Category Archives: Theology

More on “cheap grace”

This was originally posted on 29 March 2005

Following on from my previous post, I wanted to add that this concept of “cheap grace” is one of the biggest problems facing the “established” church (by this I mean orthodox, traditional, and/or evangelical churches/denominations) is that many of them have a rotten image amongst non-Christians. I do not simply mean that they are not attractive to non-Christians (at one level, of course, the cross is an affront to non-Christians, and cannot be “attractive” in a simple sense). The problem goes a lot deeper.

In his excellent book, A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren writes a great introduction in which he addresses a number of different types of people who might be reading his book. Here is a short excerpt:

“You may not be a Christian and wondering why anyone would want to be. The religion that inspired the Crusades, launched witch trials, perpetuates religious broadcasting, present too-often boring and irrelevant church services with schmaltzy music – or else presents manic and overly aggressive church services with a different kind of schmaltzy music – baptises wars and other questionable political programs, promotes judgementalism, and ordains preachers was puffy haircuts… doesn’t make sense to you why anyone would want ‘in’ on that.

You may not yet be a Christian, and you’re thinking of becoming one, but you’re worried that if you do you’re become a worse person – judgemental, arrogant, narrowminded, bigoted, and brainwashed… Do I have to like organ music? Do I have to say ‘Praise the Lord!’ all the time? Do I have to vote Republican? Do I have to oppose civil rights for homosexuals?… you wonder if there is any way to follow Jesus without becoming a Christian.

You may already be a Christian, struggling, questioning, and looking for reasons to stay in. Or you may have officially left the Christian community, but part of your heart is still there, and you wonder if you might some day return. So many of us have come close to withdrawing from the Christian community. It’s not because of Jesus or his Good News, but because of frustrations with religious politics, dubious theological propositions, difficulties in interpreting passages of the Bible that are barbaric (especially to people sensitised by Jesus to the importance of compassion), and/or embarrassments from recent and not-so-recent church history. Or perhaps it’s simply boredom – dreary music, blase sermons, simple answers to tough questions, and other adventures in missing the point. Or perhaps it’s fatigue – a treadmill of meetings in books and programmes and squabbles that yield more duties, obligations, guilt trips, and stress.”

And that’s just the introductory page…

The point I want to make is quite simple: I believe that in an attempt to deal with the declining image and acceptance of the church in general society, and, paradoxically, in moves by the existing leadership of churches to entrench their positions of power over laypeople, we have created churches that firstly make it too easy to become Christians, and secondly give too easy answers to the tough questions that fill the lives of people inside and outside their congregations.

We are currently living with the awful consequences of decades of cheap grace. There are many churches beginning to attempt to deal with some of the problems this has caused. There are many ways of approaching this problem and looking for solutions. There are many practitioners experimenting with new practice, many authors are beginning to write about it, a few theologians are attempting to systematise it, and some philosophers are trying to fathom it.

I find myself wondering between these different categories, continuing to look for questions, answers and markers for the journey. This issue of cheap grace seems to me to be an important marker.

Cheap Grace

A sermon outline originally posted on 13 March 2005

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his 1937 book, The Cost of Discipleship (buy it at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net), wrote: “Costly grace is the hidden treasure in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has…. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because if calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son: ‘ye were bought with a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

In the lead up to Easter this year, let us remember that “salvation” is about “justification” AND “sanctification”. To emphasize one over the other is unbiblical. To my mind, this is the single biggest failing of the church at the moment – to be so heavenly minded that it is no earthly good. To emphasize what Jesus came to die for, and to neglect all he came to LIVE for – the establishment of His Kingdom ON EARTH as it is in Heaven!

If we lived more like Christ’s intent, we wouldn’t have many of the issues I talk about elsewhere on this blogsite.

Here is a sermon I preached just before Easter a few years ago:

Continue reading Cheap Grace

Eddy Gibbs on the Emerging Church

Originally posted on 19 September 2005

In a lecture presented to the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa a few months ago, Eddy Gibbs, a long-term voice for change in the church, talked about his view of “emerging church”. What found really interesting in the report I received, was his list of emerging church characteristics. He since wrote a book on the topic. While it is now slightly outdated, I do think that the picture he presents of the “ideal” emerging church should be aspirational for all church leaders.

