How David beats Goliath – implications for mission

David and Goliath - the Sumo Wrestling match
David and Goliath - the Sumo Wrestling match

Fascinating article that I found through someone’s Twitter (really can’t remember who it was – sorry if it was you!). The article comes from the New Yorker, and discusses how David beats Goliath, both literally and metaphorically.

David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.

via Annals of Innovation: How David Beats Goliath: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker.

The article also talks about a girls basketball team, a war-games artificial intelligence machine, and Lawrence of Arabia, among other things. But there are some fantastic correlations between all of the “Davids” beating their “Goliaths”.

  • When David plays on Goliath’s terms, and sticks to the “tried and true”, he will usually get beaten
  • In all of the cases discussed, there was a sense of hopelessness from the outside of the “Davids”, and a sense of desperation on the inside
  • It usually requires that David comes from (or is lead by someone who comes from) a place outside the regular system. Insiders are too stuck in the accepted model to be prepared to change
  • Any attempt at bucking the system results in widespread social ridicule. The reaction from Goliath at an unconventional attempt is always to patronise.

So here’s my thinking. I think this has to have some impact on how we do mission in the western world. Because we’ve been Goliath, but certainly in Australia and increasingly elsewhere: we’re David. Christianity as a whole is up against it, and we’re no longer the commanding voice we still like to believe we are. And there’s something central to the Christian gospel that makes a lot more sense when you’re the minority, but that’s a conversation for another day.

I do think that if the whole church sticks to the “tried and true” – we’re already beaten. That’s not to say there’s not a place for church as it looks in its current form, nor to dismiss “big-church” as archaic, or anything like that. But it’s completely reasonable to suggest that even if institutional church hits the mark for everyone they market themselves at – that’s not even close to half the population.

There’s a fascinating quote in the article, talking about the computer simulator for war games:

““Eurisko was exposing the fact that any finite set of rules is going to be a very incomplete approximation of reality,” Lenat explained. “What the other entrants were doing was filling in the holes in the rules with real-world, realistic answers. But Eurisko didn’t have that kind of preconception, partly because it didn’t know enough about the world.”

I wonder if, as we re-think mission and how we engage with the world, if we need to re-assess where our “filling in the holes” of gospel might have gone off-track, and only feed in the things that are central to the mission of the holy spirit in revealing the kingdom of God – rather than allowing the extra pre-conceptions fill in the gaps and get stuck in the same old mode.

I want to know what you think, but before I ask there is one more thing I’ve got to clear up. If the church as a whole is to take the challenge of mission in a post-modern context, one thing is for sure. We’ve got to understand who Goliath is. And Goliath is not the church, not the institutions, not even the bureacracy. Our Goliath is apathy, it is Satan, and it is the brokenness of this world. We can’t be here to prove “big church” wrong. It’s got to be all of us, ready to get about the work of transforming this world and revealing the Kingdom of God.

So, have a read, and talk back. What do you think? Am I off track, or does this story have some pretty full on implications for the out-working of the gospel in the here and now?

When can we be a church?

Fantastic story at “The M Blog” – have a read. Blew me away with simplicity.

When Mónica called saying she and her husband needed an urgent meeting, medical my heart sank. Usually when someone calls for a private meeting, there is some problem that has arisen and we are the ones they come to for help. Both are new believers who have grown tremendously in the Lord. I dreaded hearing whatever it was that had happened.

Mónica voiced their concern, “When can we be a church?”

via The M Blog: When can we be a church?.

The Idea

(Warning: pretentious personal poetry post)


The idea was exciting.

It spoke of something bigger, something grander than I’d previously known.

For quite a while the idea was extending my faith.

The possibilities were endless, and there seemed no limit to the idea’s implications.

The idea ran around and around in my head, questioning previous assumptions and breaking down crusty religious attitudes.

For a little while, I loved the idea.

But like most ideas, it was hard to love for long.

An idea does not love you back and it can not speak.

The idea had transformed my mind, but left my heart and my soul untouched.

My God is not an idea.

But for a little while, an idea was my God.

Bono on gaining the whole world

The preacher said, “What good does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” Hearing this, every one of the pilgrims gathered in the room asked, “Is it me, Lord?” In America, in Europe, people are asking, “Is it us?”

Well, yes. It is us.

Bono at Op-Ed Guest Columnist – It’s 2009. Do You Know Where Your Soul Is? –

Realise there’s not much been happening here between Easter and Soul Survivor. Can’t promise it’ll improve, but this is a fantastic opinion piece by Bono. I suggest you go and read it.

Re-Jesus: The Book “Shaping” Could Have Been


One of my all time favourite books is “The Shaping Of Things To Come” by Alan Hirsch and Mike Frost. It was my introduction to the emerging-missional church conversation/movement (like a bunch of Aussies, and quite a few non-Aussies), and it is a really good read. It’s quite heavy, but at the same time quite inspiring. The revolution had begun, no longer was it OK for a church to be attractional, the Christendom model was to be rejected out of hand and we were all going to have churches that genuinely engaged with their communities.

The beauty of “Shaping” was also it’s biggest problem. This was a revolutionary text, a veritable Communist Manifesto, and like most revolutionary texts, there appeared little concern for anyone left behind. Out with the old wineskins, in with the new, the old wine can go jump,  just worry about those new wineskins. That sort of deal. It was written with the best of intentions, and with a genuine love for old-church. But because it was so passionate, so revolutionary, so angry that love was overshadowed. So a number of people were hurt, and even more were able to write off “Shaping” as being a pipe dream, and an angry reaction to bad experiences of Christendom model church, rather than the freeing invitation to shape your ecclesiology by the missional context you find yourself within. It took no effort to ignore as being a case of hurt Christians lashing out at the church.

