Changing Plausibility Structures

“Plausibility structures” is the term employed by American sociologist, Peter Berger. It describes the preconceived personal and cultural assumptions we all hold and inform us what can and can’t be believed.

Plausibility Structures help explain how some people persist in believing things that aren’t true and other disbelieve what is true. No matter what the evidence, if it doesn’t conform to their preconceived expectations of plausibility, they will not accept it.

For example, there is just as much historical evidence suggesting Jesus existed than there is that Tiberius Caesar conquered the Gauls (perhaps more). But which is more plausible in Australia today?

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Life’s Journey with the No Name God

The No Name God

Growing up in Australia, “god” was a word I heard often. At school it was commonly an expletive, at home it was never anything but revered. I’ve lived with God all my life and now into my seventh decade, God still comes easy to me. I can’t say the same for being a Christian though. That’s been tough. Most of my life I’ve been embarrassed to be a Christian, even though today I’m a pastor of a Baptist church.

I’ve always been tall and skinny. For most of my life I’ve worn clothes that haven’t fitted well. It the same with the word “Christian”. Christians come in all manner of shapes and sizes and so do people’s opinion of them. When I tell someone I’m a Christian I can almost feel the shape of their preconceptions redressing me. Suddenly, I’m no longer the person they first met, but an airbrushed caricature made in their image. 

I want to scream, continue reading The No Name God>>>

Leaving the 19th . . . and into the 21st Century

It was many decades after the founding of Hobart that the Hobart Baptist Church building, or Tabernacle as it has often been known, was completed. That was early in 1889 after nearly a decade of feverish activity. When pioneer pastor, Irish born Rev. Robert McCullough arrived in 1883 after a stint in Longford, the church began meeting in the Exhibition Building, where City Hall now stands in Macquarie Street.

HBC Building
“On 5 October 1887 a foundation stone for the new neo-classical building was laid. The final cost was about $4,500,000 in today’s money”

After being thrown out of the Exhibition Building in 1884, the church erected a temporary structure of rough timber, ragged tarpaulins and corrugated iron on the spot where our “Tabernacle” stands. Work on a second building, our current hall, began in 1884 behind the temporary structure. Then on 5 October 1887 a foundation stone for the new neo-classical building was laid. The final cost was about $4,500,000 in today’s money.
Situated on the fringe of Hobart’s CBD, the stately “Tabernacle” modelled on a similar building in Stockport, England, has stood the test of time. It has lived through highs and lows and times when the congregation filled it to capacity. Today the ministry and mission of Hobart Baptist Church continues thanks to the courage, foresight, and perseverance of those early pioneers and those who have served over the years.
The building still possesses a certain grandeur and stands proud despite the challenges faced by the church across Australia and in Hobart. Each day many walk or drive past the building without realising it is the hub of a vibrant, diverse church community of over 250 people. It’s hard to imagine that from the outside. The building is in need of an upgrade to enable the church to meet the ministry and mission needs of today’s world.
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Christians: The new non-believers

At the Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast last week I had the opportunity to provide a short introduction to this annual event. I thought you might like to read a transcript of my speech as many attendees were very encouraged by what I said:
As we gather in the name and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth, we do so in the midst of great cultural turmoil. Within our community are forces at work endeavouring to overturn century-old norms and practices around key moments in life – at birth, marriage, and death. I speak, of course, about abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

Outback Cross
“Despite the place Christianity has played in Australia’s history . . . to call oneself a Christian in Australia today invites responses of curiosity, condescension and cool dismissal.”

In that maelstrom of competing voices and visions of the future, many find the very notion of a ‘prayer’ breakfast somewhat strange, antiquated and even dangerous.
Despite the place Christianity has played in Australia’s history, and despite its ongoing contributions, to call oneself a Christian in Australia today invites responses of curiosity, condescension and cool dismissal. Christians are often painted as intolerant, naive, superstitious, and even backward. It is not uncommon to hear Christians put down, not only in casual conversation, but across social and mainstream media.
This caricature, I suggest, is quite false. It falls a long way short of many Christians who join with others to care for millions of Australians in homeless shelters, refuges, aged care facilities, disability services, soup kitchens, detox facilities etc. The contrast between them and the Christianity portrayed is quite striking.
But why? Why such a contrast?
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God’s Hidden Presence

On the morning of his resurrection Jesus walked through the near-empty garden unnoticed.
Well almost
.

