Monthly Archives: November 2012

 

Nov

30

2012

 
 

Nov

30

2012

Trevin Wax|2:41 am CT

Trevin’s Seven

Kindle Deal of the Day – a book I thoroughly enjoyed but never got around to reviewing: Excellence in Preaching: Studying the Craft of Leading Preachers by Simon Vibert. $2.99.

What do good preachers do well? And what can we learn from them? Simon Vibert has studied the work of today’s leading preachers with an eye for discerning the dynamics of effective preaching. Each chapter profiles a contemporary preacher and lifts out practical principles for sermons that are biblical, motivational and transformational. World-renowned preachers like Tim Keller, John Piper and Nicky Gumbel display excellence in preaching by being aware of cultural and philosophical challenges to the gospel inspiring a passion for the glory of God letting the Bible speak with simplicity and freshness teaching with directness, challenge and relevance exposing all of God’s Word to all of God’s people and much more. Learn from the best. And become the best preacher that you can be.

Links for your weekend reading:

1. The Gospel Project is offering one quarter, or 13 weeks, of our digital Bible study curriculum to church plants for free. Details here.

2. A Response to “Seven Notes from Lincoln”

3. How Many Women Have Pro-Life Laws Saved?

4. The Humble Celebrity

5. Remember the Victims – Like Me

6. Three Pitfalls for Young Evangelical Leaders

7. Seminarians, Begin with End in Mind

 
 

Nov

29

2012

Trevin Wax|3:03 am CT

Check Out the Wilderking Trilogy

I wish I could freeze our kids at their current ages. Timothy is in third grade, just finished his first soccer season, and is into all sorts of “older kid” fun. Julia is four, loves going to preschool, and is in the “I’m Daddy’s princess” phase.

Parenting is hard, but there are seasons where you just want to squeeze your kids as you think to yourself, This is so much fun!

During the past few months, Timothy and I have gotten in the habit of reading together every evening. My uncle let us borrow three fiction books for older kids – The Wilderking Trilogy, written by Jonathan Rogers and published by B&H a decade ago.

I wasn’t sure how the whole “Let me read to you, son” thing would go over at first. We tried Narnia a couple years ago, but only got through a couple books. (Timothy was a little young for Narnia at the time, but we are currently enjoying The Magician’s Nephew.) I didn’t have any expectations that the Wilderking trilogy would hold his attention.

Boy, was I wrong! Timothy was hooked from the first two chapters.

As we worked through all three books, there were evenings where he cried (literally) for me to keep reading. There were evenings when I was so engrossed in the story that I wanted to keep reading too. We often stayed up past his bedtime for another chapter.

Based loosely on the story of King David, these books tell the story of Aidan Errol and his adventures with the Feechiefolk in service to his homeland, Corenwald.

Here’s a description of each book:

The Bark Of The Bog Owl:

The prophet Bayard arrives at Longleaf Manor, the estate of Lord Errol with an unanticipated announcement. Aidan Errol, Lord Errol’s youngest son, is the Wilderking. But the weight and glory of this pronouncement is yet to be shouldered.

In the meanwhile, Lord Errol and his sons attend a Treaty Feast celebrating a pact signed between Corenwald and the Pythen Empire. But Corenwald is double crossed by the Pyrthens and they go to war. The story unfolds as Aidan begins to walk the way of his destiny through the feechifolk and a showdown with the Pyrthen champion Greidawl ending with an epic battle to save the kingdom of Corenwald.

The Secret of the Swamp King:

As book two opens, Aidan is living in the court of King Darrow. He has become best friends with Darrow’s son Steren, and he enjoys great favor among the courtiers. But King Darrow’s suspicion is growing and his insecurity causes him to hate the young man who saved his kingdom. Concerned about his king’s spiral into ever-darker moods, Aidan asks what he can do to help. Darrow sends him on an imposible adventure to the recesses of Feechiefen Swamp, thinking he is sending Aidan to his death. Afterall, no Corenwalder has ever returned from Feechiefen alive. But Aidan’s fate is not sealed yet for Aidan has allies among the feechiefolk who know him as the hero Pantherbane.

