Monday, June 23, 2014

Comments and Quotes: Keller's 'Romans 1-7 For You'

So, having heard some of the hype about Keller from those who think he is the bee's knees and those who think he is leading the church along paths of apostasy -- I decided to read him for myself.

I'm not declaring myself to be a Keller fan but I am a book of Romans fan, it is one of my favourite NT books, so when I saw Keller's book on Romans I decided to give it a shot.

Here are some of my Kindle Highlights from the Introduction and Chapter One. So far I haven't come across anything that is questionable, but I have read much that is good. If I do come across material that is questionable, I'll highlight that too. Again, this is not a blanket endorsement of the man, it is simply a spotlight on the book of Romans (which I'm studying just now).

The letter to the Romans is a book that repeatedly changes the world, by changing people."

"What is it about Romans that has proved so life-changing and history-shaping? It is because Romans is about the gospel."

"Have I, like Luther, “broken through” into the freedom and release the gospel brings me, both in terms of my future and in my life right now?"

"To Paul, this gospel is so great that he is willing to separate himself from anything—wealth, health, acclaim, friends, safety and so on—in order to be faithful to his calling."

"The gospel is not advice to be followed; it is news, good (eu) news about what has been done."

"The gospel’s content is “his Son” (v 3). The gospel centers on Jesus. It is about a person, not a concept; it is about him, not us. We never grasp the gospel until we understand that it is not fundamentally a message about our lives, dreams, or hopes. The gospel speaks about, and transforms, all of those things, but only because it isn’t about us. It is a declaration about God’s Son, the man Jesus."

"Obedience flows out of faith; it is a consequence of saving faith, not a second condition for salvation."

"The gospel is the way people are called to faith, and the way people grow in faith."

"Theodoret, a Syrian bishop in the fifth century, likened the gospel to a pepper: “A pepper outwardly seems to be cold … but the person who crunches it between the teeth experiences the sensation of burning fire.” In the same way, he goes on, the gospel can appear at first like an interesting theory or philosophy. But if we take it in personally, we find it full of power."

"The gospel’s power is seen in its ability to completely change minds, hearts, life orientation, our understanding of everything that happens, the way people relate to one another, and so on. Most of all, it is powerful because it does what no other power on earth can do: it can save us, reconcile us to God, and guarantee us a place in the kingdom of God forever."

"All that is required to know this salvation is belief."

"Notice that Paul says that the gospel’s power is boundless and boundaried at the same time. He says it is to everyone. It came to the Jew first, through Jesus, but it is for the Gentile as well—everyone and anyone. Yet he also sets a limit on it. It is for everyone who believes."

"When we are overworking out of fear of failure or depressed because we have failed, it is because we have forgotten that we cannot earn our own righteousness, but that in God’s eyes we are already righteous."

"The gospel will always cause offense, because it reveals us as having a need that we cannot meet."

"Think about a sin you struggle with. How are you rejecting the gospel when you sin in that way? How will believing the gospel transform the next struggle you face?"

Friday, June 13, 2014

Thinking About Mission: Is Cultural Engagement Enough?

I first heard the gospel through what would be considered to be the  more 'fundamentalist' corner of the theological tapestry which is the diverse Christian church. I became a Christian through the Brethren movement (Needed Truth), I also served in outreach ministries such as Staouros, Teen Challenge and the Gospel Mission in Johnstone. I spent two or three years in those environments before I found myself  in more diverse contexts such as YMCA (think Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts), International Christian College and the contemporary charismatic and pentecostal movement.

Having spent more time in non-'fundamentalist' circles than I have in fundamentalist environments I have found myself reflecting on some of the differences between the two. There are a multitude of differences, but some key differences which I want to think about in this blog are the different approaches to culture and evangelism.

In the more traditional evangelical contexts (a less loaded term than 'fundamentalist') there was far less concern with appearing socially acceptable to the wider culture, instead there was an emphasis on seeing people 'saved'. I think one missiologist has described the competing approaches as Christ against culture versus Christ transformning culture. One group is set apart from the mainstream culture and has to reach out to bring people in. The other group sees itself, not as being set apart from the wider culture, but as being a part of the culture and seeks to influence people from within the culture. In the former approach, differences between the Christian and non-Christian are obvious and in the latter they are less discernible. In addition to this, the cost of becoming a Christian with the former group seems to involve a greater cultural leap than it does with the latter.

