Monday, June 6, 2016

The Invention of Lying

Suffering cold turkey this weekend as there was no Super Rugby and the brief International Rugby Window in June starts next weekend, we watched a movie on Saturday night on TV, the Invention of Lying. Without giving too much of the plot and its contents away, this movie is a very good satire on religion, working from a clever premise, that the world might have been a perfect truth-telling world until someone had an epiphany about the possibility of telling a lie. With one lie leading to another, before you know it, religion has been invented (according to the film).

Now we can view such a film as straightforward comedy - that is laugh with the film and at ourselves as religious people who believe what, within the film's narrative world, is a lie. But we can also muse on these two challenges: whether or not (1) we might in actuality be believing a lie; and (2) the film tunes into Western culture at this time. That is, the film expresses what many Westerners believe deep within their hearts: all religion is a lie, there is no God or gods, the reality of this world is all there is to reality. We could describe the first challenge as philosophical and the second challenge as missiological.

I will by-pass the first challenge here and reflect a little on the second challenge. My connecting the film with the deep heart of Western culture is made because I have been in a conversation or two or been reading a note or two recently about the staggering lack of belief and surplus of ignorance about Christianity. Here, for instance, is Geoff Robson, TSCF staff worker at Canterbury University, writing about a conversation with a student friend, which reveals the depth of biblical illiteracy in Kiwiland:

" "Andrew" is from a completely unchurched background. He started coming along to Christian Union's lunchtime Bible talks early in 2014. He was fascinated by what he heard, but still had mnay questions, so we started to meet up semi-regularly during the year to get to know each other and discuss what he was hearing from the Bible. Near the end of the year we met up ... We chatted about plans for the summer. When I casually mentioned that I really look forward to Christmas as a celebration of Jesus' birth, he gave me a puzzled look. "What do you mean?" he asked. "Christmas - Jesus' birthday," I repeated, being a bit slow to grasp what he hadn't understood. He blurted out with genuine surprise, "Wait - Christmas is Jesus' birthday?!" [Canvas, TSCF Quarterly Magazine, Issue 77, Autumn 2016]

Geoff goes on to write that he meets students who have never even heard of Jesus.

Another aspect of the conversations I have been in goes like this (according to a respected colleague, about my age and ordained slightly longer than me): we have moved on from a period when we focused on "church growth". That turned out to be more about attracting Christians from other churches to our church than about evangelism. Now there are fewer Christians looking for a better church than the one they are in. For the church to grow, even to maintain current numbers of worshippers, it has to connect with the community around it in a different way than the methodology of church growth. It is tough. And we are not sure how to make the connections.

So, what are your thoughts? In a Western world either ignorant of Jesus or immune to belief in God because convinced there is no God, what does it mean to preach the gospel? What is the gospel for such a world?

Finally, and likely I will take up this question in a post or three in the next month or so, is the church generally in these islands, let alone ACANZP in particular grasping the challenge we face?

We could die, and it could be in less than 50 years.

We are in Acts 17. The toughest part of the otherwise triumphant story of the expansion of the Jesus' movement from Jerusalem to Rome. Athens didn't want to know about the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Neither, it seems, does Aotearoa.


Andrei said...

John 14:6

6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

There is no absolute Truth - everything in the human world comes down to the axioms upon which we base our world view

Thus for a Christian,Muslim or a Jew it is axiomatic that there is a God,

And for an Atheist it is axiomatic that there isn't

Either way there is no way of determining which axiom reflects the Truth!

It is a matter of Faith

Most people don't think that deeply though and are indifferent to the question

Why do people go to Church? In many cases it is cultural

I recall many years ago Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh talking of how he came to the Church - He attended Church because "that's what Russians do" (he was a scion of Russian emigre family in Paris at the time) when he had an encounter with God that led him to monasticism and the priesthood

Once upon a time in the West people went to Church because that is what their group did. It was cultural

Now it is uncool and so they don't and the cultural elite make fun of the Church or worse in their films, books and songs.

The way the Christian Faith is often portrayed in movies and TV today is very reminiscent of the way the Soviet Union attacked religion in days of yore - a curious thing.

