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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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This just passed by an overwhelming majority--KSH.
Subject: A Resolution on the Uniqueness of Christ
Offered by: the Very Rev. Craige Borrett, the Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon, Christ Saint Paul’s, Yonges Island
That this Diocesan Convention, while valuing and affirming the importance of cultural and religious diversity, affirms that the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ is for all and must be shared with all including people from other faiths or of no faith and that to do anything else would be to fail to love them as our neighbor; and that to this end, this Convention:
(a) recommits itself to living out daily the Baptismal Covenant’s call to “proclaim by word and example the Good news of God in Christ;’’ and
(b) urges all Christians to encourage sensitive and positive sharing of faith with people of all faiths and none whilst being willing to learn from and be enriched by people of other faiths.
In the beginning of the 21st century we live in a global village in which the world is indeed flat and there are many spiritual and religious ideas competing together for people’s attention. It is more important than ever that we as Anglicans affirm, speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), the unique claim that Christ and his cross has on the whole world, a claim we have been given by the apostles and by those earlier Christians in history on whose shoulders we now stand.
In their most recent General Synod in February 2009, the Church of England passed a resolution which read:
That this Synod warmly welcome Dr Martin Davie’s background paper ‘The witness of Scripture, the Fathers and the historic formularies to the uniqueness of Christ’ attached to GS Misc 905B and request the House of Bishops to report to the Synod on their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in Britain’s multi-faith society, and offer examples and commendations of good practice in sharing the gospel of salvation through Christ alone with people of other faiths and of none.
This resolution also allows us to support our sisters and brothers in the Church of England who rightly see the importance of “the uniqueness of Christ” in a multi faith world.
DE SAM LAZARO: He says the Yoido church is adding 10, 000 members every year -- this in a country where there were hardly any Christians a century ago. Nowhere, at least in recent history, has Christianity grown so much in such a short period. It may have much to do with Christianity's place in recent Korean history. Unlike many other countries where Christianity was brought by missionaries, in Korea the church is not part of a colonial legacy. The colonial power here was Japan, and churches were involved very closely with the Korean independence movement. Although some Catholic influences in East Asia date back to the late 1700s, the first missionaries -- American Presbyterians -- arrived in the late 1800s.
Rev. HA (through translator): The missionaries 120 years ago came and built schools first. They established junior high, college, medical facilities, and they evangelized the noble families. So when we were still under Japanese, those intelligentsia -- they linked that believing in Jesus Christ is equal to working for Korea's liberation movement.
DE SAM LAZARO: And for a country that's seen unprecedented growth in wealth and prosperity in the past four decades, it's not hard to believe in miracles. Korea today is considered a developed country with a standard of living equal to some European Union nations.
Read it all.
A wonderfully encouraging article from Outreach Magazine (a sister publication of Christianity Today) about two New York City churches committed to multiplication and seeing the church impact the culture:
For all the wonders of New York City, the South Bronx still has a long way to go. As the country's poorest congressional district, it is home to gang leaders, pimps and others—like Tyrone—whose main interest is simply finding a way to survive.
As a teenager, Tyrone found his identity in a gang named the Neighborhood Gangsters, and his future, like that of so many of his peers, seemed to be a dead-end street. Then one week, he went with a relative to Friday Night Live, a monthly, large-scale outreach hosted by a new, youth-oriented church named Infinity. Tyrone liked the hip-hop music, even though the words were about God. After the music, the pastor, Dimas Salaberrios—who had grown up a few miles away in Jamaica, Queens—spoke with relevance and passion about Jesus Christ.
Tyrone put his faith in Christ that night, but was still uncertain about his future. Quitting a gang could mean a death sentence, but he didn't have to explain this to Salaberrios, who already understood the problem. Salaberrios boldly contacted the gang's leader, asking that Tyrone's family not be punished because of his decision. Today, Tyrone serves on Infinity's security team, is discipled through a fellowship group and is being groomed for leadership by Salaberrios.
Tyrone's story is common for Infinity, which began four years ago through Bible studies and community building, and formally launched in November 2006.
