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Archive for January, 2009

We have been thinking about mission grounded in God’s own life.  God is the Sending God, His Sent Son and the Reconciling Spirit – this is not simply something He does but who He is.

So it is with the Church.  We have inherited our mission from the Sent One and we too find ourselves not simply doing mission, but being His sent ones to the ends of the earth.

There is discontinuity between God’s mission and ours in that Christ has saved the world therefore we do not.  Instead we point to His once for all saving. 

But there is also continuity between God’s mission and ours.  Therefore, just as the eternal Father’s concern has ever been the exaltation of His Son in His Spirit-empowered word, so too our mission must be thoroughly evangelistic. 

At this point people will often ask, does social justice or care for the environment have a place within such an evangel?  The answer is Yes, but we must emphasize that such concerns find their place within the gospel.  Not instead of it.  And not alongside of it.  God does not have one goal for social, political, cultural and environmental well-being and another goal for the salvation of souls.  Such a dualism has plagued the church’s understanding of mission for too long. 

There are some who have simply privileged one side of the dualism.  So on the one hand there have been the evangelists like D.L. Moody who famously said: “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel.  God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.'”  Such a view divorces creation and redemption and privileges the latter.  On the other hand there has been the ‘social gospel’ of Walter Rauschenbusch in which mission is “transforming life on earth into the harmony of heaven.”  This makes the same divorce but privileges creation instead. 

In fact both fall into a dualism in which heaven and earth, time and eternity, the spiritual and the physical are pitted against one another.  This cannot be the outlook of the Christian who has accepted mission from the hand of the risen Christ.  In Him heaven and earth, time and eternity, the spiritual and the physical are united at the deepest level.

But there is yet another mistake to be resisted.  We have not solved this dualism by accepting these two concerns for creation and redemption and simply determining to give them equal emphasis.  A well balanced two-pronged approach to mission is not the solution, as though some cultural mandate lies side-by-side together with a gospel mandate for the world.  Such a view seems to be that of the very influential Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.  Here is a key statement from them in 1982:

In addition to worldwide evangelization, the people of God should become deeply involved in relief, aid, development and the quest for justice and peace.

It is the phrase ‘in addition to’ that is so problematic.  The authors liken the relation of these two concerns to ‘two blades of a pair of scissors or the two wings of a bird.’  Yet to accept this two-pronged approach is still to put asunder what God has joined together.  These are not unco-ordinated concerns in God’s mission.  The Father does not have one desire for the lifting up of humanity and another for the glorification of His Son.  There is not one will for creation and a separate will for redemption.  Yet this seems to be precisely the assumption of Lausanne’s authors. 

John Stott (the driving force behind the Lausanne declaration) said this in a sermon given the morning before the 1975 Assembly in Nairobi of the Central Committee of the World Council of Church:

“[There are two freedoms and two unities for which Jesus Christ is concerned] On the one hand there is socio-political liberation and the unity of all mankind, for these things are the good will of God the Creator, while on the other there is the redemptive work of Christ who sets his people free from sin and guilt, and unites them in his new community.  To muddle these two things (creation and redemption, common grace and saving grace, liberation and salvation, justice and justification) is to plunge oneself into all kinds of confusion.” (quoted in Timothy Dudley Smith, John Stott: A Global Ministry, IVP, 2001, p204

With the greatest respect for John Stott, I don’t think that’s right.  Creation and redemption are not separately addressed by the Lord and they shouldn’t be separately addressed by His church.  No, the Father has one almighty gospel passion that lifts up humanity and the world precisely in the gospel of His Son.  So it is with God, so it must be with us.  Whatever cultural mandate there is, it is included in and dependent upon the gospel mandate to make disciples of all nations. 

Authentic social, political, economic, cultural and environmental renewal happens within the gospel.  It occurs within the sphere of Christ’s explicit Lordship.  This means, minimally, where the word of Christ is proclaimed as authoritative on its own terms (for instance where the church speaks prophetically into the issues of the day).  But more usually and concretely it occurs where this word of Christ is received in faith and His Lordship is lived out first in the body and, then, spilling over into the world.

In this way the most radically political, social and environmental revolutions can occur.  Yet they occur as gospel revolutions where King Jesus is reigning by the power of His Spirit-anointed word.

More to follow…

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Evangelism

Saw this at Bobby’s blog.  Wow!

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Trinity is not a nuance.

When we unfold the trinitarian life of God in His gospel work, we’re not simply adding a level of detail to functionally unitarian ‘God’-speak.  Trinity is not just a nuancing of more basic truths.  To speak of trinity is to uncover a logic which alters the way we conceive of everything, from the ground up.

