Posts filed under ‘christology’

social exclusion, the church and proclaiming the gospel

Here's something to read: the Archbishop of York's letter to The Guardian, and an article by Fran Beckett about the Church and social exclusion. One of the things we're bad at as churches is blowing our own trumpets. Now, that's an obvious virtue. But what's the balance between blowing our own trumpets (hiss! boo!) and proclamation (hooray!)? We are in the business of proclaiming Good News. Good News in a Christian sense doesn't exist as some sort of free-floating message. It is Good News – Gospel – to a world governed by Bad News. It has to become incarnate, which means that it needs to take shape on the ground. The Good News about Jesus is not about escaping to heaven but about heaven coming down to earth. It is about our reality being transformed – our world becoming the kingdom of God.

There's a direct relationship, in other words, between our disciplehip of and faith in Jesus and our actions in the world – between proclamation and mission. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be involved in God's story of salvation for the world. That is why we do what we do. We cannot neglect either aspect of it. The missiologist, David Bosch, distinguishes helpfully between evangelical dimension and evangelical intention. Not everything we do is explicitly aimed at calling people to faith in Christ (intention). But everything has an evangelical dimension because it is intimately connected to the story of God in Christ.

A vital part of mission is therefore always to make explicit the connection between what we do and our faith. The task of proclamation is to establish the congruence between our living and acting in the world in the light of the kingdom, on the one hand, and our faith that God has acted in Christ to save the world. That is when our actions to combat social exclusion, feed the hungry, clothe naked, comfort the suffering and liberate the oppressed truly become the Good News of Jesus Christ.

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7 June, 2006 at 2:40 pm Leave a comment

forever young – bob now and then

dylan ... now  dylan ... then  The man turned 65 yesterday.  That's when normal people are retiring, or when people normally retire.  But Dylan is neither normal, nor does he show any signs of retiring.  "You should be able to go on for as long as you want to go on", he once told an interviewer.  Bob clearly wants to go on going on.  This is the man who wrote Forever Young – his prayer for a generation that cared.  "May you build a ladder to the stars/and climb on ever'y rung/and may you stay/forever young!"  Bob wasn't into everlasting life for just anybody.  It's a prayer for people who thought the world ought to be changed and could be changed.  It's his prayer for the generation that set out to make a difference on behalf of others.  Listen to the words!  "May God bless and keep you always/may your wishes all come true/may you always do for others/and let others do for you …"  Not for Bob the WIIFM (What's In It For Me) self-obssession of post-Thatcher western life and culture!  If you're not up for changing the world, this ain't a prayer for you!  Bob the Ruthless: "…the order is rapidly changin'/so get out of the new road if you can't lend a hand/for the times, they are a-changin'!"

When he wrote those words (bob … then), the train of the new world was just around the corner.  He could hear the whistle and the tracks were humming.  Some years later, newly converted to Christianity, Bob realised the train was perhaps a little further away than he'd anticipated.  It was a Slow Train – but it was "comin' down the tracks".  Only now, the Train was Jesus.  You see, sadly, Bob found Jesus … and lost the world!  If only he'd found the Jesus of the gospels, rather than the Jesus of right-wing American fundamentalism!  I reckon Bob and Jesus have a lot in common when it comes to the state of the world.  Both of them get highly pissed off with injustice, war and prejudice.  Jesus is far more likely to listen to All Along the Watchtower than All Things Bright and Beautiful.   He's got to like Ring Them Bells more than The Old Rugged Cross!  And John Brown vs Onward Christian Soldiers?  I mean, are you seriously suggesting there's a competition here???  Dylan "gets" Jesus on the world far better than most Christians.  He just falls apart when he goes into "Christian" mode!  Bob's at his most Christian when he's at his angriest and saddest with the way the world is.

And bob … now?  He's given up neither on Jesus nor the world.  Still hasn't got the necessary connection between the two, mind, but he's definitely on the side of the angels!  Everyone's allowed some blindspots – especially when you're young!  And Dylan's forever young – which suits me fine!  Way to go, Bob!  Happy 65th birthday!

25 May, 2006 at 12:41 pm Leave a comment

uniquely jesus …

You scored as Servant Model. Your model of the church is Servant. The mission of the church is to serve others, to challenge unjust structures, and to live the preferential option for the poor. This model could be complemented by other models that focus more on the unique person of Jesus Christ.

Servant Model
100%
Mystical Communion Model
61%
Sacrament model
61%
Herald Model
50%
Institutional Model
0%

What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
created with QuizFarm.com

So there it is! It's worth looking at these things every so often – mine's changed a little since last time. I'm intrigued at the suggestion that I could concentrate more on the uniqueness of Jesus. That's my presupposition. I believe that only Jesus saves – but not only Christians are saved! Jesus is unique not least because Jesus uniquely refuses the boundaries that most of us – church and world alike – create. So I'm right up with those who say that Jesus alone saves us. No one else has done or could do what Christ did on the cross. That is the means of salvation. But Jesus came, not to start a new religion or create the Church, but to transform the world into the kingdom of God.

