Friday, 23 December 2011

TKJG Chapter 7: Jesus and the Gospel

Did Jesus preach the gospel? Did Jesus preach himself as the completion of Israel’s story? Jesus declares himself to be at the centre of the kingdom of God, Luke 7:22-23. Jesus was totally into preaching himself as the centre of God’s plan for Israel. Jesus unequivocally and without embarrassment nominated himself as Israel’s president.  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount understood his teachings to be the consummation and completion and resolution and telos point of the Old Testament Law and the Prophets. Jesus selects 12 disciples and sees the 12 as embodying the fullness of the people of God but himself over the 12. Jesus explained his fate – his death and resurrection – in light of scripture, Daniel 7. Jesus explains himself his story, on the road to Emmaus by beginning with Moses and all the Prophets and explaining all the things the scriptures have said concerning himself, Luke 24:27. Jesus preached himself as the gospel, he was the good news and had good news as the fulfilment of Israel’s story and the inauguration of a whole new chapter of possibility and potential.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

TKJG Chapter 6: The Gospel in the Gospels

The early Christians called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John the ‘gospel’ because they are the gospel! The story of Jesus. To call these books the gospel is precisely to express that Jesus himself, the entirety of his acting, teaching, living, rising, and remaining with us is the ‘gospel.’ The four gospels and the gospel are one. The story told in Mark calls hearers to belief in the person who is described in it, Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, and thus to eternal life; in other words it seeks to be wholly and completely a message of salvation. Luke’s purpose is not merely to narrate the deeds and words of Jesus but to show how these did in fact lead to the experience of salvation and to the formation of the community of the saved. John shows how the principle institutions and feasts of Israel, those annual celebrations that told Israel’s Story and that shaped both memory and identity for every observant Jew, fin their own completion in Jesus. These Gospels do not arrange the story into our way of framing the plan of salvation, and neither do they format the story into our favourite method of persuasion. Instead they declare the Story of Jesus, and that story is the saving, redeeming, liberating story.

TKJG Chapter 5: How Did Salvation Take Over the Gospel?

The creeds articulate what is both implicit and explicit in Paul’s grand statement of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15. Thus, the gospel is the Story of Jesus as the completion of the Story of Israel as found in the Scriptures, and that gospel story formed and framed the earliest Christians. During the much needed and God ordained Reformation, salvation was clarified in regards to its personal application and necessity. What then happened overtime is that the apostolic gospel was reframed in such as way and so successfully (largely as a result of the powerful evangelistic culture of evangelicalism in American revivalism and then later in America’s culture war between fundamentalists and modernists), that today we are losing contact with the gospel culture.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Advent 4

Advent is a four week season that provides is with the opportunity to celebrate the excitement, anticipation and sense of expectation that comes with Christmas.

Not excitement and anticipation because of all the trappings of Christmas that most of us are largely familiar with – Santa sacks, presents, sweet treats, family fun, festivities, fine food, indulgence, holidays, summer, BBQ’s and all those things we associate with a Kiwi Christmas. As good as what they all might be (and obviously this things can all be distorted to actually take away from Christmas rather than add to it), this isn’t what we get excited about during Advent and at Christmas.

The excitement, celebration and anticipations centres on the coming of Jesus...

· Jesus’ coming 2000 years ago
· Jesus’ desire to come and work in our lives today
· Jesus’ coming to restore and to put all things right
Often in our 21st Century context we wait until the New Year to turn over a new leaf, to enter a new chapter in life. Today isn’t they day for that, no way. LOL. But somehow the transition from the 31/12 to 01/01 is the time! Now we’ll lose weight, get fit, take up a hobby, give up a vice, read the bible every day, make church attendance a weekly habit, quit smoking or whatever it might be. Now is the moment to summon our will power, our mental reserves, to get committed, to find an accountability partner, to psyche oneself up, to turn a new page, starts a new chapter and begin a new life!
It’s a bit crazy that we wait to the 31st December to do this, but it kind of makes sense.

The Christian New Year isn’t January 1 though. The Christian New Year, the Christian Liturgical Calendar, kick starts the New Year at the end of November, the fourth Sunday before Christmas. That’s when we say happy New Year.

Here though we don’t hope that the New Year will bring a new chapter and a different story into reality in our life; we celebrate with excitement and anticipation that a new chapter has begun and will continue to be!

