Archive for the ‘Mission’ Category

hear-no-evil-see-no-evil-speak-no-evilAnnouncing Jesus is no simple task these days!

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McCrindle research has just surveyed more than 1,000 people from across Australia on behalf of the Centre for Public Christianity. According to the poll, only 21% of those surveyed are confident the resurrection of Jesus happened, and 13% don’t think Jesus even lived. And a significant 60% believe the Bible is a book of myths.

Director of the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX), Simon Smart says the findings indicate that Australians are moving away from conventional spiritual beliefs … the overall picture is one of polarisation.

“You’re seeing people at very different ends of the spectrum there indicating a gulf between those who are confident and those who are a very long way from that.”

He says the main application for Christians is to face the reality of where Australians are at and where they are headed in terms of their beliefs, and to find new ways of engaging them.

“What we are seeing is a rapid loss of belief among many people. The church in the West must learn how to speak into a new environment where around about half the people think belief is unsustainable, they think it’s nonsense.

“It’s important that the Christian community learns to speak into that environment and not one they wish was the case or perhaps misconstrue and believe it’s more positive than it actually is.”

See more at http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/aussies-polarised-over-belief-in-god-resurrection-and-bible-as-word-of-god

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These are compelling figures and confronting advice. We need to ‘face the reality of where Aussies are at’ and ‘learn how to speak into a new environment…and not one they wish was the case’.

Gulp!

Sounds like hard work. Brain work. Can that really be true? Can gospel faithfulness really require of us that we do serious brain work? Cultural analysis?

Actually there’s two schools of thought here.

1. The Timeless Gospel will break through

One view says surveys like this will probably send us down the wrong track. Because there is something supernatural about the message of Jesus that overrides all normal rules of communication. The gospel is so powerful, God uses it to call people whether or not it makes sense in their cultural context. Surveys and so on are appropriate for everyday communicating, but the Bible message is a special case, it’s in a class of its own. Whether or not it connects with anything our society believes or cares about, quite apart from all that, God’s Spirit uses the gospel to cut through to people and call them to faith. The message is timeless, and in any time He can make it make sense in a wonderful and unexpected way.

The ultimate expression of view 1 is the Catholic church using Latin for the mass, regardless of which language the people spoke.

2. The Contextual Gospel

According to this view, although the content of the gospel message is the miraculous acts of God, the medium is not supernatural but rather that of ordinary human communication. The message can only do its thing as it is understood and appreciated by the hearers. First it has to engage them and connect with them. Then it can be used by the Spirit to transform people.

In other words the gospel is not timeless. It comes clothed in a culture: Jewish, and it also needs to be ‘enculturated’, or contextualised or presented in terms and categories that the hearers can understand in their own culture. This can take a lot of brain work on the part of preachers, especially if they are speaking across cultures.

A classic example of this approach is the Protestant reformers, who insisted on getting the Bible translated into everyday language for the common people. Their catechisms tried to explain what the gospel meant for people in c.16th Europe. These guys were willing to rethink and reform communicative practices for the sake of connecting with people.

Reflections: 

Is the CPX survey worth paying attention to? Depends on which of these views you hold to about the way gospel communication works.

If you hold to View 2, then we need to pay attention. More than that, we need to find a new way of addressing our society that doesn’t assume they believe what we are saying. Our traditional model of preaching and evangelism is all about asserting facts with confidence, indeed with certainty. We tend to deliver a message that only makes sense to those who agree. We don’t usually acknowledge the possibility of a different view point. This leaves our hearers with a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ set of options. The CPX survey suggests we will be preaching to an ever-shrinking audience.

If you hold to View 1, then rather than rethinking anything, we just need to stick to our guns and keep the message pure. The gospel will break through.

It’s probably worth noticing that View 1 doesn’t seem to be working in Australia. There’s a whole lot of people out there keeping the message pure, but what they’re reporting back is that they don’t get traction. Ask your local Anglican minister. And the survey confirms this: ‘a rapid loss of belief.’  The gospel as we are preaching it, is not breaking through.

It’s probably worth noting also that among cross-cultural missios, View 2 is considered basic mission practice. It’s only here at home that View 1 still finds a home.

