Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Game Changing Moment: Offer them Christ!

UCCF teams are made up of evangelists in the sense that they are made up of people who love to make Christ known and to equip the saints for evangelism, all for the good of the churches.

We gathered as a regional team for a couple of days this week, and were joined by two evangelists whose ministry includes working with Christian Unions. Glen Scrivener joined us with a brief for 'proclaiming Christ' and Michael Ots spoke on planning and strategy for missions among students. Between the two of them I think we're better skilled to help CUs plan for mission, and massively moved to offer Christ to people.

Proclaiming Christ 1 (90mins)
Proclaiming Christ 2 (78mins)
Proclaiming Christ 3 (81mins)
Proclaiming Christ 4 (65mins)
Proclaiming Christ 5 (81mins)

We considered Luther's categorisation of the three-fold word of the LORD (Christ, Scripture, Preaching) throughout the Bible, the life-giving way that the LORD is not needy but full of love, an overview of the LORD in Exodus in 20mins (Session 2) and the Trinity in Isaiah in 10mins (Session 3).. and then had that fleshed out from 1 Samuel (Session 4) and Luke's gospel (Session 5) which were real game changers for many in the room.  The ripples from this for our word ministry and service of the church will I hope be significant - feeling as we did the burning sense that Christ must be offered to this generation, and can be!

Breath-taking reflections (opening of Session 1) on how its better to have the Scriptures today than to have been in the room with the resurrected Jesus like Thomas (as in John 20)... the way that the word of God doesn't need experts but creates heralds... a wonderful clarity on the character of the Triune God and the Father's shining, loving, giving word. It's 6.5 hours of training material but I'd highly commend it to you. A helpful voice, among many who I feel privileged to benefit from.

Next time we meet we'll be joined by Pete Lowman who will share from his book A Long Way East of Eden on engaging with culture - which I've heard characterised as being like Keller's Reason for God, but better and published earlier but less well known. I'm inclined to agree. Lowman pioneered student mission in Russia 20 years ago and now leads a church in Reading.

19 comments:

  1. I am afraid I don't have time to listen to over 6.5 hours of talks.

    Can you point me to something that explains this statement:

    "Breath-taking reflections on how its better to have the Scriptures than to be in the room with the resurrected Jesus like Thomas"

    It seems odd to me, maybe I have misunderstood. For example I am looking forward to spending eternity with the risen Jesus, the living Word and do not think that eternity with a printed bible would be better.

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  2. John 20? Totally future with Jesus beats anything today, but today its better to have our experience than Thomas'. It's in session 1, within the first 10-15mins I think.

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  3. Dave,

    I have listened to the first 35 minutes and run out of time. I must have missed the reference to John 20.

    The section of the talk I have listened to is far better than the very problematical phrase:

    "its better to have the Scriptures than to be in the room with the resurrected Jesus like Thomas"

    It seems to me that phrase represents a very poor exegesis of John 20 and also misses the thrust of the talk in terms of the 3 fold understanding of the Word of God.

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  4. Sorry if the time ref wad wrong, I'll check that....

    I think the intention was to highlight john 20:29-31... more blessed to believe on the basis of what's written than like those who were in the room that day.... vs. Us thinking the best Word encounter would have required us to have been there then.

    My inarticulation may well have obscured things. Sorry.

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  5. Dave,

    "but today its better to have our experience than Thomas'"

    I don't think that is what John 20 means at all. In fact I think the passage means the exact opposite of

    "I think the intention was to highlight john 20:29-31... more blessed to believe on the basis of what's written than like those who were in the room that day.... vs. Us thinking the best Word encounter would have required us to have been there then."

    The passage says people are more blessed because they come to believe despite not having the experience of meeting the physical risen Jesus. They are blessed because they have overcome the huge disadvantage of hearing the word of God only from a human being rather than seeing/touching Jesus, the Word of God directly.

