college travels

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reviewing 'The Radical Reformission'

A student in my evangelism class (who likes to be cutting-edge and open to new ideas) lent me the “The Radical Reformission” by Mark Driscoll. So I thought it might be interesting and timely to review this book with the “Engage” conference coming up in August.

Driscoll critiques both those Christians that are disengaged and hostile to culture around them (the fundamentalists) and those on the other side that accommodate their culture so much that the truths of the gospel are watered down (liberals). He wants to straddle this divide, claiming we need a conservative theology but also a deep cultural involvement. The title of the book reflects the balance of “Reformed” theology but “mission” (missional) focus. For this reason he can be hard to categorise, on one website I read that he invited John Piper to speak at his church so the author concluded he must be OK! Another blogger described him as on the “conservative fringe of the emerging church”. From this unique perspective there were two things that stood out to me:

1. The challenge to understand and engage with the culture around us

Driscoll challenges us to understand the culture around us in order to communicate the gospel to our neighbours in an effective way. Like most emerging church writers he wants Christians to think of themselves as missionaries in their own countries, to the cultures around them. As a missionary, in order to understand the thoughts, values and experiences of the people who live around us:

… you will need to watch TV shows and movies, listen to music, read books, peruse magazines, attend events, join organisations, surf web-sites and befriend people that you might not like to better understand people that Jesus loves (Driscoll, 2004, p. 103).

He states that our non-Christian friends will “disciple us in culture as we evangelise them in Christ” (2004, p. 97). We need to involve ourselves in the lives of those around us who are different to us, trapped in destructive and sin-filled lives.

Driscoll challenges those Christians who may be tempted to become legalists - to establish rules and cultural norms that are not biblical – to instead evaluate and critique cultures, both Christian and non-Christian, through a biblical and theological grid. This is in order to enjoy and participate in the good and reject the evil.

I have found myself wondering about my own easy engagement with Australian culture. I loved watching the top rating show Underbelly but because it is full of sexual immorality and violence, I generally kept this to myself when I was around other Christians. I know that many other Christians would find the show deeply offensive and distasteful. Why was I OK with it? My fascination with the show I hope was not merely voyeurism but here was a fantastic story that was real life! I could see a window into the lives of these people and there seemed to be great insight into their lives and motivations. Am I able to watch and enjoy the show, critically evaluating the show, without myself being polluted? I think so.

Driscoll critiques the view “garbage in, garbage out”. Can we really get involved in the culture around us without sin infecting and polluting us? His answer is yes, just as Jesus did. The way to maintain godliness and purity is not distancing yourself from the non-Christian culture but critically evaluating as well as staying close to Jesus as his disciple. Our goal must be:

…………not to perpetuate a tradition or embrace an innovation. The goal of reformission is Jesus, to faithfully walk with him each step of our journey as we head toward the home he has prepared for us. Anything and everything less than life in him, ministry through him, glory to him, by grace from him as we
journey to him must be continually repented of as sin, regardless of our history
or degree of hip-ness” (2004, p. 53).

2. The challenge to be faithful to the biblical message

Driscoll helpfully lists areas where we may be tempted to accommodate to our culture in a way that undermines the bible message. He explains the basics of post-modernism in a simple way that is helpful. It is here that he also engages with the extremes of the emerging church movement to critique them. I found these helpful warning signs to evaluate our own theology and practice. Sometimes we try so hard to be culturally engaged and “with it” that we can water down important truths.

They include:
a) Taking out of the Christian message elements that are offensive such as the judgement of Jesus, sin and repentance.
b) Reducing the authority of the bible to that of a story that shapes us rather than a word outside of us that we must submit to.
c) Being influenced by the focus of post-modernism which is to deconstruct (ie. to tear down rather than to build.) Many in the emerging church for instance are defined more by what they are against rather than what they are for.
d) Egalitarianism: Reacting against hierarchy of any description, which includes the person of God, in families and in church leadership.