But does anyone really believe View 1? There are signs that we are living under its influence. for example: where are the denominational forums in which Christians can discuss the challenges of communicating across the gap to our own society? Where are those discussions taking place? Where is the hard thinking going on? At CPX, for sure. But at the denominational level, nowhere that I know of.

Which colleges are training our next leaders to do this sort of contextualised ministry? Not the one I went to!

In Sydney we Anglicans had ten years of mission. You might think after that would come a stock-take. People who had led the mission called for a rethink. But no, instead we launched into another ten years of mission. Without the thinking. How could we do that? It’s View 1 at work. There’s theological blinkers stopping us from looking. Bad theology –> bad practice.

And that is why we can confidently predict that this new CPX survey will be ignored by the people we are counting on to lead us in mission, here in Sydney’s churches.

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Losing the moral high ground

Posted: March 3, 2015 by J in Church, Mission

maxresdefault“We don’t go into churches” she said.

I’d just met this mum at school, and after a friendly chat, it occurred to me to mention our Playgroup. And that was her response.

I thought that was interesting. Not so much the attitude, but the statement. She didn’t need to say this – in fact she obviously felt a little awkward coming out with it. She knew I was ‘the minister’ and that it would put a dampener on our acquaintance. Most people who didn’t want to come would have just said, thanks for letting me know, and left it. But she felt the need to make this strong statement.

It reminded me quite a bit of the way I’ve seen some Christians admitting that they go to church. A little sheepish, but feeling that it was important to stand up and be counted. For this woman, I think it was a matter of principle, and she wanted to own that, wanted it known where her family stood.

This little exchange reminded me of what a different world the church in the West finds itself facing, especially among the upper middle class anglo professional set, to which this mum belonged, and which has been our traditional homeground.

For centuries people have had many mixed and negative feelings towards ‘the church’, whether fear or respect or guilt or lack of interest or whatever. But whatever attitudes the churches have faced we have generally felt confident about one thing in our social status: the moral high ground. Churches represented what was upright and good and moral. Society at large was generally immoral, selfish and irresponsible (in our view) – and so the church stood as a kind of bastion of righteousness, admired or avoided as the case may be.

The church has for long centuries accepted this role and acted the part of moral custodian and policeman, speaking out sternly when there was a decline in standards, letting people know who was OK and who was in disgrace, and so on. Evangelicals have added to this a missionary stance, viewing the world around them as a project to be reclaimed and redeemed by their efforts. Inside it is safe, but out there, the wrath of God is upon people and they must be warned to come in.

Built into the very DNA of our whole way of relating to society, is the assumption of moral advantage. We are OK and you are probably not OK. You ought to listen to us. 

We have always expected people might hate us for this. That they might ignore us, or mock us – isn’t goodness always subjected to this sort of treatment from debauched and cynical sinners?

What we rarely have had to face before is disapproval. We are used to people not listening to our sermons. What we are not used to is being preached to by the world. Which is what we now face from that section of the world that we ourselves come from: the educated classes.

While we were not looking, a new moralism has arisen in the West, complete with accompanying doctrine, ethical code and missionary goals. Our educated, inner-city neighbours do not think of themselves as sinners anymore. They have claimed the moral advantage. In fact, many have become increasingly puritanical. The Sydney Morning Herald editorial today speaks of “the moral high ground where we [Australians] stand”, and gushes, “The moral high ground is a place to which every human should aspire in our words and reach with our deeds.” Amen, here endeth the lesson. It might sound a bit comical, but the Herald was dead serious.

This preachiness comes naturally to the new moralists. Did you notice that they have started teaching Special Religious Education in the public schools? They call it Ethics. This social movement is zealous to capture the minds of the next generation for the cause.

There is a gallery of sins avoided and deplored by the new moralists. They are not the sins Christianity has denounced for so long, but the process is similar: expose sin in others, shun the offenders, keep bludgeoning until everyone falls into line.

The big sins of the new moralism are climate degradation, sexism and homophobia. But there are many smaller ones, including smoking, failing to recycle, gaining weight and using bad language. What constitutes bad language is also distinctive: anything that sounds religious or discriminatory is bad. Discriminatory behaviour such as ignoring migrant people is OK. But language will not be tolerated.

