Michael Jensen and Gordon Cheng are having a mammoth debate over the use of polemic speech by Christians. The debate starts here and then continues here. These two threads are definitely worth a read. I must admit I’m landing where Michael is landing on this issue and I agree with him that this might be a bit of a problem in the literature of the Sydney Anglicans (or at least what I’ve read of it – and in general I’m a big fan of their literature). Then again it might just be because they’re Aussies (and they always beat us at sport!).
Archive for July, 2007
Here’s a question that someone asked on the Facebook group:
“From the church tradition I belong to, too much missional activity is predominantly aimed at white people. But the reality is in SA today the vast majority of our population are not white, and therefore not being “reached” by missional churches. And even when there is a multi-racial congregation this does not necessarily equal mulit-cultural. Of course we could do mono-cultural mission and reach separate people separately (the homogeneous unit principle) but that is not the picture that I find of one new humanity that I find in Ephesians 2. Does being missional in South Africa require being multi-cultural?”
How would you answer this?
Facebook is fun – but I also want to test out just how useful it is. So I’ve started a ‘Reformission South Africa‘ group on Facebook, the aim is to encourage South Africans who subscribe to the reformed faith to get on with living out the entailments of the gospel. If you’re interested check out the group – if Facebook is as influential as it seems maybe revival will break out in SA.
Implementing biblical convictions about community is a difficult thing. One of the main reasons is that living and being in community is a messy affair. Think about family life – its not always pretty, you’re in each others faces 24/7 and as the many pressures of life take their toll it can sometimes get quite ugly. In family though at least you generally all get socialized together – the only exception would be when a couple get married and they come together having been socialized in different places. The church community on the other hand is socialized in a hundred different places and then they’re brought together because of their convictions about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The potential for disaster is everywhere.
Thinking in a South African context its particularly challenging. At the moment at my current church we’re trying to integrate a group of homeless, predominantly non-white, men who we minister to on a weekly basis, with a fairly white suburban and affluent church – the task is near impossible. Yet our convictions about community must spur us on. The spiritual bond of fellowship that exists between all believers must have a tangible outworking here on earth – and that outworking is the church. Its going to be messy, but if we stick to our guns on this one then its a mess we have to deal with. I can see though why its so easy to neglect this side of church and pastors need much encouragement and help in this area.
I was chatting with Michael Tinker on Skype this morning, Michael works with the Crowded House, a church planting initiative in Sheffield, England. He was telling me how in certain things he distinguishes between essentials and non-essentials when discussing practice and methodology in church planting. From what I can see one of the advantages of the house-church format that the Crowded House use is the massive priority it puts on Christians living in community with each other. Michael confirmed with me that one of the motivations that drives them is their commitment to the concept that community is not a pragmatic or methodological add-on but rather a biblical essential.
Now its my guess that most (if not all) evangelicals would intellectually agree that a priority on community is a biblical priority. Yet in western evangelicalism many of our churches are highly individualized and ‘community’ exists for two hours on Sunday and maybe another two during the week during a bible study group. If we are to love God and love people I fail to see how we can adequately do that in about four hours a week – and we haven’t even got to evangelism and loving those outside the church yet. Funny that we’re so often exhorted to read our bible and pray everyday (love God) but not to meet with and share our lives with fellow Christians everyday (step one in loving people).
Big churches are going to find it particularly difficult to turn the tide on this issue. Churches in very western and individualized areas are likewise going to face a battle here. There’s also the danger of minimizing other essentials in an attempt to address this issue – which so often happens as the pendulum swings – perhaps (dare I say it) some in the Emerging Church are suffering this sort of swing? However, if we’re convinced that living in community is an essential biblical concept then we need to start thinking and acting on the issue, lest we allow the culture of individualism to dominate us.
I haven’t read it yet but I’m sure Steve Timmis Tim Chester’s Total Church is going to have much to say on this issue and we’d all do well to get a copy and start reading.
