Thursday, August 24, 2006
Just for the sake of clarity, a couple of brief definitions* **:
*partial courtesy to dictionary.com - now with a new look! No joke, dictionary.com's gone all modern. Am I a nerd for actually noticing and commenting on that :P?
** these definitions may be debatable
evangelical: 'Christian churches that emphasize teachings and authority of Scriptures, esp the New Testament, in opposition to the institutional authority of the church itself, and stress as paramount the tenet that salvation is achieved by personal conversion to faith in atonement of Christ.'
In other words, an evangelical church is one that puts authority on the Scriptures or Bible (rather than holding the Bible in a 'useful read but not necessarily nessecary' light), in particular on how we can only be saved, or have a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ (not our own works, by being 'good'). It's probably more complex than that, but that's my simple definition.
'Evangelical' in itself isn't a denomination - for example St Matts is Anglican evangelical, but there's also Baptist evangelical, Lutheran evangelical, and so forth. In Adelaide there is a minority of evangelicals, and a majority of Liberals (not to be confused with the political party) who in general don't place as much (if any in some cases...) authority on the Bible, or keeping to the message that the only way to get to God is through Jesus.
The word evangelical is often confused with evangelism which is different: this is the "zealous preaching and advocacy of the gospel", or telling people about Jesus as Christ.
Now that's cleared up, onto the article:
Posted on 31/12/2004 Filed in: articles
This article comes courtesy of The Briefing, one of Australia’s leading Christian magazines. For more info, samples, and subscription information visit their website.
Some reflections en route to denying the gospel By David Gibson
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Heb 2:1)
You may have heard the story of the Mennonite Brethren movement. One particular analysis goes like this: the first generation believed and proclaimed the gospel and thought that there were certain social entailments. The next generation assumed the gospel and advocated the entailments. The third generation denied the gospel and all that were left were the entailments. (1)
Proclaiming, assuming, denying—it is a story that could be told many times over, and is repeated in the lives of many a movement. (2) In this article, I want to suggest that evangelicalism is exactly one such ‘movement’, and to examine what evangelicalism in the middle stage, the assumed stage, looks like.
Firstly, let me suggest a definition:
Assumed evangelicalism believes and signs up to the gospel. It certainly does not deny the gospel. But in terms of priorities, focus, and direction, assumed evangelicalism begins to give gradually increasing energy to concerns other than the gospel and key evangelical distinctives, to gradually elevate secondary issues to a primary level, to be increasingly worried about how it is perceived by others and to allow itself to be increasingly influenced both in content and method by the prevailing culture of the day.
It is relatively straightforward to point to individuals, churches, movements and institutions that are clearly either proclaiming the gospel or denying it; it is extremely difficult to spot assumed evangelicalism and to evaluate and critique it. It is assumed evangelicalism. It acknowledges all the right things. There is an in-between-ness about assumed evangelicalism and the crossing of boundaries is notoriously hard to see until you have arrived on the other side.
And so, wary of the risk of being judgemental, and fully aware that we are, by the nature of the case, speaking about potentialities more than actualities, let’s see what we can say about assumed evangelicalism. What does the phase actually look like? What are its characteristics? We can address the issue positively by asking two questions to determine which of the three stages best describes ourselves and our ministries.
1. To what extent does the gospel dictate our priorities in life, and the visions and strategies of our churches, movements and institutions?
Evangelical Church—and an assumed gospel
Imagine Soundville Evangelical Church around the corner. A typical evangelical church with a Sunday school and youth work, a mid-week prayer meeting, two services on a Sunday with lively hymns, contemporary songs and half-hour sermons. How would we know if this was a church that was beginning to just assume the gospel? There could be at least two symptoms:
It is quite possible that the gospel is preached, but the Christian congregation do not make the connection between that gospel and their own lives. The gospel is regarded as being for the outsiders, the non-Christians who ever so rarely slip in to one of the services. And, when we limit the gospel to unbelievers we begin to adopt non-gospel ways of relating to God and to others, aka, legalism.
But in any church legalism may also exist in other forms, such as everyone constantly appearing sorted and problem-free, or preaching that constantly scolds and sets unrealistic standards.
The antidote to legalism is always to recover the sheer scandal of the gospel of grace.
Expounding Romans 6:1, Martyn Lloyd-Jones had this penetrating insight:
There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this: that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret to mean that … because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace … If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding then it is not the gospel. (3)
In other words, the effect of truly grasping the gospel is to find ourselves amazed at the fact that what we do adds nothing and takes away nothing from what God has done for us in the Lord Jesus.
