Jun 24, 2013

The Cross and the Kingdom

by Doug Wightman and Martin Wightman

Imagine you are living in a beautiful house. The house is spacious and full of people. In the east end of this mansion, there is a spectacular view of the sunrise, if you care to wake up early enough to see it. On the west side: an equally stunning vista at sunset. The residents, though, have begun to argue. Those in the east end start talking among themselves: “The sunrise begins the day; it is full of pinks and yellows. It’s not just breathtaking, it is the first, best way of seeing the world out there.” Those who live in the west end protest: “Looking west at the end of the day is mesmerizing. The red and orange and blue – really, who needs the sunrise when you have this?”

It’s an odd argument to be having.

As Christians, we are one house, so we are told. Naturally, there are different viewpoints on all sorts of issues, but our foundation is the same. But within this house there are two distinct ways of looking at the world “out there”.

We are not speaking of denominations, but about fundamental approaches to Christian life and ministry that are often rooted in our personalities and our experiences of life. Let’s give names to these groups, and, in broad strokes, define them. We’ll call the first group “Cross Christians” and the second group “Kingdom Christians.” Cross Christians look out on the world and see sinners who are unreconciled to God; human beings who need salvation before dying. Eternity awaits! But what will it bring for all the people out there? Kingdom Christians look out on the world and see human beings living in God’s world, but with all sorts of damage brought to that good creation. Life awaits, but what about all the pain and brokenness and sin and injustice? What does Jesus say about those things?

Both groups have strong Biblical support for their positions, and both feel that their emphasis is very important in the overall Biblical teaching. And both are right. The problem is that, instead of being united with each other, some members of each camp push their emphasis in such a way as to minimize the other perspective; emphasizing the sunrise at the expense of the sunset.

The practical outcome can be that Christians who should be together, and could be together, are not together; what ought to be a solid alliance is only an uneasy truce. Further, some of these Christians can become suspicious or defensive or argumentative — perhaps you have met some on one or the other end of the house. (Unfortunate souls may have met some from both ends of the house!) We are convinced that this is neither good nor necessary. We believe that both viewpoints are correct in what they claim, and only go astray if they deny the validity of the other. We want to show, briefly, that both truly are solidly rooted in Scripture. And, working from the principle that Scripture does not contradict itself, we want to affirm that the great themes of Cross and Kingdom do indeed complement each other — that each side needs the other for the greatest health and strength of the church.

Consider what God’s Word says. You could start by looking up the word “kingdom” in a concordance. It occurs frequently in the Bible, doesn’t it? More particularly, it occurs with great frequency in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Why does this matter? Because the fundamental message of Jesus had to do with the “kingdom of God.” Matthew, Mark and Luke all portray Jesus as announcing the good news of the kingdom of God (sometimes called the kingdom of heaven, especially in Matthew). Not only did he announce it, Jesus told many parables about it. He used similes: “The kingdom of God is like … ” He talked about those who were the greatest in the kingdom, he talked about entering the kingdom, he talked about the nearness of the kingdom, and he even used the expression “my kingdom.” John’s gospel, although much different in style from the first three, nevertheless includes important kingdom teaching. These statistics explain why some readers who focus on Jesus find the theme of the kingdom of God pervasive – not just a theme, but the theme.

It gets more interesting. Looking further at a concordance, you can see that the occurrence of the word “kingdom” is much less frequent after the gospels. In fact, both Mark and Luke have more occurrences of the word “kingdom” than are found from Acts to Revelation, inclusive. This does not mean that the idea is no longer important in those other books, but the difference is striking. Something else emerges as we scan our concordances and the New Testament: the death of Jesus (as seen in such words as “cross,” “blood,” “death,” and “sacrifice,” for example) assumes much greater prominence from the book of Acts onwards. If a reader concentrates on, for example, the letters of Paul, or the letter to the Hebrews, he/she will naturally conclude that the death of Christ — and its explosive ramifications — is the primary theme of the New Testament.

