Friday, May 31, 2013

Peston on Banking (3) Risk Absorbing Capital

Bank capital is supposed to be capable of absorbing losses. Robert Peston explains how the Basel Rules encouraged banks to exaggerate the ability of the capital they possessed to absorb losses. Capital was divided into two classes: Tier 1 and Tier 2. The best capital is shareholders equity. The Basel Rules said that banks had to hold capital equal to at least 8 percent of risk weighted loans, but only a quarter of this had to be equity capital. Another quarter could be debt that had potential to be converted in equity. Half could be Tier 2 capital, which was long-term subordinated debt, which is debt that does not need to be repaid for many years.

  • Those providing Tier 1 capital to banks were supposed to be well-heeled sophisticated investors who were capable of absorbing losses. In practice, banks and regulators were frightened to force these investors to write down their loans, because they were scared that they would pull their money out of weaker banks, causing worse problems.

  • Much of the Tier 2 capital was held by insurance companies. If these companies were forced to take big losses, the banking crisis would spread to the insurance industry. Banking regulators did not want to be faced with rescuing big insurance companies too.

  • In practice, most Tier 2 and Tier 1 capital turned out to be completely useless in respect of its central function, that of absorbing losses.

The Basel Rules focussed on the solvency of banks, but almost complete ignored liquidity. Liquidity is probably more important for a bank than solvency. A ban that is solvent, but has too little cash when deposits or want their money back is dead, By contrast a bank that is solvent, but manages to hide its loss can stay afloat, and possibly rebuild its capital and become solvent again.

Peston looks at the example of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which was one of the biggest banks in the world. Under the Basel Rules it appeared to have lent a mere 7.6 times its capital, when in reality, it had lent 45 times its capital. The rules created a fiction that it was being managed in a conservative way and was being generously supported by its owners. This fiction disguised its fundamental weakness.

The problem with all government regulations intended to create safety or security is that providers stop worrying about safety and security, and focus on meeting the minimum requirement of the regulations. Receivers assume that because the provider has complied with the regulations, they are getting safety and security. This is of an illusion

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Peston on Banking (2) Risk Weighting

Robert Peston highlights the problems caused by the Basel Accords. Their aim was to standardise capital requirements, so that banks would not be put at a disadvantage, if their local regulations required more capital than their competitors in other countries.

With banks going international, they would be put at a disadvantage if they were compelled to hold more capital than their competitors. So the Americans decided to push for worldwide minimum standards for the amount of capital banks have to hold, relative to their assets, to create a level playing field.
The Basel rules on the capital requirements for banks were formalised in 1988. The outcome was that capital held by banks turned out to be totally inadequate. There were a number of reasons.
  • The rules undermined banks sense of institutional responsibility for their lending and for the way they managed their balance sheets. Banking shifted away from being almost exclusively based on an assessment of the credit worthiness of individual customers and moved towards the development of strategies to maximise gross lending subject to the Basel Rules.

  • The Basel Rules specified the risk in inherent in different types of loans to different borrowers, eg mortgage versus loans to businesses or loans to government. The regulators distorted the flows of credit to those borrowers in ways that were unexpected and dangerous.

  • The Basel Rules introduced two concepts, risk weightings for loans and relative loss absorbency for capital, which proved to be flawed.

  • Risk weightings grouped types of loans according to their riskiness, as determined by the Basel Committee. All business loans had a risk weighting of one. Residential mortgages were deemed less risky so they were given a risk weighting of a half. Loans to other banks were given a risk weighting of a fifth, and loans to governments a risk weighting of nil.

  • Capital requirements were tied to risk weightings. Banks had to hold capital equal to at least 8 percent of risk-weighted loans. This meant that Banks had to hold $8 for every $100 loaned to a business, but only $4 dollars for every $100 lent on housing mortgages. Only tiny amounts of capital had to be held against loans to other banks. No capital at all had to be held for loans to governments. AAA-rated collateralised debt obligations faced very small capital requirements.

  • These weightings gave banks incentives to make loans to the groups that had the lowest capital requirements and the highest returns. These often turned out to be high risk.

  • Loans to business were all treated the same, regardless of the size of the business. Big companies did not want to pay high interest rates need to cover the large capital charge, so they tended to bypass the banking system, and sell bonds to investors directly. This made big business dependent on short-term money markets.

  • Banks had very strong incentives to channel disproportionate volumes of loans to house buyers.

  • The credit rating agencies were given excessive power, because they could determine the capital requirements for many loans.

  • Banks were encouraged to use flawed Value at Risk models to determine how much capital they needed to cover the risk of trading losses and their holdings of securities.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Peston on Banking

In the last couple of years, I have read at least twenty books on the causes and cures of the Global Financial Crisis. I try to grab every one that turns up in our local library. The last one to arrive is “How do We Fix This Mess” by Robert Peston and Laurence Knight. This is the first one by a British author, so it gives and interesting perspective. Robert Peston is the Business Editor for the BBC.

One interesting fact that he brings out is that during the 1930s, no significant banks failed in the United Kingdom. This is different from the United States, where thousands of banks failed. The reason British banks survived that disaster was that they had more adequate capital and liquidity back then.

Peston notes that the leverage of banks has been increasing for more than a century. In the 1840s, banks in the United States would typically hold capital equivalent to around half of their loans and investments. By 1880, a typical US bank had capital equivalent to around a quarter of its loans and investments, whereas the equivalent ratio for British Banks was not far off twenty percent. However, by mid-2008, Royal Bank of Scotland held capital capable of absorbing losses of around a tenth of that, or only 2.23 percent of gross loans and investments, while Northern Rocks capital-to-assets ratio in 2007 was just 1.7 percent.

Peston explains what this difference means. A century ago, a bank would go bust if a quarter of its loans went bad. In the latest financial crisis, one of the biggest bans in the world, RBS was no longer viable if could not get back 2% of what it was owed. In the case of Northern Rock, if it lost just one in every 60 dollars, it was kaput. By the time of the 2008 banking crisis, British banks had on average capital equivalent to less than 3 percent of their loans and investments, a fall of more than three quarters through the course of the twentieth century. The US banks had only a little bit more.

In the latest crisis most of the large banks in the UK had to be rescued. It is not surprising, given the inadequacy of their capital.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Bitcoin has become a bit of fad. It a form of electronic money that grows slowly over time, in an imitation of the way that the volume of gold grows as more is mined. I don’t think bitcoin is the future, but it points to a few issues with modern money systems.

  1. Money is a record of payments and receipts. Most of the money that people use these days is electronic. That will continue to be the case unless international communications completely breaks down (but that would be a huge economic disaster).

  2. Money is a record of a “partly completely transaction”. The volume of uncompleted transactions can increase and decline over time, depending on what people are doing. More on this here.

  3. Recent events in Cyprus have made people think again about the security of money in the bank. Depositors have had the value of their deposits arbitrarily reduced. Here in NZ, the central bank has announced a process for taking a haircut from deposits in a situation where a major bank is in danger of collapse. These events are not reassuring. People are beginning to realise that we need a better system of money.

