Sunday, October 29, 2006

the unbearable lightness of being disjunctive

Yes - it is a mouthful. [It is a play on a famous article entitled 'the unbearable lightness of being postmodern']. I am trying to express an alarm over something which restricts the reach of God's mission in the world through us. What is it?

It is the hold which disjunctive thinking can have over us. What do I mean? Disjunctive thinking is the tendency to live according to an "either this or that" pattern. It is kinda like putting "vs" between two words when an "and" is what is needed. Let's try some examples...

(a) The recent post on Truth and Love is one example.

(b) A more ancient post (11 March 2006) raised the merits of church with External focus and church with Internal focus. Is church just about mission - or is it also about maturity? It is both. Mission by a people who are not Maturing is likely to be a Mess!

(c) Church vs Kingdom is another. How is it possible to be enthusiastic about one and not the other? Just read Ephesians 1-3 alongside the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and see if such a disjunction is possible. It isn't! So many other disjunctions gather here: gathered church vs scattered church; incarnational vs attractional models of mission (why not both, for God's sake!?)...

There are many, many more disjunctions...
Head vs Heart; Word vs Spirit; Work vs Worship; Grace vs Truth; Secular vs Sacred; Fences vs Wells; Theory vs Practice; Being vs Doing; Academic vs Devotional; Monday vs Sunday; Quality vs Quantity; Salt vs Light; Contemporary vs Ancient - on and on it goes. Can you think of some others?

If mission is to be robust then we must repent of this unbearable lightness of being disjunctive. It is shallow. It creates a weighty burden out of a superficial lightness. It is short-sighted.

I offer two comments to tease your further reflection:
(a) Embrace a space idea. Disjunction tends to create two circles in which there is no overlap. We function in one or the other. I wonder if the ellipse with two internal poles is a better spatial image. What do you think? Advantages? Disadvantages?
(b) Embrace a time idea. Disjunction is usually resolved with a simple "both:and" and therefore an affirmation of both sides. I wonder if this is subtle enough. I wonder whether it is wiser to be sensitive to the need for a sequence - "first this: then that". What do you think?

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Sunday, October 22, 2006

the MTD virus

In response to a posting on 18 April ('the doors'), Stephen Garner commented on some research that points to 'moralistic therapeutic deism' (MTD) being the religion of younger Christian people today. I've been a bit distracted by this research all year!

In a nutshell - this is what is meant by MTD:
"Good, kind, nice pleasant people (the moralistic bit) are able to live a happy life from their religion (the therapeutic bit) while believing in a relatively uninvolved and undemanding God who is watching everything from above (the deism bit)."

And this is the religion of countless Christians!?
How must a follower of Jesus respond?

At its core MTD makes a mockery of the cross of Christ. It is not Christian. It is not even close to being Christian. Let's take each word one at a time in reverse order...

(a) deism - and the God who is uninvolved?
This makes a mockery of the relational word which the Bible knows as reconciliation. God does not drop out of sight after creating the world. The entire story of the Bible is about this 'hound of heaven' (CS Lewis) involving himself in this world and pursuing us across sin and separation and conflict and rebellion until he finds us - at which point he offers forgiveness through the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross. This restores the relationship. This brings reconciliation. And after pursuing us like this - he persists with us! After all of this, an uninvolved God seems ridiculous ... check out 2 Corinthians 5:15-21 for a bit more.

(b) therapeutic - and living life just to feel happy?
This makes a mockery of the marketplace word which the Bible knows as redemption. It is about the buying of a slave so as to liberate them. The price has been paid... We have a slavery to sin. We are unable to grapple with the situation because of that sinfulness. We are helpless and hopeless - completely reliant on God. God purchases our redemption. He pays the price with the death of his own son. We are redeemed. Jesus dies our death so that we can live his life - a life to be lived with Jesus as our Master. 'If he is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all'. After all of this done for us, living just to feel happy looks pathetic ... check out 1 Peter 1:18-21 for a bit more.

(c) moralistic - and thinking that being good and kind is enough?
This makes a mockery of the legal word which the Bible knows as justification. We stand in the dock. We are guilty. We face God as a righteous and holy judge. He has a standard we cannot attain. There is no goodness in who we are or what we do that can make a difference. The outcome is clear. And then ... God brings in Jesus. He takes our place in the dock as a substitute and receives the sentence of death. It is called grace. It is God's way of forgiving us and treating us as if we had never sinned. We are justified. After all of this, thinking that being good and kind will be enough just looks silly ... check out Romans 3:21-26 for a bit more.

My response to the MTD virus?
Soak up reconciliation, redemption, justification - let the big words have a big impact!
AND
"If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him." (CT Studd)

nice chatting

Paul


For the record, the book is...

Christian Smith & Melinda Denton, Soul Searching: the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2005)

This posting is an abbreviated version of an article which is itself an abbreviated version of an address given at the TSCF conference in July. The article appeared in CANVAS magazine and can be read at http://www.tscf.org.nz/index.php?id=3
I am happy to pass on the full manuscript of the address to anyone who is interested.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

truth and love

Exactly 40 years ago - and I mean to the very minute - people all over London were heading for the Underground to make their way to Central Hall, Westminster. 18 October 1966. What transpired that night is a 'defining moment' in post-War British evangelicalism.

