10 Simple Tips for a Theology Discussion Startup kiwiconnexion practical theology
David: Hello everyone. Welcome along to Live
On Air again. This evening I’ve got with me Stuart McAdam and we’re talking about something
quite different tonight. A group of young guys have decided to get together to discuss
theology and faith matters. They were all part and parcel of various church groups,
but they’ve dropped out of the scene somewhat. So we’re making an opportunity available through
Stuart McAdam for this group to come together to discuss some issues.
Stuart’s very kindly asked me to enable the group, and I’ve got to admit; I’m an old man
– I know long understand or necessarily relate all that well to the kind of worker day world
that you guys are in, which is so different – changed so drastically with technology and
all the rest of it. So I’m kind of struggling to think, how do I make this relevant when
young people want to discuss theology. Clearly you all want to discuss theology, and I thought
not a bad starting point would be to take a quote from Carl Jung. He said; the least
of things with a meaning is worth in life than the greatest things without it. Is it
true that you guys are coming together to try to somehow get meaning out of theology?
Stuart: I think you definitely would be spot on with how you’ve summarised it, David. I
think a big part of the reason we are coming together is because we want to be I think
challenged – not only about the sort of viewpoints we may have had, but also about developing
new ideas of theological issues which often come up in contemporary culture or sort of
within a church setting, that we may not sort of be fully prepared to answer or know the
answer to ourselves. David: Particularly you introduced me to theology
in film. I was always aware that was there, but theological questions arise is so many
different ways in so many different genre of movies. So, creativity and imagination
is something that your group would be looking to discuss, or…
Stuart: Yes, and I think it’s an important part as well. I think it was actually Albert
Einstein that said, fiction adds to reality. When you look at that in a bit of detail it
adds quite a lot to life as well, I think. A world without some sort of creativity would
be a very dull world, indeed. David: Do you find, for all of you – you’re
all in the 25-30 age group; is your work environment stimulating kind of creative face? I know
you can’t say anything about work specifically, but do you find that with the technology that’s
at your fingertips, you’ve got a lot of opportunity for creativity in your working life?
Stuart: Absolutely, and I’m very lucky to be working in a company with bosses and with
people that are encouraging me to stay at the front end of modern marketing and modern
creativity. I think because we are a sort of smaller type of business against some of
our competitors, you’re constantly having to look for those extra bits of difference,
and a lot of that does stem from creativity, and coming up with content and ideas and info-graphics,
an e-books and that kind of stuff that will really stimulate people’s creative minds and
sort of thinking, what can I do – imagine what if, when working with [3:44].
David: What if? Yeah, okay so there’s the company – there was a little bit of company
advertising on there. You better put this on YouTube for your boss. Here’s the thing;
what if – what if things are as if? To me, that’s where the heart of theological enquiry
is all about; what if? I did a little video on that called, Finding the Presence Within.
Now, my starting point is, Jesus of Nazareth said; the Kingdom of God is within you, it’s
in your minds, it’s amongst you – various translations. He also said; my Kingdom is
not of this world. You’ll find in lots of other places, too; the emphasis is on some
kind of inward reality. That inward reality; is that something that you guys want to explore,
or is it all focussed on the world out there – the world where they’re bombarding you with
movies, ads, social media? Stuart: I think to begin with, you have to
look inside as well, because I think if you don’t understand exactly why you believe what
you believe, when you get challenged from the outside you’re going to run into a tremendous
amount of difficulty. I think Jesus talking about saying, my Kingdom is not of this world
– I think fundamentally beings with that, because a lot of the modern beliefs and doctrines
completely contrast and often clash with Christian thinking.
I’ll just give an example as well; I coached a football team this year, and in order to
get the best out of the team I first had to have a very hard look at myself because, 1)
fundamentally, why was I doing it – which was to serve God and help all the players
become better at football and become better people, but also as well, adding to the community
as well, and creating something and doing something which is much bigger than just you.
