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Archive for September, 2011

Redeemer comes to Sydney

Not THE redeemer – Redeemer Presbyterian Church!
Many will know the significant contribution Tim Keller and Redeemer have made in New York.
Now Redeemer is coming to Sydney.
This is advance notice that a conference will be held at St Philip’s York St on Nov 16-17.
The conference will provide an insight into the DNA of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and facilitate discussion of how to contextualise that for Sydney.
This promises to be a seriously significant conference. Numbers are limited.
Details coming out soon.

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When money is tight, there are only 2 options – cut back expenditure, or find additional sources of income.

For the Sydney Diocese, money has never been tighter. The losses incurred in the GFC continue to rumble down the pipe-line. Until now, the response has been to cut back. And that’s been exactly the right thing to do – central activities can be important, but they are not the front line.

The current proposal is to stop cutting back, and to find more income, and there is only one place that can come from – taxing the parishes.

It’s included in a document you can read here, for the pre-Synod briefings this week (the particular report starts on p. 83).

It looks harmless enough – a suggestion for a set of new principles for the Diocesan budget. What stands out is the fact that 2 groups of costs are to be shifted away from being covered by central income, and onto the parishes.

One calculation suggests this could amount to $2-2.5M!

The reasoning for this shift is unconvincing.

Although it’s not argued for in any detail, there are a couple of hints that the basis of shifting these costs to the parishes is the fact that they are necessary for us as a Diocese. But that’s not a reason, it’s a logical leap, a fallacy – the fact that they are necessary simply means they should be the first expenditures we make (from funds available to the Synod  from the Diocesan endowment), not that the parishes should pay.

If we had no central funds available at all, then it would make sense that the parishes should bear the cost. But we still do have central funds – not as much as previously – but still nearly $5M in 2012 for the Synod, and more from the Endowment of the See (the Fund that currently pays for the bishops).

The only legitimate argument that the parishes should pay is that the particular item of central expenditure is more important than front line parish ministry.

So here’s the thing – our conviction (up til now) has been that the parishes are the centre of the Diocese. It’s front line ministry that matters most. We don’t hold the view of other Dioceses, who see great significance in the office of bishop, a central bureaucracy etc. Our commitment is to evangelism, preaching, prayer, pastoring, the local church in missional mode.

If this proposal is adopted, what we’ll be saying is that to the tune of around $2M, front line ministry is less important than centralised programs.

Surely we can’t say that?

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Thanks for this conversation, absolutely fascinating – especially Dani for the quotes.

Two thoughts.

First, it is in part a pastoral concern that motivates the question I asked. For introverts of tender conscience and intense nature, who frequently look inwards and don’t like what they see, equating faith with an affection can become crushing. The key pastoral move here is to get them to look outward to Christ, hence faith as a vector. Only there will they find a way out of their doubts.

Second, and even crazier than the initial question. It is common to suggest that regeneration precedes faith, and that seems to make sense. However, my understanding is that this is not how Calvin put it. For him, faith preceded both justification and sanctification, and in sanctification he included regeneration! See McGrath’s book Iustituia Dei for a really brilliant analysis of this.

One of my critiques of NT Wright has always been precisely this – in other words, he never quite threw off the hyper-reformed framework of his earliest days (when he co-authored – while a uni student! – The Grace of God in the Gospel). By the way, this is why he doesn’t see justification as the moment of ‘transfer’ – the real transfer occurs with regeneration. My point – the irony that Piper and Wright share exactly this same theological deep structure.

And even more ironic – as I understand it, it is also the Roman Catholic ‘Ordo salutis’. I have always wondered how the hyper-reformed scheme came full circle like this.

For Calvin, as I said, faith precedes both justification and regeneration, because faith is what unites us to Christ, and it is only in union with Christ that we have either righteousness or life (justification or regeneration), not prior to union with Christ by faith. Logically, what that must mean – if faith is to be preserved as a gift – is that God does a non-regenerative work in us as he gives the gift of faith, which then unites us to Christ and all his benefits.

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You’ve heard the stat – 72% (or sometimes it’s as high as 85%) of people who come to Christ, do so before the age of 18.

It’s a powerful number, and it fuels a powerful story. Invest in children’s ministry; invest in youth ministry. Of course, there is also the downside – once people get past 18, it is much harder, and we are much less fruitful in reaching them. This is precisely the take Tony Payne takes in his review article of the research that Tim Sims has been doing.

But is it true? Maybe yes and maybe no.

It is true when considered overall, and the positive conclusions are important.

But, like all statistics, it needs to be understood to be used properly. So here goes.

What if we asked a slightly different -and better – question: what percentage of people not from Christian families come to Christ over the age of 18? Why is this a better question? Because we have reason to hope that those from Christian families will grow up in Christ. Sure, good children’s and youth ministries make a significant contribution, but in order to be making significant kingdom progress, it is unchurched people that we need to reach.

Mike Fleischmann, in a DMin project at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, asked exactly this question, and found some very surprising results in a US context. Although people from an unchurched background made up only 28% of the church population, fully 57% of them came to Christ between the ages of 21 and 50. You can read his write up here. In other words, adult conversion were more common from unchurched people than child or youth conversions – a very different shape to the story.

I wonder if a similar pattern might be the case in Australia? And if so, what conclusions should we draw from this?

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