  Even though it has been recently, updated, I think it’s a little clunky, but I think is better than anything else I have used.  You can subscribe to Soma for our prayer points as well as prayer book collects.
  5. Keep You Greek Geek Going.  You know how you remember what anarthrous infinitive is?  Neither do I, but I used to.  Greek, like all languages, goes when it isn’t being used.  But Dr. Rob Plummer does a daily 2 min video exegeting one verse, called the Daily Dose of Greek.  I get an email each day from site with a link to the 2 min video.  There is also a Hebrew one, but I am not that ambitious!
  6. Overlap your 1 to 1’s.  This was one of the most popular hacks out there.  When you are doing mulitple 1 to 1’s do the same book.  You get to know it better and you can be more efficient in any preparation.  I tend to exegete a book that I will be preaching on in 6 to 12 months.  Doing this in my 1 to 1 time gives me a chance to see some of the pastoral issues I might have missed exegeting it alone.  But doing it so far out means people forget the book (or have a strange sense of deja vu).
  7. Double your 1’s.  Someone suggested to me rather than doing 1 to 1, do 1 to 2.  It means you get peer to peer training, and people don’t just see the pastoral issues they are dealing with but the other person’s as well.  You also get to do more discipleship.  But the downside is that you need 2 people available at the same time.  I have to admit it worked surprisingly well.
  8. Get Siri to write your talks.  OK, well not Siri.  We do tend to write differently to how we speak (which is why preachers are generally not great writers!).  These days there are a lot of voice to text software out there that will take what you are saying and turn it into text (and it can be faster for some).  My experience with the software so far is that you get what you pay for.
  9. Give people responsibilities and not tasks.  We all want people to ‘own’ the ministry (one day someone will explain what that means).  But giving people responsibilities enables them to place their stamp on what is happening, and allow you to take your eye off it.  Speaking of which….
  10. Give admin to people who love admin and are good at it.  Surprisingly, there are people who like doing administration.  Weird, I know.  But since most ministers hate it and take 2 hours what these people could do in 30 mins, give it to them to do.  I should point out that not all people who love admin are good at it, so you might want to work that one out.
  11. Video Playback.  Training people is important.  But helping them see what they are doing wrong can be hard for them to see, so show them.  Video what they are doing and play it back.  Most people can then see for themselves what they are doing wrong.  Hint: when training preachers, fast-forwarding will highlight any body language quirks they may not be aware of.
  12. Say what?  When?  If you don’t have a communication policy, get one.  What I mean is here is what should be broadcast, sent in a personal email, on the phone or face to face.  Too many pastoral issues have arisen because people try and short cut this and make more work.  If it’s a hard word, do it face to face, not through an email!!
  13. Snap a Whiteboard.  I thought this was a simple brillant idea.  At the end of a meeting write up what you have agreed on a whiteboard so everyone can see and agree with it.  Then take a photo and send it to everyone on the team – simple.
  14. Voice your Ads.  Adobe Voice is a great little app that helps you make short videos that look simple and good.  I make the video, export them to my photo.  Until recently it was only available on the iPad, but now as an iPhone version as well that I haven’t used.
  15. Follow Dave.  Apart from introducing me to my wife, Dave Moore’s Ministry Principles blog is one of the most useful things he has done.  It is full of more stuff like this.  Obviously I had to put this one last, or you wouldn’t have read on!

What’s your best ministry hack so I can steal that too?

Worship Defined

While reading a book on the doctrine of Church [1], I happened upon this definition of Christian worship:

True worship is the celebration of being in covenant fellowship with the sovereign and holy triune God, by means of:

  • the reverent adoration and spontaneous praise of God’s nature and works
  • the expressed commitment of trust and obedience to the covenant responsibilities, and
  • the memorial reenactment of entering into covenant through ritual acts,

all with the confident anticipation of the fulfillment of the covenant promises in glory. [2]

The reason I like it is because other definitions include one or another of the threefold definition above and I think they miss at least part of the idea of worship.

Those who emphasize the praise aspect of worship often end up making church a place where you need your spiritual fix for the week.  Those who emphasize the obedience part tend to make worship into a moral code.  And those who emphasize the rituals end up elevating the role of church above what it should be.  Only by holding all three together do we properly worship God.

