Across countries, cultures and time, maps have proven to be one of the clearest forms of communication ever developed. They are most efficient and effective when it comes to recording, storing and transferring information, even when complex ideas need to be passed on, with simplicity accuracy and readability. Maps take many forms. We are most familiar with geographic maps that locate mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and so on, in spatial relationship. We use them to locate our current position so we can plan where we want to go, and how to get there. Maps are also used to communicate information in such areas as population, economic, and weather patterns. We also have tools such as mind maps, cognitive maps and conversational maps. They too are aids for navigation whether the terrain is geographic, demographic or psychographic.
It is also helpful to picture history as a map. History is never a re-creation of past events but a tool to understand the past in ways that help us recognise who we are, where we are and where we might be headed. Nearly 20 years ago Martin Robinson, previously director of Mission and Theology at the Bible Society in Britain and now principal at Springdale College, wrote in his book To Win the West, “It is necessary for the church to rethink its stance entirely and to become a missionary church within the West.” Read More >>>
It is relatively only recently that the Australian church has seriously begun to look at what it means to present the gospel to Australians in an Australian way. For many years our approach was decidedly British given our colonial roots. Then after WWII in an era when Australians were infatuated with everything American, our evangelism was heavily influenced by American revivalism and the visits of Billy Graham.
Today we are still influenced by American church leaders, American programs and American materials yet there are signs the tide is turning.
Work over the past decade or so by the likes of Michael Frost (Morling College), Alan Hirsch (Forge), Philip Hughes (Christian Research Association) and more recently books from the likes of Tim Foster (Ridley College), Simon Holt (Collins Street Baptist), and Darren Cronshaw (Baptist Union of Victoria), reflect the growing awareness of the need to develop a more Aussie approach. God has given us a job to do, to find a way to convey the gospel with meaning and sense to everyday Australians. In his open letter to Tasmanian Baptists back in July 2009 Ivan James asked, “why is it that Australian Baptists in foreign mission are intentional, relational, adaptive and creative in their expressions of evangelism – but at home we seem to be ad hoc, constrained by our existing socio-economic circles, and rigid in our expressions of worship and witness?” I’m not sure he was ever given an answer. Read More >>>
Once upon a time, not very long ago, Australian society was very different to what it is now. Then there existed a broad consensus across social, cultural, intellectual, ethical, political and religious spheres under-girded by a Christian world view. Not that everyone believed, in fact the majority didn’t, yet society by and large operated as if it were true. Both formally and officially we lived in a ‘Christian’ country and the church had a central and influential place. Christendom had existed in some shape or form across Europe from the conversion of the Roman Empire. By the time Europeans arrived in Tasmania the signs of its disintegration were already evident and it reached a tipping point midway through the 20th Century. This broad consensus no longer exists, and Australian society no longer considers itself Christian. The church as a result no longer occupies a central position. In fact, most people have little or no knowledge of how it was, and those that do often do so with derision and contempt By contrast many Christians look back with a certain fondness. Read more >>>
Yesterday at Hobart Baptist Church we had our monthly combined worship service. It’s called ‘combined’ because Hobart Baptist is in fact four distinct congregations with people of many different ages and racial backgrounds.
After our service we continued our worship with lunch together, and if you had hung around for lunch you would have noticed that one of the striking features of this church is our diversity. Hobart Baptist Church is a not only a multiracial church but a multicultural one as well. By multiracial I refer to a church with people from different ethnicities and languages but with a single common culture. By multicultural, on the other hand, I refer to a church not only of people from different backgrounds, cultures and languages, but they are encouraged to retain their cultural distinctives, resulting in more than one culture. Read More >>>
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.
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. Read More >>>
A little over a week ago, Tasmanians voted resulting in a change of government. There were no military action, riots or bloodshed just a smooth transition, somewhat abnormal relative to the rest of the world. It is something we can celebrate about our country and be very grateful for.
