Monday, December 13, 2010

Give it away Goff!

The latest TV 3 Reid Research political poll spells the end of Goff's leadership ( He is being slaughtered by Key. The stats say it all:

National 55.5%; Labour 31.2%; Greens 7.3%. The rest are also-rans: NZ First 1.9%; Maori 1.7%; ACT 1.3%; United Future 0.1%.

The preferred PM rankings are no better: Key 54.1%; Goff  6.8%; Helen Clark 5.3%.

A few things jump out of this: 1) National can govern alone so don't need ACT. They will have to make a call on Epsom, will they effectively stand aside for ACT or consign them to political history? I suspect the former because long term the centre right will need the extreme right, but is Rodney worth it? In recent years his hypocrisy has been exposed. 2) NZ First for all the noise about Winston's return are not making much of a dent. He is fish and chip wrapping now; 3) United Future is virtually dead in the water, can't see any way back for them; 4) Destiny are not looking likely to take over NZ, and we are well past the 5 year mark; 5) The Greens are doing well which is good environmentally but not so good socially in my view; 6) Goff has nearly dropped below Helen Clark domiciled in New York and retired from NZ politics! Unbelievable and embarrassing.

Surely it is time for Labour to move to appoint a new leader. They need to do so soon to allow that person as they go into an election year. Goff has no presence. His latest gaff over David Cunliffe/Caygill is one step too far. He looks more uncomfortable than Richie McCaw in a dress. It is time. The question is who will take over? NZ needs a strong left/right option moving ahead. They cannot simply let National dominate like this without putting up some kind of fight.

Looking at NZ politics from the perspective of Christian parties, the demise of United Future is the last gasp for the present. There is no Christian party option and Christians who want this can be said to have completely failed to achieve any lasting impact in NZ politics. In one sense this is good because 'Christian' parties are not really something I relate to. On the other hand, it is symbolic of NZ's Christian inability to do what is essential to the faith, work together in unity for a common goal. Surely, in a nation with the social issues we face, and with a gospel for the poor and creation, we can find enough people to get 5% of the population to support it.  

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Brian Tamaki and Others and The Abuse of the Notion of Being In Christ

Paul uses the language of 'in Christ' some 83 times and 'in the Lord' 47x (Dunn, Theology, 296-97). It is part of his participationist Christology. If we accept what appears on the Cult Watch website about all believers being Christs, there is a lack of understanding of the idea of what Paul means by 'in Christ.' BT is not alone in this, in my view, many theologians are little better flirting with the way in which Paul uses the idea. BT appears to think that as we are 'in Christ' we are 'Christs' ourselves. The implication of this could be that we are of the same status and empowered to the same level as Christ himself. He reminds me a little of contemporary theologians who argue that all humans are 'in Christ' by virtue of Christ being the 'elect one' and all humans are now participants of him, they just have to realise it. Another element of 'in Christ' thinking that is held by many today is believing that, as we are 'in Christ' through salvation, we are in some sense divine, a part of the Triune God, in an actual sense that leads to divinisation or theosis in an extreme sense.
It occurred to me as I pondered all this that Paul is misunderstood in his 'in Christ' thinking by all of the above; or better, each is imbalanced and twists or distorts what Paul really meant.

We can tell from Paul's broader teaching that he never meant 'in Christ' thinking to blur the line between the divine and created. Take for example Rom 1:18-25 where the essential problem of humanity is that they do not give thanks to or worship the creator as they should; rather, they worship the created. Idolatry for Paul, the problem the first two commandments focus on, not to mention the Greatest Commandment to love God with everything we have, is the essential problem of fallen humanity. As such, to elevate ourselves in any sense into the divine would be a total misunderstanding of Paul and a corruption; indeed, it would be falling prey to the essential sin of humanity, albeit in a different way. In 1 Cor 8:6 Paul makes clear there is one God and one Lord, Jesus Christ. We in no sense 'become God' when we are included in Christ at the moment of faith.

The idea that we are 'in Christ' before we are converted in some sense may be a nice idea theologically; however, it is flawed. Paul clearly sees humanity in two groups, those who are in Christ and those who are captive to the effects of the Fall of humanity in Genesis 3 they are 'in Adam' (e.g. Rom 5:12-21). You cannot simultaneously be in Adam and in Christ. What gets a person into Adam? Birth into a corrupted world where sin holds sway and sin, 'because all have sinned' (Rom 5:12). Getting out of 'Adam' and into 'Christ' is found through faith pre-Christ (e.g. Abraham in Rom 4) and post-Christ (e.g. Rom 3:21-31). We are 'justified by faith.' It may be on about 6 occasions that Paul refers to Christ's faith saving us (e.g. 'faithfulness of Christ; Rom 3:28 etc), but in the main our faith response to this Christ and/or God is what moves us into the status of 'in Christ.' It is thus a soteriological idea, we are saved 'in Christ' the realm of salvation.

Once we are 'in Christ' we in no way become Christ in a literal or ontological sense. Paul and the NT at no point speak of believers as 'Christs.' They are 'Christ's' in the sense of being 'of Christ' or owned by Christ, but they are not all Christs. There is one unique Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah, who came and lived, served, died and rose again to reveal God and path the way to salvation for all who would believe. To say we are 'Christs' is to fulfil the prophecy of many false Christs! We do not want that. He is the one unique Israelite king, appointed to rule the world, and to whom all will submit or be crushed under his feet. I choose to submit and not to usurp him, the sin of the garden!

So what does it mean to be 'in Christ'? Well it does not mean that we are Christs or God's ourselves. We never become divine, the ontological gap between the divine and the created remains. First, as noted above, it is a soteriological idea, we are no longer in Adam facing the consequences of sin including death and eternal destruction. We are one of the saved, being saved and will be saved people. Secondly, it means that spiritually we are included in Christ by the work of the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:11) who is in us. Thus we are united with Christ spiritually. This must not be misunderstood in concrete terms as if we are all little bits of Christ. Because BT sees Christ's resurrection as non-corporeal and so spiritual, he can argue this. If we hold to orthodoxy that Jesus is still incarnate, a man, a separate physical bodily individual, albeit gloriously immortal and risen, then he remains other to us. We are united with him in the Spirit. It is thus a spiritual idea. Thirdly, it means we are part of a people, those who by faith are also 'in Christ', whether from ancient Israel, from the Christian era, and in my view, from all over the world where faith in God is found. It is thus an ecclesiological concept in which there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; we are one people in Christ. We retain our individuality, our distinctives, our uniqueness, but are part of a people united by common faith and the Spirit. This people is a new humanity, the restoration of the original intention of God. Through the marking of the Spirit, we are citizens of heaven on earth, living in a fallen world and a rotting body, but spiritually united with God and each other through the work of the Spirit. It is an eschatological idea, we are out of the fallen people of God and in a new people. The visible manifestation of this people is the Church of God on planet earth. It is thus a spiritual union. Thirdly, we are participants in the work of this Christ, led and empowered by the Spirit with ethical attributes like love, and gifts like evangelist or prophecy or service etc (Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor 12-14; Eph 4:11-12). We participate in the sufferings of Christ as we minister on his behalf. In a spiritual and theological sense he is in us and we in him and so his work is extended, he suffers in us and with us and through us, and his work on earth is carried out through his 'body', the 'body of Christ', on earth. Thus, it is a missiological notion. It is terribly dangerous to push this further and say we are in an ontological and essential sense Christ. Any sense in which we are 'in Christ' is derivative and gifted to us on the basis of faith and submission to his lordship. So there is an irony here; we threaten our status if we cross the line. This seems to do so.

