What does contextual ministry to the Western Suburbs of Melbourne look like?

The western suburbs of Melbourne have always been my home. If you know Melbourne, it’s not exactly a brag; my municipality–the City of Wyndham–is mostly know for the water treatment plant that processes Melbourne’s waste, colloquially referred to as the “poo farm.”

The West has traditionally been made up of working class suburbs, and over the last century seemed to be the place where the “Aussie battler” found his or her place in the world; waves of migrants settled from all over the globe; and lower socio-economic communities were placed in government homes or flats until they could find their feet.

And yet the place has its charm.

The people are “salt of the earth” folk who don’t have a pretentiousness often found in well-to-do areas. It’s a melting pot of different people who have a disarming honesty to match their self-deprecating senses of humour. Commission housing is happily interspersed between middle class homes. Migrants from different cultures and continents live side-by-side, starting families, building business, and making a life for themselves.

More recently, young middle-class families have flocked to the area–cheap housing with a backyard for the kids close to central Melbourne is too good to resist. Some of the areas are gentrified, yet they’ve retained a Western suburbs edge which makes them endearing.

But there are not many churches.

In part, the churches that are currently here have struggled to keep up with the growth. Thirty years ago, 40,000 people lived in Wyndham, today there are over 250,000, and by 2036 there will be 440,000. Christian denominations and networks either haven’t prioritised planting as a needed strategy for reaching the city, or have failed in efforts to do so.

My friend Andrew caught the vision for Church planting before I did. He had seen Tim Keller speak at a conference in Melbourne and had been sold on the idea of Church planting to reach a city. He was saying words like contextualisation, grace renewal, and gospel eco-system–I didn’t really know what to make of it all.

Fast-forward three years, we started meeting as a new church on the 7th of April this year. From a seed a few years ago, God has nurtured and grown a Church plant in Wyndham. Andrew and I are co-pastoring and have the wonderful privilege of being part of a team of people who love Jesus and want to see him glorified in our little patch of the world.

 

Team Ministry and Gospel Catholicity

I was working at the Church Andrew attended at the time. He was a chaplain at a school and we had both recently completed our theological education at the same institution. But we were in an odd spot, I had grown up in the Dutch Reformed Church, Andrew the Presbyterian, we had attended an Anglican college, but had found ourselves at a great Baptist Church in our area.

This was not a great recipe for planting a Church: Andrew and I had Reformed convictions regarding Church life and practice, we were not a bad fit for the Anglicans except we had almost zero ability to plant a Church in Wyndham under their structures, and yet the Church community we were involved in was Baptist.

It was a perfect knot that only God could untie.

Our Senior Pastor Tim Loftis had also been at the conference with Andrew. He too had caught the vision for Church planting. He had also caught the vision for one of those buzz-words Andrew had come back with: Gospel Catholicity.

Gospel Catholicity is the idea that no one Church can reach a city. In fact, not even one type of Church can reach a city. We need various churches of various styles in various denominations and networks, striving together in the same direction for the cause of the gospel and the city.

Tim’s story is amazing. A planter from North Carolina, he had come to the West of Melbourne thirty years ago through the Independent Baptist Missions Board. He was one of the few planters whose Church had not just survived, but thrived. But here he was, with two Reformed upstarts who would baptise babies if they planted a Church!

It’s a testament to the grace of God working in his life, that he commissioned not just two Reformed upstarts, but fifty people from the congregation to begin meeting as a new Church in Wyndham–that would be different in style, expression and even some theological convictions from his own sending Church.  

This was possible because we shared an all-important theological conviction: the good news of Jesus.

The motivation of his heart was to see more people experience the grace of our Lord Jesus; we were able to put other things aside.

 

Contextual ministry to the heart

As Andrew and I began being trained and resourced through City to City, we started asking the question, “What does contextual ministry to the Western suburbs of Melbourne look like?”

It wasn’t a simple question.

The city was not demographically homogenous: what united this patchwork of migrant Australians from all around the world? Who ranged from welfare class, to working class, to middle class? Who had different religious, cultural and societal expectations?

We quickly realised we could not be all things to all people, and determined to provide a Reformed Evangelical expression of worship that balanced historical rootedness, with contemporary forms, and a laid-back family friendly environment.

Although demographically the area is not homogenous, we did think the spiritual profile of the area had some points of connection.

People in the western suburbs of Melbourne are restless. They are living for the next holiday, for their children’s future, the aspirational jump up the social ladder, or the place down the coast where they can finally relax. But for most, the dream is always out of reach, or is unfulfilling when attained. 

