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Bearings

Introduction to the Book

Introduction to the Contributors

Introduction to the Book

Many of us have encountered and been changed by the Gospel of Jesus.  We believe that through us, in the midst of the cataclysmic dilemmas of the Twenty First Century, the world can encounter and be changed by the Gospel of Jesus.  We seek to find and follow Christ’s direction in the work of spiritual, social, economic, political and environmental transformation.  We look to Jesus for our bearings.

But there are problems.  Sometimes, when we move from a personal and private faith to the public arena, and look to the Bible for guidance in understanding and responding to the issues demanding our attention, we are often too incapacitated by the momentum of a culturally masculine, middle class, white, western heritage to see what God may be telling us at this time in history through Scriptures.  Other times our God complex – our absolute certainty that we know how Jesus wants us to respond to situations of need – can rush us to simplistic solutions and damaging courses of action.

The title of this collection is Bearings: Getting our bearings again in light of the Gospel.  Bearings, as we know, is a navigational term.  A sailor will want to know the direction of an object relative to his vessel, to reach that object or perhaps to avoid it.  Wrong bearings, and a sailor could crash into rocks or miss her destination.  In common usage bearings can take on a metaphorical dimension, referring to our position in reference to other ways of being and believing outside ourselves.  How we position ourselves in relation to ‘the other’.  Sailors got their bearings in various ways throughout history, for example, nautical almanacs, radio waves, or satellites.  This essay collection looks to Jesus, and the Scriptures he held as sacred, to find our bearings.  But how do we engage with our sacred Scriptures to find our bearings?

The writers of these collected essays give us a way forward.  

First, we must engage with the world that God so loves (John 3:16), and read the Bible in light of that engagement.  A joke lampooning economists is currently doing the rounds: “Ah, it may work in practice, but does it work in theory?”  So often our gut theories about the poor, the disdained, the disempowered, are theories formed without authentic engagement with those in the world who are poor, disdained or disempowered.  We need to start with practice and seek theological insight that works in practice, rather than God-theories that fall apart on the ground.  Practising the Kingdom of God is the initial step in getting our bearings and can start to undo our unhelpful stereotypes, simplistic theologies and pat answers.

Many of the writers have done this.  They have put their hand to the wheel, whether it is working with the poor and people living with HIV, practising evangelism in politically and culturally sensitive contexts, or involvement in grassroots sustainability initiatives.  They read the Bible as practitioners rather than onlookers, seeking an orientation true to the God and Christ of mercy, grace, compassion and justice.

For example, Mark Delaney makes sense of the procession of claims about who is a Christian that have influenced his faith journey in Navigating the Meanings of Being a ‘Christian’.  A momentary but life changing encounter with a poor man in India led Mark to re-examine everything he understood about the Gospel, and shines a light on the often contradictory beliefs found across the church community about who should bear the name ‘Christian’.  

In Evangelism in a Pluralist Society Ross Farley applies his experience of evangelism in sensitive contexts to a careful review of evangelism in the New Testament.  He finds that much of what we call evangelism bears little relationship to the Gospel and Acts of the Apostles and offers a workable reorientation to evangelism consistent with the approach of Jesus and the Apostles.

On the subject of HIV epidemics, Greg Manning and Dave Andrews have joined the struggle to reduce HIV infection rates and witnessed the stigmatisation of vulnerable people that comes from invoking superficial pronouncements based on poorly applied Christian moral teaching.  In Supporting HIV Prevention as People of Faith, they consider the Sermon on the Mount as a valuable source of instruction in dealing compassionately and effectively with people vulnerable to HIV infection.

Second we can deliberately read the Bible from other perspectives.  To look at the Good News with fresh eyes, we need help to overcome our inherited prejudices.  We can be helped by Bible scholars and theologians, sometimes outside of our evangelical tradition, to loosen the straitjacket of tradition, culture and ideological influences that may limit and distort what the Bible has to say to us.

