Category Archives: Thoughts

God Talk – a response

The conversation about the existence of God is ongoing. So often the concept God is used without any clear definition and we are left asking what does the speaker mean by God? We are grateful to Judith for the following comments on Rodney’s recent “Musings”. I am sure many people share her concerns:

Having been brought up in a strict Christian family, regular church goer for over 60 years, I have recently started to ask questions which the Church cannot answer. Consequently, I am at present an agnostic.

Who or what is God? I can see absolutely no evidence of his existence. The horrors and pain I see and hear of makes me ask where could he be! I am told he is love and loves humanity – show me. No, not just an example of the many fine Christian people who struggle to make the world a nicer place. I need to understand how a loving? Immortal? Being can watch the mess of this world and not intervene. Church just tells me to have faith, God is in control and everything will be alright in the end. Sorry, I am not convinced.

I have asked Rodney to respond to her comments:

Dear Judith,

Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt reply to my musings on walking the streets of Brisbane city on a Sunday morning. Our website manager invited me to respond further and I am glad to do so. You write of moving into a stage of your faith life where you are starting to ask questions. I trust you will continue to do so.

You seem to be challenging some of my comments but it is not clear which particular ones they were. There does seem to be some connection though with what may have seemed my pleading for the reality of God and the way it may affect the behaviour of people as they live, work, and walk the streets of Brisbane or any other locality. Perhaps your quarrel is with my implication after the visit to the Museum of Brisbane that Godliness is of benefit to society. You will note that I cautioned that to the extent Godliness assumes a theistic entity (more on that later ) this may not necessarily be a good thing. Continue reading

A new kind of Christianity

From Rev John Churcher – Permission to Speak

Following the Way of Jesus means that we have chosen the responsibility to speak truth to the powers that be, challenging injustice and any unjust systems and laws that work against both the individual and the common good.

As followers of the Way of Jesus we have chosen the responsibility to be involved in creating a world in which there is a fair sharing of the abundance of all the good things that Earth has to offer to all people.

Followers of the Way of Jesus are called to defend human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of actions, civil liberties – and we should never take our hard-fought for freedoms for granted, nor should we use them irresponsibly to abuse or exploit others.

Following the Way of Jesus means that we have chosen to serve and, if necessary, to sacrifice our comfort and even risk our lives for the benefit of others.

Following the Way of Jesus is to choose to ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’.

Following the Way of Jesus is to choose to work to tackle the causes of poverty both at home and abroad.

For the full article go John Churcher

A convenient truth – the creation story and the substance of God

Serving the interests of the Roman Empire

Many indigenous spiritualities, Franciscans, and Celts saw creation as good, as a theophany or revelation of God’s very being, just as Genesis taught. How did Christianity come to be so divorced from nature? John Philip Newell (b. 1953), a poet and scholar known for his work in the field of Celtic spirituality, traces the roots and impact of the doctrine creatio ex nihilo. He offers an alternative, still orthodox, view of creation based on the writings of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon:
Irenaeus [130-202] . . . taught that the whole of creation flows from the very “substance” of God. [1] All things carry within them the essence of the One. Irenaeus . . . signaled his concern about the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. . . . This was to become the standard of Western Christianity’s approach to creation. Creation would be viewed not as coming forth from the substance of God but as fashioned from afar by a distant Creator, made out of nothing from on high.

Irenaeus intuited that this would be a disaster, that to neutralize matter, to teach that creation does not come from holy substance, would lead to the abuse of creation. It was a convenient “truth” . . . [meaning] that the empire could do whatever it wished to matter. Matter was not holy. It had not come forth from the womb of God’s Being. Rather it was made from nothing. It was essentially devoid of sacred energy. So, every imperial mind could ravage the earth’s resources with impunity. It could disparage the rights of creatures and subordinate the physical well-being of its subjects. Religion had become the accomplice of the state’s subordination of the earth. It had sanctioned the separation of spirit and matter.

For the rest of this article from Richard Rohr go to The Substance of God  

and scroll down the page.

From this link you can also sign up to receive Richard’s daily meditations.


A critical conversation on “salvation”

Brian Coyne of Catholica poses the following question to one of his correspondents:

“Titus, I’ve been meaning to ask you this for a few days: what do you make of the salvation theology or mythology today? Did the first followers of Jesus believe it was all about being ‘saved’ from their sins and some ‘eternal reward’ in the afterlife; or was that all added later?”

What followed is a great expose of Pauline mythology.

