Thursday, 29 November 2007

Doing justice

Gary Haugen, the boss of International Justice Mission, comes with a big challenge to us on the issue of engaging with injstice in the world. This is taken from his book "Good News about Injustice".

“Many who lack faith will shrink away from the distant, dark world of injustice. Still others will water down the Word and imagine that they can love God without loving their brother or wanting to ‘justify’ themselves, they will invent elaborate quibbles with Jesus about who is and is not their neighbour.... To these the Lord says: “When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen. ....Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:15-17)”. (p.35)

This is a great challenge to those of us in church leadership. To what extent do we see a concern about justice as a normal part of ministry? To what extent is it part and parcel of doing the whole gospel and church thing together?! We cannot choose whether to love people or not, we cannot choose whether or not to be just. As Christians, it just isn't something we can opt out of. As churches it can't be optional extra. How can we speak of the just Judge who calls all to account and not demonstrate that in our own living?

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Here comes the millenium?

Rushing in where even fools fear to tread, I have some thoughts on the interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6. This has to be one of the most hotly-contested passages amongst Bible-believing Christians and, rather bizzarely, large theological edifices are built upon it.

"1Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
4Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years."

What is it all about? Let me suggest an interpretive framework/approach to it.

My first suggestion is that the 1000 years is not a literal period of time. This makes sense because of 1. given the genre of Revelation which revels in symbolism 2. the idea that in Jewish thinking world history lasted 6000 years with the final 1000 years being a Sabbath before the consummation. Thus the 1000 years could well be seen as a Sabbath day (see also Ps 90:4) of rest.

My second suggestion is that the main focus of the passage is on the symbolic (non-temporal/non-geographical) reign of the martyrs (v4) who have died for Christ. This first 'resurrection' is about them. The focus is upon their reign and victory over the devil and evil itself! Satan being bound is really about their victory over him. The symbolic reign of the martyrs is pre-emptive of the final reign of Christ in the new creation (see 2:26 - is this referring to this kind of reign?). They pre-emptively enter into a Sabbath rest of '1000 years' with the Lord Jesus (with the concomitant 1000 years of humiliation of satan). So Revelation 20 is about giving hope to Christian martyrs - positions are exchanged, satan is imprisoned, they are vindicated, given rest and made into kings. Their 'defeat' in death is turned into victory with Christ. The passage plays out the first part of the drama of Psalm 2, which concludes in v.7f - satan and the nations are finally crushed.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Ezekiel 18 - what does "righteous" mean?

What does it mean to be "righteous"? It's obviously a massive word in the Bible and heavily used. And it's one of those words which we use and have some ideas about, but which seems to have a certain amount of vagueness about it as well. "Righteous" is like "nice" or "good" - a word we use without always defining its meaning very closely. Perhaps, a common definition we have in our minds is something like "conforming to a standard" or "avoiding sin". Of course, to get what the word is on about we need to read it in context. This is much better (and more interesting) than trying to to uncover its etymology. Now, the context of Ezekiel 18 is a very interesting one because it is so explicit about what a "righteous" life is. we're not trying to infer what it means, but rather we get a rare explicit definition.

"5 If a man is righteous and does what is just and right— 6 if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 8 does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, 9 walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord GOD.

10 If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things 11 (though he himself did none of these things), who even eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, 12 oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, 13 lends at interest, and takes profit; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself."

Notice how many of the elements of righteousness mentioned concern social justice of some kind (all in italics) ! Righteousness is not defined in purely individual terms but socially. It is profoundly relational - how I treat the marginalized is a vital elements of righteousness. And it's not just that these elements are mentioned, but they take up a lot of place in the definition. A lot of the focus is upon this social righteousness. How much do we put this focus on how we treat the poor? How much do we see it as a necessary part of sanctification? Further, notice the reward and threats involved in performing this kind of righteousness - life and death. It is not just an optional extra but demonstrates the reality of my status before God. It is a necessary fruit of the Christian life. To not do justice is to commit an abomination on the same level as idolatry and adultery (v.10-12). RIghteousness now looks a little different to how it did for me yesterday....

Saturday, 24 November 2007

N.T. Wright

Here is an interview with the man himself (linked to by several blogs now!). It's a good interview because it asks all the good questions and raises all the issues that have been raised by people who've read his stuff. While he has written a lot of really interesting stuff (see the link to his material on the right), he also, in my opinion, comes out with perspectives that sit very uncomfortably with evangelical theology. John Piper has just written a critique of him as well which you can get here. It will be interesting to see what Piper and Wright make of each other here.

