Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Theology and Mission

Some quotes from Chester & Timmis Total Church, from their chapter on theology. [quotes from pp.151-153

Meaningful theology needs to take place primarily in the routine life of the people of God. It needs to be discourse that engages with life and arises out of life.

Mission is the opportunity to rethink which elements of what we believe do belong to the gospel and which in fact belong to our culture.

We need to rethink all of theology in missionary terms because every situation is a missionary situation. We need a missional approach to doctrine, to biblical studies, to church history, to ethics, to pastoral care and so on.

[This] also means that when issues arise in our churches and ministry, time should be taken to reflect on them theologically. They often present real opportunities to move forward in theological understanding. And without this theological reflection we will be driven by pragmatism or tradition. As theologians together, our ‘subject’ should be exploring the missiological implications of all theology in every aspect of the life of the local church and every detail of the lives of believers.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Time Management in a Digital Age

Some quotes from Don Carson about the particular challenges of managing time & being effective in ministry in our noisy digital age. From an address on "Is culture shaping us or are we shaping the culture?"

Time Management

It’s tied up in part with the incessant demand of a digital world… There is always digital input somewhere, unless you actually self-consciously cut yourself off from it. So that time management, to allow yourself time to read and think and meditate and pray is becoming a really crucial issue. It’s not just that we are sacrificing the important on the altar of the urgent. Most of this stuff is not urgent. We’re sacrificing the important on the altar of the noisy, or on the altar of the digitally visual, on the altar of that little ‘ping’… Somewhere along the line, if you are going to be committed to ministry that is effused with intercession and meditating on the Word of God you are going to have to turn off a whole lot of off switches… It’s becoming a crucial thing for maintaining integrity in ministry.
[from 35.00]

Learn how to use the little bits of time... 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there.

Work hard and play hard and never confuse the two. There are lots of people who work long hours but it’s diluted by all kinds of interruptions… So they put in the hours but when you actually calculate actual productive time they’ve put in it’s not actually that much… An awful lot of it is learning to be efficient at doing one thing at a time.

[question asked about time management from 50.50, these quotes from 54.00]

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Some Quotes on Prayer

I've started reading through The Message of Prayer by Tim Chester. Here are some quotes I have found helpful so far:

Prayer is the conversation of friends. It is not a mere convenience for letting God know what we are thinking or what we want. Prayer is that for which we were made. It is at the heart of God's plan of salvation. To understand the tremendous privilege and import of prayer we need to see it in the context of God's purpose to have a relationship with his people... In other words, prayer is part of the definition of what it means to be a Christian. (27)

The riddle of creation is that God should desire to enter into a relationship with his creatures outside his trinitarian being. And this riddle is the foundation of prayer - and not only of prayer but of human existence. (29)

The genius of Moses is to recognise that salvation is fellowship with God. (32, commenting on Exodus 33)

Prayer is not ultimate but penultimate, a pointer to the day when we shall see God face to face. It directs our attention forward to our participation in the trinitarian community. Prayer is an anticipation of the day when we shall truly know even as we are truly known. (38)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Review of Peter Jensen (2002) The Revelation of God

The Revelation of God by Peter Jensen was published in 2002 in IVP's Contours of Christian Theology series. It has recently been translated into Spanish by CEEB/Andamio in the new Biblioteca José M. Martínez.

In this work, Jensen seeks to formulate a fresh approach to the question of revelation. The Enlightenment critique of the Christian claim to a unique revelation of God remains strong today, and many Christian attempts to answer it have failed. In this review, I will outline the main line of argument Jensen pursues (taking up chapters 1-4 of the book), before briefly mentioning the other areas covered in chapters 5-11 and finishing with some personal response.
The place we must start, Jensen argues, is with the central claim of the Bible that it is through responding to the message of the gospel that people attain to a true knowledge of God. Rather than discussing revelation as a general concept, and then asking if the Christian scriptures fit that concept, a surer approach is to begin with the gospel as that supreme locus of the knowledge of God and take it as the paradigm for revelation.

“The achievement of the gospel is that people come to know God through informative and hortatory words about him.” (35) We come to be friends with God through hearing and responding to the message of the gospel. In this sense, it is not helpful to talk about Christ himself as the supreme paradigm of revelation (e.g. Barth) for, while the centrality of Christ to the gospel is obvious, Christ comes to us through the words of the gospel, proclaimed by human messengers.

The gospel word – fundamentally, the declaration that Jesus is Lord – commends itself to us as the Word of God through three arguments, 1) the claim that Jesus is the Christ, fulfilling the Old Testament Scriptures, 2) the historical testimony of the first witnesses and evangelists and 3) its power to interpret human experience.

The gospel comes to us as a Word from God, with promises and demands. The specific nature of this gospel word gives a definite shape to the type of relationship we can have with God through responding to this gospel. In the gospel, God speaks. That speaking shows us a God who creates, judges and saves. He stands over and against a rebellious humanity with a word of warning about coming judgment. But this word specifically centres on Jesus Christ as Lord through his death, resurrection and exaltation. It is therefore simultaneously a warning of judgment and a word of promise about God’s love and mercy. Finally, this gospel word comes to us with a demand for repentance and faith that we may receive that promise of mercy.