Confusion seems to come when people start to isolate themselves from others and in terms of their own importance and start to believe that there is no qualitative difference between Jesus the Christ and themselves as 'Christs.' They start to think that they are actually gifted more than the Scriptures tell us. The metaphor is pushed so that they are of the same status and level as the 'head of the church' and 'firstborn from the dead' Jesus Christ our Lord. They posit, ah, I am essentially on a par with Jesus the Christ. They find verses like John 14:12 which appear to say all believers will do the same things as Jesus and posit, if I just have enough faith I can be Christ to the world. Some do this at a corporate level believing the church itself is Christ on earth. The immediate problem with these ideas is that we are not perfected and our sanctification completed. Further, any 'in Christness' is due to being a part of Christ in submission to him and dependent on him and the Spirit. To go further actually threatens to sever this as we move from being creatures dependent upon God to the essential problem of Satan, Adam and Eve, Babel, and all sinners since; we believe ourselves to be above what we are created to be. If we and the church are literally Christs to the world, then we are rubbish and Christ has become corrupted for we are individually and corporately remain corrupted, subject to sin and flawed.

The same problems apply to eternity in my view. When we are completed at the return of Christ we do not become gods. There is one God. Sure we become divine, incorruptible, immortal and we have the same glorious body as Jesus Christ our Lord. Yet we remain creaturely, dependent, submissive, beneath. The picture of worship in Revelation is not of perfected humans standing around worshiping self or each other, but of the saved standing before the throne on which God and the lamb are found, worshiping God! Elders are falling before this God, Father and Son. Humans together cry praises to the one who is worthy! We may have some of the attributes of the divine, but we are no divine in the fullest sense of the word. And these are gifts on the basis of the one Christ's divinity, not our own.

The body of Christ is not made up of a whole lot of Christs, but is a people of God who all are part of the one Christ spiritually, ecclesiologically, eschatologically, missiologically and who are to live as Christ lived, out of service, love, humility, mercy, sacrifice, suffering and even death. They each have gifts imparted by God sovereignly and spiritually. They are to serve together in unity under Christ's lordship and the Spirit's guidance, in glorious koinonia and unity, to see the world know that there is a God and a Lord. They will rise and receive their eternal reward, eternal life and blessing. Yet they will remain humanly, in submission. Indeed, I would imagine that if any of us seek to rise above our station and claim to be divine, we will be in danger of being thrown out. Hopefully that will not be possible when we get there, but who knows?
So, I encourage you to think very carefully about all this. There are dangers everywhere. Our 'in Christness' is a gift, a status, an honour, a motivation to mission, to hope, to service; but it is not a ground for the ultimate hubris, where we claim to be gods. We are not. To God be the glory. Amen.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus and Brian Tamaki

I got an email yesterday which connected me to an article on the Cult Watch website which discusses the latest claims of Brian Tamaki (see The site has audio of Brian Tamaki saying that the Jesus who died (Jesus of Nazareth) is not the same Jesus who came out of the tomb; rather 'the flesh Jesus died in the tomb.' Jesus then put off his 'flesh body' could become a 'life giving spirit.' He also claims believers are all God, 'they are the actual same divinity and substance of spirit as God.' He says that the church is made up of 'many Christs.' Assuming that this is the position of Bishop Tamaki, here I will deal with the first of these issues. Did Jesus of Nazareth enter the tomb and not come out? Is he merely a 'life giving Spirit?' If we take the Scriptures seriously the evidence points strongly away from this:
1. Mark 16
The ending of Mark is difficult with it likely that v.8 is the end of the original gospel. In these verses the women come to the tomb wondering who will roll the stone away (Mark 16:1-3). The stone is rolled back and they find a young man in white at the right side of the tomb (Mark 16:4-5). The man says in v.6, 'do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.' This is clearly the Jesus of Nazareth to which Brian Tamaki refers. The man then says, 'He has risen; he is not here.' Clearly, this refers to Jesus of Nazareth who supplies the subject of these verbs. The man goes on, 'See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you' (vv. 6-7). 'He' is the same one who was crucified and buried. He is now going to Galilee and there the disciples will 'see him.' Seeing here implies a real being not a phantasm, ghost or mere spirit. It is the same Jesus of Nazareth now risen from the dead.

We should also look at the two longer endings of Mark neither of which is likely to be original to the text. However, they both are early witnesses to the way the resurrection was understood. The shorter longer ending says: 'And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation (NRSV).' In this longer ending, Jesus himself shows it is the same person who went into the tomb who now commissions the disciples to take the gospel to the world.

In the long longer ending which features in many translations despite almost certainly being inauthentic, it is clear that the same Jesus is the one who is risen. The text is full of 'he' references involving appearances which are seen indicating that this is the same Jesus. I have highlighted the NRSV text to make the point.
9Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. 12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.  14 Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. 16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." 19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.'
Several things are of note here. The same one who rose is the one who appeared and who had cast out seven demons from Mary and the one the disciples had been with (vv. 9-10). This Jesus appears, is seen and speaks to them. There is nothing to suggest that this is anything other than Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and now risen from death.

2. Matthew 28
In Matthew's gospel which appears to use Mark as its foundation for the account, the women come to the tomb (Matt 28:1), there is an earthquake and a gleaming angel of the Lord descended and rolled back the tomb and sat on it causing the guards to be terrified (Matt 28:2-4). The angel then told the women that 'I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified' (Matt 28:5). The angel then says 'He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.' The third person personal pronoun 'he' is found in three successive verbs which clearly refer to Jesus of Nazareth. The final one refers to Jesus' earlier three-fold predictions of his death (cf. Matt 16:21-23; 17:22-23; 20:17-19). There is no question then that the same one who has risen from the dead is the Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified (v.5) and is now risen (v.6). In v.6 this is reinforced: 'Come, see the place where he lay,' again using a third person verb indicating Jesus. Thus, the same one who lay dead after crucifixion, is now risen. They are then told in v.7 by the angel to tell the disciples that 'he has risen from the dead' and that 'he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.'