External to our efforts, to our striving, to our will power, to our best intentions, and New Year’s resolutions we celebrate that a new chapter has begin in Jesus Christ. All we have to do is get lost and found in the story of Jesus.

ADVENT – A new chapter is coming, let’s get ready, let’s celebrate.
CHRISTMAS – A new chapter has begun.

That’s the excitement and anticipation of Advent and of Christmas, there is a new chapter in the story, a new chapter in the story of humanity and there can be a new chapter in the story of my life as well. And that new chapter is here today!
Lost – found
Brokenness and strife – something beautiful
Despair, anxiety, hopelessness – peace, confidence and hope
Pain and heartache – healing and restoration
We sing about this in some of our Christmas carols...
O Holy Night
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
In all our trials born to be our friends
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger.
Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease

Joy to the World

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

ADVENT – A new chapter is coming, let’s get ready, let’s celebrate.
CHRISTMAS – A new chapter has begun.
BAPTISM – we’ve entered into a new story.
We’ve put our faith and trust in Jesus, we’ve turned from living life our own way and we’ve chosen to live in the light of God’s big story, to get lost and found in God’s big story. We die with Christ and we are raised to new life with Christ!

That’s what a Christian is, that’s what a Christ follower is
someone who’s whole life is caught up and shaped by God’s big story and the life changing work of Jesus Christ in coming and making a new chapter possible for all humanity.

Look forward to the possibility of a new chapter in your life this Advent.
Celebrate the dawning of a new day, of a new chapter, because of Jesus this Christmas.
Put your faith and trust in Jesus, turn to follow him as King, enter a new chapter in Baptism.

TKJG Chapter 4: The Apostolic Gospel of Paul

1 Corinthians 15 is the best place to begin mapping an understanding of the gospel. Here Paul comes pretty close to defining the word gospel. The gospel is to announce good news about the key events in the life of Jesus and to shout aloud the Story of Jesus Christ as the saving news of God. The gospel though is intimately tied to Israel’s Story as found in the scriptures of the Old Testament. Salvation – the robust salvation of God – is the intended result of the gospel story about Jesus Christ that completes the story of Israel in the Old Testament.

1 Corinthians 15 (TNIV)

1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (15:1-2)


3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 that he was buried,
that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.(15:3-5)

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a human being. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But in this order: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (15:20-28)

Monday, 19 December 2011

TKJG - Chapter 3: From Story to Salvation

The gospel only makes sense in the context of the full narrative of Christian scripture; if we ignore this larger story the gospel gets distorted. But that full narrative is not the gospel. The gospel is the story of Jesus as the resolution of Israel’s (humanities) story. This story includes how someone is ‘saved’ but any personal plan for or of salvation in itself is not the gospel and becomes a distortion of the gospel.  God’s righteousness and holiness, our sin, Christ’s atoning death, and our response of repentance and faith in Jesus is not the gospel. A salvation plan leads to justification. The gospel though includes salvation but leads to discipleship, justice, goodness and loving kindness.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

TKJG – Chapter 2: Gospel Culture or Salvation Culture

Personal faith is both necessary and nonnegotiable; the gospel doesn’t work for spectators you have to participate. Evangelicals though are not really ‘evangelical’ in the sense of the apostolic gospel but instead are soterians. The word gospel is mistakenly equated with the word salvation, but these two words don’t mean the same thing. In thinking salvation as identical to gospel we betray a profound lack of awareness as to what the gospel means and what the gospel might mean for our world today.

Friday, 16 December 2011

TKJG - Chapter 1: The Big Question

In the following series of posts I'll attempt in 100 words or less to summarize each chapter of The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight.

Here we go...

The big question in Christian circles that needs addressing is ‘what is the gospel?’ We need to go back to the bible and ask ourselves this question all over again, as if we were in Galilee listening to Jesus ourselves or as if we were the first listeners of the apostles preaching in some small house church in the middle of the Roman Empire. The word ‘gospel’ has been hijacked by what we believe about ‘personal salvation.’ The result being that the word gospel no longer means in our world what it originally meant to Jesus or the apostles.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The King Jesus Gospel

I've just started reading The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight. The forewords are from N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard.

Here are snippets of what they have to say...

N.T. Wright

God wants every single Christian to grow up in understanding as well as trust, the Christian faith has never been something that one generation can sort out in such as way as to leave their successors with no work to do.

We shouldn't be alarmed if someone sketches a third, fourth, or even fifth dimension that we had overlooked. (This is in regards to our understanding of Christianity and Christian faith).