The new moralists expect to feel good about themselves. They know they are on the side of right. They support causes and charities. They take in causes with their breakfast cereal. Seriously. And with their Yoghurt. They want to make a difference in the world, even as they chew. The bands they listen to support causes. Think Coldplay, U2. It feels good to be a new moralist. This mum I met was telling me that her children had ‘two really solid parents’! The high moral ground is a nice place to stand…

These are fundamentally serious people. They like comedians, but preferably jokers with a message. They love their own preachers – think Tim Minchin – who tell them what they need to feel passionate about (“I hope people will be shocked – because they need to be.”)

New moralist male partners (‘husbands’ sounds horribly discriminatory) establish their creds by taking part in household chores, minding the kids, and knowing how to iron. Female partners (‘wives’ sounds so condescending), by holding down a job at the same time as bringing up kids and getting to the gym regularly.

One great way to feel good about yourself is to cultivate a sense of moral superiority over others. And there are plenty of others to look down on. The unreconstructed: people with old-fashioned ideas that are now seen as scandalous, like ‘I want to stay at home with my little kids and not go out to work.’ The smokers. People who let their children roam the neighbourhood unsupervised. Parents who use disposable nappies. Religious people who want to express their religion at all. All of these and many more are ready-made steps upon which the new moralist can climb to the moral high ground.

And of course, ‘The Church’: that nest of bigoted and disgraceful ideas that cause so much hatred and suffering. That last stronghold of an old patriarchal mindset that has kept people enslaved for centuries. We have eradicated Smallpox, but that pestilence Christianity and its accompanying symptom, ‘The Church’, has proved resistant. And pretty much every social evil can ultimately be laid at its door. This week in Sydney we are hearing how the Church promotes domestic violence. Next week it will be something else, for sure.

But the Church’s chief sin, from the new moralist point of view, is bringing religion out of the private and into the public sphere. Their dream is of a world in which every public place is swept clean of religion – especially Christian religion. New moralists do not feel guilty when they hear religion in public. They do not feel bored. They felt deeply offended. They feel angry. People are being irresponsible, abusive even.

They are aware that others do not share this point of view, but on this core doctrine, the new moralist is not willing to compromise, not one inch. For he feels the truth of it in his heart.

For people even a little influenced by the new moralism, attending a local church seems like a questionable, potentially blameworthy activity. It feels safer on the whole to not attend.

But the true new moralist knows she should go further, and take a strong stand on conscience even if that might offend someone: “We don’t go into churches”.

We have a certain amount of new moralist influence in our suburb, I know some of the card-carrying members. They know I’m the local minister. Some avoid me in the school playground. Others look at me askance, not because of anything I do (so far as I am aware!), but because I exist. Few occupations could be more shameful than minister of religion!

We’re facing a changed world. After the 1960s we thought loose morals were here to stay. But things have swung back the other way. We live in very moral, even moralising times. A kind of puritanical legalism is gaining ground. And it’s not our kind! We used to be the ones who could do the looking down, but in the eyes of a fair chunk of a society we lost the moral advantage somewhere along the way. So here are my questions to yall:

1. Who noticed?

2. How should we speak and address ourselves to our society now? Should we keep talking as though from the high ground? Or is it possible to testify to Jesus from any other position? Should we shift register? If we did that, what would it sound like? What would we say differently? 

What do you reckon?

WITNESS TO THE TRUTH

One point at which we cannot reach detente with the Postmodernists is in their suspicion of the category ‘truth’, and their preference for diversity instead.

However, short of the return of Christ our claims to truth must be open to critique, and not coercive. Truth is not something to be enforced. Rather it should be claimed in a way appropriate to its content. In the biblical narrative, it’s truth claims are often presented under the category of ‘witness’. This category has a lot to offer in a postmodern setting. It is non-threatening and non-self-serving. Witness, in the biblical sense, is about what God has done and what the witnesses have experienced. It is also witness against false idols – such as, in our context, the gods of consumerism. Because the witness is about God’s acts, it resists corruption into the usual human will to power.

