I’ve posted the sermon I preached on Sunday morning at The Message Church in Mowbray, Cape Town, entitled ‘Created for Community’. If you want to know what I think about the concept of community and its relation to the Christian church then have a listen. Please note that my ideas are not really all that original – I’ve borrowed a ton from people who have influenced me like Tim Chester and Steve Timmis as well as, I think, simply saying what seems obvious to me in the Scriptures. Some feedback would be great…
Archive for September, 2008
“The church is always tempted towards a church of glory, whether that takes the form of grand buildings, political influence, global structures, charismatic personalities or mega-churches. But an approach to the church consistent with the gospel of Christ crucified and discipleship shaped by that gospel is an ecclesiology of the cross. That means power in weakness, wisdom in folly, and glory in shame. It means we must put our confidence in Christ’s little flock and the sovereign rule of God. It means we must put our energies into the church of the cross even if that means obscurity.
The problem is that ‘power made perfect in weakness’ is so counter-intuitive and counter-cultural that we do not believe it. We believe that God will use the powerful and important and impressive. But he does not. We need a radical change of perspective. We need to ditch our worldly notions of success. We need to ditch our modernistic preoccupation with numbers and size. We need to turn our notions of success upside down so that we align them with God’s kingdom perspective.” (Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church, p.194-5)
As I stand on the precipice of church planting and church leadership I’m overwhelmed by the need I have for God to come and do some serious reconstructive surgery in my heart so that I will lead his church with a theology of the cross and not a theology of my own glory.
My continued reading in everything missional is providing me with insight, surprises, encouragement and also concern and, at times, disappointment. Since I spend most of my time on this blog waxing lyrical about the upside of the missional movement I think its time I started to approach it from a bit more of a critical stance. I’ve already done that a bit in my last post.
Today I want to think a little about the usage of prescriptive texts versus descriptive texts in our developing of a missional ecclesiology. What has become apparent to me is that a significant amount of weight, in much missional writing, is given to the descriptive texts of the Gospels and Old Testament narrative. Now I’m not at all against gleaning insight from descriptive texts – I firmly think it is a task we must embark upon. But, I also think its a delicate task which requires a bit of hermeneutical skill. So for example, what does it mean to embody the life of Jesus in our mission? How do we follow the example of Jesus? Is everything he does a paradigm for us to follow? These are difficult questions that, in my mind, are bypassed a little in a lot of missional writing. I think Tim Chester exposes this a bit when he explains why he doesn’t believe in incarnational mission. I think its tricky and we need to be careful of not forcing the bible to match our missionary methodology of choice. In our desperation to convince others of the missional agenda we can misuse texts and make prescriptive requirements for others from texts that were never meant to be prescriptive.
Conversely, I haven’t seen enough interaction with the prescriptive texts of the epistles in missional literature. I haven’t seen many detailed discussions of passages like Ephesians 4 and how they should shape our missional communities. I think we’d all benefit from some serious study in these areas. Paul is the single biggest commentator on the life of the local church in the Scriptures and so we should be hearing more from him as we build missional ecclesiologies.
I guess this is kind of an open forum so I’ll throw out some thoughts and maybe we can all have a nice stimulating chat. Here’s the rub…
I’m still wading through material for my dissertation on missional church planting and today going back over Alan Hirsch’s book, The Forgotten Ways, I was struck by how much the missional crew hinge on the pre/post Constantine distinction. Now I think it is a major issue in the history of the church and it is foundational to the way that the church of Christendom panned out over the following centuries up until the enlightenment. What I’m not thoroughly convinced on yet is exactly what the pre-constantine church looked like. Missional gurus tend to paint this era as being highly organic, non-institutionalized, simple or small church meetings, anti-building, no top-heavy leadership and on the fringe of society in general. Sounds fairly similar to the emerging church paradigm doesn’t it – hence the obvious excitement for missional practitioners over these historical insights.
My question: Is that an accurate historical portrayal of the pre-constantine era? I guess I’m a little concerned that we become reductionistic about church before Constantine because it fits with our missional agenda and so we pick up on some distincitves from the era and gloss over others. Have I picked up all the organic/simple/non-institutional/fringe/decentralized distinctives in my reading from that era? Yes I have, but its also been a lot more messy than that at times. And so I wonder, just wonder, if we should perhaps refrain from making the pre-constantine era such a fundamental hinge to the contemporary argument and turn our focus rather to the biblical exegesis of missional life and practice? I don’t want to devalue the lessons of history at all but or the brilliant insights of missional gurus like Alan Hirsch, but coming from a reformed, evangelical missional perspective, I would like to see them rooted more within the context of biblical exegesis. What do you think (history buffs and all)?
If you have a Facebook account then you can sign up to attend the Acts29 Church Planting Conference happening in Cape Town from the 2nd to the 4th of February 2009.I’m sure there will be a more official sign up shortly but start by signing up on Facebook.
…when two guys break into your flat with an axe and steal your laptop! (Fortunately I wasn’t in the flat at the time)
No its not the name of a cheesy Christian band but a really cool up and coming South African band that deserves a listen. BTW – if you look carefully you’ll catch glimpses of the beach apartments of Sea Point in the background, the area we’re church planting in next year.
(HT – Burgo – dude is that the name the Aussies have given you?)
Yes, I think the cartoon was in bad taste and, whilst conveying the convictions of a ton of people in this country, in general I think it was a mistake on Zapiro’s part. What I find completely ludicrous however is Julius Malema’s suggesting that the only motivation that lies behind such a cartoon is racism on the part of white journalists.
