Thursday, March 24, 2011

operation world

I've been getting acquainted with the seventh edition of this "definitive prayer guide to every nation" which is now available as a book and a DVD. What a labour of love this is. And what a contribution to the task of global mission. It should be hanging out in the living rooms, burdening the coffee tables, and pitching its tent beside the TV of every mission-minded family!

976 pages - with the nations covered, one by one, from Afghanistan on p89 until Zimbabwe on p896. But it is on the other pages which I want to focus my comments: the opening 87 pages and the closing 78 pages.

[By the way here is a site on YouTube where you can get individualised prayers for the nations. Operation World - again. 2-3 minutes each. Ideal for church services. Spoken by people from the country. Start with the one on Pakistan].

Here are thirteen pages which made me WOW:

904: a list of the world's fifty largest cities
[10 from North Atlantic; 10 from South Asia; 10 from China/Japan ... with my old home 'town' of Delhi standing at #2 which surprised me].

976: a list of guidelines on how to pray for world leaders including a website that maintains an accurate listing of those leaders, while also chronicling any changes taking place on a daily basis. Remarkable!

xxiiif: a succinct description of what prayer actually is.

908f: the coolest maps where little blue dots signify where the followers of the world religions live - Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Non-religious, and Christianity. So striking to see both the uniquely global reach of Christianity, but also the overpowering needs of South and East Asia.

967f: a list of (mostly) web-based data bases for finding statistics on things like religion, economics, languages, peoples, denominations etc.

919: a list of the countries with the highest number of unreached peoples.
[... #3 - Pakistan; #4 - Bangladesh; #5 - Nepal ... #36 - Niger; #37 - United Kingdom; #38 - Senegal ...]

301: a list of thirteen quotes on prayer.

27: a few paragraphs on the various Great Commission passages in the New Testament. Made me want to preach a fresh sermon series.

902: a list of countries by population - but choosing to include individual states of India and provinces of China within the list as well. Fascinating!
[so ... Uttar Pradesh is in between Indonesia (#4) and Brazil (#5) ... Maharastra is in between Japan (#10) and Mexico (#11) ... Jiangsu is in between Germany (#16) and Turkey (#17) ... Karnataka is in between United Kingdom (#22) and Italy (#23)]

521: a list of thirteen quotes on mission.

914: a list of the countries with the highest percentage of evangelicals (NB - this word is carefully defined on 958-959).
[#1 - Kenya; #2 - Vanuatu ...]

951f: a list of websites for the thirteen crucial mission-related periodicals and journals.

4-23: a synopsis of the world today complete with 'answers to prayer', 'global hot spots', and 'global trends to watch' ... and then the same categories are opened up for each and every continent as well. Amazing!

However, I must confess that I am not convinced by everything. Particularly puzzling is the understanding of 'pentecostals' and 'charismatics' in relation to 'evangelicals'. They suggest that "All Pentecostals are, by definition, both charismatic and evangelical and therefore a subset of both ... Pentecostals are both evangelical and charismatic by definition (xxxi)". That is news to me. I have never understood those words in that sense. It is not a small issue in the book because the statistics keep coming back to these words. And so when I turn to New Zealand and discover "18.2% Evangelicals", I am dumbfounded. I know of no survey - until this book - that puts the figure anywhere near that high. Then it makes me wonder how many details in other countries leave their people dumb-founded!

Nevertheless, despite my dumb-founded-ness - this is a fantastic book. Please buy one - or the DVD - and make a habit of using it.

nice chatting


Saturday, March 19, 2011

holmes at hagley park

Paul Holmes has grown on me over the years.

I much prefer him in his current role as a weekly correspondent in the NZ Herald over the role from which he gained his fame and fortune - fronting a nightly current events TV show for decades (it seemed).

His columns are powerful. Often laced with compassion and always laden with insight. He has always had an instinct for the views of the common Kiwi - reflecting those views even as he speaks into them, shaping and strengthening them. When it comes to kiwi cultural exegesis, tracking Holmes has always been a favourite past-time. Plus he writes so well, so it is not difficult.

This is why today's column troubles me.