    This opposite meaning is a really important safeguard. Your interpretation says that people get the best possible Word encounter by hearing my interpretation proclaimed. How could it possibly be better to hear my interpretation rather than see/touch/interact with the risen Jesus?

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  6. More like the 63/64min mark. About 6mins of content.

    Be assured the emphasis is not be bible-focussed, but rather Christ-focussed. And that Scripture and proclamation aren't bible-centered but Christ-centred.
    In this bit and then developed in more detail later.

    Which I think confronts a lot of evangelical approaches.

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  7. Ok I have listened to the section from 63 minutes.

    I disagree.

    The experience of hearing the word proclaimed is not better than the experience of Thomas. The text does not say that!!!!!

    The text says that believing without the best experience demonstrates a blessing.

    This worries me a lot.

    It is not true to say that when I proclaim the gospel it is better than meeting Jesus face to face.

    It is very dangerous as it promotes my interpretation of scripture above the experience of Thomas meeting the risen Lord.

    The talk says "People rejecting my words are not rejecting me they are rejecting Christ" (my transcription may not be quite right).

    This is not right. It means I believe my interpretation and presentation is better than Thomas and the others meeting the physical risen Christ. Not true.

    This has the potential to lead me to believe that those who disagree with me are rejecting Jesus.

    It is exactly that belief that allowed a CU to tell me I was not a Christian because my experience was different and I did not use their language to describe my faith.

    My proclamation is a poor substitute for meeting the physical risen Lord. Those who come to faith despite my failings, my mistakes, my mis-understandings, my poor phrasing are blessed because they have seen through my flaws to see Christ.

    To say anything else is a claim to be an infallible, perfect & sinless person and I am none of those.

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  8. Let me re-phrase

    Is it possible for someone to have a better experience of the Word of Good through my proclamation than through Thomas meeting the physical risen Lord?

    No never. Christ is the Word of God, meeting him face to face is always going to be a better experience than hearing the Word of God from me.

    Should be obvious?

    Anything else puts us above Jesus.

    Without this recognition this: "Be assured the emphasis is not be bible-focussed, but rather Christ-focussed" cannot be true.

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  9. Hi Dave W - just seen this. There is certainly an order to the three-fold word - Christ is originally and eternally what Scripture and Proclamation are by witnessing Christ. And Christ judges Scripture which judges Proclamation. If Proclamation is not of the biblical Christ then it is not Proclamation. But if it is proclamation it is the Word of God with all the divine authority that entails:

    Matt 10:40
    Luke 10:16
    1 Thes 2:13
    Heb 13:7
    1 Pet 4:11.

    Do you agree with Bullinger that "the preaching of the word of God is the word of God?"

    Glen Scrivener

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  10. Hi Glen,

    Thanks for responding. First a response to your comment.

    "Christ is originally and eternally what Scripture and Proclamation are by witnessing Christ. And Christ judges Scripture which judges Proclamation. If Proclamation is not of the biblical Christ then it is not Proclamation"

    I am unconvinced. It seems you are saying that

    Scripture + Proclamation = Christ

    That feels wrong to me. It is not that I devalue Scripture or Proclamation but that the two are not equivalent to Jesus, fully human and fully divine, part of the Triune God.

    For "Christ is originally and eternally what Scripture and Proclamation are by witnessing Christ" to be fully true don't you have to add "Scripture+Proclamation" to the Trinity?

    "And Christ judges Scripture which judges Proclamation. If Proclamation is not of the biblical Christ then it is not Proclamation."

    But what does this mean in practice? It seems to me to be a somewhat circular and therefore meaningless argument. How does a listener know how "Scripture judges proclamation" when the "proclaimer" claims divine authority and appears to be preaching Scripture but in reality is distorting it? (see Matthew 7:15-23)

    A few examples from history:

    - Christians claimed it was proclamation when they taught that White men were superior to Black men and that slavery was right and God's will. How was a listener supposed to discover Christ judging Scripture which was judging that proclamation? Do we believe their proclamation was the Word of God with all divine authority?

