Straight Smith

Taken from a printed article – date unknown.

If spirituality becomes whether you can wear lipstick or listen to rock music you have absolutised something which is culturally relative and that in itself is the worst sort of worldliness – what an irony. To be otherworldly is to make most of what God wants most of and do what the Lord requires of you. A clean face and an absence from the theatre? No. To do justice and to love mercy and live in humility before your God.

THE CHURCH IN THE WEST SEEMS TO BE lN A DISMAL STATE OF AFFAIRS?

The Church has ceased to be what it was meant to be and this is why it is so ineffectual. It has become a private golf-club in which members find comfort, have the same language and a weekly meeting which isn’t specifically Christian at all. The whole story of the Christian message is an incarnation, a God coming to the planet and leaving his situation to expose himself to the vulnerability and sin of human culture. It’s extraordinary to me that the Christian Church could be an internalized golf-club – against the life of Christ, it’s obscene.

One of the reasons the Church is ineffective is it’s worldliness- it is in fact a captive to the general status quo of ideas in which it lives. When it becomes changed in the 20th century it is only as a pale afterthought of what somebody else started anyway- so the church becomes hippy ten years after it’s damned the hippies. Neither trendy left-wing or rightwing responses come out of a biblical revelation of the grace of God. You can’t get anything more radical than Scripture.

IN CONTRAST TO THE USUAL IMAGE OF AN EVANGELIST YOU SEEM TO HAVE AN INSATIABLE THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE.

If God intended us to pickle our brains and put them aside, if he hadn’t wanted us to struggle with the great issues of human history and culture then he would not have sent us a middle-eastern book spanning many centuries and cultures-He would have sent us a small tract. I can’t understand the attitude of most evangelists. If one has good news to state to the world that good news has to be relative to human experience of art of love, of war, of struggle. Pick up a book like the Song of Solomon and it’s clearly an erotic love poem. Look at The Proverbs, a bunch of wise sayings which every young bloke ought to learn from his dad about poverty, wealth, the search for wisdom, stress in the family … even the most profoundly fundamentalist Christian ought to be driven to see that the Christian life encompasses every area of human experience. If that be the case then the Book itself is not sufficient either. It’s like Saint Paul said when he was in prison, ‘Don’t just send me the religious parchments but send me the other books as well.

WOULD EVANGELISM BE MORE EFFECTIVE IF EVANGELISTS ASKED ‘WHY?’ THEMSELVES

I’m sure of it. If one is to be an evangelist one must follow in the steps of the ultimate evangelist Jesus Christ himself and, strangely enough, the one we say is The Way, the Truth and the Life spent an extraordinary amount of his time asking rather than answering questions. When the smart lawyer asked him how to inherit eternal life, Jesus responded by asking him how he read the Scriptures.

If one is a lover of one’s fellow human beings then the pains and struggles of the great minds of the Universe are of enormous importance. When I read Sartre or Camus I sometimes cry and find myself saying ‘I wish I knew him, I wish I could have sat in a Paris dive somewhere and drunk a bottle of good Bordeaux with him and really talked out some of the issues. Maybe that’s arrogant but I feel it’s an obscenity that some of the great thinkers and artists have been abandoned by the Church because they asked questions.

If what I have is worth believing it is worth refining, and if it is worth refining it has to come under attack in the marketplace of ideas -I see that example in Jesus and in Paul. That modifies faith not weakens it.

YOU’RE INCREASINGLY INVITED TO ADDRESS MEETINGS OF CHRISTIAN MUSICIANS. WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND?

I find it unfair that artists who feel it incumbent on them to say something about issues like Central America, face paranoia when they offer the possibility of a convincing personal contact with the Mind behind the Universe. I can’t separate those things. I feel very much like the Argentinian singer Luis Alfredo who sings a song like Desmond Tutu in one breath and in the next sings a song that just says ‘Close to You Lord.’

In the church I find it incredible that in a ‘Holy Spirit inspired’ period, as people call it, the choruses that are being written are either banal and unbelievably immature or else a simple regurgitation of biblical verses. It’s absurd.

I want the Christians in the artistic world to impact themselves on the church. Often they haven’t got a worldview and while they accuse the Church of a horrid internalized spirituality their own form is even less accessible to the common ordinary Jo-bloke. It seems to me that the arts are the nerve-ends of the culture and particularly in a period when the arts are disintegrating the brokeness and wounding expresses itself again and again in the cries of the artist. With Western culture in such a state of flux and uncertainty the role of the artist is particularly significant.

