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Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Triumph of the Academy: Porterbrook goes West

We are all looking for recognition
Secretly, and sometimes not so secretly, we are all looking for recognition: I don't mean recognition in God's eyes, the longing to hear his "well done", but earthly recognition; recognition before the present living church.

Of course we might deny this like mad, but that doesn't alter the truth that ugly selfish, self-serving, self-exalting pride rests in all of our hearts. We want others to know, don't we? We are not prepared to serve unnoticed all our days, before an audience of only One. We want recognition here and now. That's probably half the reason I write this blog. The other reasons I kid myself into believing are: (1) I am trying to help others, (2) I am trying to get personal clarity on an issue - writing helps to clarify an issue that is cloudy in the brain. But I don't have a clue as to my real motives, for all I know 99% may be for personal glory (that's how little I - and you - know our own hearts).

Varieties of recognition
How recognition is expressed, of course varies. In a criminal culture, you get a bachelor's degree  if you are even distantly connected to someone who's done time, a master's degree if it was a friend, and a PhD if the criminal was your brother, or if you did the deed.

Recognition in middle class culture works in the same way, but this time it is not proximity to a crime, but proximity to the academy. How close are you to some academic institution? So at the very very top of western recognition is the Professor who works straight out of the University. If you can call yourself "Professor Brian Cox" or what-not, you've reached the top of your game (though you may be unbelievably ignorant about the most important things in life and the universe). And to get there you must list all your 'research interests', papers, publications, blah, blah, blah.

The church aping the world
Tragically the western evangelical middle-class world works in exactly the same way. It is not enough to be known as humble pastor John Smith, you must declare, if you want recognition, how many articles and books you have written, where you have studied and what your present "research interests" are: seriously.

Porterbrook goes West
And so when a church-planting-training network recently announced they would be teaming up with an evangelical academic institution, I saw it as the ultimate triumph of this secular-cum-christian desire for worldly recognition. And then when I also discovered that ordinary folk in ordinary churches like mine can no longer use the material in a flexible way - because the academy want you to do it in a certain way - I realised that even evangelicals on the cutting edge of church planting in the Western world bow to the recognition that only the academy can give.

Marry the academy and you have (finally) arrived.

How different the world of Jesus Christ
How very different the world of Jesus Christ and his apostles. Jesus lays aside his majesty and is prepared to serve as a zero, and in the end is exalted to the highest place. Paul regards all of his previous achievements - including academic ones - as "dung" and again is prepared to be an insulted and misunderstood servant of Jesus Christ.

The lost cause
We have a lost world to win - and so many of them are working class folk, who could not understand the words, let alone the ideas of the academy. That's the most tragic outcome of Porterbrook going WEST. What we need is not more high-faluten study material and connections but more down to earth Gospel training that a Peter or a John can grasp and turn the world upside down with.

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