The Way of the Wilderking:

In book three of the acclaimed Wilderking Trilogy, civilizer Aidan returns home from three years in Feechiefen Swamp to discover that a party known as the Aidanites has arisen among his fellow Corenwalders. They believe the “Wilderking Chant” makes reference to Aidan, and that he is destined to overthrow Corenwald’s tyrant King Darrow. Aidan has no intention of leading any such rebellion. But when the Corenwald kingdom continues to weaken, and the enemy Pyrthens threaten to invade, it’s clear the Aidanites are the only army his people have left. What soon transpires among civilizers, feechiefolk, Corenwalders, and Pyrthens alike, no reader could predict. When all is said and done, who will be the Wilderking?

The neat thing about living in Nashville is the proximity you have to singers, songwriters, and authors. Mid-way through the second book, I realized Jonathan Rogers was a Nashville local, and I found his blog online. Jonathan was gracious enough to have lunch with me and Timothy and talk about the “feechies.”

I highly recommend The Wilderking Trilogy. Try it with your kids. I bet they will like it too.

 
 

Nov

29

2012

Trevin Wax|2:26 am CT

Worth a Look 11.29.12

Kindle Deal of the Day: The Path of Celtic Prayer: An Ancient Way to Everyday Joy by Calvin Miller. $0.99.

In uncertain and dangerous days of high infant-mortality rates, leprosy and plagues, the Celts breathed candid prayers out of the reality of their lives: Desperate prayers for protection. Praise for the God who was king over all creation. Honest prayers of confession. In these pages, Miller introduces us to six types of Celtic prayer that can connect us to God more deeply by helping us pray out of the circumstances and uncertainties of our own life.

Kevin DeYoung on taking a break from social media:

 I think you should consider a fast periodically—for a few days, a week, or maybe longer. Here’s how I benefited from being away (more or less) for two weeks.

A great review of Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion that concludes with this timely word:

Praise God for Douthat’s models—Reinhold Niebuhr, C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, and others like them—believers who’ve gained cultural prominence and used that influence to add salt and shed light. But plenty more through the centuries have been just as faithful and have been ridiculed or even killed by the powers that be. Where we fall on that continuum is in God’s hands, and to whatever extent we aim at the respect of the world we’re asking for trouble.

The Big Story of Scripture In Pictures: Your Input Requested

My question to you, my readers, what might you change or add to these graphics? Do they correctly convey the grand narrative of Scripture? Are they understandable to the unchurched and helpful to mature believers?

Thoughts for Guest Preachers and the Churches that Invite Them:

Preached recently at a church that hosted me with remarkable thoughtfulness and it caused me to reflect on how inviting churches can host as well as my most recent experience, and also what should be the specific aims of a guest preacher. To be filtered through your own wisdom and good sense.

Don’t Pastor People with a Book:

Leaders, don’t pastor people with a book. Instead, shepherd people with yourself. The people of your city need to be personally known and loved, not simply prescribed a reading list or to-do list.

 
 

Nov

28

2012

Trevin Wax|3:32 am CT

Why You Should Read Chesterton in 2013: A Conversation with Kevin Belmonte

It’s no secret to long-time readers of Kingdom People that I have recently become a fan of G. K. Chesterton. Orthodoxy rocked my world last fall, and since then, I’ve read multiple books from Chesterton and a massive biography written by Ian Ker.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to a new book, A Year with G. K. Chesterton: 365 Days of Wisdom, Wit, and Wonder (Thomas Nelson, 2012), compiled by Kevin Belmonte. Kevin was the lead script and historical consultant for the movie Amazing Grace, and is the author of many books, including William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity (with Chuck Colson) and Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton. Kevin agreed to stop by and answer a few questions about the legacy of Chesterton.

Trevin Wax: The subtitle of A Year with G. K. Chesterton is “365 Days of Wisdom, Wit, and Wonder.” Those three words sum up the reasons I love reading Chesterton. Give us some examples of Chesterton’s wisdom that are still relevant today.

Kevin Belmonte: You’ve touched on a question that could have a very long answer! But here are three passages from Chesterton that are true gems of wisdom. By turns, they’re deeply eloquent, profound, seasoned with wit, or marked by paradox. All four traits are hallmarks of his writing.