In Liberation Theologians Speak to Evangelicals, Charles Ringma shows how Liberation Theologians, often viewed suspiciously by conservative and evangelical Christians, can shed light on the inadequacies of the evangelical movement in its understanding of God’s love for the poor.  He shows through the lens of Liberation Theology that God’s love for the poor is at the heart of mission, and as such should impact all our spiritual disciplines, underpin church experimentation and animate all Christians (rather than being left to ‘heroes’ of the faith).

Antidote for a Poisoned Planet by Helen Beazley draws on criticism from theologians who may only hold to the authority of the Scriptures lightly, but whose judgements allow us to re-examine whether the stewardship model fully captures the Biblical richness of the tripartite cosmos (God-Creation-Human), whether it can successfully jostle for attention against evangelical other-worldly and anti-world spirituality, and whether stewardship thinking can really radically re-orient Christians in their relationship and obligations to Creation.

Third we can get our bearings by reading the Bible transformationally.  We can expect that Scriptures will throw up challenges to our current orientation and to constantly dare us to be re-converted, re-oriented, and re-directed.  When we read the Scriptures expecting to be transformed, we find the Scriptures full of surprises and plot twists.

Dave Andrews provides such a plot twist with An Evangelical Approach to Interfaith Engagement.  We have memorised the verse “Jesus is the Way,” made it an article of our faith, and allowed it to be the expression of Christianity’s exclusive access to God.  But Dave Andrews takes that article of faith and makes it a framework for inclusive interfaith dialogue by exploring the ‘Way’ that Jesus in the Gospels advocated engaging with people from other traditions and religions.  Dave then takes that framework and uses it as his framework for relating to people from other traditions and religions, giving us tips on how ‘Christians’ can work with ‘non-Christians,’ suggestions for faithful multi-faith meditations and conversations, and what he calls a ‘Christ-like’ way we can share our faith with people of other faiths.

In Australia – Whose Land? Peter Adam allows himself to be utterly transformed by the Bible’s clear ethical teaching which, he convincingly argues, must be applied in all its fullness to the sinfulness of Europeans towards Indigenous Australians.  He discusses the unbiblical nature of European land theft, the Biblical legitimacy of Aboriginal land claims, the history of injustice against Indigenous Australians, and appropriate Christian responses.

Introduction to the Contributors

Peter Adam contributed Australia – Whose Land?  Peter is the Principal of Ridley Melbourne, where he leads the College, lectures in theology, mentors students, and preaches in Chapel.  Ridley College celebrates its Centenary this year (see www.ridley.edu.au).  Peter trained for the ministry at Ridley, and was ordained in Melbourne.  He studied in England and lectured at St John’s College, Durham. He was minister of St Jude’s Carlton in Melbourne for 20 years, working with university students, people in the High Rise Estates, and inner-city families. He also ran The Timothy Institute, training preachers.

Peter has written four books: The Majestic Son: A Commentary on Hebrews; Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching; Hearing God’s Words: Exploring, Biblical Spirituality; and Written for us: Receiving God’s words in the Bible.  He edited the history of Ridley, Proclaiming Christ: Ridley College Melbourne 1910-2010.  He has also written several booklets on spirituality and church history.

Peter has spoken at conventions and conferences for preachers in England, Scotland, New Zealand, Pakistan, and India.  He enjoys reading history and fiction, playing the piano, and being walked by his dog Bella.

Dave Andrews has co-contributed Supporting HIV Prevention as People of Faith and contributed An Evangelical Approach to Interfaith Engagement.  Dave and his wife Ange, and their family, have lived and worked in intentional communities with marginalised groups of people in Australia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India for 35 years.  Dave is interested in radical spirituality, incarnational community and the dynamics of personal and social transformation.  Dave works as an educator at large for TEAR Australia.

