Missions Musings 17: Reaching the churched


Good-News-Art-F1-600x300Many of us who live and work in foreign contexts are working with the churched.

When I say churched I am speaking about those people who have been enculturated within a society where the institutional church looms large.

In such contexts the Church’s function is often to dispense salvation.  The church is the one-stop-shop that’s attended twice per year to get what is needed for eternity.  More often than not the churched know of God in a vague abstract sense.  They know about Jesus and his death in as much detail as you or I know about Joan of Arc and her death.  Yep, we’ve seen the movie:)

How does one reach these people?  That is, how does one communicate the life-giving truth of the gospel to those who have not heard it yet?  Here are a few things that have become a part of the way that I do it:

1.  Know their theology

If we do not know what they believe how can we with good conscience rip them away from the church through which they think they are being saved?  We need to be very diligent in understanding what they believe and why so that we can be sure that our actions and message is not in fact dividing the body of Christ.

What should we get to know?  Understand the role of their church in salvation.  Get know what they mean by salvation.  Clearly understand  the place of the sacraments and the role they play in salvation.  Work out what authority they attribute to the Bible and also to tradition.  These points in particular are crucial.

2.  Understand their theological language

This is distinct though closely related to the first point.  Just because you hear the same words being used does not mean that you are talking about the same thing.   So for example, when an Eastern Orthodox believer states that they are saved by faith, we protestants should on face value heartily agree.  Yet if someone was to probe a little deeper the disparity between what the EO christian believes and what a protestant believes becomes apparent.  Ask questions to understand what they mean when they use theological terms.

3.  Use common points of agreement for discussion and study.

It’s a no-brainer, but rarely done.  What normally happens is that we jump to the differences, like icons, candles, papal authority, etc.  Engaging with commonality was Paul’s method at the Areopagus that day in Acts 17.  This is a good starting point because there is often commonality to be found in the person and work of Jesus.  Well, great!  Why don’t we start with Jesus.

Avoid the contentious issues and begin with Jesus.  In Colossians this is how Paul worked.  The church is struggling because fine-sounding arguments have permeate the church which has displaced the gospel.  What does he do?  He doesn’t tackle the apparent error head on until he has prepared the foundation.  Paul firstly explains who Jesus is and then he goes on to explain the gospel.  Only then does he get stuck into the issue at hand.

4.  Don’t treat them like a non-Christian

This is an interesting point that taps into our need to be sensitive.  The churched consider themsleves to be Christians, and they often assume to know everything (don’t we all!) that they need to know.  Therefore to come at them with all the answers and the ‘truth’ is a fast track to causing offense and shutting down any opportunities for good discussion.  Be careful with how they perceive your take on their Christianity.

5.  Use the Bible

Once again it sounds like a no-brainer, but so often the Bible is often sidelined in favour of topical and spaghetti style discussions.  Get the Bible out and establish what the Bible has to say about the common points of interest.  Avoid saying things like, ‘God said…’  and ‘The Bible says…’ and ‘Jesus said….  Unhelpful!  Demonstrate the authority of the Bible in your own faith by using it properly in discussion, taking into account the context of the passage and its place in the Bible’s big picture.  Use the Bible to deal with the issues, but also model its importance and how to use it.

5.  Be open to learning from them

In my study of Eastern Orthodoxy over the past 4 years I have come to appreciate some of their theology.  Let’s give credit where it is due.  Let’s show humility by genuinely wanting to understand what they believe.  It is poor form indeed to merely want to reach them without giving them the opportunity to convince you of their ideas and beliefs.  If we ourselves are seeking the truth then there is no need to be scared of genuinely weighing up what they will present.

6.  Don’t discount the idea that the churched might be in our own (protestant) churches

Don’t assume the gospel, teach it.

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Book Review – Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology


anglcanSydney Anglicanism: An Apology.  By Michael P. Jensen.  Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2012. $9.99 for Kindle version and $21.00 for paperback here.

Sydney Anglicans are fundamentalist, sexist, theological and political bullies, and not faithful to historical Anglicanism.  These are some of the claims that Jensen seeks to debunk in his book Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology – though not before presenting a raft of issues that need addressing, as well as possible ways that Sydney Anglicans can move forward as they look to the future.

The book is divided into two parts: The Bible and The Church.  This division enables Jensen to not only address the concepts that are distinctively associated with Sydney Anglicanism, but also to engage with a number of opponents and arguments that have been pitted against Sydney Anglicanism.  Jensen also takes opportunities (especially in part two) to delve into Sydney’s unique culture and history to shed some light on why Sydney Anglicans are a unique breed.  This uniqueness, however, is carefully couched within an argument that seeks to maintain that Sydney Anglicanism is an extension not only of historical Anglicanism but also of the contemporary universal Anglican Communion.

