I’ll be training at Stairway, Whitehorse. Six Monday nights starting on April 22.
From the American Spectator on the impact of Margaret Thatcher’s faith on her politics.
Margaret Thatcher was forever the thrifty Methodist grocer’s daughter of Grantham. Her father was both lay preacher and Conservative Party stalwart. They attended the Methodist church several times every Sabbath and heeded many then Methodist strictures against theater-going and dancing. Her family’s social life was enmeshed in the church’s sewing meetings, youth guilds, and missions work, as she recalled to the Catholic Herald 35 years ago.
Jeff Sundell has been out knocking on doors. Who would have thought this boy from a rural community in the Deep South of America would have an opportunity to share the gospel with a muslim from Iraq who we’ll call John. Jeff’s report:
We went to John’s house to talk to him again about Jesus. We had met John weeks before while prayer walking and had asked him if God could do a miracle in his life, what would it be and could we pray in Jesus name for him?
He said he needed a job. In 2009, he was resettled to America from Mosul, Iraq. So, we prayed and asked him if we could come and meet with him again.
I went to his house and began to ask him some questions about the Koran in relationship to Jesus. I have done this many times before. John had been trained to bring up certain issues related to Christianity and Islam. After about an hour of trying to build a bridge to the Gospel, I began to share Creation to Christ with God?s provision of “Korbon” (sacrifice) for Adam and Abraham, and the ultimate provision of sacrifice was his Son, Jesus Christ. John continued to bring up his objection that Allah has no partners, meaning the Son of God, and that the Bible is corrupt.
I stopped the Creation to Christ story and began to ask John about the five pillars of Islam.
I asked him what the first pillar of Islam was and if he had kept it all his life? He said yes, that he had confessed Allah as the one God.
I asked him about the second pillar? John said he does pray five times a day facing Mecca. I asked him if it would be a sin for someone to miss praying once in a day. He said yes. I reminded him it was only one sin that separated Adam from God because he sinned against God?s standard. I asked him if he had ever missed prayers. He said no, but then remembered that he hadn?t prayed that morning. I asked him if that was sin. He said, “No, surely Allah understands I am a poor man, and I was busy this morning.” I reminded him again that only one sin separated Abraham from a Glorious God.
I asked him about the third pillar of Islam, giving to the poor. John said he gave alms. I asked John if he had ever missed, and he said he was a poor man and Allah understood that he couldn?t give. I reminded John about Adam and his sin again.
I asked what the fourth pillar of Islam was. He said to keep Ramadan. I asked him if he had ever cheated once and broke the fast even once in his lifetime. He said he had kept it completely. I reminded him again about Adam. I asked him about the fifth pillar of Islam, which is to visit Mecca on the Hoji. I asked him if he had gone. He said he had not because he was a poor man and couldn?t go, but he hoped to go one day. I asked him if that was sin. But he assured me that Allah understands.
I reminded John that in the garden when Adam and Eve sinned, God provided the sacrifice by killing an animal to cover them. Adam and Eve by disobeying God deserved to die, but because of God?s grace He sacrificed an animal and, later on, instituted the sacrificial system.
Then I shared about when Abraham was told to sacrifice his son, God provided a ram caught in the thorns. I told John that we are separated from God because mankind broke His law and, therefore, we can?t be in His presence. But, God loved us so much He did provide a sacrifice. He sent his Son to die on a cross for our sins and we must repent and believe in Jesus Christ?s death, burial and resurrection and confess Him before mankind; then, He will save us. God provided the Korbon, His Son.
John invited us back; he said he was interested to keep talking about Jesus. Pray that God reveals Himself to John. In the end, it is God?s work to save John, but we feel like he heard a clear Gospel presentation.
I’ve interviewed Jeff Sundell and his coworkers many times for the movements podcast.
By ‘secularised’ we mean to move from otherworldliness, to present a more distant and indistinct conception of the supernatural, to relax the moral restrictions on members and to surrender claims to an exclusive and superior truth.
The post-evangelicalism of former evangelicals such as Rob Bell, Brian McLean, and Steve Chalke, reminds us that successful movements tend to drift from orthodoxy to secularism over time.