Here is a simple observation: the Biblical teaching about the cross, no matter how important the cross actually is, was not likely to be very extensive before the actual event. Although Jesus predicted his death, and explained some of its meaning to his puzzled disciples, they did not understand it very well, and (to some extent), didn’t believe that Jesus was right. It was only with the resurrection of Jesus that the message of the cross became understood by the apostles, and made sense as a presentation of God’s good news. It is important to understand that before the cross, Jesus was proclaiming good news — the good news of God’s saving intervention in history — but that he used the language of the kingdom, which would have been very familiar to his listeners, raised as they were with the Old Testament Scriptures.

The book of Acts uses transitional language, simply saying that the good news was about Jesus. By the time we get to the book of Romans, the term “good news” is relatively rare; it has been replaced, in a sense, by the word “gospel.” (And, of course, the word “gospel” means “good news.”) The New Testament sequence is something like this: the good news of the kingdom of God, the good news about Jesus, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The good news in the New Testament is about Jesus Christ, his kingdom, and his cross. They are all indivisible. The New Testament authors were writing in the midst of this unpacking process, grappling with the unexpected way that God, in Jesus, had become the Messiah. There is a King, there is a kingdom, and there is a way of entering that kingdom. We are not born as citizens, and our sin disqualifies us from citizenship. In his cross, Jesus provides the way for us to enter his kingdom family. This is God’s way of doing it; we are required to repent of sin and believe in King Jesus. The message of the cross speaks clearly to those who know they are outside the kingdom, know why, and want to find their way in. From a different (not contradictory!) perspective, the message of the kingdom speaks to those who know something is drastically wrong with the world, and long for a new order, ruled by a good King, characterized by justice and peace.

Surely these themes are not in opposition. The truth that they belong together can be seen from the phrase that begins the majority of the New Testament epistles: “Grace and peace to you… .” Grace is God’s free favour to undeserving sinners, nowhere seen with more clarity than in the atoning cross of his Son. Peace is the resulting state of health, well-being, and harmony that Jesus envisaged when he prayed, “your kingdom come.” He not only prayed for it, he achieved it in his ministry and death, and will bring it to completion when he returns. Cross and kingdom, kingdom and cross. Christians today need to connect these themes, not separate them; see their Biblical underpinnings, not close their eyes to what God has set forth, and rejoice that both are completely part of God’s big story. One Christian might find the kingdom theme deeply motivating and spend his life working for justice in a particular area. Another Christian might find the idea of the cross and justification so moving and powerful that she spends her life telling others about the Easter story, and what it means for eternity. Both are doing God’s work, in the way that makes sense to them. And, though different, they can be fully united, each recognizing the value of the other, and both seeing the bigger, wider picture.

To return to the house once more: we must be people who, together as a body, don’t just theorize about which view of the world is the best or the more urgent. We need to be thinking and living “outside the house,” interacting with the world in a way that honours our unique wiring as individuals, and participating corporately in both evangelism and the restoring of justice and peace, for now and forever.

Apr 3, 2013

Gutenberg's Revenge and Other Thoughts

I suppose after that last post, the next logical step would be to muse a little about the revenge effects of the various technologies we've introduced to church ministry itself. When the Gutenberg Press took the Bible out of the hands of the priesthood and put it firmly into the hands of every believer-- with the laudable intention of building biblically literate, thus better, Christian communities-- I don't suppose anyone could have guessed that it might also be putting deep cracks in the foundations of Christian community, by pushing the individual's "interpretation" of the Good Book to the centre of Christian experience and pushing the community to the edge. Did Gutenberg get its revenge (mused the blogger) by filling the pews with a hundred personal popes piously practicing their private versions of the Faith, ready and able to leave when the interpretive going got tough? Is the embarrassing fragmentation of the church today part of the Gutenberg legacy?

Not that I would want to go back to the gloom of the pre-Gutenberg era, mind you... any more than I would want to go back to my pre-HTC Dream life... but perhaps if we can name the unintended effects of our technology, we can make more informed choices about when, why and how to use it.