I think looking at the inward reflection, it often has a huge influence on the outside
world, and the immediate world around you. Whether we’re prepared to accept that it does
or not, it does have an influence. David: In relation to all of that, Stuart
Manins has put through a question for you, Stuart McAdam. He says; what do you young
people believe to be important – what are you seeking in life?
Stuart: That’s a very good question, actually. I guess it is the sort of question you could
split into two things. What do we believe? Well, I think all of us fundamentally believe
that there is a God and that He made Himself known through Jesus Christ of Nazareth, that
there is a foundational importance in knowing God and being in relationship with God. To
me, it completely changes the way in which we look at the universe where there is purpose
and structure and order, rather than disorder, chaos and no true justice. In terms of what
we’re seeking; I think it fundamentally begins with understanding God on a deeper level.
I think at the moment, personally I haven’t been to a home group since the end of 2014.
I haven’t had that chance to really look at it at an in-depth level outside of things
I’ve read and videos that I’ve watched myself. So, I think talking and discussing it with
people that are my age, and getting their perspective and their understanding of it,
I think goes a very long way, particularly with people that you know well. All the guys
in the group I’ve known for several years now. One of them I’ve known for more than
a decade. So that definitely helps, too in terms of understanding not only what they
believe, but also what they too are seeking, because what they may be seeking could be
completely different from mine. David: I think that’s a fantastic answer,
when you’re put on the spot with a double-barrelled question like that. The idea that we’re necessarily
seeking the same things out of a discussion group – a dialogue group – a cell group – whatever;
I think you’ve handled that extremely well. There may be a variety of answers to that
question. The needs may vary, but great question, Stuart Manins so keep them coming in. Moving
on to our next tip, if you like, for getting a good theology discussion group going, somehow
or other I think that we have to meet the spiritual needs of society. So, you’ve got
a little society – you’ve got a little microcosm of society coming together in this group,
and we have to discern what their actual needs are. A fantastic quote from one of the great
leaders in modern India, [Nehru 8:45]; he noted, it’s a fundamental rule of human life
that if the approach is good, the response is good. I put the challenge out to Stuart
McAdam; I don’t know whether it’s evangelical or not, but I said to Stuart, look I think
you want to start a group – I want them to appear on YouTube – okay they’re not appearing
with us yet, but we’re working on it. Literally within a matter of days, Stuart has assembled
a group, and I think that it proves what Nehru is saying; if the approach is good, the response
of the participants will be good. Any comments about that?
Stuart: I would also again parallel that with sort of like my time in coaching the football
team this year; five years ago I coached a team as well, and my approach was completely
wrong. The focus was all about winning. How we were going to do that I didn’t really know.
Didn’t really engage with the parents and sort of had a very single-minded type of mentality,
and going in to this year I knew that if I was going to coach again I had to completely
refresh my approach. It’s the same sort of thing with this as well; if you look at how
many games your team plays in a year, most of the hard work is done in the preparation
of things, and I think the same applies to this as well, in that I initially put the
idea forward to a couple of friends and asked them, is this something that you would be
interested in, if I was able to find someone who could facilitate it – would this be something
that you would come along to? I do think having that older experienced wise
head is a very important part of it, because when you’ve got that level of knowledge and
wisdom, and having lived as a younger person as well you can sort of relate your own experiences
to it, as well as intuitively – I guess with your situation David, having worked with people
my age as a minister goes quite a long way, too. So having that approach which is open-minded
and is tailored to people in that 25-30 age bracket, none of us are dads yet, so it’s
again something – that could be one thing which is relevant to an age group 10 years
older than us, but we’re also not going through that huge amount of teenage peer pressure
either. So, I think it’s all about having that really tailored and keeping reasonably
open-minded about it as well, and also having that consensus too, because I think that is
definitely a very successful thing you find in a lot of successful organisations and also
home groups, churches, Bible studies – you name it.
