Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review: Sufjan Stevens' "The Age of Adz" (cd and concert)

My wife and I made the two hour drive to see Sufjan Stevens in concert at the Uptown Theater last Sunday evening. This was a concert I’ve been eagerly anticipating for over five years. His release “Illinois” was one of my favorites of the last decade. His songs are both fun and poignant and some are even worshipful. He has not been afraid to express his spirituality in his music and his release “Seven Swans” was filled with Christian imagery and allusions.

If you are familiar with his past few standard releases (“Illinois”, “Michigan”, “Seven Swans”, outtakes from Illinois: “The Avalanche” and his Christmas cd) you know his style of “orchestral folk pop.” His new release “The Age of Adz” is a complete departure from that (although not from some of his past stuff like “Enjoy Your Rabbit”). Instead of banjos and violins, it is filled with electronics. It is deeply heavy at times and reveals a man who has experienced a dark period of perhaps doubt and loss. At one point in the concert on Sunday he revealed a little bit about the departure from his recent past. He said that the art of songwriting had “betrayed” him. He had trouble composing the typical three to five minute songs that comprise standard cds. That was played out on the last song he played from “Adz”, “Impossible Soul” which checked in at 25 minutes. “Impossible Soul” is like 5 different songs strung together by a theme of two lovers evaluating their recent past and debating whether to go forward. It starts out well, bogs down to the point that it almost becomes comical. The band and the crowd had fun with it, but it went on too long for me.

In a surprise move, Stevens opened the concert with “Seven Swans”. It was much heavier than found on the cd and played live in the past. It contained the light, banjo strumming story of a family seeing apocalyptic imagery in the night sky but had forceful interludes that truly carry out a sense of foreboding and doom. It is one of his most worshipful songs for me. But his version this evening revealed that perhaps he is distancing from his overtly Christian focus of some of his music. He changed the words from “He said…” to “She said…I am Lord, I am Lord, I am Lord” and in the climatic crescendo he changed “He is the Lord” to “She is the Lord”. I am not saying that a Christian can’t imagine God as female, but the song for me is about the Christ as revealed in the book of Revelation, that is Jesus. It has always been worshipful for me and that little twist tweaked me a bit.

The bulk of the rest of the evening was devoted to music from “Adz”. I will admit that I was initially put off by a lot of the electronic blips, bleeps and loops on the release but I could always hear the beauty of the songs beneath the electronic layers. And that beauty came forth on the live versions of the songs. Songs like “Too Much” and “I Walked” have decent pop song foundations with depth as well. The highlight for me was title track. So powerful and awe inspiring as it accompanied by apocalyptic imagery on the screen behind them. The art was inspired by an obscure sign painter named Royal Robertson, a self proclaimed prophet (and probably a diagnosed schizophrenic). Knowing that Robertson was Stevens’ muse in this project should tell you where his mind may have been composing this project.
The eleven piece band were wonderful, with three trombone players, two drummers, bass, guitarist, piano player, two backup singers (who also performed choreographed moves behind him) and Stevens himself on various guitars and synthesizers.
He acknowledged that there were probably fans of his at the show that had no idea what was going on if they hadn’t sampled “Adz” yet and were expecting songs from “Illinois” and “Michigan” but they probably weren’t disappointed. Especially when he closed the show with three songs from “Illinois”: “Chicago” (which got a huge reaction and sing a long from the crowd); and the encore of “Concerning the UFO Sighting near Highland, IL” (which is a song about the incarnation of Christ [to me anyway]); and the eerie “John Wayne Gacy”.

I would have probably preferred more songs from “Illinois” and “Seven Swans” but I don’t think the concert would have stayed with me like the live experience of “The Age of Adz.” I still find the songs from that evening playing in my mind. It was a powerful experience and has caused me to embrace the new work even more.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Paul and Rabbinic Discipleship

I have been reading a little book, The Origins of the Gospel Traditions by Birger Gerhardsson (95 pages). It is a distillation of two of his earlier works Memory and Manuscript: Oral Traditions and Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity and Tradition and Transmission in Early Christianity. In them he discusses how rabbis would have passed down their teachings to their students and how faithful these students were to commit them to memory. As I was reading, I noticed how the process of discipleship has been passed down from the rabbis through Jesus and Paul and what we can learn from this process. I have excerpted a few chapters that point us to proper discipleship techniques.

