Archive for the ‘Evangelism’ Category

From Azotus to Auckland: Renewal at the Bottom of the Earth?

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013 by Amos Yong

KiwiAs Philip found himself transported suddenly from the Gaza road to Azotus (Acts 8:40), so also I went to sleep on an airplane out of LAX & awoke in Auckland last weekend. I was here for the “Theology, Disability & the People of God” conference sponsored by Laidlaw and Carey Baptist Colleges, but also preached at Titirangi Baptist Church and then spent half a day meeting with pentecostal scholars, pastors, and leaders here in New Zealand’s largest city. My hosts, Andrew Picard and Myk Habets at Carey and Graeme and Linda Flett and Fiona Sherwin at Laidlaw (among many others), were wonderful blessings, all on top of an already incredibly rich conference. But what about global renewal close to the bottom of the world?

Two major trends emerged for me in discussing the state of renewal here in Kiwi-land. First, the charismatic movement which arrived in the late 1960s has permeated much of the church. It is fair to say that there has been a widespread pentecostalization and charismatization of the churches in the last forty plus years, so much so that there are as many bapticostals and baptismatics – for instance (my nomenclature) – as any other type of Christian. One might even talk about a “Hillsong-ization” of the churches, given the adoption of its music and worship genres in many churches on both islands. On the other hand, the palpable presence of megachurches like Hillsong, particularly through the telecommunicative and other exchange networks of globe-trotting apostles, evangelists, and other “superstar” pastors and preachers, has also brought about a homogenization of renewal in this part of the world. So on the one hand, there is a proliferation of renewal among the different churches, but on the other, there is a growing standardization of these streams according to a few megachurch templates.

Yet I also think there is a wild card that might provide a prophetic edge for Kiwi renewalists to lead global renewal from the bottom of the world, and that relates to if and how the hearts of Maori New Zealanders can be revitalized by the Holy Spirit. The Maori initially became Christians with the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 which gave the indigenous islanders rights as British subjects; however, over the next century, more than 90% of Maori abandoned their Christian faith in large part because of what they felt were breaches of the Treaty by the European settlers. The issues remain hotly contested, even today. However, the fact is that the Maori constitute up to 15% of the Kiwi population and may be in the best position of any indigenous or native groups around the world to not only make a substantive contribution to their own future, but also work toward the common good of their country.

Although I am neither a prophet nor the son of one (cf. Amos 7:14), I would not be surprised if it is but a matter of time before the Maori embrace some form of renewal Christian expression, in part because of the depth of their spirituality. When that happens, they will further transform the religious landscape of New Zealand and, perhaps more importantly, rejuvenate Kiwi Christianity so it can become a prophetic exemplar of a post-Western and post-secular way of Jesus as Messiah for the middle of the 21st century. If renewal continues to expand within and across the majority world, why might it not also be reinvigorated by Spirit-filled Maori at the bottom of the earth?

My friends at Laidlaw and Carey are alert to the possibilities and also working hard along many challenging fronts; but perhaps the Spirit of God has some surprises left even here in a thoroughly secular New Zealand – would it be unimaginable if such unfolded along some of the lines intuited above?

Christian Witness in a Pluralistic World: Renewing Christian Faith

Monday, July 1st, 2013 by Amos Yong

faithThere is no doubt that Christian faith is exclusively in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NRSV), and the apostles also declared, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jews might anticipate a messianic deliverer who will reunite the people of God with Yahweh, but they do not hold, as Christians do, that Jesus is that Messiah. Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet but both subordinate his message to that of Muhammad’s and do not understand his claim, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30), in a similar manner as Christians. In other words, Christians make unique and exclusive claims about Jesus as savior and revealer of the Father.

