Born in Blood and Fire

This is the title of a concise history of Latin America.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of teaching a class on Latin American History to the Latin Link Stride orientation group. They are an incredibly engaged and intelligent group having already had experience and deep sense of God's hand on their lives.

After I had explained the Conquistadores motivation and activity in coming to Latin America, one of the group asked "how do we share the Gospel with indigenous people who have been so oppressed by Christians. This led to a discussion on attitudes and activities of missionaries in Latin America which didn't come to many conclusions but which was sobering in its content and context.

This led me to further reflect on the certainty and uncertainty of our witness. We are sure of the Gospel which has saved us and which engages us in the establishment of God's kingdom upon the earth but the uncertainty of what it means for other people.

Latin America was ravaged by people on a mission. Christopher Columbus or Cristobal Colon believed he was claiming land for God (and Spain). He said that he was traveling in the name of the Holy Trinity. Fransisco Pizarro took priests on his conquering mission to subjugate the Inca and by subterfuge and just down-right lies he captured and executed the Inca himself. He was convinced he was doing the right thing.

We may not use any of these under-hand methods but we need to be very aware of how our missionary motivation is always contaminated by sinfulness. This is a message as much for missionaries as it is for politicians who claim to want to make peace and protect their citizens.


R-Rated Nativity Play

It is often said that Christmas is for the Children. Christmas is geared around warm, cosy feelings of warmth and safety. Well, Matthew didn’t seem to get
the email; Matthew’s nativity would have to be shown after the 9 O’clock watershed. The "Original British Drama" type of programme.

In Mt 1 and 2 we have suspected adultery; leading to possible divorce; astrology; a despotic king plotting the death of a potential rival—something
like the princes in the tower of King Richard fame—we have the massacre of
innocent children—perhaps not on the scale of ISIS but something akin—we
have a middle eastern family fleeing this murderous situation and the
internal displacement of a vulnerable family. Not exactly what the traditional
Nativity play includes. You can almost here the shrill, outraged voice of the Daily Mail, "Children Traumatised by 'realistic' Nativity Play."

In the first two chapters of Matthew we get a lot of information about the
identity of this child. I want to focus in on the Immanuel (God with us) title.
The presence of God is like bookends at the beginning and end of Matthew’s
Gospel. ‘And they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’) (Mt
1:23) and ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Mt 28:20).
Biblical scholars tell us that when you get such an “inclusio” the rest of the
book should be read through that concept.

It is amazing when we consider the way God chose to be with us. God has
intervened in human history not by sending a prophet with a message (as in
the Old Testament), not by writing a book and giving it to us (as Muslims
believe about the Koran), but he has intervened in human history by coming
bodily to earth and by becoming one of us.

Bethlehem was 5.5ml from Jerusalem and Herod’s soldiers. He truly did put
Jesus in harm’s way. God chose to be put into dangerous and vulnerable
position. He came into a poor and vulnerable refugee family who actually
end up as an internally displaced people. Joseph was from Bethlehem but
they are forced to live, probably near Mary’s family in Nazareth. As we know
from Nathaniel’s comment in John 1:46, Nazareth was not well respected.

So here we have Matthew’s rather gritty narrative. Not one for the children.


Being a world Christian

Bored with a BBC article and discussion on the dangers of obesity, I did what I always do and switch over to Al Jazeera. I was immediately stunned by the news that the Syrian opposition groups are in talks to unite against Assad; that there were talk in the demilitarised zone in Korea between North and South Korea and that Zanu PF have their conference and there is speculation about Mugabe's successor.

This got me thinking about my responsibilities as a Christian. Firstly to pray for the world in its difficulties and problems. Secondly, to be informed of world events. Thirdly to prompt others to be interested.

The problem of the parochial is that we think the world revolves around us. We don't actually consciously think this but we act as if it were so. The BBC tends only to give the news as it affects the UK. So the growth of IS is reported as it affects the UK. If we are to develop a mind in tune with God, I think we must move beyond this introspective way of thinking.

So being a Christian is being a world Christian.


