Hell and missionary motivation

Rob has just produced a cracking review of Lausanne III, which contained an intriguing quote:
Personally I don’t feel the need to have a clear and present image of unbelievers being subject to eternal torment, to motivate me to share the gospel. If others do I don’t object (although I may want to question how it shapes their approach). Piper’s seeming insistence that eternal punishment was the only legitimate motivation for mission was not only offensive to many present who hold different views but also a blatant attempt to rewrite Lausanne history. Stott himself refused to accept this position.
This reminds me of two things.

Is Evangelicalism fundamentalist?

What is fundamentalism?

Martin Marty, in his book “Fundamentalisms Observed”, defined fundamentalism as a selective recovery of a religious tradition in order to fight against a modernist worldview; Karen Brown called it an “extreme response to the failed promise of Enlightenment rationalism”; Castells called it a way of creating identity on the basis of communal resistance. Bosch, prescient as ever, said that

it would be strange if the present period of uncertainty did not also throw up candidates which propagate either a convulsive clinging to the past or an even more extreme “conservative” backlash (such as some current manifesta­tions of fundamentalism)

In other words, fundamentalism is a last-ditch attempt, by restating your argument harder and louder than anyone else, to rebel against an overwhelming change in society. We saw it (in Marty’s and Brown’s terms) as an attempt to safeguard pre-modern faith against the rising tide of modernism; now, as Bosch points out, we see it as an attempt to safeguard modern faith against the rising tide of postmodernism.

Events of the past week have made me realise that, according to these definitions, it is no exaggeration to describe the mainstream of current Evangelicalism as fundamentalist. Read more about Is Evangelicalism fundamentalist?

Five things I miss about institutional church

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There are plenty of “things you poor sad people in the institutional churches have to cope with that we enlightened bodies in the house churches are free from” articles out there. (oh, look, here’s another one, including the obligatory snipe at “Churchianity”. Urgh.) I’m not really a big fan of that; I love the Church, whatever model of church it may be; I think no part of the Church can say that it’s the best part of the Church; and I think we work best when we work together. Read more about Five things I miss about institutional church

My Lent challenge

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There are forty days in Lent. There are thirty-nine books in the Hebrew Bible. It’s almost too good to pass up. I’ve set myself the challenge of blogging through one passage of each book of the Hebrew Bible every day during Lent - writing an exegesis and simple reflection. I don’t know if I’m going to manage it, I might end up finishing Lent in September, but I’m certainly going to give it a shot. (And announcing it here makes me psychologically more likely to feel bound to it.) Read more about My Lent challenge

HNTRTB: Invisible moral compass

This post is the second in a very sporadic series on “How Not To Read The Bible”, my take on the attitudes we have when we come to read the Bible and how they can get us into trouble. It has also sat in my drafts folder for over a year.

The Bible, for the most part, is a storybook. We might think it’s a book of timeless truths, or doctrines, or rules for holy living, but actually, most of it is stories: stories of wanderers and kings, stories of a man called Jesus, stories of struggling young churches. Stories which make up one big story: the story, ultimately, of God. But as part of the stories, the Bible does contain one or two rules. For some strange reason, though, we often end up reading the stories as if they’re rules.

You’ve seen it many times yourself, I’m sure. Whether it’s snide commentaries on “Biblical marriage”, or the preacher who tells you that “if you take a survey of the Bible, you’ll find that it’s in favour of corporal punishment for children”, (No, I really did hear that) people just can’t seem to see the difference between what the Bible says from what the Bible approves.

And with good reason, too… it’s actually very difficult to do so. Read more about HNTRTB: Invisible moral compass


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Tonight our church had one of its regular celebrations, a meal for friends and family, to bless the city and prove that there is such a thing as a free lunch - or a free dinner at least. And it was good to see one or two of our friends there: I and Z, recently put out onto the streets again; J, a local boy who’s made his way into a hostel and seems to be doing well, who brought with him another lad from the hostel, B, an erudite Glaswegian, who at the last Feast seemed more at home with the cathedral’s sculpture collection than with the other guests. (“Is that a Damien Hirst?” he asked. It was.)

But this isn’t just a story of “us” doing our bit of charity for “them.” It’s much more interesting than that. Read more about Magnificat

Sovereignty and responsibility

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The same thought hit me from three different sources this morning. I’ll introduce the thought by the most oblique route, a quote from the Guardian this morning:

The administration has shifted from solidly supporting Mubarak, to suggesting he should go now, only to back him at the weekend to remain in office until the autumn – a decision that secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, reversed hours later when she threw US support behind Suleiman.

The US government is desperate to be right in Egypt. It is so desperate to be right that it is demanding a wide range of different outcomes, depending on whatever looks most likely at the time. Then when something finally happens, it can say “that’s what we wanted!”

My point is not a political one. It’s a theological one: so often we can cast God into this role. Read more about Sovereignty and responsibility