The Western Suburbs is full of sojourners or wanderers who don’t know where their true home is. 

Our wandering hearts are desperately in need of rest, a rest we will only truly find in Jesus.

We called the church Sojourners Church, and our motto statement is, “Wandering hearts finding rest in Jesus.” We meet at the local footy ground, and our prayer is that we can connect with those in our community who don’t know Jesus.

 

Ministry to Young Families

As diverse as Wyndham is, a commonality across the demographics is that young families have predominately settled here. This was represented in the makeup of our launch team–we clearly had a group of people who took the Genesis 3 mandate very seriously and had decided to multiply and fill the earth. But ministering to young families seems to disrupt many strategies for planting a church. 80% of the adults in our launch team are made up of young couples who have kids from the ages of 0-6. About 40% of the Church are these kids! It is a great blessing to have children in the Church, but they make life a bit more complicated. Try running a launch team event at 7:30pm and see how many people show up. It’s a gift of God that I’m content with my own company.

We quickly realised that the common definition of a good Christian – someone who attends Church (and serves with a cheery smile), participates in a weekly bible study in the evening, and makes it to a Church training, a practice or prayer event – would seemingly exclude most of our congregation from the Kingdom of God. 

Sleep deprived parents who dearly love their children but use your sermon as a day-dreaming session about what they would do with 2 hours of free time, aren’t exactly the high capacity, kingdom builders envisioned when putting together the Church plant dream team.

Except they are.

They were called by God, built up as a new body, and formed into a new Church. They are people who love Jesus and want to serve and honour their Lord through this stage of life. The team God forms is the A-team.

It just means as a ministers we have to be adaptable.

For us services go for an hour, kids and parents can’t last much longer (it could also be my preaching). We have a strong emphasis on including children in our worship because they are the Church too. Night sessions must be repeated two weeks in a row to give parents a chance to rotate staying at home with kids and coming along. Conventional evening bible studies must be adapted to ensure they work for parents.

There are a range of other things that we have decided to do in our context which will be different for the reader. It’s not really a matter of the ‘what’, the key for us as ministers is to equip and build up the saints for good works which God has prepared for them to do. We are encouragers of the Church as the congregation is equipped to do ministry of various kinds in their homes, workplaces, and schoolyards.

The journey for us is just beginning!

So please join us in our prayer that God would move mightily in Wyndham, and bring many people to Himself.

Author: Mark Tibben - Mark is the executive minister at Sojourners Church.

Visit https://www.sojo.org.au for more information

Training and Consulting from Todd Morr

Todd Morr is coming to Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne with Soma Australia in November.

Todd has a passion to see churches united and working together in cities. He is coming over to Australia to provide coaching, strategic planning, events and seminars to help you move towards greater disciple-making effectiveness. 

‘We can make gospel communities on mission too complicated for people (Many of us have been saying this for awhile now). The more we can simplify the better. People need simplicity, but also clarity, so they can actually live this out. Internationally, leaders are realising that their people don’t need endless training events, they need someone walking alongside helping them with next steps.’ - Todd Morr

He has worked with church leaders and teams in over 20 countries helping them move toward greater disciple making effectiveness. While he is in Australia there are lots of opportunities for you and your teams. He will be available to meet up with you, run seminars, and provide coaching. There are two specific areas he can assist you in Every Day Mission and Assessment, Tracking and Goal-setting.

Todd will be in these cities:

  • Sydney: November 8-11

  • Adelaide: November 12

  • Melbourne: November 13-15

For more information and details about how to get in touch visit http://www.somaaustralia.org.au/events.html

The Incubator

This semester Stephen Tan and Samuel Muchoki completed the Incubator program in Melbourne. In the style of a New Testament epistle, Samuel wrote a letter of reflection and encouragement to the rest of his Incubator cohort. He extends the metaphor of a chicken egg in an incubator to explore the journey of training in ministry. His address is to the rest of the students as he and Stephen leave them, but are encouraging words for everyone to hear. 


Samuel called to be a servant of Christ Jesus by the will of God. To my brothers and sisters incubated in Melbourne: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because of your desire to equip yourself with the knowledge of communicating the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This, the reason you have decided to enter shells and incubate.

I would have loved to stay with you but I cannot stay much longer. I have been constantly reminded by our brother Chris that my shell has cracked and I have to come out. Yes, not only I but also my brother Stephen. You all received that letter from our dear brother Chris. You know His works. I bear witness to his works. You know how he longs to impart to you some spiritual gift to make your egg white and yolk strong. And how he constantly reminds you the importance of allowing grace to renew the way we communicate about the gospel. He is a dear brother in Christ.

