The Mission of God=Evangelism?

There is a great book out there by a guy named Graham Tomlin called The Provocative Church. My friend Matthew McClure recommended it to me a couple of years back. It is a wonderful book on evangelism and the mission of God. I especially like it because it has this chapter called “evangelism makes me feel guilty”. Sounds risqué, I know. I like the title because I sometimes feel that way about evangelism. In fact, I have come across many young people in the church who feel similarly. Some feel burdened and guilty because they know they (or at least they are told) should be sharing the gospel with their friends (this might be an appropriate time to remind my readers that this blog is not a place where I write about polished arguments or propose ideas that I am fully certain about, so be sure to keep that in mind). I think there is something very wrong with this. I don’t think conviction is wrong about these things is wrong, but guilt is something quite different. It is not a sign of health when churches contain people who feel guilty and burdened by the admonishment that they receive from leaders and peers to share the gospel as the only way to partake in the mission of God.

I think the reason that many of the students that I know are disenchanted and burdened with guilt by evangelism is because it is often framed as the only way to live a missional and intentional life. Therefore, if it is the only way to do be apart of God’s mission and they are not doing it, then it makes sense that guilt would be a proper response. Perhaps you’d disagree, but it makes sense to me. The problem with this though is that God’s mission is broader than just evangelism. Much broader.

There is another book out there called The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission by John Dickson and in it he puts forth the idea that God’s mission is not merely sharing or proclaiming the gospel, but something much more of which proclaiming the gospel is part. He draws from biblical theology and history to describe the different ways in which the church partakes in the mission of God. As a preface to this argument, Dickson says that sharing the gospel is kind of like the “icing on the cake” of God’s mission (which I agree with). He also states that evangelism is indeed for everyone, but at the same time it may not be everyone’s primary activity within the church and the mission of God. Essentially, he proposes that not everyone is primarily an evangelist. My issue (which Dickson addresses aptly) is that living missionally is often assumed to be synonymous with evangelism and sharing the gospel, which can contradict a proper ecclesiology on the body of Christ being made up of many members. This argument is not that complicated. When I look at Ephesians 4:11-13 and 1 Corinthians 12 I see a description of a community that is made up of a diverse group of people in personality, gifting, and strengths/weaknesses. I am not sure that I give students that I meet with a vision for the breadth of God’s mission and the variety of ways that they can partake in it according to their giftings, personality, and whatever else. More often I treat God’s mission like a “one size fits all” pair of pants– unfortunately, there is no such thing! If being an evangelist worked for that person, then it should work for this other person too, right? Sounds silly, but I think God’s mission gets narrowed when we do not aptly cast vision for people to be part of it in ways that makes sense for them. This is not to say that we should not challenge people in our churches to get our of their comfort zone and do what they are not good at when appropriate, but it is to say that we need to cast vision for variety of ways to partake in God’s mission as the body. If we do approach mission with a “one size fits all” mentality then I fear that we will end up with people who are burdened and guilt ridden.

I appreciate what Dickson proposes in his book. Dickson uses the word promote (rather than proclaim or something like that) to describe the different ways in which the church is able to “promote” the gospel or partake in God’s mission. He says that we can promote the gospel with our prayers, our public praise, our beautiful works, our money, our words, and a couple others that I cannot recall right now. In any case, he broadens the practical ways in which people in the church can actually promote the gospel, and I think it is an important thing to think about for the health of our churches.

Henri Nouwen on Brokenness

Enjoying this writing from Henri Nouwen these days… He is helping me reflect on the deeper truths of life and in a fresh way too. I will let his words take it from here:

Maybe the word loneliness best expresses our immediate experience and therefore most fittingly enables us to understand our brokenness…

…the Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift….but perhaps the painful awareness of loneliness is an invitation to transcend our limitations and look beyond the boundaries of our existence. The awareness of loneliness might be a gift we must protect and guard, because our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for those who can tolerate its sweet pain…

…when we are impatient, when we want to give up our loneliness and try to overcome the separation and incompleteness we feel, we easily relate to our human world with devastating expectations. We ignore what we already know with a deep seated, intuitive knowledge-that no love or friendship, no intimate embrace or tender kiss, no community, commune, or collective, no man or woman, will ever be able to satisfy our desire to be released from our lonely condition.