“For the past three years I have been working with a younger colleague at Fuller Seminary, interviewing around 100 emerging church leaders in the UK, the US, and other areas of the English-speaking world in an attempt to answer those questions. Here is our tentative list:

  • Their churches are worship-inspired with everyone playing an active role in creating the worship experience.
  • They are mission focused, committed to responding to the needs of their community and especially in serving the poor.
  • They are shaped by context, i.e. seeking an indigenous expression of church that is culturally appropriate.
  • They seek to contextualize discerningly, ensuring the integrity of the message and refusing to soften its radical impact.
  • They disciple intentionally, which means that they are more concerned to challenge people to live as Christ-followers rather than gathering a crowd.
  • Their churches are structured relationally rather than hierarchically. This means that everyone has their place to belong and ministry to which they can contribute.
  • Their churches grow organically, which means that they are reproducible, much like a strawberry plant sending out runners that set down new roots and produce more strawberries.
  • They network extensively, usually by means of regular contact with the internet, with chatrooms and blogs.
  • They gather together periodically the smaller cell churches for times of celebration and re-tooling for mission.
  • Lastly, they serve compassionately, in that they are committed to holistic spirituality, rejecting any separation of the spiritual from the secular, which occurred under modernity.

I like it a lot.

What the Incarnation Means for the Church

Originally posted on 1 May 2006

These are notes I used for a study on the issue of the Incarnation.

One of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith is the Incarnation. This is a technical theological word that describes the fact that God became a human. Jesus Christ was both 100% a man and 100% God. The implications of this has kept theologians both thinking and fighting with each other for the past 2000 years. I am not sure that we will ever fully understand the Incarnation, but I want to share with you tonight what I believe the Incarnation means for the church – for us, today.

When Jesus was on earth, he taught us how to live lives pleasing to God. It is not just His words and his preaching that are important. Its His example and what He actually did that are important, too.

When we think of the Incarnation as a model for us, we probably immediately think of missionaries who leave the land of their birth and go to a far off country where they have to learn a new language, wear strange clothes and participate in weird customs. But that isn’t the only application of Jesus’s example. The Incarnation is a model of ministry for us here in our church.

Right at the start of His ministry, Jesus called a select group of 12 disciples to be with him, and live with him in community for 3 years. In addition to this group, there were at least 72 others who regularly lived with the disciples and travelled with them. There were many hundreds who offered them hospitality and, of course, many thousands who would come every now and again to hear Jesus preach.

Continue reading What the Incarnation Means for the Church

On Liberty and dissenting voices

John Stuart Mill’s timeless essay On Liberty contains the following stirring sentence: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” This was the basis of Mill’s argument about the importance of liberty or freedom.

While I do not believe that freedom is a right or should be our ultimate goal, I do believe that it is this view of liberty – and especially of freedom of speech – that has done much to bring about a generally better world.

Less often cited from Mill is another passage: “However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may be to admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that, however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.”

One of the major problems of evangelicalism these days is that most evangelical leaders believe that they have arrived at a set of truths that are without error. There is an important distinction that they fail to make. Our faith is based on a set of truths that are without error (God’s Word and God’s Himself). But to claim that our understanding and knowledge of God (and His Word) is faultless is clearly wrong (and contrary to Scripture itself, as it happens). If, therefore, we know that our understanding of God is flawed, we MUST open ourselves to the type of “freedom of speech” that Mill was encouraging.

Yet so many evangelicals shut this type of discussion down, and shout down anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe. Such a shame, really, since what they end up with is exactly as Mill envisaged: a dead dogma.

A Conference Parody: Our Gospel is Bigger than Yours

A Parody of The Perfect Conference from Tall Skinny Kiwi. Andrew Jones is one the most established commentators on the emerging church, and a fresh voice in the blogosphere. I was sent an email attributed to him, but can’t find the piece anywhere on his blog – so who knows where it comes from. It certainly could be his. But, whatever its source, I laughed out loud at this parody advert for a Christian leaders conference…

Our Gospel is Bigger than Yours

Cost $599.99

Location: Nashville with telecasts in Louisville, Dallas, Seattle, LA and Orlando

Speakers are 10 White Men, 5 of which wear suits and 5 of which cuss and wear Ed Hardy shirts.

Music will be led by a good natured bearded folk singer with “edgy” lyrics about sovereignty and reworkings of really old hymns of proper theological content all with never ending crescendos … and his pregnant wife.

Each sermon will be 45-50 minutes long, unless more time is desired. Topics will include:

  • The Primacy of Sovereignty in Theology,
  • The Primacy of the Word Primacy in Preaching, The Primacy of Men in Relationships,
  • The Primacy of Church Discipline,
  • The Primacy of the Pastor’s will being done as an indication of His role as God’s Appointed,
  • The Primacy of the Heresy of Emerging Christianity,
  • A Discussion of the Heresy of Brian McLaren by the 10 speaker in which no one is allowed to dissent from the norm,
  • Why Our Bible is better than yours,
  • Why the Atonement is Not a Rose, but is a Tulip and
  • Why We believe in Depravity of Man and the Sovereignty of God but Are Still Right about Everything.

