Monday, January 31, 2011

Book: The Sunshine of the Gospel (Richard Sibbes)

Do you long for a heart affecting Christianity? Come find it with Richard Sibbes, a friend of the church who longs to see her betrothed to Christ. This is experiential evangelical Christianity at it's best.

I've been immersed in the works of Richard Sibbes for a while and decided to self-publish a modernised version of seven of his sermons. I've edited and formatted it, so the book feels like Sibbes but isn't quite as 17th Century as the original source material. He's the warmest and most accessible of the puritans, writing in with simple illustrations and a sweetness of attitude and language. I imagine this being a great book to read slowly and devotionally to warm your heart with Christ. I've added a short introduction and some brief applied footnotes along the way . 
  • Cost: £5, plus postage. I hope you'll find it worth that. 
  • It's bookstore quality production which I'm really happy with.
  • Use code NOSHADOW at checkout to get 20% off the book cost.  HAPPYUK305 also gets you 20% off until Feb 21st. You can usualy find Lulu discount codes via Google for between 10-25%. UK Postage for one copy is £2.99, making it £7.99 without a code, or £6.99 with a 20% off code.
  • If you order 25 copies postage falls to 79p per book (i.e. £5.79 a copy), so team up with others and then use a 20% off code and it'll be a bargainous £4.79! 
  • Lulu print on demand and deliver in about a week.
  • If there are glitches in the typesetting etc, sorry! - it's the downside of not going via a publisher... Do let me know if you spot something and I'll fix it for future editions - doesn't help you but it'd bless someone else!
I genuinely think you'll love reading this, and if you do then by all means feedback your comments - I might stick an endorsements page in a future edition if you give me something quotable!
Buy: The Sunshine of the Gospel - via Lulu.com

Friday, January 28, 2011

4 Tips for Gospel Partnership (or, How to work with Christian Unions?)

Here are some thoughts on working together with other Christians...

I had the opportunity to speak with student workers in my wider church family (Newfrontiers) about how to work with Christian Unions (my day job).

It was wonderfully encouraging to develop relationships and share in mission together to see the local church built.

How can things work more smoothly? (which applies to any local or trans-local relationship, of which UCCF and CUs with local churches are an example.)

1. Be generous. Get the point that the gospel makes us generous spirited people. I'll think and speak generously, rejoice when someone else is blessed more than me. That means I can look past and even rejoice in some of our differences - whether in class, culture, and even some convictions... There are theological differences that can stop people working together, but there are probably fewer than we normally think... inevitably we all get used to the air we breathe and start to think that our way is the only way... the only antidotes to this are to go deep with the gospel and to commit to mixing widely with other lovers of the gospel. This is something I value about the DNA of the UCCF, gospel depth and breadth.
2. Be a blessing. Look at your ministry and ask yourself, what can I give away for free to others. And do it without caveats and conditions. Where can I open my doors? Where can I invite others to join us with something we're doing? I've tried to invite people into things we're already doing, and I've tried to create contexts that are suitable to invite people into.
3. Be a learner. Look at your ministry and at others, and ask: what do we need to learn from others, and invite them to come and teach you out of their strength. Every church and movement has its weaknesses, and its almost certain that someone in your town is strong where you're weak. I've found Terry Virgo to be a great example of this, happily inviting a Rob Rufus and Mark Driscoll to speak at Newfrontiers leaders conference... Sure he'd disagree with some of what both say and believe, in their theology/methodology, but the more mature the people in the room the less chance anyone is being confused, and we might just learn from where others are doing better than us.
4. Be hospitable. You can't be best buddies with everyone in the area but you can be good friends with some people. Call up someone else, invite them over and get to know them. It's the easiest thing and one of the most magnificient things someone can do... let's eat, enjoy friendship around a table - let's really meet.

The point here is Holy Spirit unity expressed in real relationships, not power play for political advantages, it's about service and giving rather than winning.

In all of this the only valid "parachurch" is ministry that exists is rooted in local churches and which exists for the good of the local churches - we can all be part of local and trans-local relationships between churches which may prosper others more than they prosper us - but if Paul can rejoice when God prospers the ministry of ill-motived people, then we can probably rejoice when no one is having to question motives.

Remember: Gospel. Remember: Relationships.

See also: Parachurch that loves the local church and Parachurch and the Emporers New Clothes

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Keep asking questions until someone asks you one back"

Why wouldn't I?

On Giants' Shoulders (Mike Reeves)

On Giants' Shoulders is Mike Reeves' sequel to his The Breeze of the Centuries. The first took us on a tour of great theologians from the early church fathers through to the prospect of the reformation. This picks up where the former left off with Luther and Calvin, Edwards and Owen, Schleiermacher and Barth.