  4. Modern banking processes make international money transfers quite expensive. I have to pay $5.00 to bank a check issued by a major international business. This seems excessive, given there is almost no risk of the check bouncing, and the bank demands the right to reverse the payment and charge another fee if the check does not clear. People are looking for better ways to make international transactions in an electronic world.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Markets and Wages (7)

Here are some more problems with market wages that mean a righteous wage is still relevant in the modern world. Wages and salaries are often disconnected from supply and demand.

  • In the labour market, adjustments takes place through a change in quantities rather than a change in price, as market theory suggests. Employers do not compete on price, because the long-term risks of that strategy outweigh the short-term benefits. When a profession is scarce, it is much safer to just pay what others are paying and not rock the boat. A few high performers will be paid extra, because they are critical to the business, but most staff others will still just get the going rate, or small increases.

  • Neoclassical economics claims to have proved that in a market economy, every employee will be paid what they are worth. All differences in wages and salaries reflect differences in productivity. The problem with their proof is that their economic model depends on a serious of unrealistic assumptions that have no connection to the real world. That has not stopped employers from hiding behind the idea.

  • The neoclassical market model assumes that every employer knows the marginal productivity of every employee and pays them accordingly. According to the model, an employer should keep employing additional employees until the marginal wage of the last employee equals the value of their marginal product. This is fine in theory, but the reality is that employers have no way of measuring what an individual employee has produced, so they no way for assessing what an extra employee is worth. A mix of capital and people contribute to every product, so the contribution of one person cannot be isolated. Employers cannot measure the contribution of a single employee or group of employees, so they most just fall back on paying what other businesses are paying.

  • An employer has no way to compare the productivity of one class of employees with another. There is no economic model or accounting model that can show that the productive value of an accountant is five times greater than the productive value of a good receptionist. Decisions about their relative value depend on the subjective judgment of the employer, and they can easily be wrong.

These inadequacies with the standard economic model do not make much difference in most situations. Provided the employer has acted in good faith, and the employee has freely accepted the wage or salary offered, the situation is legitimate. However, the situation is different where the wage being offered is not enough for the employee to live on. This is where the righteous wage kicks in.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Markets and Wages (6)

There are several problems with market wages that mean a righteous wage is still relevant in the modern world. Wages and salaries are often disconnected from supply and demand. Market rates can be inadequate for people to live on.

  • In every economy, a large proportion of employees are easy to replace. They often have useful skills and are doing work that is important for society, but other people can learn to do their work quite quickly, so employers can replace them if they request a better wage rate. These people cannot complete in a market, because they will always be at a disadvantage. They can often end up earning less it costs to live. The market rate will often be significantly less than a righteous wage rate.

  • When low paid employees increase their skills by undertaking training, they are often not rewarded with an increase in wages. Market pressure means that they are not compensated, despite being worth more to their employer.

  • Many employees do not have enough information to know what is the market rate for all their employees. Most will just pay what others pay. For low paid staff, they just pay the legal minimum wage.

  • Some industries are more profitable than others. People working in these profitable industries are often paid more, even if their productivity is less than those in other industries. The finance industry is a recent example. Salary rates in this industry are disconnected from productivity, and supply and demand. This shift in income share penalises people on low wage rates.

  • The price path over time for a good or service is often influenced more by the price in earlier periods than supply and demand in the current period. In labour markets, historical practice has a very strong influence on wage and salary rates. For example, economists are everywhere now (and often wrong), but they are still very well paid. Salary rates have more to do with what economic analysts were worth forty years ago, when they really were scarce.

  • Salary and wage rates are slow to respond to changes in supply and demand. When there is a glut of a highly-paid profession, salaries do not drop to the low levels as the simple market model would suggest. Salaries just stay high, because they have always been relatively high. Others wages stay low, even when there is a shortage, because they have always been low.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Markets and Wages (5) Righteous Wage

Allowing the free market to determine wage rates works for many people. However, when employing people at the bottom of the heap, employers are required to pay a righteous wage. This will be sufficient for them to live on. Employers cannot hide behind the market if they have chosen to live righteous lives. God warns that those who ignore the requirement to pay a righteous wage will lose his blessing.

Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin (Deut 24:15).
The righteous rate is not a particular dollar amount. It will vary depending on the circumstances of the person being paid. The righteous rate will be less for a single person with no dependents and a higher for a person who provides for a family. Deciding the righteous rate is an issue between the employer and God. No one else can tell the employer what the righteous rate will be in a particular situation. God knows the employer’s heart and he also knows what is right.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Markets and Wages (4)

The other situation where the Instructions for Economic Life put constraints on the free markets was in the labour market. The employer is a neighbour of the employee. This gives the employer a moral obligation to ensure that their employee has sufficient to live on. Paying the wage or salary determined by the free market will be fine for most people. The situation is different with people who are poor and needy. The employer must not take advantage of their desperation.

Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin (Deut 24:14-15).
Most economies will have a large number of people who are poor and needy. This will push the market wage rate very low. An employer is not entitled advantage of the situation by paying the lowest wage rate that they can get away with. An employee who is desperate for work must be treated as a neighbour. They should be paid enough for them to live on.

Jesus confirmed and clarified this principle in the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16). The vineyard owner did not pay the market wage rate, he promised to pay the employees “what is right".
Go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right (Matt 20:4).
In every economy there will be a market rate for day labourers. Jesus confirms that there is a rate that is “right”. The Greek word is dikaios, which means righteous. The righteous wage rate may not be the same as the market rate. The employer who wants to do what is righteous cannot just pay the market wage rate. They must take into account what is righteous, as well.

For Jesus listeners, what is right referred back to what is specified by the law. The workers who were employed for the whole day were offered a denarius. That was the accepted rate for a day’s work at that time. The employees who only worked for part of the day were also paid a denarius.
He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard (Matt 20:2).
The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius (Matt 20:9-10).
The employer paid every worker a denarius, even though some had only worked for a few hours, while others had worked for a whole day. In those days, a person needed about a denarius to buy a day’s rations. These people were on the poverty line, living from one day to the next. The employer paid each person enough to buy food for the day, even if they had not worked enough to earn it. He was applying the requirements of the Instructions for Economic Life (Deut 24:15). An employer has an obligation to ensure that his employees have enough food that they will be strong enough to work the next day.

The employer in the parable paid all his employees a denarius, regardless of how long they had worked. This was the righteous wage rate, not the market rate. He knew at the end of the day that they would not be able to earn any more money until the next day. If they did not get sufficient income to buy food, they and their family would go hungry until the next day. The righteous thing was to pay the employees enough to live on to the next day, when they would have the opportunity to earn some more.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Markets and Wages (3) Poor

The Instructions for Economic Life put two other restrictions on free markets.

The Poor
Everyone with wealth has an obligation to care for the poor within their neighbourhood. Gleaning is an example of a transaction where the free market price did not apply (Deut 24:19-22). The landowner made grain available to poor person at a zero price. The gleaner had to pay with their labour, but the landowner received no return at all. The market price did not apply to these transactions.