So, off the top of my head, here are a few possible "revenge effects" of technology in the Church:

In an effort to make our preaching more effective, we've introduced a variety of presentation technologies behind the pulpit. Has this had the unintended effect of shackling our sermons to ideas that fit neatly on to PowerPoint slides and shackling our preachers to what's written on the screen?
In an effort to make our music more engaging, we've replaced hymnals with screens. Has this had the unintended effect of alienating people from the songs they're singing because they no longer have the music in front of them?

In an effort to make worship more dynamic, we've amplified everything. Has this had the unintended effect of deafening us to the voice of God and the voices of each other in our gathered times?

In an effort to make our faith more "relevant" we've introduced a wide variety of media to our worship, from video montage, to film clips, to Christianesque imagery moving behind the song lyrics on the PowerPoint slide. Has this had the unintended effect of making us less able to recognize the deeply relevant but counter-cultural aspects of life with God (things like stillness, Sabbath, quiet, simplicity)?

These are real questions, not just rhetorical points. And even if the answer is "yes" to any of them, that doesn't mean the technology itself must go (*just wait, I'm getting a call on my phone*). But if we can see the "revenge effects" of our own cleverness like this, we will also begin to see, I think, the limitations of our cleverness. And to see our own limitations is to take a humble step towards deeper dependence on God.

Mar 27, 2013

Can We Talk?

by Dale Harris.  First appeared on terra incognita, October 4, 2009. 

One of the things I find indispensably useful in my work as a pastor is my HTC Smart Phone. I confess this with not a little sheepishness, because there was a time when I held out against cell phones on principle. And now, here I am, with no mere cell phone, but a touch-sensitive cellular communications device with instant access to email, gmail, text messages and chatting, roaming internet, youtube viewing and GPS capabilities. It's like a member of PETA getting caught on camera sporting a fur coat.

Now I say I held out because for a long time I had this sense that cell phone technology stunted the growth of genuine community by making us so independent and self-sufficient that we no longer need to have any real connection with the actual flesh-and-blood human beings around us. For example: time was when my car broke down on the side of the highway I would have to knock on the neighbour's door and ask for help; and more often that not, they would. Now I can call nameless, faceless roadside assistance from the comfort of my car (and view a variety of inane Youtube clips while I'm waiting for them to come).

I was talking about this with a friend a way back when cell phones were just exploding on the scene, and she told me that she found her cell phone helpful because when she had to walk home from her university classes at night and felt unsafe, she could call her dad to come meet her. Then she said: "Of course, if I didn't have the cell phone, I'd have to get to know the other students in the class well enough that I could walk home with one of them..." And I think that was my point in the hold-out days: I felt that roaming communications technologies like cell phones allowed us to seal up our spheres of influence so tightly that the strangers around us never had to be anything more than strangers.

And maybe there's a kernel of truth there.

But here I am with my HTC Smart Phone and it is, as I said earlier, indispensably useful.

But I'm also wondering about the revenge effects of such technology.

Author and social scientist Edward Tenner argues that all technologies have a natural tendency to "bite back" with "revenge effects" on the societies into which they are introduced. His theory is that societies are really just systems that constantly seek the "status quo." He suggests that as new technologies significantly upset this status quo, the system itself will naturally adjust in unexpected, unintended, even unconscious ways to counteract their effect, and so maintain the status quo.

Example 1: As we introduce a plethora of ingenious time-saving appliances to the kitchen, the system adjusts to maintain a status quo of busy-ness: once it's been freed from meal prep-and-clean-up hours, it's possible to overload our evening schedule with other things, and so we find ourselves busier than ever.

Example 2 (and perhaps more to the point): As communications devices make communication increasingly clear and easy, we find our actual communicating and decision-making processes more (not less) cloudy and confused because now everything has to be answered and decided and acted on under the tyranny of the now.

I'm not sure if Turner's on to anything or not (though they say that the advent of email has significantly increased-- not decreased-- paper consumption in the office workplace). But I do know this: the other day a friend called me at home and when I picked up the phone he said: "Finally found you." He'd tried my gmail, left a message on my voice mail, called my office phone, and when he couldn't get me at any of these he tried me at home. All the ways to connect with me, it seems, had actually made me harder to find.

Vengeance is mine, sayeth HTC.

