In March 2007, I preached a sermon at my local church, Bryanston Bible Church, in Johannesburg, South Africa. This is one of my favourite sermons of all time, and deals with something that I actually think is at the heart of what’s wrong with the evangelical church today.
Last Sunday, while attending my current local church, Dundonald, I was reminded of this sermon and the concept behind it. We were having a special outreach service, and as part of it there was an interview of some of our church members. One of the questions that they were asked was: “What’s the best thing about being a Christian?”. The answer was interesting. They said that it was “the hope of spending eternity in heaven and living today without guilt or condemnation.” No doubt, these are great benefits and worth enjoying.
But is it enough? And is this really the BEST thing about being a Christian?
I grew up in a tradition that largely held out the threat of hell as the main reason for accepting Jesus as “my personal Lord and Saviour”. Evangelical churches rightly focus on evangelism. But they often use this approach of fear of retribution. Therefore, the message is primarily about what we are saved FROM.
But, salvation is just as much about what we are saved FOR. Eternal life begins now, and our salvation demands a response – on this earth, in this life. We need to be careful – we are in danger of preaching a watered down, half-truth Gospel. We are saved FOR something, as well as saved FROM something.
Listen to the sermon by downloading it here (13 Mb, MP3 file). You can see the notes I preached from below.
Continue reading What we are saved from and what we are saved for – sermon podcast
Originally posted on 10 June 2008
Like all evangelicals, I believe in the inspiration of the Bible. This means that God inspired human writers in such a way that every word in the Bible (in the original language and original documents) is exactly the word God intended to be there. But this does not mean that God simply dictated the Bible, nor that he turned the authors into automatons. He understood the character and personality (and expertise and background) of the writers, and worked in partnership with this to write a series of documents that is truly unique – a divine collaboration that is both infallible and inerrant (in the original).
To interpret the Bible, we must understand both God (as far as possible, and doing so empowered by God’s Spirit) and the human author. This means that, amongst other things, we must understand the author’s personality, culture, context, writing style, background, training and experiences.
A fun example will illustrate…
The story of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years is repeated in different Gospels. Mark, the most direct of the Gospel authors explains her situation like this:
Mark 5:25-26 – “And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” (NIV)
Continue reading A fun example of the human side of Biblical inspiration
This morning at church, we looked at the first six verses of Colossians chapter one. Our pastor titled the sermon, “The marks of a genuine Christian”.
He’s a good communicator and preached well. But this morning did expose a weakness in the evangelical desire to chunk the Bible up into ‘bite size chunks’ and preach verse by verse exposition. The Bible was not written in chapters and verses – and there is a danger that we impose an artificial structure onto God’s Word that distorts its meaning.
I don’t want to sound like a whiner about this, but it really does irritate me when evangelical presuppositions result in glaring omissions from Biblical exposition. To put it simply, I think our pastor got it wrong this morning – not in what he did say, but in what he didn’t.
Today’s sermon gave us three marks of a genuine Christian: Faith in Jesus (v4); Love for other Christians (v4); and, Hope of heaven (v5). But what about verse 6 – that the Good News of the Gospel is bearing fruit? The New Living Translation helpfully translates verse 6 as the Good News “is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives since the day you heard and understood the truth about God’s grace.”
This emphasis on changed lives in the here and now is then reiterated powerfully in verses 10 and 11.
In fact verses 8 through 13 just repeat what was said in the first six verses. The “three marks of a genuine Christian” are repeated again, but it seems to me that there is clearly at least a fourth sign: that our lives are meant to demonstrate that the Gospel has come (I also think there is something there about growing in our depth of understanding of what God has done for us – but I’ll leave that for another day). If everything we believe makes no difference to how we live now, what is it worth? And that does not simply mean some spiritual longing for a better life somewhere else. It means that we strive hard to “make it on earth as it is in heaven” – just as Jesus taught us to pray!
Faith in Jesus, love for others and the saints, and hope in heaven are definitely signs of being a genuine Christian. But they are not enough. The Bible is clear and consistent in its witness that you prove your Christian beliefs by your good works. Colossians 1 itself is clear on this. Why do evangelicals so easily and consistently miss the “good works” theme of the Gospel when it is in such plain sight?
Originally Posted on 23 June 2009
I was sent an email today that contained an excellent manifesto from one of my favourite thinkers and authors, Len Sweet.
It’s titled: “A Magna Carta for Restoring the Supremacy of Jesus Christ, a.k.a. A Jesus Manifesto for the 21st Century Church”
by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola
You can read the original at their blog: http://ajesusmanifesto.wordpress.com/
It really is worth it. Thought-provoking and powerful. I like it a lot, and think we need to take our Christ-centric nature more seriously.
