The Thorn Street Chronicles

"I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints." Jude 1:3b


This document is from

Christi-Anarchy, the provocatively titled new book from Australian author and Christian community leader, Dave Andrews, has fired much discussion both inside and outside the Christian community. In it he describes in detail his excommunication more than 20 years ago from worldwide Christian mission organisation, Youth With a Mission (YWAM). This narrative provides the impetus for Andrews's call for a total deconstruction and reconstruction of what it is to follow Jesus.

From his home in Queensland, Australia, Dave Andrews spoke to Shoot the Messenger's editor, Paul Mitchell.

IN THE PROLOGUE to Christi-Anarchy you describe in detail the events surrounding your eventual excommunication from the Christian mission organisation, Youth With a Mission (YWAM). Christians to whom I've spoken have wondered why it is in the book.

The story's there because that event was the defining moment in my life. It made me think about issues of faith, values and the way people deal with each other. What happened to us (Dave's wife, Ange, was involved, ed.) was a painful awakening to the realisation that Christians can operate in really damaging and destructive ways. It set me on a path of trying to understand why Christians operate the way they often do. So the story is integral to the whole book.

The difficulty is that in Christian circles there is that whole culture of silence, particularly in evangelical/charismatic circles. We are quick to criticise people of other traditions and religions but not our own.

So you think some Christians are reacting to you breaking solidarity within the ranks...

People have said, 'How dare you name names, that is a terrible thing to do!' The natural instinct is to close ranks and protect the evangelical constituency. I remind them there is a great biblical tradition in naming names and that naming names doesn't destroy people's reputations. It depends on how people who are named respond to being named.

If they're like Herod and they cut off the head of John the Baptist, then it is not likely to do their reputation a lot of good. But if they are like David and they respond to Nathan by acknowledging the issues and dealing with them in a constructive way, then it might establish their reputation as a man of God for the rest of history.

Yet people to whom I've spoken wonder why you've brought it up now after so many years.

I find that incredible that people can't put that together. I find that strange. Are they serious (laughs)? I'll just go back again and say that it was the defining moment that made me realise how Christian individuals and groups can operate. I didn't demonise YWAM but recognised that that was typical of the way a lot of Christian groups operate.

The reason I've said it now is because, in raising those issues and concerns, it was better for me to tell my story than for somebody else to have told it. If my story had have come out later then people would have said, 'See, that was the reason he wrote Christi-Anarchy'. Whereas for me to be quite up-front and to say these were the reasons I wrote it and it came out of these experiences gives the book groundedness in my own struggle.

What was your personal process of recovery from the experiences you describe?

It almost destroyed my life. What I haven't said in the book is that I became suicidal because all the significant people I turned to denounced me, no one else would speak to me, and the people who had promised to protect me ended up having psychological breakdowns. One guy was taken away to an asylum.

It was absolutely devastating. I had a pain in my chest for six months after that and every time I encountered somebody from YWAM for the next year after that I started shaking. So it was a pretty traumatic experience.

How did I deal with that? In myself it was very difficult because God and 'God language' had been used to denounce me and destroy my life so it was very hard to pray or to read the Bible because it was redolent with memories of oppression. But I still trusted that somehow God was big enough and good enough to bring me through.

What Ange and I did was try to commit ourselves to a course of action that was still creative, still constructive. We tried to avoid being reactive and cynical and bitter and twisted. We committed ourselves wholeheartedly to following through the kind of things we still believed in, trusting that somehow in the process we would be healed. Over a period of five or 10 years we experienced quite a profound level of healing as a result of that.

There is nothing new about the idea of stripping religiosity from the idea of following Jesus, as Christi-Anarchy advocates. However, you're saying that Christianity itself needs to be thrown out. What ramifications does that hold for Christians corporately and individually?

On one level Christi-Anarchy is a classical evangelical critique of religion. On another level it is a contemporary critique of evangelicalism. What I am arguing is the more I've tried to understand why Christians operate the way they do - and there are a range of reasons why they do - at least one of the reasons is they've got a profound misunderstanding of who Christ was, what Christ was on about and how Christ would call them to deal with their lives. Therefore the harder they try to be good Christians the worse it is for the rest of us who are impacted by devotion.

I'm advocating completely deconstructing and reconstructing our understanding of the faith. I'm advocating that Christ didn't come to establish a new religion that we call "Christianity", that franchised forgiveness to people on our territory on our terms so that we could make a tidy profit out of the process. He came to bring a new way of life that was liberating rather than domesticating and is more characterised by the notions of "Christi-Anarchy" rather than by Christianity.

In the book you compare what you call "Closed Set Christianity" with "Centred Set Christi-Anarchy". It would be easy to interpret this as a comparison of evangelical and liberal Christianity.