Every generation faces its own challenge to remain faithful to the gospel, while remaining connected to a lost world.
You can be faithful in your view of scripture, your doctrine of the atonement, and sexual ethics, yet unfaithful in connecting with lost people in a lost world. Being right is not enough.
Being relevant is not enough. You can be contextualised in a postmodern world, and yet adrift from the truth of the gospel.
When Jesus welcomed the woman who wept at his feet (Luke 7:36-50) he announced to the room of religious bigots that, “her sins are many.” They agreed. Jesus was not soft on sin. Yet he welcomed her love and devotion because this woman who had been forgiven much, loved him much. He came looking for people like her because they were lost, and he loved them.
Post-evangelicalism would have us believe that there is no sin to forgive. Jesus just accepts her. He’s on the side of the marginalised. Yet Jesus taught that we all need forgiveness — the sexually immoral person, the corrupt government official, the military officer, the lost son and the righteous son, the proud Pharisee.
To say that there is nothing to forgive, that God does not judge sin, is an unloving act. Listen to Rob Bell’s interview. It’s all about keeping up which changing social trends to ensure the survival of the church. Compromise is too high a price to pay for relevance.
God judges sin. If that offends you, consider the alternative; a world in which God is indifferent to evil. A world without justice.
The God who opposes evil is the God who bore the consequences of our rebellion. Let them reject this as “cosmic child abuse.” Reality won’t change. God judges evil. God rescues sinners through Christ’s death. There is no other gospel.
The gospel of progressive Christianity cannot save. It leaves people lost in their sin, separated from his sacrificial love.
No one will cross the road, let alone the ocean, to spread this gospel. No-one will suffer and die for it. Why should they? It’s a gospel for those who have lost their faith, but want to hang on to it’s trappings.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord addedto their number daily those who were being saved.
Hard on the heels of the events of Easter came Pentecost and the formation of the first church in Jerusalem. Jerusalem became the centre from which the gospel went out to the rest of the world.
In Acts 2: 42-47 Luke provides and extensive summary of the life of that first church. I’ve been working through Eckhard Schnabel’s commentary on Acts. Here’s what he say about what we can learn and apply from Luke description, as we go out to make disciples and multiply communities of Jesus’ followers. Everywhere.
An authentic church is a church in which God is present.
- The teaching of the apostles focused on the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and Lord, and in the coming of the Holy Spirit.
- The breaking of bread, when it includes the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, reminds believers of God’s plan of salvation, who sent Jesus to the cross in order that sins might be forgiven and the promised new covenant might become a reality.
- The believers experienced the awe-inspiring presence of God in the miracles that happened through the apostles, which were direct manifestations of the merciful work of God in their midst.
- The believers experienced God’s presence and invoked prayers of praise in which they thanked God for his blessings through Jesus.
- They experienced God’s effective presence in new conversions and in the continued growth of the church.
An authentic church is a church whose priorities are set by the gospel.
- Teaching by the apostles. Its primary focus is on Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and Lord; on God’s salvation through Jesus’s death, resurrection, and exaltation; on the integration into the community of God’s messianic people; and on the significance of the Scriptures that are read, explained, and applied to the lives of believers.
- Fellowship. The community of believes are “one” because they have all accepted Jesus as Israel’s messianic Savior and because they have all received God’s transforming Spirit. The church is a fellowship in that believers meet at one place, listen to the teaching of the Word of God, praise God, share meals, love each other, and share resources with fellow believers who are poor.
- The breaking of bread. This includes sharing meals as an expression of belonging to one family, the family of God’s people. And it includes the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and Lord. When Christians break bread, they praise God and remember Jesus’ sacrifice and thus are reminded of the needs of the poor and are challenged to help sacrificially.
- Prayer. Constant and joyful prayer acknowledges the presence of God in the midst of his people. Personal transformation, which produces, for example, the willingness to sell property and give the proceeds to the poor, is possible only when God changes hearts and minds — and hand and feet that carry out the sale of possessions. Constant and joyful prayer acknowledges that only God can lead unbelievers to repentance.
An authentic church is a church that continues to grow.