Now of course we can still make simple looking statements like ‘God must be worshipped.’  But what it means is I’ll subject all of them to thorough critique.  Specifically, I will refuse to conceive of those sentences in unitarian terms.  Instead I will ensure that the Subject of that sentence can refer to each Person of the trinity and to the triune life as a whole.  And I will think hard about how these explicitly trinitarian considerations affect the truth of the proposition.  In other words I will resolve to conceive of both the Subject and the verb in these sentences in explicitly trinitarian terms. 

But does this really make a fundamental difference to ‘simple God-talk’?

Yes.

The command ‘God must be worshipped’ can be applied to each Person and it can be applied to the triune life as a whole.   So it passes this minimal test.  But as we consider these triune relations, we realize that the Persons glorify each Other.  They are not simply recipients of worship (which the simple ‘God’ is) – but they are themselves worshippers.  More than this, we worship God only when we are rightly included in their worshipping life.  We must be in Spirit and Truth to worship the Father.  And we must first be the objects of His love and glorification before we find ourselves participating in the love and glorification of God.  Do you see how the Subject and the verb are radically affected by trinitarian analysis?

Or think about the concept of ‘God’s monarchy’ – i.e. that God exercises a singular rule.  As a simple (functionally unitarian) concept this would lead us to think of God’s rule in ways fundamentally opposed to a trinitarian understanding.  Trinity doesn’t mean there are three thrones and it doesn’t mean that the Lamb is off-centre on the throne.  It means that the Father rules through (and only though) His Spirit-anointed Son (cf Psalm 2).  Yet without this trinitarian dynamic being explicit, the triune God’s monarchy will be misunderstood. 

Or again, think about this contentious statement: ‘God is unoriginate.’  It was a favourite of Arius – what do we make of it? It seems completely logical. It seems to be guarding against things we want to guard against. Surely full divinity cannot be predicated of anything that has an origin outside itself.  Right?  We can’t have divinity that depends on anything outside itself can we??  Well, on this understanding we look at the Son Who has His eternal origin in the Father, and we conclude that the Son is less than fully God.  That’s the very logic Arius used and it’s just why Athanasius got so picky and said that Arius should not name God from creation and call Him unoriginate but name Him from His Son and call Him Father. In other words – unless from the outset you define God’s nature with the Father-Son reciprocity in mind you won’t be able later to call Jesus God – not fully God.

‘God is unoriginate’ is an example of a statement that sounds good and seems to protect important things. And it might be able to be applied to the Three together (the Three do not have their source of life outside themselves) but it is unwise to make the statement simpliciter.  And it can lead to heresy when it is applied to particular Persons. 

The problem is that it has begun in functionally unitarian ‘God-talk’ and it simply cannot be rescued by trinitarian nuance.  That’s not the direction of travel.  We can’t go from functional unitarianism to trinitarian discussion as though we’re moving from the synopsis to the novel.  The comparison is more like two competing treatises.

When we talk trinity we talk about basic things – fundamental, bedrock things.  We don’t simply uncover extra depths when we lay bare the perichoretic life of God.  Actually we discover an essential logic that requires articulation according to this trinitarian dynamic. 

Trinity is not a nuance. 

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In the last post, we saw the deepest continuity between God’s mission and ours.

But now we must highlight the discontinuity.

Continuity and Discontinuity

Perhaps the Matthean Great Commission will show both the continuity and discontinuity points:

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matt 28:18-20).

Here at the resurrection of Christ we see the very consummation of the missio Dei declared decisively in history.  And incredibly Christ says ‘therefore’, and with that connector He lays bare a profound continuity between God’s mission and ours.  The Gospel-mission of God is handed to the Church. 

Yet precisely because our mission comes from the hand of the risen Christ it must not be confused with His.  Here is where the discontinuity comes in.  Our marching orders do not come from a hopeful Commander, trusting us to win victory.  Emphatically our commission comes from the Victor.  All authority is His.  The risen Christ has established the kingdom.  Sin is atoned for, wrath is averted, Satan is vanquished, death is defeated, heaven and earth are reconciled, Man stands on the earth as King under God.  And where this Head has come, His body will most certainly follow.  What can the church, His body, add to such an accomplishment?  All we can do is point to this King and this kingdom. 

Christ’s command is simply to ‘go’ with His resurrection power and presence in a baptizing and teaching ministry that realizes in advance of His return that obedience in the nations which Easter has already won.

Our part in the missio Dei is, therefore, very different to Christ’s, yet, on the basis of His completed work we are called to extend His mission to the world. 

Consequences of this Continuity and Discontinuity

Now that we’ve seen both the continuity and discontinuity between God’s mission and ours we can elaborate on some consequences.

Firstly, because of the discontinuity point, we see that faithfulness to the completed missio Dei in the resurrection of Christ requires witnesses not activists.  We do not bring redemption to the world, we bring Christ to the world as One who has already accomplished our redemption. 