The movement that has long called itself "evangelical" is in fact better labelled "soterian."

"The gospel" is the story of Jesus of Nazareth told as the climax of the long story of Israel, which in turn is the story of how the one true God is rescuing the world.

For many people, "the gospel" has shrunk right down to a statement about Jesus' death and its meaning, and a prayer with which people accept it. That matters, the way the rotor blades of a helicopter matter. You won't get of the ground without them. But rotor blades alone make a helicopter.

This book could be one of God's ways of reminding the new generation of Christians that it has to grow up to take responsibility for thinking things through afresh, to look back to the large world of the full first-century gospel in order then to look out on the equally large world of twenty-first-century gospel opportunity.

Dallas Willard

Scot McKnight here presents, with great force and clarity, the one gospel of the bible and of Jesus the King and Savior. He works from the basis of profound biblical understanding and of insight into history and into the contemporary misunderstandings that produce gospels that do not normally produce disciples, but only consumers of religious goods and services. In the course of this he deals with the primary barrier to the power of Jesus' gospel today - that is, a view of salvation and of grace that has no connection with discipleship and spiritual transformation. It is a view of grace and salvation that, supposedly, gets one ready to die, but leaves them unprepared to live now in the grace and power of resurrection life.

It would probably be worth your while getting a copy of the book and having a read don't you think?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Advent 3

Thanks Giving

Fourth Thursday in November, a holiday celebrated in the states. First celebrated by in 1621 by the first pilgrims arriving in New England (America) from England. It was a meal to thank God for their save arrival. Traditionally meals like that held to thank God for harvests or deliverance etc. Became a national annual practice in 1863, instituted by Abraham Lincoln after the Civil War. Beautiful. Wonderful. Let’s have a meal and thank God for his blessings, favour and protection, for family and loved ones and freedom and hope.

Black Friday

Black Friday is the Friday that follows on from the Thursday of Thanks Giving. Traditionally it is the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and there are normally massive sales to get people into the shopping ‘spirit.’ Not a traditional holiday but many no-retail employees give their staff the day off. Black Friday because shops are in the ‘black,’ in the profit zone.

Shops used to open early, 6:00am on Black Friday. This has been evolving over the last few years though with many starting to open first at 5:00am but now at 4:00am. In 2011 though stores such as Target, Massey’s and Best Buy decided to open at midnight. Walmart though opened on Thanks Giving at 10:00pm and Toys’R’Us at 9:00pm.

Reports regarding Black Friday shopping include...

·        Police taser a shopper in an Alabama Wal-Mart amidst a scramble for bargains
·        Bomb scare, police evacuate an Arizona Wal-Mart after finding an explosive.
·        55 year old woman shot by robbers outside Wal-Mart in North Carolina.
·        Girls got into a punching fight at a Pennsylvania Victoria’s Secret
·        Grandfather knocked unconscious in another mal
·        Man charged with disorderly conduct after brawl in electronics section of another store which left two woman injured
·       In 2008 a security guard was crushed to death as 200 shoppers stormed a store for bargins
Surely not the way things are meant to be at Christmas time.

How do we flick from Thanks Giving to Black Friday just like that?

As we approach the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, a Sunday of rejoicing, we engage in re-telling the Christmas story. To ourselves and each other.

Christmas isn’t about over indulgence. Christmas isn’t about pressure to give and buy things you can’t afford. Christmas isn’t about the cultural expectations of the Western world’s obsession with consumerism and materialism. Christmas isn’t about credit card debt that lasts for months the other side of Christmas.

Christmas is a celebration of the coming of the one who sets us free from debt, the one who brings grace, forgiveness, freedom and peace on earth!
As Christ followers we are challenged to re-tell the story.

Jesus says...

Matthew 6:31
31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Yet at Christmas we so often find ourselves asking ‘what shall we eat and drink and wear and get and have?’

This year remember to seek first the kingdom of God.

The manger was a surprising place to find a king. Always at Christmas I am surprised that God shows up in unexpected places, like the doco we watched at church on Sunday “What Would Jesus Buy?

Look for Jesus to speak and to challenge and to encourage and love in unexpected ways this Christmas season as you focus an align yourself with the ‘reason for the season.”

Don’t make your entry point to Christmas the craziness of shopping malls and bargain hunting and unfettered consuming.