Paul gives us resources to understand how this witness works in 1 Corinthians 1-4. His whole ministry was shaped by its witness to ‘Christ crucified.’ There we see that not only the content of our witness must be cross-centred, but also its form. I.e. it is only when the church’s community life stands as an alternative to the surrounding culture, when that life becomes part of our testimony to Jesus crucified, that we become faithful witnesses.

WITNESS IN A GLOBALISED WORLD

How can the church’s witness confront the massive voice of the modern narrative of worldwide economic power? There have always been totalising power narratives, such as those that drove the great empires of old. The biblical metanarrative generally stood over against these narratives, especially in the Apocalyptic writings, where a very different story of imperial rule is asserted.

The Roman empire under Augustus, for instance, was entranced with the project of world-wide dominance to the ends of the earth. Jesus’ commission in Acts 1:8, by picking up this phrase ‘to the end of the world’, proposes a counter-narrative to that of Rome: a project not of power but of witness. Revelation explores the way these two projects clash and conflict. John sees the witnesses to Jesus as witnessing largely by not conforming to the imperial project.

This all gives us plenty of clues about what witness might involve today in the face of the modern narrative of global economic power that holds sway in the West.

THE BIBLICAL STORY AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY

Doesn’t this biblical narrative tend to over-ride and squash other local world-views? When God reverses Babel at Pentecost, he affirms the place of cultural diversity in his kingdom. The gospel is not a culture-crusher. The biblical story is hospitable to other stories, drawing them in to relationship with itself.

CONCLUSION

The Christian church is in a position to embrace some aspects of modern globalism as consonant with God’s global project. But also to expose other aspects as anti-God and anti-creature also. This is a challenging time for us. We have often failed to keep ourselves from the human will to power, but there is room for repentance!

ASSESSMENT

This chapter contains much gold, and I can only lament that it is so brief and covers so much territory that Bauckham’s ideas are left fairly undeveloped. I would dearly love to hear more of his thoughts about how we sit in our culture, and about what it might look like to be a faithful witness in the face of the new global empire. The stuff on Rome’s power project was very helpful.

RB’s vision for a witnessing church is one I find captivating. But I would like to see a more rigorous discussion of why the church has failed so extremely in this vision over so long. Is the gospel really so ineffective in the face of the human temptation to power? Or has there been a theological  problem in the church historically, that has distorted witness at this vital point? If so, where have we gone wrong? Which aspects of RB’s biblical-theological vision stand in tension with the church’s traditional narrative? I for one would have appreciated at least one further chapter!

But hopefully you’ve heard enough to be convinced that this is a little book worth reading and digesting, worth discussing and debating. A deeply theological book, that teaches us how to read Scripture more perceptively. A prophetic book, that has a message of challenge and hope for the modern church.

515gxgjcZSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SUMMARY

Bauckham has told his whole story now, of the God who reveals himself to the whole world through particular people and times and places, most especially through Jesus of Nazareth. He sums up his argument by quoting Lesslie Newbigin on ‘election.’ In his book The Open Secret, LN says election is God’s way of relating to us as the humans we are, i.e. all connected. Instead of sending salvation to each man directly – an isolating salvation – God makes it pass from one to another. So then, someone must be called and sent first for the others. And this is how LN understands ‘election’: it is not for the person alone but for the others that he is called by God. A salvation that suits human needs must involve election.

That’s a pretty cool way of seeing it. And it gives an ultimate point or direction to the human story – what Bauckham has been talking about all along: from the one to the many. LN says ‘Christian faith is thus a way of understanding world history which challenges and relativises all other models  by which the meaning of history is interpreted.’

POSTMODERN CRITIQUE

But, Bauckham points out, since the 1970s Postmodernism has challenged the very idea of an overarching meaning to human history. It rejects metanarratives as tools for projecting power. So isn’t Newbigin’s view – which is also the theme of Bible and Mission – suspect from a 21st century point of view?

This is where RB lets his model for understanding Scripture confront the modern world we live in. He wants to hear the critique postmodernism would launch at the Christian story. Is this Christian metanarrative simply a way of silencing the voices of others and controlling them? Certainly the church has been guilty of doing this, during its history. Yes. But is this dynamic of oppression built into the biblical narrative itself?