We betray our gospel-mission the minute we think we can establish Christ’s kingdom.  We do not save the world.  In the risen Christ it is already saved.   We are not the do-ers – we are witnesses to His ultimate and all-encompassing Doing.  We ‘go’ as heralds not mini-saviours.

Secondly, because of the continuity point, we can learn much about the nature of our mission by enquiring as to the nature of the missio Dei.  Let us ask, does God’s mission have a centre and goal?  And what is it?

We can answer this with confidence.  The purposes of the Father from all ages have been exclusively focussed on His Son.[1]  In the power of the Spirit, His word has been the agent for all divine activity in creation and redemption.[2]  In the Incarnation of the Word, the Father gives to Jesus His word,[3] which accomplished all that Jesus does,[4] and it is this word that Jesus entrusts to his followers.[5]  The Church has inherited a Gospel mission for the world, i.e. the Father’s mission to the exalt His Son in His Spirit-empowered word.

The triune God – the God who is Sender, Sent and Perfector – is not concerned in a general glorification of Himself nor of the world.  His mission has never been an abstract betterment of the creation.  Rather, the purposes of this Gospel God have always been to create and redeem a people – to reach out and to draw in a bride for the Son, an inheritance for the Heir, a body for the Head.  The goal of God has always been the glorification of the Son through the inclusion of His people by the Spirit so that all may participate in the triune life. 

To put it more plainly, from beginning to end God’s mission is wholly and thoroughly evangelistic.  Both creation and redemption find their place within this evangelistic economy.

Next time we will see the implications of this for our mission.  In particular we will argue that since God’s mission is thoroughly evangelistic, so must ours be.

 


[1] Psalm 2:1-12; Psalm 110:1; Daniel 7:13,14; Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:15f

[2] 2 Peter 3:5-7; Hebrews 1:3; 1 Peter 1:23; John 1:1-3; 5:24; 6:63,68;

[3] John 8:55; 14:24;

[4] John 14:10; Mark 4:41; Luke 4:43; John 5:24; 12:48; 17:17

[5] John 15:20; 17:6,14,20

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The figures don’t lie.  My post dissing Darwin has just received its 70th comment.  It has caused twice as much of a stir as my next most controversial post – Piper’s theology of glory.

Pause for thought?

 

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blues-brothers-mission-god

When Karl Barth addressed the Brandenburg Missionary Conference in 1932 he introduced a missiological perspective which has determined the shape of mission theology in every part of the Church. 

“Must not even the most faithful missionary, the most convinced friend of missions, have reason to reflect that the term missio was in the ancient Church an expression of the doctrine of the Trinity-namely the expression of the divine sending forth of self, the sending of the Son and Holy Spirit to the world? Can we indeed claim that we do it any other way?”

Barth cuts through soteriological or eschatological consideration to bring us right back to the Source of mission.  It is not that ‘Salvation is like this therefore mission should be like that.’  It is not that ‘The End will be like this, so mission should be like that.’   No, the real argument is that ‘God’s being is like this, therefore mission should be like that!’  There are missions because of the missio Dei – because God is a sending God.  In Himself, in eternity, God’s being is a being of outgoing love.  This is the Fountainhead for mission.

David Bosch has memorably put it like this:

To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.

This insight has been picked up by all wings of the Church, from the conciliar to the Anabaptist, from the Roman Catholic to the evangelical. 

More important than all this consensus however is the bible’s own testimony.

 Consider the Johannine ‘great commission’: 

As the Father has sent me I am sending you.  (John 20:21; cf 17:18).

We ought to take that little word ‘as’ with full seriousness.  In the same way that the Father sends the Son, so the Son sends His church.  Let us ask, how has the Father sent the Son?

Lest we be Arians we must acknowledge that the Son’s generation from the Father is not a mere product of the Father’s will in time.  It is rather an eternal begetting that is of the very essence of the eternal Godhead.  There is not a God and then a sending.  There has only ever been a sending God – the missio Dei.  Both Father and Son are eternally constituted in these relations of Sending and Sent.

The Son’s being and act is a being and act found and expressed in the Father’s sending.  The Son’s own life is a life in mission.  This has always been true in eternity and it was made manifest in incarnation.

Christ’s most common self-identification in John is as the One sent from the Father.  And His most common articulation of His mission was always to do the will of His Father – a will expressed in thoroughly evangelistic terms – e.g. John 3:16; 4:23; 6:29; 6:38-40.  Christ is sent as the world’s Saviour, the One who seeks worshippers for the Father, who glorifies the Father in His saving death and only then says ‘it is finished’ (John 19:30).

Therefore, because Christ’s being is a missionary being, so His activity is a missionary activity. 