Mar 4, 2013

"In Christ Alone" and Atonement Theology

by John Vlanic

I love a great deal about the worship song, "In Christ Alone." I think that it strikes me as so good in so many ways that for a long time I was able to use my gifting in obliviousness to blot out any real awareness of the phrase, “And on that cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.”

There has been a long debate over the meaning of Christ’s death. The names of great Christian thinkers have been attached to one side or the other. One of the crucial issues has been the correct way to translate the “hilasterion” word group.

Some have wanted to understand that word as referring to “propitiation”, the act of gaining or regaining the favor or goodwill of someone, as in the example in one English dictionary: “He made an offering to propitiate the angry gods.” Others have seen it as referring to the removal of the problem between the deity and the person who needed the “hilas-” work.

Thus I John 2:2 gets quite a range of translations:

King James Version And he is the propitiation for our sins Revised Standard Version and he is the expiation for our sins New International Version He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins New Revised Standard Version and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins New Living Translation He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins The Message When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good

Much needless polarization and unChristlike nastiness resulted in some circles over the years from the dropping of ‘propitiation’ in most modern translations, and, more recently, as some evangelicals are questioning the use of “penal satisfaction” language for the work of Christ.

I have long felt that ‘expiate’ was more true to what the New Testament authors were trying to say, but have been grateful for the “atoning sacrifice” language (which steps around the problem a bit) in the NIV and NRSV.

Interestingly, not long ago I heard a prominent and respected evangelical pastor/teacher say he has real reservations about the song “In Christ Alone” because of the inaccurate view of God and of salvation that it presents through the use of that phrase. It was then that I realized I had suppressed that issue in an otherwise beautiful song.

Then I read the book arising from the debate in among evangelicals in England about this issue, Derek Tidball, David Hilborn & Justin Thacker, eds., The Atonement Debate: Papers from the London Symposium on the Theology of the Atonement (Zondervan, 2008).

More recently I was reading a book of essays by one of the finest New Testament scholars of the past century. I found in that book a short note on this issue, and saw in the footnote that it was occasioned by the words “the wrath of God was satisfied” in the worship song, “In Christ Alone.”

The scholar is C. F. D. Moule. After Moule's death in 2007 a couple of volumes of his notes written since his retirement from Cambridge University have been published. One of them is Christ Alive and At Large: Unpublished Writings of C. F. D. Moule, edited and introduced by Robert Morgan and Patrick Moule (Canterbury Press, 2010). On pp. 113-114, we read his thoughts after hearing “In Christ Alone” sung in his church.

His careful survey of the New Testament evidence seems to me to make the matter clear. I wish we could get the authors of “In Christ Alone” to fix their song by improving on Moule’s own suggestion at the end of this article.

To me, this is not a small technicality. It has to do with the nature of God, and the nature of salvation. If a seeker were present while we were to sing that song, I would not want him or her to get the erroneous notion that we Christ-followers believe that a loving Jesus died to placate the wrath of an angry God. That is NOT what the New Testament teaches, as Moule demonstrates below.

Then I wondered what the Free Methodist Church said about this. It turns out that I think Professor Moule would have been happy to read the words in ¶115 of our Articles of Religion:

¶115 THE NEW LIFE IN CHRIST A new life and a right relationship with God are made possible through the redemptive acts of God in Jesus Christ.

Note that it does not say that Jesus Christ did something to God in the atonement, but rather that God – in Christ – provided the atonement!

Enjoy Moule’s explanation below!
John W. Vlainic
January 2013

P.S. I know that someone will ask if I have read ¶114.

¶114 CHRIST’S SACRIFICE Christ offered once and for all the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. No other satisfaction for sin is necessary; none other can atone. I don’t know the history of ¶114, or what in particular is meant by “satisfaction”. It may be a remnant from the “penal” view, but I would comment that if our deity is “satisfied” to have the blockage removed, then it doesn’t need to be “penal”. And I would point out that the next, ¶115, makes it clear that Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins did not do something to God, for God was in Christ, doing the atoning.