To learn Torah one must go to a teacher. Students would then flock around teachers. And such a group formation – teachers and students – become something of an extended family. The teacher is the spiritual father, the students his spiritual children. They spend their time with him, they follow him, and they serve him.
Students learn much of the Torah tradition by listening: by listening to their teacher and his more advanced students as well as by posing questions and making contributions of their own within the bounds prescribed by modesty and etiquette. But they also learn a great deal by simply observing: with attentive eyes they observe all that the teacher does and then proceed to imitate him. Torah is above all a holy, authoritative attitude toward life. Because this is true, much can be learned by simply watching and imitating those who are educated.
We see in the Talmud that it was not only the teachings of the great rabbis that were preserved but their actions as well: “I saw rabbi so-and-so do thus and so.” The rabbinical tradition preserves examples of how bright and eager students followed their teachers’ actions even in the most private situations, motivated by the belief that “This has to do with Torah, and I want to learn!” (This includes a humorous story of students hiding in a rabbi’s bedroom because they wanted to learn the Torah in that “situation.”)

In seeking to preserve their teachings on the Torah, the rabbi’s were not so much only interested in the “cramming and mechanical recitation” of their teaching. They were very conscious of the importance of comprehending and personally applying that which had been impressed upon one’s mind. For this reason they carried on an energetic struggle against lifeless knowledge. According to the rabbis a disciple ought not be a dead receptacle for the received tradition. He should rather enter into it so that he understands it and is in agreement with it. Only thus can he actually live according to it, be a faithful steward of it, and pass it on to others in an infectious way. A living bearer of the tradition is to be like a torch which has been lit by an older torch, in order that it might itself light others.

Paul picks up this mantle of a “rabbi” as he looks upon himself as a spiritual father to those who have been won for the gospel (1 Cor. 4.17; Philemon 10). He encourages his congregations to be imitators of him in all respects, even as he himself is an imitator of Christ (1 Cor. 4.16; 11.1; 1 Thess. 1.6; 2 Thess. 3.7).
Paul thinks of the life of imitation which comes into being when obedient disciples receive (and pattern their lives according to) the instruction of their teacher. After his admonishment to “Be imitators of me,” he follows with the statement: “For this reason I am sending to you Timothy…He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4.17).
When Paul speaks of “my ways” he is referring to patterns of his life and teachings. Imitating Paul means the same as to receive and live according to the teaching which Paul proclaimed in all of his congregations. Thus Paul is not only passing down tradition as oral or written teaching but also how he lives. We see this fleshed out even more in Phil. 4.9: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.” The Philippians were even told to look in their own community for imitators of Paul, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Phil. 3.17).

As I read this, I see that Paul is passing down a tradition of rabbinic discipleship. Just as the rabbis gathered students to themselves and passed on to them not only instruction in the Torah but also a lifestyle that exemplifies the Torah, Paul exhorts his followers to not only hold fast to his teaching but to imitate his lifestyle as well. We see that for the rabbis and Paul, discipleship is not a program or a book study to take someone through, but an opportunity to live out their teaching (in Paul’s case the gospel) in front of students and encouraging them to follow along. It seems deeply personal and time consuming but it is the model that we have been given.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Thoughts on the World Cup

Wow! It has been two months since my last post. Longest ever.

I wanted to get some World Cup thoughts down. I have several rooting interests and I wanted to explain my choices. Who do I root for at any given time? I will rank them.

Number One: USA - of course I am going to root for my country. They haven't given us a lot of international success recently (other than their showing at the Confederation Cup last year in South Africa where they beat Spain). They seem to have a few unlikeable guys on their team (but who doesn't?) Landon Donovan really stepped up his game during his loan to Everton this past year. Clint Dempsey has played well at a world class level. And Altidore seems to play much better for country than he does for any of his clubs. I see the US getting out of the group stage but probably losing in the round of 16 (to Germany?)

Number Two: Germany - I have a lot of German in my family line. They have been consistently good for decades. I've been a fan of Michael Ballack (although he is sidelined for this tournament). I love their colors and their kits.

Number Three: Argentina - I could almost put them Two B because I have been a fan of them since '86 and Maradona's run through the Cup. I watched all of their games that year and have followed them at a distance for years. Now, I've actually been to Argentina and I have some Argentine friends, so that adds to the rooting interest.