Make your entry point the one who came to ‘make his blessings flow, far as the curse was found, as far as the curse was found’!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Advent - Part 2

During Advent we reflect with anticipation, excitement and hope on the coming of the Messiah. We contemplate the birth narratives of the gospels and the expectation of the Jewish people longing for Messiah. What must life have been like for them? What did the coming of Messiah mean for them? What does the coming of Jesus mean for me and for my family and community (local and global)? We look at areas in our own lives where we are in need of Jesus to presence himself and bring light and hope. We look at the world we live in and its brokenness and need of the Divine Saviour. We smile confidently rather than despair. There is hope. There is a new chapter that had begun, is beginning and will take place.

However we wait.

We wait.

Still waiting.

Yep even now, still waiting.

Waiting isn’t something we are always good at. Advent is about pregnant expectancy. As glamorous as that might sound and as exciting as it might be to have a new baby on the way (we’re counting down to the arrival of our third), pregnancy is full on. Ask any mum!

Morning sickness, aches and pains, hard to breath, hard to get around, hard to carry on with life, tired, exhausted, emotional and so on. Yet a mum pushes on with a smile on her face.

Often that’s what our waiting in life is like, we’re confident, we’re smiling, we have hope, but... When’s this going to end? How much longer do I have to wait? I feel terrible, Jesus where are you? I need you now! This world needs you now!

Advent though encourages us not to shy away from this waiting but rather to be still, to be at peace, to trust God in the midst of our waiting. We don’t wait hopelessly though. We wait knowing that Christmas is coming.

-          Waiting slows us down

-          Waiting gives us time and space to gain perspective

-          Waiting helps us to discriminate between the good, the better and the best

-          Too easy to go through live without pausing. To caught up in life that without realising it we’re all of a sudden following the wrong star.

-          Christmas becomes about consumables, candy canes, stocking fillers, over indulgence, a fat man in a red suit – all those things we love and we lose sight of ‘Christ with us.’

-          Same can happen in life, we go so fast, move so quickly from one thing to the next that we forget that this life is about so much more than this life.

-          If we do not learn to wait, we can allow ourselves to assume that one thing really is as good as another. Just not the case.

Advent, when we engage in the season, relieves us of our commitment to the frenetic fast-paced norms of our world.
It slows us down. It makes us think. It makes us look beyond today to the great ‘tomorrow’ of life, where Jesus restores all things and there are no more tears, pain, or heartache.
And while we wait we remember we are invited to work towards that end!
We’re not to get caught up in the pursuit of chocolate Santa’s, socks, undies, candy canes and i-presents, but rather the pursuit of justice and peace.
We’re to get caught up in the story of Jesus and the mission of Jesus in the world. Allowing that story to reframe the story of our lives.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Advent - Part 1

The Liturgical Year

The Liturgical Year or the Christian Calendar is a way of ordering one’s year that has evolved within Christian tradition over the centuries. Different Christian traditions follow slightly different forms of the calendar with different readings from the bible on different days etc, but in general they all follow the same rhythm.

The way the Liturgical Year works is that it is ordered around the story of Jesus, his life and ministry and longed for return. Its beauty is that it takes us places in prayer, contemplation, study, and celebration that often we might more naturally shy away from. Christmas is a wonderful celebration. Resurrection Sunday is a day of new life and possibility. Pentecost reminds us of the life giving empowerment of the Holy Spirit. They are pretty easy to celebrate.

Lent though reminds us of the trials and struggles of life; the difficulties and the heartaches. Easter Friday takes us to place of what seems to be abandonment and hopelessness. Ordinary time confronts us with the mundane reality of life but that Christ is present.

The real power of the liturgical year is not the feasts, celebrations, seasons and rituals, the real power is its capacity to touch and plumb the depths of the human experience, to stir the human heart. By walking the way of the life of Jesus, by moving into the experience of Jesus, we discover the meaning of our own experiences, the undercurrent of our own emotions, the struggle and the joy, the victories and the heartache of the Christian life. By taking us into the depths of what it means to be a human on the way to God – to suffer and to wonder, to know abandonment and false support, to believe and to doubt – the liturgical year breaks us open to the divine.


Advent isn’t Christmas. Advent is the four week period leading into Christmas which begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Advent looks forward to the arrival of Christ, the arrival of Emmanuel, God with Us, the hope of the world.