If you think theologians and history are dead places to go - these are the books that can shake your assumptions and open up whole new vistas in your understanding and heart.

Mike tells the story of each theologian and then walks us through their major works. These are accessible guides to those who have gone before us who will keep us fresh and on whose shoulders we do stand. I've heard about half of these books taught at our annual Staff conference and they've opened my eyes to see the gospel freshly, humbled me to learn from others, and corrected several glitches and errors in my theology.

The subjects are chosen for their influence and you can hear the alarm bells in some chapters and the applause in others, though Mike is fairly even handed in his treatments. Particularly refreshing is the insight of how Trinitarian our forefathers were (except perhaps Schleiermacher!), and how clearly they saw the Scriptures testifying to the gospel of Christ.

You can listen to Mike teaching this material on the apostolic church fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Augustine, Athanasius, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards (soon) and Owen at Theology Network. The Breeze of the Centuries and On Giants' Shoulders are roughly the scripts of these talks. I'd start with Athanasius.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Who would run from the presence of the LORD?

The word comes to Jonah and instead of approaching the presence of the LORD in faith he runs. In Jonah 1v3, 1v3 and 1v10 we're told Jonah is fleeing from the presence of the LORD. While some of his forefathers would say 'better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere' Andrew Bonar writes: "None but a heavy-laden sinner could relish this never-varying exhibition of blood to the eye of the worshipper." Jonah can't.

Instead of arising to go to Nineveh he goes down to Joppa, down into a boat, down into the sea, only rising when a crowd of pagan idolators tell him to arise to pray and preach to them, which he seems to do with some reluctance and much brevity and no integrity.

Only with great reluctance does he proclaim the LORD to the nations. He'd told them he was fleeing his god, and when they hear who his god is they're exceedingly convicted and soon come to throw themselves upon the LORD as the only one who can save them. The word of the LORD comes to foreign pagan sailors and they don't flee, but approach with a sacrifice and vows. On the blood soaked deck of their battered boat this is a glorious moment as the love of God extends to invite in those who moments earlier were chaotically calling on any god they could find to save them.

As he goes down to death the prophet's heart turned again to the temple (2:4,7), longing for his prayer to be heard and to see the LORD. Finally it seems the bloody scene draws him, and he confesses that salvation is truly of the LORD - the lamb on the throne his saviour.

The story of humanity is one of fleeing from the presence of the LORD, even in Eden Adam hid from Christ, before being exiled. Nonetheless the LORD couldn't resist drawing Adam's race to his presence. The Father is determined from day one to send his Son to make reveal himself to little children. The gospel is preached - even by ill-motivated rebels like Jonah - and men and women behold the LORD and call upon him. He makes his dwelling with them in the Tabernacle and Temple. It was the LORD who made his people distinctive by making his home with them, for it was the LORD's desire to draw people into his community - that we might find our home in him.

All of which makes you ask what on earth Jonah was thinking by trying to avoid the presence of the Triune God? But then that's what I try to do.Curiously it seems in the end that Jonah's motive is that he wants the love of the Triune God for himself but not for others. I say curiously but its what I try to do too. I suppose that means he thinks that he has it because it deserves it but others don't! The spreading love of the LORD wont be contained though - run from Nineveh and love finds pagan idolators, go to Nineveh and it finds the evil people there, go to the depths of the sea or sit under a tree in protest and the Father will continue to send his Son to invite even a hard-hearted prophet.  That's what the love of God is like.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Drawing us near to himself as we search for his bride

What's evangelism about? In Genesis 24 terms the evangelist is the servant of the Father who is comissioned to find a wife for the son. He's devoted to the Father, devoted to the Son and devoted to the Wife. Imagine evangelism training that aimed at fueling these (not to say you'd not want to teach persuasion, or critical thinking etc - the stronger your affections the more you'd want to speak strongly). Chris suggested that these might help us with training for this kind of evangelism, annotated by what I think that'd look like...
John 3:29-30 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must increase, I must decrease
--- Waiting and Listening for the bridegroom's voice. A great opportunity to consider Scripture as encounter with Christ.
2 Cor 11:2 I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband...to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ
--- Growing in divine jealousy. This is really feeling the heart of the Triune God. Dig into Exodus! Or Hosea...
Gal 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all.
--- Remaining with the one who called us. What Sibbes called 'in-being'. What does it mean to dwell in the Triune God?
Gal 4:8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
--- Being known by God. More of the previous one - we know God, and he knows us!
Gal 4:19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
--- Feeling the pangs of childbirth for the church. Sounds something similar to the sickness of love that you see in The Song of Songs. 
1 The 3:5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.
--- Growing depth of affections that will burst for others. Imagine this kind of fear and 'stand it no longer' affection. No apathy. No ambivalence. Such is the fruit of the gospel.
This is the kind of 'training' that draws us deeper into the gospel, a gospel which is about this:
"God draws near to us in such a way as to draw us near to himself within the circle of his knowing of himself." TF Torrance (cited by Dave Cruver) 
The apologetics involved in evangelism flowing out of this kind of training would surely be warmer and more attractive, more inviting and engaging, more personal and confronting. Weaker and softer, and yet stronger and more like Christ himself.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I will allure her: Espousal Evangelism & Discipleship with Hosea 2:14