If that isn't enough in v.9 Matthew writes: 'And behold, Jesus met them.' This is clearly the same person who predicted his death, was crucified, and rose from the dead. He is now with them. He speaks to them saying 'Greetings' (chairete). They take his feet and worship him indicating his corporality. One does not hold the feet of a phantasm or ghost. He is again named Jesus in v.10 and he speaks again and tells them to go to Galilee with the other disciples ('brothers') and 'there they will see me.' Again, this implies continuity and the same person who was not a mere spiritually resurrected being, but a visible bodily being, the same Jesus. In v.17 the 'saw him' and they are commissioned to tell the world (Matt 28:18-20). Without doubt, for Matthew, Jesus resurrected is Jesus of Nazareth in bodily form back from the dead. He can be touched and speaks. If Brian Tamaki is asserting that Jesus did not rise in bodily form from the dead, then his teaching directly contradicts Matthew.

3. Luke 24
In Luke's account the women go to the tomb and find two men in white (Luke 24:1-4) and the men speak to them. In vv. 6-7 they say 'He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.' In v. 8 the disciples remember his words. Clearly for Luke there is direct continuity between the Son of Man who was in Galilee and predicted his death (cf. Luke 9:21-22, 43-44; 18:31-34) and who is now raised. It is Jesus of Nazareth that is in mind of course.

In Luke 24:13-41 there are three appearances. The first is the Emmaus road where Cleopas and a companion meet Jesus on the road. In v.15 Luke explicitly states that 'Jesus himself drew near and went with them.' The Greek for 'Jesus himself' (autos Iēsous) is emphatic and clearly is the same Jesus crucified (cf. v. 19 Jesus of Nazareth). The use of 'him' through the subsequent verses then is this same person. In vv. 19-24 they recount exactly what happened naming him 'Jesus of Nazareth' and describing his ministry of deed and word and his empty tomb. Note it says in v.23 that 'he was alive' clearly indicating Jesus:
…their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, "What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" 19 And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." 25 And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
In the next appearance account, this continues. Note in v. 37 that the believers are confused and think he is just a spirit or a ghost. However, Jesus goes out of his way to demonstrate that he is not merely a phantasm or ghost or spirit, he is corporeal, and he is physical and bodily.

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!" 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39
See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."
40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.
44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

In the above passage Jesus does a number of things demonstrating that he is bodily:
  1. He appears so that they can see him.
    He speaks so that they can hear him.
  2. He shows them his hands and feet so that they can see the scars no doubt.
  3. He gets them to touch him to feel that he has flesh and bones.
  4. He took fish and ate it.
  5. He reminds them of what he taught them previously.
These six things clearly show he is the same Jesus, dead and risen from death, and is a bodily being. There is one critical difference, his ability to translate from one context to another as he wants. As such, he is bodily and the same person but with different capacities of movement and appearance.

4. John
In John 20-21 John records his account of the resurrection. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb but the stone is rolled away (John 20:1). She gets Simon Peter and the beloved disciple (likely John) and tells them and they run and find the burial cloths in the empty tomb, after which they return home while Mary remained there (John 20:2-10). Two angels appear and speak to her and then Jesus appears (John 20:11-14). Note in v. 14 Jesus is explicitly named, Jesus. For John, the raised one is the same person his whole Gospel has been about to this point. Jesus speaks to her and eventually recognises him and she is told to tell the others, she does. He is named in vv. 15, 16, 17 as Jesus.

In vv. 19-23 Jesus appears to the disciple in a locked room, again showing his capacity to move at will across time and space without hindrance. He is named Jesus again in v. 19, 21. He gives clear demonstrations of his bodily existence revealing himself to them, showing them his hands and side, speaking to them, breathing on them.

Thomas does not accept the truth of this and eight days later he appears again this time with Thomas present and again enters a locked room, speaks ('peace be with you' [v. 26]) and gets Thomas to touch his hands and side leading to Thomas ceasing to doubt (vv. 26-29). Again he named Jesus in v. 29 and all uses of he (e.g. v. 27) indicate that it is Jesus that is in mind.

In John 21 he appears again to seven disciples at the Sea of Galilee fishing. Without doubt this is Jesus who is in mind. He gives further demonstrations of his corporality by cooking them breakfast (vv. 9-14).

5. Acts  
Acts is written by Luke and is part two of his work. In Acts 1 Luke names him Jesus, showing complete continuity with Luke i.e. it is the same bloke back from the dead. It is 'This Jesus' in v. 11:
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3
He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7
He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

5. 1 Corinthians
In 1 Cor 15:3-7 Paul recalls the resurrection appearances of Jesus. He names him as Christ. Using Nestle Aland 27, prior to 1 Cor 15:2 in this letter Paul has refers to Jesus 22x and Christ 48x. He uses the constructs Christ Jesus and Jesus Christ interchangeably 62 x (31x each). Clearly the 'Christ' he mentions in v. 3 is Jesus of Nazareth who is the Jewish Messiah now raised from the dead and so, Jesus Christ Lord. So in this passage 'he' is clearly one and the same:
 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
The problem in Corinth is stated in v. 12: 'Now if Christ is proclaimed as being raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?' This tells us a few things about the problem. First, the Corinthians, unlike Tamaki, believed that Jesus rose from the dead. If they did not believe this, Paul would challenge them much more harshly as for Paul, belief in the resurrection of Jesus is critical to salvation (cf. Rom 10:9-10). Secondly, it tells us that while they believed in the resurrection of Jesus, they denied the resurrection of believers. They were influenced by Greco-Roman thought which rejected the idea of bodily resurrection. They likely believed in a spiritual resurrection, the very thing Tamaki attributes to Christ. I would recommend readers get a hold of N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God at this point which goes through the data with a fine-toothed comb very well indeed.

Paul's argument from here builds on the premise of Christ's resurrection and argues for the resurrection of believers. Just as Christ was raised bodily, so will believers be. This will happen at the culmination when Jesus returns and there is an instantaneous transformation of the believers' bodies into incorruptible bodies like that of Jesus. Jesus' body is described as a spiritual body a brilliant phrase which captures the continuity and discontinuity of Jesus' body and the believers' bodies in their resurrected state. 'Body' (sōma) implies that Jesus was bodily and we will be too. 'Spiritual' (pneumatikon) indicates that it is a body animated by the Spirit of God and so incorruptible. Unlike Adam's body which is subject to death, it is fully empowered by the Spirit, incorruptible, immortal and glorious (cf. Phil 3:21).