This truth is so disconcerting and painful that we are more prone to play games with our fantasies than to face the truth of our existence. Thus we keep hoping that one day we will find the man who really understands our experiences, the woman who will bring peace to our restless life, the job where we can fulfill our potentials, the book that will explain everything, and place where we can feel at home…

…and when ministers live with these false expectations and illusions they prevent themselves from claiming their own loneliness as a source of human understanding, and are thus unable to offer any real service to the many who do not understand their own suffering.

Nouwen in The Wounded Healer

Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer.

The season I currently reside in is one of discomfort, and difficulty. I would categorize it as it a type of suffering, and in this difficult season, I have found it more difficult to pray than I have before. Now, believe me when I say, that prayer is a discipline that can easily become a strenuous act for me, as I believe it is for many people, and it calls us to personal devotion and commitment, which flows in the face of our culture today. Prayer can be easily avoided because it brings us a certain intimacy that we are not used to. It is also a discipline that can reveal a lot about a person. For instance, how they pray, and what they pray for are alleyways into their hearts. Prayer can be communal but it is also deeply personal. Jesus usually only prayed by himself, and it was perhaps in Jesus’ prayers that were recorded that we get a better picture of who he was than anywhere else. One of the prayers recorded in the New Testament is one that Jesus did say, but he uttered it only in order to teach his disciples how to pray. They asked him, and he gladly showed them. Jesus was opening them up to the reality that prayer was not just for the religious leaders of their day, but for all humanity. We have heard the prayer many times, and so much so that its profound meaning has maintained but a dull voice in our ears and in our hearts. Dallas Willard in his book The Divine Conspiracy has helped me reflect on this passage with a clearer vision for what it was that Jesus was saying in this short but ageless prayer.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this daily bread, and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

This is the greatest prayer of all. It depicts exactly what Jesus would have us pray. Perhaps not with the same words but indeed with the same principles and meaning behind each word.

First, God is the one who is there. The first line is a declaration, for God of course knows who he is and where he resides, but do we and do others? It is a proclamation that God exists! He is not far from us, but he is indeed in heaven where his glory dwells. We have misinterpreted heaven to mean “far off” for far too long. It was never meant to mean such a thing, and how can it! Heaven has made its first steps into this world through Christ. Heaven is in the process of fully coming, and it is indeed nearer than it ever has been. Does it matter then if we pray with our eyes open or closed? Some of the earliest Christians prayed eyes wide open, and even Jesus usually prayer standing up with his face pointed upward. God is real, and he exists.

Have you ever felt misunderstood? I know I did just today. Whenever I feel misunderstood there is always the temptation to simply move on from the people who misunderstood me. At times, whether it is actually true or not, we all feel misunderstood. The one who is truly most misunderstood though is God himself. Hallowed. What is hallowed? Holy? Sanctified? Yeah, it is certainly those things, but above all of that is God’s inherent worthiness. God is the greatest, the most Holy, the one who deserves our affections, and our love. He is ALL of these things, but how often is his attributes or characteristics misunderstood, even by those who follow Him! Whenever we feel misunderstood we should realize that it is nothing in comparison to our God whose name is Holy. He knows misunderstanding better than any of us. It is a tragedy that not all see our Father as greatest and best, and such a misunderstanding should cause us to mourn. Why doesn’t it?

I am not content with who I am. I am not content with the way this world is. In this prayer Jesus prompts us to ask for His Kingdom and His rule to come to this earth. His Kingdom, which is ultimately glorious and perfect, is somehow going to collide with this earth, and he is prompting us to continually ask for that collision to be apart of our personal lives. This is not some general abstraction that we can really know nothing of, but something he is asking we pray in order that we may see and witness this collision happening in our relationships, neighborhoods, and countries. The Kingdom will one day come as it states elsewhere in the New Testament, and Jesus is asking us to be agents of His will being done on earth. Notice that this comes after worship, and knowing our place before God.

I have more than what I absolutely need. In America, that seems to be the way it is. The majority of us have what we need for our daily doings, and there isn’t much of a struggle to get by. What then comes of asking God for what we need today? It does not say that we should ask God for anything past today. It is not that we should not have anything that we will use tomorrow, but rather that Jesus is calling us to trust in him for what we know we will need for today. God is asking us to give him our need for future security, for if we have him then our provisions can be met. Bonhoeffer says that receiving today liberates us from the worry of tomorrow.