He is writing about yesterday's open-air Memorial Service in Christchurch in the aftermath of the earthquake. I wasn't able to watch it all - but with what I did see, I was surprised by the amount of 'Christian' content in the service.
[Plus it was a thrill to see two former students involved - and then I did my usual moan about how the prominence of How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace - both of which were sung - in NZ public life never seems to extend to singing their respective final verses. I would have thought the hope of Christ's second coming might be rather relevant - but that is one step too far, I suspect].

I digress.

What comes through in Holmes' piece is his disdain for the religious element, specifically this Christian element, in the service. Here are the extracts:

"The speeches, if one were being a bit picky, could all have been a bit briefer, particularly the religious ones."

"There was plenty of religion, it has to be said. And what the bloke was saying at the start about the tree of life was beyond most of us."

"The various religions each made a contribution, Muslims, Jews, Hindu, Buddhist and Baha'i. They too were brief. It was the Christians who banged on a bit."

Gee - he is taking a big risk writing like that after an event like that. But I think he knows what he is doing. He usually does. I suspect there are many New Zealanders muttering the same things under their breath. The headline might just as easily have read - "Never mind the heat and the Christians, this was truly a special day".

This is a tough cultural context for the church and for Christians - tougher than places like Australia, the US and the UK. As I travel I am convinced of this. This is why one of the deepest and most enduring motivations in my life has been to encourage our pastors. I admire them so much - particularly those shaping authentic biblical ministries.

The way forward is to allow the gospel to transform us so much that it causes us to live distinctive lives laden with good deeds at the heart of our local communities ... and then let this intrigue people, with the Spirit well able to take it where he wants from there. While there is a very real sadness that Paul Holmes does not see this happening in this nation, it should not surprise us either. The New Testament helps us see that a blindedness is to be expected.

In the meantime I'll keep doing what I've been doing for years - praying for his salvation.

nice chatting


Sunday, March 13, 2011

the new faces of christianity

A Jenkins-Junkie, that is what I am...

[NB - This one took a bit longer because I left my first copy (almost finished) in the seat pocket when disembarking on a plane in Singapore last year. UGH!?]

The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (Oxford University Press, 2006). This is a book which lives at the interface between biblical interpretation and global Christianity and should be required reading for those interested in either topic - with chapter 8 heading for the reader/anthology in a formal course on both subjects. He opens this final chapter with these words:

"The impact of the Bible in the global South must raise questions for European and American Christians, questions that are at once exhilarating and disturbing ... We can reasonably ask whether the emerging Christian traditions of the Two-Thirds World have recaptured themes and trends in Christianity that the older churches have forgotten(178)."

Exhilarating. Disturbing.
That about sums it up.

Jenkins makes his way through a series of polarities - Old (Testament) and New (Testament), Poor and Rich, Good and Evil, Persecution and Vindication, Women and Men, North and South - and demonstrates the different ways in which people in the global South read the Bible on these subjects. A quick scan of the index reveals that he touches down in 52(!) different books of the Bible as he zooms around Africa and Asia, in particular. The letter of James (and Psalm 91 - "in Christian Africa and Asia, this psalm is everywhere (108)") receives attention enough in the book to warrant including the full text of both in an Appendix.

Three sections grabbed my attention.

(a) One is in the discussion on 'good and evil' where Jenkins tackles the common perception that people in the global South are a bit wacky with their attitudes to healing, spiritual warfare, and the supernatural. "Viewed more closely, global South versions of Christianity and Bible interpretation are much less archaic than they might appear, while global North assertions of rationality are more fragile (122)." In a section entitled 'The Triumph of Reason', where Jenkins engages the wacky stuff that happened in the wake of 9/11 and things like "witchcraft panic" in the USA, the conclusion is clear: "Western society possesses an ineradicable substratum of irrationality and ritualistic behavior (127)." Western countries need to be far slower to point the finger...

(b) Another is entitled 'The Great Disappointment' and explores the failure of liberation theology in the global South. "As Marxism crumbled globally - and the apartheid crisis was resolved in southern Africa - the more utopian forms of liberation theology seemed increasingly obselete (140)" ... "states fail; churches flourish (142)."