"Our No. 1 goal and priority is to get Christ into kids' lives," says Salaberrios. He also believes that God has used Infinity's presence to reduce the murder rate to almost zero in the Bronx River Projects—a complex of nine high-rise towers which is home to almost 20,000 people as well as the new church.
Infinity's story of success, however, can't be told without also telling the story of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, located less than 10 miles away in Manhattan. Launched 18 years ago, Redeemer is now spiritual home to 5,000 of the city's young professionals. [...]
In an overwhelmingly secular community, Redeemer's unique worship settings—including jazz and classical music—diverse makeup and [Tim] Keller's intellectual preaching style have all resonated among the area's mostly non-Christian young professionals. In fact about 15% of attendees in any given year don't yet identify themselves as followers of Christ.
"Growth in itself though is not a goal for the church—evangelism is," says Keller. That's why Redeemer became a multiplying church.
"We know the only way to increase the number and percentage of Christians in a city is to plant thousands of new churches, and the only way to change the culture is to increase the number of churches engaged in it," Keller explains.
So in 1994, Redeemer planted its first two churches, one in Greenwich Village (lower Manhattan) and another in the suburbs, both affiliated with its Presbyterian Church in America denomination. In the 13 years since, Redeemer has planted more than 100 churches—the majority non-Presbyterian—directly or in partnership with other churches, in New York City and other cities.
Enter Infinity. Thirty-three-year-old Salaberrios had fully committed his life to Christ when he was 21—a year after Redeemer planted its first two churches—and began to hold evangelistic rallies for hundreds of kids through Youth for Christ in New York City (YFC; yfc.net). But he noticed that when young people accepted Christ, local churches didn't receive them as they were. Street manners, tattoos and baggy clothing were considered unacceptable "Sunday best."
"I kept thinking to myself, 'What are we going to do with all these kids who are coming to Christ?' " Salaberrios relates. "Romans 2:29 talks about circumcision of the heart. It's not about changing a dress code, but making church relevant."
Church, culture, relevancy and contextualization—Salaberrios and Keller were speaking the same language, even though their target groups were unmistakably different.
The full article is here.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Presbyterian * Theology Theology: Evangelism & Mission
I come now to evangelism within the Episcopal Church. And I have to confess that this part of my presentation is going to be very short. Because it is almost impossible to speak of Evangelism and the Episcopal Church in the same breath in the USA. Practically no evangelism is undertaken by the denomination as a whole, though there are churches which are a glorious exception to this sad state of affairs.
During the Decade of Evangelism the TEC took no part but instead lost scores of thousands of members. Frank Griswold whose erstwhile diocese declined by about 30,000 during his time as PB, bravely spoke of doubling the denomination by 2010, but instead people walk away in their thousands. It is often said that TEC has 2 and a half million members but this is entirely misleading. Not only do a mere 700,000 appear in worship on a given Sunday but when people leave, the churches will not transfer their membership to a non-episcopal church and instead they stay on their lists as inactive members, thus illicitly swelling the numbers reported. The PB is able to maintain that only a small minority of churches have left, though they number in their hundreds. But she does not disclose the fact that not only is there deep unrest in many who remain and feel unable to break away because of emotional links with the past, but when you start assessing the numbers of people who have departed, they are disproportionately large. Flag ship churches are leaving, with their thousands of members. For example, Christ Church Plano, a well known Evangelical Church, has left the denomination and gone to AMiA. It has more members than the whole of the PB’s diocese. And the intentional way that lawsuits are being brought against the two biggest churches in TEC, The Falls Church and Truro in Virginia shows how worrying all this is to the leaders of TEC. Those two churches between them have more than 6000 members, and they and their finances are now lost to TEC.