Now, now ... don't close this window quite yet?! Stick with me for moment. I am going somewhere with this! I've read the story of that night in so many places. Where are those Back to the Future cars when you want them?

Here it is in a nutshell. Chairing the meeting was John Stott. The invited speaker was Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The two key evangelical leaders of the era. In his address Lloyd-Jones gave a stirring appeal that many listeners perceived to be a call to them to leave their denominations and form the true church. He suggested that the mainline denominations, in particular, harbour doctrinal error and that the evangelical should separate themselves from such churches. It would seem that the strength of his appeal caught people by surprise. Instead of closing the meeting, John Stott rose to his feet and said "I believe history is against what Lloyd-Jones has said ... Scripture is against him, the remnant was within the church not outside it."
Every account records how "the atmosphere was electric"...

It is the classic debate. Truth vs Love? Doctrine vs Unity? What doctrinal price are we prepared to pay to preserve unity? What fellowship price are we prepared to pay in order to preserve truth? For any faithful Jesus-follower these are questions that will be faced in their own personal lives - and in their relationships with others. Each perspective has merit. They can't just be swept away. It is impossible to read 1 John without seeing this. Love matters. Truth matters.

While Stott and Lloyd-Jones made their peace within days, a bitter dispute erupted more widely and it is Alister McGrath's view that the 'shadow of 1966' has lingered ever since.

Three reflections on which you may wish to comment:
(a) Truth matters ... but if there is very little over which we are prepared to divide for the sake of that truth, then does truth really matter to us?
(b) Love matters ... but if there is very little impulse to reconcile and restore fellowship with others for the sake of that love, then does love really matter to us?
(c) Sometime reflect on the defining moment in the early church in Acts 15. 'Can Gentiles become Christians?' If the outcome of this Jerusalem Council had not gone the way it did the church would have ceased to exist. It was just that critical. And what is the genius of the outcome? Read carefully. Truth wins! Love wins!

nice chatting

Paul

For the record:
+ The incident can be read on-line in an extract from John Stott's biography:
www.e-n.org.uk/1606-Biography-of-John-Stott-Volume-2.htm
The incident can be read also in the Lloyd-Jones' biography:
Iain Murray, D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith (Banner of Truth, 1990) 513-532

+ The full text of Lloyd-Jones' address is "Evangelical Unity: An Appeal" and is probably on the internet somewhere - although I could not find it quickly - and appears in D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times (Banner of Truth, 1989) 246-257

Friday, October 06, 2006

the art of blindspot exposure

The comment which provoked the most response while teaching in Zambia was when we came to the 'submission' passages in 1 Peter 2:11-3:7 and I suggested that we needed to avoid two errors:

(a) the 'cut and paste' error
This occurs when we 'cut' these verses out of the context of this letter and the occasion and time into which Peter was writing and just 'paste' them into our own occasion and time ... and then sit back and pat ourselves on the back for interpreting the Bible literally - as if 'literally' means the same thing as 'accurately'. It doesn't!

(b) the 'delete and escape' error
This occurs when we see something we don't like in the Bible - like these submission passages. We kinda pretend they aren't there, skip over them, basically 'delete' them and 'escape' from them to something that rests more easily with us. The outcome? We shut down the possibility of the Bible ever saying something hard to us.

One of the benefits of living in another culture for awhile is that you see your own culture more clearly - together with its blindspots. And these blindspots do tend to develop and grow when we live our lives oblivious to one of these twin errors.
After two weeks mixing with pastors in Zambia I reckon some of our Kiwi blindspots came into focus for me. I offer my TOP SIX blindspots (in no particular order) and welcome additions or subtractions or changes from you:

1. Family
Two extremes! One is the idolatry of family in which we worship our children and can't allow God to call us to do anything that we think might damage them. The second is where we are so intent on career-advancement and/or lifestyle-enhancing that we make decisions about the care of children that might well damage them over the longer term.

2. Money
The poverty of Christians in so many parts of the world is just unacceptable. The wealth of Christians in so many parts of the world is also unacceptable. While some wealthy Christians are remarkably generous, far more of them need to be so. And we all need to be more content with what we have.

3. Age
It was interesting to be in a culture where it is the older ones who are respected and exalted. In our culture it is the younger ones that are respected and exalted. Our obsession with youth and youthfulness really is very odd indeed.

4. Holiness
It is not just about sex ... but having said that we have raised a young adult generation whose standards on sexuality owe more to a decade of watching Friends than it does to a decade of reading Jesus - which, of course, should not surprise us as more time has been spent doing the former than doing the latter.

5. Eternity
"Israel put their hope in the judgement of God." Why? They were an oppressed people and so coming judgement was something to sing about and celebrate. Eternity is that time when all unpunished badness is judged for all time and all unaffirmed goodness is vindicated for all time. No wonder we can't make sense of this world. We think the present time is all there is...

6. Justice
Justice has gone from being something we fight for and protect for others (particularly other believers globally) to becoming something we fight for and defend for ourselves. Personal rights now eclipse personal responsibility ... and so something like submission having a beauty in a particular situation just cannot be entertained.

Which means I've ended up where I started and so I should quit and let you contribute something.

nice chatting

Paul