Jensen begins part one by clarifying the term fundamentalism.  He subsequently defends the view that, according to the historical conception of fundamentalism, the labelling of Sydney Anglicanism as fundamentalist is at best misguided and at worst disingenuous.  The impression that Jensen gives is that the label fundamentalist is used of Sydney Anglicanism in the pejorative sense, in an attempt to impugn by mere association.  This is clearly an issue that Jensen seeks to lay to rest, which he achieves with the limited treatment that he gives.

The reader is then given a guided tour around the biblical distinctives of Sydney Anglicanism.  Of particular note is Graeme Goldsworthy’s pioneering of Biblical Theology.  This view holds that the Bible is a unity that centres on the cross of Christ, the event that orientates not only the New Testament but also the Old Testament.  As such the Bible is not a bunch of proof texts but a meta-narrative that informs not only how one reads the Bible but also how one teaches the Bible.

The final aspect of part one has to do with revelation and how this impacts praxis.  There are two primary discussions, the first of which engages with Peter Carnley’s mystical perspective, something not dissimilar to the Eastern Orthodox view of the unknowability of God.  Jensen portrays this view as seeking to distinguish itself from Sydney Anglicanism, which Jensen identifies is encapsulated in Broughton Knox’ clumsily titled article, ‘Propositional Revelation, the Only Revelation.’  The second discussion in this chapter engages with this article.  Jensen defends Knox by describing the title as hyperbole, however, Jensen does call for greater perspicuity of the issue for which he draws upon Peter Jensen’s The Revelation of God.  Essentially God’s self revelation is verbal, and it centres on the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is not to be understood as a static statement, but a living reality.  In other words, the words Jesus Christ is propositional and personal (a means of encounter).  Jensen defends the historicity of this claim.

In the last chapter of part one, Jensen demonstrates why preaching, and in particular expositional preaching, is the natural corollary of God’s self revelation. If God reveals himself in the gospel, then the reading, explication and application of this revelation must be central to the gathering of believers.  Jensen refers to John Stott’s influential visit to Moore College in 1958 and his book I Believe in Preaching, as formative to Moore’s current views.  In particular, that expositional preaching does not describe a particular style, as is commonly understood, but rather describes a particular content, that is, whatever the text is saying.

In part two Jensen looks at the doctrine of church, in particular the influence of Robinson and Knox.  Jensen is refreshingly critical of Robinson’s narrow view that church is local and verbal (an activity) on the basis of the word ekklesia.  Three arguments are worthy of mention.  Firstly, Jensen highlights the NT usage of ‘the Church of God’, a clear reference to an earthly church.  Secondly, Jensen shows that the Broughton-Know view was overly linguistically analytical and not sufficiently theologically informed.  Thirdly, Jensen highlights the dearth of attention given to the Holy Spirit in the Broughton-Knox ecclesiology.

In chapter seven Jensen gets to the real beef when he addresses the question, ‘Are Sydney Anglicans Actually Anglicans?’  In short his answer is yes.  Jensen cites the Sydney Anglican conviction and fidelity to the reformers and their associated texts, and that Sydney Anglican evangelicalism is a true reflection of the Anglican Church’s reformation past.

Jensen then deals with the topical issue of ordaining women in a helpful manner.  He highlights that the Sydney Anglican’s use of the term ‘subordination’ was a mistake and unhelpful.  To compare the subordination of women to men in role with Jesus’ subordination to the Father in role could be (and was) construed as Arianism.  Jensen engages this issues by clarifying the relationship using different terminology.  This is a welcomed correction.  Furthermore, Jensen offers a number of constructive discussions that could help clarify and promote better Sydney Anglican synthesis on issues regarding gender. The most helpful of these would be to engage in dialogue to better understand how Sydney Anglicans are using the words authority and obedience.

In the final chapters, Jensen identifies that Sydney Anglican’s have on many fronts dug their heels in and held their ground, however, he also shows that they have work faithfully within the Anglican political machine, giving ground where they could.

This book is the first stop to understanding Sydney Anglicanism.  Jensen does not try to convert, but rather reveal with fresh eyes and with an appropriately critical spirit what is Sydney Anglicanism.  This book would also be a great help to those people  throughout Australia and the world who wish to understand organisations that have been influenced by Sydney Anglicanism and Moore College, and even to understand the Biblical foundations of individuals who may have studied at Moore College.