If we ask why evangelism is at such a discount in TEC, the answer may well be complex. One reason is that evangelism is not and never has been in the DNA of Episcopalians. TEC has been an acknowledged refuge from the enthusiasm of the Baptists! Moreover, the average age of members in the congregations is so high, up into the late 60s across the country, and this of course militates against active evangelism. The future for the denomination in sheer terms of numbers is bleak… the average number in a congregation being about 75. But also there is a theological blockage. On the one hand the belief seems to be that so long as they are baptized people are automatically Christians, irrespective of repentance and faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit –whereas in the NT all three elements figure in Christian initiation. The other is that the policies of the TEC are inclusive, which is wonderful, but inclusive without the need for transformation, which is not wonderful. You are welcome just as you are with no need to change. All lifestyles are acceptable.
A State Governor who has had to resign because of his divorce and taking up an active homosexual lifestyle has been accepted for ordination training in TEC. Not only all lilfestyles but all beliefs seem to be acceptable in the Episcopal Church. Only the other day a woman priest who has become a Muslim claimed to belong to both faiths – without any rebuke from her bishop. The influence of Jack Spong is widespread and has never been repudiated by TEC. I find that repentance and faith is rarely mentioned in Episcopal pulpits, and the name of Jesus is scarce. As for the Holy Spirit he is generally associated with the votes of the majority. The church is moving in the direction of an undifferentiated Deism. Belief in the deity of Jesus, an objective atonement and the reality of the resurrection are constantly discounted among influential Episcopalians, while the people in the pew prefer not to enquire too closely. And the PB herself has made it plain that all religions lead to God. No wonder the church leaks!
This is one of the papers presented at the Oxford Consultation. The final section contains some wonderful examples of Anglican evangelistic initiatives in North America.
Read it all here.
The following is an excerpt from a lengthy article on the 9Marks website, which I can't recall having visited before, but which has a lot of interesting articles online all focused on helping Christians be better able to defend the Gospel. If you've got a few moments, check out what they claim are the 9 Marks of a church that glorifies God. This definitely looks to be a site this elf wants to browse around further. Note, however, that this is an unabashedly evangelical reformed Protestant site. (Predominantly Southern Baptist, it appears.) I for one find the final line of the excerpt below offensive in how it lumps the Vatican and the WCC together. Nonetheless, in this elf's opinion, this was a worthwhile and thought-provoking read. --elfgirl
What’s the point of the story? Conversion is dirty word. It’s scandalous in today’s pluralistic and relativistic world to contend for one religious truth over and against another. It smacks of pride, arrogance, disrespect, perhaps hatred, maybe even violence.
This is the consensus among many of the secular elite. Popular television personality Bill Maher believes Christianity can only be explained as a "neurological disorder." Only the most unenlightened, uneducated, and uncouth Neanderthal would both believe and contend for a conversion to religious faith, especially Christianity. It's absolutely what the modern man does not need.
And Maher simply represents what secular humanism as a movement has been saying all along. To quote from their own manifesto, "traditional theism… and salvationism… based on mere affirmation is harmful, diverting people with false hopes of heaven hereafter. Reasonable minds look to other means for survival." Reasonable minds…you can hear the condescension dripping from the pen.
Some go further, of course. They say such attempts at diversion (i.e. conversion) actually breed violence.
Yet it seems that conversion is even under attack among some professed evangelicals. This ought to strike us as nonsensical. Our English word "evangelical" comes from the Greek word for "good news." What is this good news? It is that we, who are at enmity with God in our sin, can now be reconciled to him on account of Christ’s death and resurrection, when we repent of our sin and believe upon Christ. Conversion from our former way of life and thinking to Christianity is required. This much should be blatantly obvious.
Nonetheless, Brian MacLaren, perhaps the most prominent leader within the emerging church movement, calls for a reconsideration of conversion, if not an outright rejection of it. He writes in A Generous Orthodoxy,
I must add, though, that I don't believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (though not all) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts. This will be hard, you say, and I agree. But frankly, it's not at all easy to be a follower of Jesus in many 'Christian' religious contexts, either.