Why was the early church so successful?

Helmut Koester (of Harvard Divinity School) says this...

"Now we have increasingly in the Christian churches, in the time up to Constantine, the establishment of hospitals, of some kind of health service, we have a clear establishment of social service - everything from soup kitchens to money for the poor if they need it. We have the very important establishment of the institution of widows, because a widow in the Roman society who had lost her husband and did not have money of her own was at the very bottom of the social ladder. One of the first welfare institutions we find in the church was all the widows who were recognized as virgins of the church, considered particularly precious possessions of the church; they were paid by the church and therefore were rescued from utter poverty in most instances.

Christianity really established a realm of mutual social support for the members that joined the church. And I think that this was probably in the long run an enormously important factor for the success of the Christian mission. And it was for that very reason that Constantine saw that the only thing that would rescue the empire is to take over the institutions that the Christians had already built up, [including], by that time, institutions of education in reading and writing, because Christians wanted to have their members knowledgeable and capable of reading the Bible.... We find that in administration of the last pagan emperors, before Constantine, at the very end of the third century, a large number of the people in the imperial administration are Christians, because they could read and write. Which constituted a big problem with the persecution of the Christians because they were thrown out of their office first when the persecution began, and suddenly the government didn't work anymore.

One should not see the success of Christianity simply on the level of a great religious message; one has to see it also in the consistent and very well thought out establishment of institutions to serve the needs of the community."

Friday, 23 November 2007


I was reading through my spiritual journal this morning and it struck me how so much of the Christian life is really about repetition. It's about going back over the old thing again and again, learning the Scriptures again and again, hearing again and again. We need, undoubtedly, innovation and newness, but the mainstay of our spiritual lives (and actually the whole of life) is repeated action and acknowledgement of truths. This is partly because of sin. We are constantly leaking spiritually, constantly wandering off and our hearts are always hardening. So, we need to repeatedly apply the gospel and the means of grace to ourselves. The persistence of sin needs repeated grace. But repetition is also an integral part of holiness. You can't be godly without repeated action - what is faithfulness or love but repetition of good actions and intentions? Character is essentially what we repeatedly do. Perseverance is simply the repetition of godliness in adverse circumstances. My repeated actions and words tell me who I am. Of course, then, the big challenge is what this means for contemporary culture, which hates repetition. Boring, humdrum repetition is the one thing we loathe - it is the opposite of self-realization (which is always found in something new). The concept of discipline is a difficult one in our culture. Yet how can any serious goal ever be reached without repeated, disciplined action? So, let's guard against a dislike for the familiar, repeated patterns of spiritual disciplines, church and persevering love. Let's learn to repeat ourselves.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Meaning and History

Some thoughts based upon Leslie Newbigin's book "The Open Secret"......

Given the reality of death, a big problem for us is to know how to keep together the meaningfulness of both our own personal histories (i.e. me) and big public, world history (i.e. humankind). How can both matter and have meaning at the same time? For example, you can choose to abandon public history and just care about myself. In religious terms, this means that my hope is for individual life after death in another spiritual reality or world. Many religious ideas cater for this and focus on this. Of course, this means that public history is meaningless. What happens in this world is not really significant as it's all 'going to hell'. Society, institutions, politics, world events, the body - none of these things really matter. On the other hand, I can abandon personal, individual meaning and history in favour of Progress. What matters is humankind, poverty, society and the world. The problem with this is, firstly, that I am cut out of the imagined future by my own death. I won’t enjoy it! Secondly, though, the danger is that individuals disappear in the grand scheme of things. The personal and individual no longer matters. It has no value - only ‘mankind’ counts. This is basically where you find Marxism, for example.

Now, the wonderful thing about the gospel is that it holds both the personal and the public together. The gospel of resurrection deals with both. It gives us the hope of a new body/life but also the hope of a renewed world. My personal history and longings matter. But public history also matters. God is working to transform both. Death is not the end of either of them. They are kept together by Jesus. The resurrection, then, lays the foundation for the meaning of the world.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

The Cross and the Return of Christ

I've been struck, in my musings on the return of Christ this week, by the great need to constantly connect the doctrine of Christ's return to the doctrine of the cross, and vice versa. If we see Christ's return without the cross we may well tend to legalism. We will emphasize the final judgment and assessment of our lives and the need to live well. The danger is that we will basically become Islamic in our understanding of the final day - it will all be about living a good life. We need to know the grace of the cross to look hopefully to Jesus's return. Further, the cross also tells us Who is coming back. The One who has gone away is the Lord Jesus, my crucified Saviour. He is one who is coming back to judge and rule the world.

