Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Works of social justice are signs of the Kingdom.

I have recently read N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. This is a greatly needed corrective to the dualistic view of the afterlife that much of the church holds.

To summarise this view, heaven is seen as being a purely spiritual place, that is diametrically opposed to the material world, which is seen as evil. This dualism comes from Greek philosophical thought, which elevated the spiritual and despised the material.

Biblical views however do not make these distinctions. Spiritual does not necessarily = good, and material does not necessarily = evil. For that matter, heaven does not necessarily = spiritual, and earth does not necessarily = material.

From these Greek categories, we have fallen into believing that the afterlife will be an entirely spiritual reality, where our bodies will be discarded, and we will float on clouds, playing harps.

In brief, as N. T. Wright highlights, the bible teaches that after a time all the dead in Christ will rise in bodies, as Christ did. Our bodies will be physical (Christ ate after His resurrection) and glorified (Christ appeared/disappeared at will). The new heavens and new earth, as described in Rev 20-21, will be the fusing of heaven and earth together. God will make His home amongst man. The presence of God will no longer be in the temple, or just in believers through the indwelling of the Spirit, but will light up the city of God. He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and revelation also speaks of “the healing of the nations”.

This is an altogether PHYSICAL understanding of the new creation. For this reason we cannot see salvation as a purely spiritual matter. We are not just trying to save souls. We are trying to save WHOLE PEOPLE.

When Christ was on earth, he did miracles and proclaimed that “the Kingdom of God is near”. His signs and miracles pointed forward to the consummation of the kingdom where there will be health, freedom and people will be fed. Thus His miracles consisted of healing people, setting them free from oppression and feeding them.

When we challenge unjust social structures that hold people in bondage – that is a sign of the Kingdom. When we feed the hungry – that is a sign of the Kingdom. When we liberate the oppressed – that is a sign of the Kingdom. When we work for the conservation and sustainable stewardship of the earth – that is a sign of the Kingdom.

Christ did not just preach the word; He accompanied the word with the signs that would confirm the coming of His Kingdom. When we do works of social justice, we continue Christ’s work, we point forward to the Kingdom.

God bless,

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Attractional model of church growth

I do not believe that the attractional model of church growth is biblical. The foundation of Christian evangelism and mission, is the Great Commission where we are told “to go out”…

Often the disciples inviting people to “come and see” Jesus is cited as a biblical basis for the attractional model. I would point out the following, those who did the inviting had already seen Jesus, and gone out from Jesus to their friends in order to invite them back to meet Jesus. So this is an example of going out, not attracting people in. Secondly, inviting people to meet Jesus is not the same as inviting them to church. Sometimes people who are invited to church MIGHT meet Jesus there. But people might meet Jesus just as easily walking past the station, or crying on the lounge room floor. Sometimes coming to church is an impediment to people meeting Jesus.

I think this really comes out of two things. Firstly, people are scared to be evangelists in their everyday lives. It’s uncomfortable, if you would really prefer Christianity to be a Sunday thing that we compartmentalise away from the Monday to Saturday “real life”. Secondly, we don’t feel that we’re as “holy” as our Pastors and leaders, so even if someone does come to Christ, how can we be sure that they said the right version of the sinner’s prayer?

So the question really is, how do we empower Christians to see themselves as being on the frontline in God’s mission? That they are where people will meet Jesus. In the workplace, in the home, in the supermarket?

Pastors need to be freed up from DOING the “saving” via means of the attractional / altar-call methodology to do what they are supposed to be doing, equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4).

God bless,

Friday, March 20, 2009

Church Structure & Institutionalisation is a Stronghold

I’m coming to think that church structure and institutionalisation is a stronghold that as a Christian community we need to overcome if we are going to be effective in spreading the gospel in our increasingly secular society.

Many of the problems we face as a church come out of making a lot of assumptions about what church should be. If we challenge those assumptions, solutions to the problems we are facing start appearing.

For example, many churches spend a lot of time, money and effort on building projects. During these periods effort and resources are diverted from mission and evangelism into getting buildings built. The argument goes, we can’t support more growth if we don’t have room for people.