On the cross, the true being and glory of the Son was manifested, and in Him the glory of the triune God  (e.g. John 13:32; 17:5).  Here was demonstrated Christ’s obedience to the Father and, at one and the same time, His love for the world.  Christ’s being and act are laid bare at Golgotha, and shown to be a missionary being and act.

Therefore, returning to John 20:21, we see the continuity of Christ’s mission with ours.  Just as Christ has His being in sent-ness for the world’s salvation, so does the church.  We have received a commission that was passed from the Father to the Son in the depths of eternity.  Our missionary activity finds its origin not in any human enthusiasm for witness but in the being of God.  And our sent-ness for the salvation of the world is not only our activity.  It is, like God’s own missio, constitutive of our very life.

‘The Christian community is not sent into the world haphazardly or at random, but with a very definite task. It does not exist before its task and later acquire it.  Nor does it exist apart from it, so that there can be no question whether or not it might have or execute it.  It exists for the world.  Its task constitutes and fashions it from the very outset.  If it had not been given it, it would not have come into being.  If it were to lose it, it would not continue.  It is not then a kind of imparted dignity.  It exists only as it has it, or rather only as the task has it. Nor is it a kind of burden laid upon it.  It is the inalienable foundation which bears it.  Every moment of its history it is measured by it. It stands or falls with it in all its expressions, in all its action or abstention. It either understands itself in the light of its task or not at all.’ (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/3, p796.)

‘[The task of the Church] is no less, no more and no other than the ministry of witness required of it and constituting it.’ (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/3, p834))

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This began life as an essay I wrote for post-ordination training.

Typically ‘mission’ is understood as an activity that the church undertakes.  On this understanding, the church, alongside its other duties, is also a sender and supporter of gospel workers. 

mission1

In this paradigm a church may seek to enlarge their “sending arrow” greatly.  They may tirelessly champion missionary work, hold constant prayer meetings for overseas workers, schedule regular missions’ Sundays with special fundraising efforts.  They could receive constant visits and prayer-letters from missionaries.  They may even have a missions or outreach committee with a significant budget to support the work.  Such churches may be used wonderfully by the Lord.  And they would undoubtedly gain a reputation for being a ‘sending church’.

But what should we make of this? 

Certainly such an ethos is far superior to the sleepy church that thinks of nothing but maintaining its own buildings and ageing congregation.  We might think – better to have one arrow among many than none at all!  And that would be true.

Yet even such an activist church has missed something foundational to a theology of mission.  Namely this: Mission is not something the local church does.  Church is not the sender of gospel witnesses.  The church is the body that is sent. 

mission2 

We are the missionaries – the church as a whole.  Our very existence is an existence on mission.  We have our being as church in the commission which is laid upon the whole body to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).  Mission is not what we do, it is who we are.

As a friend from Crosslinks recently remarked, the ultimate missionary movement is not “West to the rest” nor is it “The rest to the west.”  The ultimate missionary movement is always Heaven to Earth.  We are not senders so much as sent.  As members of Christ’s missionary body we find ourselves, wherever we are, as His ambassadors, God making His appeal through us.  This is not a function that we resolve to undertake (whether poorly or eagerly), it is the very nature of our life together.

Such thinking is radical, yet it is the necessary outcome of a theology of mission grounded in the Missio Dei.

More on this in the next post…

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its-all-about-me

 

Are you a boaster? 

Bet I’m a bigger one…

See?

I’ve been thinking about the early chapters of 1 Corinthians recently.

Here’s some of the things they boasted in. 

Chapter 1:31 alludes to Jeremiah 9:23.  There the spotlight is on wisdom, strength and riches.  

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.  (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

Wisdom, strength, riches – do they tell you who you are?  Is that where you turn for an ego boost?  Well really- Forget that stuff.  That’s small-time boasting.  That’s like being proud of your long bushy nasal hair.  “Hey guys, check out my new perm!”  You’re being ridiculous. Stop it.

But it’s not just our own wisdom and strength we  boast in.  The Corinthians demonstrated the perennial temptation to boast in our connection to the world’s wisdom and strength.  They got a big ego trip from keeping up with the intellectual elites, the opinion formers, the celebrity power players.  It’s not even that they were these big players, but they got a kick out of knowing their celebrity gossip, following their diets, repeating the arguments of the columnists at dinner parties, adopting the attitudes and management techniques of the movers and shakers.  Yeah, they were in with the people that really matter in the world.  Paul says, that’s puny, God’s made that look pathetic at the cross (1 Cor 1:18-20).   It’s like pointing to smoking rubble and saying ‘Lookey!’

Then there’s the most subtle yet most rampant kind of boasting in Christian circles – to boast in Christian labels and leaders (1 Cor 1:12).  I know where I stand because I’m emergent or neo-reformed or whatever.  I’m ok because I line up with Stott or Carson or Driscoll or Piper or whoever.   And Paul says – forget those guys, they’re just slaves (1 Cor 3:5).   Slaves might boast about knowing their famous masters, but who ever boasted about knowing a slave?  They’re farmers. (1 Cor 3:8).  Whoever heard about celebrity farmers.  They’re builders (1 Cor 3:10-15) – and you’re not the ones to do the survey of their building.  God is. 