P.P.S. Moule also has a section in the book, “Sacrifice and propitiation — do the words belong in the proclaiming of the Christian gospel?” (pp. 182-185).. Table of Contents of the book is attached.


Some Christians speak of Christ as making an alienated God propi¬tious by the offering of himself as a sacrifice on our behalf. This is alien to the startlingly original thought of the New Testament. In the Old Testament the idea of propitiating God by sacrifices and other means is indeed common enough; but in the NT it is almost extinguished.

The root behind Greek words for propitiation (hilas-) shows itself eight times in the NT. The verb (‘make [someone] propitious’ or, with¬out an expressed recipient, ‘make propitiation’) occurs in Luke 18.13, in the penitent tax-collector's prayer to God: ‘be made propitious to me’, and in Hebrews 2.17 in a description of an Old Testament priest’s duty to ‘propitiate sins’ (presumably there meaning ‘to propitiate God regarding sins’). An adjectival form, hileos, comes at Matthew 16.22 (Peter's protesting exclamation ‘[God] have mercy on you!’) and at Heb¬rews 8.12, in a quotation from Jeremiah 31 where God promises that he will be ‘propitious to sins’ (i.e. sinners?).

The neuter noun, hilasterion, is, in the Greek OT, a term for what, in the Authorized Version, comes out as the ‘mercy seat’ — the throne of God overshadowed by the cherubim, on (or as) the lid of the ‘ark’ in the Tabernacle or temple sanctuary. In the NT it occurs at Hebrews 9.5, simply as that item in the Tabernacle, but, importantly, also at Romans 3.25, with reference to Jesus Christ, ‘whom God set forth [or ‘designated beforehand’?] hilasterion’, i.e. ‘as a mercy seat’ (if the word is meant as a noun) or (if it is an adjective) ‘with propitiatory power’ (though, as we shall see, ‘expiatory’ power would be preferable). Finally, hilasmos, a noun meaning 'a propitiation' or 'a propitiatory sacrifice' occurs as a description of Christ at I John 2.2; 4.10. At 4.10 God is specified as (not receiving but) himself sending Christ as hilasmos.

Thus, what, for our purposes, is important is that in the NT God is not spoken of as the recipient of what is referred to, but that, where its initiator is mentioned, he is the subject, not the object: Romans 3.25; I John 4.10. If, then, God is the subject or originator, not the object or recipient, of hilas- procedures, it is manifestly inappropriate to translate them as propitiatory; one is driven to use a word such as ‘expiatory’, which has as its object not propitiating a wrathful God but removing a barrier. It is this which is expressed in the famous words of z Corinthians 5.19: ‘God was, in [or ‘by’?] Christ reconciling the world to himself’. So far from being propitiated, God it is who initiates the necessary ‘expiation’, himself ‘one’ with his Beloved Son. ‘In Christ's name, be reconciled to God’ (2 Cor. 5 .20) is the Christian exhortation, for ‘God made him who knew no sin to be sin [?sin-offering] on our behalf.’ Regularly, God is the initiation of the action, not its recipient. The only exception in the NT is at Ephesians 5.2, where ‘Christ gave himself up on our behalf as an offering and sacrifice to God for a fragrant perfume’ — a virtual quotation from the standard propitiatory language of the OT.

In the Johannine writings a further metaphor is introduced — that of advocacy. John 16 speaks, it seems, of the Holy Spirit as an Advocate, a Paraclete, and I John 2 uses the same language of Christ. By itself, such language might suggest a friend to plead our cause before an alienated Judge; but that is hardly compatible with John 16.26f.: ‘I do not say that I will ask the Father concerning you, for the father himself loves you. . .’.

I submit, then, that NT usage virtually prohibits the translation ‘pro¬pitiate’, ‘propitiation’, and necessitates the use of some word with God as subject and sin as object, e.g. 'expiate', in the sense of paying the price for sin’s annulment. This is not the only instance of what seems like the centrifugal force of the Christian gospel spinning an OT con¬cept to the circumference, if not beyond, in favour of the astonishing conviction at its centre, classically stated at 2 Corinthians 5.19, ‘God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself’.

