Thursday, February 25, 2010

5 Marks of Mission

The so-called "5 Marks of Mission" have really caught on. They are:

  1. To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain the life of the earth

Of course, they're distinctively Anglican - they originally come from the Anglican Consultative Council in 1984, and were adopted by the Lambeth Conference in 1988 and the C of E General Synod.

They way I almost always see them used is that people think that doing one of them means you're doing mission. I guess that's why they are so popular - it means the people who don't think that evangelism is important can still think they are doing mission if they go on about the UN Development Goals or whatever. Which is, of course, complete rubbish.

All the proper presentations of it include this from the original ACC document:

The first mark of mission… is really a summary of what all mission is about, because it is based on Jesus' own summary of his mission (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14-15, Luke 4:18, Luke 7:22; cf. John 3:14-17). Instead of being just one of five distinct activities, this should be the key statement about everything we do in mission.

I should probably confess that I don't like the 5 Marks of Mission. Not because I disagree with them - I think they're actually pretty good. But because their use tends to obscure the fact that without verbal proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, it ain't mission.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Roy Clements

By my own reckoning, I reckon I've preached about 50 times now. And on Sunday, I did something I'd never done before. I reworked someone else's sermon and preached it. Now I reworked it and reapplied it so it was clearly in my own style, and I was quite open about what I was doing.

In this case, the passage in question was Psalm 42-43, and the preacher whose sermon I reworked was Roy Clements. (Of course, he was largely reworking a sermon on the same passage by D.M. Lloyd-Jones.) I'd been doing work on the passage, and realised I couldn't do better than Roy's exegesis, which had really helped me in the past. And lots of people found the sermon helpful, just as I thought and prayed they would.

And this got me thinking a bit. Roy was an uncommonly gifted preacher - he was a Baptist, but when I was at Anglican theological college nearly 10 years after his fall from grace, three Anglican ordinands cited him as the best preacher they'd ever heard. But after he left his wife for another man, he fell massively out of favour overnight, and all his books stopped being printed. For a while he maintained a web presence as a gay evangelical Christian (which I checked on occasionally), but in the last few years, he seems to have dropped off the radar even more.

[For what it's worth, I think it was wrong of publishers to stop printing his books - the books themselves weren't changed by any later mistakes made by the man. And I think him leaving his wife for another woman would have been just as bad.]

God gives his people gifts, to be used for the building up of the church. And they aren't earned, they are gifts, though they can be improved by hard work and prayer. And God can use those gifts for the building up of his kingdom, whoever he gives them to.

But in terms of ministry, we need godliness. We need to watch ourselves and guard ourselves carefully. Because God doesn't need us - he can give our gifts to others, and he can use our gifts without us. And his gifts don't protect us from falling away.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bernard Cornwell - The Alfred Series

I've fairly recently got into reading historical fiction, and Bernard Cornwell is generally very good at writing it. Most successful writers seem to settle into one genre that they do very well, and Bernard Cornwell's is historical battles from a soldier's eye view.

He also tends to write series of books about specific conflicts. So the Sharpe series, probably his most famous, is set in the Napoleonic Wars. The Alfred series is set around how King Alfred went from being disputed ruler of Wessex to King of England at a time of massive Viking invasions and so on. So far, there are five books in it - The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman, The Lords of the North, Sword Song and the Burning Land.

It's worth saying that I'm only writing this after reading four of those books, and chatting it through with a friend of mine who knows the history pretty well.

Of course, they're written well, and they give a good insight into especially Viking culture. But what surprised me most is that these are the most blatantly anti-Christian fiction books I've read since either Dan Brown or Philip Pullman, whichever I read most recently.

Generally in the books, there are three races - Saxon, Viking and Briton. The Saxons are mostly Christians, the Vikings are mostly pagans, and the Britons are a mix. I assume the final book in the series will end with the final triumph of Alfred, the Christian king of the Saxons, because that is how the first book started and that is what happened. But the narrator, Uhtred, is a fictional pagan Saxon who was raised by Vikings, but who fights for Alfred, and ends up being the key strategist and soldier behind all of Alfred's victories. Interestingly, he's also meant to be one of Bernard Cornwell's ancestors, as he's traced his ancestry back as far as some Uhtreds who were from the same place but a few hundred years later. Uhtred comes out with some very modernist sceptical comments about Christians, saints, miracles, etc. A few quick examples:

