Category Archives: Theology

Belief vs Knowledge

This post was first published on my old blog on 26 July 2005

A few years ago, I visited an emerging (more experimental, actually) church for their evening service. One of Christianity’s foremost thinkers and philosophers was there that evening, Dallas Willard. I have been a great fan of his writings, and as a collector of signed books, I took the opportunity to drive across town to get him to sign the books (I don’t often hold out hope that great authors will also be great speakers, so I must be honest that I didn’t expect too much).

Dallas was great. I found some random notes I scribbled down that night, and one of them hit me hard. This is what Dallas had to say:

We spend way too much time sitting in classes (and churches) learning things we don’t need to know. Even worse, we are not required to believe what we learn.

Imagine if our theological colleges had exams which said “write only what you believe”.

So, we learn the right answers to predetermined questions. There is little focus on actual belief. (And therefore there is a definite lack of application and life change). Which is why we forget it all so quickly.

Problem – this is how we approach Christianity. Our focus is not on belief which affects action, rather the focus is on learning the right answers, so that when we meet God we can get the answers right.

A comment was added to the original posting which deserves to be part of this thought:

Marcus Borg explores this idea even further (in his book -The Heart of Christianity-). He suggests that one of the problems of Christianity today is that we worry too much about belief – getting the ideas or -answers- (as you put it) right, and not enough on doing the right things. He compares the idea of believing with the idea of -beloving- -that Christianity is not so much about what you believe (not that you can just believe anything – what we believe is important, but not to -get any answers right-, rather because belief influences character and action), but rather about how we love and continue to grow better at loving Jesus-style, which is a practical, healing and transforming love. I must confess – Borg’s got me buying what he’s selling!

I agree. After all: Education is what remains when what has been taught has been forgotten.

The role of women leaders in the local church

This article was written in April 1996, when I was a theological student. It was a review of the arguments in relation to women leadership in the church. The Baptist Union that I was a part of at that time had a very ambiguous view on the issue, and as a student I was trying to show that an alternative to the traditional “no women leaders” view was possible while still remaining Biblical. Looking at it now, I was obviously constrained by a hefty word count limit, but still think I touched on all the right issues. Maybe one day I’ll get the time to flesh this out…

A theological and Biblical exposition of the role of women and their relationship to men within the church, with special reference to authority and teaching.

1. Introduction
The role of women is an issue of vital importance to us today, not only as this issue is tearing churches apart, but also because of the large number of women actively pursuing ministry opportunities in churches. The doctrine of humanity as espoused in Scripture is the basis of any solution to whether women are allowed to teach and have authority (i.e. lead) in local churches. This issue is intricately bound up with the general issue of women’s submission to men and male authority, especially within marriage.

This assignment will deal only with general human relationships and marriage where it has a direct bearing on the issue of women teaching and leading in the church.

2. Approach of This Assignment
Realising that the traditional conservative position of not allowing women to teach or have authority in the local church has been defended from Scripture for many decades, I will not concentrate on defending this view. Neither will I attempt to totally discredit it. What I wish to do is to show the possibility of alternative interpretations, while remaining true to Scripture, that would allow women to teach and lead in a church. In doing so, I shall highlight arguments on both sides, indicating their strengths and weaknesses, and hopefully in the process, demonstrate the consistent witness of Scripture. This assignment is based loosely on a response to Piper and Grudem’s book (see bibliography below).

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Challenges Facing Youth Ministry in the 21st Century

This paper was originally published in 2003 in the Baptist Journal of Theology (South Africa). It has not been updated – some of the website references in the footnotes may be out of date.

The paper was a collaboration between Dr Sharlene Swartz (read her bio at LinkedIn or in her current position as HSRC researcher) and Dr Graeme Codrington.

