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.