 The biblical story as a non-modern metanarrative

Postmodernism started as a critique of the metanarrative of Modernism, coming out of the Enlightenment. The dream of reason leading to progress was exposed as a tool of western domination. The biblical narrative does not share modernism’s dream of human knowledge and mastery. It sees history as the stage for the fulfilment of God’s purposes, not man’s. Much remains mysterious from our limited perspective. God’s action is not predictable but free, and often disruptive and unexpected. So mission is not a smooth expansion like Modernism’s ‘progress.’ Also, the biblical narrative, while telling an overall story, is told by many voices, and as such is manifold, untidy and multi-perspectival. It does not press all to adopt a single tidy viewpoint on life. And it does not suppress the minority voices as modernism would tend to do.

In other words the Bible’s metanarrative is not totalitarian and intolerant of diversity. There is plenty of room within it for the range of human experience and culture. The critiques of postmodernism are not really aimed at this sort of story.

ASSESSMENT

That’s pretty convincing, RB. Great to have your summary of the book at the start of the chapter. Great that you open your view up to critique, and face it calmly. It’s good to have the Christian story distinguished clearly from the Enlightenment one I grew up with – we still tend to mix them up!

I can see how RB deals with and ultimately escapes the critique of postmodernism. Does it matter? Surely the gospel is going to offend people anyhow, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of that? Who cares if we upset a bunch of postmodernists?

I care, actually. Because key elements of the postmodern case seem to me to be just and true. Their critique of modernism leaves it looking oppressive and cruel. And when I see those attitudes and behaviours in the church or in her message, I want to repent of that. I want to be confident that we are not silencing the weak and siding with the strong. That’s stuff I’ve learned from Jesus.

In other words, Postmodernism has brought out strands in the Christian faith that have long lain dormant. It has preached to us things that we should have been preaching, when we were instead embarking on the grand adventure of empire. Its voice has been prophetic. God who can speak through an ass can even speak through a french philosopher! And so where it is true to the gospel, it behoves Bauckham (and us) to listen carefully and examine ourselves and the story we are telling – which is what he is doing here.

If the biblical story doesn’t fall foul of the postmodernist critique, why is it that the church’s behaviour often is oppressive and totalising? Why are so many church leaders bullies? And what does this biblical story have to offer that might challenge the abusive narratives which have captured our world? More on this next time…

repentanceThe fourth and last trajectory RB identifies is not a specific narrative, but a characteristic of them all: it is about movement of people. At Corinth God demonstrates his MO of working through the least to reach the many (1 Cor. 1:26ff). Thus God constantly overturns human status by initially prefering the lowest.

This strategy is epitomised at the cross, where God is revealed fully in a dehumanised object of shame. When God raised this one he defined the dynamic of his kingdom: blessing to the many through the lowest. His love ‘has to reach the strong via the weak’ (p.50). Paul’s own ministry was unsettling for people because he modelled the same pattern, thus radically contradicting social values.

This trajectory gives the church’s mission an inescapable socio-economic aspect. It must begin as a downward movement towards to people at the bottom of the social heap. The rest will only be saved through and with them.

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I love this little section. It hits hard. I only wish it were more expanded. This bit of theologising draws its insights from all the bible discussion that’s come before. It adds value by identifying this common thread running throughout, and showing how it reaches its climax at the cross. RB’s description of the cross in this passage (p.52) is worth the price of the book!

And there is so much challenge here for evangelical churches, entrenched as we are in the middle/uppermiddle classes; addicted to reaching the educated first. ‘To all the least by way of the privileged’ – that is surely our motto. We haven’t nearly faced up to the gospel reality that RB draws out here. We don’t like to admit that mission can have a socio-economic or political dimension. Until we do, we will fail the test of faithfulness – let alone fruitfulness!

kingDavid_lgBauckham’s next strand of ‘particular to universal’ relates to Israel’s King and his throne in Zion. For OT believers,  Zion is the seat of God’s universal rule, the temple being an earthly version office heavenly throne. The Davidic kings also were supposed to be the earthly version of God’s heavenly rule. However the reality fell far short of this ideal. Not only were they unfaithful, they didn’t rule over the whole world as Yahweh does. Kingship was an ambiguous symbol for Israel, full of tensions.

