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Archive for April, 2013

EvangelismWhat do you associate with the phrase “man-centred evangelism”?  What would self-centred evangelism look like?

I have a tract in front of me. A fairly innocuous cover – it could be about anything.

Open it up and straight away you’re confronted with death and judgement. When we die we will open our eyes either in a state of supreme happiness or unbelievable anguish. There is no annihilation, no re-incarnation, no escape.

The next page tells us How to be sure of heaven. There follow nine numbered points. These include (among other things) ‘repenting’, ‘coming’ to Jesus, ‘trusting in’ Jesus, ‘looking to’ Jesus, ‘receiving’ Jesus, ‘confessing ‘ Jesus, and ‘reading your Bible and praying every day’. These are all separately listed under the heading ‘How to be sure of heaven.’  The work of Jesus is mentioned in the midst of a couple of these points – His death on “Calvary” is instrumental in your forgiveness and something you must realise and trust in.

It concludes with a sinners’ prayer.

Now… let me say I love first contact evangelism, I love tracts.  I use them often. I’ve just been out door-knocking our parish and found it a very fruitful time. I don’t fault anyone for a sense of gospel urgency and a desire to reach out.  So let’s not get hung up on the particular example, but let’s talk about the theology behind it.

The theology fueling this is not confined to tracts. Some folks seem to reverse engineer their gospel from the throne of judgement.  And they bring it all back to here and now and me.  The logic goes like this:

In the future there will be a judgement.

Today you can prepare for that ‘great assize’ by making some changes.

By the way, in the past Jesus did some things that open up the possibility for your salvation today.

But anyway, back to today.  Back to you.  Here are the nine things you need to do

There are numerous problems here, but let me name some of them…

The entire presentation is not an announcement of good news. It is an ultimatum.

It’s not about Christ and what He has done, it’s about you and what you must do.

Your problem, in these presentations, is not really Christlessness.  It’s the future flames which you want to avoid if you know what’s good for you.

God’s solution – salvation – is not knowing God through Jesus (John 17:3), it’s escaping hell. Meaning…

There is no obvious connection between believing in Jesus and being saved (apart from Jesus’ atonement being instrumental somehow).  Therefore…

Trusting Jesus becomes about trusting a mechanism of atonement, not a Mediator who atones.  Furthermore…

Faith in Jesus is blatantly a means to another end: escaping hell.  Which means…

No love for Christ is being encouraged, only love for self.  Thus…

True faith is not being elicited here.  You can tell this because…

Christ in His word is not creating faith (He and His work are barely mentioned), the evangelist is commanding faith.  But…

Faith is not a response to commands, it’s a response to promises.  Similarly…

Faith is not a contribution we make to our salvation (along with 8 other steps we need to take), it is the gift of God that comes as Christ, in His gospel, takes hold of us.

That’s what evangelism is then – placarding Christ.  And yes, talk about judgement – but talk about the condemnation that is our Christlessness, now and eternally (John 3:18). Talk about salvation, but talk about Christ as our salvation.  And talk about repentance and faith, but talk about it in the context of Christ offered to you.  Don’t make it your offering to Him.

If we fail to be thoroughly Christ-centred in evangelism we will be man-centred, no matter how much we quote the King James Bible, no matter how fundamentalist we sound, no matter how proud we are of ‘preaching the hard truths.’  Without Christ it always comes back to me.  Only Christ-centredness is true God-centredness.

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More Tweets

twitter-icon“Dear God, once again, I’m *really* sorry for that sin?” “What sin?” (Hebrews 10:17) #EnjoyYourDay

Passionless gospel preaching should be an impossibility. Should be.

Documentary on Isaac Newton says he spent his latter years as “a lonely old man”… Like his god then.

Coming to Jesus is not about taking on another burden. It’s about receiving the one yoke that fits well. (Matthew 11:28-30) #rest #easy

Isaiah 60: Now that the Light of the world has risen for you, YOU shine with radiant glory. #passiton #EnjoyYourDay

Poor? Brokenhearted? Mourning? Bound? Christ is good news, comfort, gladness, freedom, a robe of praise & righteousness #Is61 #EnjoyYourDay

We don’t have to come up with God, He comes out with Himself.

If u find yrself thinking: “I’ll sort this problem out myself” consider that “sorting things out yrself” might be yr Real Problem

What every Christian can pray: “You, Lord God, have looked on me as though I were The Most Exalted of men.” (1Chr17:17) #ClothedInChrist

We spend our lives trying to become wise, righteous, special, free. We have it all in Jesus: 1Cor1:30 #EnjoyYourDay

Christ says “I have surely seen yr affliction & have heard yr cry. I know yr sufferings & have come down to deliver u.” Ex3 #EnjoyYourDay

Since sacraments are visible words of divine promise it’s ridiculous to sideline them in the name of “faith alone.” >>

<< If you want faith – unleash the promises.