But Christians are not the only ones with unique and exclusive claims. In fact, all religious traditions, by virtue of the fact that they are what they are and not something else, have such claims. Some might even follow up on such claims with concomitant actions in ways that put Christians to shame. The apostle James agrees that, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:17). Read the rest of this entry »

Christian Witness in a Pluralistic World: Renewing Christian Faith

Monday, June 10th, 2013 by Amos Yong

witnessThere is no doubt that Christian faith is exclusively in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NRSV), and the apostles also declared, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jews might anticipate a messianic deliverer who will reunite the people of God with Yahweh, but they do not hold, as Christians do, that Jesus is that Messiah. Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet but both subordinate his message to that of Muhammad’s and do not understand his claim, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30), in a similar manner as Christians. In other words, Christians make unique and exclusive claims about Jesus as savior and revealer of the Father.

But Christians are not the only ones with unique and exclusive claims. In fact, all religious traditions, by virtue of the fact that they are what they are and not something else, have such claims. Some might even follow up on such claims with concomitant actions in ways that put Christians to shame. The apostle James agrees that, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:17).

Apologetically, then, I think actions speak louder than words. While on occasions thoughtful members of other faiths convert to Christ because of the rhetorical persuasiveness, intellectual coherence, and aesthetic attractiveness of the Christian message, these are exceptions that still, in time, ought to be followed by conversions of the heart. At this level, people come to Christ not because he is reducible to a set of ideas but because as the living “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb. 1:3a), Jesus and his followers touch hearts, heal bodies, and transform lives and communities. Christian mission in a pluralistic world is most effective when clear proclamation of the message of the gospel – of Jesus as savior, healer, sanctifier, and coming king – is preceded and supported by works of love, mercy, peace, and justice.

Trinitarian mission in this holistic sense cannot be merely exclusivistic. Sometimes communal transformation invites Christians to work alongside people of other or no faith in order to effect change. There is no need to compromise on what we believe and confess in these cases, but there may be many good reasons to collaborate with others in order to bring about common good. Sometimes, we may even need to choose not to engage in certain actions, otherwise appropriate and even normative, if that might distract from or stumble the “weak” – as St. Paul, for instance, suggested not eating meat offered to idols in some contexts which might be fine in other contexts – and thereby undermine the witness to Christ needed for the moment. There are many levels at which Christians can and should address the plight of the unfortunate (orphans, widows, the impoverished, and people with disabilities, among others), and some levels of engagement summon, if not require, interfaith cooperation. Christians bear witness to the living Christ on these occasions by serving those in need; in fact, it may well also be that all so engaged minister to Christ himself. Effective missional witness in a pluralistic world, hence, involves addressing human heads (the cognitive dimension) and human hearts and hands (the embodied and social domains).

Yet I also think that given the goodness, truth, and beauty that is refracted through other cultural and religious traditions, Christians should be motivated to dialogue with those in other faiths not only missionally but also for our ongoing self-understanding. By dialogue, however, I don’t mean only those formal occasions involving representative intellectuals but those circumstances when we can be hosts and guests of those in other faiths in order to get to know them, share our lives with them, and learn from them. The point of dialogue is that there is a mutuality of interaction, relationship, and transformation, just as when Peter met Cornelius (Acts 10). I mention being hosts and guests since sometimes, Christians are reluctant to embrace the latter role. It is simpler, and safer, to be hosts of those in other faiths since hosts establish the ground rules for the meeting. However, Jesus Christ himself is the paradigmatic guest himself in his incarnation even as the Holy Spirit desires to be the guest in every human heart. Christian missionaries have also been exemplary guests, as they are sent ones who enter into the spaces and times of others. Guests bring with them gifts – the gospel – but are also open to the hospitality of others, as Paul himself received such from the Maltese barbarians (Acts 28:1-10).

