Thoughts on the Tyranny of Freedom

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

The seven streams of church – a sermon podcast

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

Galatians 5 – struggling in Christ

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…

And yet, on the other hand, there’s a danger in this teaching. Because we might be led to thinking that we are never enough, that we must always feel inadequate and “under done”. Jesus also says, “Come to me all you are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” That “rest” is the rest that comes from knowing we have done enough, and ARE enough. I suppose, the trick is to find the balance.

Church is not the end, it’s the means

Originally posted on 22 June 2005

Here’s something the church needs to hear: 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.

Dealing with fear – sermon podcast

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).

Liberal politics, freedom and the role of Christianity in Britain

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

Gary Hamel speaks to church leaders on Shifting Tides

Gary Hamel is one of my favourite management gurus. His books are well written, and I have heard him speak live and in person on a number of occasions as he addressed business leaders in South Africa a few years ago. Gary was initially famous for his thoughts on innovation and helping companies create the right type of environment for innovation. More recently he has shifted his focus to the “future of management” – analysing the environment in which companies must now operate, and the structures that will help them achieve success. His book on the Future of Management is a great read – buy it at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net.

What I didn’t know was that he was a Christian and has done some research on the challenges facing the church at the moment (especially in the USA). He spoke at his home church a while ago, and the talk was recorded and made available. After cataloguing the problems, he goes on to recommend some responses. And he brings his usual insightfulness to all of it. Well worth taking an hour out and watching.

Continue reading Gary Hamel speaks to church leaders on Shifting Tides

Salvation for all?

Originally posted on 1 June 2008 and updated on 18 March 2010 and 11 March 2021

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.

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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

The Present Future

Originally posted on 19 April 2005

I am currently reading a very significant book, “The Present Future” by Reggie Mcneal (Buy it at Kalahari.net or Amazon.co.uk).

He argues in the book that there are six wrong questions that churches ask, and suggests six questions we should be asking in their place. In each chapter, he outlines the problem, a solution, and then gives a biblical and cultural contextual reason for his suggestion. Briefly, here are the six wrong and right questions:

WRONG QUESTION TOUGH NEW QUESTION
How do we do church better? How do we deconvert from Churchianity to Christianity? (How do we redfine ourselves around ‘mission’ rather than ‘club’?)
How do we grow this church? How do we get them to come to us? How do we transform our community? How do we hit the streets with the gospel?
How do we turn members into ministers? How do we turn members into missionaries?
How how do we develop church members? How do we develop followers of Jesus?
How do we plan for the future? How do we prepare for the future?
How do we develop leaders for church work? How do we develop leaders for the Christian Movement?

Here are some extracts from the introduction…

Continue reading The Present Future

Graeme Codrington's musings on a new kind of Christianity