To leave no doubt in your minds that we ought to leave you, and in fact that we must leave, the letter reminded you that Stephen and I have been incubating for two years. And that we were mature eggs ready to hatch. Therefore, it was not optional for chicks to stay among you.  In fact, it is not pleasant because the chicks may start busying themselves with poking other shells instead of learning how to walk and fly.

And now my brothers, I am convinced of this: my time has come to leave. I say this because Chris has also brought with him our elder brother Andrew. You know Andrew.  You know his works. He does not fly from Sydney to Melbourne for nothing. He carries a gospel rake that pulls away chicks from the incubator.  Both Chris and Andrew have good thoughts for all of you. You bear witness to that.  They both enjoy incubating eggs and kicking out chicks from the incubator immediately after hatching. They do this out of a pure heart: they desire that though the chicks walk on the ground for a little while, they will soon mature and fly the gospel across the city. 

And as you fly, you embrace two visions, a vision for the ministry that our Lord Jesus Christ has entrusted you, and a cooperate vision for the city. The second vision helps us to understand that we are united in purpose! The two visions start and end with the grace we have all received from Christ.  I thank God through Jesus Christ for such sound teaching.  This has become a lens through which I gospel the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As I leave you today, I feel thoroughly equipped to withstand the weather outside the incubator. I am convicted that the Holy Spirit will continually teach me. I pray to remain in His presence. Many times, while in my shell, I have struggled with things. At times the conditions inside the incubator felt uncomfortable; parts of my egg white and the yoke were being stretched and shrunk in various ways. Sometimes I felt comfortable because the heat of the teaching was bearable; but many times, the little things I cherished in my yoke would soon be consumed. I write this to encourage you; so that you do not become comfortable in the shell. But it is for your own good that you become uncomfortable as I did.

We are preaching the gospel in a city where many things have been normalised. But what is a norm is not always what is truthful and acceptable before our Father in heaven. So, we have to be wise in the way we communicate Christ without changing the meaning of who He is. We have to understand the times we are living in. Not only the times but also the society. Many are being trapped by the evil one to not see the saving grace of Christ.  This trap is embedded in the façade of modernity and progress.  Being humbled to enter this shell for two years, has given me some tools to communicate Christ in a serpent like way and present the gospel in a dove like fashion.

When I started incubating, I did not have a vision for the ministry. Later, I was able to develop a vision. But since then, I have never taken rest in reviewing the way I communicate the vision. I used to say “we do life together”...but as I ate and drank the teachings in the incubator, I have been left with one story to tell: it’s all about Christ.  It is a story that helps me to see Jesus in every scripture, a story that reminds me the central focus of the way I communicate the grace of God, a story that helps me to reflect how the deeper things of my heart influence the way I communicate Jesus. This story gives me rest and continual stirs my enthusiasm in pursuit of what I have been called to preach in this city: the gospel.

I am aware that we have all come together with various teachings in the past. Some of you love the teachings of Piper; others love the teachings of Keller. Some like the teachings of some more than others. Others love the teaching of others.  Let there be no quarrel among you. Bear with one another; critique each other but do not fight.  For if one says, I like what Chris says about the gospel, and another says I like what Andrew says, what does it matter?  If Chris incubates the eggs every day and Andrew comes with a shovel to chase the chicks away, what does it matter? If Chris says the egg came first and Andrew says the chicken came first, what does it matter?  None of the eggs or the chicks belongs to either; the eggs and the chicks belong to Christ. So, both work for Christ and they will receive a reward. Let us remain united in purpose as we work with one another to preach the gospel in the city.

I have much to say to you but time may not permit me to write. In all things, I pray for you, that just like me, your desire is to win souls for Christ by communicating His grace to everyone. Now that I have hatched, I leave behind my shell with our brothers Chris and Andrew. To the ones who enter it, may this shell provide an uncomfortable environment to a degree that they will become comfortable in communicating the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in their ministries and in the city. I also pray for the incubator that houses the eggs. That it shall never lack and that our father in heaven will equip it with every good thing that comes from Jesus Christ.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Reflect on all that you have been taught; strive to graciously preach the full gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. Hilda, my wife and coworker, greets you.  May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen!

