The Gay Marriage Debate: Leave your belief at the door


1It is often said that Christians should not push/impose/force their beliefs on the rest of society.

I find this not a little bit interesting.

What is meant by such a statement?  It is quite simple: You have beliefs that impact your life, which I don’t care for.  So please refrain from doing whatever you’re doing in the event that your beliefs end up impacting my life in a way that I don’t care for.

The premise is simple – this is my life not yours.

An issue has again raised its very ugly head due to events that are taking place over in the US.  For more on this check out the front page of the NY Times here.

I’ve been reading blogs, Fb posts, and articles around the traps that are hellbent on wiping the other side out.  These kinds of ethical issues draw out the worst of both sides, which is a real shame.

It is immature.

Whether it is the legalisation of prostitution, the privatisation of the state-owned railway or the implementation of industrial reform there is a political process that is to be followed in order to create legal norms in our societies.  One aspect of this is public debate in which exists numerous parties (not two!) that fight it out for their own piece of the ideological pie.

Shhhhh!But no matter how many parties are fighting for the pie, how dare anyone or any party try to remove opposing voices from the debate.

The call for Christians to leave their beliefs at the door is not only naive (how can they?), but also contrary to the very pillars that our modern societies are based on.

Furthermore it is simplistic.  There are many people who are not religious that hold ‘traditional’ views on this matter.  So what request is to be made of them so that their view/s might not impact in a similar way to the christians’?

What we see in these debates (on both sides) is a kind of insecurity, the kind of insecurity that one can see in autocratic states where any given ideology cannot fly by political persuasion alone.

Voices are silenced.

Perspectives are outlawed.

Make no mistake, debate is to be had, due process is to be followed, and outcomes are to be respected, but on no terms are Christians (or any other party) to be quiet because their beliefs impact their voice, whether we agree with them or not.

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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.

Everything in light of Me: Reviewing Chester and Timmis’ evangelistic overview


I like to read what the movers and shakers are coming out with.

Recently, I came across an evangelistic program that has been put out by The Crowded House crew (not to be confused with the band!).  It is written by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.  You can check it out for yourself here.  It’s called, ‘The World We All Want’.  This review is based upon the schema that can be found in the link above.

There are many of these kinds of schemas out there that help us to explain the salvation story clearly.  Part of the genius of these things is their capacity to simplify what is complex.  They manage to capture large swaths of information in a few pictures and words.  I wondered what variation of the theme this one would offer.

Interestingly, it doesn’t follow the general pattern of creation, fall, Jesus, and restoration.  It begins with a startling presumption, that God has promised the world that we all want.  Wow, that’s brave.  Essentially the authors presume that the human desire is for one kind of world, which aligns with God’s overarching plan for the world.  The world that we all want is not surprisingly found in Revelations 21:1-5.  The world we all want is one where there is no crying, mourning, pain and death.

Next, Jesus shows us the world we all want.  He calms the storm, heals the sick, raises the dead, and has control over evil.  This display of authority demonstrates that Jesus has the power to bring the world that we all want to fruition.

Finally…as in, at last, we arrive at sin.  We have spoiled God’s good world – the world we all want.  We are enemies with God.  There is hope, as God promises someone who will defeat Satan.

Now that the doctrine of sin has been introduced, the authors bring in Abraham and the promises given to him, that through him, we can be friends with God again.  A new world is promised.

Following the promise is the law – the means by which humanity would create the world that they want.  But humanity fails.  The law was supposed to bring blessing, freedom and rest, but because we sucked at it, it brings condemnation instead.  Hope still remains as God promises to put it all right.

Enter Jesus and his death and resurrection.  Jesus dies and comes to life taking our punishment so that we can enjoy God’s world – the world, I suppose, we all want.

Exit Jesus – for now.  Jesus returns to heaven and begins to create the world we all want.  At this point in the schema, the authors show that an invitation has been extended to all who want to be a part of this new world.  The schema is wrapped up with one final comment:

We become part of God’s people through faith and repentance. When we become part of God’s people we are forgiven for our rebellion. What was promise to Abraham is for us. Instead of being God’s enemies we can know God and we can look forward to God’s new world – the world we all want.

I have to say that I’m somewhat disappointed with this ‘evangelistic Bible overview’ even though I fully agree with most of the components.

Where does it go wrong?  The title, in two ways.

Firstly, the title and the first part of the schema make a large assumption that we all want the same kind of world.  That’s news to me.  Two things.  Firstly, if the world agreed on what kind of world we all wanted then surely there wouldn’t be so much mayhem in the world as we work towards that end, right?  Secondly, this statement also assumes that we want a world where God is on the throne.

