Kevin Rudd & slavery

The Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition. (Kevin Rudd, on Monday’s Q&A)

Let’s just put this as simply as possible: Wrong! While the Bible does contain laws to ensure slaves would not be mistreated, and encourages emancipation if possible, nowhere does it suggest that anyone is naturally a slave. It says the opposite! It says that that all people are made in the image of God. The image of God covers a lot of meaning; we share many of God’s attributes, such as creativity, having emotions, being morally responsible. But the biggest thing it means is that we are rulers. God made humanity to bring his rule to the world, representing him to the world and to each other.

Kevin Rudd was actually quoting Aristotle, who as John Green reminds us, “while he is very famous and everything is almost always wrong!”


But as happens sometimes, Kevin Rudd was actually more right than he thought. No one is naturally the slave of another person, but we are all naturally slaves of sin, unable to do what is right, sometimes even when we want to. Greed, adultery, aggression, pride, substance addiction, laziness, jealousy, and yes even homosexuality are all natural human behaviours. And they all earn God’s wrath. So thanks for the reminder Kevin!

So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
(Romans 7:14-25, NLT)


A youth camp song list

For the past few years I’ve been a leader at Übertweak, a Christian youth camp. In addition to being creative with technology, playing complex outdoor wide games, and becoming progressively more sleep deprived as the week goes on, each morning we set aside some time to focus on learning about who God is and what he’s done, and part of that is music. Next camp I’m the music team coordinator, so the task of choosing which songs we’ll sing has fallen to me. Song lists could seem quite incidental, but I think they’re important. There are many competing factors which make it tricky, so I thought I’d share how I chose the songs I did.

A Futurama Fry meme: Not sure if song about God / or boyfriend

The factors

Great words and music: This one should go without saying, but sadly it can’t. Colossians 3:16 says that we are actually to use songs to teach each other, so I wanted ones that had substance to them, with at least some specific Biblical content. Before choosing the final list I asked for suggestions from the other camp leaders for songs which focus on who God is and what he has done, so that if Fry came to camp he’d have no need for his trademark expression! Each Übertweak camp has a theme, so I also tried to find some which fit this one’s theme: God’s Awesome Plan.

Appropriate for campers: We have to be mindful of who we’re choosing songs for. In this context that means 12-17 year olds, some from Christian families and some not, some with a strong mature faith, some with a new faith and some with none. While we want to avoid Christian jargon if possible, it doesn’t means we should pitch down to the youngest campers; instead we should pitch up, it is a time for teaching after all. We also have to be careful with what I call “responsive” songs. Hillsong’s This is our God might be an appropriate song to sing in church, but at a camp with comparatively few strong Christians it would either disengage those who aren’t, or they may get swept along with and feel they must sing what their heart does not really believe.

A range of tempos and moods: This was the easiest factor. In addition to making a list of songs I also planned out a schedule for each day. We’ll start with some fast songs to wake everyone up, before moving towards slower contemplative ones.

Old favourites vs new hits: It’s hard to learn a large bunch of new songs at once, and though that may be unavoidable for some campers, I wanted to minimise it if possible. Out of the eleven songs on the list at least seven have been sung at previous camps. And as Übertweak is non-denominational I wanted to choose songs from a range of different Christian circles. (The list below has who I associate some of the songs with. Unfortunately no songs from Emu/AFES made the final list, though No Other Name by Trevor Hodge came close.) The camp schedule means we’ll be singing 22 songs in total. I wanted to give the campers a chance to learn the songs, so the new songs are introduced one per day, and almost all including the old ones are repeated twice, with our theme song being sung four times. This is a shorter list than some of the previous camps, but repetition is good, and it’s easier on the music team!

The songs

All because of Jesus by Steve Fee (2007): This is one of our openers.

All I have is Christ by Jordan Kauflin (2008, Sovereign Grace): This is a new song for camp. We sing it at church and I think it’s a good song to finish with.