Fast forward at least 5 years (I don’t have my copy of Shaping of Things To Come with me) and the terrible twosome have come out with another book together. And in my (very humble) opinion, this is the book that Shaping might have been. It’s not as heavy, and it’s not as angry, but in my opinion it’s equally as challenging and revolutionary. Whereas it could be argued that parts of Shaping came across as an attack ad on the Christendom model church, Re-Jesus comes across as instead being a positively re-inforced call back to centre our entire lives (including our church and church structure) around the person of Jesus. And that has as many harsh implications for how the emerging-missional crowd “be the church” as it does for the mainstream attractional crew.

I really believe that this is a book with an incredible potential to be a powerful prophetic voice in calling the church back to a truly Jesus-centred Christianity. I could describe it more, but I’m instead just going to encourage you all to read it.

Evangelism Spam

Got an email this morning with the following subject:

Top names in male improvement sold at discount prices

I was a little impressed at the effort they’d gone to in order to avoid the trusty GMail spam filter. Was less impressed that it succeeded, but it did give me a cause to think.

It seems to me that lots of the time, we try and dress up our God-talk to try and get around people’s spam filters. We tell people to invite their friends to church because we’ll be less about God today. But you know what? The reason I don’t want emails about Penis enlargement or Viagra is not because the email hasn’t been prettied up enough for me. It’s that I don’t want the product. And when someone tries to sneak around my filters to sell me a product I don’t want, it actually just makes me think worse of those people, not better.

So – do we drag down our “product” when we try and slip through people’s spam filters?

(product used very loosely)

More Biblical than the Bible

Scot McKnight (there’s no better God-blogger) has attacked the idea that we should go further to be purer in our “sin-avoidance” attempts, specifically with respect to alcohol:

“What I find every year in this conversation is a serious, but repeated mistake. The tack is this: If I take a stand more “biblical than the Bible,” then I can’t be wrong. That is, if I choose not to drink at all, I will keep myself from sin and all appearance of evil and will be safe. This is what I call the sin of “zealotry” — the belief that if we are more extreme than the Bible, then we can’t be wrong. Wrong.”

via The Bible and Alcohol – Jesus Creed.

As someone who went along to a Christian school which in lots of ways leant pretty hard in this direction (generally, obviously not just alcohol), this is such a refreshing and freeing thing to hear. I think we’ve embraced this idea that we have to do things “just to be safe”, not recognising that it’s the same legalism we’re embracing for “safety” that Jesus railed against in the Pharisees.

And yet having said all that, I completely understand that there are very valid reasons why Christians would choose not to drink alcohol. But if the reason you’re doing it is to make yourself holier than Jesus, then maybe you’ve pushed “biblical” a bit far.

Moses wrote you this law

Just stumbled across this verse, and I’m wondering if there is implications for how we read the law books of the Old Testament:

It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied.

Mark 10:5 (NIV) – emphasis mine

I have no opinion (yet), but I wondered if this verse changes some of how we read the law of Moses, with particular reference to more controversial aspects.

God is in the rain

Many of you would be aware (particularly those of you who live here), but Melbourne is in the midst of a pretty significant drought, and more specifically a recent dry period that was ultimately the catalyst for the bush-fires. Rain has thus been a foreign concept.

So as you can imagine when we heard rain thundering down at the YVV conference thingy on Saturday, it was quite an exciting moment. Enough so that Greg Trainor (who was speaking at the time), just stopped what we were doing while everyone got up and had a look at the rain. The sense of what this meant, not mostly for us specifically, but for our whole community was palpable. This rain meant safety: any fight left in the bush-fires couldn’t survive a pounding like this. This rain meant rejuvenation: gardens had been effectively burned by the unbelievably hot temperatures, and with tight water restrictions most had not been given the sort of soaking required for recovery. This rain meant livelihoods:  farmers across the state, and the country are desperate for every drop of rain that allows them to earn a living for a little bit longer.

There’s a beautiful part of the film “V for Vendetta” where Natalie Portman’s character Evie has been locked up, and is freed. Without giving too much of the film away, it’s fair to say that her imprisonment has been something of a rite of passage. As she stands outside, with shaved head and wearing her prisoner clothes, it begins to rain. She stands with arms outstretched and murmurs the words from an earlier story:

“God is in the rain”

"God is in the rain"
"God is in the rain"

McKnight on McManus: The Inner Apologetic

Fascinating reflections from Scot McKnight on Erwin McManus’ book “Soul Cravings”. He boils McManus’ point down to the idea that:

“If God is real and you are created by him, your soul already knows it.”

– via “The Inner Apologetic – Jesus Creed

It’s interesting that Scot finds the idea to be one that he has “never seen a full scale discussion on”, because for me it’s certainly an idea that I feel like I’ve absorbed rather than been taught directly. And in many ways I’ve almost taken it as self-evident – it is almost another way of describing the “God-shaped hole” of yesteryear’s evangelistic tracts. From the Jesus Creed post again:

“How far can we go with this inner apologetic? How far will the inner apologetic lead us? Is there something written into the fabric of every human being that God exists and that we can only find genuine rest/happiness in that God?”

Interesting thoughts, I thought. Just putting it out there really.