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.

Evangelism 1 (Evangelogy): A Definition of Evangelism

At present I am working with a small group of Laidlaw students with an interest in evangelism. The purpose of these Evangelism blogs which will follow on and off into the  future, is to develop some thoughts of evangelism. I call the group evangelogy, the study of sharing the gospel. I have coined this term in direct contrast to evangelism which I find a term that is now so loaded in different directions, that I want something else. I think using the combination of the roote evangel (good news) with logos may give this sense.

The first thing is to define evangelism. This is what we came up with:

Motivated by love, evangelism is the communication of the good news of the salvation and lordship of Jesus Christ with an invitation to every person to submit to God for the ultimate restoration of human society and God’s world.

Some Notes:
1. Motivated by love (2 Cor 5:14; Phil 1:5; Rom 5:6, 8; Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 4).

2. Evangelism: Based on the euangel – group of words which focus on the announcement of the good news of victory and salvation (euangelion = 'the good news', 76x NT; euangelizomai = 'preach the good news' 54x in the NT; euangelistes = 'evangelist' or 'one who preaches the good news' 3x NT). Roots are found in the Greco-Roman world especially the news related to the Imperial Cult, and in the Greek OT where it speaks of the good news of deliverance from exile and God's restoration (esp. Is 40:9; 52:7; 61:1).
3. Communication: Inclusive of the range of verbal modes of communication from 1-1 personal sharing to public proclamation. Inclusive of other forms of communication which articulate the gospel including song, enactment, written media, electronic media etc (cf. Phil 1:18: 'that Christ is preached in every way').
4. Salvation: Saved out of sin, wrath, death and eternal destruction which are consequences of the Fall. Saved into eternal relationship with God, freedom, grace and life. A present spiritual reality and statusn and a future physical hope. It is assued by the presence of the Spirit (see esp. Luke 19:10; John 3:17; Acts 16:31; Rom 1:16; 10:9-10; 1 Cor 1:18; Eph 2:8; 1 Tim 2:4).
5. Lordship: Jesus is supreme over all spiritual and political powers in all of time. All will ultimately submit to him whether voluntarily or involuntarily (Phil 2:9-11 cf. Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3).
7. Jesus Christ: Jesus of Nazareth, incarnate God, in time and space in first century Palestine. He is Messiah (anointed on, Christ) who is Israel’s king who is lord of all the world (cf. Mark 8:29; 14:61-62).
8. Invitation: This tries to grasp the call to submit, an appeal, a plea, a persuasion, an invitation, a call. Note that that Greek for ‘call’ kaleĊ originally had the sense of ‘invite.’ Here the Banquet Parable reflects his idea (Lk 14).
9. Every person: The gospel is for all individually and nationally. This retains the necessary individual dynamic in the appeal of the gospel i.e. ‘that every knee will bow’ (Phil 2:9-11; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9).
10. Submit: A term encompassing: 1) Repent i.e. a turning from self-centredness, sin, idolatry, corruption etc; to life in submission to God i.e. righteousness, goodness, love etc; 2) Submission to Jesus.
11. Ultimate restoration of human society and God's world: The ultimate end point is not merely human transformation important and foundational, important though this is, but the transformation and restoration of the whole cosmos and all peoples (cf. Rom 8:19-23; Rev 21-22).