Another example was loans to people in financial difficulty. The neighbour was required to make the loan for zero interest. The market interest rate would usually be well above zero, especially when an allowance for the risk of default was built in to the market rate. This is another situation where the free market was constrained, and a free market price was not legitimate. Charging the market rate of interest would be morally wrong.

Charging free market prices is not legitimate during a famine.

People curse the one who hoards grain,
but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell (Prov 11:26).
Storing grain for tough times in the future is good and prices will always rise when food is scarce. This helps ration out scare supplies. But people who hold back grain and food during a famine just to force the price to excessive levels during a crisis, place themselves under a curse. People with surplus food should be careful about deciding what price they will charge. They must be careful not to just follow the market.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Markets and Wages (2) Fraud Forbidden

The first restriction on free markets is that fraud and deception are forbidden. They are considered to be theft, even if the transaction appeared to be free.

Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. For the LORD your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly (Deut 25:13-16).
This instruction was given in a context where coins were not available for trade. Payments for purchases and sales were made by weighing out gold or silver. A clever way to defraud people was to use scales that weighed light when making payments and a different set of scales that weighed heavy when getting paid.

This type of fraud was an example of what economists call asymmetric information. The person who owned the scales had information that the other did not have. They assumed that they were getting full weight, whereas the person with the scales knew that they were not getting full weight. Even if the exchange occurred freely at an agreed price, the transaction was theft, because the person with the scales was taking something that belong to the other, without getting their permission. Dishonest buying and selling is theft.

The instruction applies to everyone selling goods or services. They must represent the stuff that they are selling accurately. Selling flawed goods as if they are good quality is wrong, because “God detests anyone who deals dishonestly”. This is not a totally free market, where people can take whatever price they can get, even if it is greater than they think the goods are worth. Nor are they entitled to pay the lowest price possible, especially if they think the goods are worth more. Two comments are common in business:
  • Let the buyer beware.
  • What the market will bear.
They have no place amongst God’s people.

The economic system that system that God gave Moses allows and supports free markets, but this is not freedom without constraint. Trade is free, but it must be honest. Dishonest trade if morally wrong, because it is theft.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Markets and Wages (1)

Free markets are good, and a great system for encouraging economic development. Prices are information carriers, that help producers and consumers make decisions. By studying prices, producers can decide which products are best to produce. Relative prices help producers decide how to combine together the various inputs to a production process in the most efficient way. Consumers use prices to compare the value of different products. Without the information carried by prices, many of these decisions could not be made effectively.

The problem with free markets and prices arises when they are applied to the labour market, because wages and salaries determine the ability of a person to live. Market wages and push some people into poverty.

The Instructions for Economic Life support operation of free markets, but they place limits on them to protect people.

“Do not steal” is one of the Ten Words given to Moses. The implications of this command are spelt out in the rest of Exodus and Deuteronomy. Stealing is a crime, and the penalty for theft is four or fivefold restitution to the person who property has been stolen.

By establishing crime as theft, the God’s law protects private property. If someone wants something that I have produced, they cannot take it without my permission. Taking something that belongs to someone else is theft. This protection is important for economic development. People will only invest in capital and develop efficient production processes, if they know they can sell their product. If someone powerful can steal everything that has been produced, they will not bother. They will produce what they can consume or hide, and do nothing more. This would make everyone in the economy worse off.

The law against theft means that there is only two ways that someone can get something that belongs to me.

  1. If I am generous, I might decide to give it to them. This will happen sometimes, but it will not be that common, unless they are family or a friend.

  2. They can swap what I have for something they have, including money. Free exchange for payment at the market price will be the most common way that people get access to goods and services for someone else.

The law against stealing encourages the development of free markets and free markets function effectively when stealing is prohibited. If people can just steal anything that they want, free markets will stop functioning and the economy will become productive, because anything that cannot be hidden will be lost.

The instructions for economic life endorse free markets, but they also place limits on them. Freedom to sell or buy at the market price, does not apply in every situation.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Ty Grigg and Alan Hirsch had an interesting discussion on APEST last month on Reclaiming the Mission. APEST stands for Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher. Alan believes the church is dominated by Shepherds and Teachers and the Apostles, so Prophets and Evangelists need to be restored.

I agree with him, but the problem with Hirsch et al is that they approach APEST at too high a level. The Shepherds and Teachers are already in place of control of most churches. Adopting APEST puts the Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists into a struggle with them in a very clutter place. They cannot be slotted into the existing model, because there is not enough room at the top of the hierarchy.

There is only one hierarchy in the New Testament church: disciples and elders. We are all disciples and elders are those who are a bit more mature.

APEST is specialisation among elders. A church needs elders with balanced giftings to grow to maturity. These can only function fully when they are submitted to each other in a body. They cannot function effectively in a CEO and Vice President model.

Ty argues that these titles were not as common in the early church and did not last as long as some Christians assume. He could be right about the latter point, but saying that these titles were not used in the early church misses the points. The reason is that APEST are really verbs, not nouns. The people doing these gifts were elders, and would be referred to by that name. There may not be many references to apostles in the early church, but there was plenty of apostling going. No one is referred to as a pastor in the New Testament, but in Acts 20:28-31, there are plenty of elders shepherding and watching over the flocks in their care. Peter encourages the elders to shepherd the flock in their care (1 Pet 5:2).

The New Testament church often got eldership wrong. The book of Acts records stuff that worked, along with stuff that did not work. Although Peter had been sent out with the twelve, and provably with the seventy-two, he had difficulty getting hold of the idea that apostles should be sent out, and that he should leave Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit had to twist his arm to get him to go down to Caesarea, and even then he did not stay. It took more serious persecution to get him to go out seriously.

The so-called Church Council described in Acts 15 was a real shambles. The church had just broken out to the gentiles, and the best the elders and apostles could do was give the gentile Christians a couple of rules about eating meat and blood. There was not excitement or encouragement. Fortunately, this situation was remedied by Silas and Judas on the ground when they did much to encourage and strengthen the new disciples.

Paul understood the rule of the apostle much more clearly, but even he got side tracked into going back to Jerusalem. He did not have the confirmation of the Spirit for this change of direction, and it severely truncated his ministry.

At the time when the Didache was written at the end of the first century, the church had a problem with wandering prophets becoming a pest. That is not APEST. Prophets function best in a body, submitted to shepherds and evangelist, who are also submitted to them.

Ty argues that the APEST model has been developed by practitioners, but is not supported by biblical exegesis. I disagree with this view. The problem is that most bible expositors have grown up and worship in a church that is led by a senior pastor. The pastor-manager model shapes their thinking, so it not surprising that they interpret Ephesians 4 in that context.

Ty claims read Ephesians 4:11 is about people who have been given “spiritual authority to minister the Word of God among a community of believers”. This is misleading. The passage is actually about service. Our spiritual authority is authority over sickness and evil spirits. It is not authority to control other Christians. Ephesians 4:7-16 is all about service and the body growing up together.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fish and Coleslaw - Epilogue

Fitch and Holsclaw end their book with these words.