The other symptom of assuming the gospel is exactly what we meet in Romans 6:1: licence—thinking that because the gospel of grace is so amazing it really does not matter how we live from now on.
The most common form this takes is moral licence—I am saved by grace so my sexual immorality or my gossiping and coveting does not really bother God. In Soundville Evangelical Church there may be some Christians who are assuming the gospel like this, with very real and serious consequences.
However there is another type of licence and this is probably more likely to afflict the church as a whole: practical licence. What happens here is that the gospel is assumed as being true and important but actual church practice has little to do with it. So, for instance, a church that is just assuming the gospel in this way will begin to foster distorted spirituality, a spirituality that seeks to draw near to God other than “by the blood of Jesus” (see Heb 10:19-20). We need to realize that, if it is the blood of Jesus that draws us near to God, then singing, religious art, breathtaking scenery and church buildings do not. According to the gospel, we are no closer to God in the pew than the pub.
2. To what extent do the key features of evangelicalism dictate our priorities in life, and the visions and strategies of our churches, movements and institutions?
Evangelical study of theology—and assumed biblical authority In the book Letters Along the Way: A Novel of the Christian Life, the senior scholar Professor Paul Woodson writes to the young Timothy Journeyman who has just embarked on theological study:
I doubt very much that evangelicals are wise to pursue academic respectability. What we need is academic responsibility. There is a world of difference. Elevating academic respectability to the level of controlling desideratum is an invitation to theological and spiritual compromise. (4)
Academic respectability and academic responsibility adopt different approaches to the matter of biblical authority. Respectability will assume that the Bible is truthful and authoritative, but realizes that to draw attention to this in the academy will often bring scorn and derision. And so it keeps quiet, and keeps evangelical convictions apart from academic study.
Responsibility, on the other hand, holds onto biblical authority, even when that is not a position shared in the wider academic world. Striving to be responsible means students will work to the best of their ability, weighs all the options, thinks openly and creatively, and reads widely—but will be governed by the desire to remain faithful to the Bible and not the academy.
Evangelical Movements—and the assumed cross
I recently read through the magazine of an influential evangelical charitable organization. The word that I met most frequently was ‘justice’ and its many applications to various socio-political and economic crises and the very right need for action and intervention. What is being obscured is the fact that God’s justice would consume the oppressed refugee in a shanty town as much as it would consume the privileged westerner. The storyline of the whole Bible presents us with the cross as the place where God uniquely demonstrates his justice with the result that, as one writer has put it, “What Golgotha secured for us was not sympathy but immunity”. (5)
I do not wish to be misunderstood here. I am not suggesting that organizations like this do not believe what I have stated about the cross. However, by just assuming this truth, rather than clearly and repeatedly articulating it, there is vast potential for the next generation to deny what they have simply never had the chance to understand.
In each of the areas it is vital to realize that the temptations we face are often exceedingly subtle. Some evangelical biographies and histories give the impression that difficult decisions only need to be made when we reach a watershed moment, a clear-cut choice between truth and error. In reality, such crisis points come about because of daily decisions, made on a minute scale and over a period of time, to either assume evangelical distinctives or actively articulate them.
Individually, every day, we face the choice whether to sit under the Bible alone, to run to the cross alone and look to Christ alone or to begin to shift our gaze on to other things. Once we begin simply to assume these truths, then we are already beginning to stop conducting ourselves “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:14). The potential consequences for ourselves are harmful; for the generation following us they are disastrous.
David Gibson is a postgraduate student at Aberdeen (Scotland) and editor of The Biblical Theology Briefings (http://www.beginningwithmoses.org/). This is an extract of an article which first appeared in the RTSF Newsletter From Athens to Jerusalem, Vol 3, Issue 4, Autumn 2002. To read the article in full, visit www.beginningwithmoses.org
E N D N O T E S
1. D. A. Carson, The Primacy of Expository Preaching, Tape 1. Address given at Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, 1995. 2. See Risto Lehtonen, Story of a Storm, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1998. 3. D. M. Lloyd-Jones, “The New Man: An Exposition of Chapter 6”, Banner of Truth, London, 1972, p. 8. 4. D. A. Carson and J. D. Woodbridge, Letters Along the Way: A Novel of the Christian Life, Crossway, Illinois, 1993, p. 174. 5. Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ, IVP, Downers Grove, 1998, p. 178.