City to City Australia National Prayer Gathering

The City to City Australia National Prayer Gathering is happening on August 21 - 23. It will be a time of encouragement and refreshment as we come together to pray for our cities. We’ll be hearing from Neil Powell on city wide gospel movements through collaborative church planting and Beck Miller will be leading us in different spiritual exercises to try. Continue reading to get to know Beck and hear how her prayer life has been transformed over the past couple of years.

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Who are you and what do you do?

“My name is Beck Miller. I live in Brunswick and work as the as the Assistant Minister at Merri Creek Anglican church in Inner North Melbourne. (MCA was planted 5 years ago). My role involves training and discipleship, as well as some pastoral care and supporting new initiatives in the church community. I’m married to Rob who works with AFES and we have 4 teen/young adult children.”

 

How have you been growing in prayer?

 “A few years ago I was really frustrated with my prayer life. I was doing things in my own strength and felt dried up and heading towards burn out. It was a pattern I had experienced before in ministry. I felt I didn’t really have the tools to develop a rich prayer life. I started to see a spiritual director and learnt the practice of contemplative prayer involving meditation on the gospels. It has been revolutionary for me. Currently I am looking across a variety of church traditions to glean the best practices out there for myself and others. I am still a struggler and a learner, but I have a renewed passion and capacity for prayer now.”

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What can we expect at the CTCA National Prayer Gathering? 

 “It’s exciting to gather church planters for days of prayer together. We can expect the Holy Spirit to be powerfully at work in us, and for our eyes and hearts to become attentive to that work.

I will be sharing some of my own learning and experiences with you and facilitating a variety of spiritual exercises for you to try. I hope to offer you some good resources to go on with for your own prayer life and to take back to your church communities. There will be dedicated time for personal prayer and also to pray in a small group over the days together. I’m already praying this will be an encouraging and transformative time for us.”

Soma Australia has joined City to City Australia

We are excited to announce this collaboration, and eager to see gospel growth in Australia together. Already it has been encouraging to see the mutual benefits of the collaboration as we support each other in spreading God’s word throughout our country.

Soma Australia is a network of missional churches which have now joined the City to City Australia church family. Soma Australia focus on gospel renewal and cultivating community networks through discipleship in order to create gospel-centred communities on mission. Through joining CTCA it will be able to continue doing this across Australia.

Soma Australia started seven years ago with help from Soma in the United States. Over this time it has built a supportive network, held info nights and training events leading to several church plants. Soma Australia has churches in Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart, and Perth.

By joining with CTCA, Soma Australia will be able to expand its influence across the country including through various denominations where many of their member congregations have affiliation. It is our hope that Soma Australia will be a thought leader, supporter and resource for churches around Australia passionate about being on gospel centred mission.

ROCK City Church has launched

ROCK City Church was officially launched on Sunday, March 17, 2019. There were over 80 people who attended the launch, including some dechurched and unchurched local residents around the Nunawading area. 

Pastor Ferdinand preached on the parable of the Prodigal Son to entreat the non-Christians and challenge the Christians with the Gospel, that no one is beyond reach of God's grace. 

The young children, some coming from unchurched families, got to hear the Gospel for the first time in their lives. The Gospel was shared in a visually creative presentation to keep the children engaged throughout. 

For more information visit ROCK city’s website https://rockcitychurch.melbourne/

Mark Tibben recently attended our International Intensive training in New York

Here are his reflections.

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

In Mark 9, we meet a man whose son was horribly afflicted and oppressed by a demon. Jesus’ disciples who had been given supernatural authority to deal with this type of affliction were unable to cast the demon out this time. Strange. The disciples and the man were arguing about this situation.

I have often found myself relating to this man and his cry.

I’ve found myself here, arguing with myself, thinking about Gospel change in Wyndham, and about planting churches—what will it take? I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!

What does it take to plant a church?

That was the question at the heart of the International Church Planting Intensive I attended in New York in September.

The great cities of the world are in City to City’s sights. A global church planting organisation and movement, City to City want to see global cities impacted with the gospel. These highly urbanised, and often secular cities are the culture generators of the world. Christians need to engage, speak into and influence cities for Jesus.

Starting out of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York, and particularly influenced by Tim Keller (who did his doctorate on ministry in global cities), City to City have been the primary resourcing and training organisation that myself, Andrew and Suburban have drawn from as we move towards a church plant.

Fourteen church planters and regional trainers from around the world came together. We represented five continents, and the group came from cities as disparate as Kigali, Rwanda; Álvaro, Portugal, Glasgow, Scotland; and Istanbul, Turkey.