However, many of us are not content or happy with some of the decisions and actions taken by our governments. In fact, there are things that distress us greatly such as abortion law reform and the treatment of asylum seekers. It is not difficult to become cynical, even bitter and then ultimately become prayerless for our government. Is there another way to respond? Recently I’ve been pondering whether our disappointment and disdain is fuelled, at least in part, by an overly optimistic expectation of the potential and character of governments. Much of the commentary in the media operates with the presumption that governments should somehow solve all the problems of our society. Read More >>>
In Tasmania, we will soon be voting to elect a new State Parliament on March 15. For some, if not many of us, this poses a dilemma. Sadly few on the list of candidates, or the parties they represent, endear themselves to us. We feel no matter how we vote, we will be forced into a compromise. We many even be tempted to cast an invalid vote. But that too creates a dilemma. We are called to pray for our governing authorities and submit to them (1 Timothy 2:1-3, Romans 13:5-6), and if, as Paul writes, we are to give them respect, honour and pay taxes, then voting responsibly is part of our honouring. Moreover, Jesus calls us to be like salt in our community. We are to be those who are called to make a difference in our world by witnessing to a loving God who seeks engagement with people across the world. How are we to vote as responsible salt-like followers of Jesus when our choice is a compromise to our values? Read more >>>
An old Chinese proverb says, “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.” A fish has never lived outside its watery environment, it has no experience or language to describe its natural environment, and so it has no means to convey what it takes for granted. The same can be true for us. Much of what we accept as normal, because we were born into and it experience every day, is beyond our ability to appreciate and describe. It is only as we get older that we might begin to realise our experience of life is unique and special in certain ways and is not the experience of everyone. We take so much for granted. Compared to the rest of the world, living in Hobart is very comfortable. We are amongst the richest people in the world with access to some of the cleanest water and air on the plant. We are surrounded by magnificent beauty and most of us do not need to worry about shelter or food. At the same time we live in a society that is very secular, consumer-driven, and individualistic. Most people take it for granted and assume it is the only way to exist. However, as Christians there is much we find about our community that is contrary to our values and way of thinking. We are constantly confronted by them and often feel like a fish out of water. Across the centuries in many and various ways, Christians have been at odds with their surrounding culture, which is not surprising as we are called to stand firm against conforming (Rom 12:1-3). For us, it is a constant challenge to preserve our Christian worldview when our values clash with prevailing attitudes of our community, neighbours and families. The pull of the surrounding environment is compelling and often causes us to drift from our values without even realising it is happening. Over the past 50 to 60 years community values have changed so much we are now living our Christian lives in the midst of a hostile environment. We are in the middle of a spiritual battle which competes for our hearts and minds. Our beliefs are constantly challenged, and often rejected. We can easily feel overwhelmed and begin to flounder against strong intimidating forces. Yet we have a job to do. It is not to retreat but stand firm and relearn how we are to live as Christians in our changing world. We have to learn how to be missionaries in our community, our neighbourhoods and our families. This will require God-given insight, wisdom and passion. It will require theological reflection and a good dose of compassionate courage. It will require refreshed minds understanding again what we believe and why we believe it. It will require recharged hearts and strengthened wills. It will require deepening relationships as we walk and work together in being the witnessing community of faith God calls us to be. With God’s help we can do what the fish cannot do – we can grow to understand and describe the environment we live in so we can live differently. Paul the apostle said we are to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” and to “not let the world squeeze you into its mould” (Romans 12:1-3, JB Phillips). May God strengthen us as we allow him to change and equip us to be living witnesses to him in our world today. Stephen L Baxter
Last Thursday a small team from Hobart Baptist flew out of Hobart on a short trip to Thailand. We are visiting areas where our Karen folk (pronounced with emphasis on the 2nd syllable) have come from, and spend time with cross cultural workers Jan and Jit Yawan. The weather is good in Thailand just now. The wet season finished three weeks ago and the temperature hovers around 35 C (95 F) during the day. Yes, quite a bit warmer than Tasmania! There are seven on the team: four of the Karen congregation, including their two leaders, all travelling on new Aussie passports; and three Australian born participants including myself.
Back in June 2011 after a six month process of prayer, discussion and reflection, the church adopted a Strategic Directions paper for the following three years. It included a goal to organise a short term mission trip to areas where our Karen folk are from. It is exciting to see that now, less than two and a half years later, it has become a reality. Read More >>>
Jenny and I had a delightful holiday in New Zealand recently. While we only toured the North Island we certainly enjoyed our encounter with New Zealand and Maori culture. Geographically New Zealand sits on top of the meeting of the Pacific and Indo-Australian continental plates and it is this that accounts for the amazing volcanic and thermal activity across the middle of the island. We thoroughly enjoyed the boiling mud pools, the sulphur pools, and the geysers.
New Zealand has a different beauty to Australia, although the rolling green hills often reminded us of Tasmania. The stunning beauty of the snow-capped mountains wonderfully displayed . . . Read More >>>