There’s this dimension to Church and life in South Africa that I’ve been trying to process all week. There is a more sharply defined edge to the theological significance of what Christians do together, just like there is a constant political assessment of how people relate. A friend in Australia who lived and studied here for a number of years told me to watch out for it, and I’m seeing what he meant.
South African Christians are trying to find ways to take the reality of God’s being reconciled to us, and express it to others. The segregation of people under apartheid was a blow against a fundamental expression of the Christian gospel, so bringing people together from different racial backgrounds into one gathering of God’s people is fraught with meaning. It’s also very hard to do, there are cultural differences about how Church should be done, there are emotional and psychological behaviour patterns that lay everything open to miscommunication. It’s also difficult to maintain that line between the gospel itself, the message of reconciliation to God through the work of Christ, and the fruit of the gospel, the reconciliation of former enemies within the one family of God’s people. There is less chance, however, of falling into the Australian trap of practical secularism, which sees no connection between the gospel and its fruit.
The great challenge for Australian Christians is to find ways to take the reality of God’s being reconciled to us, and to make a secular, self-sufficient Aussie give a damn. In Australia we are continually labouring to show people that Christianity is relevant to themselves and to our society. Sometimes I wonder whether we really believe it ourselves.
Conversing with Australian Post-Modernity feels more like conversing with someone in a drug-induced high, full of desire without rationality, and without any firm grip on the world as it is. How do you communicate with people like that? What will it take to sober them up?
As we’ve attended Church and throughout this week as we’ve talked to students on the Campus at UKZN I keep getting amazed at the willingness of people to take seriously the questions and answers which lie at the heart of Christianity. Questions like, how to deal with fear; how to know and be in relationship with God; how to work out what is wrong with our cultures and societies. People might not agree with the Christian answers but there is a genuine discussion – and that means the genuine possibility of people hearing the gospel and following Jesus’ call. I was joking with a mate on the team who is heading into student ministry in Australia that he will spend the rest of his days pining for South African students.
What is the difference between South Africa and Australia?
The inflation rate is over 11%. The unemployment rate is 23%. There are 28000 murders a year. Next week there will be power cuts for 4 hours on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I chatted with one Christian girl who told me about being in High School and discussing with her friends what they would do if they were raped and fell pregnant. the horror.
People take questions and answers about life seriously.