We are told to embrace other faiths "willingly, not begrudgingly." To be fair, McLaren asserts the uniqueness of Christianity apart from other religions. And yet his belief in "a gospel that is universally efficacious for the whole earth," his unwillingness to "set limits on the saving power of God" in reference to the unevangelized, and his belief that we must continually expect to "rediscover the gospel" as we encounter other religious traditions, "leading to that new place where none of us has ever been before," raises significant and serious questions. Frankly, I have difficulty seeing how he is recommending anything Christian, let alone orthodox. In the end, his proposals are eerily similar to those being set forth by the Vatican and the WCC.
The full entry is here. It is really quite comprehensive. The various sections are as follows:
-- CONVERSION—A DIRTY WORD?
-- CONVERSION—A BIBLICAL IDEA?
-- CONVERSION—WHAT IT IS AND ISN’T
-- BENEFITS FOR BELIEVERS
-- CONCLUSION: ONE OF THOSE CHRISTIANS?
(hat tip: TwoOrThree.Net)
Pondering the Great Commission
Baptism not a goal, but a relationship with God
By Katharine Jefferts Schori, July 06, 2007
[Episcopal Life] I met recently with a group of appointed missionaries of the Episcopal Church. They gathered for 10 days in New York for orientation before leaving to do mission. It was an enormous privilege to meet them and see their energy and enthusiasm (which means "filled with God") for this adventure.
We had an opportunity for conversation, and one young man shared his concern about how to understand the Great Commission, particularly the directive to baptize, especially in a multifaith environment. It was a wonderful question that engages us all at one level or another.
How do we engage in evangelism, and particularly in the specific directives of Matthew 28:19-20? Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
This passage marks the end of Matthew's Gospel, and its explicitly Trinitarian language should make us aware that it probably reflects the practice of early Christian communities, some time after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Yet the question remains: How do we respond to this sending of the disciples, in which we understand all Christians participate, into a multifaith world?
If we believe that Jesus' saving work is for the whole world, that should relieve some of our immediate anxiety. He is pretty clear that he is not here to judge the world, but to love the world and invite all into relationship with Love itself (John 12:32 -- And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself -- and John 12:47 -- I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world). Judgment comes at the end of time, and until then you and I repeatedly are urged not to judge others.
Yet the ancient question remains: Is baptism necessary for salvation? Theologians have wrestled with this in a number of ways and made some remarkably gracious and open-ended responses. Vatican II affirmed that salvation is possible outside the church, even though some statements by Roman Catholic authorities in years since have sought to retreat from that position.
Karl Rahner spoke about "anonymous Christians," whose identity is known to God alone. John MacQuarrie recognized the presence of the Logos or Word in other traditions.
But the more interesting question has to do with baptism itself. Like all sacraments, we understand baptism as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace (Catechism, BCP, p. 857). It is an outward recognition of grace that is both given and already present through God's action.
When we look at some of the lives of holy people who follow other religious traditions, what do we see? Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama both exemplify Christ-like lives. Would we assume that there is no grace present in lives like these? A conclusion of that sort seems to verge on the only unforgivable sin, against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:30-32).
If I believe that God is more than I can imagine, conceptualize or understand, then I must be willing to acknowledge that God may act in ways that are beyond my ken, including in people who do not follow the Judeo-Christian tradition. Note that I include our Jewish brothers and sisters, for Scripture is very clear that God made a covenant with Israel. That covenant was not abrogated in Jesus. Scripture also speaks of a covenant with Abraham that extends to his offspring, including Ishmael. Our Muslim brothers and sisters claim him as their ancestor. In some way, God continues to act in the tradition we call Islam.
Well, if God is already at work in other religious traditions, why would we bother to teach, make disciples or baptize? The focus of our evangelical work can never be imposing our own will (despite the wretched examples of forced conversion in the history of Christianity), but there is a real urgency to sharing the good news.
The full article is here.
Christianity Today has a really interesting interview with Ugandan theologian Emmanuel Katongole. We found his reflections on the interaction between church and culture particularly interesting in this age of globalisation and important to consider as we reasserting Anglicans form new partnerships with the Global South.
From Tower-Dwellers to Travelers
Ugandan-born theologian Emmanuel Katongole offers a new paradigm for missions.