Do not boast in Christian cliques, and parties, theologies and  leaders.  Was Calvin crucified for you?  Were you baptised  into Barth? (1 Cor 1:13).

And anyway, it’s all yours!  (1 Cor 3:21-23)  You don’t belong to Christian leaders, they belong to you – all of them belong to all of you.  Anything Christ-exalting said by the Arminian, the Pentecostal, the Catholic, the Emergent, the Orthodox, even the Anglican – it’s yours.  Cheer up, you’re inheriting the whole universe and Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Martin, Thomas, and Karl are thrown in.

Stop all this boasting in you, in your worldly connections, in your Christian connections – stop that.

But don’t stop boasting.  No, no, no.  By all means keep on boasting.  Paul commands it:

“Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:31)

Boasters of the world take heed.  Do not put a lid on your boasting.  Boast with gusto, with verve, with unstoppable audacity.  Boast big-mouthed and full-throated.  Boast until you’re blue in the face. 

Just don’t boast in you.  Boast in Jesus.

Notice how the very next thing Paul does is describe his evangelistic ministry.

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.  (1 Cor 2:1-5)

Here is what it looks like to switch your boasting from self to Christ.  It looks like a trembling, humble evangelist, no techniques, but bold as brass for Jesus and dead certain of His foolish message.  In other words it makes for missionaries unsure of themselves but certain of Christ.  And that’s what the world needs.

So, boasters of the world, for goodness sakes let’s stop boasting in ourselves.  But don’t stop boasting.  Use the decades of practice we’ve accrued and turn it to good.

We used to rabbit on about our own achievements, now let’s rabbit on about Christ’s.  We used to name drop Christian leaders, now let’s name drop Christ.   We used to slip impressive facts about ourselves into conversation, now let’s slip in impressive facts about Jesus.  We used to think of ourselves in relation to worldly power and wisdom, now let’s regard ourselves according to the cross.  We used to gain identity from theological labels, now let’s claim the LORD as our banner. 

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This began as a response to Codepoke.  These are just thoughts off the top of my head.  Love to hear the thoughts of others. 

Comedy does not necessarily equal ‘deride’ or ‘make light of’.  Often it does – and perhaps sitcoms and funniest home video shows could be brought in as evidence. 

But even if comedy was simply that, there are many things in this world that need deriding – idols and idolaters for instance (1 Kings 18:27ff; Is 44:15; Gal 5:12).  And many things we can take the wind out of by making light of them – ourselves and our own pomposity for instance. (Jonah 4 springs to mind, as do many descriptions of the disciples.  Perhaps James and John asking for glory right after Jesus speaks of going to the cross – Mark 10:35ff)

Sarcasm can admittedly strike a sour note.  But if the LORD Himself in Job 38-40 isn’t an arch example of sarcasm I don’t know what is.  And clearly sarcasm has apostolic warrant – out of many Pauline examples perhaps his defence of his apostolic ministry in 2 Corinthians 10-12 is the most sustained piece of irony in the bible (corrections gladly received).  The benefits of sarcasm are many but essentially it functions as a reductio ad absurdum and can be devastatingly effective as such.

But comedy is more than ‘making fun of’ – it also works by simple shock value.  Now, absolutely, a programme like South Park utilises this aspect in terms of a base shock value.  But it can be used for great good.  It can shock us out of wrong understandings.  E.g. ‘You think others have a speck in their eye – you’ve got a plank of 4 by 2 my friend!’  Or ‘You think the rich have an easy road to heaven – it’s camels through eye-needles my friend!’  Or ‘You think the Pharisees are in and the tax collectors are out – let me tell you a story about two men going up to pray…’  Shock is an absolute theological necessity.  We must be shaken from our ‘common sense’ and worldly flesh.  Humour provides just this service.

Comedy also works via surprising but pleasing juxtapositions.  Puns are an example of this.  So Jesus says the Pharisees strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.  This is a pun – Camel = gamal, gnat = gamla.  It’s also a shocking juxtaposition.  Double comedy.  Good one Jesus.

But perhaps most foundational of all.  Comedy is technically the opposite of tragedy.  It’s the moment of eucatastrophe where the hero wins through against the odds.  It’s the exultant shout to the defeated enemy ‘Where O death is your victory?  Where O death is your sting?’ (1 Cor 15:55).  It’s saying ‘Ner, ner, ner, ner, ner’ to the Big Ol’ Baddy – and ending the show on a song. 