That is not to say that Jesus alone gives us access to God or to Truth. But Jesus alone gives us access to the Life that God for us here – the Holy Spirit and involvement in God's continual mission to make this world wall that God intends. I don't usually frame the question this way, but if it's the one I was asked a week ago – "Can Buddhists be saved?" – my answer is "Yes, of course they can? Who can't be saved? But Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, genocidal maniacs, alcoholics, unborn children and whomever else are all saved because of what God has done in Jesus. No one else."

18 February, 2006 at 5:05 pm 1 comment

church life is also mission

I'm writing this in Cleveland, Ohio, where 4 of us from the URC are visiting the United Churches of Christ to consult on their God is Still Speaking, initiative. It's quite something! This relatively small church has done market research which shows that many people are extremely angry with the Church. They are alienated from the institutional church, rather than from God. They feel there isn't a place for them. This includes lesbians, gays and transgengered people, but also thinking people, divorcees and others whom the church feels unable to welcome. They've mounted a nation-wide sophisticated advertising campaign that extends a welcome to everyone, without suggesting they need to become "like us". The God is still speaking theme is to say that God hasn't pronounced the last word on subjects the church often appears to regard as closed. The inclusion of gay people is an obvious area. The point is that if a subject is closed, then so are the doors to the people it affects.

In one sense, it seems an innocuous enough campaign. After all, don't we all tend to say "Everyone is welcome here"? Yet people experience a different reality. As a result of the campaign, the UCC has had hundreds of thousands of people contacting them to find their nearest UCC church. The attitude is "If church is really like that, I want to be part of it!" The response has been astonishing and overwhelming. They've had independent churches wanting to affiliate to the UCC because of the campaign. The streets here are lined with banners with the campaign strap lines and the UCC logo.

My concern was that this was yet another instance of a church engaged in self-promotion. It clearly isn't! They've found a way of being unapologetically evangelical not only about the gospel but also about church (without confusing the two inappropriately) because the message of welcome is heard as Good News.

One reason for the campaign's success is that the campaign is edgy, irreverent and playful. Its message is designed with the target audience in mind, rather than the church itself. And it genuinely communicates! Have a look at stillspeaking.com and play the bouncer ad on the title page. We've heard and seen testimonies about how the simple message of genuine love, acceptance and welcome has revolutionised people's lives. It's stopped suicides. It's given hope and purpose. And it's enabled people to relate to God in Jesus Christ in new and real ways.

We were talking about the way in which we as the URC and other UK churches still have to resolve the sexuality issue. Ron Buford, the mover behind the campaign, said something that I've not heard in the various church debates on the subject and that made a deep impression. He said, "We are a covenant church. Baptism is a covenant. It promises lifelong incorporation into the body of Christ and acceptance. When we exclude people whom we've baptised, we break covenant. We say, 'Sorry. We didn't mean that this was a lifelong covenant!' Then we break covenant with God and that is desperately serious!"

Another comment that really grabbed me as true of so much of church life: "If the 1950s ever return, let me tell you: we're ready for it!" Isn't it depressingly true that we're stuck in models of the past that are passe and will never do for us now what they did in their time? Let's bring that emerging church to birth … quickly!