But all of this is predicted in the Bible and it is contingent upon us as people of Faith to hold true until the Lord returns

Appeasement to the cultural fads of the age just leads to empty pews and irrelevance - holding fast will bring some into the fold and maybe if the Lord wills it a great revival of the True Faith

Father Ron Smith said...

In a simple answer to you question, Peter; "How can we grow the Church?"

I suggest one way would be to try to understand the modern world as it really is - not as the model some of us have come to expect it ought to be - according to the Biblical model.

The was a seismic shift to the world of religion at the time of Jesus. Even Saint Paul has to renounce his total understanding of Religion as Law - and resort to the grace that came into the world with the UIncarnation, Life, Saving Death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If Jesus really did say: "They will know you're my disciples by your love", then we need to take up that paradigm - rather than facing the world with a judgement that not even Christ may have exercised in his lifetime. The prospect of Hell will not attract one single person into the body of Christ. However, the prospect of Eternal Life in the presence of a loving caring God could make all the difference. 'Gospel' means 'Good News - not bad!

Bryden Black said...

Given our cultural worldview is basically (i.e. axiomatically) immanentist, and so totally lacking in any sense of the transcendent, what is most needed is an encounter with the transcendent - something/Someone Who explodes the dominant paradigm. In other words, if there is little in our church going culture and practice that enables God to truly arrive and come among His People, then we deserve to be on a hiding to nowhere ...

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei, Ron and Bryden
- we need to be faithful and keep the faith
- we need to point people to the love of God, preferably by demonstrative love on our part
- we need restoration of the transcendent.
The last named is partly God's business (cf instances in history of revival and renewal because of encounter with the Holy Spirit which is neither contrived nor controlled by human hand) and partly our business insofar as we prepare and conduct services of worship. Sometimes, often times I wonder whether I am in a service of worship in which we are open to meeting the living God or in a meeting of Christians in which a variety of good things are happening but what may not be happening is drawing closer to the heart of God.

Bryden Black said...

Here I was muttering abt the transcendent and this comes across my path:


Bryden Black said...

"Sometimes, often times I wonder whether I am in a service of worship in which we are open to meeting the living God or in a meeting of Christians in which a variety of good things are happening but what may not be happening is drawing closer to the heart of God."

Indeed ...

Rosemary Behan said...

What was the book called? Your God is too small .. or something like that.

Of you all, Bryden comes the closest talking about the ‘transcendant.’ But really I feel you all sort of leave God out of it, or don’t trust His Word .. which never comes back empty remember? Or in the case of Andrei, don’t make enough of the fact that faith itself comes from God. [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Ron you must be VERY careful about the language you use. I remember myself before I became a Christian, being very cross that there was any sort of ‘carrot.’ I saw the heaven versus hell scenario as a carrot to make people believe. It is of course nothing of the sort. A parent who loves His children .. desperately loves them .. but isn’t strong enough to chastise or discipline those children, who doesn’t give them any rules or guidelines, is no parent at all. So the carrot disappeared, but the rules, the guidelines, the Bible remained.

An earnest plea to you all. Please trust completely in God’s Word. Investigate it all you like, but from a positive viewpoint .. I’m sick of hearing the negative BUT. Faith comes from hearing His Word, it always has and it always will .. to talk about THAT. Trust THAT.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary
I wouldn't want to put a "but" after "preach the Word" (though I am likely guilty of having done so), because God's Word is powerful, and we are short of good preaching of that Word in the Western world.

But there is a "but", as far as I can tell, as Christians reflect on life today, and that "but" concerns not the power of God's Word but the difficulty of that Word reaching people made very immune to hearing that Word. (Which, as I read it, is an important reflection in Geoff Robson's article).

You are right about that great book title, Your God is Too Small, because it is easy in this difficult "Athens" climate to forget that God is not daunted by the challenge we face.

Bryden Black said...

Indeed Rosemary; our 'God' is often too small (btw; JB Phillips was the author).

As for God himself not being daunted: those first two 'chapters' of that primordial worship resource down through the ages, the Book of Psalms, spell it out most clearly ... And thereafter, little wonder Ps 2 gets cited in that similarly primordial eruption of the Transcendent Holy One (Mark's Greek is especially strong - heaven gets "ripped open") into our world at Jesus' baptism by John.