Amazing Grace (My chains are gone) by John Newton/Chris Tomlin (2006, Passion): I really dislike Chris Tomlin’s version, but the team thought this one would be good to include; it’s also the only song from before this century! I’ll be mixing up which verses we sing because I cannot stand the “You are forevvvver minnne” part at the end.

By Faith by Keith & Kristyn Getty (2009): This is our theme song! It’s a great to encourage us to trust God’s plan, and a good song in general.

Christ is Risen by Matt Maher (2009).

Creator by The Lads (2002): An Übertweak tradition, it’s not possible to go through a week without Creator! We’ll start Friday morning with it.

Happy Day by Tim Hughes (2006): Another opener.

Indescribable by Laura Story (2004, Passion).

Our God by Chris Tomlin (2010, Passion): Chris Tomlin makes it into the list twice with this, one of our closers. (I always say I don’t like Chris Tomlin’s songs, but I think that’s more his adaptations of old hymns, such as Amazing Grace and the Wonderful Cross. Some of his original songs are quite decent.)

Promises by Sanctus Real (2012, the radio!): When I heard this song on 96.5 I thought it would be a great addition to the Übertweak music list, and it fits the topic so well too!

Tell the World by Joul Houston (2004, Hillsong): Another Übertweak favourite, and the first song we’ll be singing on camp.

Marriage: what are we trying to save?

A Swedish wedding from 1903

With the Marriage Act possibly being amended this year, the debate over what marriage means has reached huge proportions. Many Christians have been very vocal in their opposition to changing the the law on marriage, much to the scorn of those who disagree. I’m a Christian and I believe God has told us quite clearly that he does not approve of same-sex relationships (along with many other relationships.) But I’m not convinced that there’s really much point trying to save the Marriage Act as it is. What are we trying to save? Jesus had some strong words:

Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery. (Mark 10:11-12, NLT)

I think our society abandoned the Christian (Biblical) conception of marriage decades ago. Legally this occurred in 1975 with the introduction of no-fault divorces. Similar changes have resulted in almost complete legal recognition of de facto relationships. There may be arguments for no-fault divorce and de facto relationships, but I think the reality is that they have contributed to a shift in the meaning of marriage. I have no evidence for this, but I bet that most Australians would think that the idea of only getting married if you were committed to seeing it through to the end of your life is just as backward an idea as heterosexual-only marriage. Marriage is no longer an exclusive and irrevocable contract, but one of several possible labels you can give to long term relationships. A tiny fraction of Australians may end up in homosexual marriages, but the changes that have led to twice as many Australians my age being in de facto relationships than married, and a third of all marriages ending in divorce, have already happened.

Every minority has the right to express how they think the law should be shaped, so Christians should be free to express their opposition, especially when the facts aren’t settled yet. But I personally won’t be spending much breath to protect a definition I don’t agree with. It’s sad, but that ship has sailed.

I would however support changing the Marriage Act in another way: to remove marriage from it! I don’t think any particular label such as marriage should be privileged and codified in law above any other. If the whole of federal and state law was changed so that there was just a single relationship recognised by law (lets keep the term civil union for this, no one actually wants to describe their relationship as one) then I think we’d all be better off. If up till now marriage has had a religious definition then don’t try to change what it means – just remove it from the law.

Evangelion and the end of the world

Still from Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0

It’s 2015 and Shinji Ikari, a lonely fourteen year old boy, is recruited by his estranged father to pilot a giant robot and fight against equally giant monsters called Angels. A fantastic premise for SF action, but also the premise of the disorienting deconstruction of humanness that is the series Neon Genesis Evangelion.

The Evangelion story began with a 1995 anime series, which was followed in 1997 by the movies Death and Rebirth and End of Evangelion. The series is currently being remade as a film tetralogy called Rebuild of Evangelion, with the third film set to be released later this year. I recommend the Rebuild series on Blu-ray as it has incredible production values and is much more accessible than the anime which towards the end goes very art-house (though we’ll have to wait to see how the second half of Rebuild turns out.)