However, there are a number of assumptions underlying this problem. Firstly, there is the assumption that the church needs to stay together. Why do we assume this? Why do we assume that it is only the “church planters” and “missionaries” that should be going out into the world? It seems to me that the assumption that we have to stay together drives the decision to buy property. I think a kingdom focus would see these times as an opportunity. An opportunity to plant a new church, ensuring the ongoing flexibility and mobility of the church for mission & evangelism. We need to remember how in Acts the Holy Spirit used the persecution of the church in Jerusalem to break up their cosy little community, and drive them out into the world to fulfil the Great Commission.

The second assumption is that physical space equals social space. Many churches have empty pews. There is physical space for many more people. However, that does not necessarily mean that there is social space for people. Churches tend to be very clique-y, and the use of religious jargon is an impediment for many. Most importantly though, we fail abysmally in showing people (inside or outside the church) the kind of radical, self-sacrifical love and grace that Christ showed us. Having someone meet you in the carpark is not the same as being loved unconditionally and extravagantly by your enemy.

And there are so many more examples… My point is we have to stop assuming that things have to look the way they always have. We need to challenge our assumptions. If we keep doing what we are doing, and expect different results… well we all know the saying… that’s the definition of insanity. Just as the structures of the world institutionalise injustice and need to be challenged, so do church structures that get in the way of the people of God living out the gospel in a secular society.

God bless,

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Victorian Bush Fires

As I wake up this morning the death toll stands at 173. I feel numb. There have been fires in Diamond Creek which is about 20 minutes away. It all feels so close, and yet still so far away. On Saturday we stayed in, closeted from the heat by our airconditioning units. For us it was a very pleasant sort of day, spent reading and sleeping. But then we hear that there are friends of friends who have died. Children have died. It is so horrific. 24 fires are still burning. It's not over.

Yesterday we saw the Slumdog Millionaire movie. Probably not the best timing. I hated it. I spent the whole time wanting to scream and/or throw up. I was extremely angry that a life so painful could be put on the movie screen for our western entertainment, or even just education. It seemed disrespectful.

I think what has made me most angry in the past few days is the sensationalism of some of the reporting. Describing the fires as hell on earth. The response of the Western world has also made me very angry. What Victoria is suffering is tragic, and the offers of help from the US and the UK are very heart warming, but what about the millions that die everyday in the third world? What about the people that die everyday in numbers far greater than 173, that we ignore while we live in cushy-western-lives. But somehow suffering is worse when it's Western suffering.

It seems to me we have a real opportunity here. Instead of glorifying Western suffering as worse tragedy than all of the unspeakable evils that go on every day, we have an opportunity to learn from this that we are no different from the millions that suffer everyday. We are just extraordinarily, beyond-all-measure BLESSED that we don't suffer day-by-day. We do not deserve suffering less than the third world, in our substance we are no different from them. Let's take what experience we have of suffering and use it to stand alongside those who suffer everyday. Let's be present with them. Let's stop ignoring the millions that die of hunger, AIDS, or under oppression.

If it's tragic that 173 Victorians have lost their lives, how much more tragic is it that in Africa a child dies every three seconds... that means it only takes 8.65 minutes for 173 children die. Let's mourn what's happening in Victoria, but let's also open our eyes to all the other suffering in the world. It's isn't just tragic if the victims are white and live in the west. Let's remember all those that die of starvation, the women and children who are sold into sexual slavery, the child soldiers, those that die of AIDS, the children who are abandoned on piles of rubbish.

God bless,

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Why I think 'The Shack' is ok

'The Shack' seems to be one of those books that you either love or hate. There are some obvious issues with it, such as the simplistic way that it addresses suffering. The resolution to Mack's problems are too neat, life is rarely that tidy!

However, I would add that God deals with us each as individuals and there are times when He does resolve things neatly. He is a God of restoration and resurrection. Our ultimate hope for resolution is in the resurrection. But there are glimmers of that today. When something dies in our life, there are opportunities for something new. I firmly believe that God does take that which has died in our lives and makes something new and good. Sometimes it isn't instant, some of these good things will not be understood until the resurrection, but He has promised that He will work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Ro 8:28). In my experience I think I find it a much greater shock when He does work things out for good in the present, but as difficult as life is "I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living" (Ps 27:13).