0 Days to Christmas…


Budni_Vecher-620x465Tonight we had the boys from the Learning Center Borovtsi over for Christmas Eve.  In Bulgarian it is called Budni Vecher (Бъдни вечер).  This is the normally a big family occasion.

It’s been a full half day.

Before we began dinner we had a little time to talk about Christmas.  Of course we talked about Jesus’ birth, but we tried to move the discussion of the birth narrative to the Biblical meta-narrative, that is, how Jesus fits into the bigger picture.

This has been my theme for my ‘X Days to Christmas…’ blog posts.   Christmas is not just about the incarnation of Jesus.  It is about God acting decisively in history to save his people from their sins.

For this reason I created a video for the men to watch.  The theme that I try to capture is purpose in confusion.  This is a theme that they know well.

The video is called ‘Unnamed soundsculpture’ and it was created by Daniel Franke.  You can see the original and/or download it here at Vimeo.  I placed biblical text over the top of the film.

The text recounts the big picture that unfolds in the Bible: Creation, fall, redemption, re-creation.

The arrival of Jesus in history is momentous because in the Jesus God brings hope to the hopeless, purpose to the purposeless, and order to chaos.

Jesus is good news.  Merry Christmas!

5 Days to Christmas… Thanks for nothing!


burgasEach week Katie and I drive out to Burgas on the Black Sea.

From where we live in north-west Bulgaria it takes about 6 hours.  We normally leave on Wednesday. We arrive in Burgas at about 2 in the pm and spend an hour with Svetlana and Mimi. The next day (Thursday) we spend another hour with the little lovelies before we get back in the car to drive home again.

Needless to say we get through a fair number of albums on the ol’ iPod.

funOne of my more recent purchases (not illegal downloads!) is by the band Fun.  I really like their punchy sound, lots of base and Queen-esque flavour.

What have they got to do with Christmas?

One of the songs that they sing is full of theology and accurate theology for that matter.  In the song called One Foot we hear these words repeated :

But I will die for my own sins thanks a lot
We’ll raise up ourselves thanks for nothing at all,
So up off the ground up for fathers who are nothing but dust now

Let me quote from another book called the Bible.  In Matthew 1:21 we read:

She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

The link between the quotes is, well, fascinating.  In the Fun lyrics he’s claiming that he will die for his own sins even though in the Bible this person called Jesus is going to die for his sins.

The question is this: why would someone die for his own sins if Jesus is willing and has in fact died for them already?

Hmmm…

The writer of the song has his theology right.  Yes, according to the Bible you will die for your sins because we read that the penalty for sin is death.  But this penalty may be paid by the someone else – Jesus.  This is the heart of Christmas and it has been the heart of my Christmas posts.

Jesus came to Earth not merely to be God on earth, but God on the cross.

8 Days to Christmas… put that tree up!


Christmas-Tree-Nature1024-226431I never really wondered where the Christmas tree came from.  Did you?

Well, I did a bit of research and for all hullabaloo surrounding the un-Christian-ness of the humble fir tree it appears that there are grounds to the idea that there is a very Christmasy meaning to it.  Well, it seems to cut both ways.  The Christians don’t want it because it is pagan and worldly, and the White House doesn’t want it because it is to Christ-y.

You can’t help feeling a bit sorry for the ol’ tree.

This is what I found.

Back in the Middle Ages (Robin Hood era) people began decorating trees as a part of a play depicting Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  This is why we often see apples on Christmas trees because this was the forbidden fruit that they ate… hmmm… anyway…

birthday-christmas-creative-jesus-lights-125672The play ended with a prophecy that there would be a saviour that would make new what had been destroyed or lost because of sin.  Perhaps the Christmas tree is in fact Christ’s mass (mission) tree after all.

Did somebody say gospel?

Granted, the Christmas tree did have a pagan look to it when the Eastern Europeans decided to set the village Christmas tree on fire and dance around it.  Ok, so it’s getting a bit dodgy here, but this is only as perverted as what we have done to it by making it a present umbrella.

Who would have thought?  All around the world the grand story of the Bible: creation, fall, redemption and re-creation is being shown.

If only they knew.

12 Days to Christmas…


There are twelve days until Christmas.  Here is a lovely video that comes out of New Zealand – St. Paul’s, Auckland.  Make sure that you watch the credits too:)

My favourite bit is when Mary says, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to have the son of God!’ and when one of the three kings (the youngest) drops his prezzie as he approaches Jeephus (sic) in the trough.