David: I think to have that open-minded approach sets the group up in a way that almost guarantees
its success, because everyone’s point of view can be heard in an open-hearted, open-minded
conversation. It’s when, particularly churches, become dogmatic about you’ve got to see it
this way – to be a good Christian it’s absolutely vital you see it this way – there’s perhaps
a little too much of that, so open-mindedness; fantastic idea. Well, I also did a little
video a year of so back called, Journalists as Prophets, and Prophets as Journalists.
Way back in Biblical times, the prophets had a message about social justice for society,
and to a large extent in today’s world, and I think it’s been so for a few hundred years,
journalists – newspapers – media outlets; they’ve taken over a lot of the prophetic
voice. So, situations of injustice, you’re more likely to hear about in the news before
you hear about them in churches. A very wise Christian called John Vincent who started
the Urban Theology Unit in Sheffield, Britain decades ago, and hundreds if not thousands
of clergy have been through that unit, which looks at fundamental things about social justice.
How would your group respond to John Vincent’s idea of, here’s a sort of recipe for Christianity
– be different – be mobile – be relevant – be ecological – be committed. I think he means
there, be committed to the Christian message. Be significant – be together – be political;
any comments about John’s insight? Stuart: It’s very accurate, and if you have
a look at the times in which a lot of the prophets are preaching, and I guess also a
lot of the founders of different church denominations, the big reason why they’ve been so successful
is that they’ve been able to take onboard a lot of what John said in that [14:11] significance,
and applied it perfectly. I mean, take the example of John Wesley; he was not preaching
to First Century Jews – he was preaching mainly to the industrial working class in Europe
– like, European working class. So he had to take a message which was something that
was practical and easy enough for people to understand at the time, whereas I guess today
a lot of people are looking for a message which has good explanations or answers to
difficult questions. You have a look a lot of the contemporary
philosopher/apologists, and also as well, to a point, evangelists like William Lane
Craig, Ravi Zacharias, and Nabeel Qureshi. Greg Laurie is another example. Dinesh D’Souza
– they’re very good at explaining the difficult questions and exploring the difficult questions
which a lot of people within society have about Christianity; questions like, why does
God let bad things happen to good people – why is there suffering – why is there so much
injustice in the world. That kind of stuff which I think you do need
to be prepared to give answers on that, because they’re relevant problems, they’re significant
problems, and they’re also to an extent as well, political problems as well, which I
think in the last half century to 75 years, Christians have had a tendency to steer away
from rather than having a good hard look at those things. I think that’s something which
we’re hoping to have a look at in the Bible study; exploring the in-depth questions which
really do eat away at some people’s minds. David: Well, it’s a little bit of a side issue,
but in terms of what little bit of Bible study input I’ll be giving to that group, it seemed
to me that the nub of the matter is really around Jesus’ parables, because all of those
require that level of commitment, but it also requires that being together. So the parables
are a great way to begin that sort of Bible study. Okay, now I’m an old guy in the faith,
and I also believe the truth of this saying. I’m putting you on the spot, Stuart McAdam
because it’s your group – you’re going to be running it, and at some point I want to
ask the question; is it true that faith the size of a mustard seed – mustard seed faith
can move mountains and uproot mulberry trees, like Jesus suggested? What do you say?
Stuart: Well, I think Jesus is the master of I guess – and in that kind of example,
it’s sort of like hyperbole but it does prove to be a very significant quote, and I can
imagine your mustard seed would be quite a good size by now, David. He’s right; I think
you need to have that sort of faith of a mustard seed, because everything begins small. I think
talking about that togetherness, a big part of why church and small groups and Bible studies
are still so important, is because it has that certain level of accountability as well.
If you just slip into a service and slip out every weekend, then it’s naturally going to
be difficult to properly grow your faith and be held to account and be able to hold others
accountability. David: Rosalie has said, what a great quote
that was John Vincent. So, do you think you’ll put that out to your group tomorrow night?