- Churches grow when the gospel is proclaimed. The priority of the teaching of the apostles includes evangelistic outreach to unbelievers — this is the primary calling of the Twelve as witnesses of Jesus, commissioned to preach the good news of Jesus from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
- Churches grow when the church is a fellowship. Luke attributes the continued growth of the church to the believers meeting in the temple and in private homes, listening to teaching, sharing meals, sharing with those in need, and praising God in prayer. These meetings attracted unbelievers, who became willing to repent, to commit themselves to faith in Jesus, the Messiah and Lord of Israel, to be immersed in water, and to join the fellowship of the followers of Jesus.
- Churches grow when they acknowledge the power of God. The continued and regular growth of a church is always the result of the work of God. It is possible for numerical growth to be nothing more than the attraction of popular entertainment. Numerical growth is authentic church growth only when people find faith in Jesus, the crucified, risen, and exalted Messiah and Savior, and when they receive the Holy Spirit of God, who visibly and powerfully transforms their lives.
I’ll be training in Ipswich, May 31-June 1, 2013. Visit Catalyst to register.
Thanks to Michael O’Neill for putting the video together.
Michelle is running Following and Fishing in Blackburn, Melbourne, beginning April 26, 2013.
In a Good Friday service at historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, retired Bishop John Shelby Spong decried the Nicene Creed as “a radical distortion of the Gospel of John,” asserted that several of the apostles were “mythological” and declared that Jesus Christ did not die to redeem humanity from its sins.
This Gospel sees Jesus as a life lived so deeply that he reached mystical oneness with God,” proposed Spong.
He argued that Jesus could say “I and the father are one” only because he was inviting his disciples “to enter a mystical reality of divine human oneness.”
Instead of portraying the crucifixion of Jesus being about his sacrifice, Spong claimed the author of the book of John intended a “call to all of us to be whole people – to find yourself and give yourself away.”
“God does not need human sacrifice to forgive,” Spong declared. “John’s Jesus is not about saving sinners and rescuing the lost. It is about moving beyond self-consciousness to universal consciousness.”
“Jesus does not die for your sins in this [John's] gospel; he dies to make you whole,” Spong announced from the pulpit. “As evolving creatures, the problem is not that we have fallen, but that we are not yet fully human.”
“We are not sinners, the church got that wrong, we are rather incomplete human beings,” Spong concluded with an “amen” that was echoed by the congregation and clergy present.
Rob Bell’s gospel is remarkably similar to that of Bishop Spong. In his sympathetic biography of Bell, James Wellman writes, that according to Bell love wins the in the sense that God’s will is the reconciliation of all things—the soul, the body, the earth, the cosmos, and everything in it.
Bell believes that Christ’s sacrifice is not for God’s sake. Rather, it is the ultimate revelation of the innocent victim, the final scapegoat. It is not God who demands the violent sacrifice of Jesus. Rather, humans demanded it. The wrath was human, not divine.
According to Wellman, Bell represents the public face of the transformation of American evangelicalism. Thankfully, that view is more wishful thinking than critical analysis. We’ve seen it all before.
Back in 1937, Richard Niebuhr summarized the liberal/progressive gospel as:
A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.
Spong has been declaring the death of historic Christianity for years and announcing the birth of a new form of Christianity for a new world. Now Bell is touted as the new face of American Christianity. Instead these men represent Christian movements in the final stages of decline and decay.
The New York Times reported at the weekend that Syria’s Christian community was lying low over Easter. Many in the community – which is about 10 per cent of the population – fear they could be expelled, or even massacred, if the Assad dictatorship falls. After the fall of Saddam Hussein in neighbouring Iraq, an estimated 60 per cent of the Christian population fled.
British writer Rupert Shorrt argues there’s been an outbreak of what he calls “Christianophobia” across the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Shortt, an editor at The Times Literary Supplement in London, is the author of the book Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack.
Shortt’s book investigates the worldwide oppression of Christians, country by country — including Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Burma, and China.
A disciple is one who walks so closely to the master that the person is covered by the dust of the one he or she is following.
At the heart of every disciple-making movement is a unwavering commitment to obey what Jesus taught. Yet a week ago Rob Bell joined a growing band of “post-evangelicals” who have come out in favour of same-sex marriage.