An interesting point to note here is the fact that some churches and organisations have moved from one approach to the other. A number of pentecostal, brethren and presbyterian churches, to name a few, have shifted from an understanding of church as being set apart from the wider community to church being at the heart of the local community.

In many ways I think this has first and foremost been a pragmatic choice rather than theological -- the churches faced the threat of extinction if they did not connect. I also think it has been good. It has given many churches a human face. Like the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, these churches have understood the need to connect with people if they hope to see people converted to Christ. Instead of 'evangelism' involving mail-shots, cold calling door-to-door, street preaching and tract distribution, we now have the church running Food banks, Debt Services, Family Support, Youth Work and so on. This is good, and it has certainly helped evangelicalism reconnect with its responsibility to respond to people's social and physical needs and not just their spiritual needs. As a consequence of the new approach, more people are engaging (or re-engaging) with church. Some churches have seen a rise in the number of new Christians, and effective social action is taking place. Not only so, church members in former fundamentalist churches can now breathe a sigh of relief because they no longer have to sacrifice their social standing by heading out to the town centre to support the pastor's open-air service. They no longer have to be mistaken for a Mormon or Jehovah's Witness since they are no longer pressured into door-to-door evangelism. They no longer struggle with guilt because they are no longer being told from the pulpit that they need to be actively 'evangelising'-- they are simply instructed to be engaged with people -- i.e. smiling, friendly, helpful and caring. The idea being, as we live our lives naturally, gospel conversations will happen naturally, and some people may be interested in exploring Christianity for themselves.

As I said earlier, there is a lot in this approach which is commendable, essential and effective. The former fundamentalist approach was, in some quarters, 'mental'. And it is no wonder that un-believers wanted nothing to do with it. It made the church appear cultish.

However, and I'm sure you knew there was a 'however' coming -- I think many churches have lost something as they have rejected one approach and embraced the other. I fear they have rejected one imbalance and embraced another.

What is being lost?

One aspect which is being lost is the distinction between the church and the world. The Greek word for church, if memory serves me correctly,  is ekklesia-- and it means 'called out ones'. In other words, Christians are called out from captivity to Satan, sin and the world, and are set apart for God, righteousness and the Kingdom of God. Becoming a Christian and joining a church should not look like joining any other organisation. It should look like stepping from darkness to light. It should look like repentance. It should look like a drastic lifestyle change.

Another aspect which is being lost is urgency. The 'cool, calm, and quiet confidence' approach does not communicate a hint of concern for the eternal well-being of the individuals within our communities who are strangers to salvation. Evangelism should not  just look like an invitation to a party, it should look like a rescue from a burning building. If the early fundamentalist approach was too heavenly minded to be any earthly good, I fear the new cultural engagement approach is too earthly minded to be any heavenly use. It has become so focused on temporal issues such as cultural engagement, respectability, relationship and self-awareness that it has lost sight of the eternal realities of the future judgement and eternal condemnation of those who are without Christ. How many evangelical Christians have forgot (or never heard) that their statement of faith contains a belief like the following:

The personal and visible return of Jesus Christ to fulfil the purposes of God, who will raise all people to judgement, bring eternal life to the redeemed and eternal condemnation to the lost, and establish a new heaven and new earth. (EA)
 Is this uncomfortable? Yes. Can this be communicated insensitively? Without a doubt. However, if we have lost sight of this truth -- we have lost sight of the gospel. The gospel is good news-- heaven's gates are open wide and all may come, but it is also a warning-- a warning of future judgement. It is also a command -- a command to repent of our sins before the sword of just judgement falls upon our heads.

Let's avoid the popular folly of being correct in what we affirm but wrong in what we deny. May we not, like the liberals or fundamentalists present an 'either' 'or' view of the Christian faith. Let's get grounded on truth and embrace the narrow road of the 'both' 'and'. Faithful and effective evangelism must involve cultural connection and active evangelism. Perhaps then we will see deeper and more radical conversions. I fear that too many who profess Christ under the new approach do not come by the cross.