Go to: Salvation discussion to find this conversation

Musings on walking the streets

A reflection from Rodney Eivers

I had the happy experience this weekend (early February) of getting to know more intimately that busy and highly built-up part of Brisbane city where Alice and Edward Street intersect. This is at the point where they meet the Brisbane River and the City Botanic Gardens. My wife and I had been given an “away weekend” by our families. We were settled 17 floors up at the Stamford Plaza Hotel – about 2 to 3 hundred metres from where Brisbane’s tallest building at 90 stories and 274 metres (the current height limit because of air traffic considerations), now under construction, reaches up into the clouds.
We had a glorious view, including that of the thunder and lightning show of a violent storm on the Sunday night. What interested me, though, was what was going on down on the ground. We descended to the Lobby on the Sunday morning and went for a stroll in the direction of the Museum of Brisbane at City Hall, something I would recommend to any visitors to the City.
The traffic was busy. The streets, fortunately in the Australia fashion shaded with awnings, provided relief from the mid-30s temperature and were crowded with people. It seemed to be as busy, or busier, than on an ordinary week day. Some of the major stores were closed for the weekend but the opportunities for “retail therapy” were now enhanced by the setting up of street markets.

My 100-year-old father-in-law is fond of recalling that in his younger generation “you could fire a rifle at random down Queen Street, Brisbane’s main street, and not hit a soul”.
So I reflected. “A generation or two ago a very high proportion of these people now so busy shopping, scurrying along the pavements and chatting at coffee shops would have been attending church services. There is now no break in the week when people pause to give thought to the bigger questions of life, away from shopping, burying their faces in their “screens, and worshipping sporting heroes and “celebrities”.*
I continued with my musing. “Is this good or bad? No point regretting it. That’s the way life is. Religion has lost its appeal for the public. Perhaps a lot of the commitment to a life of Christian faith and practice. was just a lot of show and we are better off without much of it anyway.”
So we idled our way up the gently sloping streets of the metropolis, in due course reaching our destination of the Museum of Brisbane in the City Hall – my first time there. Hard to believe, perhaps, but we dawdled around and ended up spending four hours studying the exhibits! As we were winding up our visit we came to a presentation called DNA. This was a display, demonstrating amazing electronic technical wizardry and reporting on a survey of a group of 100 people selected on a what seemed to be a sound statistical sample from the city neighbourhood.

There were a number of questions. They included such things as: What do you like about Brisbane City? What transport do you use to come into the city? Have you experienced domestic violence? What sort of accommodation would you like to see developed? And so on and so on. All worth raising and relevant to people’s lives. Despite its being such a strong element in what makes people tick it looked like religion was not going to get a mention? Or so I thought. Then to my surprise, as the survey neared its end the question was put. Do you go to church? About 20 per cent of the respondents said, “Yes!”
That did not seem like news to me. It was about what I would have expected. But then came the next question. Do you believe in God? The answer astounded us. Between 60 and 70 per cent said they believed in God. To the extent that this large proportion accepted a concept of a theistic God I had no reason to be greatly encouraged by this. It did, however, raise a couple of issues in my mind. I had interpreted the universal devotion to shopping and TV etc. as indicating that people are not being very thoughtful nor interested in wider questions and deeper personal exploration of themselves (spirituality, if you like). From the response to this survey, however it looks as if a large majority of people do look for explanations of life’s mysteries beyond their day to day lives. It was not all just shopping and TV.
The other thought was that if 65 per cent of people believe in God but only 20 per cent participate in religious activity then maybe the churches need to give some attention to this disconnect in meeting the spiritual needs of a 21st century populace.


So with a little more understanding and perhaps a little more wisdom it was back to base at the hotel. There I concluded my reading of Michael Morwood’s , “God is Near”. I see that this title has been listed in a recent posting on the UC Forum website. But I may tell you about that later.

*PS. By coincidence, I note from the UC Forum website this week a quotation: “Sheridan reminds his readers that there is more to living than the pursuit of pleasure. After all having a good time never lasts for long”.




Response to the question

We had a wonderful response to the question:

What practical initiatives will help the Church become a significant part of society, give integrity to its work and attract new members as followers of Jesus?

The amount of material and the quality and depth of thinking from our network friends has meant a lot of work doing the analysis to produce this summary.

The summary only tells part of the story but gives some idea of the breadth of thinking around progressivism.