Conclusion: Brian Tamaki and the Resurrection
Clearly, if Brian Tamaki is saying that Jesus Christ did not rise in bodily form then he is incorrect in his belief. Of course, all this depends on whether or not this is the case and I am sure that as the story breaks we will gain clarification. This view is not biblical in any sense of the word. It is not in agreement with the explicit teaching of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul. If he is claiming to have had a revelation that supersedes the biblical data; this is the path to disaster, a path paved many times before by false teachers. Jesus clearly rose from the dead in bodily form, his corpse reanimated and filled with the Spirit, incorruptible, immortal, glorious and powerful. To accept this teaching one must abandon the essential evangelical principle of Sola Scriptura in which Scripture is afforded priority in the formulation of theology. One has to denounce Scripture as of secondary importance to personal revelation.

So, unless Brian Tamaki comes out clarifying what he has said in line with the teaching of the Apostles and Word of God, all true believers should think very seriously about what they are involved in at Destiny. On the other hand, if he comes out and states that Jesus did rise from the dead in bodily form it would be wonderful for the Kingdom. The truth is that every orthodox church must stand for the gospel upon which it is which founded; namely, the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, the same man who was crucified and buried.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Alien Life? Yeah Right.

So all over the news yesterday was the great headline that a great discovery had been made greatly increasing the possibility that there is alien life out there (e.g. It turns out that all had been found was some bacteria that can grow not only off scoffing phosphorous but arsenic. As far as we know, 6 elements are required for life, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulphur and phosphorus. It is a very interesting discovery for sure, but it proves little to me. It at best opens up the possibility that there are life forms that do not need all 6 to be around to survive, as they can convert one or other. This being still needed all 6 elements, and converted one element close to phosphorous on the periodic table into the missing building block. Such life will still need to be generated in the first place and live in conditions conducive to life. In terms of alien life, we would still have to find a way to get to the millions of solar systems out there, survive the trip, and then explore.

The whole presentation was rather laughable, as it spoke of extra terrestial life. According to the website, extra-terrestrial means either: 1) adj. 'Originating, located, or occurring outside Earth or its atmosphere: intelligent extraterrestrial life'; 2) n. 'An extraterrestrial being or life form.' Thus it refers to life in any other context other than this world! This was found in our world! Did I miss something? What has been found is a microbe that differs. That is no surprise, there are many things that are amazing in the natural world and many others we are yet to discover.

The presentation was a window into the religion of scientism, of extraterrestrialism. Don't get me wrong, I would not be at all surprised if there is life out there. I am a theist and do not want to limit creator God to one tiny planet in which he engineered the emergence of life. But to jump from a microbe to an argument that the probability of life on other planets is plain spurious. The logic does not flow at all. This tells us there is life on earth, there are complexities to it, and tells us nothing about the rest of the universe. We are being told that science has all the anwers, there is no God/god, that life emerged spontaneously and it is out there, we just have to find it. Life on this earth in fact was likely seeded by aliens. This is a new dogma in my view. It is also part of the US government always seeking to justify programs seeking to find life on other planets, when we should be working to maintain life on this planet.

So, it is all very interesting but completely OTT and out of proportion. It shows that life is more diverse than we knew, something we have been getting to know anyway as we study life on earth.

It is also highly ironical that we have a whole lot of westerners denying the existence of God as unreasonable and without proof, yet they run around doing all they can to tell us that there is life on other planets, which has absolutely no proof except a little bit of deduction. This is terrestrialmorphism where we project our world onto others with no logic. Classic illogical argumentation. There is no proof that there is life on other planets and this gets us absolutely no closer to finding it or proving it. It does prove that there is life on earth! Ah, but we knew that. Of course there may be life on other planets, but we have no evidence at all. It also begs the question, how did life emerge? What agency generated it? Indeed, if life is found to be increasingly more diverse in this way, doesn't it add to the need to find a cause. The more complex we find our world, the less an explanation without external agency works. That is what converted Anthony Flew in the end.

So for me, rather than reinforce that there is alien life, it further shows the miracle of life on earth and the glory of the creator. How he went about his creation, now that is a good argument. Did he do so by a process of evolution, or through miraculous intervention without a process? That is interesting and we simply do not have sufficient information to know the answer.

So, I will now go eat some breakfast. It won't be arsenic, but that proves nothing except that I will live through it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

John Stott, The Radical Disciple

I have just sat and read John Stott's latest and last book, The Radical Disciple. What a refreshing, challenging and moving read. Stott introduces the idea of discipleship with a preface in which he states his preference for the word 'disciple' over 'Christian.' I think for Stott, it captures what it means to be a Christian, a student of Christ. Throughout the book, for me, the dominant idea is Christ and complete Christian submission to him.

He focuses on 8 areas of discipleship, singling them out because of their importance. These are: 1) Non-conformity; 2) Christlikeness; 3) Maturity; 4) Creation-care; 5) Simplicity; 6) Balance; 7) Dependence; 8) Death. He ends with a personal and very moving note to his readers that this is his last book and says goodbye.

What strikes me in this book is its simplicity. He clearly has a world of Christians in mind who live shallow lives without depth and who have not grasped the nature of what it means to be a Christian, to be 'conformed to the image of his Son' (p. 29). He does not complicate things, but says is simply and well. It could be read by a teenager. This is the sort of book that every church should use as a basis for home group study. Pastor's should preach its essential outline and content, in their own style of course. New Christians should get this very early in their lives, so that their discipleship is founded on the right stuff.

The book is typical Stott, sprinkled with personal stories, well-selected quotes, and most importantly, reflection on the Bible. At points he gives exposition, at others he draws from all over the Scriptures. He shows a holistic theology and avoids controversy and doctrinal dogmatism.

Influenced as I am by the idea of the Christ-pattern as the essential basis for Christian life, namely, living lives according to the pattern of sacrifice, service, humility, suffering, and even death, two chapters stood out to me. The first is 'Christlikeness' and the second, the final chapter on death. Stott really 'gets it' and has done so for years. He gets how to articulate the essentials of the faith in a manner any person can understand. Yet he reveals a huge depth.

The final thought I have is that this book is empowered by the truth that Stott has lived it. He is not some young kid or some mid stage 50 year old telling people how to live, he has done it. He has left the proceeds of his books to multiply his ministry through other writers in God's world. He will die, but from the seed of his death will further arise a whole world movement of people articulating the gospel for their contexts. John Stott is a hero of the faith. He has served gloriously. Thank you John for your wonderful service and for this last chapter.

As a writer I will seek to take up the challenge, and if I can be half the man you are, I will die a happy man. Well done good and faithful servant. Thanks.