Stuart: I think absolutely. It’s a very important quote in the context that it does hold a lot
of truth and it’s also something which requires us to have a very careful think about, because
it does – what he said, John Vincent, is very influential to not only influence we have
on each other in the group, but also the people around us at work and in the wider community.
David: What a great answer again. I know that you answered that for a second time but there’s
an example of how some young people are thinking about their influence as Christians within
the work place. So it’s not just within a church setting or a home group setting or
whatever. I think that’s a fantastic answer. Well, we’re coming onto slide number six.
The idea here was all thought is an incarnation. The idea here is that somehow our thoughts,
our ideas, our creativity does crystalise out in various formats, in various ways a
contexts, whether it be work, home, play or whatever. As that happens, there’s always
at the background, the fantastic opening of the Book of Genesis. It kind of gets to that
climax; God created – mankind is the translation I’ve got here, but I prefer to call it humankind
– God created humankind in His own image, in the image of God created them, male and
female He created them. Stuart, do you think we make God in our own image?
Stuart: Well, we have the tendency to do so, when we want to get away with our own sort
of transgressions and bad behaviour, but I think normally you get found out if you do
that. David: This is the danger isn’t it, in setting
up – I’ve deliberately put this – when we set up a home group, and particularly when
we get ministers of religion in – I appreciated very much all the nice things you said about
wise head et cetera, but we all do tend to want to put forward our own kind of view point,
and we do all inescapably make God in our own likeness. We reverse what the Biblical
idea is, and the image of God I think was that we should be reflecting concepts of creativity
and generosity and goodness, and things like that.
The image that we create of God is, well I suppose for me being a kind of church academic
over a lifetime, the image I might have God is He sits in heaven with a great pile of
books, and when I get there we’re going to discuss [20:52] and Karl Barth, and goodness
knows how many of those old theologians that I learned about are the ones that you’re quoting.
It’s a bit of an open question, I think but you’re aware or alert to the dangers that
we can create in a study group if we get too dogmatic.
Stuart: Yeah, and that’s definitely right; you have to be prepared to listen to people
that have views which contrast to your own, and I think a very important thing in contemporary
society is this notion of freedom of speech. I think that ultimately stems as a freedom
from the Christian religion, and the reason why it’s so important is because it means
that you can sort of ask questions, read the books you choose, and pursue uninterrupted
investigations into deep and heavy topics. I think if you try and veer away from that
you normally find yourself in a reasonable bit of trouble because you’re constantly having
to adjust and give explanations as to why something is because you said so, or you have
to go down another path to try and explain it away.
David: Well, Wynn has said that – a viewer comment has come in that it’s great if we
can begin with the idea that the Kingdom is within us. Rosalie says, that’s fine and it’s
okay if we do make God in our likeness or our image, provided that we’re creating the
best set of values that we can image, and not the worst set of values. So I think that
ties in with your answer, doesn’t it? Stuart: Yeah, I’d say an interesting one with
that, I think Rosalie definitely makes a very interesting point. It’s one which could be
a bit tricky though, because when you’re saying you’re establishing your best set of values,
what your best set of values may be – how exactly do we know if that it is the best
set of values? What’s the foundation for it? How can we prove it? If she could give a bit
of an expansion on that it would be interesting to know, because I think having a best and
a worst which you yourself have created, I think you can sometimes run into a bit of
trouble with that, because from a completely humanistic point of view I don’t think there
is such a thing as best and worst without objective moral values which stem from God,
or right and wrong. David: We’re at the heart of some incredibly
powerful theological dialogue, aren’t we? How do we understand values that are external
to the values that we know that we can create? So, this is a really important question, and
all I can say at this stage is, okay we’re going to test this out with the group – maybe
not tomorrow but maybe the following or subsequent times that they meet. Isn’t it incredible
that a group of young guys want to debate these issues of what are ultimately questions
of ethics and moral values, and whether there’s relativism within that field or whether there
are absolutes within that field. So I think we are at the heart of some really discussion.