Interview by Andy Crouch | posted 7/03/2007
Christian leaders from five war-torn countries of East Africa gathered in Kampala, Uganda, last November to strengthen the church's witness in the midst of conflict. They were convened by Emmanuel Katongole, a Catholic priest whose biography embodies both ethnic tension and Christian hope. Katongole was born and raised in Uganda, the son of Rwandan parents. His father embraced Christian faith as an adult, and his joyful seriousness about Christianity shaped Katongole, who joined the priesthood and trained as a philosophical theologian in Belgium. Katongole now teaches at Duke Divinity School, where he is co-director, with Chris Rice, of the Center for Reconciliation. He spoke with Andy Crouch about this year's big question for the Christian Vision Project: What must we learn, and unlearn, to be agents of God's mission in the world?
You've lived on three continents and in four countries, and your parents were from yet another country, Rwanda. How does your story affect your understanding of God's mission in the world?
Being an immigrant can be a blessing. God's mission, as I read it in 2 Corinthians 5:17, is new creation. God is reconciling the world to himself. And there is a sense of journey that is connected with that. When, later on, Paul says that "we are ambassadors of God's reconciliation, God is appealing through us," he is inviting us into a journey toward a new kind of community. People looking at Christians should be confused. Who are these people? Are they black? Are they white? Are they Americans? Are they Ugandans? In Revelation, John sees people drawn from all languages and tribes and nations: an unprecedented congregation. Living on three continents has deepened my understanding of the church as such a congregation; at the same time, it has heightened my sense of Christian life as a journey and of what it means to live as a pilgrim, a resident alien.
That is reminiscent of the name Christians gave themselves in Acts, "people of the Way."
That is, the way of Jesus. I also take that to mean people on the way, on pilgrimage. We have settled too easily. Instead of living out that story of journey toward a new creation, we tend to live out the stories of nationality. And then we forget what it means to journey. It's not difficult to see why we settle, because our nations or tribes or races try to convince us that life can't get any better than this. They ask us, "Where would you want to go? Why would you want to leave?" This is not just something that happens in a superpower like America. Even small nations like Rwanda, even small tribes, have an America-sized imagination of themselves!
The challenge that Christianity faces in our time is the challenge of tribalism. There's a church in Rwanda where the baptismal font still stands. But it bears the scars of being hacked by machetes, and the church was littered with thousands of bones of people who were killed. You couldn't find a more strange and ironic and tragic image than that: a common baptism surrounded by killing in the name of Hutu and Tutsi.
Many of us feel we are beyond that, but the dynamics of national identity remain—even of ecclesial identity. We can be settled in our Catholic power. We can be settled in our Baptist, Episcopalian, Pentecostal, or evangelical identity, and we feel a certain power from that. We think that our mission derives from that power.
The story of the tower of Babel begins with people settled in the land. The tower speaks of strength, power, and stability. It speaks of the ability to stand above the land and survey it. Pilgrims don't build a tower! In our day, I think what God is doing is exactly what he did for that tower—dispersing people, spreading them out, scattering them. Scattering, the way I read it in Genesis, is a good thing. It is part of God's purpose for God's people. It is meant to be good news for both Israel and the nations.
Are specific places and local identities important in a life of pilgrimage?
Absolutely. Pilgrimage actually makes us more aware of localness, because it brings us into contact with specific places and people. People sometimes ask me how "the church in America" should relate to "the church in Rwanda." But that level of abstraction grows out of a tower-building mentality. There are only specific Americans from specific places with specific gifts and stories; there are only specific Rwandans.
The language of culture actually prevents us from engaging other people. It leads us to see ourselves as permanently separate from them: We have our culture, and they have theirs. It keeps us from allowing others to radically challenge us—that's just their culture, you see, and it does not have anything to do with our culture.
What would it mean for Christians to have a certain naiveté about all these things called culture? How do we inhabit what we might call tactics instead of strategies? Strategy is the posture of an army, of a nation state, of a business that is able to conduct surveillance of its territory and all others. Tactics, on the other hand, are weapons of the weak, of those who have no place to call their own, who live in a territory that is surveilled and controlled by others.