The Radical Disciple

Friday, November 12, 2010

Death penalty

Recently I worked through Romans 13 in preparation for teaching. Romans 12 calls for Christians to live by the pattern of the cross, conformed no longer to this age, but transformed with renewed minds. They are to live out of humility, a realistic self-perception based on their gifts. They are to allow others to do the same. They are to be marked by love rejecting evil, living lives full of goodness and purity. They are to love each other as family, Paul using two philos terms in 12:10 philadelphia ('brotherly love') and philastorgos ('family love') to define the Christian community as family. They are show respect to each other, be fervent in life and spirit, prayerful, servant hearted, characterised by joy, empathy, patience generosity and caring for foreigners. They are to live in unity no matter what their social status, characterised by a mindset of humility. This is utterly unRoman and revolutionary! When it comes to being on the receiving end of persecution they are not to respond in kind. They are to live at peace with everyone and not take revenge. This is to be left to God. It is clear that Paul does not envisage Christians killing anyone!

As I pondered Rom 13 though, I flirted with the idea of the state and capital punishment, something I personally have alwlays found abhorent. I wondered about Rom 13:4. Does Paul's theology of the state holding the sword include this? Does Paul have a theology of church and state which allows the state to put to death evil people, while the people of God refuse to resort to such things? This is a very separatist theology. I had a huge long discussion on my facebook page which opened this up, it was fun (see!/mark.keown1/posts/168008683224641). I pondered, did I have this right?

Then today I saw this article: It tells how a DNA test on a single hair which suggests that a man was wrongly put to death 10 years ago in Texas for the murder in a liquor store. Apparently the staff of George W. Bush, the then governor, would not allow him to have a genetic test on the strand at the time. It has now been tested, and it did not belong to the supposed killed Claude Jones! It came from the murder victim and not the killer. While not conclusive, it throws doubt on the conviction and execution.  Claude was killed on Dec 7, 2000 by lethal injection. He may have been innocent, as he had always claimed!

Whatever the details of this, it shows one of the real problems with the death penalty. The wrong person may be killed. Arthur Allan Thomas for example, may well have been executed for the Crewe murders.

So, my brief flirtation of thought is over. I will live by the ethics Jesus proclaimed even if there are complexities about the relationship of church and state in Scripture. I will use my democratic power as one voice to do all I can to ensure it doesn't happen here. The truth is, I just can't see Jesus putting to death someone in this way! And if that is the case, so be it. So, like 72% of Kiwis in a 2004 Colman Brunton Poll of 1,000 Kiwis, I will continue to vehemently oppose the death penalty. As Phil Goff said at the time, to "take the life of an innocent person is the worst thing that a state can do to its citizens," and as such the justice system could not always guarantee that it had convicted the right person (Otago Daily Times, New Zealand, July 15, 2004).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Smoke Free by 2025?

So a Maori Affairs Sub-Committee has recommended NZ become smoke-free by 2025. Ash (Action of Smoking and Health) agrees of course with this. Key says it is a big ask, it is!

This has got me thinking.

In the first place, I hate smoking. I grew up in a smokers' house. My mum and dad smoked up to 4 packets a day for over 20 years. I remember vividly when we left one home to move, we took the pictures off the once cream walls, and the wall behind the pictures and mirrors remained cream, but the exposed areas yellowish and grimey! It was disgusting. My mum gave smoking away one day out of the blue. A few years later my dad spent two weeks in hospital with an unstoppable nose bleed and was told, stop or die. He stopped, shocked finally into not smoking. My oldest sister has been a chain smoker since her teens. She gave up recently which made me truly proud.

I tried my first and only ciggie at 13 and hated it. I remember equally vividly the day when a nurse came to school and showed us the difference between a smokers lung and a non-smokers lung. She told us that if we smoked it would mess up our sports careers because we wouldn't be able to breath properly. Wanting sporting glory, for me that was it. I would never smoke. So I have smoked two cigarettes (and more than a few joints later on, not something I am proud of!).

When I see a smoker now I always struggle, thinking, 'why are you doing this to yourself?' So, I really dislike it and find it a disgusting habit.

Yet at the same time, I find myself for some reason feeling for smokers and finding this talk of a smoke free NZ annoying. I am trying to get to the bottom of my feeling. It doesn't make sense. Smoking is dangerous, it is addictive, it kills, it is disgusting, it wrecks health, it costs the nation millions. What is going on?

I think it is to do with the so-called 'nanny-state' and the feeling that while smoking is appalling, smokers are now the new lepers who are being marginalised. I feel sorry for them I suppose. The other group in this category of modern lepers are the obese. Still, this blog is not about them.

I think we should make a choice as a nation and either make smoking illegal or stop being so prescriptive and talking such rot as making NZ smoke free while leaving smoking legal. If it is legal, and people are to be respected as adults, they need to have the choice. It is the question of freedom, adulthood and responsibility which is at stake. A government has to make good laws and one of the functions is to protect people. I think we should legislate to make smoking expensive and giving up cheaper. We should limit advertising etc. But this feels too much. A young man can go to war at 16, yet not have a smoke, and yet it is legal. I agree with limiting smoking in places where passive smoking can affect others, this is good. But if a person wants a smoke, even though it disgusts me and I don't get it, and they are an adult, and smoking is legal, and they know the risks (we all know them now!), why not?

So then should smoking be illegal? I would love to say yes. I hate smoking and it kills. But there are at least two major problems with this idea. First, if we make smoking illegal, we should be consistent and  make alcohol illegal. We need to be consistent about drugs like this that have such social cost. Second, western countries have tried in the past to make these sort of things illegal and it kind of backfired. When something like this is banned, it goes underground and it becomes a revenue spinner for the gangs. In the USA during the days of prohibition, this got to the point of almost full scale war between gangs and the government. I suspect there is a shady underground of our country waiting for ciggies to be illegal. I am told they are already active now that ciggies are so expensive.

If smoking was not established in our culture or already illegal, I would believe it should not be decriminalised (as marijuana should not be). But, it is well established and if we move against it, it will create an underground. I also struggle with the way in which western democratic socialist governments are seeking to rob all the fun out of life. The thing is, that one or two smokes a day is not going to kill an otherwise healthy and active person.

So, while I hate smoking, I think this is one-step too far. I say make smoking expensive, limit its advertising, make smoking companies pay for treatment, help smokers give up. But, otherwise, keep it real and allow people to live freely and responsibly.

Can I find Scripture to support all this. Not really actually. So this might all be rubbish, but that's how it feels.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Gospel as Yes - No!

I have been thinking about what it is that saves a person. That is, what do we have to do to be saved? The writers of the New Testament cite different accounts of response to this question. Jesus responds twice in Luke to similar questions in Lk 10:25; 18:18, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' He responds by inviting the enquirer to answer from the Jewish law. The lawyer responds with Lev 19:18, 'love your neighbour as yourself.' Jesus affirms he is correct, if he does this he will live. This leads to the account of the Good Samaritan as the enquirer questions 'who is my neighbour?' The answer seems to be unconditional and unlimited love.