Monday, August 07, 2006
Right, so where were we. Touchdown in Nairobi - 4.30 am local time! We had our first taste of the infamous 'African time' we'd heard so much about when our bus that was scheduled to arrive at 6am to take us out to MCF (will explain more about that later) eventually arrived at 7.30. But I didn't really mind - we had plenty of time to chill out, play uno, look in a little newsagency that was exciting because it was in Kenya, but which sold merchandise remarkably similar to our own ($2 Cleo mag anyone?) Actually getting changed in the lovely but rather squeezy toilets proved a bit of a challenge - I worked out as I was wedged between the wall and the toilet door that it's a good idea to take off large travellers backpack before entering stall with inward opening door.
When the bus eventually came we all managed to fit in somehow - what would usually be a 12 seater in Aus, in Kenya fit all 26 of us in (with little fold down chairs in the aisles, that were fun to play corners with as they could tilt at a 45 degree angle when you sat on them (or lent on them if u were sitting behind, mwahaha) at the right angle). What would you expect to see when you first drove out of Nairobi airport? Sweeping planes? African style trees? A giraffe grazing? Well, we saw all of those within minutes of getting in the bus! I think it was just a freakishly lucky coincidence that a giraffe happened to be there becuase we didn't see any others wandering round like that for the rest of the trip, but it was a pretty cool welcome to Africa. The next thing (apart from the tall spotty wildlife) that I noticed as we drove along was people walking in the streets - seems like a natural thing to do, I know, but there were just so many people walking along the sides of the road! On bikes, carrying things, doing whatever. There were a lot of other buses and trucks around (before going thru the city centre later), but walking's the most practical way to get around. Novel idea really, walking ;)
The driving was pretty interesting - our driver really liked the horn, and timing his overtakings just so we would be gripping our seats in fear and holding our breaths. Another thing that's hard not to notice is just how Christian Kenya is (apparently 90% of the population call themselves Christian of some sort) - a lot of the buses have some sort of God slogan on them (and are really colourful - a lot of them individually decorated, with bright purple paint) and signs all over the place for different churches (even tho judging by the areas we were driving thru a lot of them may not have been more than lean-to's or sheds). The areas we drove thru were pretty poor - stalls lining the roads in places (wooden poles supporting tin shed roof) selling furniture, clothes, food, shoes.
One of the villages we passed thru, we paused for a second on the road, and as soon as we did that all these people from the stalls ran up to the windows and swarmed around the outside of the bus to try and sell us things. I was next to a window, so I closed it quickly before I had a bunch of bananas thrust in my face (and felt affirmed in this instinct when David, who was sitting next to me, said 'you did well', haha). I didn't know whether to feel bad or not - it felt so rude to do that! Going to the Mully Children's Family (MCF) was a really positive way to start the trip. It's a "street children's rescue ministry" with an amazing story behind it of how it started, and has grown into a huge ministry over 5 branches, caring for around 1000 kids who are in particular need of 'special care and protection'. Each child has their own story, and most of them are pretty horrific. But although you could see they still carried pain with them, they didn't seem hopeless - actually just how happy, hopeful and centred many of them were was pretty astounding. What I really admired about the way the home's operated was how gospel based they were - they hadn't grown into a cold corporate entity, but each staff member, mission statement, program or whatever was centred around the Gospel (from as much as we could see!)
We first dropped into MCF Yatta, which is relatively new - it "caters for 220 street girls, child mothers, former commercial sez workers, and abused girls" and teaches them vocational studies like computer skills, hairdressing, dressmaking etc. We had a tour around there, and had a second breakfast - including the much coveted BANANAS!! We then went onto MCF Ndalani, which cares for over 500 kids (little ones, to bigger ones), as well as having about 100 acres for farming (which I didn't realise was so extensive). We had a gorgeous lunch there under some trees, watched a couple of video's on MCF and had a couple of singing groups sing for us. One of the highlights of the visit would've been when we spent some time with the little kids, and when they were told to, all swarmed towards us and took one of our hands each and dragged us thru to show us their individual bunk beds, and where they kept their shoes and clothes etc - all the whole eagerly smiling at us, and being simultaneously shy and openly curious.