On the other hand, we must also view the cross in light of the return of Christ. As I've posted below, we must see that the cross is stepping stone to a new creation. It is the means to the end - and the end is the return of Christ. If I don't have the return of Christ, I will essentially be living 'forgiven' for this life and this world. The cross will lose any sense of hope and will tend to become individualized and spiritualized in its implications for my life.

So: we need both - the crucified Christ and the returning King - to live properly and relate properly to the future.

Mercy Ministry

" is not simply this part or that part of our theology that compels us to show mercy; it is everything in the whole Reformed system of doctrine. To reiterate: it is not just part of our theology that calls us to mercy ministry; it is everything in our entire theology. We must never forget that every doctrine that is taught in every part of Scripture from creation to the final judgment compels us to show the mercy of God to lost sinners, in the gospel of His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit."

(Philip Ryken of Tenth Presbyterian Church)

Friday, 16 November 2007

The Parable of Sheep and Goats

What an amazing parable this is! I've been thinking about this for the last week or so and have been very struck by its profundity. Just a couple of remarks on its message...

1. Though it has a strong bent towards provision for the family of believers ("the least of these my brothers), I think its scope of application can hardly be limited to that (e.g. the "stranger" mentioned, Parable of the Good Samaritan, Gal 6:10). Even if we were to limit its scope just to believers we have absolutely more than enough poor Christians in the world to keep us busy for several centuries.

2. Care of the poor means tangible provision and support for practical and obvious need. This covers a wide range of things - food, relationship, acceptance.

3. Care for the poor is a necessary sign of personal and corporate regeneration. If we do not demonstrate care for the poor it calls into question whether or not we know Jesus. The whole point is that the goats don't recognize Jesus, they don't seem Him. They have a false Jesus in view and so are 'surprised' by the judgement. So, when you neglect the poor you neglect Jesus. To do nothing for them is actually to do nothing for Jesus. The real sin at work here is, then, not so much the sin against the poor, as the sin against Jesus. That is the deepest reason for why I am judged. As 1 Jn4:8 says - the man who does not love his brother, does not know God.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Matthew 25 and the return of Christ

A few more comments following on from the last post....

Matt 25 contains three parables Jesus tells just before the cross. They all focus, surprisingly, not upon the cross, but upon Jesus's return. This is somewhat surprising as one might expect Jesus to teach here on how one is to live in light of the cross, yet as the cross approaches he seems to focus more and more on His coming again. The pattern of discipleship that is laid out here is all in light of His return. He is going but He will return - and that fact leads to a distinctly different lifestyle.

It reminds us that the gospel does not end with the cross or even the resurrection/exaltation - it is concluded by the return of Jesus. It is only when Jesus has come back to restore all things and bring in the fullness of the kingdom that God's plan has been fulfilled. It is only then that all things are brought back under one head. It is, therefore, amazing that no real gospel presentation I have heard (or made myself) has ever mentioned the return of the Lord Jesus. It is normally something like Jesus has dealt with our sins so i can be forgiven and have a restored relationship with God. What do I lose by this? I lose Christ-centredness and I individualize the plan of God. The gospel is really about ME!

The fact that Jesus speaks like this also reminds me that the cross is not the goal, but the means to the goal. It is not the end, but the vital step towards the end. The point of the cross is a positive one: salvation in every sense of the word in a new creation and kingdom under the rule of the 'returned' Lord Jesus. If liberals want to remove propitiation from the gospel, then we can be in danger of reducing the gospel to propitiation. How often I hear something like "Jesus died to take the punishment for our sins" as a summary of what Jesus did on the cross. That is an absolutely wonderful and fearful truth, but He died for much more than that! The focus on the return of Jesus reminds us of that.

Monday, 12 November 2007

The Return of Jesus

I'm doing a series of talks on the return of Jesus on Saturday and it got me thinking about why we speak of this so little. It's ironic because in many contexts, end times is massive. But in my context we speak very little of the return of Jesus. It kind of gets lost between the doctrine of the cross and the doctrine of eternal life. Perhaps there's a sense that it seems pointless to us. After all, won't we meet Jesus when we die anyway? Why is it so important whether or not He comes back - it's simply pre-empting something that we're gonna personally experience sooner or later.

Given that the NT speaks so much of the return of Jesus and seems to think of it as massively important, there must be something wrong with my/our thinking. What's the relevance, then, of the doctrine of the return of Christ?