These tensions were to be resolved in the Messiah. His reign would be universal, his solidarity with humans total. The specificity of Jerusalem as centre is lost in the NT, but the particularity of the King is not: both throne and rule are located in Jesus of Nazareth.

CONCLUSIONS:

Bauckham then draws conclusions from his analysis of these three strands: worldwide blessing through Abraham/Israel revealing God to the world/God’s universal rule established through the King.

He comments that while none of these equals mission, yet together they make the church’s mission intelligible within the biblical metanarrative. They establish directions in which later the church’s mission can flow. The NT gospel is not novel in its universal view-point. Election was always God singling out some for the sake of others.

Ultimately all these particularities come together in the election of the man Jesus before they can become truly universal. And the church of Jesus Christ is therefore caught up in this movement out.

ASSESSMENT:

This conclusion is where big B brings home the bacon. This was the problem he started with: a loss of confidence and clarity about mission in our post-modern context. And he has shown how the Scripture story, rightly understood, gives us back a reason for mission. Bauckham’s key word here is ‘intelligible’: he has shown us that, in spite of a century of uncertainty, mission still makes sense.

That’s worth its weight in gold.

I love it that instead of wrangling with postmodern critiques in the abstract and trying to construct a defense of mission, RB just goes to Scripture and retells the story. And when he’s told it, he can just say, “The church is caught up in that. Deal with it.” So he stays on the front foot throughout. He tackles it through theology, rather than through politics or general philosophy or ethics. Nice.

crossingHow does Bauckham’s model of ‘movement from the particular to the universal’ help us make sense of the Bible’s broad story-arc?

The second strand which Bauckham follows through the Scriptures starts in the book of Exodus. Although Yahweh elects one nation as his special possession, he does so as the one true God of all nations. By choosing Israel he makes himself known to the world. The emphasis here is on the name of Yahweh, i.e. on revealing his identity, as opposed to bringing blessing as in the Abrahamic narrative strand.

Here the particularity of election flows out to the universality of world-wide recognition. This is seen to occur paradigmatically at the Exodus, and throughout Israel’s history. The prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah see Israel’s future return from exile as a witness to the nations. Solomon views the temple functioning as a centre from which Yahweh’s name will go forth and draw the nations to worship. Often the idea of blessing is included in this revealing: in Isaiah especially the God who is revealed is the universal Saviour.

New Testament believers were immersed in this Isaianic viewpoint. The apostolic mission was seen to be the fulfilment of this hope: Jesus had achieved a new exodus at the cross, and now his chosen ones went out to announce it to the world. The goal was that ‘every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’ – i.e. the mission was to reveal the true identity of Yahweh to the nations: he was the one who had acted in Jesus.

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This strand adds considerable richness to the first Abrahamic one focussed on blessing. It emphasises the relational nature of God’s mission: not just to fix things but to restore a right relationship between him and us. There is no idea in the gospel of our being helped apart from knowing God.

Once again Bauckham persuasively and simply guides us through the Scripture, showing the strong continuity between the testaments, showing how his model (one to many) opens things up for us. Nice.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 12.58.36 PM3. Anticipated closure and permanent narrative openness.

Another mouthful of a title! But there’s good stuff in here. The NT often seems to indulge in hyperbole when speaking of the extent of the spread of God’s kingdom. Paul has the gospel proclaimed ‘through the whole world’, to ‘every creature’ etc. Revelation contrasts Rome’s claims to universal rule with the church’s universality.

This hyperbole of completion might seem to suggest a final arrival, an end to the movement from particular to universal. But in fact it does not close off options for the future. The NT narratives make it clear the mission is not complete, e.g. the open ending of Acts 28. Nor are we given a timetable from here till the parousia. So then the church in every age finds itself plunged ‘into the midst of the biblical story where the words of the great commission still ring in its ears.’

Thus we live in ‘a dialectic of anticipated closure and permanent openness.’ This presses the reality of God’s unfolding purposes for the world hard on the church’s consciousness. We are caught up in something global that he is doing now, expressed in a unique way in our particular locality. 