The Kingdom now depends more on our obedience than our skills, more on our; integrity than our technique, more on what the Holy Spirit will do than anything we have figured out. It is ultimately dependent on one gospel reality: Jesus is both Saviour and Lord. Jesus is King.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Prodigal Christianity (10) Openness

The final chapter raises an important question.

How do we witness to what God has done through Jesus in a culture where people see a claim that Jesus is unique as intolerance? How can we live in a pluralistic culture without losing our identity as followers of Jesus? These are good questions.

Cultural pluralism makes anything said about God into issue of personal preference and emotive sentimentality.
Brian McLaren responds to pluralism by calling us to see God working in the world outside the church. The danger is losing the efficacy of God’s incarnation in the world through Jesus.
God is a God of justice, and his coming disrupts the status quo, exposing lies, rendering justice, intruding into our lives and reordering all things. Our witness in the world must take into account that God has come into the world in the Son and the Spirit to set the world right. This is the kingdom breaking in. This is justice. We cannot give up on this.
The Neo-Reformed group responds by championing absolute truth. This can leave us looking hard and argumentative.
Two often Christians behave as if no one from the outside would be watching. But outsiders are watching and the see the insecurity at the core of our theology. We look as if we are more interested in winning an argument than engaging those who are outside the faith who have legitimate questions.

The time for aggressive defensiveness has passed. The posture of wielding truth against and opposing religion is over. It separates from those outside the Christian faith and prevents us from crossing boundaries.
Fitch and Holsclaw argue that we must live our daily lives knowing that Jesus is Lord. They suggest that pluralism might be God’s way for accomplishing his purposes in the world.
God has come not into the world to win an argument, but to incarnationally engage a lost and fallen world by inviting all peoples to be reconciled and renewed in Christ.

Justice happens though being with people in the midst of their lives. It is intensely and simply relational.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Prodigal Christianity (9) Justice

There is some really good stuff in this chapter, but I do have a problem with the way that they use the concept of justice. Fitch and Holsclaw say that,

Justice, especially social justice, means different things to different people.
However, they carry on using the term anyway.

There is a lot of good stuff in the chapter, but I do not consider that it has to be hung on the concept of justice.

The problem I have with using the word in this way is the concept of injustice assumes that a wrong has been done and that justice means that it needs to be put right.

If a person or group of people are in as messy situation, it is not necessarily the result of an injustice. There are three possibilities.
  1. The person may have messed up their own life. This happens quite frequently. People in this situation need mercy and compassion, but no injustice has occurred.

  2. The person may be made decisions that were perfectly sensible, but because of unforeseen circumstances, they turned out badly. This is very common. People start a business, the economy turns down and they end up losing their investment and in debt. A person chooses an occupation that pays well, but technology changes and they find themselves at the bottom of the heap. People often end up unemployed due to circumstances beyond their control. In this case, no injustice has occurred, but the people are still trapped in an impossible situation. They need mercy and compassion, not justice.

  3. Some people suffer an injustice that leaves them financially crippled. Indigenous people get their land stolen. People in business get ripped off by a business partner, or a client refuses to pay a debt. These people need justice, and they deserve justice. There are two options with in this category.

    • The person or people who committed the injustice have disappeared, or died, or no longer have any financial resources top put the injustice right. Recognition of the injustice might be morally uplifting, but it relatively empty because there is no possibility of restitution. The victim of the injustice needs mercy and compassion.

    • They person or people who committed the injustice can be brought to account, and they have the resource to remedy the injustice. We need a process of justice the remedies these situations. The OT model of restitution, rejuvenated by Zacchaeus is good example justice working.

It follows from this break down of the various options that in most situations where people are in a mess, justice cannot help them much. What they need is mercy and compassion. They people to stand alongside them, understand their pain and help them to escape from their troubled situation. This is something that Christians should be really good at doing. Standing and sharing with people in trouble should be bread and butter to Christians.

I do not see any need to hang all these situation on the word injustice. Adding the adjective social confuses the situation. Good biblical words like compassion and mercy will do just as well. The motivation for doing something about these situations must be love, rather than a sense of justice. The 4000 Jesus saw hungry were day labourers who survived from day to day, so going to listen to a preacher for the day instead of seeking work left them hungry till they could work again. He did not feel a sense of injustice, he was filled with compassion.

The problem with using the word justice is that the word assumes that the existence of a political power with authority to remedy the injustice by coercion or sanctions. Citizens hold the authorities accountable for the satisfaction of the injustice using coercive mechanisms. That is fine if the injustice is real, but it leads Christians toward political solutions for problems that are better dealt with by mercy and compassion. The fundamental assumption behind the concept of social justice is that someone has the right and duty to take the reins of power to put the injustice right through the use of political power. I think it is better to avoid the term “social justice” because it leads to political power that is contrary to the gospel.

That said, if you can accept Fitch and Holsclaw’s use of the term social justice, they have some good things to say about getting involved with people in distress.
Most of us are constantly tempted to join larger, more magnanimous justice efforts in the world that promise big things. There is an allure around the promise of changing the world through "the worlds ways": big government, big fundraising campaigns, and heroic relief efforts. Frankly, a lot of good has occurred through these efforts. But many times these big campaigns distract from just being present with the poor in the simplest most patient everyday ways that God can use to bring the kingdom.
They turn the church into a recruitment centre for individuals to go out and seek a justice in the world that is more conceptual than real. And the church itself, the social embodiment of the Lordship of Christ, is never considered as an entity that lives God’s justice and reconciliation before the world and in the world. The justice of God must begin in communities of people who share the new reality of reconciliation and renewal, love and transformation in their neighbourhoods.
This is the key question.
How can a people come together and spread justice through a neighbourhood?
We cannot presume that putting Christians in city hall is the way God will save the city.
Their answer is no Jesus, no justice.

One last issue, I had with this chapter, and it pops up all through the book is that they talk a lot about “the Kingdom breaking in”. I find this an odd way to describe the Kingdom. A kingdom is not something that breaks in. A kingdom that just breaks in temporarily is not really a kingdom at all. The Kingdom does not just break in. It is Jesus ruling the world through the Holy Spirit.

In most places, it could just as easily be written as the church breaking in, but they seem to want to say more than that. I sense what they really mean is that the “the Holy Spirit breaking in”. He is a person who can be welcomed for a moment, and then ignored, or rejected, so he often has to break in over and over again. When people obey his prompting and guidance, the kingdom is a reality, because the father’s will is done. They are in the Kingdom, and people meeting them are seeing or being touched by the Kingdom. But it is really just a glimpse of the kingdom, not the fullness of it.

I know that Jesus talked about the kingdom being near (Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9). The kingdom could only come near, because the Holy Spirit had not been released on earth. The fullness of the kingdom requires the fullness of the Spirit. He has not been poured, so the kingdom is not limited to just breaking in.

I wondered as I read this chapter, if they did not refer to the Holy Spirit breaking in, because they were not sure that it was him. Are they seeing people doing the right thing, but are not sure of the Spirit’s presence.

David Fitch seems to have a very narrow view of the Kingdom. I think that may be because he is afraid of slipping back into Christendom. Christendom was the church ruling the world, so it not the kingdom, which is the world being guided and lead by the Holy Spirit.