Forgiveness is at the very heart of the gospel. We of course pray to God in order to confess our sins, and to ask for healing, but here Jesus asks us to pray for pity. Dallas Willard uses this word in regard to this passage because it makes us wince a little bit. It does not sound as noble as mercy or forgiveness. Here we are asking for pity. Yes, it is humbling and demeaning. This request gives us no room for pride or self-rightousness, for it is a plea that The Lord of the universe would show some pity on us, and feel bad for our lowly and abused state. We certainly need all the pity he can offer.

The temptation uttered here is not just to sin but trials in general. Willard says it best in saying, “Trials always tempt us to sin, however. And temptation to sin is always a trial”. Suffering is something that can be used for good by God. Trials are not arbitrary. Certainly we feel weak both in suffering and in temptation, and it is simply not a comfortable place to be. Could it be that trials always result in something better on the other side? Paul states that it is in suffering and weakness that he remains strong. That makes no sense unless he means that he experiences God strength working through him.

Which section of this prayer do you need most in your life currently? And how can we better meditate on these words? Have you ever tried rewriting the Lord’s Prayer? Here is an example that comes from Willard’s book:

Dear Father always near us,
may your name be treasured and loved,
may your rule be completed in us-
may your will be done here on earth
in just the way it is done in heaven.
Give us today the things we need today,
and forgive of us our sins and impositions on you
as we are forgiving all who in any way offend us.
Please don’t put us through trials,
but deliver us from everything bad.
Because you are the one in charge,
and you have all the power,
and the glory too is all your yours-forever-
which is just the way we want it!

The Necessity of Hope

Every so often I get the privilege to entertain an always robust and all-encompassing (a.k.a. “junk drawer type”) conversation with one of my friends (who is also my neighbor). He and I share the similar joys of conversing, listening, learning, and sometimes even healthy disagreements. The other day my friend and I had the chance to talk after a long day. As I sit here and reflect on past conversations with him it is funny because whenever we talk our conversations seem to always arrive at one main idea (and this most recent one followed suite). The idea is essentially this: “our world is messed up, so how do we fix it?” It is always interesting because our paths seem to diverge at this point in the conversation (thus arriving at the “healthy disagreement” portion of our discussion) because of our varying world views. I think that the impetus for us arriving at these two different points about what the world needs is caused by nothing less than what we place our hope in.

In fact, the other night when we were talking the subject of hope was specifically brought up. Even though he and I have profoundly different world views, in our discussion on hope we were able to find one commonality. The common thread was the necessity of hope. In the midst of our discussion, it was obvious that we both agreed that hope for humans is nearly essential to a “thriving” human life. Where our conversation went next is where our paths diverged.

My friend was of the belief that the human hope could be anything, and simply having that hope (no matter where it was placed) satisfied the necessity of hope. So, in some ways he viewed hope relativistically. I, on the other hand, stated that hope was only validated by whether or not that which you placed your hope in actually delivered or not. So, for me, the necessity of hope wasn’t satisfied by simply having “a” hope of sorts, but “the” hope that is actually able to deliver on what you’re expecting. This aspect of the conversation didn’t last that long, but I learned a lot from it.

I have recently been reading a book entitled Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright and it has got me mulling over hope that fulfills the cosmic longings to see things set right. In his book, Wright hammers away at the misconceptions that Christians today have about the resurrection and the hope that the Bible portray’s. His main argument is that we have minimized the hope of Christianity to our eternal security in heaven only. The reality of the hope Wright refreshes his readers with is that through the resurrection, we not only have a future hope (being raised from the dead to inhabit God’s newly remade world), but also a present reality since Christ is now Lord over all creation (he has overthrown death, and has given us, His church, His spirit to begin this restorative process). In summary, Wright brings forth a robust yet ancient understanding of the resurrection that brightens the pages of 1 Corinthians 15, Colossians 3, and the like.

My question to pose to those who read this is what makes a hope truer than another (aka Christianity to the rest)? In my view, if Christianity is true, then it trumps all other possible hopes. There is not one that could be greater, more glorious, or as all-encompassing. But tell me, what do you think?