Everyone on this earth should believe, amid whatever madness or moral failure, that his life and temperament have some object on the earth. Everyone on the earth should believe that he has something to give to the world which cannot otherwise be given. Everyone should, for the good of men and the saving of his own soul, believe that it is possible, even if we are the enemies of the human race, to be the friends of God.

His soul will never starve for exploits or excitements who is wise enough to be made a fool of. He will make himself happy in the traps that have been laid for him; he will roll in their nets and sleep. All doors will fly open to him who has a mildness more defiant than mere courage. The whole is unerringly expressed in one fortune phrase—he will be always ‘taken in.’ To be taken in everywhere is to see the inside of everything. It is the hospitality of circumstance. With torches and trumpets, like a guest, the greenhorn is taken in by Life. And the sceptic is cast out by it.

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.

Trevin Wax: What are some of your favorite Chesterton witticisms?

Kevin Belmonte: Here are three of his best bon mots, though perhaps three that are a little lesser known. They’re taken from my book, The Quotable Chesterton, which is modeled on the classic compendium, The Quotable Lewis. Chesterton, to use a modern phrase, was a master of the sound bite. And I can imagine him having enormous fun with twitter!

Misers get up early in the morning; and burglars, I am informed, get up the night before.

Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.

Silver is sometimes more valuable than gold…that is, in large quantities.

Trevin Wax: John Piper, in speaking of his admiration of Chesterton, wrote:

I will keep coming back to anyone who helps me see and be astonished at what is in front of my face— anyone who can help heal me from the disease of ”seeing they do not see.” 

How does reading Chesterton increase our sense of wonder in the world?

Kevin Belmonte: I can do no better than cite two passages from Chesterton himself, the first from his Autobiography:

No man knows how much he is an optimist, even when he calls himself a pessimist, because he has not really measured the depths of his debt to whatever created him and enabled him to call himself anything. At the back of our brains, so to speak, there was a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life was to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder; so that a man sitting in a chair might suddenly understand that he was actually alive, and be happy.

And here’s the second, from his classic work of apologetics, Orthodoxy:

I had always vaguely felt facts to be miracles in the sense that they are wonderful: now I began to think them miracles in the stricter sense that they were wilful. I mean that they were, or might be, repeated exercises of some will.

In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. And this pointed a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a Person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a Story-teller.

As a young man of college age, Chesterton was nearly overwhelmed by a sense of existential despair. I love what he says about the Story-teller above, because in the deepest depths of his despondency, he says he “hung on to religion by one thin thread of thanks.”

That’s a wonderful allusion to a scene from George MacDonald’s tale of imaginative fantasy, The Princess and the Goblin, which Chesterton devoured as a boy, reading it over and over again. Briefly told, the Princess Irene and the miner boy Curdie found their way out of a dark and dangerous labyrinth of mines and tunnels by means of a magic, invisible thread. It led them up into the light, into the day.

When he most greatly needed to make sense of life, that shard of truth returned to Chesterton. A scene from a much-loved children story rallied to his aid. It gave him courage to believe. He began to see the world, once more, like a great tapestry woven by the Master Story-teller. He followed the thread of thanks he re-discovered to back the light—to faith.

Trevin Wax: How did you go about choosing what to include in a daily anthology of Chesterton?

Kevin Belmonte: The basic guiding principle was to find everything, literally everything I could, that Chesterton ever wrote about some facet of the Christian faith. My thought was to put all these passages, whether prose of poetry, safely between two covers of a book that would seek to follow the Christian year.

I poured over dozens of books, and hundreds of essays – even obscure Prefaces and Introductions that Chesterton wrote – to find what I needed. I’m glad of the fact that now readers won’t have to spend a small fortune to find these gems.

In short, I want them to be able to purchase a small library of richly devotional thoughts from G. K. Chesterton. And what’s more, a lot of Chesterton’s travels as a reader of great books and writers flow into A Year with G. K. Chesterton too.

Trevin Wax: How did this process compare with the other books you’ve compiled of Chesterton?