What I liked about 'The Shack' however, was that there are many useful ideas in the book that many people would not encounter unless they undertook theological training. The material, by being included in a narrative, is much more approachable than a book like Alistair McGrath's Christian Theology. It also addresses some common issues in pop theology. Some of the useful things are:
  • The difficulty with apophatic language for understanding God
  • The equality of each of the members of the Trinity
  • That Jesus is still human, that humanity has forever been taken up into the Godhead
  • That God desires relationship with us
  • That God loves all of his children equally
  • That God cares when we are suffering
  • That love is possible because of the love within the Trinity

I really hope that some of the negative press that the book has got because of the way it inadequately deals with suffering, will not mean that people don't read it, and don't get out of it what is helpful. It like eating fish, eat the meat, spit out the bones...

God bless,

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Something light hearted...

I was told recently that I never write anything light hearted on my blog... This post seeks to rectify that ;-)

For a long time I have thought that "Grace" was the perfect name for a girl. Its pretty, and its theologically splendiferous. So its been the the mental list for when I (at some point in the not too close future) have kids.

Apparently friends of mine also think Grace is a great name, as they named their new little miracle Grace a few weeks ago.

The other night when I was knee-deep in exegeting Romans 5 for my final assignment for my Exegesis 1 subject I came across the following words in greek:

Eirene - "peace"
Zoe - "life"

So I now think the most perfect name for a little girl would be:
Grace Irene Zoe Walker (my soon to be surname, after wedding next Saturday).

Because that means:
Grace Peace Life Walker

And who would sneeze at GIZW as initials???

My other thought that maybe if you had two daughters calling one "Grace" and the other "Irene" would be like the way Paul signs off many of his epistles:

"Grace & Peace [go to your room] in the name of the Father, and of the Lord Jesus"

Now if that doesn't float your boat, how about:


It sounds like Sara(h) which is Hebrew for princess...
But also since X in greek is pronounced "Ch" is also the greek word "Chara" which means "Joy".
Princess Joy... what girl doesn't need to hear that? And in two of the three biblical languages!

God bless,

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Joy Recovered

Jim Schembri writes in today's Age about the loss of joy as we grow up. His descriptions of a child's joy are compelling:

TO SEE a child laugh is to witness joy unalloyed... And they don't need much. The simplest things can set them off. A corny hand puppet. A goofy face. A soap bubble. The way a ball bounces. The popping of a toaster. The noise a handful of crushed banana makes when they slap it into your nose while you are trying to feed them. They love it.

He further charts our attempts to reclaim that joy in hyperrealities (ala Mark Sayers):

...what would we give to recapture even a small measure of that joy? The answer is anything and everything. We devote a great part of our lives and a good portion of our money to reach that state of bliss we hear in a child's laugh. We indulge in those things that promise pleasure. Cars, carnality, big houses, pools, trophy wives, exotic foods, chemicals, herbs. We ingest them through every available sense and membrane, often to excess, all in pursuit of that elusive, exquisite feeling that will finally tell us: "This is what it is to be happy." ... Yet with each artificially induced high comes the inevitable flare-out. We realise in the hollow afterglow that something essential is missing. We don't know what, but we know it must be out there, somewhere.

He ends nowhere really, advising that we should just enjoy children being joyful. But I think there is more that can be done...

It occurs to me that there maybe a reason why as Christians we are told to be like Children (Mt 18:3-4) and also that there is such a heavy emphasis on joy in both the OT & NT.

I think that when we come into the kingdom as children, and lay down all our 'adult importance' and all our heavy burdens of life and just ACCEPT grace and love from the hand of God, the simplicity of that, the gratitude that we feel results in a childlike joy. Once again there is no complications, no chasing acceptance, nothing but finding pure joy and rest in the stopping of striving, stopping of stressing, stopping believing that we carry the world on our shoulders.

Hoping that you are experiencing the joy of your salvation today :-)

God bless,