Archive for the ‘Evangelicalism’ Category

Slavery, Oppression and Providence

June 24, 2009

I’ve just read this quote from Absalom Jones, the first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church in the USA.  He stated,

‘There’s always been a mystery why the impartial Father of the human race should have permitted the transportation of so many millions of our fellow creatures to this country to endure all of the miseries of slavery. Perhaps his design was that a knowledge of the gospel might be acquired by some of their descendants in order that they might become qualified to be messengers of it to the land of their fathers.’

It is a remarkable view of God’s providence rooted in the biblical portrait of the God who is able to transform terrible evil into eternal good. It also, in a very Pauline way, puts the sufferings of this life in their eternal perspective. Like the children of Israel in Egypt, like the church in the 1st century slavery, slavery in Africa is an evil that God used for good. That is the eternal good of not only our African-American brothers in Christ but for teh church as a whole as they in turn became a blessing to the very peoples who enslaved them.

You can read the quote in the context of the article at

The Current Need for Spiritual Discernment

August 23, 2008

This week has brought more sad news about the behaviour of leading Christian figures. First there was the news that Todd Bentley who has been the leading figure in the ‘Lakeland Revival’ has been forced to stand down after filing for divorce from his wife and admitting to an inappropriate relationship with another woman. Then there was the admission from Michael Guglielmucci whose song the Healer written when he was diagnosed with cancer had been an inspiration to many people admitted that he never actually had cancer- the whole thing had been fabricated.

Since I have been studying 1 Corinthians so much of what Paul writes there came to mind as I considered these sad episodes. Notably the dangers that there are in promoting the cult of celebrity Christian leaders and the need for spiritual wisdom and discernment. But perhaps one the in Corinthians came to mind more than others. And that is there is a theme running through Corinthians where Paul seeks to shame the ‘super-spiritual’ Corinthians by telling them that even the people of the world are wiser and more discerning than they are. it’s not a major theme in the letter but read it carefully and you will see that appears at several points e.g 5:1; 6:1-6; 14:23. And it is indeed to our shame as Christians where we have less common sense let alone spiritual discernment than the world around us. It must appear to the world that we are not people of faith but just plain gullible.

We live in an evangelical sub-culture where we need to reassess the nature of true Christian experience and true spirituality. That will require boldness and a willingness to stand up to those who would bully others in the light not of plain scriptural teaching but their so-called experience. We live in a day when the principle of sola scriptura not only needs to be recovered but also when we need to consider carefully how the rule of Scripture is to be applied.

Northern Ireland and the ‘Lost Generation’

December 11, 2007

In a recent survey carried out in Ireland only 21% of Northern Ireland  respondents aged 16-24 knew that there are four Gospels. Against that 54% of the over 65s knew that there were four gospels. Whilst such surveys are not always representative this one bears out other statistics that I have seen regarding the 16-24 age group. They are often referred to as ‘the lost generation’ as far as the church is concerned. Sadly ‘lost’ is not just a statistical category. Rather problematically many Evangelicals in NI still think in terms of being a Christian country or a country where people know the gospel. The reality is that many NI people do not know the gospel and treat Evangelicals with a degree of scepticism.

This generation presents  an enormous challenge to churches in NI. In the past we have lived off a culture where many people were taught some Christian basics in school but times have well as truly changed. Unfortunately as churches we are often unsure how to deal with this generation. Many churches fail to attract such people and even if they did they would not know what to say to them. Those who do attract these people often offer little more than a version of Christianity-lite that does nothing more than reflect the culture.

There are therefore huge challenges ahead of us as churches if we are to reach this generation with the life transforming message of Jesus in a way that speaks into the contemporary culture. NI churches need to adjust from a church going culture to being those who are on the cutting edge of a great missionary enterprise.

Evaluating Ministry

September 10, 2007

Like all in Christian ministry I have that tendency to try to evaluate my work. It is in part the desire for sight rather than faith. It is also a pressure from the evangelical sub-culture to proclaim success based on numerical growth. When i think like that I am often reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians,

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.’

In similar vein CH Spurgeon offered these words to his students, ‘We are laboring for eternity, and we count not our work by each day’s advance, as men measure theirs; it is God’s work, and must be measured by His standard. Be ye well assured that, when time, and things created, and all that oppose themselves to the Lord’s truth, shall be gone, every earnest sermon preached, and every importunate prayer offered, and every form of Christian service honestly rendered, shall remain embedded in the mighty structure which God from all eternity has resolved to raise to His own honour.’