His vision of the kingdom seems to be restricted to the church being among the poor. This seems to reflect an Anabaptist lack of confidence in the ability of the Holy Spirit to expand the Kingdom. Therefore, he visualises a Kingdom that is isolated on the edges of society.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Prodigal Christianity (8) Relationships

This seems to be the weakest chapter of the book, but it was probably by far the hardest to write, and even harder to live out in their community.
Fitch and Holsclaw describe the problem in this way.

Amidst the sexualised culture of North America, we have become inhospitable and dysfunctional.
This the challenge they are trying to meet.
The local church should be the place where we gather to participate in God’s healing and renewal of all things sexual.
Good on them for having a go at such a tough topic.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Prodigal Christianity (7) Church

The seventh signpost is the church as a place of community with Christ.
Fitch and Holsclaw discuss alternative views on the relationship between the church and the kingdom.

One view is that the kingdom does not come in fullness until Jesus returns in glory. The gospel of the kingdom is for the future, and the gospel of the cross is for now. The problem with this is that the Kingdom is over personalised.

This approach to gospel, scripture, and mission sequesters the kingdom of to the interiority of our hearts.

Because this gospel is about me, it can become narcissistic.
The alternative view pushes an understanding of the Kingdom that goes beyond the church.
The problem seems to be too much Kingdom and too little cross.
Fitch and Holsclaw discuss the incarnational approach of Hirsch and Frost.
Christians are to enter the world by identifying with the people around us, getting to know, understand and live in that context.
They say that “missiology precedes ecclesiology. Fitch and Holsclaw warn that this could separate us from Jesus by separating us from the church.

They say that we are not church planters, we are the church. Dave advocates,
Churches should send out three or more leaders (or leader couples depending on whether they were single or married) into a neighbourhood context to get jobs live relationally and begin the rhythms of life in Christ there. This would require a commitment to a place, humble living in a neighbourhood, and going to places on the margins, not the most affluent places where large churches already exist. It would require being sent as missionaries through a discernment process at a local church.
Fitch and Holsclaw list practices that shape a community people in this kingdom within a neighbourhood.
  1. Hospitality of the table and baptism.
  2. Proclamation
  3. Reconciliation
  4. Being with people on the fringes and with children.
  5. Fivefold ministry gifts
    When the apostle, the teacher, the evangelist and the prophet function together in mutual submission one to another in dependence on God, the authority of the Lord is made manifest in a community.
  6. Kingdom Prayer
These practices will create a different church.
Because of this submission to these practices, each one of these communities will necessarily be the humble, vulnerable and incarnational expression of God coming into the world.

Instead of a volunteer association sending well-trained professionals out into the world to do God’s mission, communities are shaped in a way that incarnates Christ in the world for God’s mission. Whenever such communities come into being, sin is overcome evil defeated, and death not longer holds power. The Kingdom is breaking in. This is what witness looks like, and we contend that these communities will engage the most difficult issues of our day. They will not shrink back.
These are good practices, but it sounds more like the church than the kingdom.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Prodigal Christianity (6) Gospel

Fitch and Holsclaw suggest that our modern gospel is shaped by Martin Luther. At the time of the Reformation in Europe, there was a strong sense of the justice of God punishing sin and righteousness. Guilt was a major issue for Christians. The gospel of justification by faith was a huge relief for guilt-wary people. It does not work for broken and oppressed people.

They criticise Brian McLaren for reading the Kingdom of God into to the practice of “following Jesus as our model. Talking about Jesus as merely a new way of life can sound like a distant promise to those already in the throes of sorrow.”

If you are among the lowly, oppressed and downtrodden, emphasizing the kingdom of God as a social strategy feels like just another burden to bear.
The justification by faith gospel has focussed entirely on the cross as a place our personal sin is taken away…. Meanwhile, the cross has been ignored as the place where God’s final victory is accomplished.

Here on the cross, God has definitely dealt with sin in such a way that not only are our sins forgiven, but the power of sin and death has been overcome.
What is the gospel according to Fitch and Holsclaw?
The gospel is the good news that “God has become King in Jesus Christ”. In and through the victory at the cross, Jesus is now reigning over the whole world, drawing it into his salvation, including you and me.
They reject the three-point presentation of the Gospel
  1. God is love
  2. We are sinners
  3. Jesus died on the cross the fix up the sin problem.
I agree with them on this, but would note that these three points are fine, if we understand the full scope of the sin problem. If the sin problem has stuffed up the entire universe, then the gospel is that God is fixing up the sin problem through Jesus is a very big one. The problem with the three-point presentation is that the sin problem is narrowed to my personal sin, and escape from hell.

Fitch and Holslaw take their understanding of the gospel from Wright and McKnight.
God is now reigning over the whole world, making the world right. In the victory of the cross, he now rules over all sin, death and evil. Whenever his rule is extended, the world is reordered and restored. In Christ, the blessings promised through Israel are now making their way to all nations. And this is the way that God is making things right.
They highlight four on-ramps to the kingdom.
  1. God is reconciling relationships
  2. God is at work in all things. Will you be part of what he is doing
  3. God has put the power of sin to death and is calling you into life.
  4. God is calling you into mission.
There will often be other on-ramps. Forgiveness for guilt and shame of sin will work in some situations.

They say that our gospel must be personal in a community.
Reconciliation, forgiveness and peace are things that you cannot encounter as a conceptual issue. These ideas need context and must come to life in real people. We must therefore live the gospel in communities and share and live the Kingdom of God together.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Prodigal Christianity (5) Scriptures

David Fitches’s response at his ordination interview when asked if he believed in the inerrancy of scripture is worth the price of the book. It is a pity he does not have a photo of the expressions on the faces of the interviewing committee. He could have added $10 to the price of the book.

His response was that the expression is too liberal. Get Prodigal Christianity and read the story and his explanation of what this means.

Getting on to the substance of the chapter, this signpost begins by noting that the modern world is hostile to the scriptures.

The Bible is nothing more than a cultural artefact; it actively disdained when offered as an authority in the public realm.

Add to this the fact that our culture is suspicious toward interpretation. The automatic rejoinder to any authoritative statement is the proverbial, “ Well that’s your interpretation.”

Authority in general has a bad name.
They note that many Christians trying to defend the scriptures end up undermining their position.
From uniting the inspiration of the scripture to the scientific methods comes a concern for inerrancy and a focus on propositions.

Many pastors and leaders have sought to defend the Bible according to the most accepted of all standards in Western society: science. We have been tempted to deploy the scientific method to prove the authority of scripture.

We inadvertently put a human authority above the bible.

Scripture, when viewed that way can seem like a static collection of divinely perfect scientific propositions.
Some have reacted to this approach by over emphasising the human nature of scripture and the importance of personal experience, but his does not work either.
Each approach accommodates to a different cultural attitudes. One side capitulates to scientific rationality and the other to a “hermeneutics of suspicion”
Fitch and Holsclaw say that the authority of scripture is something we receive, not something we control. When we preach the gospel, the scripture receives its authority from be connected to God’s mission.
Scripture is not some great ideological document that seeks to dominate or control.