Isn't that a waste of our capacity to think strategically?
There are two dominant models of mission in our time. There is the model of mission as aid, which arises out of the great need we see in the world—famine, AIDS, poverty—and also out of a recognition of how much American Christians have. So American Christians go to Africa to help. This can be criticized as giving a person a fish for a day, but if that person is starving, then this model of mission actually does some good. A lot of people are being helped by this kind of mission. But the problem is that from this mission, Christians return to a tower. Their world remains their world, and Africa's world remains Africa's world.
Then there is the model of mission as partnership. It arises out of a sense of mutuality and solidarity between churches in the North and the South. So churches develop sister-parish relationships and so forth. The hope is to teach people how to fish, to equip them to do the fishing.
But as far as I can see, the pond in which they fish is still their pond. Christians in America have their own pond. We are still talking about your pond and our pond!
This model also overlooks the difference in power between America and the rest of the world. One gets an impression that because of the numerical strength of Africa's church, Africans Christians can be equal partners with their Western counterparts. But we cannot pretend that the power of America does not exist. There is a new desire to learn from one another, but how deep does the learning go?
Read it all here.
The "Amens!" flew like popcorn in hot oil as 120 Christian worshipers clapped and danced and praised Jesus as if He'd just walked into the room. In a country where about 2 percent of the population attend church regularly and many churches draw barely enough worshipers to fill a single pew, the Sunday morning service at this old mission hall was one rocking celebration.
In the middle of all the keyboards, drums and hallelujahs, Stendor Johansen, a blond Danish sea captain built like a 180-pound ice cube, sang along and danced, as he said, like a Dane -- without moving.
"The Danish church is boring," said Johansen, 45, who left the state-run Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church three years ago and joined this high-octane interdenominational church run by a missionary pastor from Singapore. "I feel energized when I leave one of these services."
The International Christian Community (ICC) is one of about 150 churches in Denmark that are run by foreigners, many from Africa, Asia and Latin America, part of a growing trend of preachers from developing nations coming to Western Europe to set up new churches or to try to reinvigorate old ones.
For centuries, when Europe was the global center of Christianity, millions of European missionaries traveled to other continents to spread their faith by establishing schools and churches. Now, with European church attendance at all-time lows and a dearth of preachers in the pulpits, thousands of "reverse missionaries" are flocking back, migrating from poor countries to rich ones to preach the Gospel where it has fallen out of fashion.
The phenomenon signals a fundamental shift in the power, style and geography of Christianity, the world's largest religion. Most of its more than 2 billion adherents now live in the developing world. And as vast numbers of them migrate to Europe, as well as to the United States, they are filling pews and changing worship styles.
Churches in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, South Korea and the Philippines have sent thousands of missionaries to Europe to set up churches in homes, office buildings and storefronts. Officials from the Redeemed Christian Church of God, a Pentecostal church based in Nigeria, said they have 250 churches in Britain now and plan to create 100 more this year. Britain's largest church, run by a Nigerian pastor in London, attracts up to 12,000 people over three services every Sunday.
Read it all.
You have written a great deal about liturgical theology, but missional theology seems more popular these days.
I think that missional theology is a very positive development. But some missional theology has not gone far enough. It hasn't asked, What is the mission of the Trinity? And the answer to that question is communion. Ultimately, all things are to be brought back into communion with the triune God. Communion is the ultimate end, not mission.
If we see communion as central to the life of the church, we are going to have an important place for mission. And this is reflected in the ancient fourfold structure of worship: gathering, proclaiming the Word, celebrating the Eucharist, and going out into the world. The last, of course, is mission. But mission takes its place within a larger structure. It is this sense of communion that the evangelical world especially needs. Communion is not just introspection or fellowship among ourselves. It involves, ultimately, seeing God and seeing the heart of God as well, which is his love for the world.