Kevin Belmonte: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to write and edit what I call a trilogy of Chesterton books. The first is my literary biography, Defiant Joy, and the second, The Quotable ChestertonA Year with G. K. Chesterton rounds out the trilogy. And here are some things I can tell you about that book—

Two Chesterton scholars, friends and fellow authors whom I greatly respect, the Rev. Dr. Malcolm Guite and Joseph Pearce—Malcolm’s Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge University, and Joseph a distinguished biographer of Chesterton—have pointed to how fine a thing it is for readers to now have an anthology of GKC’s best thoughts on all things relating to faith. In this best sense of the word, A Year with G. K. Chesterton is a devotional work, meant to immerse the reader in daily selections steeped in reverence, but studded also with vignettes that trace significant days and events in Chesterton’s life and work.

And here I should say that I was rather staggered that no one had ever published a book like this before. For that, I owe a great debt to my publisher, Thomas Nelson.

Go to any bookstore, or online, and you’ll see that we have many “through the year with C.S. Lewis”-type books, and I’ve read many of them with great profit. All the same, I remember thinking: “It’s high time someone did this for Chesterton.” And so, believing deeply in the need for such a book, I followed Lewis and Tolkien’s dictum of crafting “just the kind of books we would like to read.”

The whole process, from start to finish, has lent a deep and abiding sense of meaning to my own journey of faith. It’s been a real privilege to keep company with Chesterton, as true a saint of the written word as we’ve ever had.

 
 

Nov

28

2012

Trevin Wax|2:53 am CT

Worth a Look 11.28.12

Kindle Deal of the Day: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer. $2.99.

If God is in control of everything, can Christians sit back and not bother to evangelize? Or does active evangelism imply that God is not really sovereign at all? J. I. Packer shows in this new edition to the popular IVP Classics how both of these attitudes are false. In a careful review of the biblical evidence, he shows how a right understanding of God’s sovereignty is not so much a barrier to evangelism as an incentive and powerful support for it.

Slate magazine on The Quiet New England Revival:

There’s a palpable sense of momentum growing among evangelicals in New England, who say this hard soil may soon bear fruit thanks to institutional efforts, individual leaders, and an intangible sense of energy often credited to the Holy Spirit. But do they have any hope of success in the most proudly and profoundly secular region in America?

Was Karl Barth a Universalist?

Now we need to ask whether Barth himself was a universalist. Here’s why people think he is.

4 Words that Change Every Situation:

The words “God is my helper” are astonishing. Think about them for a moment. They literally change every situation. God, the God of the universe, the omnipotent, all-wise, all-loving, righteous, true, angel terrifying, sinner saving, God is MY HELPER. Woah. Woah!

The Daily Routines of Famous Writers:

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

 
 

Nov

27

2012

Trevin Wax|3:07 am CT

Puritan Paralysis: Take 2

Last week, I wrote about the tendency of some in the gospel-centered movement to engage in “hyper-introspection,” a practice that leaves us paralyzed rather than empowered for the mission God has called us too. I gave the post a provocative title: “Beware the Puritan Paralysis.”

Over the holiday weekend, several scholars responded, most notably R. Scott Clark, Carl Trueman, and Jeremy Walker. I’m grateful for the vigorous response to my original post, especially from leaders and thinkers I respect.

In the interest of carrying on the discussion, I thought it might be helpful to elaborate on a few of the relevant points.

1. The Value of Generalization

Most of the responses to my post acknowledged and agreed with the larger point I was making. Some went so far as to quote specific examples of excessive introspection in Puritan writings.

Their critique centered on my treatment of the Puritans as a monolithic group. I did not distinguish between Puritans from different eras, different continents, etc.

Granted.

The point of the post was admittedly a generalization.  That’s why I said sometimes, some of the Puritans. Not all Puritans. Not all the time.

Had I been writing an academic paper about the Puritans, I would have cited examples, pointed out contrary evidence, and given a much more nuanced assessment of the situation. But I was writing as pastor, not professor.

Generalizations have shortcomings. It is important for certain statements to be qualified, nuanced, and put into detailed historical context.

But generalizations have value as well. Not everything must be said every time.

