Category Archives: Missional

Does Hashim Amla make you want to become a Muslim?

Hashim Amla is a South African cricketer – and fast becoming a legendary one too. He is sublime to watch, and is having the most phenomenal season. He is also universally acclaimed, by teammate and opponent alike, as the nicest, humblest, gentlest guy you’ll ever meet. A real sportsman’s sportsman.

And he is devoutly Muslim. He has the most fantastic beard, and by all accounts, in all ways, he takes his Muslim practices very seriously.

I only mention his religious faith and one of its outward expressions, because he has caused me to think about something that Christians do quite a lot. If, as Christians, we discover that some famous star – be they a sportsperson, singer, actor or celebrity of some kind – is also a Christian, we tend to venerate them a bit. And then we often devise evangelistic campaigns featuring that person.

I lost count as a child how many events I went to that featured some or other Christian sports personality telling me how his or her faith really helped them to become a famous sports star. Since I have two left feet – and that’s just counting my hands – and have never been good at any sport, these talks were never quite as inspiring as they should have been. But I wasn’t the target demographic I suppose. I still don’t think that they were the best approach.

My question is this: does Hashim Amla’s success combined with his most remarkable character and aura of calm, humility, authority, respect, class and confidence (a heady mix of all the things I think are best in humanity) make me want to become a Muslim? If a local mosque had an evening featuring Hashim Amla as guest speaker, I would definitely consider going. I’d sit enthralled, I am sure, as he spoke. And then, I’d politely sit through whatever short Islamic message that followed. I respect Islam, have some Muslim friends, understand the religion, have visited a number of mosques and a holy Islamic shrine, and even own a Koran (which I have read). But I highly doubt whether anything that Hashim Amla did or said would convince me to become a Muslim.

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Christmas is coming, and so is Saint Nick

Our current image of Father Christmas as a fat old man with red cheeks and long white beard was cemented into popular culture by Coca-Cola in the early 1930s, as part of a marketing campaign to get people to drink cold drinks during winter. The red-coated figure of Santa was created by a commercial illustrator, Haddon Sundblom, based on illustrations that had appeared in the New York Times in 1906, 1908 and 1925 (see below):

Santa Claus NYT 1906   Santa Claus NYT 1908   Santa Claus NYT 1925

But Santa Claus has been around for a long, long time in various cultures and traditions around the world. It is generally accepted that the earliest incarnations are based on the real life figure of St. Nicholas, who lived in Asia Minor in the 3rd century AD. He seems to have been a wealthy man, who gave most of his wealth away to help others. Famously, he would go at night in mid winter and throw bags of money into poor people’s houses. He used his entire inheritance to help the poor, sick, and children in need. He gave in secret, expecting nothing in return. He attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Greatly loved for his faith, compassion and care, he is venerated in both East and West.

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Do Evangelicals Really Love Jesus?

Phil Zuckerman is Professor of Sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA, USA. He recently wrote a very insightful critique of American Evangelicals, and I think he hits the nail entirely on the head. His conclusion is powerful: Evangelicals love what Jesus can do for them, but don’t really love what Jesus asked them to do in response. In this sense, they don’t actually love Jesus. His article puts it even more strongly. Read the original Huffington Post article, or an extended extract below:

Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus

Huffington Post, Religion Blog, 6 September 2012
by Phil Zuckerman and Dan Cady

The results from a recent poll published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveal what social scientists have known for a long time: White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture. Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message.

Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture. Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world. Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one’s money to the poor. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation’s poor — especially poor children. They hate anything that smacks of “socialism,” even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training — anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do. In short, Evangelicals are that segment of America which is the most pro-militaristic, pro-gun, and pro-corporate, while simultaneously claiming to be most ardent lovers of the Prince of Peace.

What’s the deal?

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How to understand the book of Acts

My friend, Brian McLaren is a wonderful teacher of the Bible, and his vision of how some well known books should be understand within the broader framework of what God is doing in history has been personally very helpful to me.

He recently put an outline of the book of Acts on his blog – read it here, or a copy of it below:

… From childhood, I was taught to read Acts as a manual for ecclesiology … to prove that our denomination was the only true and biblical one, of course (a common theme in Protestant Bible reading). But now I read Acts as a missional account of how Jesus continued his work – his Spirit alive in the bodies of growing numbers of his followers who constitute – quite literally – his body on earth.