    - What about when Christians have persecuted Jews. Do we believe their proclamations about Jews were the Word of God with all divine authority?

    - What about when Westbro Baptist Church proclaim that Scripture says that God Hates Gays? Are those proclamations the Word of God and equal to Jesus?

    Obviously being a Methodist I am not of the same Reformed tradition as you. My view of preaching is a little different.

    I don't believe (and Matt 7:21-23 seem to support this) that God will send a bolt of lightning to destroy anyone who falsely proclaims scripture. The judging process is not visible and clear to the listener. Instead there needs to be a process of discernment, of testing and sometimes that is time consuming and contentious.

    Maybe it would be accurate to say

    Preaching that bears fruit in committed, faithful disciples true to Scripture is the word of God. But even then I am left feeling uncomfortable as it does not appear to leave enough space for the lack of perfection in the preacher.

    Also see Is preaching itself the Word of God? for a different perspective on what Bullinger meant.

    However, all this discussion aside. Even if I fully accepted your views on proclamation it does not take us to the result I understand the talk gave.

    At the very most this discussion gets us to the point where Proclamation is equal to Jesus (note I still don't actually accept this). That might allow you to say that:

    When you perfectly proclaim scripture and your life perfectly models what you proclaim then your listeners experience will approach that of Thomas meeting the physical risen Christ.

    But being able to claim near equality leaves you infinitely short of claiming superiority to meeting the risen Christ and as I have said earlier I think that John 20 is quite clear on that.

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  11. Preaching is the word of God is surely a recognised by the listener claim not an imposed by the preacher claim, not least because our God is giver not demanding imposer...

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  12. Dave,

    I am more comfortable with the ideas that Preaching as the Word of God is something to be recognised by the listener.

    That still leaves 2 issues from the recording:

    1. The claim that Proclamation is a better experience than that of Thomas meeting the risen Lord. Do you and Glen still hold that view?

    2. The claim that Scripture & Proclamation is equal to Christ.

    Neither of these seem to be Scriptural or appropriate to me. I have significant pastoral concerns if those involved in mission have these as a mindset.

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  13. Isnt the point being made that its more blessed to have met Christ in the word/proclamation than having been there.
    And its not that proclamation and scripture are christ.
    Christ is the word of the Father.
    Scripture the word of the Son, in which we can meet Christ, bible no end in itself.
    Proclamation is the Word of the Spirit concerning Christ.
    All such that the point of Scripture and proclamation is to meet/hear Christ tangibly, experientially, really, not to be book experts or just give a talk.

    I wonder if the issue in part is that whats being critiqued is the very thing you're wary of, explitly challenging classic conservative Christianity?

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  14. Dave,

    "Isnt the point being made that its more blessed to have met Christ in the word/proclamation than having been there."

    a) I think that is wrong. It is not the meaning of John 20, in fact it is the opposite of the biblical text. The blessing comes because people believe without the better experience of meeting the risen Jesus face to face.

    b) If you are right then Paul would have considered it a disadvantage to meet the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.

    c) If you are right then the 12 disciples would not have been treated as leaders and special because their experience with Jesus would not have been good as that of those who came later and heard their proclamation.

    d) Another text is contradicts is Matthew 10:24-24

    e) If you are right then at the end you are saying that it would have been better for Jesus not to have become fully human and lived among us because meeting him through someone else proclaiming the word is better than meeting him face to face.

    "All such that the point of Scripture and proclamation is to meet/hear Christ tangibly, experientially, really, not to be book experts or just give a talk."

    That is great. I love people meeting the living Christ through the power of the Spirit and if it happens in preaching great, if it happens through service great, if it happens through friendship over a cup of coffee great ...

