9th June, 2010
Two leading national organisations aimed at promoting Christian thought have joined in a new initiative which aims to increase the collaboration and the exchange of ideas between Australia’s "Christian thinkers and activists".
Ethos – the EA Centre for Christianity and Society has been jointly formed by the Zadok Institute for Christianity and Society and the Evangelical Alliance’s Department of Public Theology.
The new organisation's logo.
“EA Public Theology has probably been more oriented towards theologians and church leaders and Zadok has had a much stronger lay emphasis. And we basically wanted to have those two things together so it’s very much an emphasis on lay ministry and lay involvement."
Launched in late March with a discussion on the issue of climate change, the new body adopt a “multi-disciplinary and conversational” approach towards issues and help avoid duplication by the organisations involved, according to Ethos assistant director Ian Packer.
Mr Packer, a Baptist minister who lectures at several colleges on theology and ethics, sits on the new organisation’s board along with its director Gordon Preece, an Anglican minister, lecturer and editor of Zadok Perspectives and Papers, and Denise Cooper-Clarke, a researcher with doctorates in medicine and bioethics.
Mr Packer says the new body is non-denominationally based within the framework of a “broad evangelical perspective” and brings together the slightly different approaches of both the EA’s Department of Public Theology, which was founded in 2004 and will be replaced by the new organisation, and the Zadok Institute for Christianity and Society, an independent organisation founded in 1976 with the mission of promoting informed theological reflection and debate, especially by lay people, on contemporary Australian issues.
“EA Public Theology has probably been more oriented towards theologians and church leaders and Zadok has had a much stronger lay emphasis. And we basically wanted to have those two things together so it’s very much an emphasis on lay ministry and lay involvement.
“Rather than simply resourcing church leaders to talk more about social engagement from pulpits, it’s actually trying to directly engage Christians in professional situations or even public service situations with ways to think through how does their faith actually work itself out in their roles.”
The new organisation already hosts more than six smaller “think-tanks” made up of lay specialists as well as theologians and academics, each of which is looking at specific issues – from human rights and Islamic society through to indigenous issues and climate change.
At present, the majority of those involved are based in Melbourne while others are based in Sydney, Perth and Canberra. It is hoped the spread will expand to include other areas of Australia.
Mr Packer says the response to the new initiative to date has been very positive.
“The initiative has been welcomed and almost unanimously supported…I think what we want to do next is also hear from the churches what they’re grappling with so that we can (work) towards resourcing them.”
As well as working with churches and pastors, Mr Packer says the new organisation aims to provide a hub to resource and engage the many Christians working in the secular world.
“There are Christians certainly involved in these issues – they might be at a university plugging away and trying to bring a Christian perspective and maybe feeling a little isolated or (they might be) people that have actually practical dilemmas in different roles, maybe in different kinds of service delivery for government or the private sector who actually want people to be able to thrash these out with.”
It will also provide them with a means through which lay Christians can share their expertise with others.
“We also want to provide them with a voice to basically share what’s going on from an informed, engaged perspective,” notes Mr Packer. “And…that will mean that there will be a variety of perspectives…”
He cites the recent debate over a proposed federal Human Rights Bill as an example of the diversity of opinion among Christians in Australia.
‘There’s been Christians on both sides of the debate. And what we want to model is actually a way for Christians to engage with each other on issues like that in a civil and constructive way that itself provides a model for society on how to engage each on these sorts of issues rather than polarise.
“A lot of what we see is often attack dog tactics where this group in society is undermining or persecuting us Christians and so we need to fight back. And while there is a contest and somewhat of a battle of ideas, we want to do that in a way that models the character and ethos of Christ.
“That’s very much what we’re on about – the manner in which we engage publicly, not just the ideas. So we’re not about ramming a Christian worldview down someone’s throat but we actually want to introduce them into the life that’s associated with that worldview and to make discipleship something curious and somewhat attractive without compromise.”