But we need to ask some practical questions here:

  • Which of these do you neglect? Why?
  • Which of these do you emphasize?  Why?

 

 

ENDNOTES

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What’s the point of preaching?

As a preacher I often make the mistake of getting stuck into the text and making sure I am faithful to it, explaining, it etc. that I forget what I am aiming to do.  What can come across is that the point of preaching is merely explain the passage.  But that’s not the point is it?

The point is to change people.  Isn’t it?

To change their minds, their hearts, their lives.  But the next mistake that preachers often make is that we have a list of three application points of “this is what you should do now” and then we wonder why people think Christianity is a form of legalism!  We are working against ourselves.  So let me introduce you to a quote from Richard Sibbes about how we should go about transforming people’s lives:

The very beholding of Christ is a transforming sight.  The Spirit that makes us new creatures, and stirs us up to behold this servant, it is a transforming beholding…A man cannot look upon the love of God and of Christ in the gospel, but it will change him to be like God and Christ.  For how can we see Christ, and God in Christ but we shall see how God hates sin, and this will transform us to hate it  as God doth, who hated it so that it could not be expiated but with the blood of Christ, God-man.  So, seeing the holiness of God in it, it will transform us to be holy.  When we see the love of God in the gospel, and the love of Christ giving himself for us, this will transform us to love God {1}

Here is Sibbes point: if you want to transform people’s lives (which is the point of preaching) then show them Christ.  Sure, have your three point application, but if you are not showing them Jesus then you are simply preaching legalism!

If you are a preacher when was the last time the application point was: How great is Jesus?

 

{1} Richard Sibbes, “A Description of Christ” quoted in Reeves, Michael. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012. p92.

Christmas Fails

To my Anglican friends who ran church services this year in Sydney, here is some feedback you might want to look at. The feedback comes from people who were taking their friends and families to your churches at Christmas.  Needless to say, Christmas is a great opportunity to do this and one we should not miss.

I don’t know which churches were being talked about, in fact I made sure I didn’t know.  Was this your church?  Whether it was or not, you should be asking the question, “did we get things right this year?”.  The people who are inviting their friends and family are the best evangelists we have and so it is important to listen to them.  I should also point out that I did not ask for this feedback, it was frustrations that that people shared with me because they were frustrated.  Here are three points:

  1. The church service was so focused on kids, that there was no gospel presented.
  2. The talk made me feel guilty, even as a Christian.  I thought Christmas was about good news.
  3. The church seemed to me more concerned about connecting with Star Wars than telling me about Jesus.
Firstly, I can understand all these mistakes.  I am sure I have made them all multiple times and lets also acknowledge that that there were probably good intentions behind these events.  But lets call them for what they are: mistakes.
  1. Sure kids are important, especially if you are trying to reach families. But if you are so focussed on them that you don’t get to the gospel, then really what’s the point?  Or worse, you end up communicating that Jesus is for kids but when you grow up, you grow out of Christianity.  I have seen some great kids talks that manage to get the gospel across to both kids and parents.
  2. This is not a mistake that is isolated to Christmas.  There is a mistake we make in evangelism of helping people see the good news of the gospel without the need.  But there is also a mistake of making sure that people know the need that they don’t hear the good news.  It may well be that we could say “but I did say it” but we need to make sure that it is so clear that people can unmistakably hear it.  This is because in Australia, like most of the Western world, people mistake Christianity for moralism.  So hearing “you are bad people and you need to be good” is continuing that myth.
  3. I am big proponent of contextualisation, but when we are trying to be more clever than faithful, we are making a mistake.  I know that this is trying to bridge a cultural gap of picking up on themes that we share between the gospel meta-narrative and the cultural narrative.  But does it at a marketing level?  At worse I wonder if this is implicitly communicating that the church really wants to be like society but we aren’t cool enough.  Nevertheless, my point of being clever above faithful still stands.
The point with all of these things is not that they are bad things in themselves.  It is that they have replaced the gospel as the priority.

Should we be doing these things?  Yes.  But we should not be doing them at the cost of proclaiming the gospel.  Next year when Christmas comes around, ask yourself this.  Do you really believe that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes because there are people in your churches who think this and you should be seeking to support them.