Oh, that's nonsense (laughs). Liberals can be as 'closed set' as the evangelicals are, they just draw the definitions differently. No, that's nonsense. You can have a closed set perspective whether you are theist or atheist; whether you are evangelical or liberal.
What Christi-Anarchy is advocating is a dynamic, interactive relationship with the person of Christ. That defies the categories of evangelical and liberal; it is a dynamic process of interacting with a whole range of traditions in light of the person of Christ and his challenge upon our lives.

There are implicit examples in the book, but what does "Christi-Anarchy" look like in practise?

It is less about developing a theological, ideological, liturgical or missiological framework in which I invest my trust, and it is more about developing an existential and experiential relationship with Christ through which I feel energised, encouraged and empowered to critically interact with the whole of my life experience. I critically reflect on myself and my society in light of the living, loving Christ that I experience. I do that personally and corporately, so there becomes a dynamic, interactive process.

IF CHRISTI-ANARCHY was to take a shape of its own, if people wanted to subscribe to it as a new approach to following Jesus, would you be happy to lead the movement?

It would be contrary to my belief to be the leader of that (laughs). Firstly, I don't think it is a new approach. There have always been people through the centuries who have related to Christ on those terms. It is using contemporary language to talk about a way of relating to Christ that has always been a tradition. It may not have been the dominant tradition, but it has always been an alternate tradition. It began long before me and will exist long after me. I'm just one of many people trying to practise it in my life.

If Christi-Anarchy is as I describe it to be the only one who can lead it is Christ. It is for us to interact with the spirit of Christ and everyone has their own responsibility to work that out in their own way. Not individualistically, but collectively interacting with each other to honestly explore that process in their own lives as authentically as they can.

Rev. Tim Costello, Melbourne-based social justice campaigner and National President of the Australian Baptist Union, wrote the book's introduction. He's someone many would see as following the alternate tradition of which you speak, but within 'the system'.

It really doesn't matter whether people are inside or outside the institutions. What really matters is that wherever people are coming from they are authentically working out that kind of radical spirituality in their lives.

Why then get rid of the institutions?

The fundamental issue for me is that Christ called us to lay down our lives for one another. People as individuals are often willing to do that, but people as institutions, by definition, are unwilling to do that. In fact as institutions we are always prepared to sacrifice individuals for the sake of the institution. That is the problem with any institutionalised approach.

The kind of radical, non-violent, sacrificial spirituality I'm advocating will always subvert the institution because it is calling for people to lay down their lives for one another, rather than sacrifice individuals for the sake of the institution.

I mentioned to a woman who has no association with the church that I would be interviewing you about your book, Christi-Anarchy, and she said, 'What's that?' I said it is a book about how we need to put aside much of what Christianity is on about and concentrate on the person of Jesus and she said that sounds great.

The trouble is Christians have tried to coopt Christ and make out they've got a monopoly on Christ and that they can franchise forgiveness in the name of Christ and you have to come to us on our terms. It is a power play. It's really doing Christ a disservice. What we've got to do is set Christ free from Christianity and tell people to see Christ over and above and, if necessary, over and against Christianity.

What role has Marxist theory had on your ideas of community and what it is to follow Christ?

That's an interesting question. Marx has really useful insights, but a lot of his insights are based basically on the Bible, so ultimately, I think, a lot of his insights are derived insights. Christ was far more radical than Marx was. I don't actually lean on Marx very heavily. Whatever ideas I've derived from Marx I've traced back to the biblical narrative, either the Jewish Bible or the Christian Bible, and encountered those issues much more graphically and powerfully in the biblical tradition.

How does your vision of Christi-Anarchy apply across the board, from the Christian banker to the Christian homeless person; the Christian artist to the Christian tennis pro?

The whole nature of Christi-Anarchy as a way of relating to Christ recognises that everybody needs to approach Christ from their direction. Coming to Christ from where I do would be irksome to most people. It's difficult enough for me (laughs). So I'm not expecting people to come to Christ the same way that I am; I am expecting everybody to come to Christ their own way. I hope to enter into an exciting, creative dialogue with all those people and to encourage them to be as authentic in their journey as I hope they will encourage me to be in my journey.

I've read all your books now and I resonate with them. But I always come away from them feeling I don't make the grade in what it is to follow Jesus. That probably says more about my own insecurities than what you've written...

Well, I'm not up to it myself. That's the way I come away from my own stuff (laughs). The whole nature of Christi-Anarchy as a perspective is that none of us are at the place where Christ is yet. Therefore all of us have a long journey ahead of us. It's going to be a slow, long, painful process. At times we are going to be encouraged that we are making some progress and at other times we're going to be discouraged and feel like we are not making much progress at all. We will look at other people and think they are doing it a whole lot better than we are. Maybe they are - and maybe they're not. But what we've got to do is acknowledge that it is a long, slow, painful process and that we need to support each other along the way.

Click here for Mr. Andrew's story of his "excommunication" from YWAM.


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