The book of Hosea is up there as one of the oddest prophets. Hosea is comissioned to marry a prostitute so that he can feel and display the horror of Israel's spiritual adultery. Their relationship graphically shows how sin isn't just law-breaking but a matter of the heart as Gomer wanders away from Hosea and credits others with giving her all that she has from Hosea. The lesson is clear to the tender hearted listener.

I am so wayward as I fawn around seeking the approval of others, hoping they'll think much of me when I'm already more loved than I could begin to imagine. Protecting myself by keeping my distance instead of opening my heart.

There will be punishment for sin, for Gomer and Israel - the jealous love of the LORD burns to strip away her blessings, to expose her lewdness, to punish her idolatry.

As Gomer sinks to her lowest she is in the wilderness. A classic Biblical location. A place of wandering, a place where the promised land should look beautiful but where sin can also seem attractive. The wilderness is not a place for living, it's not where the repentant are, its where those hiding and running are likely to be found, a place of testing and temptation - where only one has held his ground.

What comes next? Abandonment? Further chastisement? Compulsion? He comes:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her."
(Hosea 2:14 ESV)
No! Jesus the LORD will come and allure her in the wilderness, he has tender words to speak to her. Spurgeon observed: "instead of wooing sinners and alluring them, there are some who, if they do not go to the length of physical force, nevertheless seem as if they would bully them to Christ, they speak to them so sharply and sternly. There is never any good done in that way. There are more flies caught with honey than with vinegar, and more souls are brought to Christ by sweet words than by sour and bitter ones" 

He will address her wayward heart and romance her. He finds reason for grace where there is none. He will win her heart again. He will show her mercy. And then she will call him not master but Husband (2:16) and betroth her to himself (2:20 'I will betroth you to me').Matthew Henry has it: "believers are enabled to expect infinitely more tenderness and kindness from their holy God, than a beloved wife can expect from the kindest husband." For he will be their husband:
"For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough."
(2 Corinthians 11:2-4 ESV)
With what words will Jesus the LORD allure this prostitue? With the gospel.


For the goal is to betroth to Christ with sincere and pure devotion. At times a prophet is sent, at times Jesus himself comes directly - but the goal is the same, whether in the ministry of an evangelist or a pastor, at all times to win the heart to Christ, feeling Jesus' divine jealousy for his bride. Alluring is persuasive but cannot be cold and intellectual, it must engage the heart, it must involve beauty, it must bring beauty to bear upon the heart. It does not just say what is beautiful about Christ, but shows Christ to the heart. Spurgeon preached it this way:
"Do any of you feel some soft drawing? Is there a pierced hand touching you and a loving voice saying, “Seek the Lord”? Have you been very hard, up till now, but does an unusual gentleness steal over your spirit as you are sitting in this House of Prayer? Give yourself up to it—it may be that the time of Divine Grace is now upon you. I hope that it is so, that your birth-night has come and that you are passing from death unto life!"
The gospel does not just speak of Christ, but in the preaching of the gospel he is brought to the heart of the listener, in the moment, in the room: Christ who came out to me in the wilderness, laying himself down, bearing the punishment due to me, and speaking with his very life and death to my heart to win me for himself...

Monday, January 17, 2011

You shall take a wife for my son: Lessons in espousal evangelism from Genesis 24

I've found myself ranging over Genesis, Exodus and 1 Samuel in recent weeks. In these books the Father is telling the story of the man and his bride, in various ways. The man is also known as the son or the seed and is ultimately Jesus but we see him typified again and again.