We’re getting a lot of viewer comments coming through now, and Wynn has noted, along with
Liz, that our image of God does come from our interaction that we might have had with
him/her – whatever. Partly that’s the case. Yes, and Rosalie is saying that to see God
just in one way is too limiting – God’s much greater than we can possibly think or imagine.
So those are excellent comments. Isn’t it interesting how these comments are true between
the generations? We’re talking three generations apart here. You know? I think this is getting
very close to the heart of what doing theology is all about. Now, there was another set of
little movies I made very recently called, How Can we Live well? The first one in the
series was about our memory and our memes. By memes we mean, how does memory get enculturated
into all the things we do in society. You’ll recall that Jesus asked the question; who
do you say that I am? That’s a question – Stuart, would be willing to ask that of your participants
in the study group? Who do they say they are? In other words, what’s their identity as they
come to do this theological study? Would you be up to asking them that question?
Stuart: I’d probably say it’s the first question that they need to ask in order for us to probably
– for everyone to get the most out of the Bible study, but I think if you don’t actually
know who you are and what’s important to you, how can you actually know what you want to
learn about and the important things in your life that you wish to discuss more about.
David: What a great answer. I don’t think anything further – I’m going to sit there
with a lot of interest. I’m not going to ask anything. I’m not going to answer anything.
I’m just going to watch this group of guys toss this question around, because I think
it will be fantastic to see the learnings that come out of it. The second in that series
was [26:44]; that’s the Danish concept of hospitality. I’m kind of really intrigued
as to what’s gone wrong in society with the level of volunteerism.
It’s not just churches that are struggling for membership, but so many service organisations
– worthwhile groups; it’s hard to see the mobilisation of people to join these causes.
Yet, when I put a different set of lenses on, I see something like the student army
in Christchurch which involves 10s of thousands of people mobilising in the face of disaster.
I’ve begun to wonder whether part of the problem with the service groups, including churches
is that we’ve lost our sense of hospitality. By hospitality I mean that ability to help
someone feel that they’re included in a comfortable kind of way into the environment. Do you think
that’s necessary for a young discussion group like you’re proposing?
Stuart: I don’t think you could have one without good hospitality. If people can’t come in
and feel like they can talk about things openly and with truth and conviction and feel like
they are a valued member of the group then you’re not going to last very long.
David: Do you think therefore that I should be, instead of trying to facilitate a theological
discussion I should be baking scones for this group?
Stuart: Scones would be a bonus. David: Okay, well I have to learn the recipe
in the next 24 hours. Okay, hospitality is an integral part of group life, but also there’s
this question of, how designed should our group interaction be, or should it be more
spontaneous? I’m a great believe that life has design. The universe is designed. Everything
about what we do and how we do it, has a degree of design, but in a discussion group for 25-30
year olds, is that necessary? In fact, should we be saying, hey forget the design – let
the discussion flow? Stuart: I think you definitely – there’s times
and places for that. If you’re looking to have someone that is – or for an evening where
those sorts of things are pretty free-flowing then you should just allow for it on those
occasions, but I believe that there should always be some sort of focus on the evening
which – there is something to get out of it, and sort of follow the plan as you initially
had. Intuitively I think every good leader knows that there’s a time and a place to just
let the conversation flow on a tangent, because sometimes a tangent can lead you to exactly
the conclusion that you were looking for to begin with.
David: Yes, I think there’s a very famous example in the world of fashion; Coco Chanel
made a dress out of some discarded wool, and it was entirely kind of accidental how she
came – she just did it, and she wore the dress and eventually the design of that dress became
a fashion icon to which she herself – she just thought this was a kind of random thing.
Have you seen the movie on Coco Chanel? I forget what it’s called.