(c) A final one touches down in Islam [Be warned - WOW coming up!]: "...the lived Christianity of Africa and Asia shares many assumptions with Islam, and in some matters, can be closer to Islam than to the Christianity of the advanced West ... (even the fasting season of Ramadan derives from the strict Lenten discipline of the Syrian churches) ... So many of the apparent differences between the two faiths arise from making a false comparison between the privatised Christianity of a largely prosperous post-Enlightenment West, and the collective and tradition-minded Islam of overwhelmingly poor nations in Africa and Asia ... If we compare rich Christians with poor Muslims, of course they seem to inhabit different universes, and the differences are still more acute if we compare older Western Christians with young Afro-Asian Muslims. As Euro-American Christians struggle to understand the Islam that represents such a vital political force, they could do worse than to try first to appreciate global South Christianity, with which so many share a common history and language (182)."

Maybe a few further seminal quotations will suffice?!

(quoting John Updike) "I don't think God plays well in Sweden ... God sticks pretty close to the equator (10)."

"A translated Bible defies conventional images of missionary imperialism. Once the Bible is in a vernacular, it becomes the property of the people. It becomes a Yoruba Bible, a Chinese Bible, a Zulu Bible; and the people in question have as much claim to it as does the nation that first brought it. It is no longer English or French (24)."

On Old and New: "Global South Christians retain much greater veneration for the Old Testament as a living source of authority than do Euro-American churches (53) ... James may be the single book that best encapsulates the issues facing global South churches today (60)."

On Poor and Rich: "Perhaps only hungry eyes can appreciate just how thoroughly images of food snd feasting, eating and starving, pervade both Testaments (78) ... For a Northern world that enjoys health and wealth to a degree scarcely imagined by any previous society, it is perilously easy to despise believers who associate divine favour with full stomachs or access to the most meager forms of schooling or health care; who seek miracles in order to flourish, or even survive. The Prosperity Gospel is an inevitable by-product of a church containing so many of the very poorest (97)."

On Persecution and Vindication: "For a global North Christian, the word "martyrdom" implies a cinematic lion (as with the gladiators); for an African, it suggests a jet fighter in the service of a strictly contemporary regime (130-131)."

On Women and Men: "Widowhood ranks among the most pressing women's rights concerns in many parts of Africa and Asia ... Respect for widows is a survival issue, and scripture passages that North American eyes flit over become burningly relevant (174)." [NB - it is amazing how often literalist Bible readers in the global North select the women-keep-silent passage in 1 Timothy 2, but sidestep the widow passage in 1 Timothy 5!].

On North and South: "we see things not as they are but as we are (179)." "God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away hungry(186 - go the Magnificat!)."

Two earlier reviews of Jenkins' books can be found here and here.

nice chatting


Thursday, March 03, 2011

the mission of god's people

There is a lot to like about this new book from Chris Wright: The Mission of God's People (Zondervan, 2010).

The writing style and the format of the book makes it so accessible to home groups, for example. The 'sermonic atmosphere' hovering around the chapters is suggestive to preachers looking for ideas. It is the start of a new, and overdue, series on 'biblical theology for life'. It makes accessible many of the themes introduced in the author's earlier and larger magnum opus, The Mission of God ... and it answers the practical question "What are we here for?"

The answer comes by affirming that "mission has to do with the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world - and that means using the whole Bible (266)." And so, as the subtitle expresses it, this is a "biblical theology of the church's mission" - with care taken to avoid the two dangers of "theology proceeding without missional input or output (and) mission proceeding without theological guidance or evaluation (19)."

To give you a taste of the book, here is a countdown of the five chapters which impacted me the most...

Chapter 2: People Who Know the Story They Are Part Of
Here we find Chris' summary of the biblical story in four parts as creation, fall, 'redemption in history', new creation (with a useful diagram on p40). That phrase 'redemption in history' has advanced my understanding in that he resists identifying redemption with the arrival of Jesus, arguing that it goes back at least as far as the call of Abraham. There is an insightful page on Luke 24 (p38) - and a terrific extended quotation from Philip Greenslade on the need to 'indwell' this story as "we stop trying to make the Bible relevant to our lives and instead begin to find ourselves being made relevant to the Bible. We give up the clumsy attempt to wrench the ancient text into our contemporary world and instead bring our world back into collision with, and cleansing by, the strange new world of the Bible (Philip Greenslade, quoted on p45)."