Genesis 24 seems to be a classic example of this For chapters the promised seed has been anticipated and then finally he's born. That story is told with alarming brevity in Genesis 21. He then figuratively dies and is resurrected in Genesis 22 according to Hebrews 11. Then his Father wants him to have a bride. Some will think it too fanciful to see a glimpse of Christ here but I'm inclined to think the reluctance to see Christ is more newfangled than the willingness to. Spurgeon, for example:
"Paul saith in a certain place "which things are an allegory," by which he did not mean that they were not literal facts, but that, being literal facts, they might also be used instructively as an allegory. So may I say of this chapter. It records what actually was said and done; but at the same time, it bears within it allegorical instruction with regard to heavenly things. The true minister of Christ is like this Eleazar of Damascus; he is sent to find a wife for his Master's son. His great desire is, that many shall be presented unto Christ in the day of his appearing, as the bride, the Lamb's wife."
Genesis has told the story of the seed, and now the seed must have a bride. As the Father had said, it is not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18) and so a bride must be found for him. The Servant is sent to get him a bride. He cannot compel her or force her to come but he can invite her, then she must make her response. What's the story telling? Just how Isaac got a bride, or that and more? The servant who finds a bride for Isaac surely shows us something of the evangelist who is sent to search for a bride for the true Isaac. Tracing that thread forward  it is wisely asked:
"Should every gospel pastor be an affectionate romantic at heart?
(or at least have become one!?)"  
Sounds appropriate since Abraham commissions his servant:
"you shall take a wife for my son" (24:4)
It's not quite flirt-to-convert but there's some romancing to be done. There's a tenderness and heart needed by the evangelist, the pastor - something I know my own need to grow in. The Servant was not sent to obtain subjects or slaves for the son, but a bride. To find one who will make the son sing for joy as the first man sang "this at last is..." and to delight over her with singing. With careful Biblical controls this is the evangelists call, to be one who woo for Christ, seeking him a bride. Evangelists are espousal theologians, lovers of Christ and of his bride the church. The stereotype of the hell-fire preacher who appears to hate people is deeply inappropriate. The evangelist will be passionate and persuasive, warm and affectionate, representing Christ to those invited to be part of the church.
"All the Great Father's heart is set on giving to Christ a church which shall be his beloved for ever. Jesus must not be alone: his church must be his dear companion. The Father would find a bride for the great Bridegroom, a recompense for the Redeemer, a solace for the Saviour: therefore he lays it upon all whom he calls to tell out the gospel, that we should seek souls for Jesus, and never rest till hearts are wedded to the Son of God. Oh, for grace to carry out this commission!" Spurgeon
When she is found and adorned in Genesis 24 her family seek to delay her coming but she is keen to come. Sibbes (Bowels Opened #8):
Faith is but an empty hand, that goes to Christ to draw from him what it has need of; 'In Christ I can do all things.' So, to have our hearts warmed with love to him... If our hearts once be warmed with the love of Christ, this will make  us to think nothing too dear for Christ, and will cut off all excuses and pretences whatever, which come from coldness of affection. 'Love is strong as death,' as we have it in this book, 'much water cannot quench it,' Song 8:6. All oppositions and discouragements whatever, all the water which the devil and the world has or uses, cannot quench the heavenly fire of love, when it is kindled in any measure.
She comes with a prophetic word issued over her - great fruitfulness, a multitude of offspring and one in particular who will possess the gates of his enemy (24:60). The man Isaac is not the final seed, we look ahead for him! Isaac lifts his eyes in faith to her, and she in faith lifts hers to him (24:63-64). They become one flesh and she comforts him - and no doubt this too is mutual. They have strong affections for one another.

The man is no longer alone. When Paul wrote of Christ as the church's husband he wasn't innovating or merely illustrating, he was well versed in all that had previously been spoken. The Father has always been sending evangelists to search for a bride for his son, the son who gives himself for his bride, whether in Proverbs, Genesis, Hosea, Ezekiel, Revelation and of course in The Song of Songs.

The evangelist must also be one whose affections are enlarged, and therefore one who searches after Christ with empty hands, sick with love. Saying with Sibbes: "Though I hear the same things again, yet I may hear them in a fresh manner, and so I may have it sealed deeper than before." And though some may say there is too much preaching of the gospel the evangelist lives by it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It is very difficult to tell the truth: Reflections on Mobilise Student Worker Weekend

I was a guest at the Newfrontiers Student Workers weekend in Sherwood Forest over the weekend. I was invited as a member of a Newfrontiers Church and UCCF Leadership to give a seminar on 'Working with CUs' which I hope was beneficial. I loved being able to meet with many student workers across the country, people on the same page as me - lovers of grace and the local church, generous hearted people who I hope will grow to be friends.

Nick Sharp the leader of Grace Church Nottingham spoke on Saturday night. His session on courage was outstanding. He showed us a ministerial vulnerability that is all too rare and yet deeply attractive. During it he told a story from War and Peace (a book I'd now like to read!) to highlight how we love to tell heroic stories and be triumphalistic when reality is rarely so glorious. He tells of Nicolas Rostov who rode into battle, fell off his horse and fled. Tolstoy tells of his return to society to tell his story...

