Category Archives: Theology

Church is not the end, it’s the means

Originally posted on 22 June 2005

Too much of what happens in the typical local church is focused on the activities of that church and its people. I believe that this is due to a fatal flaw in the way most people think about church. They tend to see church as an end, as an entity that exists for its own purposes.

But church is not an end. Church was never meant to be the goal of Christian endeavour. God is not interested in empowering us to create better churches. No. Church is simply a means – a means to an end.

God is interested in extending his kingdom throughout the whole world. He is interested in empowering his church to impact of the world. In particular, God is interested in empowering local churches to impact local communities in very practical ways. After all, Jesus came to “preach good news to the poor… to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Churches that focus the majority of the time, resources and facilities on their own internal programs, including worship, preaching, youth ministry, Bible study, young adults, women’s groups, etc, have lost sight of the purpose of their existence.

I believe this is one of the primary emphases of the emerging church movement – to bring the church back to its primary calling to be a vehicle for the establishment of God’s kingdom in this world. The church is not the end, it is only the means. It is not an institution – it is a strategy to assist us become the people of God.

Salvation for all?

Originally posted on 1 June 2008 and updated on 18 March 2010

One of the growing dividing lines between “emerging church” and “traditional” evangelicals is their views on hell, eternal life/damnation and the doctrines that link to this (including original sin, God’s hatred of sinful humanity, what Christ’s death accomplished, atonement and so on). In other words, this is core doctrine stuff and worthy of full consideration.

Yet, most people’s vision of hell has more to do with Dante than the Bible. They take little account of the many different Biblical words that are all translated “hell” in our English Bibles. They take little account of the historical and cultural backdrop to the Biblical references. But, probably most significantly, they just don’t take account of the Bible itself.

I am certainly not going to attempt to deconstruct or construct a theology of hell here. Maybe some time in the future. You can certainly do some reading yourself (see some of the comments below), and especially the Wikipedia entry and http://www.tentmaker.org/

What I would like to do is just list some verses that raise some very real questions for me. Ever since my first formal studies of Biblical intepretation, the dangers of proof texting have been drummed into me. The danger is that you take a single verse (often, a single phrase from a single verse) without looking at the context. And then you make it say whatever you want it to say.

Continue reading Salvation for all?

A New Kind of Christianity – Brian McLaren’s latest book

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a fan of Brian McLaren. I am not sure I buy into every single thing he says (how could I?), but I do like his writings. And I have been privileged enough to get to know him personally over a number of years, and am even more impressed at his humility, his grace and his desire to learn from others. He is eminently teachable, exceptionally approachable and a remarkable Christ-follower.

Brian’s latest book has just been released. It’s called, “A New Kind of Christianity”, and chatting to him about it, he feels this book is one of his best contributions so far. I have had it on pre-order with Amazon.co.uk, and due to some technical issue between Hodder and Amazon, it has not yet been supplied to Amazon.co.uk. But you can order it through Eden.co.uk, pre-order at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net (in South Africa).

Brian’s goal with this book is to deal with ten key issues that are blocking discussions and engagement both within Christianity, and those looking in at Christianity. He wants to help us to deal with these fundamental issues, so we can build a platform for further discussions on some of the details that threaten to divide our churches today. From what I can tell, he has succeeded in getting the discussions going. I have listed the ten questions below. Whether you agree with Brian’s answers and analysis or not, his questions are really good ones, and need to be dealt with.

I hope that fans and critics alike will engage with the content of his book, and not deal in personal attack and ranting rhetoric. What do you think of his questions? How would you answer them? How does that help you think more deeply about your own Christian faith?

Continue reading A New Kind of Christianity – Brian McLaren’s latest book

Confessions of a Bible Deist

Originally posted 11 Feb 2005

From Surprised by the Voice of God, by Jack Deere

This is chapter 17 from the Jack Deere’s book. The book is about how evangelical Christians, who believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God can also believe that God speaks today, outside of the words of Scripture. His book is a magnificent treatment of the topic, which includes practical methods, theological discussion, personal testimony and helpful advice in avoiding the many excesses that may result from the application of this viewpoint.

Purchase the book at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Kalahari.net.

Augustine had an entire book of confessions. Perhaps you will indulge me for just a single chapter of my own. Here is my confession: Somewhere along the way in my academic study of the Bible, I became a Bible deist. You probably studied deism in one of your high school history classes. The framers of the Constitution of the United States were mostly deists. They believed in a religion of morality based on natural reason, not on divine revelation. They believed in God, but they didn’t think he interfered with the natural laws governing the universe. He created the world, and then left it alone – like someone who wound up a giant clock, and then left it to run down on its own. A Bible deist has a lot in common with the natural deist.