Faith cannot rest in a mechanism of salvation. Faith is receiving a Messiah who saves. Preachers: ensure you preach *Him*

Spring=just a taste of what’s coming: “the desert shall blossom abundantly & rejoice with joy & singing.” Is35 #EnjoyYourDay

The horror is, the law does not find fault with what Gosnell was doing, only where he was doing it: Doug Wilson Article … #Gosnell

“Sorry, snowed under” “I’m not a miracle worker” “I wish u hadn’t told me that”: Things u won’t hear from Jesus. #TalkToHim #EnjoyYourDay

Happy ‘Kill The Dragon Save The Girl’ Day. Google’s icon is a nice representation of St George (and the Bible!)

Just imagine it: the Father selecting a sacrificial Lamb “for your sake” – His precious, eternal, spotless Son. 1Peter1:17-20 #EnjoyYourDay

Someone just commented on Emma’s blog: “Is Glen Scrivener your dad? He sometimes preaches at our church.” Time to start jogging.

A life of faith, hope and love isn’t the price of salvation, it’s the prize: yours for free in Jesus (Col 1:3-6) #EnjoyYourDay

Slavery this side of sonship = death (older brother in field) Slavery the far side of sonship = real life (younger brother in father’s robe)

“I’ve died and gone to heaven” – words describing a euphoric experience. Words describing every Christian. Col3:3 #EnjoyYourDay

Preachers: tomorrow you are not simply transferring information. You are heralding the Word. #OfferChrist

Good news: Am about to preach in a pulpit used by Wesley. Bad news: He was subsequently chased out of church & nearly killed by the locals

Monday morning is Not ‘same old, same old’ – the old is gone, today is brand spanking new: Lam 3:23. #EnjoyYourDay

You can be a cool, detached know-it-all. Or you can be a preacher. Not both.

Preaching is not a performance but it is performative. It mustn’t be affected but it is effectual.

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Ephesians 4:1-6 sermon

MonkeyGoneToHeavenHave you ever said the phrase “I’ve died and gone to heaven!“? Think of a time when you might have said “I’ve died and gone to heaven!” The dream holiday, the dream job, the dream boyfriend or girlfriend. The day the dream came true you died and went to heaven.

The book of Ephesians begins by saying “The Christian has died and gone to heaven”…

TEXT

AUDIO

 

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ChristOldTestament2The Real Presence of the Son Before Christ: Revisiting an Old Approach to Old Testament Christology by Charles A. Gieschen

Gieschen’s conclusion gives his reason for writing:

If we are convinced that the Son is central to the identity of YHWH as he speaks and acts throughout the Old Testament, we can and should show forth the pre-incarnate Son when preaching from the Old Testament. To do this we do not need to have a messianic or typological prophecy in the text, nor do we need to set up elaborate comparisons between God in the Old Testament and then fast-forward to Christ in the New Testament. We can also let those to whom we preach see Christ by showing them the real presence of the Son in Old Testament events and speech.

Interesting within the article is Gieschen’s recognition of Augustine as deviating from the christocentric OT interpretation prevalent in the early church:

It was Augustine who solidified the position against seeing the Son, or any other person of the Trinity, as visibly present in the theophanies of the Old Testament. He argued that the manifestations of God in Old Testament events were mediated by angels:

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, since it is in no way changeable, can in no way in its proper self be visible. It is manifest, accordingly, that all those appearances to the fathers, when God was presented to them according to his own dispensation, suitable to the times, were wrought through the creature. And if we cannot discern in what manner he wrought them by ministry of angels, yet we say that they were wrought by angels. (On the Trinity 3.21-22)

Augustine, writing between A.D. 400-420, is obviously reacting against those who were using the theophanies to prove the created nature of the Son or the difference of his essence from the Father. Unlike the Formula of Sirmium in the mid-fourth century, which included anathemas against anyone who denied that it was the Son who appeared to Abraham and Jacob, Augustine called for a much more moderate understanding:

We should not be dogmatic in deciding which person of the three appeared in any bodily form or likeness to this or that patriarch or prophet, unless the whole context of the narrative provides us with probable indications. In any case, that nature or substance, or essence, or whatever else you may call that which God is, whatever it may be, cannot physically be seen; but on the other hand we must believe that by creature control the Father, as well as the Son and the Holy Spirit, could offer the senses of mortal men a token representation of himself in bodily guise or likeness. (On the Trinity 3.25)

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Hebrew-BibleI am not at all naturally inclined to study languages myself so I’m not writing as a language buff. But I think “correctly handling the word of truth” means a certain level of knowledge about the way that word was written and how it can and cannot be handled.

What is the semantic range of this word? Do I realize how meaning can change depending on which prepositions are attached or what verb stem it’s in? Do I at least understand the arguments for why the New World Translation gets John 1:1 wrong? I think a pastor should have a handle on this kind of stuff – not that they can necessarily weigh in with great scholarship but that they at least know why the NIV says what it says and can justify it if they disagree.

And it can have revolutionary significance.  Think of Matthew 4:17 – the Vulgate says ‘Do penance’ but when Luther sees it’s actually “Repent” it becomes the very first of his 95 theses.

