Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Cape Town Commitment

While other bloggers have already had more detailed discussions of this document, it still doesn't seem to be getting the attention it deserves. Neither critical or polemical, it is a current exposition of much of what is good and right about contemporary evangelicalism. This is no accident - it draws from the best of a century of mission work and marks the beginning of its maturation: the breadth of world Christianity represented is unprecedented.

So rather than simply rehashing what's already available, I thought I'd point out that a short précis is available here. This because I've not yet read and pondered another chapter of Bonhoeffer's Discipleship, but that's what I'm off to do now.

The full text of the Cape Town Commitment is also available online.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Cheap grace, liberalism and folk evangelicalism

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
– H. Richard Niebuhr criticising the social gospel, particularly Paul Tillich’s theology of it in his 1937 book, The Kingdom of God in America.
Yet, Niebuhr should have gone further, because there is at least another theological oxymoron that leads to such cheap grace, one that is favoured by theological conservatives as much as theological liberals. It is this: salvation that does not demand discipleship. Even with theology that posits a God who is wrathful (if not positively hateful), humanity that is sinful (if not completely unlovable), the kingdom that is about judgement at least as much – if not more – as it is about hope, and a Christ that is perpetually preached as the one crucified rather than risen, it’s still possible to preach salvation without transformation.

Witness this example from a young, successful pastor of inner suburban congregations:
Speaking at [NAME] CHURCH this morning on how we don't need to try and maintain our relationship with God by our faithfulness, our commitment and our effort. Rather our relationship with God rests solely on the finished work of Jesus on the cross. // So pumped by what God is doing here. They have grown by 30% in the last 12 months. // Please pray that many respond today...
In fairness, I’m confident that this Christian leader experiences and even expresses a grace that is greater than the one presented here. (However, when I asked whether he'd like to clarify this I got no response.) But here we can see two ‘liberal’ tendencies in contemporary folk-evangelicalism as grave as those Niebuhr ridicules. First – as already mentioned – salvation without transformation. There is no room here for the gospel language of discipleship, nor of the Pauline language of striving, or images of the farmer, athlete and soldier because salvation is bestowed freely, it is assumed it must be received passively. Or, as we heard from Bonhoeffer's Discipleship yesterday: "Because grace alone does everything, everything can stay in its old ways. 'Our action is in vain.'" Secondly, that the cross is not just the central act of salvation, but the final act. Now, there is no room for the resurrection, for Pentecost, and (to reiterate) for the collaboration of the believer in their sanctification.

Of course, these two oversights are related: when the gospel is reduced to Christ having died in our place for our sins, then salvation is also more easily reduced to merely reparation usually expressed in legal or economic terms. It’s essentially a problem-solving exercise. But when the gospel also includes the resurrection, then a greater breadth and depth of images and languages is needed – reconciliation (not just of accounts, but of persons), victory, recreation and others. And a bigger gospel has bigger implications – including demands. To follow the one crucified on our behalf is to take up our own cross, to sacrifice for others and (perhaps most forgotten for contemporary folk-evangelicalism) to be at odds with the ones who crucify. To follow the one risen as the first fruits of the new creation is belong to a new humanity (in which racial and class barriers have no place) and to practice a new ethic. If we are in the new humanity (ie: in Christ, the second Adam) we resume the task of keeping the earth, tending to its fullness and diversity, but more than that we anticipate carrying that task further towards its goal. When Christ is crucified for as well as risen for us, then salvation is not just a solution for a problem but a demanding ethical vocation.

The problem with contemporary evangelicalism is not that is old-fashioned and orthodox. Rather, that it still has too much in common with the old liberalism, even while it overlooks this. The logical end for the old liberalism and folk-evangelicalism is the same: a tamed gospel with cheap grace that poses no challenges.

Monday, October 03, 2011

October – focus on Discipleship

After my visit to Taizé, I've been attempting - with varied success - to reform my prayer life. As part of this project I purchased Common Prayer, and though I've found it helpful I still struggle with regular prayer, along with all other routines.

The book has come out of the New Monastic movement, and each of the twelve marks of neomonasticism is featured each month. Perhaps fitting the commemoration of Francis of Assisi tomorrow is this month's focus on radical discipleship. The prayers and readings emphasise the common root of both 'discipleship' and 'discipline' and of taking the teaching of Jesus seriously. I've taken up their recommended reading of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic Discipleship, which makes this link even clearer. The book opens with a stinging rebuke of cheap grace, so brilliant and compelling it's hard to not quote here more fully, to illustrate clearly what is the antithesis of discipleship. But for now, this will do:
Cheap grace means grace as doctrine, as principal, as system. It means forgiveness of sins as a general truth; it means God's love is merely a Christian idea of God...
Cheap grace means justification of sin but not of the sinner. Because grace alone does everything, everything can stay in its old ways...
So the Christian need not follow Christ, since the Christian is comforted by grace!
[Emphasis added]

My aim is not only to get through the book this month (not as easy as it sounds with two weeks plus on the road), but to more fully realize my original intent of having a more stable and intentional prayer life, a framework to more effectively fit my work into.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Finally - find me on Facebook

Well, I'm now looking at opening the blog and other thoughts to a wider audience. Which means using social media more selectively. Of course this is quite new to me, but it's still clear that there's really only one place to start – Facebook. So I'm setting up a personal page on Facebook and hope you'll join me there. I'm hoping that's just the start, so if you;ve got ideas, please let me know... perhaps through the page.

Friday, April 29, 2011

New record

At least for me: checked baggage of 62kg! I was looking at 30kg of paid extra allowance (at $15 per kg) except that my booking sheet, unlike the airline's, showed my increased allowance to be 64kg. So much for 'soldiers travel light'! I still have two more uniforms being custom made to join me down here...

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Back on the road

I'm posting this at 2:30am.

Because sometimes being ready to move, and hopefully in the right place at the right time is more important than more than three hours' sleep.

That is all. Goodnight.

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