This is a warning to us isn’t it. In our own ministries are we anti-authority? Do we avoid talking about Jesus’ return and judgement? Are we much better at critically assessing the ministries around us rather than building our own and encouraging others? We can’t assume that just because we are Sydney Evangelicals that we are not influenced by the culture around us, the post-modern mindset. We need to be on our guard and always assessing our teaching and behaviour that we might be faithful to the message of the bible.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Reflecting on World Youth Day

Today is he last day of World Catholic Youth Day, it’s been interesting hasn’t it? WCYD has made me reflect on the differences between young Catholics and young Protestant believers.

There are definitely a lot of similarities ...

In materialistic Sydney where people seem obsessed with making money and living the good life, hasn’t it been great to see young people who believe there is more to life; that there is a creator God who has made the world and cares for it, a God to whom they will give an account of how they live their lives! They believe that Jesus was a real person in history who was also the son of God, that he died to deal with our sin problem, and that he gives us hope and salvation. Yay! – The message of the gospel and genuine faith has been the talking point in a secular, unbelieving world. They even sang some of the same songs that we do: I heard some pilgrims singing “Lord I lift your name on high” one night on the news (a wonderful cross-centred, Christ-focused song). They sang with real joy and enthusiasm, just like our own young people, they seemed to be full of the joy of the Spirit.

There were also many strange (to us) differences ...

As the cross and icons were marched into the city, the pilgrims showed real reverence for rituals and visual representations of the faith. This same reverence was shown for the bones of the dead saint that was brought to Sydney. The belief that God can distribute his grace through these means is very strange to Protestant ears. I only realised this week that the Catholic Church still taught a doctrine of purgatory. One of the motivations for the WCYD pilgrimage was to receive an indulgence from the Pope so that your time in purgatory can be shortened.

This week I have found myself giving thanks for the Protestant Church and the biblical doctrine of grace. There is no need for the extra grace of pilgrimages, blessings from the Pope, touching sacred objects etc. We have direct access to God through Christ alone.

Before the end of term at Youthworks College, Mark Benici spoke to us about his experience growing up in a Catholic home and needing to go through the rituals of mass, confession etc. He said it felt like he was on the outside trying to get in. What wonderful liberty and joy to know that through the blood of Jesus we can have “confidence to enter the most holy place” and that we can “draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” (Hebrews 10: 19-22).

Thanks be to God for this confidence and assurance!

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Sexual Expression: A Basic Human Right?

I've been in conversation recently with a colleague in youth ministry education in the UK - sharing notes on how we go about certain aspects of our training. Recently Sally asked me how we equip youth workers to help young people who are confused or exploring their sexuality.

Here are some of my thoughts ...

I think that part of the reason that struggles over sexuality are so difficult for young people (whether same-sex attraction or frustrated opposite-sex attraction) is that our world has made sexual expression into a basic human right. We want to help students realise for themselves as well as encourage those they're in ministry to, to realise that their identity is wrapped up in who they are in Christ - not who they have or haven't had sex with, who they're attracted to, or what they wear, what they've experienced etc.

We need to have that sort of general 'climate', one where all of us are being told that Christian freedom doesn't mean we always get to do what we want, but that the path to freedom to really be who Christ has redeemed us to be lies in saying no to the desires of the flesh and yes to the fruit of the spirit.

So we're not just focussing on gay sex as if this was the only moral issue God is concerned about! Instead, we're talking about God's holiness, and his promise of the sanctifying work of the Spirit in each of us that transforms us to be more like Jesus. Therefore, if someone is struggling with a same-sex attraction that Jesus is asking them to say no to, the 'answer' for them is the same as that for the young person who hates their parents or who shoplifts, or who buys too many shoes - that is, God loves you, Jesus died for you, the Holy Spirit is renewing you, do you trust God in all this?

The advantage of this is that for the young person who IS struggling with same sex attraction but who has not / will not share this struggle with you, you're still ministering to them as you teach and model identity in Christ. Of course the other thing that needs to be emphasised is that the searching stage of faith development might mean that a young person is trying on all sorts of personas as they try to find a 'self that fits' - and one of those might be the sexual explorer or the homosexual lifestyle (which may or may not include actual sexual activity).

Where the role of the youth minister is to communicate and model the grace of God in Christ, the challenge for the youth minister is to continue to love and care for these young people, while at the same time being clear on the challenge to our self-determination that comes from Jesus' offer of freedom.

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