“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?
The Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast is an annual event where leaders from across Tasmania gather to pray for our State and listen to a guest speaker. Each year I have the opportunity to provide a short introduction. Here is what I said in 2016 titled, “Biting the historical hand that fed us.”
Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast | August 18, 2016
As we begin our breakfast, let me take a moment to reflect on some of the reasons we are here at a Prayer Breakfast.
It is 50 years since Time magazine published its first every text-only cover. The heading was a three-word question — “Is God Dead?” The article asked whether religion was relevant in a modern, post-atomic world.
Today, many Australians might answer, “God who?” and while they may or may not be sure whether God is dead or alive, one thing is certain, he or she has no place in Australian society. read more
Writing in The Mercury’s TasWeekend recently (Nov 14), columnist Charles Wooley commented, “That’s the principle of the separation of church and state. To be less highfalutin, I think that just as we try to keep politics out of sport, our politicians should try to keep religion out of politics. It’s annoying to the large numbers who don’t share their particular faith and, besides, it only makes politicians look stupid.”
Wooley’s view no doubt reflects what many Tasmanians think, although how many it is hard to say. It is hardly an original suggestion and rather clichéd, yet in today’s society, it is somewhat naïve.
Despite what some might believe, the Australian constitution does not preclude religion in politics. What it does stipulate is that “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion” and “The Commonwealth shall not make any law … for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion”. The aim is to ensure no one denomination or religion becomes the official national church, and no person, no matter what their religious belief, will be barred from participating because of their religion. This is freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.
The argument that religion has no place in politics stands on a fallacy and an assumption secularism is somehow “value neutral”, while religion remains “value charged”. Read More >>>
Slowly, subtly, and almost unnoticed it happens to the best of churches. It is detectable in churches in the Bible; it is found in churches across Australia.
Quietly we drift away from our core calling. Rather than focusing outwardly into the world of the lost, the lonely and the broken, we gaze inwardly at each other. Rather than caring and praying for those who don’t know Jesus, we spend our time and money caring for ourselves. Church members and church buildings become our focus. Jesus called his disciples to go and make disciples. We are all called to be missionaries. Wherever we live or work or go to school that is the focus of our mission. For those of us who live in Australia, that means being a missionary right here.
Here in Tasmania, and within the denomination of which I am a part, regaining a healthy mission focus in our churches is the heart of Tasmanian Baptists’ desire to be a “mission shaped movement”.
It’s not as easy as it might sound. Once a church has become inwardly focused, there is a tendency to cling to the traditional ways of doing things and change becomes difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible. Quite often the process of refocusing a church outwardly, and bringing mission to its heart, is a very painful process. The tension between adopting new strategies for mission and maintaining . . . Read More >>>
Events in Australia over the past couple of weeks give one cause to wonder . . . will Australia remain a safe place for Christians to publicly express our views, especially when they are contrary to what some people want to hear?
American Troy Newman, head of the anti-abortion organisation “Operation Rescue” was due to speak at events run by Right to Life Australia. However, Newman had his visa revoked at the last minute because of fears his visit would “pose a risk to the community”. Some of what Newman has said may be provocative, however, he is on the board of “The Centre for Medical Progress” which recently accused the America organization, “Planned Parenthood”, of selling organs of aborted foetuses in the US.
In addition, Tasmania’s Catholic Archbishop, Julian Porteous, will face the anti-discrimination commission for distributing a booklet to the parents of children in Catholic schools. The booklet asserted marriage should be between one man and one woman – a position of marriage which was, until a few years ago, was the policy of all our major political parties. When the Labor/Greens government introduced new anti-discrimination legislation in 2012, it specifically said they would not inhibit discussion about same-sex marriage. Yet it is being used here to attempt to do just that. Read More >>>
Last week Karl Faase, Australian Christian communicator, media presenter, and social commentator, was in Hobart speaking at Family Voice events. The former senior pastor of Gymea Baptist, is well informed about the challenges faced by the church in Australia today.