Located in the City to City offices in Midtown Manhattan, we received great content and teaching from experienced trainers who have literally hundreds of years of church planting experience between them. Yes, Tim Keller led some sessions, but the real highlight was the diversity of voices teaching on a range of topics from contextualisation, core team dynamics and missional discipleship, to self-leadership, gospel spirituality and preaching.

Days were long. We left our apartment at 8:00am and often wouldn’t get home till 10:00pm. This was not only because of the formal teaching sessions, but because we received personal coaching times with City to City staff who willingly stayed in the office after hours to meet with us, and also because there was a wealth of experience and knowledge within the international contingent to mine.

The experience was not just intensive in terms of content; it was intensive in terms of relationship. Friendships were fast-tracked as we discussed, shared, argued, ate, drank, debriefed, laughed and cried with one another. It was a great blessing not just to network with planters and global trainers, but to call them friends.

A thing I love about City to City is a concept they call “Gospel Catholicity”. It’s the idea that one church can’t reach a city. In fact, not even one type of church can reach a city, nor a single denomination. We need various churches of various styles in various denominations and networks, striving together in the same direction for the cause of the gospel and the city.

It’s the vision we have for Wyndham and the Western Suburbs.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

So what does it take to plant a church?

It turns out it takes a great deal to plant a church in global cities like Melbourne. The failure rate is as high as small business and the dynamics of “startup” are not dissimilar.

But there is an aspect in which it is totally different. We can learn strategies, techniques and philosophies of church planting—and trust me, we have. We can always strive to be better, more professional, sharper operators—and trust me, we will. We can also be called, trained, released and “given authority” just like Jesus’ disciples in Mark 9—but the demon will just not come out! We want to see lives changed, the kingdom come, the church grown, but the evil will just not flee.

Why?

Because the business the local church is in is the business of changed hearts and lives.

It’s not just tough—it’s impossible. We can’t bring to an end the oppression and affliction in someone’s life.

But we can bring them to someone who can: Jesus, the great Saviour of the world.

I’ve learnt a great deal over the last months about the dynamics of church planting, and I’m extremely grateful, but most importantly I’ve been reminded about returning to the source of all power, freedom and truth.

Pray, church! That the kingdom will come, that His will is done.

There is no other way.

The Handmaid's Tale

I am really enjoying watching the second series of The Handmaid’s Tale, which if anything is even better than the first.

That might come as a surprise, since many reviewers have found it deeply critical of Christianity, whether Christian themselves or otherwise. But I would suggest that this is too thin a reading of the program.

The premise is fascinating and brilliant. For undisclosed reasons, the fertility rate of the human race declines dramatically, unable to be resolved using medical means. This represents an existential threat to the human race, which could possibly be removed from the face of the earth, unless …

And that is the point.

The ‘unless’ turns out to be ‘unless the government / state’ does something about it. And so the state intervenes, creating a system in which state coercive power - police, army, jail, death sentence - is harnessed to ensure that the maximum reproductive rate is achieved with those few - called Handmaids - who remain fertile.

What makes the premise so interesting is that it combines the most public and the most personal. The most personal in that the problem necessarily involves fundamental personal issues like parenthood, sexuality, and freedom. And at the same time, the most public, in the sense that nothing less than the survival of humanity is at stake. And the point is that there is no possible greater justification for state intervention into the personal lives of the population than the survival of humanity.

In other words, The Handmaids Tale is essentially cautionary - watch out for totalitarian state intervention when the stakes are high enough to seemingly justify it.

And it’s the totalitarianism that makes the skin crawl - the public executions, the arbitrary deprivation of freedom, the coerced surrogacy through ritualised rape, the absence of the rule of law and due process. Some of these depictions are deeply confronting, but I suspect that they are actually relatively tame in comparison with the reality which is endured under some tyrants in the world today.

This is the context in which to see the place of religion. That is, a totalitarian state will always use some form of religious ritual and language to justify - and deflect criticism of - its violent over-reach. The fascinating thing about the religious depictions in The Handmaid’s Tale is that no one believes the religion, it is just a series of tests of conformity to the state program. Or, as the Bible would put it, a form of state sponsored idolatry.

Which is why I’d suggest in the end, The Handmaid’s Tale - perhaps ironically - actually presents a deeply Christian vision, as I say, a cautionary tale, of the horrors of totalitarianism and its use of idolatrous forms of self-justification.