And ours ...?!

Sarah @ In Pleasant Places said...

To me, it must be preaching the Gospel over and over and over. My observance of many churches is that, when the Gospel isn't faithfully preached {as opposed to "fluffy" talk}, that particular church either doesn't grow or has a high turn over {particularly among young people}.

I know this won't be popular to hear but, in truth, Wally and Rosemary are a really faithful example of consistent biblical preaching. St John's grew from less than a dozen to over 500 in their nineteen years of ministry there, with a church plant, a campus ministry, a preaching school, active and consistent youth/young adult growth, as well as off-shoot opportunities {ie. YLC/Equip}. If that isn't evidence of quiet faithfulness to the preaching of God's Word, I don't know what is.

Or, outside of Anglicanism, La Vida is also a good example. I don't agree with everything that happens there, but, they genuinely love the Lord and when I have been there, the Gospel is preached over and over {if different to the way I am used to}.

Even at St Stephens, we have seen much growth and development since Jay coming in 2006. I don't know exact numbers, but I would say we're topping 200.

This isn't to be proud; it's to show that people - when truly earnest - deeply want and hunger for Truth. Real Truth, that points to the Bible for answers, that doesn't beat around the bush that they're sinners, and points clearly - Sunday in, Sunday out - that Jesus is the only one who can save us from ourselves.

Just my two cents ;)

Rosemary Behan said...

You say .. “We are short of good preaching of that Word in the Western world.” That is said as if it’s not our fault. As if we haven’t been given the option of not only choosing but supporting good preachers. That is simply not so .. we are guilty, guilty, guilty.

That is the most important point, it’s not up to some nebulous ‘others’ .. it’s up to US. Stop going where the Word is not preached. Start supporting those who DO preach God’s Word. It’s going to cost, but until we do, can we expect God’s blessing?

I’m also concerned about your but .. you say, “There is a "but", as far as I can tell, as Christians reflect on life today, and that "but" concerns not the power of God's Word but the difficulty of that Word reaching people made very immune to hearing that Word. (Which, as I read it, is an important reflection in Geoff Robson's article).” I have spent the last four years in a small rural town in this Diocese. The children there are not inoculated or immune to God’s Word, they haven’t heard of it at all. In this I understand what Geoff is saying in his article. It’s all new to them because they know NOTHING about God or worse still, His Word. So again, what we need is those with confidence in God’s Word. Huge confidence. Not visiting a blog where the Word of God is doubted. Questioned, is that REALLY what God’s Word says, is that REALLY what He meant? God has chosen people to teach and preach His Word .. the question is, are we doing it?

I'm not pointing the finger at you personally Peter, I believe we are ALL guilty .. and having just read it, thank you Sarah for such kind words about my husband and son.

BrianR said...

The Catholic school system was central in the past to the way RCs propagated their faith among the young. Expensive and intensive but generally much deeper and more formative than anything most Protestants offered.
Protestants relied historically upon voluntary youth work and organisations. Bible classes among teenagers had quite large attendance a generation or two back.
But you are competing against a visual-led entertainment culture of 24 hour TV, movies and now the world of the internet and games. Not to mention Sunday sport and shopping. The shift in the past 30 years has been dramatic - and is increasingly global. So too is the enormous sexualisation of culture and the widespread acceptance of so-called 'soft drugs'.
But I don't think the west has lost all sense of the transcendent. The explosion of interest in fantasy films involving magic and super powers (LOTR, Star Wars) witnesses to this interest and even longing.
When state persecution of Christianity becomes official in the west (probably for 'hate speech' against the minority du jour), we will see who is really 'on the Lord's side'.

Jean said...

What comes to my mind is prayer and witness.

Seeking and desiring in prayer to know God more through his Holy Spirit. Earnest and genuine prayer, for our enemies, for those we know to know him, for those we know to be healed, for workers for the harvest....

You shall be my witnesses.... It took me a while to realise i was a witness. A witness to what Jesus has done in my life and to the knowledge and experiene I have had of him. My first courageous attlempt amounted to being brave enough to tell the people I worked with that I had been to church when they asked what I did in the weekend! However, all new things are difficult. I have grown in if not confidence in a willingness to risk taking opportunites as they arise to tell of these things.