Advent looks forward to the arrival of the Christ child whose birth brings joy to the world. With Mary we magnify God’s name at the announcement that the long promised one is coming soon. Our waiting is full of pregnant expectancy, waiting in anticipation for the full coming of God’s reign of peace. The liturgical colour is blue, signifying hope and the dawning of a new day.

Advent is also an opportunity to re-tell the Christmas story, away from of consumerism and materialism, and back towards anticipation, expectation and the wonder of the incarnation, of God with us, of the long waited arrival of the Messiah in very unspectacular circumstances. Advent is the celebration that there is going to be a new chapter in the story; hope, life, promise, redemption, grace, forgiveness.

Advent from Latin essentially means ‘coming’ but Advent is not about one coming but rather three.

-          Coming of Jesus, 2000 years ago, the Messiah, Emmanuel, the Saviour.

-          Coming of Jesus, as present in our everyday lives today, working in all sorts of beautiful and wonderful ways.

-          Coming of Jesus again to put all things right, to restore all things and to bring justice and shalom.

Jesus – past, present, future!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Spiritual Disciplines or Not Spiritual Disciplines

Don Carson at the Gospel Coalition offers a pretty narrow view of what constitute as and what don't constitute as spiritual disciplines. Essentially he narrows them to bible reading and prayer. I'm more broad in my appreciation of what could be considered a 'spiritual discipline.' 

You can read his thoughts and rationale here = D.A Carson 'Spiritual Disciplines' 

The point of this post is not to get into a debate or argument with Carson on the issue but rather to offer a different opinion and give you something to think on in regards to what may or may not work as a spiritual discipline in your life i.e. a practice that leads to spiritual growth and development as a Christ follower in areas of right believing, right affections and right living.

My comments on Carson's article...

I think Carson presents a very narrow few of how God can and does work in the lives of His people and of the practices which His people can engage in that as spiritual disciplines, lead to spiritual growth.

Yes spirit, spiritual, spirituality are notoriously fuzzy words. There has been massive debate about Christian Spirituality and how that can possible be defined for many years.
I don’t think 1 Cor 2:14 or 1 Cor 3:1 are references to intrinsic reality of humanities make up as created in the image of God, but rather to the regenerate state of certain individuals/communities. There is a big difference.
I love the gospel and I’m not nervous about the language of ‘spiritual disciplines’ extending itself into all sorts of arenas, such as Bible reading, meditation, worship, giving away money, fasting, solitude, fellowship, deeds of service, evangelism, almsgiving, creation care, journaling, missionary work, and more. Popular use may divorce them from specific doctrine Christian or otherwise, but Christian use should always anchor them in the grand narrative of scripture. Indeed I concur with Carson that in general they will only increase one’s ‘spirituality’ with the presence of the Holy Spirit, all being that they are likely still good practices in character development even apart from a recognised knowledge of God.
I think plenty can be listed as a spiritual discipline without being particularly mentioned in Scripture, i.e. despite the bible saying precious little (debatable!) about creation care and chanting mantras.
Yes of course the disciplines can be done for disciplines sake and do not necessarily make one holier than another. When done with an openness to the Spirit they certainly create space to hear from God though, to re-orientate one’s life around the Way of Jesus and to help one grow healthy.
One of my main points of contention is that I would disagree with Carson and 100% assert that Christian responsibilities can and should be labelled as spiritual disciplines. The very running of one's Christian race 1 Cor 9:24-27 (towards orthodoxy, orthopathy and orthopraxy) is exercise in itself. Any movement towards right(eous) living, towards clothing oneself or taking off the old self and putting on the new self Eph 4:22-24, is exercise, discipline, a pressing on, which leads to what can only be described as ‘spiritual growth.’ This does not mean there is nothing special about prayer and the reading of God’s Word, indeed not all disciplines are equal, though all can be healthy. In some seasons people need to lean more into some disciplines than others. Likewise, this does not mean that one is sucked into thinking that growth in spirituality is but conformity to rules. The very acts of creation care, giving away money and fellowship (when truly engaged in, in a disciplined and committed manner) demand growth in love, trust, understanding of the ways of God and the work of the Spirit in filling and empowering us. All practices which can help us in our journey of sanctification, conformity to Jesus Christ and spiritual maturation.
What would you class or not class as a spiritual discipline? What disciplines do you practice that have lead to life in the Spirit and growth in the things of God?
Further reading try...
Grace and peace

re-imagining theological education

Re-Imagining Theological Education | 3DM from 3DM on Vimeo.