We must understand the scriptures authority as principle component through which the kingdom comes.

We should rarely find ourselves defending the bibles authority. Rather its authority becomes undeniable when its compelling reality becomes visible among us. The story of God as displayed in a people speaks for itself.

We approach scripture first not to analyse it or subject it to study as on object, but rather to allow ourselves to be immersed in it.
They quote NT Wright.
The authority of Scripture makes the sense it does within the world of God’s kingdom, at every level for the cosmic and political through to the personal.
I have always felt that the concept of inerrancy claim is not helpful. My thoughts on the authority of scriptures are as follows.
  • The scriptures were written by people. They used their own vocabulary and style, and they did not realise that they were writing scriptures. They put stuff in that is irrelevant to us.

  • According to 2 Tim 3:16, the scriptures are God-breathed (theopneustos). We do not fully know what that means, but I believe that the Holy Spirit got everything into the scriptures that he wanted in. The scriptures contain everything that he wanted to about God and the world.

  • When interpreting the scriptures, I am not so worried about understanding the author’s intent. I always want to know what the Holy Spirit intended . I try to read the scriptures listening to him. Reading and listening at the same time are important. (We sometimes need to be in a group to hear clearly).

  • The Psalms teach that loving the law leads to wisdom. I find that loving the scriptures leads to insight (we must not worship them). The more I read them the more insights I get.

  • Spurgeon said that you should defend the scriptures the same way that you defend a caged lion. You let it loose.

  • All people and all cultures have blind spots. My culture has blinds spots, but I do not know what they are, because I am part of my culture. I have some blind spots that cause me to miss part of what God is saying, or to get some things wrong, but I do not know what they are. It is really hard to escape from our culture and see it as God sees it. They best we can do is to read humbly and be as open as possible to the challenges of the Holy Spirit.

  • The Holy Spirit chose to use verbal revelation. He could have given us twenty pictures, but he did not. He could have waited until the modern age, and given us a movie or an audio-visual, but he did not. The Holy Spirit chose to use words, so words are important. This means that we need to listen to the words carefully, but in the context of the whole message.

  • The scriptures should be read as they are written. The epistles are more propositional than other parts of the scriptures. The gospels contain more story, with a bit of proposition. Much of the Old Testament describes events, although the law is much more propositional. Propositional writing is a clear precise way to communicate. Communicating in this way is fine, as long as we understand the limitations.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Prodigal Christianity (4) Witness

When it comes to Witness, Fish and Coleslaw react to two extremes. The first extreme is preaching the gospel boldly regardless of whether anyone is listening. The opposite extreme is endless conversation and listening that goes nowhere and changes nothing.

The World comes to know the truth of God’s kingdom not by us defending the truth, but by our witness to it; not by having well-policed conversations about the kingdom, but living lives that testify to the truth.

This approach to encountering others often puts the question of truth before the act of witness. Strangely, we demand to know what people believe about truth before we offer any witness to the truth. We think that if people do not believe in “absolute” or “propositional” truth, then it will be impossible for them to believe the truth of the gospel. But such a “stand for the truth” can reduce people to disembodied minds and reduce the gospel to the transfer of information.

Ongoing conversations on issues facing the church are fine for open forums, but for people living these issues in life together, conversations must touch the ground in concrete actions and decisions, if the kingdom of God is to break in. We must discern what God is doing in the here and now and respond.

An overemphasis on conversation now looks like a bunch of people standing around talking, and talking, and talking, and nothing ever comes of it.
They have some great things to say about witness that is radically different.
Witness communicates that we are participants in something big happening in the world. This something must be bigger and greater than us, or else why would such an event require a witness.

The Spirit’s presence ensures that witness is not something we have to do, defend, or somehow make happen.

Witnesses are not expected, like lawyers, to persuade by the rhetorical power of their speeches, but simply to testify to the truth for which they are qualified to give evidence.

We realised that our task, when it came to the poor among, was quite simply to do nothing. Absolutely nothing. We simply had to be present, available, in relation to the poor, to listen to God’s Spirit, and then respond when God spoke in and through these relationships. We were to let the kingdom of God flourish in and among us and thereby be witnesses.
They end the chapter with a clear challenge:
Let us walk recklessly into the middle of God’s making right what is broken in the world (gospel), and move boldly into the centre of the kind of people God has called us to be (community).

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Prodigal Christianity (3) Incarnational

Fitch and Holsclaw have been criticised for making the incarnation too broad. This could be right. The incarnation of Jesus was a unique event that is unrepeatable. The Holy Spirit working in the Body of Christ is also incredibly important, but I am not sure “incarnational” is the best word to hang it on. That said, they have something important to say.

They are concerned that the incarnation is presented as something that happened a long time ago, and does not have much relevance now.

In this view, it seems Jesus came to do only two things: prove his divinity and then die for our salvation.

When we are engaging those outside the church, this view of the incarnation often leads into defending the divinity of Christ and the truth of our future salvation. We spend a lot intellectual energy trying to make the case that Jesus is God and has saved us from hell.

In this process, we too easily made Jesus into a concept, a proposition to be upheld, or a truth to be defended.
A defensive posture to the incarnation is not helpful.
If the reality of God in Christ has truly entered our lives, then he needs no defending. We need only bear witness to the reality of his working in our lives.
The alternative view is that Jesus everyday life is a model for discipleship and that we can enter the Kingdom by following Jesus example. Fitch and Holsclaw see this as a useful emphasis, but are concerned that this view fails to recognise how radically God comes into our lives through the humanity of Jesus.
It fails to take hold of the way in which Jesus himself has promised to be present in his authority and reign whereever we go and engage in the kingdom.

God has won a victory in the sending of the Son. His power, rule and victory are a reality breaking in right now. Jesus is not merely a model of God’s Kingdom; rather Jesus is God’s kingdom coming. Thinking of Jesus as only the way into the Kingdom misses the point…

Devoid of God’s cosmic victory over sin, death and evil in Christ, the “way of Jesus” easily drifts into becoming another religious mentality, a moralistic social gospel that leads us not into his kingdom, but into burnout.
Listening to the alternatives,
It seems that Jesus is all too divine to be any good, (for our everyday lives) and also all too human to do anything (against the reality of evil). Neither option seems adequate to capture God’s radical movement into the world.

In essence, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the proclaiming and making present of the Kingdom of God.

This is what it looks like when God is at loose in the world, no longer contained in heaven—now teaching, confronting, healing, restoring, and making all things new. Jesus the Son of the Father, filled with the Spirit, is the proclamation and presence of the kingdom in power, overcoming the evils of bodily sickness, social exclusion, and spiritual oppression. This is what is happening in the incarnation.

Somehow, this central reality of God’s work in Christ has been lost in much of the North American church. But if we look closer at the Scriptures, we can see it everywhere.

There is a kingdom dynamic set loose in these disciples. Jesus promises that his very presence will be with us in all of these activities.