How does the nature of the gospel shape the knowledge of God that can be attained through it? By default, we do not know God, we are in rebellious ignorance of Him. The good news of the gospel is that we can be reconciled to God and know him as his friends. In that friendship, as in any friendship, words play a central role: “language creates that personal union that incorporates without assimiliting.” (67) We talk to God through prayer, but how does God speak to us? In the Old Testament we see God identifying Himself through His deeds and through words about His deeds. In particular, “it his ability to do what he says he will do that identifies the Lord and shows that he is God indeed” (69), in other words, God makes himself known through words of promise and fulfilment.

Next, we see that God often formalises His promises in covenants, defined by Jensen as “a promise given under oath, accompanied by stipulations and sealed with a sign.” (75) We can then trace these ideas of promise/fulfilment and covenant through to Christ Himself and, significantly, the Bible. Scripture is nothing less than ‘the book of the covenant’ “for in it the covenant of God is recorded, expounded and applied.” (81) By this argument, Jensen arrives at the conclusion that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God for us today. It is that which structures and regulates our covenant relationship with God, it is the means through which God speaks to us, and all this flows out of the first point about the gospel message itself being the paradigm of revelation.
Many questions remain to be treated, and Jensen concludes the first part of the book by outlining four fundamental axioms, derived from this key insight that the gospel is the paradigm for revelation, for addressing the issue of revelation more generally. These are:

1) “The gospel is the key element in coming to a saving knowledge of God” (85)
2) “Christian revelation is basically verbal” (87)
3) “Revelation conveys both information and relationship” (90)
4) “Scripture is revelation” (92)

Thus Jensen’s central argument is that “God’s central revelation of himself… is evangelical at heart, covenantal by nature and scriptural in form.” Following from this, Jensen goes on to ask how the gospel helps us to interpret human experience and specifically religious experience, especially whether there are ways to attain true knowledge of God that do not pass through the gospel. (chapters 5-6) He then discusses at length some thorny questions about the authority, nature and reading of Scripture (chapters 7-9). He concludes by examining the work of the Spirit in revelation and whether we can speak of contemporary special revelation today (e.g. prophecy) (chapters 10 and 11).

This is a book to be read and digested slowly. The argument is sometimes dense, but it is worth taking the trouble, because Jensen has fresh things to say on many topics. Often his choice of words is striking and very helpful, and helps us to see things in a new way. Using the categories of knowledge of God, gospel and covenant in relation to revelation do exactly that, and seeing the Bible as the Book of the Covenant is especially helpful, because it reminds us of the centrality of (and nature of) our relationship with God as well as giving fresh meaning to its authority.
Remembering that the Bible is a covenental book should also remind us that God speaks to us as his covenant people. Our tendency to read the bible individualistically ought to be challenged by understanding that Christ rules his church through the Word. (cf.p.223)

Seeing the Gospel as that which enables us to rightly interpret our experience is also important. In Jensen’s words:
“Human thought characteristically moves from what is known to what is unknown. When the gospel is preached, it invariably uses the language and concepts that refer to human experience in order to explicate itself. The gospel speaks of love, wrath, forgiveness, faith, repentance, sin and death. These are all common human experiences: in each case the gospel takes our inadequate understanding of the experience and gives us new and powerful wisdom about it. The reinterpretation is often so intense that it constitutes a revolution, a conversion of thought and practice…” (110)

Using the gospel as that which explains our experience has a lot to say to our evangelism and apologetics. Evangelism is helping others see who they really are! Jensen’s thoughts here coincide nicely with what Andrew Walls writes about conversion not being about substituting something totally new but transforming, turning what is already there. (see my previous post) Brilliant!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Brilliant stuff by Andrew Walls on culture and contextualisation

The gospel is not fixed to one cultural form, but is to be translated into every culture, re-orientating each one Godwards… the Christian faith is ‘infinitely translatable’ and its history is a history of diffusion across cultural boundaries and its appropriation by new cultures… Cultural diversity is an implication of the Lordship of Christ… Christ’s Great Commission is to disciple the nations, not to make some disciples in each nation.

These are some of the main ideas from the work of Andrew Walls, honorary professor at Edinburgh University, on contextualisation and the relationship between the gospel and culture, on which I wrote an essay for the Northern Training Institute.

Andrew Walls has, as far as I know, written no books per se, but there are two collections of his essays, The Missionary Movement in Christian History and The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History. Each book is divided into three sections: the first is on the transmission of the christian faith, the second is on Africa and the third on the Western Missionary Movement.

They are really well-worth reading, I recommend them!

I read most of the essays in the first section of each book for my essay:

Diversity and Translation in Christian Mission: Andrew Walls on Contextualisation

(If the link doesn´t work, try here)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


He suffered not that we might not suffer but that in our suffering we would become like Him.

- Tim Keller, in lecture 8 "Applying to Christ: Getting Down to Earth Part One" in a series by Keller & Clowney on Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World