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Peace and War

*One reason that the world finds the New Testament's message of peacemaking and love of enemies incredible is that the church is so massively faithless. On the question of violence, the church is deeply compromised and committed to nationalism, violence, and idolatry. [By comparison, our problems with sexual sin are trivial.] This indictment applies alike to liberation theologies that justify violence against oppressors and to establishment Christianity that continues to play chaplain to the military-industrial complex, citing "just war" theory and advocating the defense of a particular nation as though that were somehow a Christian value.

Only when the church renounces the way of violence will people see what the Gospel means, because then they will see the way of Jesus re-enacted in the church...*

[1] Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

*What is the Mission of the Church?*

Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert have created another stir in the evangelical world with their book, What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011.  While I haven’t read the book yet, I’ve been watching the blogosphere on both sides of this discussion and am thoroughly amazed.  This could be one of the silliest debates I’ve ever witnessed. 

Rather than respond to each point they make, I’d like to just offer a few thoughts on their recent clarification and response to Ed Stetzer.  They state in their clarification on the mission of the church the following:
However, we should probably say something here about the common idea that the church’s work of “making disciples,” that is, “teaching them to obey everything I commanded,” necessarily means that the church itself, as an institution, must provide an example of or model all those things.  Sometimes, of course, that’s true.  As the church loves one another and cares for one another, we are certainly modeling to one another what it means to love and care for others—our families, our neighbors, our co-workers, the needy, and others.  But sometimes the case is made that the command to “teach everything” implies that the church is to be “exampling everything.”  So, the argument runs, if we want Christians to care for the poor, the church as a whole needs to care for the poor.  If we want Christians to feed the hungry, the church needs to feed the hungry in order to provide a model for its members.  But surely that’s too easy a solution.  If you’re talking about a clothes closet or a soup kitchen, that solution works just fine. It makes sense in that particular case.  But considered as a driving principle, the idea that the church “teaching” necessarily includes the church “exampling” just doesn’t work.  You have to ask how far that goes.

My response is, simple, and not complex.  It goes as far as the teachings and example of Jesus goes.  Did Jesus care for and feed the poor?  Did Jesus advocate that those who wished to follow him would have to make sacrifices to aid the poor?  Did Jesus teach, embody and advocate for social and restorative justice, i.e., that people engage in acts of forgiveness, restitution, and acting righteously for ourselves and others?  In specific areas, too many to list here (just read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), Jesus modeled and taught the way of the Kingdom.  The church, the people of God, are to go and do likewise. 

Their reasoning for the above stated position, follows this line of thinking:
For example, must the church, as an institution, be modeling to its members how to make good Christian films?  Must it be providing an example of how to do good Christian art?  How about good Christian cooking or marathon-running? We are not trying to be snarky with these questions. We believe there is a legitimate point to be raised. Must the church as an institution be actively engaged in politics so as to model what Christian civic engagement looks like? Doesn’t it make more sense to say that the church as an institution is to teach Christians what Jesus commanded, and teach his disciples that they are to obey him in every area of their lives, rather than to say that it must provide an example or model obedience in every particular instance?

Did Jesus say anything about Christian films?  Art? Cooking?  Did Jesus say that the Church (as an institution) is to be actively engaged in politics?  Never.  So Christians are encouraged to flourish in these areas and bring about influence and perhaps even change, but this is not part of their mission.  However, the mission of God does include all the types of activities that Jesus himself engaged in. 

They get to the heart of the issue when they state clearly their aims and intentions.
The question we are addressing in the book is whether the mission of the church—the thing it is organized and sent into the world to do—is to do those good deeds to the end of making the world a better place.

Their position on this question is, no.  My positions is, of course.  By following Jesus, and doing the things Jesus taught us to do, we will inevitably make the world a better place (see What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us?: Its Role in Shaping the World Today by Jonathan Hill; How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt; The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success by Rodney Stark and most importantly, Edwin Judge’s Social Distinctives of Christians in the First Century).   By being a “faithful presence” (See, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter which DeYong and Gilbert draw from), Christians have always made an impact on the world (for better and worse, but hopefully we’re getting better!).   Our aim is to “seek the welfare of the city” (Jer 27). 

One final comment on their take on “moral proximity.”

For starters, we believe the principle of “moral proximity” is a biblical principle. According to the New Testament we must do good “especially” to the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). We have an even higher responsibility to care for members of our own household (1 Tim. 5:8). In the Old Testament it was never the case that God’s people were equally responsible to meet the needs of everyone.