Number Four: Netherlands - this small nation plays a creative brand of soccer and is always fun to keep an eye on. They are always "punching above their weight". They won't win, but they have two players that were fun to watch in the Champion's League (Sneijder and Robben).

Players I will watch: I will follow my favorite Chelsea players, Lampard and Drogba (Eng and Ivory Coast respectively). He doesn't get the accolades of Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney, but I think Drogba is the most complete player in the world. Lamps had a fantastic year as he helped lead Chelsea to the Premier League Championship this year (and the FA Cup).
Landon Donovan, I like his game and he was great at Everton this past year.
KaKa - had a down year for him at Real Madrid, but has been considered one of the top three players in the world in the past few years and he is also an evangelical Christian (like me).
Arjen Robben - plays for Bayern Munchen and the Netherlands. Scored some wonderful goals for Bayern during the Champions League this year (especially his rocket that eliminated Man U).
And of course I will be following the consensus best player in the world who plays for one of my favorite teams: Lionel Messi for Argentina.

My pick for Champion this year: Brazil (who I believe will beat Spain in the final).

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Total Church: Spirituality

The disciplines of “contemplation, silence and solitude” certainly describe a good deal of what passes for spirituality among evangelicals today. The authors call this the exact opposite of biblical spirituality. It is not about contemplation, it is about reading and meditating on the word of God. It is not about detached silence; it is about passionate petition. It is not about solitude; it is about participation in community. It is centered on the gospel and rooted in the context of the Christian community.

Spirituality and the gospel word
In the mystical and contemplative traditions the goal of spirituality is union with Christ. Union with Christ is attained through a pattern of spiritual disciplines or a series of spiritual stages. Gospel spirituality is the exact opposite. Union with Christ is not the goal of spirituality; it is the foundation of spirituality. It is not attained through disciplines or stages; it is given through childlike faith. (138)
The previous understanding represents a spirituality of achievement.
In response to the spiritual elite in Colossians, Paul emphasizes the supremacy of Christ, the fullness of revelation in Christ and the sufficiency of Christ for Christian living. In other words, in the gospel of Christ we are richly supplied with all we need to keep going as Christians and to grow as Christians. We do not need anything else (140).

Spirituality and the gospel mission
Passionate engagement
In biblical terms to be spiritual is to walk in step with the Spirit in all of life. The world God made – spiritual and material – was very good. And the future God intends is both spiritual and material (141).
Biblical spirituality does not take place in silence; it takes place bearing a cross. It is not a spirituality of withdrawal, but a spirituality of engagement. You do not practice it on retreat in a secluded house; you practice it on the streets in the midst of broken lives (142).

Passionate prayer
Biblical spirituality is not a spirituality of silence; it is a spirituality of passionate petition. If we are engaged with the world around us, then we will care about that world. We will be passionate about people’s needs, our holiness and God’s glory. We will not be still in prayer. We will cry out for mercy with a holy violence. To ask God for things is a profound act of faith.

Spirituality and the gospel community
Here is a spirituality in which we grasp the amazing dimensions of Christ’s love ‘together with all the saints’ (Eph. 3.18). We model and embody God’s love for one another. I have a relationship with God because we have a relationship with God. There are persons of God because there is a people of God.
What does this mean in practice? Three suggestions:
First, we should prioritize prayer with others over prayer alone.
Second, we must not separate our relationship with God from our relationship with others. The barrier in our prayer life is not often sin against God, but sin against other people.
Third, we need to exhort and encourage one another daily (Heb. 3.12-13).
The avoidance of apostasy demands not simply individual vigilance but the constant care of each member of the community for one another (William Lane).
This community spirituality clearly requires a certain level of relationship. We need to be sharing our lives. We need to be with other Christians ‘daily’ (145-6).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Total Church: Pastoral Care

Pastoral Care
The authors deal with the difference between seeking biblical counseling and professional therapy. The problem with this therapy culture, according to Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, is the way it has made therapy into a way of life. People are encouraged to define themselves as victims who have suffered at the hands of others. As long as people are encouraged to seek professional counseling to help them with everything from dealing with an unpleasant incident to raising their children, argues Furedi, individuals become disinclined to depend on each other in the normal routine of relationships. Relationships are increasingly ‘professionalized.’
This book (Total Church) is a call to a dual fidelity to the gospel word and the gospel community. It is our conviction that the gospel word and the gospel community do not fail us when it comes to pastoral care! (125)