They both worship the wrong thing. The deists of the eighteenth century worshiped human reason. The Bible deists of today worship the Bible. Bible deists have great difficulty separating Christ and the Bible. Unconsciously in their minds the Bible and Christ merge into one entity. Christ cannot speak or be known apart from the Bible. At one time, Christ did speak apart from the Bible. He used to speak in an audible voice to people on their way to Damascus, give dreams, appear in dreams, give visions, give impressions, and do miracles through his servants. However, the Bible deist believes the only one who does these things today is the devil. In fact, the devil can do all the things Christ used to do. The devil can speak in an audible voice, give dreams and visions, even appear to people and do miracles. Jesus doesn’t do these things any more. He used miracles and divine revelation in the first century to wind up the church like a big clock, and then left it alone with only the Bible. The Bible is supposed to keep the clock ticking correctly. That’s why a Bible deist reads a passage like Isaiah 28:29:

    “All this also comes from the LORD Almighty wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom”

and in his or her mind, translates it into something like this:

    “All this also comes from the Bible, which is wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.”

Bible deists have a tendency to substitute the Bible for God. They actually deify the Bible. Bible deists read John 10:27 like this: “My sheep listen to the Bible; I know them, and they follow the Bible.” They hear Jesus say, “If I go away, I will send you a perfect book” (John 16:7). What God used to do in the first century is now done by the Bible. If the Bible can’t do what God used to do – heal, give dreams, visions – then the Bible deist maintains that these things are no longer being done, and that we don’t need them anyway.

Bible deists preach and teach the Bible rather than Christ. They do not understand how it is possible to preach the Bible without preaching Christ. Their highest goal is the impartation of biblical knowledge. Their highest value is being “biblical”. Actually, they use the adjectives “biblical” and “scriptural” more often than the proper noun “Jesus” in their everyday speech.

Continue reading Confessions of a Bible Deist

Graeme preaches on The Prodigal Son

I was at ECC, a church in Norwich this past weekend, run by Pastors Paddy and Jennike Venner. On Saturday, I did an evening session on understanding different generations, and the implications for the future of the church.

On Sunday morning, I had the privilege to preach. One of the upsides of being an itinerant preacher is that you don’t have the stress of coming up with a new message every week. So this sermon has been germinating for some time now. It’s on “The Prodigal Son” as found in Luke 15. Although that’s a horrid title: the story is actually about the oldest brother, whom Jesus specifically links to the Pharisees (see the context in Luke 15:1). And, it’s also about the “Unbelievably Loving Father”. But, listen to the MP3 file below for the full sermon….

I first was alerted to the richness we can uncover in Jesus’ parables by understanding the Ancient Middle Eastern context by Kenneth Bailey. His books are awesome to read. I’d suggest Poet and Peasant (buy at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net), and Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (buy at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net). Rob Bell of Mars Hill also uses this approach in many of his books, sermons and videos. It is how the Bible should be interpreted. But more of that some other time.

Creation and evolution Myths

First posted on 10 February 2009

I am an avid reader the New Scientist magazine. This magazine is obviously pro-evolution, and anti-creationism. Well, that’s what you’d think. They actually present very balanced articles on creation and religion, but have very little time for unthinking fundamentalist religion that poo-poos science. Or is just anti-scientific.

I believe that there is a way to harmonise science and religion. I believe that there are great questions that Christians can ask scientists that help us all have excellent conversations about God, creation, eternity and so on. But the way in which many Christians approach science is counter productive, and unhelpful.

Maybe I’ll come back to this issue sometime soon and talk about how I think we can harmonise science and religion. For now, for those of you interested in becoming better acquainted with science and creation, you may find the 24 myths and misconceptions about evolution to be very helpful. This is available from the New Scientist website – click here.

At very least, it will help you stop sounding like a moron when you speak to people who have done some work in scientific fields.

Continue reading Creation and evolution Myths

The Transformational Gospel vs the Evacuation Gospel

Originally posted on 7 May, 2007

I attended a conference in Uganda in 2007 which was a significant moment in my “emerging church” journey. It as the first time I really understood that the “stories” of my faith were incomplete, and that a future church would need to find new ways of expressing what it meant to be church. The talk I make available below was one of those “aha” moments for me. I hope it can be for you, too.

A message by Claude Nikondeha, from Burundi, delivered at Amahoro Gathering in Uganda

Download the MP3 recording here

The sections marked (GC) in italics are my commentary, not Claude’s words.

The problem with a Gospel that only promises release when Jesus returns, is that Jesus has not yet returned. The people are not released – they live in suffering, poverty, famine and wars.

“The Gospel is not a doctrinal formula for the salvation of the individual but it is the Good News of God’s movement through Jesus Christ to carry out his purpose for the entire human race.” Rene Padilla

Jesus did not come to announce an evacuation plan, but a transformation plan.

Continue reading The Transformational Gospel vs the Evacuation Gospel

The Archbishop of Canterbury on Global Warming

Originally posted on 11 Nov 2009

Recently, Dr Rowan Williams gave an excellent speech on the issue of our responsibility towards Creation and a Christian response to environmental crises. The Bible has a clear message about caring for the environment – not just for the here and now, but also because at the end of time this planet will be renewed and restored to pre-Fall glory and be the paradise heaven of God’s Kingdom.

I don’t agree with everything Dr Williams says, but his message is well made and worth listening to. You can read it on his own website, listen to it online (42Mb MP3), or see an extract below.

Continue reading The Archbishop of Canterbury on Global Warming