  • Several times in the series, there are minor characters (usually Christian priests) who are cowards of varying degrees of wickedness, and who are killed. Sometimes afterwards, Uhtred comments that their stories have been dramatically changed to look amazing, and they have since become saints.
  • Alfred, and all the Christians, are consistently incredibly gullible when it comes to relics and their authenticity. Possibly the most extreme example I can remember was someone claiming to have a leaf from the fig tree in the garden of Eden, and they were believed immediately.
  • At one point in Sword Song, a woman is suspected (wrongly) of adultery. Her husband goes through the ceremony described in Numbers 5 (which Cornwell himself describes as "ancient and malicious sorcery" in the historical note at the end). Except that Cornwell changes the ceremony. In that ceremony as described in the Bible, the woman drinks some bitter water, and if it makes her abdomen swell and her thighs waste away, then she's deemed guilty, and if it doesn't, she's deemed innocent. The priests in Sword Song test this by trying to expose her naked before a large group of people, which goes dramatically against all the OT rules about exposing nakedness and so on. The same priests also explicitly condone wife-beating, whereas the pagan Uhtred condemns it (as, of course, does the Bible).

Now I don't doubt that it may well be possible to find a handful of cases where that sort of thing did go on. But nor do I doubt that it's much easier to find cases where Christians stood up for the accused, condemned adultery and violence against women, etc. But Cornwell presents those cases above as normal and without any real counter-examples.

I'm fine with books which mix fact and fiction - after all, I'm a fan of both science fiction and historical fiction. But when the fictional elements are heavily anti-Christian and presented as fact (as here, as in Dan Brown), it really annoys me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tim Keller - why is the church full of moralists?

Jesus' teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsider Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can mean only one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren't appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we'd like to think.
Tim Keller, The Prodigal God, p.16

Monday, February 15, 2010


There's a popular internet movie called Zeitgeist. It's basically a hodge podge of conspiracy theories, but it's one of the main ways they spread. Today an ex-pupil asked me about it, so I thought it worth putting this response from an Aussie historian up here. Good on conspiracy theories and so on...

There's a longer interview available via audio here.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Jesus Fulfilling the 10 Commandments

I was pointed to this yesterday, and thought it was rather cool. "Jesus is not only a perfect law-keeper (according to his humanity), but that according to his deity he is the one we honor and worship when we keep the law." Here are (slightly modified) versions of John Frame's comments on how Christ fulfils the 10 Commandments interspersed with the actual commandments (Exodus 20, NIV).

You shall have no other gods before me.

The first commandment teaches us to worship Jesus as the one and only Lord, Savior, and mediator (Acts 4:12, 1 Tim. 2:5).

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

In the second commandment, Jesus is the one perfect image of God (Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3). Our devotion to him precludes worship of any other image.

You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

In the third commandment, Jesus is the name of God, that name to which every knee shall bow (Phil. 2:10-11; cf. Is. 45:23).

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

In the fourth commandment, Jesus is our Sabbath rest. In his presence, we cease our daily duties and hear his voice (Luke 10:38-42).

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

In the fifth commandment, we honor Jesus who has brought us to be adopted as sons of the true Father (Rom 8:23).

You shall not murder.

In the sixth commandment, we honor him as the life (John 10:10, 14:6, Gal. 2:20, Col. 3:4) Lord of life (Acts 3:15, the one who gave his life that we might live (Mk. 10:45).

You shall not commit adultery.

In the seventh commandment, we honor him as our bridegroom who gave himself to cleanse us, to make us his pure, spotless bride (Eph. 5:22-33). We love him as no other.

You shall not steal.

In the eighth commandment, we honor Jesus as our inheritance (Eph. 1:11) and as the one who provides all the needs for his people in this world and beyond.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

In the ninth commandment, we honor him as God’s truth (John 1:17, 14:6), in whom all the promises of God are Yea and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20).

You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

In the tenth commandment, we honor him as our complete sufficiency (2 Cor. 3:5, 12:9) to meet both our external needs and the renewed desires of our hearts.

I'm not at all saying it exhausts the meaning of the 10 Commandments for us today. But it's kind of nice...

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Love, Sin and Wrath

Today, I got into a bit of an argument about whether or not we should talk about sin when we tell people about Jesus, or just talk about the love of God. The person I was speaking to thought that God didn't show wrath, so we should only ever talk about God's love.

What this argument made me notice is this:

Virtually every major passage in Scripture that tells us how amazing God's love is shows it against the background of our sinfulness and/or the fact that by rights we deserve God's wrath.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:10

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

I don't by any means think we always need to tell people that they are sinners when we speak to them about Jesus - sometimes people already know it, for example. But they do need to know that things are in some sense broken before we can see why it is good that Jesus puts them right. In order for us to recognise Jesus as our saviour, we need to see that we need one. Yes, it's not just from sin, but sin is a big part of it.