Evangelion is about the desperate attempts of broken people to stave off the end of the world. It is a bleak world and almost every character has strained interpersonal relationships. It is a world without joy and with limited happiness. Writer and director Hideaki Anno had depression for four years and its likely that many of the characters reflect his personal experience. And yet, depression in Evangelion is in no way one dimensional. I know several friends who have struggled with the black dog, and just as it affects each differently, each character in Evangelion faces it distinctively. Passive and passionate, lonely and obsessed, hopeless and decisive; each is the public face of a broken person. I think Evangelion affirms what Steven Moffat has said: sad is more dramatic than happy. But over all of this is confusion, and a scene of Rei crying without understanding why reminds me that these characters don’t understand what’s happening to them any more than we do.

The series’ climax is the the disastrous Third Impact, which is said to bring the end of the world. The portrayal of disaster feels distinctive to me, although I’m sure it can’t be unique. In many films disaster brings relief and peace to the earth, if indeed the disaster wasn’t the earth’s own reaction to the deeds of humanity. Even though I share the pain of the human protagonists, sometimes the earth gets more sympathy, especially if the film is pushing environmentalism. But in Evangelion the earth is just as affected as are the people. See in the still above how the natural and built environments alike are tortured and torn apart, even in defiance of gravity.

Evangelion is deeply human centred. I can think of little else in our present culture which so ties humanity and the world together. It almost feels uncomfortably brash to do so, when we usually like to think of ourselves as an inconsequential aside in the universe. It is a story of fighting over what it means to be human, but the horror of seeing the Third Impact says that our world depends on the resolution of that fight. As a Christian I believe many uncomfortable things, and Evangelion has illustrated to me a little of what it means for creation to groan (Romans 8) and what it will be like when the heavens are set on fire (2 Peter 3).

What’s wrong with multi-site churches

At The Resurgence Gregg Allison has given a defense for multi-site churches. While his defense may address Mark Dever’s concerns, it says nothing about what I think is wrong with multi-site churches: it stifles the principle of the priesthood of all believers.

The NT doesn’t actually say very much about how we should do church or what our church meeting should be like. But one verse that clearly states the basics is 1 Corinthians 14:26:

When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (ESV)

God has given every Christian gifts, which we should use to build each other up, by encouraging, challenging, rebuking and teaching each other. A church meeting is simply the time when Christians get together to use their gifts at the same time.

Unfortunately many churches restrict how we can do that by limiting those who can be involved in the church meeting to a very small group, such as the minister and “worship leader”. I am a believer both in lay preaching and flexible meeting structures because they allow more people to get involved. I suspect a house church done well would let even more people get involved, but regular churches can still make changes which let more people serve.

It gets worse though. Mars Hill Church is a multi-site church with 9 campuses. Each shares a video feed from the main campus, so that there is only one person teaching each week, and most of the time that’s Mark Driscoll. Compared to regular churches that’s 8 people with the gift of teaching who aren’t being given the opportunity to serve their churches. Compared to an ideal church, hundreds if not thousands must be missing out. And that’s wrong.

What’s wrong with publishing ministries? Part 2

Early this year I wrote about some of the problems I see in the Christian publishing world. This is a follow up.

My hope is for an eventual transformation and reform of the Christian publishing scene (and for secular publishing too!). No one could force such a thing, nor would that be desirable. Instead I am committed to opening accessibility for resources I produce (choosing for example to submit papers only to open access journals) and gently suggesting ideas to the other publishers I meet. Overall it’s about giving up the rights our government grants us for the good of others. It’s sacrificial, hard, and completely counter-cultural in this rights-obsessed society we live in. I’m convinced such changes are what we need, though the specific way in which each person will give up their rights will be different.

I want us to ask a hard theological question though: how does the thoroughly Biblical concept of supporting Christian ministry fit with copyright royalties? I believe it is a wrong model for financing ministry and could at times lead to problems. For those who are incredibly successful, it could lead to laziness or the idolising of wealth (those in Australia may have noted certain examples on TV this past week). For those who are not successful it could result in the end of their ministry. We wouldn’t say that the William Careys of mission (perhaps those in Japan today) have failed if people don’t come to know Christ, but we might say that a publisher has failed if its volumes don’t sell.