If you would like a copy of the summary please request one by clicking here. Continuing in the participative action learning way, we welcome further comment, questions and points of clarification. If we have not made your thoughts clear please let us know.

We are working towards a document that can be used in making a case to various church councils and leaders.

Thanks for the great response and thoughtful reflections.


Opinion: Time to change our approach to worship

Changing church gatherings


I appreciate the spirit and care for each other of Uniting (and other) church congregations. But equally I find church services call on me to say and do things I don’t believe.

What I find difficult is that the way the Bible is viewed fails to apply much of modern biblical scholarship. The Bible is still presented as the inspired word of God, when it is a collection of men’s (yes, men’s) thoughts about what we call God and is presented in a variety of literary forms and narrative settings. There is a part of the Hebrew Scriptures which is wrongly treated as identifying the Hebrew messiah with Yeshua.

And maybe we should stop translating “parthenos” as a woman who has not had sexual intercourse, rather than as just the young woman Mary was. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke may well be cases of writing to audience expectations.

We fail to recognise that the God of the Hebrew scriptures and the God of the New Testament are greatly different. By retaining stories about God from the Hebrew scriptures we muddy the New Testament view. The use of biblical texts which say “fear God” is unhelpful, retaining the Hebrew scriptures’ conception of God as quite different from the God of love. Ma
ny hymns reflect views which are out of step with modern understandings. There is still an insistence on including readings which sit ill with modern enlightened morality, especially in relation to the equality and roles of women.

We still talk in terms of worship and praise and adoration, even though our understanding of what the word God might mean has changed a lot (“logos” is just as properly translated as “concept” rather than “word”). Is the word “Lord” with its feudal connotations appropriate?
We need to drop readings which sit ill with modern science such as the two Genesis accounts of the origin of the world, and at least sometimes read astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s summary. Further, a story like the Gadarene swine story does not help people with mental illness, who have definite biochemical explanations for their condition.

We need to recognise that inspired writing about higher things did not cease in the fourth century AD, and that the choices made for the New Testament canon by the “patristic fathers” aren’t necessarily set in stone.

To the extent that a creed is needed, surely it needs to include the life and actions of Yeshua.
So in addition to innovations like Messy Church designed for children primarily, we need to introduce some other forms of meeting for those who feel embarrassed and uncomfortable with many aspects of the traditional form of church meeting and with the prescientific cosmology (but keeping the traditional approach for those who like it).

Many people today have been turned away from church by its failure to evolve along with human understanding.   I am sure others could add to this.


Progressive Christianity within the Uniting Church in Australia

Dr Richard Smith, Chair of the Western Australian Progressive Network wrote the following for the UCA WA Revive magazine in response to the WA Moderator’s challenge to practise Reformation. It was published along with a counterpoint by Rev Dr Michael Owen UC WA’s Systematic Theologian that presents the Church’s supernatural alternative.

On the 500th anniversary it is time to practice Reformation. In so doing we soon discover that Christianity from its earliest days was characterized by diversity. This eventually led to fragmentation of the Western Church, with the separation in the 5th Century of the Egyptian Copts and Far Eastern Nestorians, followed by the Eastern Orthodox in the 11th Century. Even before Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door in the 16th Century, there were challenges to the authority of the Catholic Church in the 14th C, by English Papal critic, John Wycliffe and in the 15th C, by dissenting priest, Jan Hus of Bohemia.

Luther’s legacy of Sola Scriptura finds modern expression in the dogmas and doctrines of evangelical Christianity. In the WA Uniting Church, it is recognised in the Synod as PNEUMA, ‘Pastoral Network of Evangelicals Uniting in Mission Action’. These dogmas and doctrines enshrined in the Basis of Union, presuppose a parallel supernatural universe that is increasingly unrecognisable by the Australian population. However we need to recognise that the Reformation opened the door to independent thinking, which came to a head in the Enlightenment or “Age of Reason” in the 18th C, a cultural movement where human reason finally prevailed over the Church’s divine authority claimed by the Pope (for Catholics) or the Bible (for Protestants). According to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), this was humankind’s escape from the bondage to the obligatory thoughts of others, whether secular or religious. Kant became an early exponent of the idea that perpetual peace could be secured through universal democracy and international cooperation.