The next day was wonderfully full and intense - we were welcomed at our guesthouse by about a dozen Sudanese pastors (Sudan's just above Kenya, and has a complex history of civil war, with only about 10 yrs of relative peace since 1955, just for a bit of info) in what I think is the most joyous, exhuberant and welcoming welcome I've ever had. We again piled into our buses and cars and went out to a church where we had a 3 1/2 hour church service with the Sudanese congregation. It was one of those things where you wish you could've written down everything that was said in the service, because so many people spoke in such a heartfelt way, about the different issues facing them and crying out for help from us their brothers and sisters in Christ, that is was impossible to remember all the profound things that were said! When we first walked in we were greeted by the beautiful, strong, almost wailing style of singing African's seem to have, and a pounding drum beat (new ambition: learn to play drums). There were speakers on the history of the Sudan and the aspects of the warring - political, religious (largely Christian and Islam), economic (eg the south, with a majority of Christians, has the majority of oil) - which made me realise how little I knew about it before hand (when we're in our little bubble of comfort at home, it can be easier just to ignore things like that, or not let them have a personal impact on you). One female priest (woo!) called Rebecca got up and spoke at one stage, in the most emotional way (pretty charismatic in personality and spiritual gift)saying that these (the Sudanese church) were her children, and they are lost. She also asked how the West could spend so much money to go to the moon, but not the Sudan - effectively feigning ignorance. That got a big laugh from the Sudanese, but stuck in our minds. Another guy - a youth pastor - also talked about how though we were from different continents, we were one in Christ's blood, and that if you looked at the blood of a white and a black man, you couldn't tell the difference.
There was a lot more from that service, but that's enough for here I think. After that we had lunch (again bowled over by their hospitality - how much they'd cooked, and had special tables set up for us while everyone else just sat on chairs). I also had an interesting encounter with a rather full squat toilet - but hey, when nature calls ... you just have to hold your breath against the smell and yeah... It was great meeting people from the congregation after the service - learning how to communicate with them when language is a bit of a barrier, and without being patronising! Actually seeing how others in the group did that was pretty invaluable - one of the bonus' of going in a group. Seeing the strength of their (the Sudanese) faith despite (or because of?) their trials - it was really refreshing. But also seeing where they need help (eg theological training for pastors) was useful as well as sad.
We walked around Nairobi in the afternoon and did a little shopping - it didn't feel as different or as foreign as I expected actually. That night we debriefed and chatted together - I had lots of questions raised in my head about how to respond to such pleas for help. Hearing things like that - you can't just walk away, it felt like we'd had a responsibility placed on our shoulders to do something. Still working that one out!
If you've got to the end of this, congratulations! This whole chapter thing wasn't such a bad idea ;)
Thursday, August 03, 2006
I was on the bus this morning - it was pretty full with a whole class from MHS going into town as well, so I was standing near the front, holding on to one of the poles behind the chairs with one hand. We'd stopped at a stop (oh, is that what you do there?), and were just starting up again - you know how it is on a bus where it's pretty jerky. I started to lose my balance so I went to grab the pole with my other hand by reflex and ... back handed the girl sitting in the seat next to/in front of me, across the cheek, by accident! Not even a light tap, my knuckle hurt afterwards! It was so bad! So I sort of exclaimed and apologised, and thought 'damn, I knew I should've brought that ice pack with me' ... And then one of the girls from MHS who was sitting opposite poor back-handed girl started giggling, and I had to stop myself from doing the same because then I would've appeared violent AND sadistic. I felt like the girl in the Princess Diaries before she gets a makeover, lol. Then my friend got on, and was telling me about last week when she accidentally fell into someones lap on the bus - you know where the fold down seats are where the seats are opposite one another? So that was pretty funny (dw, we were out of earshot of the poor back handed girl).
Just had to let you know...
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
It's a bit hard to read, but this was at Hong Kong airport, an ad for 'Wing Wah Wife Cake' - we never really worked out why it was called that, bit it was pretty funny. Brad's new nickname for Joh's now Wife Cake, ha! I didn't get a photo of it, but in Nairobi we saw this LG shop, which underneath the LG sign said 'Housewife's Paradise!' I was simultaniously outraged and cracking up
Kat on our first flight enjoying the novelties of flying - complimentary headphones, and little plastic spoons.
L to R - Scott, Gabriel, me & Rose (a little travel weary and slightly hysterical by this stage?) - we were in the doorway of the plane during the stopover at Bangkok (btw Lib the trip seems so roundabout because there's no flight straight to Nairobi - we had to fly Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, then switch to Kenyan Airways from there to Nairobi, with a stop over for whatever reason in Bangkok - which is pretty much on the way (well Bangkok's not, it's South, but at least it's not backwards!)