I recently gave some hints about how we can be more aesthetically engaged, so let’s pick up on that note once more.
For decades now, a certain sort of music has been popularised for Western Protestant Christians: worship music / contemporary Christian music. But in the early 2000s, something else started brewing.
The new hymns movement is something I’ve begun exploring only recently. These artists draw direct inspiration from traditions that have been obscured to us, and they take what I consider a more community-minded approach to music-making, a folk/roots sensibility. Probably because of this influence, it has become popular to rework hymns — the famous ones, that is — but there’s even more exciting stuff around. One group that helped pave the way (and grew from a university ministry!) is Indelible Grace:
Our hope is to be a voice calling our generation back to something rich and solid and beyond the fluff and the trendy. We want to remind God’s people that thinking and worship are not mutually exclusive, and we want to invite the Church to appreciate her heritage without idolizing it. We want to open up a world of passion and truth and make it more that just an archaic curiosity for the religiously sentimental. We believe worship is formative, and that it does matter what we sing.
In this post, let me introduce you to Cardiphonia as an avenue into the new hymns movement. Cardiphonia is curated by Bruce Benedict, who gathers all sorts of musicians to create amazing compilations. Most Cardiphonia releases are free to download and each comes with a songbook. Let’s take a quick tour through some of their releases. They’ve amassed a huge collection now, so I’ve picked out just a few highlights for you to explore. Read more
At last it’s time for the final post in this series! In part 1 I questioned whether we should see ‘personal Bible reading’ (Quiet Time) as our default mode of accessing the Bible. In part 2, seeing as Christianity is a way of life, I asked what it would look like if we actively treated the Bible as a community experience. In part 3 I looked at the formatting of our Bibles and made the case for verse-free Bible reading.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in these posts, and I hope you’ve found some fruitful ideas along the way! That’s been my goal throughout: to increase our engagement with the Bible and undermine some things that might hamper that. For example, I’m convinced that a reader’s Bible is one thing which could genuinely transform our Bible reading on a mass scale, so I was thrilled to see so much interest in The Books of the Bible when I gave a preview.
But it’s interesting to think that the first Christians were often not Bible readers. Their primary experience of Scripture was through oral performance. Today we have a wealth of mediums for accessing the Bible, and I don’t think we should limit this by any means. But we sometimes seem to think that, since the word has been written down, the written medium trumps all others. So, let’s conclude this series with a short audiovisual tour, asking: how can we engage with the Bible beyond the printed page? Read more
Tamie and I work with CMS Australia, a network of people who care about crossing cultures with the message of Jesus. Worldwide, CMS is one of the oldest world mission groups — for other groups in the CMS family, check out NZCMS, CMS Ireland, CMS UK and Crosslinks.
CMS Australia recently launched a new vision for the coming years. Below are some of the highlights for me. I’m particularly excited by the ways in which the vision helps us to use more missiologically astute language.
What stands out to you? Let us know in the comments below. Read more
A mate put me onto Bill Gates’s 2013 annual letter and the surrounding discussion. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation makes targeted attacks on big issues, like poverty, health, and education. Gates’s letter emphasises the importance of measurable goals and measurable change:
In the past year I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition.
Progress doesn’t have to be accidental — in fact, if we are attentive, it can be expected.
The sort of progress on view here is the advance towards the UN’s Millenium Development Goals. Here, in brief, are some of the highlights. In just the last 20 years worldwide:
- Child mortality has almost halved
- Maternal deaths in childbirth have halved
- The number of people in extreme poverty has halved
There are big strides being made here, and they’re being made rapidly. These changes have happened in my own short lifetime!
All I want to do here is canvas the conversation, and make one point: there are different types of progress. That is, there’s more to progress than the Millenium Development Goals because there’s more to progress than what we can measure.
In 2010 we hosted a debate for our theological college: Will the real Mars Hill please stand up? The debate invited the audience to compare and contrast two well-known American megachurches and the leaders behind them, Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll, whom we saw as representing powerful and differing forces in American Christianity — check out the comparison chart Dave Hughes produced for the debate. For us as Australian students, American Christian culture is often novel and foreign, yet also strangely influential — a source of both familiar comforts (Chris Tomlin) and bizarre terrors (Joel Osteen!). It also seems like a hyper-coloured version of the fate of Christianity that we’re witnessing in our own Western context, even though Australia has gone further along the post-Christian road.
And so we continue to watch for developments. Although I’ve written about Rob Bell here a few times, I’ve not followed his work especially closely, but I’ve certainly been interested in his motivations, methods and audience rather than simply his content (which is all that seems to matter to some critics!). James K Wellman’s short book, Rob Bell and a new American Christianity, takes all this into account. It’s an unusual mixture of anecdotes about Bell plus summaries of his work, interspersed with sociological categories and commentary. Wellman takes us chronologically through Bell’s life and work, surveying his preaching, publications, tours, and films (including Nooma). It makes for a good overview of Rob Bell, but also an accessible spiritual snapshot of America today. Read more
Katie, a med student, has been feeling torn between the profession she’s studying and the spiritual needs she sees around her: ‘People say they’re meant to line up, but I’m struggling to see how that works!’
The answers she’s looking for haven’t been all that easy to find, and we’ve seen a similar story with many university students. ‘Faith and work’ has become a hot topic, says Tim Keller, but I suspect it’s still pretty unknown to many Christians here in Australia. Our pulpits are not known for reflecting on the workplace regularly, consistently or deeply. Our university student groups are not known for giving students more than a catch-all preparation for their future professions. We focus on many things — community, charity, evangelism, healing, discipleship — but how well are we tuned into the weekly world inhabited by most Australians?
And in my evangelical circles, we’ve got a tendency to speak about the workplace as if it’s good for little more than ‘evangelistic conversations’, or earning money with which to support ‘gospel work’ — because those are the things of ‘eternal value’. With phrases like these, we divide the world into all sorts of halves: Sunday/Monday, word/deed, sacred/secular, clergy/laity, earth/heaven.
In Every Good Endeavour: Connecting your work to God’s plan for the world, Keller quickly cuts beyond this with a more full and fruitful vision:
If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavour, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.