As far back as 2007 New Testament scholar, Ben Witherington, raised concerns regarding Rob Bell’s teaching on homosexuality. The context was an event promoting Bell’s new book, Sex God. Witherington commended Bell on a number of levels and then identified his concerns.
… when Rob Bell was asked about homosexuality. His answers was evasive in part, and disturbing in other parts, and clearly unBiblical in other parts and in this he sounds like some other leaders in the Emergent Church movement. Some specifics should be mentioned.
First of all, Rob made the blanket statement that you have no moral authority to speak on this issue unless you have gay friends and understand their struggle. While I am all for having pastoral empathy with people and their struggles, on that showing, Paul should never have spoken on this issue at all. This comment by Rob is simply an unhelpful way of silencing important voices in a divisive conversation, and its not helpful. Indeed it goes against the whole M.O. of Rob himself, which is to honor other people’s views and beliefs and questions.
Secondly, Rob then makes an argument from silence which is in fact misleading. The argument is this— “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality”. This is not quite true. Jesus took all sorts of sexual sin very seriously, even adultery of the heart, as Rob admits, and so it is no surprise then that we find Jesus telling his disciples in Mt. 19 that they have only two legitimate options: 1) marital fidelity (with marriage being defined as a relationship between one man and one woman joined together by God which leads to a one flesh union), or 2) being a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom.
The term ‘eunuch’ here whether taken literally (as in a castrated person who is incapable of normal sexual intercourse), or simply morally (as in a person who never engages in sexual intercourse, remaining celibate in singleness, though he or she is capable of such an act), makes very evident that for single persons, any single persons, celibacy in singleness is the standard Jesus holds up for the unmarried.
Nor, in view of the way Jesus talks about marriage in the context with the discussion of the original Genesis story about the creation order– the creation of woman for man (and their interdependency), could one ever imagine Jesus redefining marriage to include same-sex sexual partners. Jesus is not silent on such matters at all– fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness are his standards, and indeed they are standards by which Jesus himself lived when we are thinking about the celibacy in singleness issue. He is likely talking about himself when he speaks of persons who have chosen to be eunuchs for the Kingdom. Chastity was considered a great virtue in that honor and shame culture.
Rob then raises the issue of hypocrisy. Of course he is right that all sexual sin should be taken equally seriously, and in view of the abysmal record of heterosexual Evangelical Christians when it comes to issues of marital faithfulness he is right that one should not single out homosexual sin for special attention and ignore the seriousness of heterosexual sin. True enough– but the proper response to such a situation is be an equal opportunity critiquer of all such sexual sin, while honestly admitting one’s own failures and shortcomings.
Rob then raises the point that the Bible says nothing about sexual orientation. This is true, but irrelevant. It says plenty about sexual behavior, including same sex sexual activity between consenting adults in Romans 1, 1 Cor. 6 and Gal. 5, to mention three texts. It is simply not true that the Bible is just opposed to pederasty or male prostitution, though certainly both of those forms of same-sex sexual expression are prohibited. The terms used in 1 Cor. 6 refer to males who play the role of ‘malakoi’ or the soft or effeminate role, and those that play the aggressive more male role called ‘arsenokoites’– which literal means a male who copulates with another male (and the word certainly does not imply copulation only with under aged males). On all of this Rob really needs to read Rob Gagnon’s definitive work The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon).
Of course it is true that we all are sinners who fall short of the glory of God, so there is no basis for finger pointing on such issues, and everyone must in all humility deal with their own sins rather than focusing on other people’s sins. A Christian approach must be that everyone is welcome to come to Christ and come into the church as they are without pre-conditions. But no one is welcome to stay as they are— no one. They all must change, repent of their sins as needed, and strive to live in newness of life whether gay or straight.
Witherington shows how far Rob Bell and others have strayed from what Jesus himself and the Scriptures, teach on sexuality.
Bell’s assertion that the ground motive of evangelicalism really is “to affirm people wherever they are” is, by curious contrast, “the exact opposite of the origins” of Christianity and the gospel. God does not affirm people where he finds them, in sin and on the road to perdition.