Galatians 6:10 - So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
1 Thess 5:15 - See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.

So much more can and should be said about these two verses, but suffice it to say that Paul saw a mandate for Christians to be a blessing and benefit to those in society (See the careful work of Bruce W. Longenecker Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World). 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Communion - A Spiritual Encounter

Francis Watson in his excellent essay, ““I Received from the Lord. . .”: Paul, Jesus and the Last Supper,” makes the following opening comment which I thought was helpful. 

“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the lord Jesus, on the night on which he was handed over, took bread. . .” (1 Cor. 11:23).  By repeating a tradition the Corinthians already know, Paul seeks to reawaken their sense of awe in the presence of holy mysteries: the bread and the cup of the Lord's Supper, through which they participate in the Lord's own body and blood, imbued with the supernatural power of his risen life.[1] To eat this bread and to drink this wine as if they were ordinary bread and wine, heedlessly and without preparation, is to risk converting their life-giving power into a poison that causes weakness, illness, or death.[2]  The abused bread and wine can become the agents of the Lord's judgment – a judgment that intends final salvation rather than condemnation but which one would still wish to avoid.[3]  Some at Corinth are already guilty of an abuse of this kind, ungraciously going ahead with the meal without waiting for the whole congregation to be assembled.[4] By the time the latecomers arrive, the food and drink have all been consumed so that they are left hungry and humiliated. Perhaps those responsible will plead that the hour was late and that they too were hungry? In that case, they should have taken something to sustain them before they left home. Only when the whole congregation is gathered together can the Lord's Supper truly be celebrated. This apparently trivial discourtesy to fellow Christians is symptomatic of a more serious error, the failure to reckon with the invisible presence of the Lord himself in the sharing of bread and cup.  The Last Supper tradition is fully integrated into the exhortations and warnings of 1 Cor. 11:17-34, since this tradition underlies Paul's point about the lifegiving yet potentially threatening holiness of its re-enactment as the Lord’s Supper.[5] 

[1] The Eucharistic bread and wine are “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink” (1 Cor. 10:3-4), in the sense that they enable participation in “the blood of Christ” and “the body of Christ” (10:16; cf. 11:27) – that is, in the heaven existence of the crucified and risen Lord who is “lifegiving Spirit” (15:45).
[2] Cf. 1 Cor. 11:28-30
[3] Cf. 1 Cor. 11:31-32.
[4] “So, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Cor. 11:33).  Going ahead with the meal without waiting for latecomers would be a specific instance of the unworthy consumption of the bread and the wine against which the preceding verses warn (vv. 27-32).
[5] Francis Watson, ““I Received from the Lord. . .”: Paul, Jesus and the Last Supper” in Jesus and Paul Reconnected: Fresh Pathways into an Old Debate. ed. Todd D. Still. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 103-105.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Gehenna - What Rubbish!

What do J. I. Packer, Rob Bell, and Edward Fudge have in common about Hell? They're wrong! Gehenna was NOT a rubbish dump outside Jerusalem. [I must confess that I too at one stage believed this myth.]

The simple fact is that there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that this is true in the first centuries. There is no archeological or literary support for this claim. So where did the idea come from? It appears to have come from a Rabbinic commentary on Psalm 27:13, written in 1200 CE!
See further:
  • Peter Head, “The Duration of Divine Judgment in the New Testament” in The reader must understand: Eschatology in Bible and Theology. eds. K.E. Brower and M.W. Elliott; (Leicester: Apollos, 1997), 221-227.
  • G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 376n.92.
  • Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud and Midrasch, 5 vols. (Munich: Beck, 1922-56), 4:2:1030.
  • Lloyd R. Bailey, “Gehenna: The Topography of Hell,” Biblical Archeologist 49 (1986): 187-191.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Religion and Inequality

Here is the link to an interesting article in Christianity Today on the relationship between Religion and Inequality... a pretty sad indication of the way religion is often interpreted and used in society.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Integrity and Mission

Integrity is a key to unlocking the power of the gospel.[1]  The Oxford English Dictionary defines integrity as: “Soundness of moral principle; the character of uncorrupted virtue, honesty, sincerity.  For Paul and Peter, a Christ-like life is one of integrity, for the moral imagination is shaped by Christology which informs a Christians virtues and sincerity (1 Th. 1:6; 4:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:21-25).  In today’s “yeah, right!” society, where cynicism and scepticism are ubiquitous, integrity appears to be the only antidote to such vices, as a faithful presence disarms such toxic attitudes.[2]   And this is no more an issue now, than it was when early Christianity first began, as the writing known as 2 Clement testifies:

2 Clement 13:3  For when the pagans hear from our mouths the oracles of God, they marvel at their beauty and greatness.  But when they discover that our actions are not worthy of the words we speak, they turn from wonder to blasphemy, saying that it is a myth and a delusion.[3]

This is seen in the recent offering on apologetics by John Stackhouse, who devotes some space to the issue of integrity.  He writes, “bad behaviour discredits the gospel, while good behaviour adorns and so commends it.”[4]  Stackhouse goes on to make the claim that, “Augustine, for example, testifies that he was converted by the integrity and charity of other people, not merely by their Christian intelligence.”[5]  Hauerwas notes that our “preaching depends on the recovery of the integrity of the Christian community.[6]  In our fractured and oft noted “postmodern”[7] environment, at stake is not always “what is true?” But rather, “who can be trusted?”  This is illustrated by Nietzsche who said, “I’m not upset because you lied to me, I’m upset because I don’t trust you anymore.”[8]  This is illustrative of the results of a failure in integrity, or a lack of integrity to begin with.  Following Nietzsche’s critique of metanarratives, and truth claims in general, he viewed these as nothing but “the will to power.”  The consequences are the same, a lack of trust in the person, and therefore especially the ideas, philosophy or beliefs they are espousing.  In such a climate, it is only through faithful presence of integrity that credibility can be restored.[9] 

Integrity must provide the context in our various relationships through which we announce the gospel in words.  Actions motivated by a care, concern and commitment to the well-being and benefit of others, not self, prompted by the activity of God in our own hearts and communities gives us integrity.  However, this is not our aim.  Our aim is, according to 1 Thessalonians, to please God and to live worthy of Him.  That is our focus.  It just so happens that a by-product of such a focus and intention, will give us the needed credibility to proclaim his message to others.  As Guder notes, “it has to do with worthy living, with the character of our corporate life and the ways in which it provides evidence of the healing work of God's love, before a watching world.”[10]

[1] Integrity is an essential topic in current discussions of missiology, so much so that it had a day of discussions devoted to it at the recent Lausanne gathering in, Cape Town, South Africa. 
[2] See Integrity in the Public and Private Domains. Edited by Alan Montefiore and David Vines (New York: Routeldge, 1999) for a collection of essays that seeks to address this from a philosophical and pragmatic basis. 
[3] Translation by M. W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations 3rd Edition (Michigan: Baker, 2007).  It is unfortunate that Holmes has translated “ta; logia to:u qeou:” as “the oracles of God” when a more straightforward translation would render it “the word of God” and thus bring to memory that this is a reference to gospel proclamation, as in 1 Thess 1:8, etc. 
[4] John G. Stackhouse, Humble Apologetics: defending the faith today (Oxford: OUP, 2002), 135.
[5] Idem.  Stackhouse then goes on to note 1 Peter 3:13-16 and quotes philosopher Linda Trinkhaus Zagzebski as saying, “The experience of knowing holy people is still the most important evidence to me for the truth of Christianity.”
[6] Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 99.
[7] It is interesting that for Jean-Frangois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), xxiv, postmodernity is an “incredulity towards metanarratives.”  This was due to the lack of trust in the Enlightenment project, but that is because the integrity of their claims could not be substantiated or fulfilled. This has led to the collapse of knowledge in man philosophical quarters.  However, this has led to a widespread incredulity towards any metanarratives, mainly because they are now viewed as suspect and lacking integrity due to various plays for power. 
[8] Frederick Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (Edited and Translated by Judith Norman; Cambridge: CUP, 2002), aphorism 183.
[9] This seems to be part of the argument of James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford: OUP, 2010), who uses the category of “faithful presence” as the focus of our missional endeavours.  See the Christianity Today Interview with Christopher Benson, downloaded 22 June 22, 2010:  “Faithful presence is not about changing culture, let alone the world, but instead emphasizes cooperation between individuals and institutions in order to make disciples and serve the common good. ‘If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world,’ Hunter writes, ‘it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honour the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfilment of God's command to love our neighbour.’”
[10] Darrell L. Guder, “From Mission and Theology to Missional Theology” Princeton Seminary Bulletin XXIV:1 (2003), 36-54, here, 53.