The sufficient gospel word
Does the Bible give us an accurate and sufficient analysis of the human condition and an effective response or ‘treatment’? Have we created a dichotomy between the ministry of Bible teaching and that of pastoral counseling? The former is considered the preserve of the ‘minister’ while the latter is for qualified (in a secular sense) members of the wider community.
At the heart of historic evangelicalism is a commitment to the Bible as “the final authority on all matters of faith and conduct.” This confession has been summarized as the sufficiency of Scripture and this is where the debate is centered. There seems to be a view that argues that God has given us two books through which to understand the world: Scripture and Nature. Another view sees the Bible as unique and altogether distinctive in the way it defines what we are as human beings.
‘Simply by being Christians, we have access to everything we need to live a life that pleases God.’ This is the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture and this is what gives us confidence in our pastoral care as we expose each other to the gospel word. (125-27)

The efficient gospel community
If our primary identity is as persons-in-community, then our ability to thrive will be shaped by our involvement in a community…Pastoral care in a Christian community is not merely one ‘therapy device’ among many. It is the context in which any other pastoral care takes place.
So much formal pastoral engagement takes place outside of the community and one of the reasons for this is disengagement from the community…While the need for specific counseling sessions in a more formal environment will remain, healthy engagement with others in committed relationships will deal with so many of the presenting issues and underlying causes of her problems.
Dealing with marriage issues: a significant element in divorce rates is individualism. In a culture in which the rights and desires of the individual are sacred, bringing two individuals together in a relationship as close as marriage is bound to create problems. We live in a society with a disposable attitude toward relationships in general and this affects attitudes to marriage.
The breakup of the extended family with increased mobility has contributed significantly to the strain placed on marriage. We no longer live in an “it takes a village culture.” We leave child raising to a couple (and many times a single person). There is no better place for marriages to be nurtured than in a communal setting for two principle reasons.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Total Church: Discipleship and Training

Discipleship and Training
The means by which sinners are evangelized, the gospel word and the gospel community, are the means by which sinners are discipled…The good news that gives life is the good news that transforms, while the community that incarnates gospel truth for the sinner is the community that incarnates gospel truth for the saint (110).

Teaching people the gospel word
Our contention is that being word-centered is so much more than being sermon-centered (112).
Word ministry takes place in a variety of ways, not simply for forty-five minutes on a Sunday morning. It takes place through group Bible studies. It takes place when two people meet to read the Bible. It takes place as people are mentored through the word. In our experience, most character formation and discipleship takes place through informal and ad hoc conversations. This kind of word ministry requires relationships, time and gospel intentionality.
What counts is teaching that leads to changed lives. Being word-centered means God’s word has priority over tradition and precedent. Many churches that claim to be word-centered are in practice tradition-centered…Unless someone long ago came to a complete and perfect understanding of the Bible; it suggests people are no longer living under God’s word so that it challenges their thinking and practice (114).

Teaching along the road
This is not to denigrate the importance of formal teaching times as church, but rather to emphasize the need also to bring teaching out of the pulpit and embed it in life…Chapters 9-10 of Mark’s Gospel are an extended explanation of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
They should understand the sovereignty of God not only from a sermon series on Isaiah, but as they see us respond to trials with ‘pure joy’! We have found in our context that most learning and training takes place not through programmed teaching or training courses, but unplanned conversations: talking about life, talking about ministry, talking about problems (115).

Shepherds who are sheep
Leaders are not a special class set apart on their own, having to face burdensome responsibilities and forced to endure a lonely existence. Leaders cannot be detached. They must be visible believers who live their lives openly in the midst of the believing community.
The only demarcation among the people of God is that of function not position. If my role is that of a leader in the local church, then I am a gospel minister using my gift to serve God’s people.
Many of my ‘minister’ friends speak of church as something from which they must seek solace. They ‘protect’ their day off and guard their privacy of their home…For Tim/Steve, church is where they find solace.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Total Church: World Mission

Some brief thoughts on the chapter on World Mission from Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.