I have wrestled a lot this summer with the idea of hope because being in the midst of support raising to go on staff with h2o Church. It has been a “forging character” kind of summer for me as I explained in my last post, but it is challenging me to hope in God even when there is seems to be little hope remaining. But the interesting thing about the hope of Christianity is that it can never be circumstantial. Just take a look at the last few verses of Romans 8 to discover that. It is because of the resurrection that the Christian hope is not swayed by the difficulties of say support raising or the other, more difficult, trials of life. It is not the circumstances of life that give me hope, but rather the risen Christ.

Again, as I did before, I hope to satisfy those wondering about how I am doing with support raising. I am at about 55% as of now. On August 27th I begin my senior year. I am looking forward to the month ahead and simply seeing God in it and pursuing what God has called me into this year.

The Gospel as Narrative

The Bible is the most magnificent epic that has ever been written. This may not seem controversial yet, but what I am about to propose probably will be to some…I think.

The Bible, for those who have read it, heard it, or studied it, seems to come naturally packaged as a story, but from my view, this conceptualization does not seem at the forefront of how we understand the Bible, the Old Testament, Israel, the Gospel, Jesus, mission, or salvation. Sure, we understand creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, but does this really sum up the totality of the Bible?? I think this methodology obviously highlights some key points, but it also cheapens the story in a couple of ways:

-The reason we limit the story of Scripture it to Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration is because we want to allow evangelism to be quick and easy.

  • This is not necessarily bad, but it allows for a chopped up story that is not necessarily creating a discipleship-culture, but a soterian(salvation)-culture.

-We want to make it easy for people to understand the flow of Scripture, and we want to highlight the key points needed for salvation.

  • This is also not a bad thing, and some of it has to do with cultural and contextual aspects that will not be discussed here. I think though that in telling disciples that this all they need to know to share their faith is not necessarily the best approach to establish biblical literacy.

This method of creation, fall, redemption, restoration also creates major gaps in the story of the Bible:

-Where the heck is Israel??  (For instance, how can Jesus make sense without King David?)

  • I think many of us can make sense of Jesus without King David or Israel. Isn’t there something very wrong with that?

The shortened version of the story of the Bible is widely used, and is not necessarily bad, but I think it leaves out major happenings in the narrative and cheapens the Bible story  to only be concerned with one’s personal salvation (here is where it might get controversial…if it hasn’t already). While this is obviously important, I do not think this encapsulates the full outcome of the Biblical narrative. I think one of the main issues with this is that it does acknowledge how for instance Israel fits into our conception of salvation, the Kingdom of God, or anything of the sort. This model cannot substitute the rich, connected narrative of the Bible.

There is a scholar out there by the name of Scot McKnight. Perhaps you have heard of him, or maybe you haven’t. Either way, he has a book out called The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. Simply put, Mcknight’s beef is with evangelicals today who have equated the gospel story with the plan of salvation (how one receives salvation). He seeks to bring evangelicals back to the true meaning of the word gospel. He promotes a gospel that is rooted in the story of Israel and cannot be separated from it. Jesus as the fulfillment of the story Israel. If Mcknight had to sum up the gospel in three words he would say this: Jesus is Lord. The foundation of his definition of gospel is rooted in  1 Corinthians 15:1-6. What he finds there is that the gospel is encapsulated in the fact that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised according to the Scriptures. That is the gospel. For Him it is the fulfillment of this long narrative of Israel, and not how one is to receive salvation necessarily. I recommend this book, and if what I just described challenges you, then the book surely will, too.

One of my favorite words in Greek is the word ἐξηγέομαι, which is where we get our word exegesis. Exegesis is usually defined as interpretation of or explanation of a text, usually Scripture. In the greek, though, this word is much more specific than that. The word usually means to quite literally “to take someone through something”. Usually this “something” is a story. It literally means “to someone through a story”. I love this because it emphasizes exactly what McKnight, and now I, am getting at. Namely, that there is great significance within the totality of the Bible story because each instance (specially Jesus) is built on what has happened previously in the story. I think that when we begin to read the Bible and ask the question, “How does this fit into the story?”, our understanding of God, His character, and the history of his people will be seen afresh. What is more is that when we understand how everything in the Bible fits together,  we better understand and feel the breadth of God’s love for His creation.