The_Garden_Tomb_2008
The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem where some scholars say Jesus was buried. Click the image for more info

Had he not asked Mary Magdalene why she was crying he would have remained hidden. Then even as she answered Jesus’ question she didn’t recognise him. That is until he called her by name, then the recognition came. (John 20:11-18)
There is a mystery about the presence of God. In Matthew’s gospel when he relates the story of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” implying that if one is not pure in heart then God may be hidden from view. Although the Bible makes clear that God is present everywhere and in everything is God’s presence (for instance Psalm 139:7-12), the darkness of our heart distorts our perception.
St Ephrem
St Ephrem

The 4th Century theologian St. Ephrem the Syrian expressed it neatly in the following verse . . .

Lord, your symbols are everywhere,
Yet you are hidden from everywhere.
Though your symbol is on high,
Yet height does not perceive that you are;
Though your symbol is in the depth,
It does not comprehend who you are;
Though your symbol is in the sea,
You are hidden from the sea;
Though your symbol is on dry land,
It is not aware what you are.
Blessed is the Hidden One shining out!

St. Ephrem uses the word “symbol” in its ancient meaning >>>
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Jesus Prayed for Unity

There is great diversity across our churches in background, experience, culture, age and ethnicity

Yesterday at Hobart Baptist we gathered with other baptists from around our city for “Celebration Sunday” to celebrate what God is doing amongst us. Not everyone could be with us, but we were grateful for those who did come, and many went away stirred, challenged and encouraged as we worshipped God together.
There is great diversity across our churches in background, experience, culture, age and ethnicity – but we share One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. I’m sure God is pleased when we express our unity by coming together.
Such a variety of belief and practice, dress and singing, buildings and liturgy among Baptists should not surprise you: God loves diversity. One look at vast arrays of trees, flowers, birds and animals in this wonderful world is enough to recognise the diversity of God’s creative genius.
However, diversity introduces complexity and discomfort.
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One thing in common: Jew, Christian, Atheist

hindu-gods
“My first visit to India opened my eyes to the completely different world of polytheism”

It is never easy to fully appreciate how others see the world. As an Australian Christian who believes in one God, my first visit to India opened my eyes to the completely different world of polytheism (many-gods). What was fanciful and strange to me, was normal to millions of people. Bowing, praying and worshiping to multiple deities was way outside my understanding of what religion was all about.
Just as strange, but in a different sort of way, is the view of some that there is nothing but the natural world—no God, no gods, no higher intelligence—nothing. However, I am yet to find a “pure” atheist, most seem to accept that there may be something.
Did you know that the early Christians were considered atheists by the Romans? It started with the Jews. Read More >>>
 

Boom to Bust: Church Life Cycles

Back in the 1960s, our Hobart Baptist church building was full to capacity and overflowing on a weekly basis. There are a number of people still attending the church who remember it packed every Sunday with around 400 people. An all-aged Sunday School met at Elizabeth College next door because there wasn’t enough room for everyone in the church building.
A lot has happened in the past 50-60 years, both in the community and the church, and those days have long since gone. Yet, there is no reason why it can’t happen again at some time in the not too distant future.

Hobart Baptist Church
Hobart Baptist Church is one of the original ‘tabernacles’ built in Tasmania, Australia with help from Spurgeon’s grandson

Today Hobart Baptist Church is made up over 250 people. Whether people attend the 10am service, the Karen language service, the Church With No Walls ministry or our communities of faith meeting in homes, we are a sizable number. There is no doubt God is at work amongst us and there a signs of growing and healthy church. There are many reasons to be very encouraged.
As with all organisms, the church goes through times of growth . . . Read More >>>

Churches: Does Yours Speak Aussie?

At various times during the past 200 years, the church across Hobart has experienced times of strength and weakness, growth and decline. The past few decades have been a challenging time as the number of Hobartians attending church has significantly declined. The same is true of cities all across Australia.

Aussie Church
The church across Australia has experienced times of strength and weakness, growth and decline

While we all feel the effects of this decline, we are unsure as to why it has happened. Pressures from secularisation, rising individualism, consumerism, the increasing power of the state over the church, and urbanisation are no doubt all contributing factors. However, issues within the church itself are also important causes.
While we can despair at the state of the church locally, internationally there is reason for great celebration and hope. The church grew from small beginnings in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, yet today it has over 2 billion adherents worldwide. It continues to grow significantly in many places across the world even if in Australia, and most parts of the Western world, the opposite is true. A worldwide perspective encourages us to raise our expectations of what God can and is doing.
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Words are important!

God created the world with words (Hebrews 11:3), and because we are made in God’s image, our words are powerful too.

MP900309615[1]
“Words convey more than information”
Words convey more than information, in fact they can create and destroy. Despite the idea behind it, the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is clearly a lie. The truth is that words can hurt, and often do. If you tell a child they are dumb or stupid often enough, it will significantly impact their life.
But words also encourage and build. They are a unique and powerful gift from God. Of all the creatures on this planet, humans are the only ones with the ability to communicate through spoken word.
Through the years raising our children, Jenny and I . . .
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