World Mission

The centrality of the gospel word and the gospel community apply not only on our doorstep, but to the ends of the earth. God summons us both to “declare his praises” and be “a people for his own possession” (1 Pet. 2.9).

A word for the nations

The gospel word is a word for the present about the future. Hope is integral to our message. Non-Christians campaign for justice and feed the hungry, often with greater energy than Christians. But only Christians can point people to the world to come. Only Christians can show them how eloquently and relevantly the Bible describes the world we all want! People may dismiss this as ‘pie in the sky when you die’, but this is the promise of the gospel. The very best we can do for others is turn their gaze toward eternity. This is what the gospel word and gospel communities do so uniquely (100).

A community for the nations

Psalms 67 reshapes Aaron’s prayer of blessing over the people of Israel in Numbers 6.22-27. The Psalms connect the worshipper and God. Psa. 67 makes a further connection: between the worshippers, God and the nations. The prayer assumes Israel’s distinctive identity in the world.

The psalmist knew the purpose of Israel’s election and understood the determination of Yahweh to fulfill the promise he made to Abraham. He would bless the descendants of Abraham so that through them he might bless the nations and so be recognized as the God of the whole earth (101).

Both local and global mission is the privilege and responsibility of any and every local church (102)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Total Church: Church Planting

Chester and Timmis in this chapter discuss how they view church planting as a form of evangelism. They look very closely to the mission and church planting practices of the early apostles (especially Paul) to provide a template. They are not so committed to house church planting as the only biblical manner of evangelism and church planting, but they do see the benefits that can come from planting smaller missional communities in homes. It is much more efficient for growth and reproduction that building one central meeting place. And in those smaller communities, it is easier to relate to one another, share each others’ lives and for all members to exercise their gifts in ministry.

The apostolic approach to mission
For Paul mission meant planting churches. In the NT, wherever the gospel was preached local churches were established. In Acts, Luke deliberately portrays Paul as a church planter. This methodology involves a church planting team or an apostolic band. The team functions as a church even as a church grows up around it, providing a context for discipleship and a demonstration of Christian community. (89).

The Apostolic approach to community
The apostolic churches were reproducing churches, meeting in households. This meant they grew by adding further household gatherings rather than by adding numbers to one mega-congregation. So, for example, Paul writes ‘to the church of God in Corinth’ (1 Cor. 1.2), but can also talk about information from ‘some from Chloe’s household’ and how he baptized the members of ‘the household of Stephanas (1 Cor. 1.11, 16; 16.15).
In Acts 16, Lydia and the jailer’s ‘households’ are baptized and a church is planted in Philippi. In Acts 18 the household of Crispus believes and a church is planted in Corinth… So in his time in Corinth Paul presumably oversaw the establishment of a number of household churches within the city. The point is that he chose to establish a number of smaller churches rather than create one large congregation. In Ephesus Paul used the hall of Tyrannus, but for public discussions. Meanwhile he taught the believers ‘from house to house’ (Acts 20.20).
Constantly reproducing churches was the pattern of apostolic churches, but it was a pattern that gave fullest expression to the principles of Christian community. The household model is in some way defining of church. The church is the household of God (Eph. 2.19-22, others). The ability of a potential leader to manage his household reflects his ability to care for God’s church (1 Tim. 3.4-5). For NT Christians the idea of ‘church’ was synonymous with household and home. (90).

No slavish adherence to homes…the point is that, as they grew, the apostolic churches became networks of small communities rather than one large group, to safeguard apostolic principles of church life. It matters little whether these small groups are called churches, home groups or cells, as long as they are the focus for the life and mission of the church. (91)

Small communities create a simplicity that militates against a maintenance mentality: there are no expensive buildings to maintain or complex programs to run. They determine a style that is participatory and inclusive, mirroring the discipleship model and table fellowship of Jesus himself. One of the key expressions of NT ecclesiology is ‘one another’.
Many are unenthusiastic about church planting because of assumptions that big is better. But the household model of NT practice was no accident. (91)

Church planting and the renewal of the church
Good church planting is crucial to the health of the wider church. Good church planting forces us to re-ask questions about the gospel and church; to re-invent churches that are both gospel-centered without religious tradition and relevant without worldly conformity. Far from weakening a sending church, church planting is a vital opportunity to re-focus the life of the church on the gospel. The identity of the sending church should radically change. It cannot continue as the same church or repeat the same program. It must look again for new leaders to emerge. It must ask all over again how it will reach its neighborhood with the gospel. (93)