In Luke 18:18 a rich Jewish leader asks Jesus the same question. Jesus answers by asking him if he knows the law to which the man responds he has kept these laws through his life. Jesus then exposes his failing, money! In other words, he has failed to really live the law. Jesus then goes on to say that such people can be saved but God does the saving. The story of Zacchaeus tells us how.

When we come to Acts a similar question is asked of Peter at Pentecost. Peter answers, 'repent and be baptised.' Repentance in Acts is important i.e. a turning from sin to God. When Peter is asked 'what must I do to be saved' in Acts 16, he answers, 'believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.' As we peruse the NT, faith becomes the summative term to describe what is required.

I have been trying to work this through. In Luke, Paul, John, Peter and even James, faith is certainly the dominant way to describe a response that saves. So, if so, what is faith? Faith is more than cognitive agreement to a set of propositions, but it includes a belief in Jesus as the one who saves and as Lord. However, there seems to be more than mere cognitive assent, there is some sense of will and commitment, a sense of submission, a sense of ongoing trust, a sense that this faith must be seen in some action that flows from it. If not, James especially indicates, that faith is not real.

I have pondered how to capture this. It seems the authentic Christian thinking believes that we are saved in and through what Jesus has done, not what we do. He lived the perfect life, fulfilled the law, did all that Adam failed to do, did what Israel failed to do, did what I and all humans fail to do, he lived sinlessly and without flaw. He died and death could not hold him down, so he rose, and he is our salvation. We are to respond to this.

I am pondering an idea around the word, 'yes.' In 2 Cor 1:18 Paul writes that the word of the ever-faithful God to humanity is 'yes.' In v.19, in Jesus God's word is always 'yes.' All the promises of God find a 'yes' in Jesus. This got me thinking. Perhaps the best way to define faith is that it is our 'yes' to God's 'yes.' I find this helpful and I can see how we can run this through the gospel story.

1. Creation as God's 'Yes!'
In creation God says 'yes' to all humanity. He created this glorious world with all its flora and fauna. He created humanity as the climax of his creation, and to us he gave the world to steward, to rule over, to use and care for. He created us for relationship with him, each other, and with the world. Creation is God's yes to us.

2. The Fall as Humanities 'No!'
At the Fall, Adam and Eve said 'no' to God. God gave them everything even himself. He gave them one boundary and humanity fell. Despite his grace to humanity, they sinned and said no. They were separated from him. This is the problem of being human, we consistently go our own way, we reject God, we sin. We are all subject to this, 'because all sinned' (Rom 5:12). At the Fall, we said 'no' to God.

3. Redemption as God's 'Yes!'
Despite our rejection of God, God is relentless. Full of love and mercy, he set to work to save. The history of Israel is his first phase as in relationship with a nation to whom he revealed his 'yes,' despite they consistently saying 'no' to him across history, he persevered setting up Jesus as his ultimate 'yes' to the world. Jesus came and lived the perfect life, refusing to resort to 'no', and lived, loved and even died for humanity. Jesus is a living letter from God to the world saying 'yes.' 'Despite your sin and rejection of me, I will not give up on you, I love you, I say "yes"!' He continues to say yes, offering salvation to us.

4. Salvation as our 'Yes' to God.
In this phase between the coming of Jesus and his return in which we seek to tell the Jesus' story throughout the world, in which we gather as God's people as the church, in which we work to give witness to Jesus working for the salvation of every person and the restoration of the world, we are simply telling the story of God's 'yes.' We are going to the world offering them this salvation to which they will say 'yes' or 'no.' This is the time of choice, how will we respond to this glorious 'yes.' 'Yes' is seen in the initial decision that brings us into the salvation of Christ and unites us with God. His Spirit fills us and we walk with him, partnering him in his work, seeking to see others come into the glory of relationship with God in Christ. Sadly many say 'no', choosing their own way, refusing to surrender and submit to this Jesus, despite his relentless love. This 'yes' is not only a one-off moment, but an ongoing relationship in which day by day, moment by moment we say 'yes' or 'no.' As we walk this life we say 'yes' emphatically sometimes, falteringly at others, and say no sometimes. The point is, is the inclination of our lives 'yes' to God? To say 'yes' moment by moment, is to live by faith. So, this is the phase in which we say 'yes or no.'

5. At the Consummation, God says 'yes.'
At the return of Christ, all stand before God in judgement. We will be asked to give account of our lives. God will assess whether we said 'yes' to him and his offer. If he deems that we said 'yes' to him indicating our desire to live with him forever, his response to us is 'yes' and we live forever with him. If we have said 'no' rejecting him, again he says 'yes' to our response. He says 'I will grant you your wish, and you will live forever without me.' You could argue that God says 'no' when we say 'no.' Actually, I prefer to see it as God's reluctant 'yes' to our 'no'. Hell is the ultimate consequence of our 'no' to God. So, at the consummation, God's word to us is 'yes.'

So we can sum up the gospel as Yes (Creation) - No (Fall) - Yes (Redemption) - Yes or No (Now) - Yes (Consummation) i.e. Yes, no, yes, yes or now, yes.

It also helps us know what it means to live by faith on a daily basis, it is saying yes.

I find this helpful because when I say 'yes' to God, I find something inside me is warmed, and I find myself inclining toward God. Try it, say 'yes' to God, and see how it feels. When you get up tomorrow and you feel like crap, try saying 'yes' and watch how something spiritual happens inside and you find a change, an inclination, a warming, a strength, a power, a desire.

So, for me, faith is saying yes to God. 'Yes Lord, yes yes Lord,' as the song says.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Commonwealth Game, yes or no?

As I write, we are waiting for the result of a meeting concerning the Commonwealth Games in India. What to make of it?

The first question is whether the games should ever have been given to India in the first place. I find myself struggling to understand the decision. On the one hand it seems a wonderful gesture which could have the spin-off off encouraging the nation. The nation could receive great international kudos for it. The building of facilities will give jobs. Great wealth might flow in from the many tourists and athletes who come in to the nation. Like the football World Cup in South Africa, it may have a great positive effect on the nation.

Yet, is India really able to manage such an event? Does it have the infrastructure to manage preparations? Can the safety of athletes and visitors be ensured in a nation which is so crowded and unstable. And who will make the money as the nation builds the great stadia and other facilities. Will it go to the poor, or just further line the pockets of the rich? And what will happen to the great facilities after the games? Will they be used or will India be left with white elephants that are left to fall to pieces after the games? Would the money have been better spent raising the standard of living of the nation? It was a nice sentiment to give the games to India, but was it realistic? Time will tell I suppose, but the current situation calls it into question.

Then there is the question of what the organising committee were doing as India failed repeatedly to meet the required deadlines? Why has it come to this? The pressure and threats of cancellation should have come an aweful lot earlier. They could have shfted the Games perhaps a year or so ago, but not now.