And what do others have to offer besides physical nourishment? Do Christians really have anything to learn from others that they do not already know? The Day of Pentecost narrative suggests that God’s salvation history involves the redemption of many languages in order that the world might say, “in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11). Languages we know are culturally embedded, as are religious traditions. Hence, the capacity of languages to declare the glory of God suggests that the highest aspirations of cultural and religious traditions may also be redeemed for divine purposes. This is not to say that each and every word of every language is sanctified in some absolute sense, nor is it to naively sanction all cultural and religious realities. It is to say that there is no reason why authentic dialogical and conversational interaction with people of other faith should not be catalytic for Christian self-transformation. Might not our interaction with religious others teach us humility, open us up to graces all humans hold in common, prompt question our own traditions (which are sometimes also encrusted in many ways by cultural accretions such that their original purposes have become obscured), and help us recognize that despite all we think we know, often in the face of reality we must be mute and wait for divine revelation to know how to “live, and move, and have our being”?

Christians should expect nothing less in faith. Not only do we now see through a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12), but we worship and serve a living Christ who cannot be reduced to any set of propositions. In fact, only in the eschatological future will he be fully manifest: “when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). This is not to say that the future revelation of Christ will contradict what is known about him now from scripture and especially the dogmatic tradition, rightly understood. It is to say that there might be unexpected convergences that the eschaton will bring to light.

Evangelicals like to say that theirs is not a religion but a relationship. They are also primed, when they go on mission trips, to testify about their own lives being changed by the experience. I see no reason why interacting with people of other faiths ought not also to transform their lives by deepening their understanding of and relationship with the living Christ. Especially when led by the Spirit of Christ, Christian witness in a pluralistic world will surely bring about conversions to Christ; but it might also bring about Christian transformation, indeed revitalization and renewal.

 

Unseen & Evil

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012 by Matthew Brake

The more I talk to friends who do not share my faith and who lean towards critical realism, empiricism, and logical positivism, the more I realize that there are two problems with my faith.

1. I can’t see God.

I can’t prove God exists. I can infer that God exists because of the grandeur of the universe, but an atheist looks at the vastness of the universe and sees a cold, harsh place that doesn’t seem to point to a personal God.

I can appeal perhaps to personal religious experiences which have been formative for me, but when I look at many of those experiences, while they were personally encouraging to me, they could be as open to interpretation as the ending ofPan’s Labyrinth. (Was she crazy or did she see something? Who knows).

I can appeal to the miracles that friends of mine claim to have performed/seen–but am I unspiritual to wonder if they’re exaggerating?

Even if they were, I can understand the incredulity of someone listening to a third person account of such an event.

The biblical writers seem to ponder the invisible nature of God (warnings against idolatry, Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians 4:18, Hebrews 11:1, etc.), but is that enough when you’re trying to have meaningful conversation about God with friends who only trust the scientific method (which evaluates the physical seen world)?

 2. The universe is harsh.

Evil, pain, and suffering exist in the world, and if you buy into theistic evolution and an old earth (disclaimer: I do), then you’re left with the problem that for 100,000 years before Abraham, people were dying at 25 of hunger, disease, and brutality.

 Does this point to a loving and benevolent God?

The Hebrews had a couple of different ways of processing evil in the world.

One way was proverbial wisdom (if you do right things, life goes well. If you do bad things, not so much).

Another way of dealing with evil was contemplative wisdom.

Contemplative wisdom acknowledges life as it actually is.

It readily admits that sometimes, no matter how many right things you do, good people still suffer.

Ecclesiastes pretty much says, “None of this makes sense. Obey God anyway.”

Job concludes, “Good people suffer. If God’s real, then shut your mouth.”

This can help one to see that the Bible (thankfully) offers no pat answers to the problem of evil, but it can leave a person dissatisfied.

 Now What?

Read the rest of this entry »

The Cross

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 by Diane Chandler

On January 3, 2007, a 50-year old construction worker from Harlem was waiting to catch the NYC subway.  As Wesley Autry waited on the subway platform with his two daughters, ages four and six, he noticed a young man beginning to go into convulsions from an apparent seizure.  Along with two other women, Autry attended to him.  After the 20-year old film student, Cameron Hollopeter, stood up, he wobbled dangerously close to the platform drop-off and then tumbled onto the subway tracks below.