And the message is the same – the message of the kingdom (or reign, or commonwealth, or sacred ecosystem, or new love economy, or regeneration network, or creative community, or …) of God. You could think of it like this …

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ReKnew – a new blog for those on the kingdom journey

I have known about Greg Boyd for some time, and am thrilled to have found his latest project. It’s a ministry and blog called ReKnew. Greg is a great thinker and advocate for a new kind of missional Christianity.

The welcome note on the blog is inspiring:

When most people think of “Christianity,” they think of the religion of “Christendom” that began in the fourth century when an Emperor named Constantine allegedly converted to the faith and then granted Christians a lot of political power. This religion has been the dominant face of Christianity for the last fifteen hundred years. The foundation of this religion is a picture of a Caesar-looking god who rules the world by brute power, and a corresponding concept of his kingdom as “the Church triumphant” – a conquering army that aspires to rule the world by acquiring political power.

This once mighty religion is in the process of dying. In fact, it’s been decomposing in Europe — where it once reigned supreme — for almost a hundred years. And while the “Christendom” mindset continues to have loud and passionate advocates in its last holdout, America, it has turned the corner in this land as well. All the clamoring of those who are today fighting to “take America back for God” (“back” to when?), and who continue to espouse a Caesar-looking, all-controlling God, represent that last roar of a dying lion.

While many grieve the demise of the Christendom religion, we at ReKnew celebrate it! For it’s our conviction that this religion has often had little to do with the true movement that Jesus came to unleash into the world—the movement he referred to as “the kingdom (or reign) of God.” In fact, we believe this civil religion has often been one of the greatest obstacles to the advance of the true kingdom. Because of how dominant Christendom has been throughout history, many have been unable to see through the dark cloud of this religion’s controlling God and conquering kingdom and behold the loving God and servant kingdom Jesus revealed.

The Good News is that this dark cloud is fading and we are beginning to see the light of a new day! And as the darkness fades, we are seeing people around the globe catching this vision of a God who looks like Jesus, and of a kingdom that looks like Jesus—humbly serving the poor and the lost, and sacrificing himself out of love for the forgiveness of his enemies.

Out of the rubble of this crumbling religion we are seeing a new kind of disciple rising up, fearlessly calling into question previous certainties; boldly rethinking what it means to believe in God and the Bible; bravely reimagining what it means to “do church” and advance the kingdom. More and more, we are seeing people abandon the security of their civil religion to become part of a beautiful revolution.

This has been my own personal journey, and I’m sure it has been for many of you as well. And this is why we’re here.

ReKnew is here to stand at the forefront of this exciting new thing that God is doing in the world. Will you join us? We want to do all we can do to help mobilize and spread this rising movement of kingdom people who are rethinking what it means to be a “Christian,” what it means to have “faith,” and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We want to join others in imaginatively exploring the shape that post-Christendom discipleship and the post-Christendom Church might take. And we want to join others in boldly rethinking everything Christians have always assumed they already knew.

To recover the self-sacrificial revelation of God in Christ, and to advance the servant kingdom he inaugurated, it is time for us all to take a fresh look at everything.

It’s time to ReKnew our hearts and minds before God.

Indeed.

19 July update: The ReKnew Manifesto has just been uploaded. It’s a great read.

Christian bookstores and their chokehold on the industry

I have never liked Christian bookstores much. Back when I was a theological student, I could never find any books by the authors that my conservative textbooks were warning me about. Sure, some of the warnings were valid, but I still don’t appreciate having my reading list vetted and censored for me. And then, South African Christian bookstores refused to stock some of the best selling Christian authors of the last two decades, including Brian McLaren, Rob Bell and Tony Campolo amongst others. That’s when I stopped buying anything from them (luckily, Kalahari, Loot and Amazon provided me with other options).

Then, last week, Rachel Held Evans wrote a very insightful blog entry on this topic. It sounds as if America is even worse than I remember South African being. How do we let bookstore owners and publisher editors shape and mould our theology. And aren’t these the same people who fuelled the “Left behind” rapture theology with badly written fiction books? Scary.

You can read Rachel’s blog here, or an extended extract below:

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Is it really Christ-mas in Britain this year?