DOWNLOAD MP3: Nick Sharp and others

"Rostov was a truthful young man and would on no account have told a deliberate lie. He began his story meaning to tell everything just as it happened, but imperceptibly, involuntarily, and inevitably he lapsed into falsehood. If he had told the truth to his hearers — who like himself had often heard stories of attacks and had formed a definite idea of what an attack was and were expecting to hear just such a story — they would either not have believed him or, still worse, would have thought that Rostov was himself to blame since what generally happens to the narrators of cavalry attacks had not happened to him. He could not tell them simply that everyone went at a trot and that he fell off his horse and sprained his arm and then ran as hard as he could from a Frenchman into the wood. Besides, to tell everything as it really happened, it would have been necessary to make an effort of will to tell only what happened. It is very difficult to tell the truth, and young people are rarely capable of it. His hearers expected a story of how beside himself and all aflame with excitement, he had flown like a storm at the square, cut his way in, slashed right and left, how his saber had tasted flesh and he had fallen exhausted, and so on. And so he told them all that."
How hard for the young to tell the truth - to be vulnerable and honest. We like to tell people what we think they want to hear. God had been speaking to me about that last week. I've felt the Spirit saying to me after a conversation with my pastor that there's an issue in my reluctance to ask for help at times - my sense of being an achiever can be utilised in the gospel but can equally be a bridge for my sin - then Jim Walford challenged us with the gospel to be those who are prepared to ask God for help in prayer, since we can't do this life ourselves. And the same came through Nick Sharp's teaching.

The gospel has been disarming and exposing me in my self-sufficiency, and then deeply encouraging me to be one who will tell as it is, unafraid to show weakness and to be one who lives in the real world in which God is God and I am not. In which to look to the gospel not to myself. That frees me to be encouraged - to be courageous - and boldy do the things I cannot do, but God might have for me to do, in which I'll be able to admit that I often feel out of my depth, feel like a fraud.

And seeing that, I might just cry out to him more.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reclaiming Adoption (Dan Cruver & others)

Adoption is at the heart of the gospel. This book shows us how and what that means for us. Here's a taste:

"adoption is nothing less than the placement
of sons in the Son." (p51)

"Behind the externals of both
prodigal rule-breaking and prodigal rule-keeping (or any
combination of the two) is estrangement from the Father." (p42)

"The Son of God came into the far country of our
estrangement, not as an outsider or a detached observer,
but as a true man among men" (p43)

"Only a triune God could both refuse “to let go of
God for our sakes” and refuse “to let go of us for God’s
sake.” Only a triune God could lay hold of God and
offer our humanity in himself to the Father. Take God
out of the cross even for a nanosecond and redemption
unto adoption does not happen" (p47)

It's an 'easy' read that will provoke and challenge you to rejoice afresh in the glories of the gospel. It's the fruit of Dan Cruver's persistent gospel-centredness, which I've long benefitted from in his blogging days, and which is now expressed through his Together for Adoption movement. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Dan when I was in the USA 3 years ago.

The book begins with four chapters from Cruver before handing over to his co-contributors John Piper, Scotty Smith, Rick Phillips and Jason Kovacs. The other are great but I enjoyed Cruver's chapters the best.

His material on Adoption and Union with Christ is simply beautiful. He shows how our Christian life is less to be thought of as imitation of Christ but rather a participation in Christ's relationship with his Father, through our adoption in the gospel. Lovely Trinitarian Christianity seasoned with quotes from T.F.Torrance. Cruver writes:

"Our missional engagement as Christians is not an
imitation of Christ and his mission. It is a participation in
Christ and his mission. This is not wordplay. It is a polar
shift of perspective from the false to the true, and from
the self-centered to the Christ-centered." (p53)

The book does what I mightn't have thought to do which is to apply our gospel-adoption to human-adoption, which is a refreshing and demanding application that might well make the church sit up - we're told there are less children up for adoption than there are evangelical churches in the USA, which makes us ask how come the church hasn't take action, and makes me wonder whether at some point adoption is something to consider. John Pipers shares from his own experience of adopting a daughter.

The book is fresh and brilliant and gospel-laden, and not very available in the UK unless you have a Kindle. Longing for the day it'll be easy to get in the UK, in the meantime get a copy by some other means if you possibly can, and the enjoy the wonders of the gospel afresh.

