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The Wee Flea in Australia – Australian Presbyterian Article.

For better or for worse I have agreed to write a weekly column for Australian Presbyterian – the national journal of the Presbyterian Church of Australia…the first one – an introduction – has just been published  here….

The Wee Flea in Australia.

IMG_7285‘How are you getting on in Australia? Get yourself in trouble yet? What are the Aussie Presbyterians like?” asked a friend from Scotland. “Fine….not yet but give me chance….don’t know but now I’m writing for them we will soon find out!” came the reply. I’ve not yet had a great deal of experience in Aussie Presbyterian churches – Scots in Sydney, Christ College in Sydney, Queensland theological college in Brisbane; York St Presbyterian in Brisbane; Chatswood Presbyterian men’s conference, Nowra, the Chinese Presbyterians and Rose Bay are the limit of my Presbyterian experience here – so far! So please forgive the musings of an ignorant foreigner.

It’s strange having an outsider’s perspective – there are advantages (not belonging to any particular tribe, not having the same depth of emotional and personal engagement) and disadvantages (not belonging to any particular tribe, not having the same depth of emotional and personal engagement). When Mark Powell asked me to write for this august publication I was delighted – not because I want to write a personal reflection, but rather because I have grown to care deeply about the communication of the Gospel in this wonderful land – and being a Presbyterian minister, I have a particular love for the Presbyterian church. After all I come from the home of Presbyterianism (other than of course the first General Assembly at Jerusalem) and am in the words of Paul, a Presbyterian of the Presbyterians – having ministered in the Scottish Highlands and then the church of Robert Murray McCheyne – St Peters in Dundee.

But like Paul, I hope I can say that I count all this rubbish compared with the glory of knowing and sharing Christ. Our concern with history is not so that we can glory in it, but so that we can use it to help us glorify Christ, now and in the future. We uphold Presbyterian doctrine and ecclesiology because, at its best, it is the best and most effective way to spread the Gospel and build up the Church. At its worst it is a kind of purgatory (if we believed in that sort of thing!).

I hope to reflect in a regular way on some aspect of Australian life and especially how we can surf the waves of our culture in order to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ. I work on the conviction that the best way to evangelise is through the local Church. I also believe in the words of Will Metzger’s still relevant book on evangelism, The Whole Truth; that we are to tell “the whole gospel to the whole person by whole people”. We must not compartmentalise public worship, prayer, mercy ministry, preaching, discipleship and evangelism as though they were separate, disconnected entities.

I am known as the Wee Flea because Richard Dawkins called myself, John Lennox and Alistair McGrath, ‘fleas living of a dog’s back’, for writing against his book The God Delusion. He had banned me from his website so I figured that he would not be too aware of Scottish Presbyterian history and I decided to use the pseudonym The Wee Flea. (My denomination, the Free Church of Scotland, was colloquially known as ‘the Wee Frees). Somehow the name stuck, and it is largely how I am known. In fact, I was sitting in a church meeting here in Australia a while ago and when the person beside me heard I was a Scot he informed me that he followed a Scot called ‘The Wee Flea’ online! I quickly prevented him hurting my feelings or boosting my ego!

Fleas are irritating and unpleasant. That’s not really what I want to be. I prefer the image of a pebble in a shoe. Something that makes you stop, think and take stock. A word of advice in reading this column – please don’t try to read between the lines or understand the code. I try not to speak in code. Also, most of my writing is thinking out loud – which means I often get things wrong. But surely the principle we work on is that of iron sharpening iron?

In a nutshell my belief/observation is that Australian is not nearly as far down the godless secularisation route that the UK in general, and Scotland in particular has gone. We, and I use the term ‘we’ because I regard myself as an honorary Australian, are on that route, but we don’t have to continue that way. I also believe that the society here is simultaneously both more hostile and more open to the Gospel – but that the church in general, including the Presbyterian church – is struggling to communicate that Gospel, in a society which so desperately needs it. We need to understand the culture and understand the Word even more – so that we can communicate that Word to the world. That’s what we will look at over the coming weeks…

“Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard” (Malachi 3:16) . My hope and prayer are that I will learn a great deal from interacting with you. SDG.

David Robertson
July 2020

David Robertson is a Scottish Presbyterian minister who came to Australia in 2019 to direct Third Space – an evangelistic project designed to help churches in outreach and evangelism in todays culture. You can contact him at david.robertson@thirdspace.org.au

3 comments

  1. Hello David – great to read of your sharing and may you never cease to be getting in trouble for the right reasons!

    What you say about the advantage of “not belonging to any particular tribe” is true for me in this country. I equally offend every tribe and am equally hated by all. Two Americans on either side of current issues have either unfriended me or been unfriended by me recently on Facebook and one being a senior lecturer in a theological college. There would have been a time when that would have been devastating for me but dare I say, the Lord kept me strong throughout. A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering candle he won’t snuff out?

    I hear what you say with “the conviction that the best way to evangelise is through the local Church”. Oh if only that were the case in all circumstances. The former principle of the International Christian College, Richard Tiplady has written in Rose Dowsett’s book on Global mission about Christian worship and community being unattractive to outsiders and sometimes repulsive and that the only offence should be the cross of Christ. And what you say about Presbyterian doctrine and ecclesiology at it’s worse seems to be not dissimilar.

    Perhaps the church is in an exile of a kind, of being in effect cancelled just as Isreal was taken into Bablyon for 70 years until a remnant was left to then rebuild Jerusalem. Perhaps it has taken something like Covid-19 for the church to be pruned and be branches reliant on sustenance from the vine rather than resting on the laurels of denominational loyalty and ecclesiastical tradition?

    I know we disagree on Steve Aisthorpe with his PhD research conclusions expressed in his “The Invisible Church: Learning from the Experiences of Churchless Christians” but perhaps there may be personal experiences that have inclined us towards us taking different positions which doesn’t invalidate either but when taken in the bigger picture in Christ could even compliment?

    A church without Christ is an oxymoron?

  2. Rev Robertson , Another invitation to write ? While I am grateful for the opportunities and liberties you have been given in contending for the gospel of Jesus Christ , I am also concerned. I have been been blessed by your writing for several years now ,from the time you encouraged debate and comment on the old Free Church of Scotland web site , to the present day. I wish it to continue .

    Your “Wee Flea” blog has brought us much to agree , disagree and chew upon . I have also been enriched by the comments of many who spare the time to make open remark for the edifying of us all. Your “Cafe Talks”, although aimed at a younger audience also find a resonance among fossils like myself , and your discussions with Steve Mac Alpine at the “Breakfast Table” permitted us to feed from such a worthy as John Lennox . On top of that there are the preaching engagements , the radio interviews ( Janet Parshall ) , regular call to write for Christian Today , the requests to come here and to go there . I have no wish to set a limit on the work one man is able to do , but , as I said at the beginning , I am concerned .Beware of spreading yourself too thinly . So , I am sure , are those who are closest to you. Even Jesus had to sleep , albeit in the convenient prow of a boat .

    The thought came to me to say this through private text but I am sure at least one other shares my concern , hence the letter to open forum.

    1. Thanks Gylen for the concern…Its much appreciated. But writing is to some extent my job. As Third Space we are seeking to have an influence in the wider church and thus being invited to write for the Australian Presbyterians and the Sydney Anglicans (as well as some others- just waiting for the invite from Hillsong!) is an answer to prayer. You are of course right – there is a limit – and I think I know what that is. The question is not ‘how much’ do I write (that will stay constant as long as the well does not run dry – which I think will happen) but for whom? That is where wisdom is required.

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