More likely, for those whose publishing is a side ministry, is that the resources remain marginalised. An unfortunate example is Ruth Buchanan, whose music is unavailable on SongSelect, nor on her website. There is not even an option to purchase the albums online, but instead we must email her for more information. I honestly cannot see how this is good for anyone. Presumably Ruth receives a sufficient income from her other work/ministries, so if the default was that Christian resources were open then she would be no worse off, and my church would be using her work in our praises (and possibly supporting her, or some of our members might support her privately). If a publisher was in financial strife then rather than restricting access to their resources they would support raise as other ministries do.

I am not suggesting that we all completely quit using collecting agencies like CCLI, or whatever other strategies we have. But I do think more people would have access to our music if we told them they could freely download and use it from our websites. We could still keep the music on SongSelect etc. as well. I am for the opening and enabling of access to resources, so it makes no sense to close off one avenue which works now!

Recently I proposed to Garage Hymnal that they automatically grant to everyone the rights of the CCLI CCL and MRL (was PCL) licences. These licences don’t effect album sales, instead they restrict what songs a church can sing on Sundays (and other days of the week!) Every person and every church should be free to sing good Biblical Christian music, without having to pay to put the words up on a projector. I proposed supporting them financially, matching what they currently get from those CCLI royalties, so that there would be no potential loss of income due to making their music available elsewhere as well. If ignoring royalties they were still at a stable financial position then reducing copyright restrictions should have no negative effect. And any bonus income from royalties could even be given to other ministries.

If you’ve read this and you believe Christian media resources are valuable, can I suggest that you do a number of things:

  • Please pray for a Christian author, musician or publisher that you know! Thank God for what he is doing through them, and that he continue to enable them to serve him.
  • Consider supporting them financially, not giving for the results of past work, but giving so that their future time may be free to serve God, no matter what the results might be.
  • Ask them to consider giving up some of the copyrights on their works, so that through their resources God’s word might spread even further. A good possible licence might be the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivslicence. It puts restrictions on using a work for commercial purposes and altering the work (so a work’s doctrinal orthodoxy wouldn’t be at risk) but otherwise gives you the freedom to share a work. Or perhaps they could just give the rights of the CCLI CCL and MRL to all, so that songs can be sung in church without restriction.
  • And if their business strategy so depends on royalties that their resources are only available to those who pay, challenge them to remove that dependence.
  • Finally, write to them, saying how their books or music teaches, encourages and challenges you, and that you’re supporting them prayerfully and financially (if you are).

What’s wrong with publishing ministries?

So today when I was looking at the music I was playing for church I read this, and finally realised why I think CCLI is wrong: “This score is illegal unless used with a CCLI licence. Please don’t undermine our ministry – support it!”

I’ve felt for a long time that there was something wrong with the CCLI model of music distribution, because it seemed to restrict and put up miles of red tape around what should be our free praise. But what could we do, it is what the law demands. But when I read this on the bottom of the sheet music I realised something I hadn’t before, which is that these publishers are ministries, which now makes me even more convinced that the general publishing models they have are wrong.

I wondered whether Christian music composition should really be thought of as a ministry. It’s not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament, but then there were musicians in the temple. More importantly, when it’s done well the writing of good Biblical songs should be thought of as what the Bible calls a “word ministry”.

The Bible describes and supports many forms of ministry: part time or full time, tent-making, asking for support, not asking for support. All of these are fine. What is not good is selling the gospel for personal profit (2 Corinthians 2:17.)

Now I can’t say that the Bible definitely excludes the way most Christian publishers operate, but I think it does present a different way of supporting ministry. The main way is that other Christians support ministries, through prayer and financially, to enable the Christian workers to use all of their time to do God’s work freely. To receive that work is entirely free – even if you do support them. But we don’t support these authors, composers and publishers like that (usually). Instead of supporting them so they are free to work freely we instead buy the results of their ministry. And for the composers who wrote the music I played tonight there is basically no way at all in which I can benefit from their ministry other than paying for their music (or paying someone else to buy it.) This is wrong.