Every reconciliation costs an untold price — the price of forgiveness, the price of repentance. In Christ, both God and man, that price is paid, absolutely and finally. Nowhere in the NT is it said that the wrath of God was satisfied by the death of Jesus. Rather, it is God himself in Jesus Christ who pays the cost for sin. I haven’t the smallest spark of lyricism in me, but we need something like, but infinitely better than:

Till in the blood of his dear Son
The love of God redemption won.

From: C. F. D. Moule, CHRIST ALIVE AND AT LARGE: UNPUBLISHED WRITINGS OF C. F. D. MOULE, edited and introduced by Robert Morgan and Patrick Moule (Canterbury Press, 2010), pp. 113-114.

Feb 18, 2013

On Temptation

by Matthew McEwen

“On re-reading this book ten years after I wrote it, I find its chief faults to be those two which I myself least easily forgive in the books of other men: needless obscurity, and uncharitable temper.” This was how C.S. Lewis began the afterword to the third edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress, his first novel following his conversion. Although the book is challenging and often difficult to understand, there is a scene in the story that is a vivid description of temptation. Before going to the passage describing temptation, here is how the subject of temptation is handled in Scripture:

In the Bible there are two different, but effective examples of responding to temptation. In Genesis chapter 39, Joseph runs out of the house when his master’s wife makes advances on him. He left the source of temptation as quickly as possible. But sometimes escape seems impossible and the temptation lingers. In those situations, the Gospels present us with a scene where Jesus responds to the ongoing temptation by quoting Scripture (Luke 4). As Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” while James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” When it comes to temptation, there is always a way out. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1st Corinthians 10:13.

Here is how C.S. Lewis described the feeling of temptation from his story, The Pilgrim’s Regress:
They resumed their journey, John lagged a bit. I dreamed that the witch came to him walking softly in the marshy ground by the roadside and holding out the cup to him also: when he went faster she kept pace with him.

"I will not deceive you," she said. "You see there is no pretence. I am not trying to make you believe that this cup will take you to your Island. I am not saying it will quench your thirst for long. But taste it, none the less, for you are very thirsty."

But John walked forward in silence.

"It is true," said the witch, "that you can never tell when you have reached the point beyond which there is no return. But that cuts both ways. If you can never be certain that one more taste is safe, neither can you be certain that one more taste is fatal. But you can be certain that you are terribly thirsty."

But John continued as before.

"At least" said the witch, "have one more taste of it, before you abandon it for ever. This is a bad moment to choose resistance, when you are tired and miserable and have already listened to me too long. Taste this once, and I will leave you. I do not promise never to come back: but perhaps when I come again you will be strong and happy and well able to resist me -- not as you are now."

And John continued as before.

"Come," said the witch. "You are only wasting time. You know you will give in, in the end. Look ahead at the hard road and the grey sky. What other pleasure is there in sight?"

So she accompanied him for a long way, till the weariness of her importunity tempted him far more than any positive desire. But he forced his mind to other things and kept himself occupied for a mile or so by making the following verse….

When Lilith means to draw me
Within her secret bower,
She does not overawe me
With beauty's pomp and power
Nor, with angelic grace
Of courtesy, and the pace
Of gliding ships, come veiled at evening hour.
Eager, unmasked, she lingers
Heart-sick and hunger sore
With hot, dry, jewelled fingers
Stretched out, beside her door,
Offering with gnawing haste
Her cup, whereof who taste,
(She promises no better) thirst far more.
What moves me, then, to drink it?
--Her spells, which all around
So change the land, we think it
A great waste where a sound
Of wind like the tales twice told
Blusters, and cloud is rolled
Always above yet no rain falls to the ground.
Across drab iteration
Of bare hills, line on line
The long road's sinuation
Leads on. The witch's wine,
Though promising nothing, seems
In that land of no streams,
To promise the best -- the unrelished anodyne.

And by the time he had reached the word anodyne the witch was gone.

Feb 4, 2013


by Greg Pulham

My wife and I are part of what some call “the sandwich generation” – one slice of bread is children we are still supporting; the other slice of bread is parents who require an increasing amount of our care. As the meat in this sandwich, we don’t always enjoy life in with the mayonnaise and mustard.