So now the athletes and national sporting organisations are faced with a terrible decision. Do they stay, or do they go? The stakes are high. There is the problem of security. One significant disaster at one of these events, and sport may never be the same again. The failure to have the buildings sorted makes everything more vulnerable as they rush to meet the final deadlines. Such events are already outrageously expensive, a terror attack could finish them, at least until this terrorist period is quelled. Then there is the issue of hygiene and health. The story is told of the NZ cricketer who contracted a stomach ailment on a trip to India in the 1970's. He was never the same again. If the athletes village is inadequate and illness sweeps through it, an athletes career could be ended. The stakes are high.

On the other hand, there is the question of whether this is all worth it for a sport? After all, this is about games, not life and death. It is a great shame it has come to this. Were I an athlete with a family, I would certainly not be going to this event as it stands, although if things come together in the next few days, maybe. If I was single, unattached, I would probably go for it. I might never get the chance again.

I have heard it argued that athletes should go for India's sake, as it will be utterly humiliating for them if the whole thing crashes. It will also cost a fortune! That is a good argument, except that this is just about sport. Why should a person potentially put their life on the line because India might look bad? I am sorry, but athletes and sporting bodies should put their people and themselves first.

Then there is the question of whether all this reflects the excessive expectations of western nations and their athletes. Are they just expecting too much from the facilities? But in a nation like India where westerners always struggle with health due to their inability to cope with heat and different diseases to which they aren't immune, why would they put themselves at risk?

Of course, this all assumes that in the next few days they can't get it sorted. I really hope that they do, and I pray that the games goes ahead, and no one is killed, that sickness does not spread through the athletes and that the Indian people will be able to hold their heads high because of the great time had by all.

These events are important to the world. They celebrate our humanity. They are a visible symbol of God's great dream of people of all races and tongues in unity celebrating their humanity. It would be a great tragedy if they were cancelled. But if the risk is too great, they will have to be I suppose.

So for me, should the Games go ahead, a tentative yes, but I would say some will drop out.  Indeed, some should because it is not worth putting oneself at undue risk when one has a family with kids. There is too much at stake. After all, it is just a game.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Qu'ran Burning and All That

What to make of the proposed Qu'ran burning?

First, we the issue is complex. The whole western world is now embroiled in a clash of world views. The clash of world views is complex in that it involves many variables. It is not merely a Christian - Islam clash. It is a clash within Islam between moderates and extremists. It includes secular humanist socially liberal westerners who advocate tolerance and freedom of religion vs other westerners including some Christians who advocate action to suppress what are seen as threatening forms of religion. It includes different understandings of the use of force and involvement in the state with some wanting preventative action against the perceived threat of Islam. It involves questions of identity and value in the west including the freedom of religion, cultural identity, the status of women and so on. It relates to whether a person who comes to live in the west should assimilate and adapt to the western way or is free to retain their religion in all its dimensions even where it clashes with the dominant culture. Similarly, should the western nations demand such an assimilation, and if so, to what? It is an identity issue. As a result, there is no simple response. These complexities and more mean we face unbelievably challenging times. We need to think very well about these issues at the level of a theology of culture, of state, of freedom, of religious tolerance, or war and so on. We need to understand Islam and the problem. We need to think deeply about a theology that will give us a basis to act in the current rising crisis.

Secondly, we have to get used to these things. We are in a crisis. Events such as Sept 11, the July 7 bombings in London, are symptoms of a much deeper problem. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be followed by more in Iran and Yemen. In Europe Islamic populations are now well established in many cities and places and due to birth rates and immigration, is growing quickly. This is leading to a clash of civilisations day by day in the cities of Europe. Responses such as burning of the Qu'ran, the banning of the Burqa in France and other nations, objections to mosques, the rise of the extreme right across Europe, are inevitable. As I travelled Europe recently I felt this in the air in media and from relatives and people we met. Things are going to get messier and messier. A polarisation is occurring. There is deepening fear of Islam, Islamophobia, emerging. There is confusion concerning Islam on the streets, some seeing it as a friendly if rather insular religion with some radical factions; others seeing the whole thing as a threat because of its writings and the violence of recent years believing that mosques are in effect terrorist units. There is the fear that Islam seeks to take the world and will use force to do it. As such, we need to prepare for this. The threat of communism has waned, this is the clash that will define the next years of planet earth.

Thirdly, the stakes are high. At the heart of all this is Palestine, oil and nuclear weapons. There is great distaste in the Arab and Muslim world at the nation of Israel. There is a desire to conquer it and drive the Jews out and establish a Palestinian state. On the western side, oil is needed to retain its affluent lifestyle. Because of this, neither side can or will back down. I ponder (only ponder) whether this sets  the scene for the ultimate conflict that will precede the return of Christ which may (depending how we understand the end times), culminate in war around Jerusalem (cf. Zech 12-14). The great fear on the part of the US and other nations is that Islamic nations gain nuclear weapons. Iran is a huge threat here and the Iraq war was motivated by the false belief that they were gathering WMD's. Afghanistan is critical as Pakistan does have the nuclear weapon and the throught of the Taleban gaining power in Afghanistan could lead to them gaining power in Pakistan and getting access to the weapons. The greatest threat is an Arab nation or Muslim extremist group gaining a nuclear weapon and attacking a western nation or Israel. This would set the world on a much more extreme and dangerous track! Can western nations continue to stop them gaining such weapons? So, the stakes are high. As such, the world will not back down and this thing is here to stay.

With all this in mind, what is our response as believers? Well, we all have to find our way in this situation. We have to do some great thinking. We need to think about war and when and if it is just, we need to consider the role of the State and Christian involvement in it, we need to think about Islam and what Jesus would urge us to do were he here now (how would he relate to it), we need to consider Christian responses to the Roman Empire in the time of Paul and others and extrapolate to ours, we need to think at a personal, regional and national level.

For me, above all, I believe that we must live by faith, hope and love. Faith and hope lead us to not live out of fear but out of confidence in God who is involved in world events, shaping them, holding back evil, working for good. As Rom 8:28 says, all things will work for good for his people. So, we live by faith and not fear. Faith means we articulate our desires to God in prayer, knowing he hears. We need to be people of prayer for the world and this issue and we will see God work in it and through it. We know too that at the return of Christ events will get messier and messier. This should not faze us, we live by faith and not by sight. Hope means that all will work out in the end. We retain a positive relationship with 'our enemies'. We know things will work out.