That people know little about Christianity is nothing new to me, it is the context I grew up in. I have, however, recently been pondering the impact of having no foundation to guide and build the principles and actions of ones life upon. Knowing Jesus the cornerstone of this foundation I believe could be for those for whom a sense of insecurity, conditional love, and fluid boundaries has long been the norm, good news indeed.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary, Brian, Jean
Good points - you have got me thinking! (And I am in the midst of a preaching course at this time).

Brendan McNeill said...

To put our evangelism challenge into perspective, I was recently made aware of PewDiePie. I doubt many of you will have heard of him, particularly if you are over 30 years of age.

I certainly hadn’t.

PewDiePie has 44 Million youtube followers on his channel and can generate a daily audience of 5 Million views. Selah

To put that into perspective, if you took the top 10 denominations in the USA you might, just might reach 44 Million members with the Southern Baptists and the Mormans (assuming you include them) each with around 14 Million members being by far the largest. As Anglicans we know it is one thing to have a ‘member’ on your database, quite another to have a disciple of Jesus Christ.

What’s PewDiePie’s attraction? A rolling feast of banality, vulgarity, bro talk and mindless humour.

The top 10 most popular youtube channels are completely devoid of any Christian witness except perhaps the occasional holiday greeting, and this is where for the most part our social media generation between 16 and 30 hangs out, oh and also consuming content that is considerably worse.

I’m not sure therefore if there is much we can do on a Sunday morning that is going to arrest this generation. What we are reaping in the church today is multiple generations who have failed to pass their faith onto the next generation, and who have relied upon the surrounding cultural mores of their day to do the job for them.

It didn’t and it won’t.

What’s needed is a more radical paradigm than ‘business as usual. It is a paradigm that accepts, short of Devine intervention, that we are rapidly heading into a new dark age where marginalization and persecution of Christians in the West will come in the name of justice and equality. Yes, such a culture will provide opportunities for a radical proclamation of the gospel, and to good effect, but also at a high personal cost, particularly in the areas of employment and cultural engagement.

Of course I could be completely wrong about our religious and cultural trajectory, and it may take another generation to fully play out, but frankly, I doubt it.

When it comes to Christianity in the West and New Zealand in particular, it’s time to ‘strengthen the things that remain’ (to quote Bob Dylan) to invest in our families and faith communities, to be faithful to God in the marketplace and the public square, and to prepare our people for living in a culture that is no longer generally sympathetic to the good news of the Gospel, if it ever truly has been.

Of course just how we do that is an open question.

@SecularNZ said...

Hi all

my impression is that most nonbelievers do not have a high certainty that there are no gods. We want to believe true things but find the religious claims we've encountered to have insufficient evidence to warrant belief. For me, I think only Scientology and Mormonism could sustain an accusation of being founded on (active) lies. Even then it is opaque as to what extent their founders believed their own proclamations.


Father Ron Smith said...

Preaching the Gospel alone is NOT ENOUGH'. One needs to follow up that word with ACTIONS that are consonant with the tenor of the Gospel, whuich is Good News to all people, not just the pure and holy ones.

Sarah @ In Pleasant Places said...


It's a given that sharing the Gospel goes hand and hand with love in action. And I mean it's a given when Christians really love the Lord and His ways. There are definitely churches that only do one or the other. It's a challenge to defy our nature that loves pendulum swinging and grab both exercises of the Gospel - truth and love - and live it out in our spheres of influence. And though it is a challenge, it is still a given: if we love Him, we obey Him and He asks us to do both.

Father Ron Smith said...

Sarah,. you're preaching to the converted - for the last 86 years! An ex-Franciscan Friar and still an active priest, to boot. I do have some idea how it all works. What's your record? T'would be interesting to compare journeys.

Sarah @ In Pleasant Places said...


I was just replying to your own as I thought you may have misunderstood my own comment regarding preaching the Gospel. I am glad we are on the same page :)

As for me, the best verse that could sum up my journey so far {especially in my current work of mothering}:

'Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, "Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me."' Mark 9:36-37

There is nothing exciting about my life, but it is eternal work, raising little ones {even if it doesn't seem like it sometimes!!!}.