In many services today, the dismissal into the world is quite perfunctory. But if you go to an Orthodox service, you'll be amazed at the elaborate way in which the end of the service is conducted. It's not just a word of dismissal—there are whole prayers and litanies that prepare us to go back out into the world.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Liturgy, Music, Worship * International News & Commentary Asia * Theology Ecclesiology Theology: Evangelism & Mission
I am a professional theologian, so of course I think theology matters. Theology can help us live better or worse, depending on its quality. But theological accuracy is not the heart of the gospel. Encountering God's Spirit and responding in faith to him in that encounter is what finally matters. And how God meets people, through whatever theology they might have, in whatever circumstances, is ultimately not visible to us.
Indeed, I believe that many people raised in non-Christian religions—such as bhakti (devotional) traditions in Hinduism in which they worship a single supreme God and trust him for their salvation (however badly understood this is from a Christian point of view), or Judaism or Islam, to pick examples closer to home—have a clearer and more authentic apprehension of God than many people raised in ostensibly Christian homes and churches in which a terrible distortion of God is taught and little access to the genuine gospel is available. To confine the scope of salvation to those who have heard certain facts about Jesus and who come to accept him on this basis, therefore, is not necessitated by the Bible, and in fact is not even the best way to understand the Bible.
Let me also affirm that the preaching of the Gospel is the normal way God uses to draw people to faith. So we must not sit back and say, "Oh, well. Since God might encounter people through other methods—dreams and visions, perhaps, or even a distorted monotheism of some non-Christian sort—then we don't have to go." No, we do have to go, because evangelism is obviously the New Testament's fundamental mode by which people encounter God. This is the main means God has ordained for us to use, and we are disobedient if we do not use it. And the environment of all but the most pathological Christian church is normally far better to cultivate discipleship than any other religious community—of course it is.
All I am arguing for here is that we do not confine salvation to this normal mode, shutting off any other possibilities and therefore implying, if we don't say so outright, that millions of people have been lost forever simply because they lived in Asia, or Europe, or Africa, or the Americas, or anywhere else before gospel preaching got there.
Furthermore, we must beware of a second problem that lies nearby. And that is the idea that missions is all about getting people saved, and particularly about rescuing their souls from hell so that they can go to heaven. Multiple theological errors, in fact, attend this view of salvation.
God is not interested in saving merely human souls. He wants human beings, body and soul. Furthermore, he does not settle for saving human beings, but the whole earth. He made it in the first place, pronounced it "very good," and he wants it all back. So he is saving us, the lords he put over creation, as part of his global agenda to rescue, indeed, the globe.
What God rescues us to, furthermore, is the original agenda he set out for us in Genesis 1, namely, to "fill the earth and subdue it." He planted a garden for us to tend (Gen. 2) and commanded our first parents to raise up generations of gardeners to fan out across the earth to till the rest of it. This is what it means to bear the image of God. We, too, are to improve the situation, to cultivate what we encounter, to make shalom in every sector of life. And such work is our ultimate destiny as well, as we are to "reign with him" over the new earth he promises (2 Tim. 2:12). Thus we are not going back to Eden, nor up to a (spiritual) heaven, but forward to the New Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven to earth as our proper home (Rev. 21).
The Christian gospel therefore is not a narrowly spiritual one, but literally embraces everything, everywhere, at every moment. Every action that brings shalom—that preserves or enhances the flourishing of things, people, and relationships—is the primary will of God for humanity. Christians ought therefore to recognize and affirm anything our neighbors do to make peace, whether those neighbors intend to honor God or not. Indeed, we can cooperate with them in those ventures, since we see in them the divine agenda of shalom.
And our mission to the world extends far beyond evangelism. Yes, evangelism is the special work of the church, for only we Christians have been entrusted with the great good news at the center of God's redemptive plan, at the heart of which is the life and work of Jesus Christ. But our evangelism itself issues a call to "life abundant" that embraces everything good in the world, not just the spiritual. And as we work away at our generic human work alongside our neighbors, but in the light of the Bible's affirmation of such work, we demonstrate what it means to live in that light, which is the light of heaven now and also of the world to come.
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