Pastors don’t have time to write five-paged reviews of every book they recommend. That’s why we commend books and authors generally and we critique books and authors generally. As long as we make it clear we are generalizing, this activity can be a helpful way of making sure a point doesn’t get lost in the weeds.

The people I am discipling are not going to read up on all the history of the Puritans. But when they pick up a book by Bunyan, or Baxter, or Sibbes, or Owen, I believe I have a duty as a pastor to say, “Enjoy this; you will see the benefit of that; see how beautifully he puts this; watch out though for that.”

2. The Difference Between Confession and Culture

Some commenters mentioned the grace-saturated language of Reformed confessions in regard to sanctification. I agree. In fact, one of the best ways to critique some of the Puritan excesses is by appealing to their own confessions (and writings!).

My post was not intended to question the helpfulness of much of the Puritans’ teaching. Neither did I intend to ignore the theological precision of the Westminster Confession of Faith. My concern was related to the kind of culture that developed in some Puritan circles, not the confession of faith they held.

A church can hold a confession that affirms the necessity of evangelism, and yet harbor a culture of evangelistic apathy. Likewise, the confessions of the Puritans may be solid (and I think they are when it comes to assurance), and yet problems can still appear in practice among some Puritans and among some of their descendants today.

The gospel-centered movement is rightly concerned about getting the gospel right, our doctrine right, and holding to our confessions. It is imperative that we do so.

At the same time, we ought to keep an eye out on the kind of culture we are creating in our churches. It is possible to dot the I’s and cross the T’s and yet miss the point. (Just ask the Pharisees.)

It is also possible to be so focused on getting the gospel right we fail to get the gospel out. (This, from the author of Counterfeit Gospels. Irony, I know.)

3. The Question of Motivation

I suppose what most surprised me about the responses is the idea that it has become “cool” and something of a trend to bash the Puritans nowadays. Really?

A month or two ago, I remember seeing the online conversations about Propaganda’s song, “Precious Puritans.” I chose not to engage that conversation, because I had already written something for Desiring God last year that deals with the Puritans and the issue of slavery.

Aside from the conversation on slavery and my post last week, I can’t think of a single blog, article or book written by anyone in the gospel-centered movement offering anything but unqualified praise for the Puritans.

A Puritan-bashing bandwagon? Hardly. And I hope I would be the last person who would try to appear “cool” by slighting our forebears.

Final Thoughts

Once again, the purpose of my post was to respond in a public forum the way I’ve counseled several people privately over the last year. Men who know the Scriptures and love Jesus, and who – through their inordinate reading of some Puritan literature – have been paralyzed by doubt of their fruitfulness and salvation.

I believe the readers of this blog would shudder at some of the emails I’ve received in the past week, emails from people who know first hand the kind of paralysis I was talking about in the post. I’ve heard from other pastors who have witnessed the same phenomenon.

Should we blame the Puritans for this unfortunate tendency? Perhaps not.

Instead, as church leaders, we should make sure we don’t enthusiastically hand out books and resources to Christians with sensitive, tender consciences without clearly assessing the needs of each individual.

It is not healthy to praise the Puritans and never point out the flaws you find here and there. Flaws that fester and sometimes lead to missional paralysis.

That said, I couldn’t agree more with the pastoral counsel Jeremy Walker gave in his response:

This is the battle that every shepherd of the sheep faces: to explain and apply the truth with that proper discrimination that brings needful truth to bear on needy souls, with prayer that the Holy Spirit will so make it plain as to accomplish the purposes of almighty God in his proper time.

May it be so. My caution was given with that same pastoral heart and aim.

 
 

Nov

27

2012

Trevin Wax|2:52 am CT

Worth a Look 11.27.12

Kindle Deal of the Day: How Can a Good God Let Bad Things Happen? by Mark Tabb. FREE.

It’s a timeless question: If God is good, why do bad things happen? We pray for blessing, but we feel cursed. Following Christ seems to make life harder, not easier–then why should we continue? Using the book of Job, Mark Tabb searches for the answers to these questions and others that relate. Encounter an honest discussion of suffering and find real-world comfort and strength for the trials you face.