Anyway, enjoy this lovely little Kiwi take on what we read in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Vacant: Theological education and the equal validity of secular and ministry vocations


its_about_timeThis post has been sitting in my draft box for a fair while now.  The time has come, however, to post it on the wall.

What prompted such drastic action?

I am working my way through Michael Jensen’s latest book called Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology (Book review to come.  You can buy the book here).  He made this striking comment:

Valuing gospel work over secular work was indeed a decision for the eternal rather than the ephemeral because the “the time is short” (1 Cor 7:29).  This authentically biblical theology has enormous power as a critique of a this-worldly, middle-class idolatry of careers in the hothouse environment of the university campus (Loc. 2618 Kindle).

anglcanThe interesting thing about this comment is that it is embedded in a section that describes the role that campus ministry has played in developing a university and post-universtiy culture that highly values not only ministry as a ‘career option’ but also fulltime theological education.

The original reason why I was going to write this blog post was because I was asked why theological education enrollments, particularly full-time enrollments, might be dropping?

In my mind I ran through a number of possible answers.  It’s expensive.  It takes ages to complete.  It’s really hard.  ‘Languages?  Seems a little excessive.’  The pay once you’re done is ordinary.  Once you’re done you get treated like rubbish in churches and para-church ministries.  I should stop.

While all of these are factors that must be impacting theological studies enrollments, I think however, that none of these are singularly responsible for any great decline.

This is where my original thoughts and Jensen’s come together.

I read this in The Christian Post here:

NEW YORK – Pastor Tim Keller challenged a crowd of New York City professionals Sunday to rethink how they view work and to debunk the notion that spiritual vocations matter more to God than secular work.

The article writer referred to the need to cease making the distinction between spiritual work and secular work because such labelling devalues work that does not fall into the typical spiritual vocations.  This is nothing new from Keller and others of his kind.  We’ve been hearing this kind of reasoning for years now.

How might Keller level the playing field.  Check out this quote:

It means getting together to think, think, how does the preeminence of God reign in my field.

kellerSo, Keller validates all work (within reason, of course) by locating it within the overarching notion that whatever we do we do to God’s glory.  As long as we are evaluating and carrying our the occupation according to how it might be viewed through a gospel lens, all is ok.  I could have Keller wrong on this, but this is the overwhelming sense that I get from him.

Here is the rub.

In trying to eliminate the spiritual work vs temporal work dichotomy, Keller renders all work on par with each other.  This is problematic and it is hurting the enrollment bottom line.

The so called ‘spiritual vocations’ do matter more to God.  It is for this reason that in James we read that teachers of the Bible will be doubly judged.  But why, in the same breath, are these same people worth double honour?  Why are scribes or tentmakers not singled out to receive this curse and blessing?  The cleaners are not going to be judged doubly based upon their cleaning effort, so in what sense is the teaching role so different that it deserves such special treatment?

In Ephesians 4 Paul in clear in drawing attention to the word gifts as vital for the church.  How are individuals in the church equipped to do good works and even build the church up to maturity in Christ? Answer:  by the gospel being faithfully taught.   Those that do this are the people who will be judged double and rewarded likewise for their work.

But why?  Why are these roles set apart for special consideration?

churchplantingI’m going to suggest it is because these roles are fundamentally bound to the spiritual vitality of the church.  These roles are inextricably bound to the church reaching maturity in Christ, and it is here that we connect back with Jensen.  He continues:

The note of eschatological urgency was not now offered at the expense of tending to the needs of society as it had been then [the end of the 19th century].  Opportunities to do good are still reckoned by the Anglicans of Sydney to be opportunities to do good, whatever the lateness of the eschatological hour.

What drives the notion that gospel work is more valued over secular work?  Eschatology.  That is, the final divine state of affairs.  If one’s doctrine of the local church is linked to the eschatological church then one wonders how we could relegate the ministry of the word to something on par with secular work.

This perspective, I think, does not demean or relegate secular work, but rather positively identifies which earthly Christian activities are divinely factored into God’s meta-narrative.  The inverse should not be assumed, that is, that cleaning, teaching, or surf-lifesaving do not fit into this ‘lofty’ category and therefore are of no value.

Perhaps if we heed this order and stop validating all work as equal, we might see a culture develop in our churches that values theological education and also full-time ministry.  Although I would argue that this is not the intent of the divine order, this outcome would certainly go along way towards building up the body of Christ – the true intent of the divine order.

Please let me know your thoughts on this if you have any.  I’m keen to hear how people might take this:)