May all of us who labour for Christ’s kingdom be content with the epitaph George Whitefield wished for himself, ‘the day will declare it.’

‘Sure of what we hope for…’

August 16, 2007

I was searching Amazon for a book when I came across a list by ‘Christian reader on a journey’ of ‘fave emerging church books’ to which he added the qualification ‘haven’t read them all.’ It led me to wonder how you can a have a favourite book you haven’t read. Can you have a favourite movie you haven’t seen? Or a favourite person you haven’t met?

It also led me to look at one or two emerging church titles- ‘Velvet Elvis’ immediately caught my attention. As I read the reviews the thing that struck me about the book was that the appeal of the emergent church is that it opens up the way for people to ask questions. In some ways it appears to me as being more about doubt than faith. I certainly had that sense as I read Blue Like Jazz. We of course all live with doubt if we have real faith. But the Christian journey is not about letting our doubt flap about like a wind sock. Rather it is about being built up in the faith through the teaching of God’s word, within the body of Christ, as we strive for maturity. That maturity brings with it a deepening sense of certainty.(Ephesians 4:7-16).

Whilst we all have questions the heart of the Christian faith is not honest doubt. I sense that the emergent church movement has not only come out of the post modern mindset but that it has also been swallowed by it with its ‘how can anyone claim to know the truth?’ mantra.

I also wonder does it portray a cultural arrogance. As Job says, ‘Doubtless you are the people and wisdom will die with you.’ Is there not a need to look seriously at the roots of evangelical faith and see how it ’emerged?’ Is there not a need to look at why the church with its practices has ’emerged’ and be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water ? I once heard John Stott giving a lecture where he remarked that the modern church would save itself a lot of time if it were more familiar with the battles that previous generations of Christians have already fought. We are a moment in history not the whole story.(In that lecture Stott also made a remark the emergent folk might appreciate. He said we need to learn to be more agnostic about some of the things we are dogmatic about and more dogmatic about some of the things we are agnostic about).

The emergent church will help perform a service in our generation (apart from giving us great book titles) if it stirs us from complacency to be what we ought to be as evangelicals. That is as Luther put it ‘a reformed church always reforming.’ I also hope that those who are within the emerging movement engage with the existing church rather than fragment evangelicalism further. I hope too that they find sympathetic churches and pastors who will not fuel their doubts further but feed their faith, transforming their minds and warming their hearts.

And I will read Velvet Elvis and tell you what I think.

‘The wind blows where it wishes…’

August 7, 2007

I read an interesting piece in the Washington Post today about how the World Council of Churches is moving towards a code of practice on religious conversion. The movement towards this statement involves the the WCC and the Vatican. It seems particularly concerned with the issue of conversion in South American. It is of course well known that the Catholic church is concerned about the haemorraging of its numbers in South America.

It is interesting to note that amongst the participants in this process are not only the WCC and Vatican but also Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews. Can you imagine Paul sitting down in such company to draw up a code on conversion? Also the boast is that there is also participation by evangelicals. What kind of evangelical worth his salt is going to draw up a code on conversion?

A report makes a recommendation that ‘all should heal themselves from the obsession of converting others.’ Its some way short of Paul saying ‘Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel’ or ‘I have become all things to all men that I might win some.’ Or even Henry Martyn saying, ‘Give me India or I die.’

The whole exercise smacks of the religious imperialism that it is allegedly seeking to avoid. For it takes religious expression and conviction out of the hands of individuals and puts it in the hands of those religious establishments who want to protect their own turf.

Its all a far cry from Jesus own explanation of conversion not as a human endeavour but as a sovereign action of the Spirit of God, ‘The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound but you do not know where it comes or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’

Christian Authenticity

July 12, 2007

I heard Tim Keller speak at the recent Evangelical Ministers Assembly in London. The theme of the conference was ‘Defining the Times:What is an Evangelical.’ If you were not there get hold of the recordings as his talks were excellent. He was wise, gracious and had a real cutting edge.