More at Together for Adoption.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Some lessons from our Staff Conference

I spent four days near Kidderminster last week with the rest of our national staff team, with speakers Mike Reeves, Ellis Potter and John Lennox.
  • The importance of meeting with God
  • There is a throne and God is on it
  • Think hard, don't forget your University subject, Christianity isn't mindless. 
  • Good evangelism doesn't mean you need to be an expert, but being able to understand arguments is very helpful. Seeing the faults in the New Atheism isn't that difficult.
  • The Trial of Jesus is told in detail and repeatedly for a reason.
  • Preaching is meant to affect the heart. Loved talking through the implications of Jonathan Edwards with colleagues.
  • A question is a gift
  • Reading the Old Testament with the assumption that redemption is through Christ is good
  • God's glory is his spreading love in the gospel
  • It's a real honour to serve with my colleagues in UCCF.
  • There aren't many evangelicals in Slovenia or Ireland
Two key moments for me:
  1. Leon from Slovenia saying that at his Uni (in Australia) as a non-Christian it was hard to not get invited to a Bible Study in his first year. Through that he became a Christian. Not sure how many Universities here that could be said of - time to step up to the plate.
  2. When does the first evangelism happen in the Bible? Ellis Potter asked. It's God in Genesis 3 asking "where are you?" - he came with questions to search for us. 

These guys were also there:Cat Hare and Sarah Dawkins

Resources
  1.  More on John Lennox at JohnLennox.org and  The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics
  2. More from Ellis Potter at L'Abri 
  3. More from Mike Reeves at TheologyNetwork.org

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Where we drink from?

The last couple of days I've reflected on Kevin Dedmon's The Ultimate Treasure Hunt which comes out of Bethel Church in Redding, California. As my reviews show I think there's some good stuff to take from there but certainly some things about which I have big questions.

I think this is ok.

Something I've loved learning from Terry Virgo over recent years is how to spot some good in people but not have to buy into everything they're about. So, at our church leaders conference - the safest context where the delegates ought to be our most discerning people - we've had CJ Mahaney, Mark Driscoll, Rob Rufus speak, while Tim Keller and John Piper have spoken at other leaders contexts, while Bill Johnson certainly has a measure of influence in the movement too.

None of those are totally on the same page as Newfrontiers - Mahaney seems to be a little less charismatic though is probably little more than millimetres away from Newfrontiers.;Another step back Piper. Driscoll is a bit like Piper, convictionally charismatic but not practically very much, but valued for their missiology and preaching and reformed emphasis. Keller's Presbyterianism seems pretty non-charismatic but his gospel-centredness is something to lap up, while Rob Rufus seems to be way out the other end of the spectrum charismatically, likewise Johnson, which we feel to be important.

None of us has everything right, and we need those who differ from us to sharpen us up, to expose our blindspots, to challenge our assumptions and to give us angles to look at things.

That's not a license to feed on weirdness - my food must always be the gospel, but there are lots of people with a lots of difference emphases and perspectives who are nonetheless gospel people.

One of the things I value working with UCCF is a similar approach, though I think we probably play it a bit safer most of the time
, nonetheless there is plenty of diversity on our teams, built relationally around an evangelical centre. See fig. for a rough snapshot of our staff team in one area of the UK (a sample of 16 staff). Similar diversity is evident among the students we work with as we gather around the gospel with a generosity of spirit to make Jesus known and see churches built as students are reached.

I can read the books of those whose churches I might not be totally comfortable in, likewise I can work passionately with people with whom I differ greatly because for all our differences we're those whom Christ has come to with his great gospel, with himself. The freedom to be generous comes from depth in the gospel, and it's this gospel that teaches me to be generous, since the Triune God has shown me his generosity in the gospel.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Ultimate Treasure Hunt (Kevin Dedmon) - part 2 of 2

The underlying argument of The Ultimate Treasure Hunt is about knowing who we are as sons of God. Dedmon rightly argues that a lot of our problems stem from not really getting who we are in Christ, meaning we settle for a lesser Christianity than the faith-requiring picture we see in the New Testament. Dedmon doesn't really show us how the dots join up.
The idea is right though not unique.
I find the same helpful focus, more fully developed, in the work of Jack Miller, Paul Miller, Tim Keller, Terry Virgo, Martin Luther, John Calvin and many of the Puritans and my friends and colleagues in UCCF others who are calling for gospel-centredness.
What Dedmon and his pastor Bill Johnson are probably doing is pushing some the implications of that in supernatural direction further than some.

Words of Knowledge
As a Charismatic Kevin Dedmon believes that God speaks in the Scriptures and that he can and does speak beyond the Scriptures with prophetic words and words of knowledge. Nothing outlandish there. A word of knowledge here is an insight that we could not have possibly known without divine insight. Dedmon cites examples of Jesus and the Samaritan, or Jesus and Nathanael, and a number of examples in the Book of Acts. When I've done first contact evangelism it's been normal enough to gather to pray before hand for God to guide us to people and to help our conversations with them. Dedmon considers that God can not just silently guide us but could speak.


