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Manna Gum - A Ministry in Good News Economics

Sunday, 5 May 2013  | Jonathan Cornford

Imagine that a pair of Martian anthropologists has come to Australia and are given a research topic: “What are the differences between those who call themselves ‘Christian’ and the rest of the population?” As Martians they have limited ability to comprehend our language, but as anthropologists they are trained to observe. They understand that, much more than what we say and write, the things that we do and the ways that we live are what really disclose our worldview and belief structure. After months of meticulous observation of the daily lives of Christians and the rest of the population, our Martian anthropologists hand down the findings of their study. What will their conclusions be?

When I ask groups to reflect on this question, the responses tend to be troubled and troubling. Once Christian gatherings and our private spiritual lives are removed, it seems there is not that much in the day-to-day material existence of most Christians – that is, in the vast bulk of our lives – which shows evidence of a profoundly different belief structure or worldview. Patterns of work, consumption, recreation, housing, use of technology, savings and investment tend to be derived generally from the world around us. In short, most Australian Christians live ‘normal’ Western lives. 

When we further consider that this ‘normal Western way of life’ - now the apotheosis of all humanity – is based upon gross economic injustices, is bringing about a planetary ecological crisis, is characterised by the breakdown of community and the family, and is implicated in any number of malaises of the soul, mind and body, then we have good reason to be troubled by the apparent harmony between this way of life and the good news of Jesus. 

But, of course, there can be no harmony between a culture of death and the way of life, and it is the failure to recognise this which is at the heart of the current crisis of Western Christianity. William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Second World War, once wrote that ‘Christianity is the most materialist of all religions’. He was not saying that Christianity leads to acquisitiveness and consumerism – the opposite, in fact – but that Christianity is fundamentally concerned with material things, because the life of the body and the life of the spirit cannot be separated. In the language of John’s Gospel, the Word must become flesh.  

Across the church there are stirrings of movements which, in different ways, are impelled by the conviction that renewal for the church in the West is dependent upon re-discovering the ‘en-fleshed’ gospel – the gospel that is good news of solid substance in our day to day lives. The small ministry of Manna Gum is one such expression of this conviction. 

Manna Gum is a denominationally independent ministry whose core purpose is to assist Christians (or anyone who will listen) to rediscover an awareness of the riches of Biblical teaching on how we conduct our social, economic and political lives, and to encourage the exploration of practical Christian alternatives to the dominant mode of living. This work is three-fold. First, it involves dynamic re-engagement with the Bible as a text which is fundamentally concerned with our use of money, our relationship to things, and our responsibilities to the earth. The object is to recover a Biblical lens on the whole of life. 

Second, the necessary companion of this task is to begin to critically re-assess the text of our lives and the world around us. Part of this is unravelling the complexity of our economic and social systems to achieve a clearer perspective of what the impact of our way of life is on others, upon the earth, and upon ourselves. But it also requires bringing a Biblical lens to bear on areas of life that we have never really thought about before, and asking whether the way of God demands that we act differently from the norm. 

Finally, awakening a Biblical critique of ‘normal life’ demands that we engage in some creative thinking to begin to see the possibilities for practical and achievable Biblically-derived alternatives. Our urgent need is not to find ‘the right way to live’ (if such a thing exists), but to develop the habits of taking the Bible seriously and actively trying to apply it to our whole lives. 

A good example of this three-fold process can be found in one of the tools which Manna Gum promotes, the Household Covenant. The Household Covenant names seven areas of life – work and leisure; consumption; environment; giving; savings and investment; debt; and poverty – and challenges us to ask: is there anything wrong with business as usual in this area of life; what does the Bible have to say on the matter; and, what could I do differently to better reflect Biblical values in this area? The object is to encourage households to make one change - self-determined and achievable – in each of these areas over the course of a year. 

To date, Manna Gum’s work has mostly been among interested individuals scattered across the church. However, it is our hope to increasingly find ways to support churches and church leaders. Manna Gum offers a number of resources which aim to assist churches, Christian groups and individual Christians to explore the areas above:

  1. The Manna Matters newsletter (free) contains articles on Bible and economy, understanding the times, aid and development and home economics.
  2. The A New Way of Living Series is a 2 or 3 session introductory series developed to help churches or church groups begin a conversation about applying the Bible to our whole lives.
  3. The Household Covenant Bible Study series is an 8 week series run periodically out of different venues.
  4. The A Different Way Exposure Week is an intensive live-in week in Term 4 exploring Christ’s call to a new way of living.
  5. The Arts of Home Economy Weekend is a fun weekend of recovering lost arts of home economy.
  6. Preaching and teaching by engagement

More information about all of these, and much more, can be found on the Manna Gum website: www.mannagum.org.au. Manna Gum takes seriously Jesus' command to his disciples, 'You received without payment; give without payment', and so does not charge any fees for its teaching. If you would like to know more about Manna Gum, or discuss how it can support your church or group, contact Jonathan Cornford, jonathan@mannagum.org.au


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