Challenges Facing South African Baptist Youth Ministry in the 21st Century

A Crash Course in Post Modernism

It’s all around us. But most of us can’t concisely describe it. It’s the philosophy of the age which follows modernism. Modernism is basically the world view which drew the line between science and religion, faith and superstition, truth and veracity. It demanded technical, scientific answers to questions of faith and science. Non-ending proofs and evidence. Modernism required that everything be rational, observable and repeatable. It was in one sense a return to the scholasticism of the thirteenth century but without a supreme deity as its anchor. “God does not exist until proven otherwise” could be a foundational principle for its atheists, although Christianity too flourished in the modernist milieu. For modernists, the truth exists objectively; things must be explainable, we must be able to demonstrate and understand it. Modernism takes it as axiomatic that there is only one true answer to every problem, from which it follows that if we can correctly formulate those answers, the world could be controlled and rationally ordered. That’s why we grew up on Creation – Evolution debates, Disco (very tangible beat and structured dance form), long theological debates, proving the existence of God and cerebral reasoning. Modernism has ruled supreme in Western thought for the last 500 years. But since its beginning, a new approach has been gathering momentum, and as this century ends, it claims dominant position, not only in the intellectual corridors of power, but is pervasive throughout society in all corners of the globe.

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Five Things Every Adult Christian Should Know About Youth Ministry

It is God’s design that His Gospel, the Good News of salvation for all who believe in Christ, should be passed down throughout history by each generation reaching and teaching the next. This was clearly spelt out in Deut. 6:6-12, repeated in Deut. 32:45-47 and in Joshua 24. Yet, one of the saddest verses in Scripture is the indictment in Judges 2:10, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel” (NIV). The indictment is not against the wayward youth, but actually against the older generation who failed to correctly nurture them. It appears as if this indictment may be repeated in our own day. Today, the church is on the brink of a major crisis as many young people are rejecting it as irrelevant, boring and superficial.

The church is always only one generation away from extinction. If Satan can win the soul of just one generation, then he wins the souls of all that follow. The role of youth ministry in a local church is therefore one of the most vital aspects of that church’s existence, and certainly the key to its continued survival. With this in mind, there are a number of critical areas in which churches appear to be failing the generation of young people at the beginning of a new millennium. These can be characterised by five serious misconceptions regarding the role of youth ministry in the local church:

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Being Incarnational in Youth Ministry – a theology

An assignment completed in 1998, as part fulfillment of the requirements of the Youth Ministry Major at Baptist Theological College, South Africa.

NOTE, July 2010: This article could probably do with updated references to popular culture. If you’re going to use it, please make the effort to replace references to TV shows, movies and music with more up to date references. For example, if Jesus were around today, I’m sure he’d have a Facebook account, and would be happy for any and everybody to be his friend.

1. Introduction

In his book, The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren devotes a chapter to Jesus’ model of ministry that attracted crowds. His purpose is to show that a strategy that aims at large numbers is Biblical. In doing so, however, he also makes some important general comments regarding the nature of Jesus’ ministry. Towards the end of His ministry, Jesus instructed His disciples, saying “As the Father sent me into the world, I am sending you” (John 17:18; 20:21). Jesus is our model of operating in the world. But Jesus was God – so how exactly can He be our model?

It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the exact nature of the incarnation (becoming man) of Christ. However, the basis of this paper is that the incarnation involved Christ, who is God, becoming fully human, yet without compromising his full divinity (John 1:14, Phil. 2:6f.). This being the case, let us examine some implications of Christ’s example for youth ministry.

2. Implications of the Incarnation

All of the implications of the incarnation are beyond enumeration or expression. The fact that God Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Sustainer of all life, should reduce Himself to a foetus in a virgin peasant girl is beyond understanding. That the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob should subject Himself to human care as a helpless baby, grow up in Roman-controlled Palestine, and walk from one end of Israel to another, followed by a rag-tag team of social outcasts, eventually submitting to the cruel nails of crucifixion, simply to identify with me, is too great a thought to grasp. Yet, it is possible to glean some principles from Jesus’ earthly life, that can be applied to youth ministry. Just as Jesus took on Himself the form of a human being, we must take on the “form” of a young person. The following sections work towards a theology of Incarnational Ministry, which will explain how this can be achieved.

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Methods of Evangelistic Contact

This article was first written in 1997 as part of my academic studies in Youth Ministry

Possible models of evangelism, to be implemented for children, teenage and young adult ministries, including a discussion of the similarities and unique features of each age level ministry with specific evangelism guidelines for each age level.