Apparently in Eastern Orthodox churches (I’ll have to confirm this) they have a tradition of telling jokes on Easter Sunday.  You see Easter is the best joke ever pulled.  Satan thought he was killing Jesus, but actually it was the death of Satan.  Hoisted on his own petard.  The shock!  The irony!  The pleasing juxtaposition!  The triumphant jubilation!

Christians ought to laugh.  Loud!

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Comedy and Christianity

You thought the Busey Builder was disturbing.  What about this?

comedychristianity

I fear that anyone who comes expecting either Reverend Horse-Teeth or actual comedy will be sorely disappointed. 

Nonetheless, the date and the title is set.  It’s an evangelistic gig.  The big question is – what on earth should I say?

Help gratefully received.

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How to wait

The Christian is expectant.  We wait for Christ our Bridegroom.

But how do we wait?  Like this?

look-up

I recently read Sam Harris quoting this statistic: 44% of Americans believe Jesus will ‘certainly’ or ‘probably’ return in the next 50 years.  That’s not 44% of American Christians.  That’s 44% of Americans!

Now I think Jesus could return today.  But I also think He could be another few millennia.  I’m not sure it’s fruitful to put a time frame to this.  But perhaps we know people who scour the newspapers for signs of antichrist – certain that the end is nigh.  And by nigh – they mean Tuesday week.

Just before Jesus ascended His followers wanted to get an eschatological timetable from Him:

Acts 1:6-9:  So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

They wanted to know times and seasons.  Jesus says ‘That’s not your job!  Your job is to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.”

We do not wait by worrying about when.  We wait by witnessing. 

Notice how Acts 1 continues:

10 And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”

Even as Jesus goes – even as they’re told that Jesus will return the same way! – the disciples receive a rebuke for gawping at the skies.  They’ve been given their marching orders. 

The posture of the church as we wait for Christ is not stationary, faces heavenwards.  It’s, verse 8, moving out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth witnessing to Christ.

people-together-arrow

We wait by witnessing.

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How to win the world

It’s a story about high school football.  But really it’s about how to win the world.  Go and read now!

h/t Letters from Kamp Krusty

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Waiting

 wait2 

Ever noticed how much the theme of waiting comes up in the Scriptures?

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Two examples from the OT. 

People waiting for Jesus:

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In Genesis 49 we see the kings from Judah promised as throne-warmers for the Universal King (v10).  In the midst of Jacob’s many prophesies he says:

“For Your Yeshua I will wait O LORD.”  (Gen 49:18)

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Let’s leap over loads more and land on Psalm 130:5-8:

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.  O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption.  He Himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

The LORD Himself is coming to redeem His people.  Wait for Him.  Watch for Him.  Put your hope in Him – which is strictly parallel to putting your hope in His word (interesting parallel).

Well the Universal King came and He offered full redemption.  So NT people are not people of waiting right?  Wrong.

Hebrews 9:28 explains:

Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

What’s the distinguishing mark of the Christian?  Waiting for Jesus.

I could pick loads more but what about 1 Thes 1:9-10; 2 Tim 4:8 and Jude 21:

You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead–Jesus, Who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.

Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Do you have “expectant” mothers in your church?  I hope you’re not dumb enough to ask them whether they’ve given birth yet.  But if you were to ask them how they’re doing, you’ll invariably get the response, “Still waiting.”  There’s an event in the future that’s coming and it changes everything in the present.  How you doing?  Waiting.

That’s the Christian’s outlook on life.  Waiting for God’s Son from heaven, longing for His appearing, waiting for His mercy and eternal life.  

Do you miss Jesus?  Is there a yearning for face-to-face with the Lord who died for you? 

When I was engaged to my wife we were on opposite sides of the planet.  In fact we did long-distance for over a year.  But here’s what kept me faithful to her.  And more than faithful, here’s what kept our long-distance relationship positively vibrant.  We were waiting for our wedding day.  And that expectancy shaped virtually every minute of our lives.  Simply waiting for this future state rendered any notions of infidelity unthinkable.  Waiting was not an absence of activity.  It wasn’t a lack that necessarily needed filling.  It was not a nothing preceding a something.  It was a something of enormous substance.  Waiting in this sense is a tangible reality. 

So it is with the Christian.

When we’re asked how we’re doing, perhaps we should respond like the ‘expectant’ mum or the engaged couple.  How am I? Still waiting.

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Most commented

At 41 69 comments and counting, the evolution of a creationist is now my most commented upon post.  I might have known. 

 

(Update: my points were reposted here and at last count it had 99 comments – though no-one seems to have interacted with my points!)
 
Anyway, here’s the top ten in terms of comments:

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First Place

(69 comments)

 

 The evolution of a creationist – my journey towards young earth creationism. 
 
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Second Place

(35 comments)

 
John Piper’s Theology of Glory – again, predictably controversial.
 