The incarnational model challenges us to be a people who inhabit neighbourhoods, go where the people are, live among them and listen to them, know their hurts and their hopes.
This is great stuff.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Fitch and Holsclaw (2) Mission of God

The second signpost introduced by Fitch and Holsclaw is the Mission of God. Christians tend to convey God in two different ways, neither helpful.

The common view is that the Christian God is all-powerful, but distant. This makes him see cruel to many people.

The pendulum is now swinging from a distant remote God, to one who is everywhere.

The problem is that if God is everywhere, then God is nowhere.
Fitch and Holsclaw push a different way; God is on a mission. They portray God as always actively breaking into the world.
We should think of God as the one who invaded the world in the Son. We should live as if God has remained active in the world through the Spirit.

God is always drawing near, entering in, walking beside the world in all its distress and uncertainty, in all its poverty and depravity.

If the Triune God is already in mission, then I need to see the worlds in which I regularly walk as the arenas of the Sprit-places imbued with the presence of God.
This changes the nature of prayer. Fitch stopped praying for opportunities to witness, and prayed that he would see what God is doing and know what to do to help.
God is already working there in each person’s life. Just pray that you will have eyes to see what God is doing so you can participate with a work or a prayer, with laughter, or a tear.
This is good stuff, but I characterise the situation differently.

This is our world.

God made it and gave it to us, so it is our world. We decide who comes in and what goes down. Right at the beginning, we made a huge mistake, and let the spiritual powers of evil into the world and they created a huge mess. They tricked us into submitting to them and se we have not been able to get rid of them to clean up the mess.

More importantly, despite Jesus death on the cross and the outpouring of the Spirit, God has mostly been shut out of our world. For most of history he has struggled to break in and put things right, because we have not given him permission.

Presenting God as the one who is constantly breaking into the world to put things right is misleading. He might want to do that, but he has not been able to do it. The problem with the mission of God is that if he is always breaking in, he should have sorted it out by now, but clearly has not. The mess remains. The reason is simple. The idea of God on a mission to the world reflects his heart, but not reality. God might want to break into the world and put things right, but he has not been able to get permission the permission he needs. God has always been desiring to break into the world, but he has not been allowed.

Rather than characterising God as being on a mission to the world, I would describe him as a God who has been struggling to obtain permission to be active in the world (see Gods Big Strategy).

This is our world. God can only enter into it when we invite him. History is actually the story of God looking for a way to break back into the world to put it right. He has spent most of history seeking a people to work through and place to work in. Most of the time he has been constrained. Getting a nation of people with a land to work through was a huge step. Sending the Holy Spirit to live in the body of Jesus was another big step forward. But even in the church age, God can only act in the world when people invite him into situations where they have authority to decide who can enter, but invitations have been surprisingly sparse and limited in scope.

This changes the nature of prayer. When we pray it is good to look for what the Spirit is doing in the world, so we can join him. We should also be looking to see where the forces of evil are at work, so we can join with him to resist them. More important we should be listening to the Holy Spirit to find out what he wants to do and where, so we can give can invite him to do it. Our prayers give the Holy Spirit the authority that he needs to be active in the world. The more active our prayer and the broader the scope, the more freedom he will have to put the world right (see more on this at Prayer and Authority).

Understandings God’s desire to break in should also change the way that we live. The Holy Spirit wants to go into the world, but he can only go there if the people he dwells in will carry with them. If we hide in our huddles, he is shut way from the world that he loves. To be active in the world, the Holy Spirit needs us to carry him into all the places where people are living, working and struggling. That means that we must be active where he wants to work.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Fitch and Holsclaw (1c) Post-Universal

The third post- in the first signpost is post-attractional.

The argument here is that language and worldview are no longer universal to everyone we meet. It is probably more correct to say that modern culture is approaches God and spirituality in diverse ways.

I am not sure if the world is as post-modern as Fitch and Holsclaw suggest. It is active in philosophy, literature and theology classes, but modernism is alive and well in the sciences and engineering. The political scientists and economists are not worried about avoiding the power of language, because they are looking for power to change the world in their image.

Adam, a commenter on the Jesus Creed said,

We are not leaving modernity behind, we are just now seeing it at its peak. We do have language and world view that are universal. Math is a universal language that transcends culture. Technology and science are similar, universal language and world views.

More and more we are straying into a world where Truth is “verified by experiment”. That is where the church has failed.
I agree with Adam’s view. We are living at a time when it is easier to communicate than ever. I can go to a statistical conference and speak in English to people from places as diverse as Finland and Iran, and talk about the issues that they are dealing with. I can email them to clarify things that I do not understand.

Adam’s point that “Truth is verified by experiment” is really important. People have tried looked at Christianity, perhaps superficially, but they have decided that it just does not work. They do not like our ethics, because they are harsh and cruel. Our rejection of abortion and hostility to homosexual marriage seems old fashioned an irrelevant. Modern people do not like Christians. They see them as arrogant and judgmental. They see Christian any as the cause of wars and sexual abuse.

The modern world may not have heard our message very clearly, but they have rejected it as untrue. People do not turn back to our God during times of crisis, because they do not believe he is able to help, even if he exists. The problem for Christianity is not that it is hard to communicate. The problem is that we have communicated and people are rejecting our message.

The core problem is not the confusion of language, or that people do not believe that truth exists. People have strong views about what is not true, and many have decided that Christianity is not true. Parts of it may be acceptable, but as a complete faith and work view, it is not true. This leaves us with a huge problem. We have a gospel that people have stopped trusting, because they have decided against believing it is true. We will not change their decision by arguing or shouting at them.

The problem is not really that we are living in a post-Christendom world. We have three more immediate problems.
  1. Church is boring
  2. Lack of numbers
  3. The world has decided that Christianity is not true.
Reading their chapter on the fist signpost again after writing my response, I would couch their three posts- slightly differently.
  1. People will not come to us.
    We will have to go to them.
    That means that most of what we are doing now does not work very well now, and will not work in the future.

  2. We do not have a position of authority in society.
    People can choose to ignore us. Many already are and more will.

  3. People have diverse beliefs about the spiritual and different experiences of religion.
    We cannot take anything for granted.
    A standard message will often fall on deaf ears.

I don't fully agree with their characterisation of the problem, but I like their solution.
We must enter each local context, each neighbourhood, each place of work, and each social space.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Fitch and Holsclaw (1b) Post-Positional

The second post- in the first signpost is Post-Positional.

Fitch and Holsclaw say that Christendom lasted for a long time in the United States, and that gave the church a position of influence, which is now disappearing. I am not sure about this. The church in the US did not have a position of power like the Christendom churches of Western Europe. The constitutional separation of church and state prevented. There are no bishops in the United States crowning presidents and senators. The influential presidents of the twentieth century, Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman Eisenhower, Kennedy Nixon, went to church occasionally, but they were political men driven by political realities, not controlled by the church.

The influence of the church in the United States mostly came from having the numbers. When 35 percent of the population are Christians, politicians have to take notice of their concerns, especially when many of them are middle class and know how to get their views heard. The problem in America is not loss of position, but loss of numbers. Evangelical Christians are now a small minority that can be ignored by the politicians.