Here’s some info on the Liberate 2013 Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, February 21-24.

Lincoln and Short Sermons:

A sermon is a sacred trust. The church trusts you to deliver the sense of the eternal Word of God into their lives. Taking into account Lincoln’s wisdom from his illustration, here are a few of my thoughts on sermon preparation and delivery; the first two being long and the rest being short.

Dear Bob: Abuse and the (Complementarian) Christian Response

Here is what I’d want to say to a man in my church (“Bob”) who was abusing his wife.

The Best Way to Implode Your Leadership:

If you have to intimidate in order to gain control, the people you’re leading don’t respect you.

Two and a Half Men Star Calls Show “Filth” and Begs People to Stop Watching:

Jones made his comments in an interview with the Forerunner Chronicles about his religious awakening. In the nearly 15-minute long video, he also talks about taking an “all inclusive evangelism class” and coming to the realization that “God is good.” That apparently led him to believe that the comedy he’s on is bad.

 
 

Nov

26

2012

Trevin Wax|3:46 am CT

Mission Monday: The Mission of God by Christopher Wright

I’ve begun a new series on Mondays that will focus on the church’s mission. Last week, we looked at Andreas Köstenberger and Peter O’Brien’s Salvation to the Ends of the Earthwhich provides a summary of the Bible’s teaching on mission from a salvation-historical viewpoint.

Today, we’re tackling Christopher Wright’s The Mission of Godan ambitious project with an expansive missiological vision intended to transform one’s hermeneutical approach to the Scriptures.

In other words, instead of searching the Scriptures with a flashlight hoping to shine light on “mission” wherever it may be found, Wright believes mission is the flashlight that illuminates the whole Bible. Along these lines, he offers a novel way of reading the Bible, an approach that sees the mission of God as the key that “unlocks the whole grand narrative of the canon of Scripture” (17). The Bible is simultaneously a witness to and a product of the mission of God. Therefore, the text of Scripture ought to be read as having originated in issues and controversies confronted by the people of God seeking to fulfill their mission.

“The text in itself is a product of mission in action” (49).

Reading the Bible Missionally

Wright urges Christians to read the Bible as a missional text. Many believe the Bible should to be read in light of Christ’s person and work (messianically), but Wright also recommends we read the Bible in light of Christ’s mission (missionally).

“Jesus himself provided the hermeneutical coherence within which all disciples must read these texts, that is, in the light of the story that leads up to Christ (messianic reading) and the story that leads on from Christ (missional reading)” (41).

At one level, this emphasis on mission is simply another way of saying that the Bible needs to be read within the framework of its grand narrative. Wright is clear that the story of the Bible is about God, his people, and the future of the world. At another level, Wright’s proposal is fresh in that it establishes the mission of God as the hermeneutical engine that drives the grand narrative.

What is the Mission?

If mission is the key to unlocking the Bible, it is important to define what the mission is. Wright gives priority to God’s mission and then places the church’s mission within that framework:

“Fundamentally, our mission (if it is biblically informed and validated) means our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation” (23).

Since the mission of God is central, Wright warns against reducing the church’s mission to the explicit commands we find in the New Testament (such as the Great Commission). Mission imperatives divorced from their “foundational indicatives” (the truth about the world as affirmed by God’s revelation) will lead to a shrunken understanding of redemption that fails to do justice to the “comprehensive glory” we find in Scripture (61). This theme of expansive mission is one that arises often in Wright’s work, and we will evaluate it below.

The Strengths of the Grand Narrative Approach

The strength of Wright’s proposal is his focus on the grand narrative as the true story of the true God. Against the postmodern turn that deconstructs meta-narratives, Wright grounds all mission activity in the reality of the biblical God, the reality of the Bible’s overarching story, and the reality of God’s people who are called out for the sake of the nations.

Also beneficial is the way Wright ensures that the person and work of Christ is continuously connected to this mission. In Jesus we meet the one true God, have the climax of the biblical story, and become part of his people.

God’s Mission to Be Known

The mission of God is to be known. God’s desire to be known is observed most clearly in two Old Testament events: the exodus and the exile.