Wesley Autrey

With the subway fast approaching, Autry left his two daughters on the platform and jumped onto the tracks, hoping to pull Hollopeter to safety. With the subway mere seconds away, Autry threw his body over Hollopeter’s frame, as it nested in the 12-inch depression between the tracks, in order to shield him from moving until the subway passed.

Although the subway conductor tried to stop the subway, he could not do so prior to passing over the two-tiered bodies.  In fact, five subway cars passed over them. Through bystanders’ frantic screams and screeching brakes, the subway finally came to a halt. Amazingly, both Autry and Hollopeter emerged from the tracks unscathed. The distance between the top of Autry’s cap and the subway above was less than the length of a subway ticket.

Calvary's Cross

Why would a complete stranger do something for someone else at such great risk to his own life?  Answer:  In that split second decision, Autry valued this young man’s life above his own.  As we think about Calvary’s cross, why would God send His only Son to die for us?  The Bible tells us that, “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).  Paul wrote to the Roman church: “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Paul declared to the Galatian church: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law”  (Galatians 3:13). The reason God sent His Son to die for us is that in eternity past, God knew that all humanity would need to be restored into right relationship with God through forgiveness of their sins.  Jesus came to take upon Himself the sins of the entire world.  The One who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). Although many were involved in Christ’s death (i.e., the betrayer Judas Iscariot, complicit Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers, and Pilate), the Scriptures makes clear that Jesus voluntarily gave Himself to fulfill the Father’s will “so that by the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19b).

In his book The Cross of Christ, John Stott puts it simply (pp. 63-66). First, Christ died for us as the Good Shepherd laying down His life for the sheep. Second, Christ died for us that He might bring us to God through salvation, as we believe in Him. Third, Christ died for our sins (1 Cor 15:3), taking upon Himself the punishment for our sins.  And fourth, Christ died our death.  The Bible makes clear that the penalty of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The sinless Son of God died the death that we deserved.

Like Cameron Hollopeter, I was laying helpless on the subway tracks with the subway fast approaching.  Jesus sacrificially jumped on the tracks of my life (leaving the 99 sheep to reach the one, who had gone astray), just as Autry left his two daughters on the subway platform to save Hollopeter.  Jesus shielded me from certain death. 

In preparing for Easter during this Lenten season, how do you respond when you think about Christ’s forgiveness of sin and His sacrifice on the cross for you personally?

Reflections on Christian T-Shirts & Bumper Stickers

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 by Marc Santom

While I was driving up to Michigan from Ohio a few weeks ago, I noticed a giant billboard that read, “Jesus is Real.” Now, as a Christ-follower, I already know that Jesus is real, but seeing it written against a 40- foot high silver backdrop, it actually made Jesus seem less real to me in that moment.  I thought, “If the immeasurably transcendent and all powerful God of the universe is real, then why would He need some tacky billboard to declare what He could not declare, Himself?” That well-intentioned billboard somehow managed to make the reality of Jesus quite artificial.

In that same vein, I’ve been noticing what is actually written on Christian t-shirts donned by fellow followers of Jesus. Here are a few I saw just this past week: “Get Right or Get Left” and “This Blood’s for You” and “Jesus: Tougher Than Nails.”

While I was at it, I observed a few bumper stickers out on the road: “Jesus Is The Answer” and “Know Jesus, Know Peace. No Jesus, No Peace” and, one of my favorites: “Jesus Loves the Hell Out of You.”

We evangelicals really don’t get that there is a lot of truth to the saying that ”the medium is the message.” God knows this; that’s why He orchestrated the Incarnation of Jesus instead of merely sending us a book that informed us about grace, love and salvation. Instead of dropping tablets from the sky declaring the truth of redemption and information about promise of the Spirit and the coming Kingdom, He sent His Son in flesh and blood—the fragile child clothed in humanity who was also the full manifestation of the Father, not to mention the personification of grace, love and redemption. Jesus didn’t just bring the message of God. He was the message of God.

So what does this have to do with Christian t-shirts and bumpers stickers?

Read the rest of this entry »