Critical study of the bible led to the recognition of its human origins which revolutionized biblical scholarship, enabling the scientific discoveries of evolution and the origin of the universe. This caused a fundamental division between the science and orthodox religious cosmologies. Study of this division, revealed that scientific reasoning was a consequence of monotheism expressed so clearly and succinctly in the opening chapters of the Bible, in which everything was thought to flow from one creative source and constitute a Universe. For example on the first day God created “Light”, 3 days before the physical light of the Sun. This “Light” became synonymous in John’s Gospel with the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Such “light” in the 21st C is urgently needed to dispel the darkness of humankind’s apocalyptic scenarios such as nuclear war and human induced global warming. A truly worthy legacy of the Reformation for the Church in all its diversity to practice and bear witness to in the 21st C. This legacy finds expression in Progressive Christianity which urgently needs to be recognised by the UCA as a legitimate expression of Christianity as set out in the 8 points – borrowed from the Progressive Christian Network of Britain.

Recommendation: Seek collectively this formal recognition under Para 11 of the Basis of Union?

Dr Richard Smith Chairman, WA Progressive Network 2 Feb 2018.

Reformation 2018 by Everald Compton


There are many thousands of Christians who believe that the 500th Anniversary of the revolt of Martin Luther is a compelling time to begin a new Reformation.
As an 87-year-old, who has but a few years left to take part in any revolution, I am one of them and I recognise that I can no longer sit on the sidelines and wring my hands.
So, I have made an irrevocable commitment to stop talking about reform and take blunt, decisive action, no matter what flack may hit me as the result.
Let me begin with a statement about my own faith as it is stronger now than at any time in my life –
I believe that Churches are failed custodians and advocates of the Christian Faith. They are fast approaching their use-by date. As an Elder of 60 years’ service, I accept my share of the responsibility for allowing this to happen.
My faith is sustained by a rejection of the creeds and dogmas that Churches declare to be the basis of faith. This denial means that I do not accept the virgin birth, a physical resurrection or an ascension as elements of my faith. Nor do I seek forgiveness for my sins, or want to be saved from them, as this is an abdication of my responsibility as a human being to make right all that I do wrongly.
I do not believe that God decides who lives or dies or that there is life after death or the existence of heaven and hell. Nor do I accept that there is eternal life, as scientists agree that eternity means living for trillions of years.
But, I firmly and irrevocably believe in a spiritual power beyond myself, without which my life is pointless and will achieve only a tiny fraction of its potential.
Jesus of Nazareth leads me to this power.
As I strive to relate to God, I gladly accept that this gift can have meaning only if it is accepted in the company of fellow believers whose faith does not need to be propped by baseless trivia.
I am sustained in my spiritual journey by the excitement of constantly stepping forward into the unknown.

Everald is an Adjunct Professor at the QUT Centre for Future Environments, chair of the Longevity Innovation Hub, an Elder of the Uniting Church and Member of the Order of Australia.



Revisiting the Basic Issues

When the UC FORUM was established 16 years ago, we reflected as follows:

“The overwhelming and quite obvious issue is the decreasing relevance of our church to upcoming generations, as expressed in seriously falling church attendances and the notable aging of our church attenders.

We believe that the evidence suggests very strongly that the following are the basic issues to be addressed:

a) That the church needs to come to grips with the increasing intellectual maturity, expectations and discernment of recent generations of church people and the community generally. We must recognise and take advantage of this maturity when planning new directions for the church. We should recognise the reality of today, that the ‘heart cannot accept what the mind rejects”. Since the future visibility of the church will be determined primarily by the decisions of the members (through their decisions to accept or reject the offerings and programs of the churches), active consultation at the widest level with the people in the pews is critical to planning effective measures for the future church.

b) The evidence showing that the church has not kept pace with the massive societal changes which have occurred over recent decades, notably those which could loosely be called ‘post-modern’.

c) That the church has not dealt adequately with the divisiveness of the ideological split between the ‘conservative’ and the ‘progressive’ movements by emphasising sufficiently the commonality of the Gospel and the centrality of the teachings of Jesus. The UC FORUM seeks to address this split by offering a ‘safe place’ for all people to express, and act on, their views on these major challenges facing the church in the 21st Century.

d) That the pre-occupation with ‘clericalism’ has failed. The church must address its myopic and debilitating pre-occupation with impractical clerical ‘coaching’ models of leadership and encourage greater participation in growth, development, and direction by the general membership. A great deal of talent and commitment is being lost by this oversight and neglect of collaborative approaches. We believe that major cultural changes in the church will be necessary to address these issues adequately. We believe also that these changes will be welcomed in a very positive way by the overwhelming majority of people in the church.”

As always, we welcome comment about this statement.