Chapter 6: People Who Are Redeemed for Redemptive Living
Here Chris engages the Exodus event with a simple thesis: 'exodus-shaped redemption demands exodus-shaped mission'. The redemption is holistic - political, economic, social, spiritual - and so must be the mission as well. He slides across to the cross of Christ as "the fulfillment of the exodus, including within its total redemptive accomplishment final liberation from all that enslaves and oppresses humanity and creation (p111)." Quoting from the earlier book, "we need a holistic gospel because the world is in a holistic mess (quoted on p110).

Chapter 11: People Who Proclaim the Gospel of Christ
The preacher in me is drawn into this chapter by the sheer simplicity of what he discovers in Isaiah 52.7-10: God Reigns, God Returns, God Redeems ... and the "gospel is on its way (186)." First he demonstrates how 'Jesus was and is God reigning' and then how 'Jesus was and is God returning' and how 'Jesus was and is God redeeming' ... before touching down in Paul and asking "how then did Paul think and speak of the gospel? (190)." And from a study of every use of the word 'gospel' by Paul, Chris comes up with six features of Paul's gospel and explains them. He then concludes by arguing that Paul's gospel is historical and ecclesial, faith and obedience, heard and seen, personal and cosmic... In the way it spans the scriptures, there is something so satisfying (that seems to be the best word!) about this chapter.

Chapter 13: People Who Live and Work in the Public Square
How refreshing is this? More to the point, how affirming is this? "For God, the corruption of the public square is not a reason to vaporise it, but to purge it and redeem it (p227)." He embraces Is 65.17-25 and its vision of the hope which we have when "the whole of life - personal life, family life, public life, animal life - will be redeemed and restored to God-glorifying productiveness and human-fulfilling enjoyment (p227)." I loved the pages on three of my favourites - Joseph, Daniel, Esther - and then the chapter closes with a nice touch: "A personal message to Christians in the public square (pp241-243)" by someone who "feels that he speaks as a coward, for my own working life is not spent in the secular marketplace (p242)." Those called to the public square will cherish these two pages ... and Chris returns to this theme later in the book: "People don't go to church on Sundays to support their pastors in their ministry. The pastor goes to church on Sunday to support the people in their ministry (p272)."

Chapter 8: People Who Attract Others to God
My spirit soared as I made my way through this chapter. And yes, I realise that this is largely because I am in such deep agreement with what is written. It is a theme I have been banging on about in this NZ context for years - being 'distinctive with distinction' is the way I like to express it ... but having someone of Chris Wright's stature draw the themes from scriptures (from five different places!) with such a chatty and practical eloquence is just thrilling. Churches and leaders are pigging-out on the need to be incarnational, at the expense of being attractional. It is a big mistake. We mix in, but if we lose our difference as we do so, where does this leave us? Salt - but also Light, I think someone once said. Or, as Chris puts it repeatedly in this book, "there is no biblical mission without biblical ethics (p94)." The downgrading of the struggle to be holy (when did you last hear a sermon on it?) is just one expression of this concern. "God's people are to live in such a way that they become attractors - not to themselves, but to the God they worship (p129)." Or, as Chris wryly observes, "We often sing, "Shine, Jesus, Shine". I sometimes hear a voice from heaven muttering, "Shine yourself, why don't you?" (p143).

Well, there are five of the chapters! There are eight others carrying the freight in this book, before a final chapter on "The Journey So Far and the Journey Ahead". In articulating five "scandals" in the church on p283, Chris gives us an agenda on where to start being distinctive with distinction. It will not be easy.

[NB (1): Chris Wright is visiting New Zealand from Sunday October 23 - Sunday October 30. He will be in Auckland, Waikanae, Wellington and Christchurch (DV!), primarily to participate in the kiwi-made preaching forums - but also to speak and preach in different settings. Contact the Langham office for further details ( +64 6 376 5190)
NB (2): If you are in New Zealand, the Langham office has copies of this book available - with further details here on the offer being extended to you.]

nice chatting