1. Our hope is not to escape to 'heaven' (i.e. ethereal, spirit existence in another reality) but to live in a renewed creation with the Lord Jesus. He 'must' come back to re-create and restore justice, goodness and peace. We are not escaping to another world, but He is returning to judge and renew this one.

2. The return of Christ is about the exaltation of the Lord Jesus. It reminds us that, wonderful as our salvation is, the gospel is mainly about Him and His Kingship. His return means his ultimate vindication and the recognition of Him by the whole creation. The return of Jesus is, then, about His glory.

3. It is very striking to see how much Jesus makes His return a key element in the life of discipleship - particularly as He goes to the cross. He doesn't say so much about living in light of the cross, but He says an awful lot about living in light of His return. Why? It must be that His return is the endpoint of the gospel - it is the conclusion of the gospel. If we stop at the cross (even the resurrection) we truncate the gospel. The danger will be that we seek our ultimate fulfilment in this life with Jesus. we settle for less than is promised....

This has certainly challenged me to think more deeply about the difference the return of Jesus makes to my daily life.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Grace from Galatians

I've just finished (with the help of some others) preaching through Galatians in our local congregation. Someone, in response to hearing that I'd be doing that, asked me this week, "Don't you find that every sermon is the same?!" I thought for a moment, and realized that yes, Galatians is basically one sermon. It is basically setting out a simple choice: do you read the story of the Bible mainly as Law to be enacted or mainly as Promise (of Jesus and His Spirit) to be believed? The letter returns to this theme again and again, and it is the underlying theology of all the discussion. Is the Bible mainly about commands and law from God, or is it mainly grace and salvation rooted in Jesus? Paul's opponents did not on the surface disbelieve in Jesus, nor were they simply saying "you must earn your salvation." But the structure of their theology was actually marginalizing the work of the Lord Jesus. And it is when we see this that we see how easily we move into this. Don't many Christians see their relationship with God mainly in terms of law? Don't we often think of discipleship as working hard to follow Jesus? But Paul is preaching to us: the main thing in your relationship with God and your discipleship is to to trust in the promise of the Lord Jesus. I live, not by Law, but by faith in the Son of God who loved me and died for me (Gal 2:20). It is not about what I do, but what He has done.

Saturday, 10 November 2007


I was listening to a talk recently where the speaker asked us to complete the sentence "The Son of Man came....". He suggested some answers. How about " seek and save the lost" (Luke 19:10)? Or perhaps " give his life as a ransom." (Mk 10:45) But the speaker reminded us that it can also be completed "...eating and drinking." (Matt 11:19) I remember my surprise when he mentioned that possible version. His talk was a powerful reminder of the hospitality of the Lord Jesus. His sharing of meals with the 'sinner' and the poor is a well-documented and attested aspect of his ministry (particularly in Luke's gospel). Meals serve as a powerful kingdom visual aid. They foreshadow its coming, highlight the kingdom as celebration but, above all, stress the hospitality of God to the outcast. But, what consequences does this have for our practice of hospitality? A few suggestions...

Hospitality easily degenerates into having people over for dinner once in a while. But surely the middle class dinner party falls far short of the ministry of the Lord Jesus. True hospitality is about welcoming people into our lives. It must be part of an ongoing commitment to people. It's also about 'embracing' people whoever they are and whatever they've done. Hospitality is really being practiced when we welcome the outcast, the sinner, our enemy (Luke 14:12). No-one gets left behind in the church. At that point the grace of the kingdom is being powerfully shown. Further, we need to get away from the idea of meal as 'performance' i.e. a display of my culinary skill/ showing off the perfect ordering of my home. Perhaps we need to do meals in a very different way, involving people, letting them share in the preparation and asking for help (rather than showing our self-sufficiency). The meal then becomes a display of community rather than an invitation of people into my 'perfect' world. How easily we slip into a bourgeois spirituality that is more about surface, appearance and performance than grace, authenticity and community.

Working among the marginalized

Here are some more great titbits from the book Total Church (Timmis and Chester) on work amongst the poor and marginalized.

"He [Jesus] has come to call sinners and welcome them home. God is the God who eats with is enemies.' (p.69)

"Indeed part of our evangelism to the rich is our evangelism to the needy. We subvert their preoccupation with power and success as they see us loving the unlovely." (p.71)

"Many of the divisions within evangelicalism are as much about social class as theological differences." (p.74)

"So in any Christian ministry, including ministry among the poor, proclaiming and teaching the word of God must be central. And that is because the greatest need of the poor, as for us all, is to be reconciled to God and so escape his wrath." (p.75)

What is poverty?