1. Introduction

1.1. Assumptions

The scope of the issue of the evangelism of young people through the local church is enormous. This paper assumes that the reader: (i) is convinced of the absolute importance of evangelism; (ii) is aware that evangelism as it has been (and is being) done is not as effective as we would like it to be; (iii) understands some of the dynamics involved in “Generation X” (also known as “slackers”, “busters” or the 13th generation) and “Generation Y” (also known as the “Millennial generation”); (iv) accepts that, although God can change someone’s life instantaneously (e.g. the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus), he most often chooses to work over a longer period of time in someone’s life (e.g. Jesus and his disciples over a three year period) – there is “a process of evangelising, not just an evangelistic event” (Ford 1996:196); (v) accepts that although all evangelism is linked to a local church in some way, not all evangelism must be centred on the local church. There is a combination of “Go and tell” and “Come and see” approaches (cf. Warren 1995:234f.); and (vi) accepts that no single programme or method can effectively reach out to every type of person. In order to evangelise our modern communities, a multiplicity of methods is needed. The key to utilising multiple methods is to be aware of how these methods interact with each other, and an integrated and co-ordination of an overall evangelism strategy for a local church or group of churches.

1.2. Method

Petersen contends that all evangelistic methods have essentially two steps: Proclamation – “an action through which the nonChristian receives a clear statement of the essential message”, and Affirmation – “a process of modeling and explaining the Christian message” (1989:14, emphasis in the original). These two occur in different orders in different situations, but both must be present for true evangelism to occur. Traditional methods rely almost totally on proclamation, virtually ignoring the affirmation content of evangelism. Generation X rebels against proclamation, but warms to affirmation.

This assignment aims to introduce the reader to some possible approaches to evangelism that include both of these elements. Under each section, there is a discussion of how this would impact children, teenagers and young adults. Where appropriate, comparisons and contrasts are highlighted. In addition, some practical pointers are given as to how some of these methods may be implemented, and what sort of framework would be required within the local church.

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Towards A Theology of YOUTH Ministry

An assignment completed in April 1996, as part fulfillment of the requirements of the Youth Ministry Major at Baptist Theological College, South Africa.

Ephesians 4:11-16

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

There are many ways in which a theology of youth ministry can be formulated. One of these is in terms of the verses quoted above. In fact, Ephesians 4:11 – 16 could be the vision statement of any church. In order to formulate a specifically youth theology, however, we must apply the various aspects of this verse to the particular focus of young people.

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Living in an age of transition

First posted in 1999, and updated in 2005

Sometime between 1960 and 1980, an old, inadequately conceived world ended, and a fresh, new world began.
Hauerwas and Willimon 1989:15 (see bibliography at end for details)

The world of today is caught in the crack between what was and what is emerging. This crack began opening in the 1960s and will close sometime around the year [2020]. Trusted values held for centuries are falling into this crack, never to be seen again. Ideas and methodologies that once worked no longer achieve the desired results. This crack in our history is so enormous that it is causing a metamorphosis in every area of life. Today, the fastest way to fail is to improve on yesterday’s successes.
For many churches, the most disruptive discovery of recent years has been that few of today’s teenagers were born back in the 1950s or 1960s. A new generation of teenagers arrived with the babies born in the post-1969 era. What worked well in youth ministries in the 1960s or 1970s or early 1980s no longer works. Why? One reason is those approaches to youth ministries were designed by adults for an adult dominated world in which most teenagers looked to adults for wisdom, knowledge, leadership, affirmation, expertise, authority, and guidance. That world has almost disappeared and today largely in the heads of people age twenty-eight and over.
Schowalter 1995:8

An age of transition

My grandmother was born in 1916, in East London, South Africa. When she was born she had a reasonable expectation of growing up, getting married, working, living and dieing in a world that remained largely unchanged. After all, although there had been changes in the decades before her birth, most of these took more than one person’s lifetime to work their way into society. But not now! Since about 1950, the pace of change has exponentially increased. So, to help us understand the rate of change,consider that my grandmother was born before inter-continental air flights, jet-aircraft, space travel and moon walking, before individual telephone lines, before computers, before the first commercial motor vehicle in South Africa and tarred roads, before Johannesburg got electricity, before calculators, before “the pill”, before radar, before Elvis, before calculators and ballpoint pens, before faxes, PC’s and cell phones, before photocopiers, before miniskirts and bikinis, before television, before video machines, CDs and DVDs, before satellites and before the Internet. (Yet, every Monday morning, she sends an email to her children and grandchildren, spread around the world).