What happened in Acts, happening today
In Acts we see Philip told to go to the Ethiopian, Ananias sent to Saul. They're sent quite specifically to certain people to bring the gospel to them. If then then why not know? Why not ask God to direct our paths in advance to find certain people. With some imagination (and not much Scriptural foundation...) Dedmon suggests drawing up a prophetic treasure map in advance, to go looking for clues.

  • I don't see the Apostles drawing up treasure maps, I see them strategically taking the gospel to all peoples, and then the Spirit speaks to divert them to certain places and people some of the time. 
  • If I'm already living a strongly evangelistic lifestyle then having an ear for God diverting me would be good, but that's not really what Dedmon's Treasure Hunting is driving at. Since gifts like prophecy and words of knowledge are for building up the church and 1 Cor 14 includes an evangelistic application.
Dedmon suggests at times that we might not feel God has said anything to us and in such instances we should try making it up!! This is argued because we now, by the Spirit, have the mind of God. Dedmon does gives say words need to be weighed and tested. But... 
  • The 'treasure map' feels more speculative than the word Ananias is given to go and find Saul. We might ask whether this 21st Century manifestation is in the same league as the 1st Century. Now, we can ask that question, and we can also let faith drive us on to seek what God has for us in the same league as he has in the past... I'm up for 1st Century stuff.
  • I want to sound a warning over the 'make it up' approach. There is a real Biblical difference between a word originating from man and a word originating from God. Whilst I accept a true word would just come into your thoughts, I am not happy with where Dedmon takes this.
  • Another concern here is that this approach could be in opposition to an indiscriminate sowing of the word of God to people. That said, none of us can really claim to be sowing indiscriminately. Those I know who go Treasure Hunting are out on the streets far more than I am meeting strangers with intent to speak of Jesus. It's a contrast also to 'friendship evangelism' or events-based gospel preaching, but a varied approach seems Biblically appropriate - people in the Bible share the gospel with friends and family, but also with strangers, one to one and with gathered crowds.
What happens in a Treasure Hunting moment? 
The hunter claims that God has brought them to the person by asking if they fit certain conditions. Do we need to play such a God card? If we're confident that God is leading us to the person can we not just start the conversation...   Maybe it's similar to just asking if we can do a questionnaire? I'm not sure. 
Much first contact evangelism is a bit odd, the nature of meeting strangers probably...   My fear would be that this approach would freak people out more than intrigue them.  Dedmon suggests seeking words about things to seek healing for and so praying for healing is part of the treasure hunting approach. Many churches practice 'healing on the streets' already - offering healing to anyone passing by, the Treasure Hunt is more pro-active. 
Dedmon's testimony is that offering healing often leads to speaking of Jesus and leading them to faith in Christ and to join the church - which is great to hear, he's also honest that this doesn't always happen, just as it doesn't always with other first contact approaches.



What's the impact of this book on me?
  • I will continue to pursue my God - I want and need encounter with God.
  • I will pray when I go to the Father's & Toddlers group I attend. I'm making friends there but God can help me! Likewise with friends and family.
  • I will pray for God's help when I'm a CU Mission Week speaker in February (and you could pray for me in that too). Can I preach and talk with people with the help of words of knowledge or prophetic insight? I want to encourage students to seek God for his insight in evangelism, to pray for students who aren't Christians who need healing. In a CU context I'd already want to be permissive about Treasure Hunting. I recognise some who belong to a CU wouldn't believe it can or should happen, but also that others will. It's a matter of freedom in a CU context where various means of evangelism are happening. 
  • I will encourage the members of my church home group who treasure hunt. I'd like to see them used for healings and for seeing people hear of Jesus become Christians and join our church.
And the book? 
I think the book does have some useful things to say especially if our evangelism is a little less supernatural than the New Testament. I'm happier with the idea of 'supernatural evangelism' than I am with this book's approach to it. Good ideas but I'm left thinking this is a book that needs handling with care. There is some good material but there's a looseness and lack of focus that leaves me not wanting to recommend this book without some reservations.

I am thankful for a challenge and provocation to believe God and join in what he's doing, but wish I'd been shown more of God to believe since he's who the people of our city need to know. (The same could be said of many other evangelism books.)
I do want to see God heal and I do want to see him save, this book got me thinking but it's not a world changer for me.
I wonder if Michael Green's Evangelism and the Early Church or Thirty Years That Changed the World: The Book of Acts for Today might do a similar job without need for cautions or caveats. 

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Ultimate Treasure Hunt (Kevin Dedmon) - part 1

This book comes with much enthusiasm from those who have read it. The author is from Bill Johnson's Bethel Church in Redding, California which is a big deal in charismatic circles for it's evangelistic fruitfulness and emphasis on supernatural experience.