"In part it is about having no money, but there is more to poverty than that. It is about being isolated, unsupported, uneducated and unwanted. Poor people want to be included and not just judged and 'rescued' at times of crisis..... [it is about] lack of resources, physical weakness, isolation, powerlessness and vulnerability....It is to be lacking social connections and community. The poor are, by definition, those who are powerless and marginal...... Our first instinct when faced with someone in need is to give something to them or do something for them. 'Rescuing' the poor, as Mrs Jones puts it, can be appropriate in times of crisis or important as a first step. But if it never moves beyond this, it reinforces the dependency and helplessness at the heart of poverty. The poor remain passive. It does not produce lasting or sustainable change. This is why a central theme of the literature on development is the importance of participation." (p.77)

"When we look at the church throughout the world, God is choosing the weak and lowly to shame the power and wealth of the West. It seems that God's response to the imperialism of global capitalism is to raise up a mighty church in the very places this new empire marginalizes and exploits." (p.81)

"They [the poor] do not want to participate in projects. They want to participate in community. A woman told me: "I know people do a lot to help me. But what I want is for someone to be my friend." People do not want to be projects. The poor need a welcome to replace their marginalization; they need inclusion to replace their exclusion; to replace their powerlessness they need a place where they matter. They need community. They need the Christian community. They need the church." (p.78)

Friday, 9 November 2007

Tim Keller

Here's a link to a link (!) of every kind of (free) Tim Keller resource on the web. In case you don't know who he is, he is one of the major US evangelical leaders. His material and preaching have become very significant in the US and UK evangelical contexts.

Receiving the Word

Ben Witherington (NT scholar) has written an interesting blog entry on the "word of God as sacrament". It has a very interesting slant on how we think about the Scriptures.

Holiness and culture

Here are some great questions developed by Mark Driscoll to tease out the way we engage with culture and, particularly, lifestyle choices and decisions. These help me work out what it means to love Christ as I engage and participate in our culture and daily activities.

1. Is it beneficial to me and the gospel (1 Cor 6:12)?

2. Will I lose self-control and be mastered by what I participate in? ( 1 Cor 6:12)?

3. Will be doing this in presence of someone who I know will fall into sin as a result (1 Cor 8:9-10)?

4. Is it a violation of laws of my city, state or nation (Rom 13;1-7)?

5. If I fail to do this, will I lose an opportunity to share the gospel (1 Cor 10:27-30)?

6. Can I do this with a clear conscience? (Acts 24:16)

7. Will this cause me to sin by feeding sinful desires (Rom 13:13-14)?

8. Am I convinced that this is what God desires me to do (Rom 13:5)?

9. Does my participation proceed from my faith in Jesus (Rom 14:23)?

10. Am I doing this to help other people, or am I just being selfish (1 Cor 10:24)?

11. Can I do this in a way that glorifies God (1 Cor 10:31-33)?

12. Am I following the example of Jesus to help save sinners (1 Cor 10:33-11:1)?

Jonathan Edwards on the poor

I have been very intrigued and challenged to read Edwards' treatise on Christian Charity and our obligation to the poor. It is a masterful exposition of Deut 15 and I think it comes as a bit of surprise to a number of people today. After all, Edwards can hardly be written off as a 'wooly liberal' who doesn't care about gospel preaching. As with everything he writes and preaches, he turns his logical-biblical bazooka style of argument on those who object. It's unnerving stuff for those of us who want to excuse ourselves from generosity and kindness.

"...God foresaw that the wickedness of their hearts would be very ready to make such an objection. But very strictly warns them against it, that they should not be the more backward to supply the wants of the needy for that, but should be willing to give him. “Thou shalt be willing to lend, expecting nothing again.”

Men are exceedingly apt to make objections against such duties [generosity to the poor], which God speaks of here as a manifestation of the wickedness of their hearts: “Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart,” etc. The warning is very strict. God doth not only say, Beware that thou do not actually refuse to give him, but, Beware that thou have not one objecting thought against it, arising from a backwardness to liberality. God warns against the beginnings of uncharitableness in the heart, and against whatever tends to a forbearance to give. “And thou give him nought, and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee.” God warns them, from the guilt which they would be liable to bring upon themselves hereby."

Proverbs on the poor

It is very striking to read what the book of Proverbs says about the 'poor'.