The Revelations 21:1-5 text from which the authors derive the world that we all want depicts God ruling on the throne.  From a Biblical perspective, we know that humanity does not want this kind of world.  They don’t want God as King.  This is the point and reason for any need for Jesus! We all don’t want the world that God originally made and promises because we want to be king. The only bit that we can agree we all want is the bit about no pain, suffering and crying etc, but that is not the heart and soul of the world that God promises:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

God will be God and his people will be his people.  This is the very heart of the world that he promises and I can think of very few non-believers that want a world like this.  God does not promise a world that we all want!

Secondly, the title betrays the authors’ development of a schema that communicates Biblical truths in a way that it  scratches where it itches.

What we see in the title ‘The World We All Want’ (and in the content, of course) is an anthropocenric view of the Bible and the metanarrative therein.  That is, this evangelistic tool focuses on me (disguised as us!), and what I want.  One does not come to faith in Jesus because of the perks that are associated with such a move.  From the outset the carrot is dangled in front of the inquirer.  Surely, coming to faith has deeper implications than getting something that we all want.

I like the idea of starting at the end, but I think that the way that it has been worded and conceptually put together needs to be reworked to address the above-mentioned issues.

Any schema that we use to share the Gospel needs to demonstrate what humanity is in light of who God is and his desires.

I struggled with this post as I could not help but think I was being unfair.  If you have any thought please let me know:)

Missions Musings 13


If you have tuned in for the first time to this series called Missions Musings, welcome.

In these posts I try to articulate from the inside of what the church calls mission some of the changing dynamics, pressing issues, and current debates that are (or should be) being played out.

In this post I want to unveil one of our greatest sins.

Our job is to work.  It takes on many forms: church planting, evangelism, literature translation, education, leadership training, advocation for the powerless, humanitarian aid, medical aid, theological training, and so on.  It’s all good stuff!

Or is it?

What if that work equates to nothing more than my kingdom being built?  What if one’s work is one’s pride, glory, and hope?

Put simply, mission work has the potential to easily morph into a career, like that of any accountant, teacher, business owner, or economist.  In this depraved sense, (mission?) work becomes the centrepiece of one’s heart and soul.

It consumes.

It defines.

It gives life.

It gives reason for existence.

It is god.

The mission field (workplace?) is a minefield for the believer.  At every turn there is a trap to fall in.  Around every corner there is something to be tripped by.  On every path we can become confused and disoriented by the plethora of divergent trails leading from it.

And this manifests in many ways.  Most commonly perhaps we see this in the exaggeration of mission success.  Numbers, activity, and progress can be reported in ways that can be construed by the reader, listener or supporter as positive when in fact things are not so rosy.

We also find ourselves protecting our patch (village, area of humanitarian help, method, people group… or whatever we can get precious about).  We don’t pass on information that could be helpful for other people’s ministries.  We don’t introduce people who could be helpful to another person’s ministry.  We don’t include others in our work lest it somehow becomes not mine. We don’t research to find out what others are doing so that we can avoid wasting time, effort, money and enthusiasm.  We are the pioneers and we are going to do it.

This all sounds a bit harsh, I know, but it’s a reality that we who are serving in cross-cultural contexts, and those supporting us, need to be acutely aware of.

We love to dwell on texts that talk about giving cups of water in Jesus’ name, and helping those who might be regarded like the Samaritans.  We love those texts that speak of going to the ends of the earth and making disciples of all nations.  All of these feature in the mission defence arsenal.

But what value are these texts without those other texts that mention the widow who gave out of what she had, or the man who needed to learn how to give without letting others (or his other hand for that matter!) know about it.  How can we dwell on those lovely texts without pondering on the famous one about love, where we learn that stuff done without love is not surprisingly just noisy, useless, dead stuff.  A perusal of Paul and his method of equipping others to take on responsibility within ministry should not be missed either.

My feeling is that mission loses its way when we forget whose it is.

We give a cup of water in Jesus’ name.  We are making disciples of Jesus.  We are training and equipping Jesus’ body.  We love because he fist loved us.  We are building his kingdom.

We are on his mission.

DJ Conflation: Mixing up some junctification


Guilty.

In some theological blogging circles of late a debate is being played out (again) between those who think that sanctification is wrought by obedience (and is thus a subsequent state to justification), and those who apparently conflate justification and sanctification by downplaying the role of post-justification obedience and by over-emphasising grace and the freedom that it brings.