Given the theme and its current profile the Emergent Church movement was mentioned on several occasions. I was especially struck by one comment of Keller’s. That the emergent church in its quest to be relevant and authentic had undermined the gospel of penal substitution and in doing so it was in fact cutting people off from the simplicity of the gospel. Keller noted that for those who are broken by sin the message of grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ alone was one that they understood. But one that was being obscured in the emergent church movement with its emphasis on the kingdom.

Another of his key themes was that of the need for repentance in the Christian life, echoing the first of Luther’s 97 theses. That the whole of the Christian life is one of repentance. That even our repentance needs repented of! I was reminded through this theme, as with other EMA addresses that what our world cries out for is not our attempts to be relevant but our need to be real. What we truly need in our day is Christian authenticity.

As John Chrysostom, the 4th century bishop, once remarked, ‘There would be no more heathen if we would be true Christians.’

Evangelicals at the Crossroads- and Losing their Way?(Part 2)

May 25, 2007

Following up on an earlier post (Evangelicals at the Crossroads- and Losing their Way?) I raised a concern that Evangelicals were being defined in terms of their political causes rather than the gospel they proclaim. I wonder how far this has occurred because western Evangelicals have lost their eternal focus? Have Evangelicals in the western world become more interested in making a mark in this life than in making preparations for the next?

When Paul addressed the issue of homosexuality his concerns were directed not towards the wider culture but towards the church. The Bible’s condemnation of infanticide in the OT is directed towards the people of God. Nor is there a developed ecological perspective in the NT since this world is passing. These issues were not related to the wider culture but addressed in terms of God’s people preparing for God’s reward.

The fact that such issues are now identified in the wider culture as as key issues defining evangelicalism raises a big question in my mind. Have western Evangelicals taken their eyes off the eternal prize?Evangelicals ought to have a voice in the public square. But if that voice offers nothing distinctive. If its agenda does not take us beyond the common agenda of public affairs. Then the question is raised as to exactly what perspective Evangelicals are offering.

In the contemporary obsession with relevance are Evangelicals doing nothing more than baptising the popular cultural agenda without offering a distinctive perspective? One which is rooted not in this passing world but in heaven where Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father and from where He will return to deliver His people?

Evangelicals at the Crossroads- and losing their way?

May 23, 2007

According to the Washington Post Evangelicals now find themselves at a crossroads with the death of Jerry Falwell who was a unifying figure in Evangelicalism. Falwell represented the now aged generation of Evangelical leaders who dominated in movement in the 80’s and 90’s. In the place of this generation of leaders a new generation of leaders are emerging with a new agenda such as global warming and AIDS in Africa. Classic homegrown issues such as abortion and homosexuality (a third of American evangelicals under 30 support same-sex marriage!) are now slipping down the agenda.

There are I think at least two concerns regarding this portrait of evangelicalism. First of all it is of concern that Evangelicalism is being defined both by itself and those outside the movement by the political causes it espouses rather than the gospel it preaches. Secondly, whilst AIDS in Africa and global warming are important issues the shift of the agenda raises the question of who is setting Evangelicalism’s agenda. It sounds as if it is now the world that is setting the church’s agenda. Furthermore the Evangelical movement’s distancing of itself from its traditional cultural agenda suggests that Evangelicals are now afraid of giving offence. Again it looks like they are giving in to an agenda set by the culture.

It was DL Moody an American Evangelical of another generation who once remarked, ‘The place for the boat is in the water, God help the boat when the water gets into it.’

Whatever happened to…?

May 21, 2007

Whatever happened to the ‘The Lost Tomb of Jesus'( or as it was more affectionately known Jesus in a Box). Or what happened to the ‘Da Vinci Code’? Or going back further into the mists of time ‘The Last Temptation of the Christ.’ We were told at the time that these various media events would rock Christianity to the core. Sadly it was the Christians who were telling us this. There is a timely warning here about the church being driven by the world’s agenda. CH Spurgeon once remarked we should not take our sermons from the newspaper. It’s a lesson that we need to learn in this age when the media is so powerful- but whose message is also so very transient.

We also need to be careful that we are not suckered by Christian industries to buying into their products which are utterly essential to refute these faith shattering attacks!

As Christians we are assured by Jesus promise, ‘I will build my church.’ We rest in that and therefore should realise that these great media driven events do nothing to drive the King’s agenda off course.