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Third Place
(20 comments)

 
Mission, evangelism and social action part two – one post in a series about how our doctrine of God shapes our mission. It turned into an interesting discussion (mainly with Bobby) about Calvin, Barth, Athanasius, trinity and OT.
 
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Fourth Place (joint)
(18 comments)

 

 
Five Smooth Stones – Grace – from my five part series examining key doctrines through the lens of David and Goliath.
 
I am not – a discussion of how I use my ‘personality type’ to shrink from obedience.
 
Substitutes for the Spirit – how our flesh masquerades in ‘spiritual’ ways.

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Fifth Place

(17 comments)

 

Christian cosmology – some thoughts on how a positive Christian cosmology might take shape.

 

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Sixth Place (joint)

(15 comments)

 
Falling off either side of the wrong horse – how Intelligent Design is no more Christian a response to cosmic fine-tuning than positing a multiverse. 
 

All Scientists are Unbelievers – we’re all involved in faith paradigms, naturalistic scientists included.

Allah is an idol – that’ll get discussion going!  

Worship to honour the Lord – the most bizarre video of worship I’ve ever seen.  This includes my favourite ever comment on this blog:  “I just assume if ground is holy enough to remove the shoe it is too holy to spin the sock.” (Missy)  Go and see the context.

The Truth that is in Jesus – some thoughts on doing evangelism while avoiding the evils of apologetics

Seventh Place (joint)

(14 comments)

Go and preach the gospel… to other Christians.  The gospel is for Christians too you know, so lets get into the habit of encouraging each other with it. 

Nicea comes before Chalcedon – We mustn’t study Chalcedon before or apart from understanding the Nicene homoousios. 

Oneness and Threeness – the trinity.  In particular examining what the oneness of God is (namely the communion of the Three).

Who is the first horsman of the apocalypse? – thanks to Google, one of my most popular posts.

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Eighth Place (joint)

(13 comments)

 

He saved my life and I don’t even know his name – Who is the Good Samaritan?  Jesus of course.

Christ in the Old Testament 3 –  Part of my biggest series.  This post looks at the identity of the Angel of the LORD.  Jesus of course.
 
The Light shines in the darkness – rejecting Christ is the impossible possibility.  The complete insanity of unbelief.

Where’s the turning point? – the father’s arms, not the pigsty, is the real place repentance happens.

Door to Door – discussing cold contact evangelism 

Bible college – just clarifying how the terms ‘bible college’ and ‘seminary’ are understood here and in the States.

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Ninth Place (joint)

(12 comments)

Personality, temperament, gifts, huh? – the conclusion to a series on how to think about personality types.

Creation voice proclaims what? – Jesus of course.

Bible overview – the book by Steve Levy and Paul Blackham.

Quiet times – questions about this touchstone of evangelical spirituality.

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Tenth Place (joint)

(11 comments)

Who the man? … in the parable of Matthew 13:44-46?  Jesus of course.

Blogging personality – a link to a site that calculates your Myers-Briggs type on the basis of your blog.

So what? – What’s the pay-off of a trinitarian theology in which the oneness of God is nothing else but the communion of the Three?  Much in every way.

Adjectives for God – I suggested some.  You suggested others.  Quite a nice collection.  

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If I’m going to beat 41 I’m going to have to write some super-post on Science, Islam, Piper, Trinity and Myers-Briggs in the Old Testament.  Suggestions gratefully received.

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Busey Builder

It’s so wrong…

buseybuilder

… and yet so right!

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From Something Awful via One Salient Oversight

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I love Dev Menon…

… and I don’t care who knows it.

Read here as he discusses baptism, Genesis and the cross.

By the way, did you know he has a PhD he’s getting a PhD in some science or other (viva pending).  Whatever the case, please address him as Dr Dev.  Or Menon PhD. 

Here he does scientia Christi.  Check out this extract from his latest findings…

…So day one – the light shines in the darkness – in the midst of the waters of death and judgement

Day two – the word is stretched out – or rather stretched out and beaten out the expanse – now we have 2 water divisions – one under the THIRD heaven (throne room) and one below

So then Christ will separate out from the waters above and we will separate out from the waters below to create a new life – the THIRD WAY – where God and Man will dwell together – the new life – through the cross, where He is beaten and stretched out – suspended above heaven and earth

So then in the new creation – this time the division is by fire – all will be baptised by fire, first Christ, then His people – and live a new life in the new ‘Expanse’ – the new way – He will draw in from the heavens His Father to live this new life, and from the seas of judgement He has called and fished His people out to live with Him

All the rest will remain in the fires of judgement, the outer darkness, cast away both rebellious angels and men alike…

Read the whole thing here. Now!

Also his latest comment on this blog.  Made me cackle.

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In the beginning I believed in billions of years.