Once again the debate is not that helpful because it inevitably leads to polarisation on both sides, leaving the reader with not much to choose from.  We have those legalists who care nothing about grace, just pure obedience, and we have on the other hand all those grace movementists who care nothing about obedience, just pure grace.  Take your pick.

Or we could be a little more careful and nuanced with the discussion.  Novel, I know.

Another added complexity that seems to be making its way into the discussion is the introduction of the theological concepts of synergism and monergism.  While it is an important discussion to have, I think we can deal with the conflation issue without venturing into this territory.

The question is this: How does living in a state of being justified work out in a believer’s life daily?  It’s obvious right?  Good fruit, good works, deeds, faith-filled living, spirit-filled living, holiness, righteousness, and so on.

But why should one be characterised by the above mentioned things?  This is the pointy bit of the discussion.  I have 3 possibilities:

  1. Because the Bibles says so?
  2. Because we are called to be obedient?
  3. Because we are justified?

I mentioned earlier that the greater debate often becomes polarised and you can see in the above three points why.  If I was to agree with point two as the answer to the question, ‘Why should one be sanctified?’ then the protagonist can claim that if obedience is the sole reason, then we are still living under the law.  If I was to subscribe to number 3 then it could be argued that I am disregarding the clear imperative to be obedient, and conflating justification and sanctification, minimising the call to be sanctified.

My answer is: 3 and 2, in that order.

Obedience was a hot topic in Jesus’ time. Those who were experts in what should be obeyed made full use of such knowledge by quizzing Jesus on the greatest commandment in the law. Interestingly, Jesus in response does not pull out a commandment per se; one that was pure action, like, say, keep the sabbath.  The  commandment that Jesus picks was one that targeted the heart, soul and mind, and that therefore (not coincidentally), had massive implications on one’s mouth, hands, eyes, feet, and every other part of the body.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment (Matt 22:36-38).

For this reason the first commandment is inextricably linked to the runner-up, which Jesus hastens to point out.  You see, the body is the instrument that reflects an inner reality.

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matt 22:39).

Paul takes a similar approach.  He continuously calls believers under his care to be transformed towards Christlikeness, but this call is not an isolated imperative – ‘Do this!’  Instead, his reasoning most commonly takes the form of, ‘Because you are in Christ, do this!’.

With regard to Jesus’ death and life Paul says, ‘In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires‘ (Rom 6:11-12).  Paul’s imperative to not let sin reign is based upon the idea that for those who are found in Christ sin has been defeated.

He states this again, using other words, in the next verse.  He applies the concept by identifying the body as an instrument.  He says, ‘Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness (Rom 6:13).  As those who have died and been raised with Christ (passive recipients), our bodies are now instruments not of wickedness but of righteousness.  In-Christ-ness dictates the shape of the life of the believer.

Paul brings it all together in the last verse of this passage.  He says, ‘For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace‘ (Rom 6:14).

God’s grace, the fruit of which is our justification, is the reason for living as one not under the law.  This established, Paul addresses our tendency to misunderstand stuff and so he answers the question, ‘Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?’ (Rom 6:15).  There is no need for it if Paul’s previous argument is understood rightly – that is, he is not suggesting grace over obedience or obedience over grace, but rather a nuanced perspective that sees obedience as the fruit of God’s grace received.

Another example of this line of reasoning can be found in Romans 12.  In verse 2, Paul calls believers to offer their bodies as living sacrifices and to not conform to the patterns of the world, but rather to be transformed by the renewing of their minds.  This line of imperative, with the clear view of sanctifying the believer, expresses only half of Paul’s point.  He qualifies this imperative!  In verse 1 we read, ‘In view of God’s mercy…’ which is a striking reminder as to the reason why one should be obedient and not conform to the world.  Having been justified by Jesus’ blood, a sure demonstration of God’s mercy, one demonstrates through obedience what it means to live as a slave to righteousness as one in Christ.

Michael Horton says it well:

The Christian life should not be seen as a struggle between nature and grace or cooperation between God’s grace and human striving, but as God’s justifying verdict that radiates outward into every nook and cranny of our existence, bearing the fruit of love.

So let’s make some distinctions.

Justification is brought about by God’s love and quenched wrath, manifested and achieved through Jesus’ wrath-absorbing and therefore justifying cross-work.  In this, faith (God’s gift) stands opposed to one’s deeds.

Sanctification is the Christlike life that stems or blossoms from the state of being justified – of being alive in Christ.  Sanctification is not subsequent or separate to justification, but is better thought of as a continual outpouring from the fount of grace.

If this is conflation, then I am happy to plead guilty.