I am continually distressed by the lack of content of many Christian artists and by their flippancy even in their art. A lot of artists apart from the ego-boosting nature of the exercise don’t seem to take their craft very seriously. Their lyrics are particularly distressing with precious little interface with the real world.

ARE THEY SCARED THE WORLD WILL CORRUPT THEM?

The man or woman whose faith is assured and real is able to be at risk. The person who knows where their home is, where the fence-line is, where the property ends is much more secure to leave the property and go out. I’m not too sure that there is even a robust pietistic faith amongst Christian artists, I think many of them are pretty shonky in their own faith, not really confident. Many know intuitively underneath that they have so little understanding of their own faith that if they step outside the kindergarten they might not be able to get back in again- they’re not sure where the house is.

WHAT ARE ‘SECULAR SYMBOLS OF THE ‘GOSPEL ?

I believe in the old Methodist doctrine of Prevenient Grace, that God is active all the time and that He didn’t suddenly burst on the scene with the coming of Jesus nor did He then withdraw for the next 2000 years. Jesus said ‘If the people hadn’t praised Him then the very stones would have cried out’. It’s a bit of a corny pun, I know, but when the Rolling Stones were singing ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ that was a pre-Gospel statement of great significance for that generation and I find myself quoting poems, movies, songs, everything to my listeners. Truth is truth and if something is true you believe that whoever utters it, ultimately it comes from the mind of God. In the world there are thousands of voices doing a pre-evangelistic job for us.

The world resounds with cries against materialism, against meaninglessness, against isolation, against egotism and so on.

THE JOB OF THE OBSERVANT CHRISTIAN MIGHT BE TO TURN UP THE VOLUME.

Absolutely. A Wycliffe worker called Richardson said that “Where Christians go into a foreign culture with the attitude ‘This is demonic’ they don’t tend to have a good response. But when they go in to find what are the symbols of the culture that speak of the transcendent issues of life, where are the foundations and roots of that culture, the dreams, the longings and aspirations and then they affirm those which are good … the response in terms of conversion has been quite phenomenal.

So I go to a bunch of kids and I say ‘Hey, you go to a Springsteen concert and you all resonate when the guy sings ‘Everybody has a Hungry Heart’- that’s exactly the thing the gospel is talking about, the innate hunger in a human being for identity, for love, for meaning.’

Or take U2′ s song ‘Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, the best thing they’ve ever done. It gets canned by some Christians because it’s seen as a back-off from Christian faith. I have taken that song and I catch fire with it. I say to an audience of kids that if there’s any twit around that has found what he’s looking for he’s sure living in a little ghetto somewhere.

The fact is what I’m looking for is a new earth, a new regime, a new love, a new humanity. I can’t be satisfied while girls are being raped by their fathers and uncles, while 47% of the inmates of Western Australia’s jails are Aborginals when they only constitue 1% of the population … I just can’t be happy with the way things are. I scream out Jesus words from the Lord’s Prayer ‘Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven’. I can’t be satisfied until that has happened.

MOST PREACHERS REJECT THE CULTURE OF YOUNG PEOPLE, YOU SAY LARGE PARTS OF IT POINT TO GOD …

Christians have only taught one part of the Bible’s teaching about the nature of human beings – they’ve taught that we’re a fallen creature but they have defaced the human being and stripped from him or her the very presence of God who has not departed from the Universe.

The unspoken body-language of the Church is one that would have the world believe that God is so traumatised by human sin that he retreats into the cathedral… that’s madness, this is God’s world.  When you start really loosening up in the culture you get surprised almost every day by the possibilities of grace in the midst of a pagan culture. The Bible is full of Jesus bringing surprises to bear upon people just when you think he should give a simplistic answer to the question.

The whole creation, not just manmade things, speaks the glory of God. The residual sap of the very energy of God resides in every human being’s life …. but it’s cut-off from the source.

 

3 thoughts on “Straight Smith

  1. I don’t ride a Harley – I ride a maxi-scooter and have done the ‘bikes’. Well done Dr John and keep up the good work. I saw you years ago ride your bike into Cloverdale Baptist Church in Corio by Geelong, rev it up, then give a talk. Onya mate!
    Jay

  2. If I want to see the supernatural, I don’t go to TV’s “Buffy” et al. I go to the prison where I see the experience of grace and the power of forgiveness made real in damaged men who discover the source of hope in the face of darkness. Mnay of them have come out of the gangs and the too “tell it like it is”. We tell it the way it can be.

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