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul reflects on what constitutes good church planting. The key thing is that the gospel is at the heart of church planting. The Corinthian church plants had lost sight of the gospel. They were concerned with human power and wisdom. They were dividing over secondary issues. Paul puts the gospel of Christ crucified back at the heart of the church and church planting.
Those whose primary concern is church can too easily get absorbed with the internal dynamics or structures of the church so that getting the church community life ‘right’ becomes the priority.
Church planting is part of normal church life. At present church planting carries a certain mystique. Church planters are portrayed as a unique kind of rugged pioneer. But we need to create a culture in which transplanting is normal. Every local church should be aiming to transplant and raise up church planters. (94-5)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Total Church: Social Involvement

A Welcome for the poor and marginalized

Chester and Timmis see that many of the divisions within evangelicalism are as much about social class as theological differences. In one direction people are seen as vulgar; in the other direction people are seen as snobbish. Why does this matter? It matters because they feel that we are failing to reach the working class with the gospel. Evangelicalism has become a largely middle-class, professional phenomenon (74). (I would add that it depends on how you define evangelicalism. There are many pentecostal and fundamentalist groups that do reach certain segments of the working class)

A word for the poor and marginalized

In recent decades evangelism and social involvement have come to be viewed as alternatives or, if not exactly as alternatives, then as separate activities which need to be held in balance.

Chester and Timmis want to make three assertions about the relationship between evangelism and social action:

  1. Evangelism and social action are distinct activities – good social action is about harnessing the insights and resources of the poor, but the gospel is a message from outside that is addressed to us in spiritual helplessness and powerlessness.
  2. Proclamation is central – social action without proclamation is like a signpost pointing nowhere.
  3. Evangelism and social action are inseparable

They compare this balance to their desires for their own children. They do desire from their children might be reconciled to God through the gospel. This desire does not mean they are unconcerned about their temporal needs. But they do not simply teach them the Bible. They try to create a loving home in which they can experience life as a blessing. But still the greatest concern is to teach and model the gospel of salvation. It is the same with the poor and marginalized. (76)

A community for the poor marginalized

Poor people want to be included and not just judged and “rescued” at times of crisis.” The poor are, for the most part, those who are powerless and marginal.

Rescuing the poor: if it never moves beyond this, it reinforces the dependency and helplessness at the heart of poverty. The poor remain passive. It does not produce lasting or sustainable change. (77).

It is all about working with the poor to identify their problems, to develop solutions, to monitor progress, to evaluate outcomes. The poor want more than projects; they want to participate in community. “…I want…someone to be my friend.” (78)

The best thing we can do for the poor is offer them a place of welcome and community. Our first priority in social involvement is to be the church, a community of welcome to, and inclusion of, the marginalized.

But what about the rich? Are they also needy? Yes. Should we also evangelize them? Yes. The rich have many social needs. We need to pay attention to Luke’s pitch to Theophilus and Jesus’ call to the rich within the Gospel. It is not a domesticated, individualistic offer of salvation divorced from the day-to-day realities of life in a fallen world. Luke’s call is for Theophilus to side with the marginalized just as Jesus did. (79-80).

People sometimes claim it is a question of calling. They do not dispute the validity of ministry to the poor, but feel their calling is to the rich. That is not Luke’s pitch to Theophilus. And it does not explain why God apparently calls far more people to prosperous areas than he does to the poorer areas of the nation. (80).

The church today is growing among the shanty towns of Africa, and the favelas and barrios of Latin America. When we look at church throughout the world, God is choosing the weak and lowly to shame the power and wealth of the West. (81).

Monday, March 15, 2010

Total Church: Evangelism

Gospel and Community in Practice (Part 2)
The gospel word is central in evangelism
Francis of Assisi is alleged to have said: “Preach the gospel always; if necessary using words.” It may be a great medieval sound bite, but it falls short of what the Bible teaches about evangelism. (And I believe it falls short of what St. Francis actually said).
The gospel message often becomes skewed towards me and how Jesus meets my needs. But the gospel Jesus proclaimed is about God exercising his life-giving rule through his Messiah for his glory. Thus, it is important for us to tell people the good news about Jesus.