I’m not saying someone can’t have a hugely powerful ministry without knowing the original languages (who can deny that in places where the church is growing fastest, pastors very often don’t). And I’m not saying every pastor needs to get to the level where they do all their prep and quiet times in Hebrew. But if our pastors have been given significant formal preparation for word ministry then studying those words in the original languages should be a key component of that. It’s surely not right that pastors have a hundred opinions on the new perspective but don’t actually understand the linguistics behind “pistis Christou” for instance.

I think the tools of a pastor’s trade are words – the bible’s words more specifically. I wouldn’t have confidence in a car mechanic who said “We just need to twist the doo-hickey until the thingumy-jig pops out.”

I’m not suggesting that pastors need to be fluent or anything like it.  You don’t need to be able to speak these languages or hear them or even write them.  Just to read them, painstakingly slowly and usually with some bible software close to hand!

But it pays off. Very quickly you’re able to see a thousand links that are there to see in the original languages but (necessarily) obscured by translations.  Let me give some examples:

Last week I preached on Isaiah 2 and then 1 Corinthians 7:

Isaiah 2:

All translations conceal just how much ideas of highness, loftiness are repeated in verses 11-17. Reading this in the Hebrew definitely allowed the word to dwell in me more richly. I was more impacted by the word because of reading in the Hebrew.

Searching for a theology of trees and hills was easier to do with knowledge of the Hebrew. (Of course it’s not impossible to do without Hebrew but it takes longer and you end up relying on things like bible dictionaries – and I’m never sure if I’m always on the same page as the bible dictionary contributors (esp on OT)).

In v10, ‘The Rock’ vs ‘the rocks’ – I might decide to prefer ESV because of many factors, but surely the best factor is that the Hebrew says bazur not bazurim. This was a key point in my sermon – a big talking point afterwards. I’m glad I know something of Hebrew when those conversations come up. If you’re going to argue for Christ in OT (which I am), the majority of your biblical scholarship / commentary help is at least 300 years old. It’s brilliant stuff, but a lot of the contemporary stuff is just not that interested in christocentric detail. But, learn Hebrew yourself and you’ll see it on every page.

1 Corinthians 7:
There are so many minefields here – and so many ethical issues that depend on language debates. I’m nowhere near in a position to contribute to these debates, but it’s very helpful to be able to follow them especially when I’m telling certain people they can’t marry or can’t divorce and telling them on the basis of these ten Greek words which have multiple interpretations.

e.g. what’s the difference between ‘separating’ in v10 and ‘divorcing’ in v11-13? What does it mean for the woman not to be ‘bound’? in v15? Is that relevantly similar to the word for ‘bound’ in v39? Your stance on divorce and remarriage is fundamentally affected by that question.

Now the language alone is not going to decide it and not everyone needs to have language knowledge. But I’m recommending an investment of time in languages that better places you to think through all these issues.

On the one hand learning languages saves you time. It really does – searches are far faster, technical commentaries are much easier to read. If you’re at all interested in the detail of the text, knowing some Greek and Hebrew makes things faster not slower. On the other hand, it slows you down in the right way. Reading the passage in the original allows you to see details and emphases and repetitions that are necessarily filtered out in translations, to see things of Christ that aren’t usually picked up on. It comes home a bit stronger. Maybe none of that will translate to the pulpit, but it translates to my heart – and that’s good for my ministry.

So here’s what I’m saying: It is a tremendous help in correctly handling the word if you know enough about Greek and Hebrew to at least be able to read the technical commentaries and use the bible software. This will mean that, with help from commentaries and Bibleworks etc, you are preparing sermons from the Hebrew and Greek and not simply from the English translations. I really think this makes a significant difference to your word ministry. Enough difference that it is worth the expenditure of, say, 160 hours in training – i.e. 4 hours a week (2 in classroom, 2 in homework) for 40 weeks or something? To be honest you could probably get away with less. And you do NOT have to be a language buff to be able to get to this level. I am in no way naturally gifted for languages, but I found huge payoffs in forcing myself to do it.

Now put that 160 hours (or less) in context. I’ve spent many times over that amount in studying church history, many times over that amount simply reading theologians, simply reading systematics, simply reading Christian paperbacks. I’ve spent hugely more time blogging!

I’m not talking about secret knowledge that takes decades of training and special anointing. I’m talking about learning alphabets and a bit of vocab, learning some verb and noun tables and then figuring out how clauses and sentences fit together. Most of that is dead boring – but these are the nuts and bolts of God’s revelation to us. And pastors deal in God’s revelation. Yes we deal in people and that is crucial (Tit 1:6-8). But we also deal in the word (Tit 1:9). We find time for all sorts of other nonsense in preparation for word ministry (JEPD anyone?!) languages is a really good investment of time. If you have the chance to do it, do it.

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TEP-PodcastCover-1024x1024The church has been sent as God’s missionary organisation to the world. What does that mean for church? What does it mean for evangelism?

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Happy Friday

And the conspiracy theory flowchart (some swearing)

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