I am not sure I am seeing the whole Biblical picture here, and would love to be corrected. I want to call on all Christian publishers to change their distribution models. They are operating as secular publishers do, but instead they should operate as other ministry and mission agencies do – being supported by fellow Christians so they can afford their living essentials, while offering the products of their ministries for free. This doesn’t mean they have to offer their big expensive books for free, just as if you requested a copy of your church’s sermon they might ask for a dollar or two to cover the disc. But it does exclude charging much more than the cost price, because they are not getting a living from the profits of their work, but from being supported by other Christians. And there’s no reason why they can’t offer electronic copies of their resources for zero monetary cost.

Thank you to the few publishers which do offer all you have freely!

The worthlessness of Homo divinus

But my acceptance of Adam and Eve as historical is not incompatible with my belief that several forms of pre-Adamic ‘hominid’ may have existed for thousands of years previously. These hominids began to advance culturally. They made their cave drawings and buried their dead. It is conceivable that God created Adam out of one of them. You may call them homo erectus. I think you may even call some of them homo sapiens, for these are arbitrary scientific names. But Adam was the first homo divinus, if I may coin a phrase, the first man to whom may be given the Biblical designation ‘made in the image of God’. Precisely what the divine likeness was, which was stamped upon him, we do not know, for Scripture nowhere tells us. But Scripture seems to suggest that it includes rational, moral, social, and spiritual faculties which make man unlike all other creatures and like God the creator, and on account of which he was given ‘dominion’ over the lower creation.

So says John Stott (quoted by Terry Gray.) Ideas like this seem to be more prevalent and popular now than ever before. If I can paraphrase the idea in my own words it would be that God caused modern man, Homo divinus, to evolve from the aspiritual, non-image-bearing Homo sapiens. There is much disagreement about how quick that process was, whether it happened to one man or a community, and what their moral state was (did they stop their “sinful” ways, or did they continue once they became enlightened?) But the overall idea is the same.

I do not think this idea is even worth our time considering. No one I’ve seen propose this idea seems interested in doing the Biblical texts justice. Yes there is a broad spectrum of interpretations for Genesis 1-3, from the strictest 24 hour creationist to the allegorical frameworkist. But I think Homo divinus makes all interpretations of Genesis meaningless. What it proposes is so totally different to the text that any interpretation is both possible but also deeply disconnected from reality. It even loses its strength as a polemic, both in ancient times and now (for how can it be one, when it agrees in every detail with the theories of the day?)

Let me give one example to show why I think Homo divinus is worthless. In Genesis 2 God created the first human, Adam. In verse 7 God forms him out of dust and then “breathed into his nostrels the breath of life; and man became a living being.” The Homo divinus interpreter would say that this refers to when man first became enlightened. Whether gradually or in an instant, God gives the man/humanity his breath or spirit, and man is made aware of God. It literally says that God inspired man! After this point man is fundamentally different from all the other creations, he is made in the God’s image.

But wait a sec, what does the Hebrew say? It says that he became a לנפש חיה, a nephesh chay, or a ‘living soul’. חי, chay ‘living’, is used to refer to all life. It is used throughout the Bible, mostly to refer to living creatures, but sometimes also to ‘living water’. נפש, nephesh ‘soul’, refers not just to humans, but also animals. It is used through Genesis 1, in Genesis 9 when God gives the command to never eat blood, and then in the foundational Leviticus 17 which expands on that commandment, calling blood the “life (nephesh) of all flesh.” Genesis 2:7 could just as literally be translated to say that “man became a living animal.”

How can the Homo divinus interpreter read this meaningfully? They can’t interpret it literally of course, that goes against the whole idea that Homo divinus wasn’t created directly from dust. But how can they interpret it allegorically either? Yes God did inspire man at that time, but the end result was that man would be a living animal, exactly what he was before. Man’s enlightenment produces no changes, or at least none the author of Genesis 2 thought worth mentioning. I’d be interested in hearing other interpretations of this passage, but I can’t see how a Homo divinus interpretation could do it justice, when even interpreted in the most ahistorical way possible the Hebrew words just go against their whole premise.