The Bush presidency confirmed this for most Americans, when the Christian Right swung the election for him. They woke up and thought, these people are not like us. We do need to let this small ugly minority control us. We are out of there.

That said, Fitch and Holsclaw are right about the current situation. We do not have a position of authority in society.
People can choose to ignore us. Many already are, and more will.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Fish and Coleslaw (1a) with Chips

One of my favourite meals is fish and coleslaw. A few chips (fries in the US) are needed to make it really tasty.

I have just completed a meal of fitch and holsclaw and it was pretty nourishing too. I am going to round of the meal by chipping in with my comments and thoughts in the next few posts. The book is Prodigal Christianity – Signposts into the Missional Frontier by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw.
The first signpost sets the context for the rest of the book, so I will chip a little more in on it.

1. Post-Christendom
The first signpost is Post-Christendom.

People are living as if God doesn’t exist or, at least, as if God does not matter. Society used to have a general place for God. Now sightings are rare, and if they materialize, they are soon forgotten.
One response is to preach the old message harder (neo-reformed). The other response is to actively embrace the post-modern mind-set and make Christianity relevant (emerging). Fitch and Holsclaw want a more radical response that breaks with the Christendom paradigm completely.

They suggest the cultural shift is characterised by three posts-. I will comment on the first post- in this post.

A) Post-Attractional
People in the post-Christendom no longer think about going to church when they wake up on Sunday mornings.

I agree that the attractional church does not work, but the world is still easily attracted. People are attracted to football games, rock concerts, peace marches. Many of these events are not relational, yet people are attracted.

The problem is that the people of the world are not attracted to church any more. Part of the reason is that there is now much more competition. When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, there was not much else to do on Sunday morning. Now there are a huge variety of alternatives. You can run a marathon, go to a farmers market, or visit and art gallery.

When I was young, going to church was what people were expected to do, especially if you were in the middle classes. You did not have to go every week, but if you stopped going altogether, you would come under suspicion. So people went, even though they did not always enjoy it. The lower classes were different. They were not expected to go to church, and many did not.

The real problem is not that the world is post attractional, but that our church meetings are boring. Who wants to listen to a pastor droning on for nearly an hour? Congregational singing is a turn off, no matter how enthusiastic are our wannabe rocks the worship leaders. These days, people listen to their music of choice all the time, they do not sing together. Even seeker friendly services do not cut it for modern people. People close their eyes, and try to look solemn during the Eucharist, but many feel nothing. Our church services are not attractional, because they are boring.

Fitch and Holsclaw claim that Jesus did not use an attractional approach, but went to where people are. I like the way they quote of the Message version of John 1:14:
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
Yet that is only part of the story. Jesus operated in a hugely attractional way. Whenever he entered a village, everyone gathered. When he went in the mountains, enormous crowds followed. So we need to ask, why people were attracted to Jesus, but turned off by our church meeting. People were attracted to Jesus, because he healed the sick, cast out demons, thumbed his nose at the Roman rulers, and got stuck into the religious authorities. I guess the Holy Spirit helped, but people were drawn to Jesus because they like what he was. The apostles were attractional too, in a similar way. The church could still be attractional, but only if it heals the sick, casts out demons and challenges the religious and political leaders of the age.

Jesus challenged his disciples to announce the good news to all nations, but warned them that they should wait unit they were clothed power from on high (Luke 24:45-49). Until the Holy Spirit is doing what Jesus did in our meetings, people will not be attracted, whether we are in a church or in a neighbourhood.

If Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, and poured out the Spirit of God to live within us, the that should not be hard. If we cannot heal the sick and cast out demons, or change the world without relying on human politics, the world is entitled to ignore us, because they think our claims are false.

I would characterise post-attactional in these words,
People will not come to us.
We will have to go to them.
That means that most of what we are doing now does not work very well now, and will not work in the future.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Furies (4)

Long sieges of cities were a common practice. These brought a terrible toll on civilian populations, as the soldiers always demanded the last of the food. In some cities, “useless mouths”, such as the elderly and handicapped were pushed outside the cities walls, where they would be killed by the be-sieging armies. Those who remained were forced to eat dogs, rats and dead birds. Leather and paper were ground up and made into soup. Thousands of people died of starvation and disease. People who lived outside the city were not much better off, as the land within fifty miles of the city would be cleared of all food to support the army enforcing the siege.

To sack a city, was not only to loot it, leaving behind a spoor of destruction, but also to murder at will, to violate women and to batter inhabitants until they revealed the whereabouts of their concealed valuables— money jewellery, plate, silks, and prized furnishings. Another source of rich plunder— often the most lucrative—was in ransom moneys squeezed from as many people as possible, particularly the rich and well-connected (Furies p.55).
The general practice was that a successful siege would be followed by the sack of the city, unless it was preceded by a negotiated surrender.

The allied powers imposed a siege on Germany during the First World War. This siege was continued on after the armistice had been agreed, doing huge harm to the civilian population, especially children.

The modern form of the siege is the sanctions imposed on many nations. These are used most actively by nations with a strong Christian influence, but they are not much better than a siege, because the worst effects are felt by the civilian population, and especially children. Worse still sanctions the hand of the hard line leaders are they are intended to weaken.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Furies (3)

The monstrosities of the early modern state were most visible in Europe’s great powers. They put huge armies into the field, but could not afford to keep them there, save by means of theft and violence against their own people, not to speak of what their armies did to other peoples. They tended to treat their ordinary soldiers like the scum of the earth, broke every contract with them, and yet demanded their loyalty or were ready to see them flogged, mutilated, brandied, shipped out as galley slaves, or hanged when they deserted. Using the poor, the unemployed, and the marginal, including common criminals, as cannon fodder, they can be said to have pursed a politics of social cleansing. They depended on entrepreneur officers for the raising of their armies, thereby abandoning critical elements of control over numbers, quality and costs. The besieging of cities, the most sustained and shrill of all acts of war against civilians, was the norm of warfare for them. When their armies were unpaid or hungry, the plunder and ravaging of rural communities was also a norm (Furies p.245.
These were mostly Christian political powers.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Furies (2)

Christians can be quite smug. We like think we are superior to other cultures, which fight among themselves. Reading Furies made me realise that we have an ugly history. Most of the wars that wreaked havoc across Europe were fought between Christians, in the name of God. For most of history, Christianity has not been a harbinger of peace.

This has not changed. The twentieth century was dominated between declining Christian empires. The human costs of these wars were enormous, yet Christians still glorify in them.

When I read about the war in Syria, it is clear that nothing has changed. The civilians there are paying an enormous price in death and destruction of their livelihoods. Family life is being torn apart and economic activity is being destroyed.

President Assad is not the best president in the world, but I cannot understand why political leaders in the US, UK France, Saudi Arabia and Qatar think that training, financing and equipping people to fight a civil war will improve the situation. Already, thousand have been killed, more have wounded, families have been gutted and business destroyed, with nothing of substance being achieved. War just does not work as a method for changing political leaders. It produced a disaster in Iraq and will do even worse in Syria.

Modern political leaders have a blind faith in their ability to bring about good through war. When will they open their eyes and wake up to the futility of war?