This was originally two postings, on 20 and 21 January 2005 – updated on 26 March 2010
George Bush gave his second inauguration speech earlier this week. Sky News tells me, he used the word “freedom” 27 times – not including references to “liberty”. This was certainly the clear theme of his speech. As a Christian, knowing that Bush is one of the most prominent voices of modern Christians, I listened with a sense of unease. I wonder of he means what I mean when he thinks of freedom?
Not only am I uneasy in general with the current US Administration (and with the millions who support it, seemingly blind to its alienation from the rest of the planet), I am specifically concerned about the fact that this Administration, embodied in Bush, has subtly redefined issues and is deluding millions of people.
I need to spend more time reflecting on my disquiet. George Bush’s speech was certainly inspiring – and he pulled it off – better than could be expected. He is known to butcher the English language – he did not do that this week. But he lacked real passion and conviction. It was obvious that he was reading someone else’s words. It was obvious that he was aiming for media-friendly sound-bites, rather than flowing, passionate speech. During the past week, he has specifically stated that he wanted to deliver a speech that would be remembered by history (maybe even carved in stone in the Capitol like other inaugural addresses have been in the past). It was not one of those. But, in general, it was a good speech – if you’re American, anyway.
Continue reading Thoughts on the Tyranny of Freedom
Originally posted on 7 August 2008
Last week, I preached my final sermon at the church my family has attended for the past 5 years. I relied heavily on a sermon preached by John Broom, of Meadowridge Baptist, on the occasion of his last sermon after over 20 years of ministry at the church.
The sermon was the final part of a series on “What Jesus would say to…”. The essence of the sermon was that “church” has been expressed in at least 7 distinct ways over the course of church history. Today, as the church in the West enters a “post Christian” world, it needs to recaptures the “instincts” expressed in these seven streams, and become the holistic church God intended.
Listen to the sermon by downloading it here (7 Mb, MP3 file).
The summary of the seven streams is below…
Continue reading The seven streams of church – a sermon podcast
I was at Bible Study at church tonight, and Richard Coekin, our senior pastor made a very interesting statement. In relation to Galatians 5, he argued that one of the key functions of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin, and cause internal conflict within us.
Galatians 5:16-18 says,
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
Richard then said: “If you’re not at war with yourself, you’re not a Christian.” I like that. I think he’s right. To be a Christian is to be constantly trying to become like Christ. Since that’s an impossibility this side of eternity, it must be an aspiration. And therefore, anytime we fall short of that, the Holy Spirit convicts us and then empowers us to improve.
It got me thinking (briefly) about the churches and preachers who promise that you can “come to Jesus and everything will be OK”. In fact, better than that, you can “live your best life now” and all your troubles will be over. But maybe not. Maybe you’ll start an inner war with yourself that won’t stop. Maybe that’s a sign of being a Christian. A strangely comforting thought…
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.
I preached a sermon in March 2007 on the issue of Fear. I was based in Johannesburg in South Africa at the time – a city and country that lives with low level fear of crime pretty much all the time. This sermon deals with what Christians should be doing to deal with social issues that produce the environment in which crime flourishes.
Fear and crime in South Africa is a personal problem, a national problem, a kingdom problem and a spiritual problem. As Christians, we are called to respond in many ways. And ultimately we are commanded by Jesus to “Do Not Fear”. Yes, it’s a command. The sermon focuses in on Jesus’ command in Matthew 10.
Listen to the sermon by downloading it here (3 Mb, MP3 file).
Originally posted on 1 September 2009
I don’t agree with the political leanings of The Spectator magazine in the UK, but it certainly contains the finest writing in the English language of any magazine in the world. I read the mag regularly, just to experience excellent English. It also contains the type of opinionated columnists I enjoy. They get you thinking, and they’re inteliigent.
In their Christmas edition, there was an excellent analysis of what the official religious institution of England (The Church of England) should do. I need to think this one through in more detail, but I hope it sparks as much thought for you as it did for me.
Does England need an “official” church? Would it be better, both for the church and State, to change the current state of affairs? The original article can be found here, or read it below.
The C of E should follow John Milton’s lead
by Theo Hobson, Friday, 12th December 2008, The Spectator
Milton was a great poet but an even greater theologian, says Theo Hobson. His vision of tolerant Christian liberalism should be our template for the future
Continue reading Liberal politics, freedom and the role of Christianity in Britain