Attitudes towards Islam and Muslims

It is alarming the polarisation of attitudes towards Islam, and possibly more alarming towards Muslims that we are seeing in the media: both mainstream and social.Donald Trump's statement and his support from Franklin Graham is appalling. We seem to be forgetting our basic Christian values. In stead of preaching I want to quote from an old Lausanne Document on Evangelism of Muslims.

The important thing is realise that this was planning the evangelisation of the Muslim world, but catch the ethos of the statements here.

During mid-October 1978, a week-long consultation was convened at Glen Eyrie, Colorado, to explore the responsibilities of North American Christians toward the Muslim World.

We Christians have loved so little, and have put forth such little effort to regard Muslims as people like ourselves. They too bear the image and likeness of God. They, too, deserve the love and respect God would have his people accord all men. Although we know their inmost needs—like ours—can only be satisfied by Christ, we somehow draw back from sharing him with them.

And we North American Christians also tend to be critical of Islamic culture. In our pride and ethnocentrism we have forgotten that our own culture is terribly flawed. True, it reflects the creativity of a pluralistic society, but it also expresses our fallenness. Since Christ judges all cultures and is seeking through the Gospel to infuse and transform them with his Presence, he would have us discern and appreciate the redeemable in Islamic culture.

It was inevitable that whenever the subject of conflict and suffering was broached, there were those who quickly reminded us—and did so correctly—that for much of this Christians had only themselves to blame. Not all missionaries have been wise and holy, noble and loving. Some have tended to misrepresent and belittle the moral and religious stature of Muhammad and the Quran. All too many have been uncritically defensive of Christian missions in the Muslim world during the long years of Western political dominance. As a result, they have been largely indifferent to the task of reducing the mistrust and misunderstanding that accentuated past tensions and rivalries. And they have given the impression that they lack concern for the deterioration of Christian values in the Christian world while openly encouraging the process of secularization in the Muslim world.

It was humbling for us to be confronted by this evidence of cultural imperialism coupled with aggressive and insensitive proselytism. We were agreed that much within the modern missionary movement needs rectification. And yet, we were also reminded that this was not the whole story.

What is notable here, is what I see to be absent today in Western dealing with Muslims: humility and repentance. May God forgive us.


Many Witnesses, One Gospel

This is the subtitle of I. Howard Marshall's New Testament Theology. He let's each of the Gospel writers and theology of the Pauline letters speak for themselves. What I have read so far it is rather good.

In his introductory chapter, called "How do we do New Testament Theology?" he make this statement:

New Testament Theology is essentially missionary theology. By this I mean that the documents came into being as the result of a two-part mission, first the mission of Jesus sent by God to inaugurate his kingdom with the blessings that it brings to people and to call people to respond to it, and then the mission of his followers called to continue his work by proclaiming him as Lord and Saviour, and calling people to faith and ongoing commitment to him, as a result of which his Church grows. The theology springs out of this movement and is shaped by it, and in turn the theology shapes the continuing mission of the church.

Sitting next to Marshall's book I have David Bosch's Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission.

In the foreword Bosch says:

The title of this book...is ambiguous. "Transforming" can be an adjective describing "mission". In this case, mission is understood as an enterprise that transforms reality. "Transforming" can, however, also be a present participle, the activity of transforming, of which "mission" is the object. Here, mission is not the enterprise which transforms reality, but is something that is itself being transformed.

Theology and mission are not static parts of the Christian Church's life but the most dynamic.


Of dimensions and intentions

I am returning to the issue of the missionary nature of the Church and Stephen Neill's assertion that if we say that everything the church does is mission then  "mission" becomes and meaningless term and we need to find another name for the Church's "going out" from itself into the world. If everything is mission then nothing is mission.

I like to use Lesslie Newbigin's idea of dividing the missionary nature of the Church into it missionary dimension and its missionary intention. The missionary dimension, as Bosch points out, is its worship and fellowship and its intention is its preaching and service to the world.

This means that worship of God has a "reaching out" dimension to it. The Psalmist called upon the nations to worship the LORD (Psalms 47: 67: 117). Fellowship is not mission but it is by the love that Christians have for one another that the world know that we are disciples of Jesus Christ (John 13:35).