Updated list of mortal sins

Originally posted on 20 March 2008, updated in April 2010

NEW COMMENT (April 2010): With the Catholic church, and the Pope personally currently mired in a controversy about child sex abuse, it is interesting to be considering what the church does or does not consider to be truly grave sins. Here is something from two years ago…

This past week, the Pope has released an updated list of mortal sins. Well, actually it was announced by Gianfranco Girotti, the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary (basically, the Vatican’s department of sin, confessions and absolution). While I am not a huge fan of the continued use of guilt that underlies the application of Roman Catholic Christianity (as it does in Jewish thought, too), I am thrilled with the mindset behind this list.

The new additions to the “seven deadly sins” are:

  • drug dealing
  • causing social injustice
  • causing poverty
  • polluting
  • becoming obscenely wealthy

The list was published in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, and was accompanied by the Pope’s concerns for a “decreasing sense of sin” in today’s “securalised world” and the falling numbers of Roman Catholics going to confession.

In addition to the new sins listed, the Vatican took the opportunity to reiterate its concern about abortion and paedophilia.

Continue reading Updated list of mortal sins

Christians, homosexuals and B&Bs

A few weeks ago, a member of the Conservative Party election team in the UK was overheard expressing an opinion about a Christian bed and breakfast establishment that had refused to allow a gay couple to share a bed. He said that what they had done was fine – they had the right to their beliefs and to enforce those in their own home. Matthew Parris is a gay columnist with The Times and The Spectator, and was an obvious person to contact when the media went into a frenzy.

The only problem is that he just couldn’t work himself up into any form of outrage. In fact, his thoughts are quite interesting as he reflects on why he didn’t feel outrage. The resultant column ran in The Spectator on 10 April 2010 – read it here, or an extract below. It’s worth the read as we consider how we should approach morality in a community and country that has chosen to cut itself loose from its historical moral compass.

Continue reading Christians, homosexuals and B&Bs

One African Postcolonial Theology: The Imperative to Differ

Dr Kenzo Mabiala gave a brilliant talk at the first Amahoro conference in Uganda in May 2007. I recorded this on a handheld recorder – it’s worth persevering through the low quality because this lecture is sheer genius. Kenzo says that theological work done in Africa has the imperative to differ from theology from the West, and must have the courage to denouce Western theology – which “came of age during the rise of colonialism” – as being used to seeing itself as the centre around which other theologies must orient themselves (in other words: theological arrogance which claims that Western theology is the only correct theology, and all other theologies need to understand themselves in relation to Western theology).

amahoro01_Mabiala_Kenzo.mp3 (size 12 MB’s).

Continue reading One African Postcolonial Theology: The Imperative to Differ

Why Men Can’t Lead – and faulty logic about women in leadership

Originally posted on 30 May 2007

I was sent this by a friend – its meant to be a joke and quite funny. It is. But there is a shred of sad truth in these ten reasons why men can’t lead… the sad truth is that this is the same type of logic many churches still use to exclude women from leadership.

TEN REASONS – ACCORDING TO THE NATURAL ORDER OF THE WORLD, SOCIAL CUSTOM, AND THEOLOGY – WHY MEN SHOULD NOT BE ORDAINED

    1. The male physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as picking turnips or de-horning cattle. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work. How can we argue with nature?

    2. For men who have children, their duties as ministers might detract from their responsibilities as parents. Instead of teaching their children important life skills like how to make a wiener-roasting stick, they would be off at some committee meeting or preparing a sermon. Thus these unfortunate children of ordained men would almost certainly receive less attention from their male parent.

    3. According to the Genesis account, men were created before women, presumably as a prototype. It is thus obvious that men represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

    4. Men are overly prone to violence. They are responsible for the vast majority of crime in our country, especially violent crime. Thus they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

    5. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. His lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinate position that all men should take. It is expected that even ordained men would be unable to withstand the natural male tendency to buckle under pressure.

    6. Jesus didn’t ordain men. He didn’t ordain any women either, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

    7. Men are simply too emotional to be ordained. Their conduct at football matches, in the army, at political conventions and especially at Promise Keepers Rallies amply demonstrates this tendency.

    8. Many men are simply too handsome to lead public worship. They could prove to be a distraction to the women in the congregation!

    9. To be an ordained pastor is to nurture and strengthen a whole congregation. But these are not traditional male roles. Throughout the history of Christianity, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more fervently attracted to it. If men try to fit into this nurturing role, our young people might grow up with severe gender role confusion.

    10. If the Church is the Bride of Christ, then it goes without saying that all ordained leaders should be female. It just makes theological sense!