15 September, 2005 at 7:35 pm 5 comments

a Jesus & Peter dialogue on forgiveness

I've written this dialogue in the style of the "Eh, Jesus … Yes Peter?" Wild Goose meditations. In the interests of space, I'm only putting enough on here to give the general idea. It goes on to deal with forgiveness and "winning vs healing", loving enemies and praying for them. If you want the full text, I'll happily email it to you by return. You can email me on wol@fish.co.ukFORGIVENESS
Matthew 18: 21-35
Cast: Jesus & Peter (Peter clearly seething)
J: Peter …
P: WHAT??? O, sorry, Jesus! Didn’t realize it was you.
J: What’s the matter?
P: Nothing! Why SHOULD anything be the matter?
J: Oh, ok. I was looking for Andrew – do you know where he’s got to?
P: Don’t know, don’t care, don’t matter!
J: Aaah … the joys of family life getting to you, are they? What’s happened?
P: It’s not fair! I’ve told him over and over again … but does it make any difference? Does it thump!
J: What is unfair Peter?
P: Wednesday’s Andrew’s day to get up early, make sure the nets are untangled and ready in the boat, check for any splits in the sail … you know, get everything ready for the day’s fishing. It’s a real pain to get up early, but it has to be done. We take it in turns – or we’re SUPPOSED to. But Andrew keeps oversleeping. He says he “forgets”. So I end up making breakfast, thinking he’s sorting the boat out, when all the time he’s snoring his socks off and then I end up doing the boat as well! AND it happens ALL the time! I could have murdered him this morning!
J: What did he say?
P: He said he was sorry …
J: So it’s all sorted out, then?
P: Sorted out? How?
J: Well, you were angry, he said he’s sorry …
P: And …?
J: So if you’ve forgiven him – problem solved!
P: FORGIVEN him? You’re kidding! Why should I forgive him?
J: Why not?
P: Apart from anything else, because it happens again and again and again! And I KNOW it’ll probably be just the same way next week. It’s not a one-off. Surely you don’t expect me to go on and ON forgiving him, do you?
J: Why not?
P: Why do you rabbi types ALWAYS answer a question with a question?
J: What’s wrong with a question?
P: Very funny! Ok, answer me this: how many times do you expect me to forgive him?
J: 70 times 7
P: 70 TIMES 7??? That’s … that’s … well, that’s a LOT of times!
J: It’s 490 times, Peter.
P: 490 times? How do you expect me to keep count? I’ll lose track long before 490 and then have to start all over again! I may as well give up counting and just say I’ll forgive him every time!
J: Would that be so bad?
P: Of course it would! Why should I always be the one to give way, when he’s in the wrong? Apart from anything else, I’d look weak … a pushover!
J: You think forgiving someone is weak?
P: Of course it is! It lets him off the hook … oh, I get it! Jesus, you’re a genius!
J: I am? …

4 September, 2005 at 12:39 pm 3 comments

different gospels, different christs

One of the most disturbing lessons I had to learn was that there is no one Gospel that is preached and believed by all Christians. Nor is there just one Jesus. There are all sorts of Jesuses – competing Christs. Christs in opposition to one another. I learned that in the South African context. I see it most clearly today in the conflict in Israel/Palestine. My son is out there at the moment (returning imminently) and has had the same shock I had when making this same discovery. I reflect on that in my article for the Carver Calendar this month, entitled When gospels collide.

30 August, 2005 at 11:21 am Leave a comment

rock & redemption


Some of the most suggestive and creative theology is to be found outside religious texts. It's certainly where some of the most insightful and surprisingly rich reflections can be found. Those of us whose professional tools include the Bible and the tradition need to recognise that our theological imaginations are shaped and limited by these tools. That isn't to say anything bad or critical – it is to acknowledge reality. We look through a lens which has been polished by the medium in which we work. Musicians look through a different lens. Theirs is the lens of lyrics, the symbol systems of musical traditions, rhythms, sound, cadence and rhyme. And it colours their theology. That's why find the theology in certain songs to be far more exciting and creative than much of the very worthy stuff I read in theological text books. It's not usually the content so much as the vehicle. There are startling things to be discovered.I reckon few do it better than the (not-very-holy) trinity of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen. That's why I'm running a course at the Windermere Centre on Rock & Redemption (21-24 November). It's an opportunity to do some very serious theological exploration – but also to listen to some good music on the way. I'm not doing it alone.I'll do 3 sessions on Cohen's music. It will be a straightforward case of using songs as an entry into theological areas. So we will look at brokenness & grace ("Anthem"), sex & sacramentality ("Hallelujah") and kingdom & eschatology ("Democracy"). Peter Noble, Moderator of the URC Wales Synod, is looking at Springsteen as a way of exploring the gospel and evangelism. He will look at Bruce's treatment of the American Dream (see my post "The Boss & Gethsemane") as an example of how to understand the gospel and evangelism. He will look at the construction of a redemption narrative which first of all exposes and confronts the present "bad news" prophetically, moves through the evocation of an alternative reality of promise (Hope & Dreams?) and then to a summons to discipleship. It yields an understanding of gospel and evangelism that is prophetic and passionate but not pietistic. It is radically communal rather than individualistic, yet utterly self-involving.Lance Stone, former lecturer at Westminster College, Cambridge, and soon-to-be minister of Emmanuel URC, Cambridge, is looking at Dylan's music as providing an interesting window in the nature and function of the Bible in preaching and faith. Taking some of Brueggemann's insights into post modern, postliberal views of the Bible, Lance sees the open-endedness of Dylan's lyrics and their ever-retranslatable quality as an important parallel to understanding the Bible's function. Because the songs never allow closure, their meaning can never be frozen buit is always able to open new vistas in a different time and place.So if you want to do some serious theology, or if you like the music, or the Lake District, you can't go far wrong. If all three of those are your "thing", you can't fail. Meatloaf was right when he said that "Two out of three ain't bad"), but I reckon any one thing on its own will be a good enough reason to be here! So download the Booking Form and get registered while there are still spaces …

24 August, 2005 at 2:28 pm Leave a comment

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