Assessment:

I’m less sure what I think about this part. It’s very interesting! There certainly are the two sides of anticipated closure and ongoing openness, in the NT. It’s helpful to have that spelt out so clearly. However, I’m not entirely comfortable with structuring it as a dialectic. In fact, I’m always suspicious of dialectics: they remind me too much of Enlightenment German philosophy.

I think what I’m missing here is the language of eschatological arrival, of the ‘ends of the ages’ which seems to be the NT way of expressing closure. Rather than being anticipated, it’s a closure that is occuring now. Calling it anticipated, describing us as plunged in the midst of history, seems to me to locate us wrongly in history. We are not in the middle, but at the end. I doubt RB would disagree, but I don’t quite like the structure of his thought here.

Also, calling the openness permanent is a bit ambiguous. I suppose he means ongoing. Whenever you live, prior to the return of Christ, openness is still there.

I think the structure of a dialectic between permanent openness and anticipated closure makes it feel too abstract and unreal, too much like a paradox. The way I read the NT, it’s more like, history is closing up, drawing to a fast conclusion, and the time is short. We are living in the last days. Yet there is still time right now. Seems pretty simple to me. Maybe I’ve missed something?

Overall, however, I like the picture. The church lives caught up in the movement of God’s uncompleted worldwide mission, which he is bringing to its conclusion. Consciousness of this pushes us forward. We express our part in that cosmic program through the unique particulars of our local situation. Yes.

2. Outlines of a hermeneutic for the kingdom of God515gxgjcZSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Bauckham explains that he is not doing a biblical theology of mission. Rather he aims to outline an approach to reading Scripture that ‘takes seriously its missionary direction’. The Bible story is about ‘a project aimed at the kingdom of God’, i.e. the arrival of God’s universal purpose for the creation. However it always starts off with particulars, with individuals and communities. This movement out from the particular to the universal is …mission.

This hermetic will need to view the bible as a whole story, or metanarrative, with an awareness of the powerful potential such a story will have on our lives. It will focus on the way this story moves from the particular to the universal. This movement corresponds to God’s identity as the one who is God of Israel so that he may be Lord of all creation.

This outward movement has three dimensions:

The temporal movement from the old and particular into the new and universal future of God.  From Jesus’ sending by his Father, to his return in God’s kingdom.

The spatial/geographical movement from one place to every place, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

The social/numerical movement from the one to the many, from Abraham to many nations, from Jesus to all people.

God’s people are caught up in each of these movements, and this means mission.

The Bible’s story is full of instances of movement of these three kinds. Each story is unique and yet orientated towards the ‘universal horizon’ of God’s coming kingdom. I.e. they all fit into the big story. Jesus describes the final goal of the metanarrative using various narrative imagery: the seed that grows by itself (temporal movement), the mustard seed (spatial), the catch of fish (social/numerical). Each these stories is about mysterious growth – for the church’s mission is not something she can achieve herself. Nor is it a continuous movement. Rather mission is a collection of stories each one starting from the particular and growing outwards and into the future.

Evaluation:

In this section Bauckham lays the groundwork for his project in the whole book: he wants to show us how to read the Bible in a way that exposes its missional dimensions, so often overlooked. And he does this at the broadest possible level: he’s talking narrative deep-structure and everything above it, here. This little section does a lot of work: it provides us with a powerful analytic framework for grasping how mission functions in the Bible’s story. It’s not just Matthew 28! I reckon readers equipped with this 3-fold movement model are going to be reading in a much deeper and more sophisticated way than they were before. And therefore thinking mission in a much more thorough-going way too. Once again, Bauckham comes up with the goods!

I like it that this is Biblical theology he’s doing. It often bothers me how much theological discussion goes on without much reference to Scripture. Bauckham brings us back to the biblical narratives again and again, supremely to the gospel narrative of Jesus. His use of the parables and stories of Jesus is particularly enjoyable and insightful. So nice to be able to read Scripture along with a great exegete/interpreter like RB.

As I’ve mentioned, this would have been better as its own chapter, rather than a section in a larger one. It’s a big shift of gears from the previous section. And it’s enough for my little brain to chew on in one bite!

In summary: GOLD!

FoodMcworldThis is a small, non-technical and fairly easy to read book on the subject of mission, by one of the great Christian scholars of our generation. That’s gotta be good, hey?