I am finding that I am also part of another “sandwich generation” – one that exists in the church.

One slice of bread in this sandwich is the traditional church of which I am lead pastor. With 125 years of ministry history, my church firmly belongs in the category which has been variously called “modern,” or “maintenance,” or most recently “attractional.” They are a wonderful, devoted group of believers, some of whom I’ve lived with as part this community for more than 25 years now as a lay person and a pastor.

The other slice of bread is the missional-incarnational impulse that is coming alive in me. For several years now (since I first heard the word “missional” from Gary Nelson at our 2004 Minister’s Conference), I have been trying to create (or awaken?) a missional identity in my church. It has been tremendously challenging work, and often frustrating. I have to confess that at times I have wanted to give up my traditional church and my traditional pastor’s job description to be part of something new, something cutting edge, something making a visible kingdom impact in the world.

I am part of a “sandwich generation” – pastors with burgeoning missional impulses who fill traditional pastoral roles in non-missional communities. The movement of the Spirit often conflicts with the expectations of the congregation. Pastoral ministry has never been easy, but I think for this generation, there are complex and thorny challenges.

Some in this sandwich generation will feel called to respond energetically to the missional-incarnational impulse. They will give up their traditional churches and pastoral roles and find genuine fulfilment in pursuit of God’s call in the hard work of birthing radical new missional communities. Others will remain, working hard and praying that the traditional churches they pastor will someday also be truly missional communities.

Alan Hirsch writes, “My great hope for the church is that in actual fact Apostolic Genius is not something that we have to impose on the church, as if it were something alien to us, but rather is something that already exists in us. It is us! It is our truest expression as Jesus’ people. And because this is so, we simply need to awaken and cultivate it.” (The Forgotten Ways, 244)

I share this hope, and so, while the urge to leave is sometimes strong, I believe that God wants me to stay behind to awaken and cultivate a missional-incarnational identity in the community of faith in which He has placed me. While the kingdom dream certainly needs visionary, entrepreneurial pastors who will blaze the trail of missional living, there is also a need for missionally-hearted pastors – pastors who would rather be trail blazing – to continue to work within traditional church communities to lead them out into missional-incarnational space.

Whichever road is taken will require sacrifice for God’s kingdom dream. I hope you will pray for this sandwich generation of pastors.

Jan 28, 2013

The Great Divorce and Plato

by Matthew McEwen

Books like Howard Snyder’s Salvation Means Creation Healed or Steven Bouma-Prediger’s For the Beauty of the Earth have done much to reframe a theology of the physical world, replacing a more common Platonic world view that considers matter and the stuff of earth to be worthless or even evil. Although C.S. Lewis is one of my favourite authors, I used to be concerned about his use of Plato in his writings. A clear example of this Platonic influence can be seen in his work, The Great Divorce. In that story, souls from hell are granted an excursion to the outskirts of heaven. What they left was a Gray town (with shops that sold the works of Aristotle), and what they came to was a place alive with colour. The crowd from hell, or the gray town, felt like ghosts and shadows once they arrive in a place that is described as being solid. A single blade of grass would not bend under the feet of the ghosts, and even water in the river nearby was solid enough for a ghost to walk on it.

According to The C.S. Lewis Reader’s Encyclopedia:
Lewis had a high regard for Plato, the great Greek Philosopher. In his final Narnia Chronicle (The Last Battle) Lewis had the professor say, “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!” What Lewis admired most about Plato was his metaphysics. Plato believed that there are two real worlds, not one. There is the world of changing physical things that we apprehend by means of our senses, and there is the world of eternally true ideas that we apprehend by means of our minds. Plato was looking for stable things in a world of change; he found this stability in Being in contrast with becoming, in forms or ideas in contrast with matter or particulars, in the invisible and eternal in contrast with the visible and the temporal.