I have often said that too much time and money are spent on the internal workings of the church and not enough on the external mission. I hold to this but when the internal dimensions to the church are seen in missionary perspective then they should feed the missionary intention of the church.


We Have Hope

Yesterday I preached at my home church on Matthew's nativity. It is not for children or even the fainthearted! This got me thinking about song we used to sing in Latin America by a Methodist Bishop. The music is Tango and expresses that because of the Incarnation and subsequent words and actions of Jesus is that we have hope.

The original Spanish is below my translation.

We have Hope

By Federico Pagura

Because he entered the world and history;

because he broke the silence and agony;

because he filled the earth with his glory;

because he was light in our cold night.

Because he was born in a dark manger;

because he lived sowing love and life;

because broke hard hearts and

raised the downcast souls.

For this reason we have hope;

For this reason we fight with vigor;

For this reason we look with confidence to the future (in this my land).

Because he attacked ambitious merchants

and denounced wickedness and hypocrisy;

because he exalted children and women

and rejected those that burned with pride.

Because he carried the cross of our griefs

and savored the gall of our wrongs;

because he accepted to suffer our condemnation,

and so die for all mortals.

For this reason we have hope;

For this reason we fight with vigor;

For this reason we look with confidence to the future (in this my land).

Because a bright dawn saw his great victory

over death, fear and lies;

now nothing can stop his story,

nor his eternal Kingdom nor his return.

For this reason we have hope;

For this reason we fight with vigor;

For this reason we look with confidence to the future (in this my land).

Tenemos Esperanza

By Federico Pagura

Porque El entró en el mundo y en la historia;

porque El quebró el silencio y la agonía;

porque llenó la tierra de su gloria;

porque fue luz en nuestra noche fría.

Porque nació en un pesebre oscuro;
porque vivió sembrando amor y vida;
porque partió los corazones duros
y levantó las almas abatidas.

Por eso es que hoy tenemos esperanza;

por eso es que hoy luchamos con porfía;

por eso es que hoy miramos con confianza,

el porvenir en esta tierra mía.


Porque atacó a ambiciosos mercaderes
y denunció maldad e hipocresía;
porque exaltó a los niños, las mujeres
y rechazó a los que de orgullo ardían.

Porque El cargó la cruz de nuestras penas
y saboreó la hiel de nuestros males;
porque aceptó sufrir nuestra condena,
y así morir por todos los mortales.

Por eso es que hoy tenemos esperanza;

por eso es que hoy luchamos con porfía;

por eso es que hoy miramos con confianza,

el porvenir en esta tierra mía.

Porque una aurora vio su gran victoria
sobre la muerte, el miedo, las mentiras;
ya nada puede detener su historia,
ni de su Reino eterno la venida

Por eso es que hoy tenemos esperanza;

por eso es que hoy luchamos con porfía;

por eso es que hoy miramos con confianza,

el porvenir en esta tierra mía.


Mission societies are outdated!

As a member of a missionary society and Latin Link Theological Consultant, maybe I should not say such things! But this post is prompted by something Eddie Arthur mentioned in a post on Wednesday. He mentioned a famous quote from Stephen Neill. "If everything is mission nothing is mission". Meaning that if everything the church does is called mission then the task of spreading the gospel loses its name and becomes meaningless.

What Eddie's post made me do was go back to reread the book.  The book is Creative Tension (EHP, 1959). These are publication of the Duff Lectures of 1958. I have a copy but it is in a box somewhere (no I haven't yet unpacked all of my books!).

The first thing I want  to mention is I found this advert for the World Missionary ConferenIMG_0736ce Anniversary Thanksgiving Services flyer (1960) being used as a bookmark! These services were celebrate 50th anniversary of World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh (1910). There was a service in London and one in Edinburgh. For a geek like me this is exciting! It will go into All Nations archives.

The second thing is having reread the book was how, as Evangelicals we are still 50 years behind the Ecumenical Movement in our mission theology.

Neill is commenting upon the relationship between mission in the church.