Faase suggested that the average Christian attending church regularly on a Sunday has lost confidence in what they believe. The sad result is an unwillingness, even an inability, to engage in conversations about Christianity during the week.
However, he encouraged Christians not to be silenced by the media’s caricature of the irrelevancy of Christianity, its heralding of the Church’s demise and its increasing hostility both. Rather, he said, it is time to regain hope in the gospel and boldness in our proclamation. “We need to move from fearful silence to positive engagement.”
Citing research by Olive Tree Media (his company) and McCrindle Research, Faase explained how Australians show significant “warmth” to Christianity contrary to what is commonly assumed. When asked, “What best describes your current beliefs and attitude towards Christianity?” 25%, who don’t consider themselves as Christians, are warm towards Christianity. This is on top of the 33% who described themselves as Christian (whether they are or not is another matter). What this shows is that nearly 60% of Australians have an open stance towards Christianity and are willing to talk about it. Read more >>>
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.
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? Read More >>>
Today in Australia, across large sections of the media and most State run education institutions, the Church comes into its fair share of criticism, some of it quite dismissive, but often hostile and some abusive. However this is nothing new. Things haven’t changed much since the First Fleet landed at Sydney Cove. Here, at Australia’s beginning, the church was represented by military chaplains such as Johnson and Marsden. Sadly they were estranged from convicts, who saw them as moral policemen; and shunned by the authorities as nuisances. From the beginning the church didn’t sit comfortably in the new colony.
In stark contrast, early America’s Christian leaders had a different position on the side of, not against, the general population. In Australia, rather than seeing the convicts as those who needed help, they were more often than not viewed as sinners who needed punishment.
When the authorities appointed the chaplains to act as Civil Magistrates, the already strained relationships were exacerbated. The association of chaplains with the imposition of authority, punishment and discipline became entrenched such that any compassion or care shown by the chaplains was lost in translation. Read On >>>
In a series of messages on revival the great Welsh preacher-teacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones turned to the end of Mark 9.
Here Jesus comes off the mountain to find the disciples unsuccessfully trying to free a boy from a demon. After a quick rebuke, Jesus heals the boy and the disciples ask why they couldn’t do it. Jesus explains how this kind is only expelled by prayer. Lloyd-Jones suggested Jesus used this incident to teach his disciples a lesson: the ordinary, business-as-usual way of doing things, no longer worked. Different times calls for different measures.
Using the story as an allegory, Lloyd-Jones suggested the boy represents contemporary Western culture; the demon is its underlying assumptions, and the disciples are the church. His conclusion was that our past methods of evangelism, while perfectly good for their time, no longer worked in today’s world. The world had changed. The old methods no longer applied. We are dealing with a different, difficult ‘spirit’.
Although the Lloyd-Jones’ message was given in 1959, it is still relevant today. Read More >>>
Malcolm Muggeridge once asked, how do you boil a frog? His answer was not to drop it into a pot of hot water, as it will immediately jump out. Rather, you place it in a pot of cool water and gradually raise the temperature. Then the frog will remain in the increasingly hot water and die without even noticing.
Some suggest this is a good illustration of the church across the Western world. The world we live in has gradually changed and we have been caught unaware, and now, the situation is quite perilous.
Across the media the church is often portrayed as irrelevant in contemporary Australian society. Christian views are seen as relics of a bygone era, out of step with the community and even downright dangerous to the future. That the majority of Australians still tick the Christian box in our Census is but a historical memory. The process of change, in areas such as science, technology, bureaucracy and the media, has pushed Christian ideas and ideals to the margins. Less than 10% of the population are ‘regular’ church goers (where regular means at least once a month), which leaves the vast majority of the 60% who nominate Christianity as their religion amongst those who regard the church as irrelevant.
In response it is not surprising to find that the Church is often tempted to respond by striving all the harder to be relevant. We see it throughout the churches, in our worship, in our literature and in our architecture. Read On >>>