I'll finish with Tozer . . .

The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect. To the self-assertive it says, "Come and assert yourself for Christ." To the egotist it says, "Come and do your boasting in the Lord." To the thrill seeker it says, "Come and enjoy the thrill of Christian fellowship." The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.



Saturday, June 7, 2014

Developing a Kingdom Vision: Partnership and Pioneering

Partnership & Pioneering. These are the words that came to mind a number of years ago. Since they first emerged in my thinking a clearer picture has begun to unfold. I think that Partnership and Pioneering are two essential elements that are needed in order to enable local churches to realise their vision more fully and release the saints for ‘works of service’. (Eph 4)

A Kingdom Vision
In order to fulfil God’s purpose in our local communities, individual churches need a Kingdom vision. Our vision needs to be lifted beyond the immediate needs and desires of our local church in order to see how and where God is moving. The question, ‘What is God doing in my community?’ is an essential one, as is: ‘What is our role within the wider scheme of God’s working?’

Partnering is an essential aspect of building the Kingdom of God (KoG). In other words, if we see the needs within the community and understand what God’s will is, we need to partner with other gospel minded people in order to bring the KOG to those areas.

A commitment to the vision of the KoG, should result in an increasing awareness of the needs of the community. As a people called to be ‘salt and light’, we should be discerning the opportunities available to us. As soon as we glimpse the vision of the KoG we become immediately aware of the inadequacy of our resources to respond to the needs of our community in a meaningful way. This is where partnership comes in.

Partnership is about local churches working together along with other ministries and agencies to achieve specific goals, objectives and targets. Examples of effective partnership can be seen where churches work together, often with para-church organisations to respond to a particular need. Complex community issues such as drug addiction, poverty, and the marginalisation of young people are beyond the capacity of one local church. Very often the churches who respond best to these issues are the churches who work alongside several other churches and specialised ministries such as Teen Challenge, Food Banks (Trussell Trust) and many others.  

Benefits of Partnering with independent interdenominational ministries and other local churches
  • Churches achieve more
  • We do more work while at the same time not over burdening the local church (when we try and do any of these things on our own, we become programme driven, overworked and burnt out)

  • Gospel unity becomes a reality and the oneness of Christ’s body is revealed to the unbelieving community

  • Break down the stronghold of sectarianism/denominationalism

  • We respond to the needs of our community rather than overlooking them

  • We become ‘salt & light’ in a way that we currently are not

  • Individuals within our churches who have a heart for a particular area have more opportunities to put their faith into action. Those with a heart for compassion ministries (and who would be terrified of evangelism) can be directed towards Mercy Ministry where they can serve in a practical way

  • More believers are released into their gifting in a way that the church cannot currently facilitate due to the resource limitations of a small rural church

  • Those who have a heart to help addicts can have an outlet

  • Those with a heart for evangelism can have an outlet

  • Those with a heart for youth work can have an avenue for that to be outworked

  • Since these ministries will be running, it will not fall on the already over worked elders to set up and coordinate new ministries (members get released, elders do not get over burdened!)


Many churches have a vision to preach the gospel and make disciples (particularly through planting churches). If we try and do the works of ministry on our own, pioneering will suffer. If we focus on building our churches and planting new ones Kingdom ministry will suffer.

However, as I have reflected upon the above scenarios, I have come to the conclusion that partnering with others will cause our pioneering to flourish. As we partner in the KoG, our pioneering will not be about ‘empire building’. I have already outlined how partnering will deal with the resource issue (no one church has all that it takes to reach our local area for Jesus).

As we do the work of the kingdom through partnership initiatives, the seeds will be scattered into various spheres. Members of our churches will grow in their sphere of influence, and this will potentially have an effect on the unbelievers. I do believe God will bless the pioneering work as we commit to partnering with others in a Kingdom Vision. God will add to the churches that we seek to plant as we obey him in committing to the work of his Kingdom. As we sow in one field, we will reap in another.