Missionary societies as we know them today, although no sense in this necessary part of the existence of the church; they are simply temporary expedient for the performance of certain functions that could be form performed in and Carly different ways (pg. 82).

Even back in the late 1950s, the tension between missionary society and church was evident. He goes on to say,

It is, apparently, to the 19th century that we must look for the development of this curious entity, the missionary society acting and always as though it was it self the church; and for this strange and aberrant development we must lay the blame squarely where it belongs, on the churches. It was the failure of the churches develop a missionary sense that drove certain missionary societies to adopt positions and policies which were unrelated to anything in the New Testament, and then subsequently to attempt to work out a theological reckon out that which in itself is theologically indefensible (pg. 84).

This is pretty strong stuff. Let the church be the church and the missionary society a servant of the church. He is also saying that missionary has a very ambiguous situation in what he calls

this obscure and theologically indefensible situation. He [sic] has not been sent out as a servant of the church. In fact he is a paid agent of a private organisation, the missionary society. It is to that body feels responsible. To it to send his reports. Through it he makes contact with his friends at home. From it he receives the resources by means of which his work is carried out. Relations of intense loyalty to affection for the  sending society have often been developed; but these in the end have perhaps been a hindrance rather than help, since they have been made more difficult by the emergence of the church idea (pg. 86).

Food for thought


Nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists.

I've been thinking a lot about Christianity's engagement with Western culture recently.There are many points of engagement, but one particular one in public conscience is Christianity's engagement with science. I read Stephen Hawking’s book, Grand Designs when it came out. The publicist certainly earned his money. What an incredible furore. The debate seems to be stuck.

The book, co-authored with US physicist Leonard Mlodinow, states "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.’ He also says, "Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.” Therefore, "It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” All that Hawking seems to be saying is as Simon Pierre marquis de Laplace; “Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là” (I have no need for such a hypothesis).

The Headlines are even more astounding, “God did not create the universe”, blares the BBC website. But the question is, “can human science disprove the existence of God. What Stephen Hawking is saying, that according to the science, God does not need to be there. He does not deny the existence of God-Hawking has already dismissed the idea of a personal god.

In popular consciousness, science and religion are at war. At the level of scholarship this is clearly not the case. Popular science and I am afraid this is where professor Hawking has descended to is claiming to be the source of ALL true knowledge.

Earlier in the 20th Century, Logical Positivism claimed that, only verifiable statements can be affirmed as true. A.J. Ayer, the British philosopher, adjusted a popularized logical positivism. Externally this statement seems to be a strong argument, until we point out that the statement that “only verifiable statements can be taken to be true” is not a verifiable statement. Ayer sawed off the very branch he was seated on.

What sorts of questions can scientists, using the scientific method, gathering evidence, collating data, validly be asked to answer? All Hawking has said in this book, for example is that within the parameters of his theory, there is no need for God to be there; which is fine and coherent within the worldview professor Hawking operates. This does not however, disprove the existence of God.

As John Lennox said, “Nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists.”


Evangelism According to David Bosch

Tranforming MissionIn his magisterial book, Transforming Mission, David Bosch makes 18 thesis on the subject of evangelism. I thought I'd share them with you.

  1. Mission is more than evangelism.
  2. Therefore, evangelism should not be equated with mission.
  3. Evangelism is an essential element of all the church does.
  4. Evangelism testifies to what God has done, is doing and will do.
  5. Evangelism seeks for a response.
  6. Evangelism is always an invitation.
  7. The evangelist is witness not judge.
  8. Evangelism is an indispensable ministry.
  9. Evangelism is only possible when the evangelising community is a radiant manifestation of the Christian Faith and exhibits an attractive lifestyle.
  10. Evangelism offers present and future salvation.
  11. Evangelism is not proselytism.
  12. Evangelism is not the same as church extension.
  13. Evangelism and church extension are related.
  14. Evangelism can only be directed at people.
  15. Authentic evangelism is always contextual.
  16. Therefore, evangelism cannot be separated from the proclamation and practice of justice.
  17. Evangelism is not a mechanism to force the return of Christ.
  18. Evangelism in not only verbal proclamation

 pp. 411-420.