I found a blog with an article called “Unshakeable Reality” that considers this contrast between the shadow and solid reality in The Great Divorce with teaching from the Scripture. From that blog:
“Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:26-29). We dwell among “things that are being shaken,” but are receiving “a kingdom which cannot be shaken.” St. Paul does with shaking what Lewis does with solid. It is the less solid, the less stable, which can be shaken. Or, as St. Paul says, “the things that are made.” It is the things that are merely “created” that can be shaken. Only the uncreated remains. It is beyond understanding, but the promise of the fathers (and here in the Scriptures) is that in Christ we are to become “uncreated by grace.” God alone is “uncreated.” But by His grace, we become partakers of His uncreated life (which alone is unshakeable).

This blog made me re-think my understanding of what Lewis was trying to communicate in The Great Divorce. The contrast between shadow and solid reality in that story was not to reject or despise the created order or physical realm. The opposite is true. In the preface Lewis writes:

But what, you ask, of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.

Creation is included in the description of the landscape of the Heavenly realm, including details such as grass, apples and a river with a waterfall. Near the end of the story there is a procession that came from a nearby forest, and at the centre of all the commotion was woman named Sarah Smith. She was a person of no importance on earth, but someone special in Heaven. In addition to angels in Saint Sarah’s procession, there were also children singing a song of beauty, and animals. Among the animals were dozens of cats, countless number of dogs, birds and horses. Confused, Lewis asks his spiritual mentor if this woman kept a zoo. His teacher answers, “Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.” (Musician Phil Woodward has set this scene to music: http://www.ghostsandspirits.net/the-album/saint-sarah/). Far from denying or rejecting the importance of the created realm, The Great Divorce affirms the beauty of the earth and presents a picture of salvation as being creation healed.


Jan 14, 2013

Forgiving Ourselves?

by Beverly Kay

Over the summer months I have been wrestling with a concept that is very prevalent in current secular thinking, trying to see if it matches up with Biblical Truths regarding the power of forgiveness. The concept that I am grappling with is that of forgiving ourselves. As people in our world strive to deal with guilt or self-loathing, very often they are encouraged to not be so hard on themselves, after all being human means making mistakes. Nobody is perfect, so they are told to simply forgive themselves and move on. Somehow, this teaching just doesn’t sit right with me. It seems to smack of self justification. If I have the power to forgive and justify myself, then I don’t need a Saviour to pay my debt and to reconcile me with my Maker. As I have searched scripture there seems to be only two types of forgiveness mentioned.

The first is the forgiveness that comes from God Himself, made available to us through the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus our Lord. We receive this forgiveness when we agree with God about two things. First we must agree with God that our action or attitude is truly sinful, it has broken the law of God and it bares the weight of penalty. This is just as real in our lives as breaking a traffic law and having to pay the fine. If we lie, or steal, or covet, or walk in pride, etc. then we are guilty of sin. The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23) Secondly, we must agree with God that the penalty for our sin has been paid for, that the death of Christ on the cross is sufficient payment for our sin. It is in agreeing with God that we are forgiven, cleansed, made new because of the gift of grace offered to us in Christ Jesus. In receiving this gift of Grace we find freedom from guilt and condemnation that had been ours because of sin. That is the good news of the Gospel that Paul shares in Romans 8:1&2, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” We cannot short cut to forgiveness of self. We have no authority apart from Christ Jesus to be set free from the law of sin and death put in place by God in the garden.

The second form of forgiveness comes only after we have received the first. This is the authority in Christ Jesus to forgive others who have sinned against us. As children of God, through our faith in Christ Jesus (John 1:12), we are to become like our Heavenly Father (Ephesians 5:1&2). As we live out this life of love, we are called to be “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” As God’s children we are to extend to others the same grace and mercy that we have received from our Father. We cannot absolve someone else of their sin, but we have the joy of refusing to hold their sins against them, extending to them love rather than seeking revenge or hating them in our hearts.

It is so easy to allow the subtle twisting of God’s truth by the world to enter into our thinking and our council of others. Let us strive to remain in alignment with the truth of scripture, and remember there is only One who has the power to forgive, and that is God Himself. It is only by His power at work in us that we have the authority to forgive others, and to revel in the joy that comes as we receive freedom from our sin through faith in the work of Christ Jesus on the cross!