There will be no progression in this country if people like Malema keep pulling out the race card. Racism, especially because of its sensitive nature in this country, needs to be treated like other criminal activities – the individual must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. We can’t keep publicly denouncing each other as racists without any sort of judicial enquiry. It creates and stirs up the wrong emotions amongst our people. So where Zapiro was out of line in terms of tact and provoking unhelpful emotive responses towards the ANC and its partners, Malema, to my mind, is equally out of line in appealing to the race card out of nothing more than his own speculation and opinion.
What ought a Christian to make of Zapiro’s latest offering of political satire. It looks pretty over the top even though many of us might agree with the sentiments he’s trying to portray. I guess he could have been a bit more careful. Jacob Zuma was acquitted of rape charges and so Zapiro should be careful of undermining the very judicial system he’s suggesting that Zuma and co. are raping. Some people have commented that the woman in the cartoon is white whilst the rest are all blacks – I’m not sure if I can see that it – let’s not turn this into a race issue again because I don’t think that’s Zapiro’s line given contributions he made to the struggle during apartheid.
Choose life – but by the way, you won’t be able to because you’ve got an uncircumcised heart – oh, but God will one day circumcise that heart – so choose life! Easy hey?
I was listening to SAFM on the way home today and a discussion about literacy levels in South Africa at present. To date there are over 4 million people who are completely illiterate and a further 4 million who are semi-literate but to the point that the written word has no benefit to their quality of life. That leaves us with just under 9 million people who technically qualify as illiterate in this country. Now surely that has to impact upon ministry? What do you think?
When Josh Harris posted Tim Keller’s preaching notes a few days ago he also included an introduction to Keller’s preaching by Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of New City Presbyterian Church. I thought these two paragraphs were especially insightful:
“To be a great preacher, one needs to be tri-perspectival in their exegesis. That is, they need to be committed to the exegesis of the Bible, the exegesis of our culture, and the exegesis of the human heart. Some preachers claim that if you exegete the Bible properly, you don’t need to bother yourself with the exegesis of our culture or the human heart. The problem with this view, however, is that the Bible itself exhorts us to apply Biblical norms to both our lives and to our world.
As a preacher myself, I benefit greatly from listening to a wide variety of preachers. In some cases I learn what to do, and in other cases I learn what not to do. But in every case, I learn something. Some preachers teach me how to be a better exegete of the Bible. Others teach me how to be a better exegete of our culture. And still others teach me how to be a better exegete of the human heart. But no preacher has consistently taught me how to do all three in the context of every sermon more so than Tim Keller. His balanced attention to all three forms of exegesis makes him very unique, in my opinion.”
Read the rest here.
Since the spirit of spreading ‘friendly-fire’ is upon us I thought I’d chip in with a thought or two of my own. Driscoll’s ‘skewering’ of Sydney got me thinking about his ministry and similar ministries from other missional-minded reformed peeps coming out of the States.
But first some disclaimers: First off, although I never heard Driscoll’s talk itself Gordon’s notes gave me a fair idea of where he went and what his criticisms were. As I’ve already stated I resonated with many of them as one who understands something of the Sydney paradigm of ministry. I also thought one or two of his points were probably wide of the mark or perhaps failed to understand the Sydney Anglican context well enough. All and all I greatly value his critique and hope that people will give it some serious thought.
What I was left wondering however, was what has Driscoll learned from ministry in Sydney? I hope he posts some reflections on his time there and what he has learned – but I thought that, until he does, I’ll mention something that I think he (and others like him) could benefit from in the Sydney paradigm of ministry.
I’ve been listening to his podcasts and podcasts from other Acts29 church planters for two or three years now. I’ve listened to some of their Sunday preaching and I’ve listened to their conference talks. I’ve been greatly encouraged and built up in the gospel through these talks and I’m going to keep on downloading them and enjoying them. What I have found a little concerning is the quality of bible handling on occasion. I’ve often struggled with the way narrative passages tend to get a bit spiritualized and moralized where it looks like hard work hasn’t been done on the text. Its clear that hard work has been done on the whole sermon but I sometimes wonder about the work on the text.
In this light I think Sydney ought to be applauded. Their commitment to hard work on the text, to text driven and directed preaching, is of the first order. Preachers like Phillip Jensen, John Woodhouse, John Chapman, Simon Manchester and others have provided me with great models of exposition in the past. Yes, I think Driscoll is right when he says that their (Sydney peeps in general) preaching is sometimes weak on application – I feel that too – but I don’t want to have to be in a situation where I pick one or the other, I want both. I think God calls us to both. So to Mark and the reformed missional crew I think you could learn something from Sydney here that would only make your ministries even stronger and more faithful.
Well Mark Driscoll has a reputation for being controversial and he kept that intact down-under with two talks he presented to the Sydney crowd at a training day. His second talk – from the notes I’ve read – seems to be something of quite a brave critique of operations in Sydney. I think it’ll generate quite a few blog responses in the not to distant future. For the low down you can check out Michael Jensen’s brief thoughts here, Mike Jolly’s summary of Driscoll’s points here and Gordon Cheng’s notes from the two talks here. With my own denomination, the Church of England in South Africa (CESA), borrowing a ton from Sydney I wonder if Driscoll would have pretty much the same critique for us? I’d have to listen to the talk myself before passing judgment, but from a surface point of view I resonate with a lot of his points from my own experience here. That said, a few of his points don’t quite make sense to me and I fear he might be missing the boat a bit on some – but they’re all worth looking at and thinking through (In reading remember that, as Mike points out, this is friendly-fire).
Tim Keller must have been Jason Bourne in a previous life or something because his preaching notes read like an encoded top secret message. Take a look at them for yourself. With a manuscript like that its no wonder that there’s no one who preaches quite like he does. Keller’s teaching and thinking has influenced me a stack load in recent years – but by the looks of this the one place he won’t be influencing me is on how to write out my sermon notes.
(HT – JT)