Don’t waste your time with Homo divinus. It’s a pathetic attempt at an interpretive framework.

Brief wrap-up

Mission in Japan was such an amazing experience. There are so very few Christians there (about 1 in 5000 where we were) that even the little we did was a huge help to the Japanese church. What did we do? We visited many preschools, ran a lot of English classes and helped the missionaries as they planted two new churches.

It taught me a few things: the huge cultural differences did not matter to the Gospel, these people are sinners and need to be told about Jesus and shown God’s love. But the cultural differences also showed how mission must be made culturally appropriate, both in Japan and home in Australia. Most people in Australia are unwilling and opposed to talking about God and the gospel. Japan was very different in that so many people were willing to listen and ask questions about Jesus and the Bible, for to them it is almost entirely new. But despite how much interest they show and how much they learn, the Japanese people are sadly reluctant to confess Jesus and commit their lives to him. In Australian culture verses like Romans 10:9 are not too significant, for almost everyone who believes the gospel will confess Jesus. But in Japan they will not. We met a few who even after more than ten years contact with the church and learning and believing far more than many Australian Christians, will still not commit to and confess Jesus. Whether they feel pressured from their families or work or just don’t want to, I don’t know. But it is sad and something that definitely needs a lot of prayer.


We had a pizza party last Saturday, inviting a lot of people we’ve met over the past few weeks. I guess the evening brought together a lot of the feelings and thoughts I’ve been having over mission. Sorry if those thoughts are a little disorganised!

I don’t have any Japanese language skills. I can greet people at all times during the day, thank people and apologise… though even with these I’m likely to get them mistaken with each other! So I knew before coming that my opportunities to directly evangelise people would be very limited, and that’s okay, those opportunities are more than enough with everything else there is to do!

And there really has been, and will still be, a lot to do. If I can guess what God is teaching me now I think a lot of it is how to serve. I know I definitely do not have the gift of service, but I’m realising that just means I need to work harder than most. I usually don’t mind helping and serving others, it just doesn’t occur to me that there’s stuff to be done. Well I’m glad that there’s been so much to do here cause there hasn’t been much chance to slack off – there’s so much to do and that’s why we’re here! Working long busy days has been good, it’s a very welcome change in productivity, one I’ve been wanting for a long while.

However, even when God has given me potential opportunities for evangelism, it seems I rarely take them. At our pizza party I spent most of the evening operating the huge 300° ovens (Fahrenheit okay… but it still sounds impressive yes? We seriously needed six layers of towels to get anything out of it.) I’d already burnt myself once and there was no reason for others to get hurt too. I was definitely being a big help, we needed to cook a lot of food very quickly. But… there were people there who had some decent English, and I could have spoken to them more than I did (what was almost nothing). Should I have? I don’t know. When we had a kind of icebreaker game I did make my answers gospel-focused, but that was very short and impersonal. It concerned me more when those who can speak Japanese said they didn’t have gospel-focused conversations either. Maybe I should have been more forward too.

But I also don’t believe I really have gifts of evangelism either. I don’t really enjoy it nor am I good at it. I think my strengths, and interests and passions, are more with teaching and discipleship. I haven’t really had much experience with it yet, but I love both teaching God’s word and working with people. I had hoped there would be opportunities for this in Japan, but there hasn’t been any so far. The church here does not seem to have late-teens/early-twenties guys. There are a few girls of that age, but it would be even less appropriate here in Japan than in Australia for a guy to lead a girl in discipleship like that. So I’ll probably have to wait to return to Australia to do that, which again is fine, but when I wonder what God’s plans are here, a little perplexing.

Mission has given me lots of opportunities for service, which has been great. But I think it’s really highlighting the need for wisdom in finding a good balance between service and evangelism and fellowship and teaching and everything else (rest too.) They’re all essential for a healthy church, and though God gives us gifts and strengths in certain areas of that, I believe we still all need to be working at them all. But what is that balance? I don’t know if mission has given me any of that wisdom yet.