Yet, it is not just these things, and the speed at which they have arrived, that separates the young from the old in the world at the beginning of the third millennium – today’s young people are separated from their elders by incredible, fundamental shifts in thinking. There is a yawning chasm between todays adults (over 30) and youth (under 30) – in virtually every country in the world. In the last 10 to 30 years major shifts in every sphere of life have fundamentally changed the world: in South Africa it is largely defined by before and after apartheid (and earlier, before and after June 16, 1976), in Germany by the fall of the wall (9 Nov 1989), in America by Vietnam and Watergate, in Britain by trade unions and the Iron Lady, in Iran by the Islamic Revolution (1979), in Portugal by the Carnation Revolution (April 1974), in Estonia by the Singing Revolution (June 1988), in Czechoslovakia the Velvet Revolution (November 1989), in New Zealand by the end of socialism (and by the Eden Park Springbok test match that sparked Maori resurgence), in China by Tianamen Square (June 1989), and everywhere by PCs and the Internet.

We are living in an age of transition, between what was (the Industrial Age) and what will be (as we work through the Information Age into the Biotechnology era we are only beginning to discover the new socio-polital-economic geography of the world). The older generations are frustrated because the young don’t seem to listen to their advice or follow their footsteps. The young are frustrated because they see no guiding light or words of wisdom applicable to the path they’re on. We are in a dangerous place at this moment of history. So, does the Bible have any assistance to give us in such an age?

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Taking the Bible Literally

First posted on 15 Feb , 2008

On Sunday, the preacher at our church spoke of forgiveness, and used the wonderful interaction between Peter and Jesus recorded in Matthew 18:21-35. It was a good sermon, but it also sparked another thought about how we choose to interpret the Bible (and an afterthought about Scotland making it legal to marry your mother-in-law).

Because of the nature of what I say (and how I say it), I am often accused of abandoning the Christian faith altogther. Nothing could be further from the truth, but that doesn’t deter my detractors. Anyway, I am finding that the most common “root” concern that people seem to have with my approach comes down to one thing: how we treat the Bible.

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Some Thoughts on Hell

Originally posted on 15 August, 2008

Some time ago I skim-read Brian McLaren’s The Last Word and the Word After That (get it at or This past week, I have gone back to it, and am devouring it in depth. It is a story-based reflection on the issue of salvation, with specific reference to hell. It really has got me thinking, and has helped to clarify some questions (see previous post at this blog), if not entirely provide adequate answers.

I think a key part of the problem with our understanding of what it means to be saved, and the issue of hell, the life hereafter and “eternal life”, is that the historical church has created such strong camps/entrenched positions. I don’t find any of them convincing or coherent. And none of the traditional positions gives a “unifying theory of everything” – a consistent and coherent explanation of the whole of the Biblical witness. I find that I have sympathy (and concerns) with every position, from exclusivism (that everyone not personally, consciously, individually “born again” will be excluded from heaven), or inclusivism (that some will be saved through Jesus without ever knowing the name of Jesus), to conditionalism (that hell does not last forever – after a period of conscious punishment, the damned in hell are annihilated) or universalism (that everyone will ultimately be reconciled to God through Jesus, with hell ultimately being empty).

The key to understanding the importance of the issue of hell, is not actually the concept of hell itself, but rather the God to which that concept points. “God loves you – like the greatest father’s unconditional love – and has a wonderful plan for your life, and if you don’t love God back and cooperate with God’s plans in exactly the way He wants you to, God will torture you with unimaginable abuse, forever!” Yes?

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