Stuart: I can’t remember, if I have. David: It would be a movie that I really think
we should be showing here at Trinity at Waiaki, about that iconic way of designing fashion
that’s got the acts of randomness built in. There’s also a very powerful lesson from John
McWade about Coco Chanel and her range of perfumes; if you look at the way the typography
is set on the perfume labels, it’s anything but random – it’s totally industrial kind
of Helvetica Neue sort of a very regular mechanical kind of type, and you think it’s the exact
opposite of what a fashion thing might be about with twirls and swirls and goodness
knows what, but it is one of the most iconic kinds of statements.
So you’ve got both design and you’ve got randomness, and I think it’s a question of getting the
balance in there. The last one that I put in that series was – I called it; Sounds,
Silences and White Spaces. Albert Schweitzer, the great humanitarian – I think he really
sums up, in the sounds that we make – beyond the sounds that we make as our move into the
profound silences of life, after the discussion, this is what he’s saying; I don’t know what
your destiny will be, but one thing I know, the only ones among you who will be really
happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. Any comments?
Stuart: It’s tricky. It’s just a very good quote and it does hold a lot of weight. I
think he says when you’ve found how to serve, I think he means that’s – it’s like the old
clich�; it’s better to give than it is to receive. I think that’s the sort of basis
which – and the inspiration which I would take from that; in order to truly know your
purpose you have to be prepared to look at where you’re putting the most time, and whether
you are, and how you are serving; whether it’s in your job – whether it’s in your wider
community – how it is in your church. The different places that you’re serving often
have a huge influence on who you are as a person. A lot of the time it does bring you
a lot of happiness. I didn’t actually realise how happy I would be from serving a young
bunch of kids as a community football coach, and yet here I am to say that it’s a fantastic
thing and it’s well worthwhile for anyone that is passionate about those sorts of things,
to go out and have a think about how you serve at the moment, or how you serve other people
with your time, and whether or not you could be doing it in other areas to improve the
service. David: I guess this is the dilemma that everyone
has got at every stage of life; how much time have I got available to do the things that
I wouldn’t just necessarily do out of self-interest? I think Schweitzer’s really come to the essence
of what – and you came to it, too; it’s self-giving. The more we can give of ourselves – and it
doesn’t matter whether it’s the football group, the church group, the service club – whatever,
but the more we give of ourselves, the more we find what our actual destiny was meant
to be. It comes out of this. Stuart Manins has commented that design and creative freedom
aren’t mutually exclusive. I think that’s absolutely true, but the question of, how
happy we will be in our church life – how happy we will be when we come to do a study.
This is a group of guys independent of our church coming into this environment to talk
theology. My guess is that each one of them will discover
that they have a purpose that is beyond just what they initially expect from the study,
that the group life takes over and that brings us right back to that John Vincent quote – be
together. It takes us right back to the beginning; the Kingdom is within you – it’s in your midst
– it’s where the group is, no matter what the group is. So what I’ve been doing tonight
– I’ve just been taking us through the thumbnails of 10 little movies I’ve made in two series;
Creativity and Imagination in Christian Ministry. It’s going to be a delight for me to be able
to go in and see these things. Wynn is saying, yeah good luck with the group – it’s fantastic
you’re doing it. Then the second – how do we do it well? How do we find ourselves in
our memories, in our cultural memes – how do we find ourselves in our hospitality, and
how do we find ourselves in acts of giving beyond the group? So, those are some ideas
for getting a study group – a cell group – what kind of group do you call it, Stuart?
Stuart: I think we just initially call it the men’s room.
David: The men’s room, okay. Well, that’s an odd title.
Stuart: It works, though. David: What we will do is that we we’ll report
back after we’ve done three or four Monday evenings – a very quick brief report in Kiwi
Connexion, and I’ll put it as a comment into YouTube and onto Facebook, and then Stuart
will get someone else in to facilitate another set of sessions, and we’ll just see where
it goes from there. I want to say, blessings on your endeavours.
Stuart: Thank you. David: Thanks very much for all of you guys
coming in this evening and helping us to figure out what we’re going to do tomorrow evening.
10 Simple Tips for a Theology Discussion Startup kiwiconnexion practical theology