In both occasions, in salvation and in judgment, we see God’s passion to make himself known to the world through his interactions with his chosen people. Ultimately, both events point forward to Jesus, who will fulfill the mission of the God of Israel.

“The God of Israel, whose declared mission was to make himself known to the nations through Israel, now wills to be known to the nations through the Messiah, the one who embodies Israel in his own person and fulfills the mission of Israel to the nations” (124).

Mission in Light of Human Idolatry

Idolatry is the root sin that best corresponds with Wright’s missional understanding of the Bible. Wright sees idolatry as humanity’s rejection of the Godness of God and a failure to submit to his moral authority.

The consequences of idolatry are devastating, producing disorder in human relationships and turning upside down God’s original intention for humanity to worship him as Creator instead of worshipping creation.

The mission of God, then, in light of human idolatry and its effects, is to restore all of creation so that it will be ruled by redeemed humanity to the praise and glory of God.

“Our mission, in participation with that divine mission, and in anticipation of its final accomplishment, is to work with God in exposing the idols that continue to blur the distinction, and to liberate men and women from the destructive delusions they foster” (165).

Mission in the Old Testament

Mission in the Old Testament is launched through the calling of Abraham, whom God chose to be the channel for his blessing to flow to the nations. Abraham was called to obey God, a calling that plays an important role in our understanding of how God’s mission goes forward.

God chooses to involve people in his plan. His intention to bring blessing is not separate from human obedience in being the agent of blessing. This blessing is not only spiritual in nature, but includes all the good things that God provides for his people in this world. Wright goes so far as to recommend Christians consider the call to Abraham in Genesis 12 as the Great Commission (214).

The people of God in the Old Testament are not tasked with the centripetal mission we see in the New Testament. Still, there is an unmistakably missional orientation to their chosen status as a people, as well as their holy living.

God’s desire is to bless the world through Abraham’s descendants. He also desires that Abraham’s descendants obey God and walk in holiness. God’s choice of a particular person (Abraham) and a particular people (Israel) is the way God has chosen to accomplish his mission of restoring all creation. Particularity serves universality. Israel’s election is for God’s mission.

“In short, Israel’s identity (to be a priestly kingdom) declares a mission, and Israel’s mission demands an ethic (to be a holy nation)” (375).

Holistic Mission in the Old and New Testaments

One of the key features of Wright’s book is the push for a more holistic understanding of the church’s mission. He finds support for this view in the exodus event as a paradigm for mission.

Wright chides those who interpret the exodus merely in spiritual terms by marginalizing the political, economic, and social dimensions of the narrative. He also sees the other extreme as problematic: using the exodus to make a political statement without keeping in mind the spiritual dimension.

Wright musters additional support for a holistic view of mission by appealing to the Old Testament teaching on the year of Jubilee. He believes “the wholeness of the jubilee model” needs to inform the church’s mission so that evangelism and social ethics are done in light of our future hope (300).

“It is a distorted and surely false hermeneutic to argue that whatever the New Testament tells us about the mission of the followers of Christ cancels out what we already know about the mission of God’s people from the Old Testament” (304).

The New Testament extends deliverance to the spiritual root of our idolatry problem. It does not exchange a social message for a spiritual one.

In his reading of the New Testament, Wright again affirms holistic mission that goes beyond evangelistic proclamation. The content and scope of mission in the Bible must define the content and scope of mission for believers today. He urges Christians to take seriously the foundational elements of mission seen in the Old Testament.

“We pay no compliments to the New Testament and the new and urgent mandate of evangelistic mission it entrusts to us in the light of Christ by relegating the Old Testament and the foundations for mission that it had already laid and that Jesus emphatically endorsed. Whole Christian mission is built on the whole Christian Bible” (306).

Anticipating criticism that a holistic mission necessarily leads to a lack of focus on the cross, Wright argues the reverse – that the blood of Christ is what makes possible every dimension of the good news. Christ’s work provides grace that is big enough to restore all that has been affected by sin.

The Ultimacy of Evangelism

When it comes to evangelism, Wright shies away from the terminology of “priority” because missional engagement may not always begin with evangelism. Wright is concerned that “priority” is understood in temporal terms, and the complexities of mission needs rarely lend themselves to presentation in this way.