I’ve just started reading Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy and by the looks of things I’m not the only one. The following brilliant quote from the book is currently doing the rounds in the blogsphere over at Jollyblogger’s, Mark Moore’s blog and Matt Harmon’s blog. Here’s the quote:
“The gospel is what we must believe in order to be saved. To believe the gospel is to put one’s trust and confidence in the person and work of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. To preach the gospel is faithfully to proclaim that historical event, along with the God-given interpretation of that event. It cannot be stressed too much that to confuse the gospel with certain important things that go hand in hand with it is to invite theological, hermeneutical and spiritual confusion. Such ingredients of preaching and teaching that we might want to link with the gospel would include the need for the gospel (sin and judgment), the means of receiving the benefits of the gospel (faith and repentance), the results or fruits of the gospel (regeneration, conversion, sanctification, glorification) and the results of rejecting it (wrath, judgment, hell). These, however we define and proclaim them, are not in themselves the gospel. If something is not what God did in and through the historical Jesus two thousand years ago, it is not the gospel. Thus Christians cannot ‘live the gospel’, as they are often exhorted to do. They can only believe it, proclaim it and seek to live consistently with it. Only Jesus lived (and died) the gospel. It is a once-for-all finished and perfected event done for us by another.” (p.59)
After a top secret meeting the international delegates that make up the governing body of ‘…daylight‘ blog have decided that it would be a good idea for Stephen Murray, the current author, to get some blogging collaboration on his blog. In efforts to reach the intended goals they have decided to enlist Anthony Carr, former blogger at ‘entropy‘, and freelance South African theologian. It is hoped that this new venture will see a spike in page views and visits and speculators are suggesting that Technorati are to catapult ‘…daylight’ up their ratings as a result of this partnership. All parties seem happy and excited by the prospect of being able to read posts by two different authors and many wait in eager expectation for some quality blogging in the near future.
I’ve sorted out my laptop woes and the power is back. So blogging should resume as normal. At the moment though I’ve got ethics oozing out of my ears – this is a guaranteed headache course. Haven’t had time to read much of the blogsphere in the last week so I’m a bit behind. Please can I remind anyone that’s interested in signing up for an email subscription to ‘The Gospel Conversation‘ to sign up here. If you know of people who are interested in ministry in South Africa then please put them onto the Gospel Conversation. Anyway, enough for now – need to go and sleep so I can take in the concept of ‘just war’ in ethics tomorrow. Later…
I tripped over my power supply cord to my laptop and broke it two nights ago! I have to order a new one now and pay through my nose for it. So you’ll be lucky if you get a blog post out of me before the end of the week. Stoopid hey?
Obviously when doing ethics one’s view of the relationship between the Mosaic law and the New Testament believer. Which ever view you take it will impact upon your ultimate ethic for the Christian today. Now as one who’s not to keen on the whole tripartite division of the law of moral/civil/ceremonial (mainly because I think its an imposed framework that Calvin borrowed from Aquinas and not from reading his Old Testament), I found Michael Hill’s brief comments extremely helpful. Speaking about the stage of redemptive history containing Israel and their law he says the following:
“The significance of this stage in salvation history for ethics is often over emphasized. The Law of Moses does not provide a complete and binding guide to Christian morality. On the other hand it should not be dismissed as irrelevant. The basic shape of God’s rule, and God’s just order established at creation, is confirmed and further delineated in the Law. Yet it is delineated in positive and negative ways. For example the people of Israel are told not to commit adultery, a negative command.
Nevertheless the Law gives us, as Christians, a glimpse of God’s just order. Aspects of the configuration of his good order are revealed. There is good reason for the negative aspects being included. The revelation comes to people who have rebellious hearts. Even though God has called them and dealt graciously with them they are still, as Paul puts it, slaves to sin. The negative aspects address this rebelliousness. The negative pattern is exposed in the Ten Commandments. Only three of the commandments are stated in positive terms. The rest are asserted negatively. The sevenfold repetition of ‘do not’ presupposes a spirit of rebellion and disobedience.
While Christians are not under the package called the Law, the moral elements in the Law are part of a continuum that gives shape to an ideal. This continuum reaches from creation to Christ. Many people like to divide the regulations and laws that give shape to God’s covenant with Israel into moral, cultic and civil elements. In this way it is hoped that the cultic and civil elements can be jettisoned with the coming of the New Covenant in Christ, and the moral component retained. However the Bible itself does not operate in this way. The Old Covenant is seen as a discrete unified package with a number of aspects, not parts. These various aspects cannot be unravelled and treated as parts. Moreover the Old Covenant and its Law is seen as a shadow of the reality to come in Christ. The partial gives way to the complete. This is true of the cultic and civil aspects as well as the moral.” (The How and Why of Love, p.74)
Today I started a two week intensive course on Christian ethics. The whole subject seems like something of a minefield to me – there are so many ifs and buts – makes the whole process of figuring out what the right thing to do is very complicated. Our main text book is Michael Hill’s The How and Why of Love which is a biblical theological approach to Christian ethics – coming from a teleological angle.
After one day of lectures, and an introduction to the subject I was quite fascinated by how much of an impact the whole discipline of hermeneutics makes on ethics. And this is even evident within conservative evangelical circles. Whether you’re a dispensationalist, a covenant theologian or a new covenant theologian will make quite a big impact on your ethics. So although I haven’t got into it yet I’m glad our textbook is by a guy who thinks the Bible is a story of redemption and not a systematics textbook.
The class is going to be given case studies to be taken home and worked on each night – I’ll let you in on some of them and you can see what you think.