    But in our eagerness to say how great it is for people to meet Jesus lets not overstate the case beyond the support of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. To do so is bad theology and bad theology is always damaging.

    "I wonder if the issue in part is that whats being critiqued is the very thing you're wary of, explitly challenging classic conservative Christianity?"

    Huh? I keep reading that and it still makes no sense to me.

    If you want me to know what you are accusing me of you will have to rephrase :-)

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  15. I'm making no accusation at all - I'm suggesting that perhaps what you're wary of (Bibliolatry?) is exactly what Glen is critiquing...

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  16. Dave,

    There seems to be a baby and bathwater problem here.

    If worshipping the bible is one problem (and not one that I particularly focus on) then so is bad theology (such as teaching people that their proclamation gives people a better experience of God than Thomas had in John 20).

    It is bad theology (and particularly the bad effects on pastoral relationships/care) that I have problems with. Sadly we see it in many ways.

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  17. Comparing experience might not be the most helpful language, but there's blessing for those who believe without seeing, who believe from what's written....

    ...which is incredibly pastorally helpful to those who think they've missed out by living today. The Spirit-breathed word of Christ, the word of the Spirit in proclamation and the indwelling of the Spirit mean we aren't second rate Christian for having not met incarnate Jesus in Palestine.

    They and we long for the new creation but in the meantime God is not distant but incredibly close in Christ, in his word written, in preaching of Christ, and by the Spirit in us.

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  18. Just wrote a comment and lost it! I have a heck of a time trying to comment on blogger blogs. They must hate Wordpress or something....

    Dave W,

    I'm not sure you're tracking the three-fold logic - it is a trinitarian logic, not a matter of addition (as though Scripture + Proclamation = Jesus). I spell it out more here if you're interested:

    http://www.theologynetwork.org/theology-of-everything/a-theology-of-preaching.htm

    It's the interlocking, unloseable relations of the three forms which means that A) in this age we have no access to Christ save through the proclamation of the Scriptures and B) the encounter we have with Christ, though *mediated* by those forms, is not *diluted* by them. Therefore Luther can say "The preacher's mouth is Christ's mouth" - a statement which itself rests Scriptures like Matt 10 and Luke 10 (to receive/refuse the testimony is to receive/refuse Christ Himself) or the binding/loosing language of Matthew 16, etc.

    As for the Thomas episode - absolutely, Scripture is not better than an upper room experience in every regard. But in significant ways it is. As (from memory) the context made clear, the "better-ness" of the Scriptures consists in their enduring witness to Jesus when, on the other hand, if Thomas continued to want to doubt the eye-witness testimony of the apostles he'd need another appearance in 6 months. And so would we. If we desire an upper-room experience we are desiring something less good than what Christ wants to give us - an enduring encounter with Himself through His word. At 3 in the morning it's better to have John's Gospel than to have the memory of an apparition. In that sense (and from memory that was the sense in which I unpacked my statement) the enduring quality of the Scriptures are better than the one-off appearance of the upper room.

    Just ask yourself the question: which is better - to have John's Gospel or to have a one-off appearance? Which will get you through life better? If you answer the latter I think you'd get as firm a rebuke from Jesus as Thomas did.

    We cannot get around the fact that Jesus has chosen to absent Himself from His world and send His Spirit to equip the church in its task of proclamation. But Jesus says that this state of affairs is for our good!

    "But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." (John 16:7)

    Or take His teaching in John 14:22-26:

    "22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?" 23 Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. 25 "All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."

    Judas wants a resurrection roadshow to tour the globe. Jesus says 'No, go and take my teaching to the world.' In Christ's teaching Christ Himself - through the power of the Spirit - is encountering the world.

    And this answers your question about the apostles. Of course the apostles get an appearance to commission them to the task of witnessing to the world. But now that they've had that appearance none of us are to desire an upper-room apparition. Instead we go and tell.

    I trust you'll have a blessed Sunday as you do just that.

    Glen

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