Lastly, love. Agape should shape us. We are to love our enemies. We are to carry the pack of invading enemies. We are to demonstrate love to each other, to victims, to all people. I don't think it is loving to burn Qu'rans, even if we find its message false and even a threat to us. The pastor has it wrong for sure (did you see the gun on his desk?)! On other issues the outworking of love is more complex. The building of the mosque near ground zero leads to a discussion of whether love for the victims and the people of the USA would see it stopped and/or moved; or whether love for the 'enemies' and for moderate Islam would allow it to be built. I tend to the latter if the motives of the people involved is the fostering of peace. The burqa is also complex. Love for women in general could lead us to ban it as it is oppressive. Love to the Muslim might lead us to respect their culture and allow them to express it. I am still thinking this one through. Love should also lead us to get to understand Islam. It is not monolithic and not all Muslims are terrorists. We should seek to understand them, show them respect and hospitality, incarnate among them as did Jesus, reach out to them, to show them the love of Jesus. As this thing works out with more terrorist events, internal conflict in nations, perhaps even further international conflict, and dare I say it, all out war, we must live by the ethic of Jesus and love our enemies.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Relationship of the Elements of Mission

Assuming the elements of mission in the previous blog, here are some thoughts on the relationship of evangelism to the other elements of mission.
  1. All elements need to be involved together at all times to see effective mission. When one or other element is lacking, the progress of the mission is to some degree thwarted.
  2. All mission begins with points one and two above which lay the foundation from which the mission flows: the Spirit’s empowerment and leading to unconditional love, sacrifice (and so suffering) and service. This is the origin and heart that should drive all mission at all times.
  3. Mission in any context begins with engagement with people and lavish response to material need accompanied by the communication of the good news. These must continue in all contexts at all times. Any diminishing of either will see the effectiveness of mission diminished. Evangelism then is central to mission but must be set in the context of a whole strategy that embraces the fullness of the mission of God. Where the gospel is not established, evangelism is of more significance in the initial establishment of the gospel. As the gospel takes root, the people that form are to work for the fullness of God’s whole mission. Where the gospel is established, evangelism must go on with determination to see all people come to Christ. For evangelism to be effective as the mission goes on, the other elements must work alongside it. The tendency is for evangelism to wane as the gospel is established with other dimensions becoming dominant. This is understandable as the progress of the gospel will increase the ability of the people to impact society and the needs of the converted will grow. At times too, it has to be acknowledged that this is not necessarily a negative thing. Churches and societies go through cycles and at times emphasis needs to go on consolidation to ensure that the gospel mission can regain momentum. However, generally speaking, the church must continue to prioritise evangelism and set aside resources to ensure that communication of the gospel does not wane. Currently, this is the challenge of the west. Where resistance to the gospel is experienced through opposition, rejection and persecution, the church must adapt to this and continue to witness to Christ. This will involve in some instances experiencing persecution and even imprisonment and death. The church needs to shift approaches to a less direct and relational approach whereby the gospel is communicated more subtly. History tells us that this is possible. In any given society the people of God must assess the best methods of sharing the unchanging gospel to reach its people. This will mean adapting the patterns in which the content is communicated and the media. In this way, the evangelism will not die.
  4. The goal of mission has individual, social, and cosmic implications.
    1. Individual: Wider transformation comes from transformed individuals who experience God’s healing and from them transformation flows into society and creation. That this is the case, places evangelism at the heart of mission for it is from initial reception of the Gospel that transformation flows from individual to society to the world.
    2. Social: Mission involves the formation of a new humanity (the church) in the world. The ultimate goal however is the transformation of all of human society in its many organizational forms (family, suburb, village, city, nation, social gatherings, educational contexts, medical environments, workplaces, sports contexts, arts, leisure, science, music etc). There is thus a balance to be found in mission between the formation of the people of God (church) and working to see God’s mission to the whole world furthered.
    3. Cosmic: Mission involves the use and care of God’s resources for human good and care for creation.
  5. Mission involves a compassionate heart for those who are in need whether material or spiritual. Where material needs are concerned, Christians should lead the world in caring for its poor, sick, mentally ill, broken, disabled, oppressed and marginalized. Mission then will involve Christians in the establishment and furthering of initiatives that alleviate suffering. Mission cannot be merely about spiritual restoration but is holistic.
  6. Mission involves not only the conversion of the lost through proclamation but the nurture and teaching of those who come to faith (discipleship). As such, a full strategy will be deeply concerned about ongoing care and nurture so that people find wholeness so that they too can participate in God’s mission to the world.
  7. Mission involves our work. The workplace is not merely a place to witness and raise funds for family, mission and church. The work itself is missional is that it builds and shapes God’s world. In that most people spend a good percentage of their time in a workplace (whether home or otherwise); this is a critical element of mission. The workplace then is a place where mission occurs through the building of God’s world, witness, and raising funds for personal needs and the mission of God in all its aspects.   

Evangelism (Evangelogy): The Elements of Mission

The Elements of Mission
Mission is bigger than evangelism. The full mission of God in our view involves the restoration of all that has gone wrong through the Fall. It presupposes a rich vision of God creating this world out of love that would be free from evil in which all would be whole. Society would be based on goodness, love, peace and joy. The creation itself would be stable and cared for by those who people the world. God and people would live together in glorious harmony and peace would prevail at every level of the world. The mission then is the putting right of what has gone wrong. Central to this is the good news of God's intervention in Jesus to restore people's relationship with God, with each other and with the world.

That being the case, within this broad vision of mission:
Believers are called by God to work with others to make Jesus Christ known through:
-                    the empowerment of the Spirit and obedience to His leading[1]
-                    unlimited unconditional love and sacrificial service[2]
-                    lavish response to material need[3]
-                    relentless communication of the good news of Jesus (see above)[4]
-                    the formation of a Christ-centred renewed humanity[5]
-                    the nurture and teaching of people in the Christian faith[6]
-                    seeking to transform all of human society for good[7]
-                    building God’s world through gifts and vocational calling[8]
-                    care for God’s creation[9]

[1] See especially Acts 1:8.
[2] See especially John 3:16; 2 Cor 5:14; Phil
[3] See especially Luke 4:18-20; Matt 25:31-46; Gal 2:10; 1 John 3:16-17; James 2:14-17; Luke 6:20-36; Mark 6:37.
[4] See especially Luke 24:46-49; Mark 13:10; Acts 1:8; Rom 1:16; 10:14-17; Eph 6:15, 17; Col 4:5-6; 1 Pet 3:15-16; 2 Tim 4:1-5.
[5] See especially Matt 16:18; 1 Cor 3:4-6; Eph 4:10-20.
[6] See especially 1 Cor 14:1-19; 1 Pet 5:1-5; Eph 4:11-16; Jude 20.
[7] See especially the ministry of Jesus which involves transformation of whole people and the restoration of community; see also Acts 16-19: note how the gospel penetrates to people’s salvation and beyond.
[8] See especially Gen 2:15; Col 3:23; 1 Cor 12-14; Rom 12:4-8; Eph 4:11-12.
[9] See especially Gen 1:28; 2:15.