The question that the program should prompt for us is this: are there any current real-world existential threats to the human race, which could form the basis for justifying a totalitarian response? Because, what the Handmaid’s tale is showing us in grim detail is the nightmare of the violence of the state turned against its own people, even in the name of survival.

Launch of Southern Beaches Anglican Church, Tasmania

Sothern Beaches Anglican Church launched in February 2018 in partnership with City to City Australia, Soma Australia and the Bush Church aid Society.

Since then, SBAC Tasmania has been meeting weekly at the local school with an average of 42 adults and 8 children. During this short time, Jamie and his wife Claire have already seen lives transformed by the Gospel.

SBA’s Vision is to be a church for the southern beaches, making disciples of Jesus. Firstly: We want to listen to the community and serve the community. It is our vision to be a church that the community looks to as a place of positive cultural change. Secondly: it is our vision to make disciples who make disciples. Multiplying is the key of what we do because we want a city where everyone knows Jesus.

The vision statement tells the story of what this church plant is praying: “Love like family, live like missionaries, making disciples as servants of Jesus Christ”. Please pray this prayer with them.

You can check out their launch video here.

That ball tampering incident in South Africa.

It has been fascinating watching the ebb and flow of responses to the ball tampering incident in South Africa. (For those who have been in a media blackout or bushwalking in deepest darkest somewhere, a conspiracy involving the coach, captain, vice captain and a young, new member of the Australian cricket team were caught on camera, and through subsequent confession and investigation, cheating by attempting to alter the condition of a cricket ball.)

The response has been remarkable - outrage, letters pouring into the Australian Cricket Board demanding pretty much everyone’s heads roll, former captains and players opining, and the Prime Minister weighing in with significant finger wagging, whilst acknowledging that the members of the test cricket team are held in far higher regard than politicians!

Social and paid media commentary has been blanket level, and has see-sawed between initial contemptuous condemnation in the first day or two, to ‘chill out’ in the last couple of days.

It’s a microcosm of the moral confusion of our culture. Five observations / reflections.

First, it was wrong. Of course it was wrong, and cheating at cricket, whilst one of the smaller wrongs currently being perpetrated in our world, is a wrong.

2. The shrill self righteousness of much of the response has been ear-piercing. Journos - paid and self-appointed - were falling over themselves to raise the stakes as to the punishment - stand them down, sack them for a long time, sack them for ever! BURN THEIR BAGGY GREENS (I made that one up!) The moralising, judgmental, graceless, rigidity of the response is impossible to miss. Which leads to the third response.

3. Why? Why so over the top. My 2 cents worth. We live in a culture of crushing and confusing moral ambiguity. We aren't even sure about the rights and wrongs of having rights and wrongs in our lives. We don’t tell other people how to live, we never even think about telling other people’s kids how to live, and watch out if someone tells us how to live. In real life there are no heroes and villains. That’s one of the reasons why we watch the TV shows and movies we do - because we love it when there are. And so when a real life villain appears - a cheat, at cricket no less - then the touch paper of moral certainty is suddenly lit! At last, something to be clear about! But of course, there’s more to it than that.

4. You see, at the same time, there are plenty of moral rules we must not transgress. One of the most obvious is the necessity to ‘save the planet’. But for almost all of these rules, we find ourselves as villainous as heroic. My carbon footprint is not that much smaller than most, and at the same time, not that much bigger than my most ardently green friends. I’m half villain and half hero - well maybe less than half the latter. As a society, we are deeply uncertain about our own cultural righteousness. And so I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that part of the outrage is projection of our own half-guilty conscience, a form of atonement called scape-goating. At last I know I’m right, because I join the throng condemning the guilty.

5. Finally, for me one the the most curious things is that, on the whole, Christians have made an almost indistinguishable - and undistinguished - contribution. They have followed almost exactly these same contours (with the notable exception of Mike Baird’s post, and similarly Cricket with Miles). We have a different operating system at work - the grace of God which as appeared - and yet we seem unable to bring its resources to bear in the hurly-burly of real world issues. We know that we are ‘saved by grace’; we just don’t know how to apply that mode to this moment.

Which is a shame. This incident could have provided terrific opportunity, especially directly before Easter, to ask probing questions, both publicly and privately, that exposed some of the graceless dynamics at play here. But only if we actually knew the gospel well enough to have something different to say. Because beyond self righteous moralism on the one hand, and permissive ‘chill out’ on the other, there really is a third way to live, the way of grace in Christ.

Andrew

PS. Our conference, Saturate the City will include a focus on exactly the kind of gospel fluency that is needed in these moments.