Then, about 8 years ago, a great friend engaged me in the most infuriating conversation of my life.  He actually asked me to articulate my position.  He wanted me to spell out how I thought Eden and Adam fitted into my evolution story.  How evolved was humanity when they gained the image of God?  When did death enter creation and how?  At what point did I think the bible did start recording historical truth?  What was my basis for distinguishing the mythological from the historical and why couldn’t I equally mythologize other biblical narratives?  On and on it went.  It was horrible.

I decided to think about this a bit more.  As I studied further, issues arose around five areas in particular:

1) An argument from the language

There are other, better words that Moses could have used to indicate an age of time in Genesis 1.  He did not choose them – he chose ‘yom’ which most commonly means ordinary day.  It is true that ‘yom’ has a range of meaning (e.g. daytime as opposed to nighttime, a specific time or even a whole year).  However in Genesis 1 the writer has gone out of his way to qualify ‘yom’ as a 24 hour period.  Outside Genesis 1, ‘yom’ is used with ‘evening’ or ‘morning’ 23 times – in each case it refers to an ordinary day.  ‘Yom’ is used with ‘night’ (as in Gen 1:5) 53 times outside Genesis 1 and in each case it refers to an ordinary day.  ‘Yom’ is used with a number 410 times outside Genesis 1 – and in all those cases it refers to an ordinary day.  And the pattern in Genesis 1?  “And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.”

Note the comments of Dr James Barr – a man who criticises evangelicals for trying to hold both to the plain meaning of the Bible and an old earth.

… so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or OT at any world class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the idea that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience; (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story; (c) Noah’s Flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguished all human and animal life except for those in the ark.

2)  An argument from Scripture interpreting Scripture

Exodus 20:8-11 is difficult to answer.  God has ordained a working week of six days with one day rest because that is exactly how He did His work of creation.  We cannot stand above Scripture to interpret it and we don’t need to – the Bible interprets the Bible, and it does so here with crystal clarity.

3) The failure of any other hermeneutic to handle Genesis 1

James Jordan in this short essay explain this point brilliantly (Update: Even if his conclusions are too strong for my liking).

4)  The parallelism of Adam and Christ

The gospel looks quite different if Christ recapitulates a mythical man’s mythical history.  Union with Christ mirroring union with Adam also goes pretty wonky.  It’s not impossible to salvage, but you lose a lot.

5) An argument from the Gospel

How did death enter creation?  It is clear that this happened as a result of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3; Romans 5).  The blame for the curse and death lies squarely at man’s feet.

Death is not a God-ordained instrument of creation.  His creation is very good.  To believe in macro-evolution over billions of years is to believe in billions of years of death, pain and struggle which God used in creation, then pronounced very good and then blamed on humanity.  This affects dramatically our doctrine of creation and in turn our doctrines of sin and redemption. 

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As these and other points slowly wore me down I found myself evolving into a creationist.  I still remember the moment when I finally decided to take the plunge and become a complete nut-case.  As I saw it (and still see it) I resolved that day to stand with the Scriptures and against the wisdom of men.  As I saw it (and still see it) I decided to follow the bible to conclusions considered utterly ridiculous by the world. 

Looking back, it has been one of the most formative moments in my theological development.  Not so much for the theological implications of creationism over theistic evolution.  At a more profound level it signalled a determination to trust the bible wherever it seemed to lead, even if – shock horror – I became a fool in the world’s eyes.  I had been tethered by a desire to look wise in the world’s eyes.  Now I was cutting those ties and could plunge much deeper into the strange and radically subversive world of the bible.

Of course dangers abound in the degree of emphasis we place on creationism etc.  In future I’ll post on the problems of too much and too little consideration of these things.  I may also post on how to discuss these matter in evangelistic settings.  But for now I simply give you my personal journey.  Not written to provoke debate (though I’ll interact with any for as long as my goldfish-like attention-span lasts).  I’m just laying out a little of where I’m coming from. 

If you want a moral to this story it’s probably 1 Corinthians 3:18:

Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise.

 

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Sensational

…Back from holiday

It seems it’s not just the Pope whose words are taken out of context and sensationalized (see here for instance). 

My wife wrote this for the Observer magazine published on Sunday.  It was about a horrible bus journey she once endured surrounded by three yobs.

Here’s what she actually wrote:

…As I tried to laugh off his advances, he dropped three hoodies* into my lap. “I really like you – look, I nicked ’em. All for you. Gizza kiss.”…

* – for those not in the UK, hoodies are hooded jumpers.

 Here’s what they published:

…As I tried to laugh off his advances, he dropped three condoms into my lap. “I really like you – look, I nicked ’em. All for you. Gizza kiss.”…

Apparently a 300 word travelogue for a Sunday broadsheet needs sexing up!

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