One of the things I enjoy about liturgical church services is the high place that most of them give to public, corporate confession of sin. There was almost no public confession of sin at the Baptist church I grew up in however now, in my current church, we do confession every service.
In some churches I’ve noticed the practice of using Psalm 51 as a corporate confession prayer. Now the usage of this Psalm as a personalized confession prayer has come under debate: I’ve heard prominent pastors suggest that its wrong for us to pray Psalm 51 corporately and I’ve also heard some argue the opposite. I have some of my 0wn thoughts on the subject but I want to know what others think. So here’s your options:
1) We can pray Psalm 51 without qualification as a corporate confession prayer.
2) We can pray Psalm 51 as a corporate confession prayer, but only with qualification (presumably made by the service leader).
3) We cannot pray Psalm 51 as a corporate confession prayer.
4) Something else (and you better explain…)
“The Roman Catholic Church is willing to go so far as to assert that any church that denies the papacy is no true church. Evangelicals should be equally candid in asserting that any church defined by the claims of the papacy is no true church. This is not a theological game for children, it is the honest recognition of the importance of the question.”
‘We don’t want you gospel or your Christianity thing – that big church on the hill makes us promises but steals our money!’
- teenage Zulu street kids in Durban, South Africa, burned by the big ‘prosperity gospel’ church at the top of the road.
Today I went to fetch three pairs of long pants from a large syndicated clothing store in Cape Town. I was having them shortened (I’m short guy with short legs). When I went to collect them I was told “sorry the gentleman who is currently working on your pants has just slipped out to mosque (it is Friday after all).” So now I’ll go back and get them at 5 this afternoon.
I’m just wondering though if the guy who fixed my pants just happened to be a Roman Catholic and he really needed to go off to confession – would they let him? They let the Muslims go to mosque. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m quite happy for the guy to go to mosque – he has to in order to fulfill his religious duties to which he subscribes, and we live in a country with religious freedom. But I’m just wondering, if in certain working situations some religions are afforded more freedom than others?
The CT article on the growing popularity of ‘prosperity’ preaching in Africa has prompted some thinking in me regarding the scene in South Africa. What I found peculiar in the article was that, according to the authors, this renewalist growth had something of an effect upon economic growth in Nigeria. Now I must confess that I’m a bit suspect of the connection between the two (although I have absolutely no way to substantiate my suspicion). I am more familiar though with what’s going on in SA and as far as I can see, if anything, this renewalist growth is having zero effect upon the communities where it is most common.
Prosperity preaching, or forms of it, are rife on the Cape Flats (a very large low-income area in Cape Town). I travel down the M5 highway which borders the Flats and I often see posters for ‘name it and claim it’ crusades – I’ve driven past a few taking place in the evenings with the huge tent and bright lights. They’re commonplace all over the Flats. One of my lecturers has even taken some of the pastors from the Cape Flats, who we train at BISA, to visit one of these crusades and then asked them to write a critical report of what they saw there. And its not just at the crusades, but its in the churches too. I visit on the Cape Flats now and again to preach as part of a deputation team from the college and I’ve sensed this underlying ‘posperity gospel’ vibe a number of times.
Now here’s where it bites – the article gives the impression that a lot of this renewalist movement is still preaching the historic gospel, and whilst I’d want to affirm that there probably are groups out there where this is the case, here in South Africa, those groups are definitely in the minority. What is going on in these churches is not the evangelical gospel of Christ. This has been my experience to date. Historically the gospel when preached and adopted by great numbers has produced community transformation. Here we have the great numbers filling these churches and going to the crusades but no transformation – in fact these areas (and I know this is also largely due to economics but still…) have some of the greatest social problems in the country – high crime rates, high HIV/AIDS rates etc. Yet their churches are full on Sunday morning and there are a ton of churches.
I mentioned this in conversation with a friend of mine who pastors on the Cape Flats, and asked him what exactly was going on in those churches and he simply said to me, ‘Stephen they’re preaching nonsense’.
The CT article suggests that Africa doesn’t need church planting but rather more discipling. I disagree, we need to do both – the folk on the Cape Flats need to have the opportunity to attend gospel teaching churches, at the moment their options are limited and so they just go to the big church closest them. We need to plant churches. I think massive numbers of those folk want to serve Jesus as king but their leaders are taking them for a ride.
‘In its 2006 survey, Pew asked participants if God would “grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith.” Eighty-five percent of Kenyan Pentecostals, 90 percent of South African Pentecostals, and 95 percent of Nigerian Pentecostals said yes. Similarly, when Pew asked if religious faith was “very important to economic success,” about 9 out of 10 Kenyan, Nigerian, and South African renewalists said it was.’