1. The situation of the poor

The poor have no protection (Prov 22:7, 28;15, 10:15 "A rich man’s wealth is his strong city;the poverty of the poor is their ruin"). In other words a significant element of poverty is powerlessness and marginalization. Money is power, influence and control and thus one of the major incentives behind getting as much as possible. The poor lack this and so are defenceless in the face of oppressive social control, recession and mistreatment. The poor don’t have a chance because of injustice (Prov 13;23 "The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food,but it is swept away through injustice.") Poverty is cyclical and self-reinforcing as one is laid out a victim of social injustices. It is essentially middle class to think you have got to where you are because of your own efforts and work and deserve it all. The poor have no friends and no-one cares (Prov 19:4, 14:20 "The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends."). They lack social connections and influence. They have very little that anyone wants in terms of buying capital or skills. In fact, the main friends of the poor are the loan companies.

2. God's identification with the poor

Here we have the famous proverb that to lend to poor is to lend to God (Prov 14:31, 17:5, 19:17). How we treat the poor indicates how we think about God (cf. parable of the sheep and goats). Generosity to the poor and marginalized is an absolute sign of righteousness and a massive spiritual health indicator. Judgment comes on those who fail to help poor (Prov 21:13 "Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered." ). The prosperity and success of my life may well depends upon the degree to which I give and have compassion on those who are marginalized around me ("Whoever gives to the poor will not want,but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse. Prov 28:27). Finally, the wise man will understand all of this without needing to be convinced of it (Prov 29:7 A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.) What are the rights of the poor? They are the rights God in his mercy has given them to our generosity and kindness. How about we start here?

Missional community

Do mission weeks and evangelistic events work? Well, I don't mean to say they don't, but I can't help feeling that they are increasingly ineffective in the culture we live in. We tend to pour in a lot of energy and resources into them but actually see very little fruit in terms of real conversions. I think they are decreasingly effective for several reasons.

1. Such approaches seem to work better in a culture of Christendom where much of the basic Christian worldview is still present and 'decisions' become easier. Our culture is not like that any more.

2. They tend to implicitly compartmentalize gospel communication (even though we don't want to) to a certain parts of a calendar.

3. They tend to focus explaining the gospel in doctrinal, systematic ways only.

4. They abstract gospel witness from community life and relationships.

5. Gospel communication becomes an event rather than an ongoing witness.

6. The vast majority of people need a long time to become Christians and so they will need to have much more significant contact than simply a mission week.

In contrast to this approach is the idea of church as 'missional community'. This means:

1. Gospel communication to outsiders/insiders is a part of everything you do and every gathering. We are always addressing the issues of our culture and objections of our culture - they are often our hidden issues as well. The gospel is not just seen as systematic doctrines to be believed but a hermeneutic that shapes all teaching and activity.

2. This communication is grounded in community life, so that people are invited to see the community in action and relationships in action. This means that the quality of our community life is actually a key apologetic and context for the gospel. We don't therefore just need to invite people to events but simply invite them into what the community is doing together. Hospitality is something the whole church does as a body. The goal if for gospel communication to occur at every point and in every context - both formally and informally.


The excellent book "Total Church" by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester (a very easy and stimulating read) has some stirring challenges to the way we think about church and community.

"We are not save individually and then choose to join the church as if it were some club or support group." (p.37)

"I am a person-in-community. I cannot be who I am without regard to other people." (p.39)

"My being in Christ means being in Christ with those others who are in Christ." (p.39)

"The prevailing view of life today is that of an individual standing on his or her own, heroically 'juggling' various responsibilities... An alternative model is to view our various activities and responsibilities as spokes of a wheel. At the centre or hub of life is not me as an individual, but us as members of the Christian community. Church is not another ball for me to juggle, but that which defines who I am and gives Christlike shape to my life." (p.42-43)

"In our experience, people are often enthusiastic about community until it impinges on their decision-making. For all their rhetoric, they still expect to make decisions by themselves for themselves. We assume we are masters of our own lives." (p.45)

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Self-examination questions

Questions for assessing my spiritual progress...

1. Do you have an increasing joy in God and His fame?

2. Are you governed increasingly by the word of God?

3. Are you more forgiving and patient with the faults of others?

4. Do you base who you are on what the Lord Jesus has done for you rather than what you do for Him?

5. Do you have a growing concern for the needs of others, whether of this life or or for eternity?

6. Do you delight in the people of God?

7. Is your day-to-day speech life-giving or destructive?

8. Do you grieve over your sin and delight in your salvation?

9. Do you pray with God’s priorities and with joy?

10. Do you yearn to be with Jesus in the new creation?