Last week, David Cameron made an interesting speech on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. The item that received most press coverage in the speech was Mr Cameron asserting that “We are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so.” He admitted personally to be a committed but only vaguely practising Christian with some deep doubts about some theological issues.

He continued: “I know and fully respect that many people in this country do not have a religion. And I am also incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make our country stronger. But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.”

Some would argue that a time of national crisis and difficulty is precisely when the church can shine in society. The Economist from the previous week had made just such a point in an insightful piece (read it in full here, or an extract below).

Postscript added on 25 December: The Queen’s speech today was filled with Christian messages, and a strong almost evangelistic message. It’s probably the strongest specifically Christian message I have ever heard from a member of the Royal family in the UK. Is this a sign that the leaders of the country have made a decision to use the Christian faith as a means to developing the nation? If so, the church needs to jump at the opportunity. But it must do so realising that people are seeking God, not the church. They want faith, not a religion.

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Marching against religious intolerance; Marching against me!

Looking through my news feed this morning, my eye was drawn to a story from Brazil. This past weekend, over 100,000 people joined a march in Rio de Janeiro in protest at religious intolerance. So far, so good. Religious intolerance is a “bad thing” and it’s important to have a free society so that we can practice our beliefs without fear or intimidation.

But then I read further and realised that the protestors were protesting AGAINST Christians. Apparently, evangelical Christians in Brazil are seen as the cause of persecution of especially Afro-Brazilian religious groups.

You can read the story here.

This story disturbed me. Why did so many people feel the need to protest against my faith? You don’t have to deny your own faith, nor do you need to believe that all faiths are equal in order to realise that there is a problem when that many people say there is a problem. Is this the Christianity that Jesus would want to be associated with? A Christianity characterised by exclusion, demonisation, persecution and intolerance? I can’t believe that.

Tolerance of other people’s religions and faiths is something we need to learn how to do as Christians. Maybe the starting point for the right attitude in this regard is to ask whether God is more concerned that we are right (in what we think/believe) or that we are loving (in what we do). It’s not a choice between the two, of course. But which is the appropriate starting point for engagement with the world? What do Jesus’ actions tell us about his starting point for engagement?

Christianity as Country Club – by Scot McKinight

Author and commentator, Scot McKnight, recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post. I think he is spot on. You can read the original here, or an extract below:

Christianity as Country Club

by Scot McKnight, Huffington Post, 6 Sep 2011

Christianity sometimes presents itself as a country club. It presents itself this way even when it doesn’t want to, and sometimes it doesn’t even know it. I grew up loving to play golf but I played on the public course. I had friends who played at the local country club. When I visited the country club I felt like a visitor even though the members were wonderfully hospitable. Members felt like members and visitors felt like visitors, and knowing that you could “visit” only by invitation made the difference clear.

Many experience the church this way. Members know they belong, and visitors know they don’t. Well, after all, we might reason, the Christian faith is a religion of salvation, and Stephen Prothero’s recent book, “God is Not One,” depicted Christianity as a faith concerned with the “way of salvation.” And if you are saved, you are a member; if you are not saved, you are not. You might visit, but until you get saved you will know you are not in the club.

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And Just Us For All

Graeme in And just us for all t-shirtOn Monday night I attended the global launch event of the “Live Below the Line” campaign at a fund raising event in London, hosted by Hugh Jackman. I worked as one of the volunteers at the event, and was given the t-shirt you see in the picture alongside. I think the slogan is one of the cleverest and most powerful I have ever seen:
& Just Us For All

The campaign is aimed at raising awareness of the fact that a quarter of the world’s population – 1.4 billion people – go to bed hungry every night. They survive on the equivalent of £ 1 per day. That’s for everything: food, clothes, medicine, transport, entertainment and education of their children.

In order to raise funds to fight extreme poverty, thousands of people around the world are going to try and live on less than £ 1 of food and drink for five days next week. I am doing so starting next Saturday, for five days. This is the “Live Below the Line” challenge. Please would you consider sponsoring me, even if it’s just a few pounds (or dollars, or rands, or euros). It’s easy to do at my special campaign website. You can also leave me a message of support, and show your concern for the world’s poor.

And that’s why I think the slogan is so brilliant. If we don’t do anything, who will? And if we don’t do it now, then when? It’s about Just Us For All.

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