He is author of many books and articles, including Christi-Anarchy, Not Religion But Love, Building A Better World, Living Community, Compassionate Community Work and Plan Be.  Dave and Ange and their friends started Aashiana, Sahara, and Sharan – three very well-known Christian community organisations working with slum dwellers, sex workers, drug addicts, and people with HIV/AIDS in India.  They are currently a part of the Waiters Union, an inner-city Brisbane Christian community network walking and working alongside Indigenous people, refugees and people with disabilities.

Helen Beazley contributed Antidote for a Poisoned Planet?  Helen is part of the Waiters Union network in inner city Brisbane, made up of people from various walks of life, living in friendship and solidarity with people on the margins.  She is a committed supporter of TEAR Australia, a faith based development organisation and sits on the TEAR Australia Board.  Helen is also engaged in faith-based and community-based sustainability experiments.  Helen shares her life with her husband, two daughters, and two pekin hens.  

Mark Delaney contributed Navigating the Meanings of Being a ‘Christian’.  Mark grew up in Lismore on the New South Wales North Coast.  He and Cathy studied at The University of Queensland in the 1980s.  They married in 1993 and have lived in Delhi since 1995, returning to Brisbane for breaks every couple of years.

Mark's official role is working with Emmanuel Hospital Association, a large north Indian Christian medical NGO.  Unofficially, their focus is on living in a poor Muslim neighbourhood in Delhi where they attempt to ‘bring a little more of the Kingdom of God,’ partly through a small advocacy project there, but also simply through relationships with friends and neighbours.

Ross Farley has contributed Evangelism in a Pluralist Society.  His career in full time Christian ministry has included six years with Brisbane Youth for Christ in high school youth ministry, eight years as a youth pastor for a local church, and ten years with the Scripture Union of Queensland where he was responsible for coordinating training ministries and missions.  Ross was also the part time chaplain for a private school.

Currently Ross is the Queensland State Coordinator for TEAR Australia.  TEAR is a Christian aid and development organisation and Ross’ role includes education, Bible teaching and writing resources.  He is also a visiting lecturer for Christian Heritage College.  Ross is author of Strategy for Youth Leaders, Following Jesus and Leading People and Strategy for Youth Leaders for the 21'st Century.  He is co-author of Incite, Making a World of Difference.  Ross is a graduate of the Bible College of Queensland.  His post-graduate degrees include a Graduate Diploma in Religious Education and a Master of Arts majoring in leadership studies.

Greg Manning has co-contributedSupporting HIV Prevention as People of Faith.Greg Manning is a bus driver, working with the Brisbane City Council.  Greg and Katie and their children lived in India for 11 years between 1993 and 2007.

Greg’s experience with HIV and AIDS grew with his relationships with the men in his Indian neighbourhood, who began injecting pharmaceuticals they bought in local chemists to manage the rising cost of heroin.  He supported the formalisation of HIV prevention and care into programs and government policy while working with an Indian non-Government organisation called Sharan.  

During his last two years in India, Greg was involved with networks of people living with HIV in the South Asia region, who were struggling to make medical treatment accessible to larger populations.  He also worked with populations of drug users and their service providers in India's North Eastern states to provide better access to HIV prevention services.

Charles Ringma has contributed Liberation Theologians Speak to Evangelicals.  Charles is an urban and cross-cultural missional worker and theologian.  He is Research Professor at Asian Theological Seminary in Manila, Emeritus Professor of Mission Studies at Regent College, Vancouver, and honourary PhD supervisor at The University of Queensland, Brisbane.  Among his many books are reflections on Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Henri Nouwen, Mother Teresa and Jaques Ellul.

Note: The contributors to this anthology are united in their passion to understand and apply the Scriptures with integrity.  But they are not ‘guilty by association’.  In other words each author should not be assumed to endorse the theology promoted, or positions arrived at, by the other authors.  (Nor are the views of any author necessarily shared by people involved in Waiters, Community Initiatives Resource Association or the Vision for Mission Team).  That is the wonderful gift of protestantism – the freedom for each of us to study the Scriptures and to voice our convictions in the context of a respectful community of grace, and then to be tested against Scriptures by others in our community.

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