The gospel community is central in evangelism
The gospel word and the gospel community are closely connected. The word creates and nourishes the community while the community proclaims and embodies the word.
That is why Jesus ends his injunction with the words: “All men will know you are my disciples if you love one another.” Before they are preachers, leaders or church planters, the disciples are to be lovers! This is the test of whether or not they have known Jesus.
People want a form of evangelism they can stick in their schedule, switch off and go home from. Jesus calls us to a lifestyle of love. Yet the new command of Jesus suggests that, whatever advances John made in the second scenario, there is a further vital dimension.
Christian community is a vital part of Christian mission.
In our experience people are often attracted to the Christian community before they are attracted to the Christian message.
My answer is to find ways of introducing them to the Christian community…Too much evangelism is an attempt to answer questions people are not asking.

The three strands of evangelism
Building relationship – Sharing the gospel – Introducing people to community.

A community project
By making evangelism a community project, it also takes seriously the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in distributing a variety of gifts among his people. It relieves some people who don't necessarily have the "gift of evangelism" (that is talking to strangers about Jesus) but allows them to be involved in evangelism as they are involved in community.

Ordinary life, gospel intentionality
Most gospel ministry involves ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality.
But the ‘ordinary’ is only a vehicle for Christian mission if there is gospel intentionality. The ordinary needs to be saturated with a commitment to living and proclaiming the gospel…Otherwise we simply form good relationships that never go anywhere.
The Crowded House folks try to create this culture by regularly teaching our values, celebrating gospel opportunities, setting aside time each Sunday to share what we have been doing, ‘commissioning’ people as missionaries in their workplaces and social clubs. Above all we model the culture for one another so that it becomes the normal thing to do…We need Christian communities to which we introduce people. These communities must be communities in which “God-talk” is normal. This means talking about what we are reading in the Bible, praying together whenever we share needs, delighting together in the gospel, sharing our spiritual struggles, not only with Christians but with unbelievers.
At the same time we try to make our meetings less strange to unbelievers.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Total Church: Why Community?

Total Church: Why Community
Paul emphasizes here, and in many other places, that Christ wants to create “a people”, not merely isolated individuals who believe in him (see Titus 2.14). We are not saved individually and then choose to join the church as if it were some club or support group. Christ died for his people and we are saved when by faith we become part of the people for whom Christ died (37).

The Christian community is central to Christian identity
The Bible shows that we are communal creatures, made to be lovers of God and of others. Genesis 2 underlines this as the writer tells us that the only thing in all creation that is not good is the man on his own (v. 18).
Into our pervasively individualistic world-view, we speak the gospel message of reconciliation, unity and identity as the people of God. This is perhaps the most significant “culture gap” which the church has to bridge.
Today it is often difficult for people to contemplate conversion to Christ if that means distancing themselves from their existing networks, especially if those are the close bonds of a minority community such as those found in the gay community or among ethnic minorities. They need a new home. In The Crowded House they have also found some people wanting to be part of their church community not initially because they were interested in Christ, but because they wanted a kinder, gentler alternative to their existing network of relationships.
The NT word for community is koinonia, often translated by the now anemic word ‘fellowship’. Koinonia is linked to the words “common”, “sharing”, “participation.” We are the community of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13.14) in community with the Son (1 Cor. 1.9): sharing our lives (1 Thes. 2.8), sharing our property (Acts 4.32), sharing the gospel (Phil. 1.5; Phile 6) and sharing in Christ’s suffering and glory (2 cor. 1.6-7; 1 Pet. 4.13).
At the center or hub of life is not me as an individual, but us as members of the Christian community.

The Christian community is central to Christian mission
God is a missionary God and God’s primary missionary method is his covenant people.
The church is not something additional or optional. It is at the very heart of God’s purposes. Jesus came to create a people who would model what it means to live under his rule. It would be a glorious outpost of the kingdom of God: an embassy of heaven. This is where the world can see what it means to be truly human.
Our identity as human beings is found in community. Our identity as Christians is found in Christ’s new community. And our mission takes place through communities of faith. Christianity is ‘total church.’

If you warm to this vision of Christian community then start where you are. Sell the vision by modeling the vision. Become a blessing by offering hospitality, showing practical care, dropping in on people…Create something that other people want to be part of (48).