Instead, Wright chooses the term “ultimacy,” meaning that the ultimate purpose for all mission activity is evangelistic proclamation of the gospel.  Mission that does not include evangelism is defective, not holistic. Biblical mission must have the proclamation of the cross of Christ at the center. The cross accomplishes and fulfills the mission of God in its entirety: dealing with human sin, defeating the powers of evil, destroying death, removing the barriers between Jew and Gentile, and healing and reconciling all creation.

Concluding Thoughts

Wright’s project is certainly ambitious, and its strengths are numerous. It is helpful to read the Bible as a project of missional reflection and within the grand narrative, which focuses on Jesus Christ – the Sent One from the Father.

Still, there are weaknesses in this approach, primarily in Wright’s advocacy for holistic mission. While I agree there is more than one dimension to the mission (proclamation of the gospel through words must be accompanied by demonstration of the gospel through good deeds), the way Wright makes his case is often flat instead of textured.

In arguing for a both-and approach to applying the exodus paradigm, Wright seems to put political and social ethics on one side and spiritual needs and solutions on the other, as if they are two equally weighty things side by side. In his terminology, the spiritual need is the deeper one and the social needs are implications. He is right.

But if eternal suffering in hell is one of the motivations for evangelism, then it should follow that evangelistic outreach is of the utmost importance. Political and social activity will be of eternal significance only insofar as they demonstrate the truth of that evangelistic message.

In other words, the weight of eternal suffering ought to make ultimacy pulse with passion for proclamation and demonstration – not as if they are two equal planes that need to be kept upright (one temporal and one eternal), but in seeing everything related to mission as ultimately designed to proclaim the gospel that relieves all suffering, especially eternal hell.

Therefore, it is not enough to say that mission is deficient if it does not contain gospel proclamation. We ought instead to say that mission is non-existent if our deeds are ever disconnected from the motivation and intention of proclaiming the gospel verbally.

Up Next

Next week, we’ll be looking at a scholar who comes down differently than Wright on some of these issues - Eckhard Schnabel and his book Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods.

 
 

Nov

26

2012

Trevin Wax|2:42 am CT

Worth a Look 11.26.12

Kindle Deal of the Day: The Christ of Christmas: Readings for Advent by Calvin Miller. $2.99.

Each devotion includes a full-page Scripture reading, main message, call-out quote, and written prayer. For anyone who desires a longer stay, there’s an additional passage to read from outside the Gospel accounts based on the day’s theme, as well as discussion questions that encourage group study or family time.

Balance is Bunk:

There is no such thing as a balanced life. It’s a false goal, a mirage propagated by a culture that doesn’t recognize a blunt fact of life. Some things are just more important than other things in life. Everything is not equal and no, everyone and everything doesn’t deserve a few moments of your time.

From The Telegraph - In its search for ‘relevance’, the Anglican Church is losing relevance:

In the 21st century, what is the purpose of the village church? For much of the establishment of the Church of England, the answer seems to be “relevance” – they must earn their status in society by reflecting society’s diversity of background and opinion. The great irony is that they want to make relevant something that is actually devalued by the attempt to make it relevant. God doesn’t do “relevance.” He just is - and, for most religious consumers, that’s what makes him so appealing.

Slow Down! A Different Perspective on Christ in the Old Testament:

Daniel Block, a respected evangelical Old Testament scholar whose new commentary on Deuteronomy will be a valuable addition to any believer’s shelf, wonders if some evangelicals today have fumbled the ball when it comes to handling the Old Testament. He certainly raises an important question. How should followers of the risen Christ read the Old Testament Scriptures in a properly anticipatory (cf. Luke 24:27, 44) yet hermeneutically responsible manner?

9 Ways to Say “Thanks” To Your Team:

As Children’s & Family Ministry Leaders, we are surrounded (hopefully!) by a team (staff and/or volunteers) committed to accomplishing great things in the lives of, well, children & family. My hope is we have an “attitude of gratitude” year-round. Obviously, however, this time of year highlights the opportunity to say “thanks”. Here are a few ways to say thanks for those who are in the trenches with you…