The book was published in 2008 and I've heard of churches (including my own) and some CUs in the UK putting his teaching in this book into practice. It's been on my list to read for some time. In some ways you couldn't name a book more different to the other book that its sat with next to my bed, Robert Jenson's Systematic Theology, though both do advocate a really God-involved life which isn't so different.
The Ultimate Treasure Hunt: A Guide to Supernatural Evangelism through Supernatural Encounters is basically about 'treasure hunting' which is name for a form of first contact evangelism guided by seeking words of knowledge


.Looking for Treasure
Dedmon sets the scene by calling us to the treasure hunt where people are the treasure. His reasoning comes from places like the parable of the lost coin. The Son was sent into the world to find us and bring us back to God, even though it cost him everything to do so. To cast evangelism as a treasure hunt isn't a particularly outlandish metaphor.

There's a tension to hold between pursuing people and presenting the Triune God as the true Treasure. It goes both ways. Dedmon is clearly pressing against a people-as-projects approach to evangelism though one could argue that the treasure hunt idea could feel like a project or gimmick too.

We're shown stories of successful treasure hunts in which many people have been identified through words of knowledge, spoken to, healed and in many cases have then become Christians. Later in the book we get some balance from stories where things haven't quite worked out, where opportunities to speak of Christ haven't come or where people have held back from saying everything.

I find the book to be both optimistic and realistic about the experience of first contact evangelism, though I wonder whether the difference between the US and UK would change that a bit. In the US I assume the God people don't believe in is still the God of Christianity, I'm not sure so much can be said here, and my guess is that whilst there might be some openness to the offer of healing it might often not go much further than that...

Evangelism in Acts
The next move is to look at evangelism from Acts. The underlying assumption here is that Acts can be normative for church life today. That's a stretch many conservative Christians bendover backwards to avoid - see David Peterson's Pillar Commentary on Acts for many examples of this. Many will argue that Paul's Athenian evangelism is normative, so why don't we want to see other parts of Acts happening today?

In any case if you're not prepared to accept the possibility that what happened in Acts could happen today you'll really struggle with this book. And if you can say that of Acts then likewise we can see some example for us in Jesus the Spirit-annointed one who said we'd do greater things than he did when we receive the Spirit.

Elsewhere Dedmon's highlights a difference between Athens and Corinth in Paul's approach, I'm really not convinced there is such a massive change in strategy going on  though I recognise that many do subscribe to an 'Athens failure - new approach from Corinth' approach to Acts 17-18. In both Paul surely speaks of the gospel in the power of the Spirit.

Encounter with God
Dedmon argues that what people need is less an argument (though I don't think he's against argument) but an encounter with God. So long as we don't drive too much of a wedge between the two things then I want to agree with that. I want to remember that we encounter God in the gospel - through which we do experientially know his presence and his love, and can know healing. Christianity isn't just a system of beliefs, it's a matter of the God who comes to us and brings us to himself. In the gospel we come to know God and be known by him.

In the next post tomorrow I'll reflect on words of knowledge and evangelism which is the main focus of the book.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Reading the Bible as a book

If you're in the mood for starting Bible reading afresh why not try Ron Frost's approach - he just reads it. Dive in, guilt free and read - feed on the word of God. Make this the year!
Sam’s Bible knowledge amazed me. His Scripture awareness had penetrated all aspects of his life, not in a rote fashion, but in a way that seemed accessible and practical. I asked how he gained it and he laughed.
“I just read my Bible.”
“How much reading—how do you approach it?”
“I try to get through it at least two or three times a year.”
I almost dropped my coffee. He had been reading at that pace for most of his Christian life, about fifty years! The challenge captured me. Within two months I finished my first Bible read-through and I was left in awe of God’s greatness, holiness, and redemptive love. I discovered the vast and penetrating strength of his personality as a compelling ribbon tightly wound through every book of the two testaments. It was the beginning of my pursuit of God, a pursuit that makes what he has to say to us—my ‘listening’—the first priority. And I’ve never turned back!
I do something like this, just reading page by page, large amounts, book by book. You can of course try reading from 10 places at a time which is fine but I think there's real value in just reading through, getting the flow of the books as books. Imagine what you'd pick up reading Genesis in five days, Exodus in a single sitting, Leviticus in a few days... not deeply studying every verse in detail but catching the gist and the flow, noting down things that stand out, and then chatting it through with someone else...

Glen's Kings English blog gets into the effect of the 400 year old KJV. Bible Fresh is capitalising on the same to get the UK church into the Bible again in 2011.