Bauckham is a bit of a genius when it comes to writing short books that have a big impact. His God Crucified changed the face of Christological studies, in about 70 pages. This one weighs in at 110 pages: my sort of book!

The subtitle, ‘Christian Witness in a Postmodern World’ gives a clearer sense of what the book is about. What place can Christian mission have in a world where truth itself (and therefore mission) itself is frowned upon?

Chapter 1:  A Hermeneutic for the Kingdom of God.

That’s not a very friendly title for what is actually a ripper chapter. In fact it isn’t a good guide to the contents either.

1. Between McWorld and Jihad

September 11 2001, could be seen as the clash of ‘universalist cultures’ – those of Islam and of Global Capitalism. ‘Universalist’ means cultures that seek to impose themselves on the whole world in a way that crushes difference. Universalist cultures ‘threaten all things local, traditional and particular.’ Bauckham tells us his book is going to be about these issues – the local and particular, and the universal – as they relate to Christian mission.

Bauckham identifies two key concepts involved in the story of 9/11: metanarrative and globalisation. A metanarrative is a story about the meaning of reality as a whole, encompassing and integrates all its diversity. E.g.  ‘progress’ and Marxism. The new metanarrative of the West is Globalism with its story of economic salvation.

Postmodernism suspects and rejects metanarratives as tools of domination and oppression. It promotes instead particularity, diversity and localism. One Jewish postmodernist, Sacks, pleads for an approach to religion which distinguishes it from God. God is universal, but all religions are particulars and should remain so. I.e. give up universalist dreams such as those of Islam.

So where does Christianity stand when confronted with McWorld and Jihad? Bauckham points out that “almost certainly Christianity exhibits more cultural diversity that any other religion, and that must say something about it.” But are God and religion are fundamentally different, one universal and one particular? RB points out that the idea that God is universal is itself particular to the Judeo-Christian tradition!

It is more accurate to say God is both universal and particular. ‘We find the universal God in his particularity as the God of Israel…and of Jesus’. Bauckham wants to examine how these two things – the particular and the universal –  are related, ‘because it is in that relationship that the church’s universal mission belongs and has its meaning…Mission takes place on the way from the particularity of God’s action in the story of Jesus to the universal coming of God’s kingdom.’ And here we have the thesis of the whole book.

But can Christian mission be justified at all? Is it not just ‘a tidal wave of religious homogenisation sweeping away all the diversity of the world.’

That would have been a great place to finish the first chapter – one suspects the book has retained the structure of the lectures on which it is based. We will stop here and reflect.

Evaluation:

Bauckham writes beautifully. His style is clear, concise and eloquent. 9/11 offers a compelling, if somewhat overused, way into the subject. He uses plenty of illustrations, making for easy reading.

He has introduced his key themes and terms: mission in the light of postmodern concerns about the universal and the particular, about metanarrative and globalisation. Each of these is explained clearly. He has raised his main issues cogently and compellingly.

If I have a criticism it would be that Bauckham undersells his product. The question he has raised here about the legitimacy of mission has not been a small one. In fact it has been massively powerful in the modern history of the church. Over the past 60 years this critique of universalist narratives (like the Christian one) has seeped into the bones of the churches and sapped their missionary zeal. It has come to seem arrogant and presumptuous to try to make ‘converts’ (i.e. disciples for Jesus). Church groups, under the influence of postmodern ideas, have lost confidence in the whole missionary endeavour, and often given it away. This has been a fundamental change in the outlook and action of Christians in the modern West. It would have been helpful for Bauckham to unpack this a bit, give some of this wider context, and explain what is at stake for the church, in the issues he is discussing. These things may have seemed obvious to Bauckham, but many of us don’t know even recent history or the history of ideas. Words like universalism, particularity and metanarrative can seem big and abstract and academic to readers unused to such vocabulary. They can mask the fact that Bauckham is actually dealing with a red-hot topic: Is mission an intrinsically violent movement? 

I think the average reader just needs a little bit more reason to care about the themes of the book, before diving into Bible-land with RB. Brief is good, but at this key moment in his book I feel he’s been a bit too brief! This book is so good I’d like it to be more accessible at a ”thinking reader” level, not just an academic one.