Mission

Journal of Reformed Theology is out

The latest issue of Journal of Reformed Theology (Volume 2, Number 2, 2008) is out and includes the following articles:

Cornelius van der Kooi, The Appeal to the Inner Testimony of the Spirit, especially in H. Bavinck

Abstract: “The Reformation took-deliberately and freely-its position in the religious subject.” In this article, the argument is made that Bavinck has not formulated a strong position with this statement; but rather, a dubious starting point for Reformed theology. The question is whether this thesis, with its focus on the subject, can still be maintained in this manner within the current ecumenical situation, or whether it is imperative that it be adjusted.

Jason A. Goroncy, ‘That God May Have Mercy Upon All’: A Review-Essay of Matthias Gockel’s Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election

Abstract: The doctrine of election lies at the heart of Reformed theology. This essay offers a review of Matthias Gockel’s recent comparison between two of Reformed theology’s greatest voices: that of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Karl Barth. Gockel outlines Schleiermacher’s contribution to the doctrine before turning to consider its modifications in Barth’s work. The advance of these two thinkers on this issue has significant implications for the ongoing questions of universal election and universal salvation. Consequently, the possibility of an apokatastasis panton arises naturally from their theology. This possibility is briefly explored.

Oliver D. Crisp, The Election of Jesus Christ

Abstract: In modern theology the election of Christ is often associated with the work of Karl Barth. In this paper, I offer an alternative account of Christ’s election in dialogue with the Post-Reformation Reformed tradition. It turns out that, contrary to popular belief, there is no single ‘Reformed’ doctrine of election; a range of views has been tolerated in the tradition. I set out one particular construal of the election of Christ that stays within the confessional parameters of Reformed theology, while arguing, contrary to some Reformed divines, that Christ is the cause and foundation of election.

Ad Prosman, A Dutch Response to Nihilism: an Evaluation of K.H. Miskotte’s Interaction with Nietzsche

Abstract: This article discusses the way in which the Dutch theologian K.H. Miskotte interpreted the nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche. It will be pointed out that religion is the central notion of Miskotte’s approach of Nietzsche. Discussing this theme, it will be necessary to pay attention to the concept of Nietzsche’s nihilism. From there we receive a clearer insight in the interaction between Miskotte and Nietzsche. It is expected that examining nihilism and the interaction with nihilism will be helpful to contextualize theology. The method of Miskotte is attractive because he does not evaluate nihilism in a philosophical manner, but he counters it by the Thora. Belief stands against belief. Nevertheless we can ask whether Miskotte’s concept of religion is adequate enough to tackle the problems we have to deal with in our nihilistic culture. Is Miskotte right when he connects nihilism and religion, and what kind of religion is he connecting with nihilism?

Mechteld Jansen, Indonesian and Moluccan Immigrant Churches in the Netherlands: Missionary History and Challenge

Abstract: As a result of immigration of many Christians from all parts of the world to the Netherlands, about 1,000 ‘immigrant churches’ have been established in the country during the last decades. This paper focuses on two churches in the Netherlands that mainly consist of members of Asian descent: the Gereja Kristen Indonesia Nederlands (GKIN) and the Geredja Indjili Maluku (GIM). Both are Protestant churches that have a history within the Netherlands for many years. Since these churches are not very well-known in the worldwide family of Reformed churches, I will describe their historical and cultural backgrounds quite extensively. This also includes the Dutch missionary involvement with the former Dutch colony of Indonesia. Subsequently, I will turn to their actual situation, and my main question will be how they view and carry out their missionary vocation in Dutch society. In the final section, it will be maintained that these churches do not simply mirror the missionary approach of the Dutch in Indonesia, but they consider themselves partners with other churches in a revised mission in which their own features can be a blessing for the whole Dutch society.

Knud Jørgensen, Talal Asad and Noam Chomsky

Knud Jørgensen, director of the Areopagos Foundation in Norway/Denmark, assistant professor at the Norwegian School of Theology, and member of the Lausanne Theology Working Group has posted an essay ‘Escaping from the Prison of a Westernized Gospel’.

And Michael has posted an interesting reflection from Talal Asad on why we in the West find suicide bombing horrific.

Also, Chomsky fans will be keen to know that three new Chomsky articles and two new interviews have recently been posted:

You were in this place … but we never knew

About 15 years ago now, I was introduced to a wonderful book by Vincent J. Donovan entitled Christianity Rediscovered. I have posted on this book before, and have never really gotten over reading it. I can’t remember how many copies I’ve given away. I only mention it here because I was reminded of it twice again today.

First, after following some of the (mostly) ignorant commentary on Rowan Williams’ recent lecture on Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective. (As well as the copious newspaper and blog articles, there’s also this frustrating discussion on BBC Wales with Kim Fabricius and Peter Hitchens). For a clarification of what Rowan did and did not propose see this post on What did the Archbishop actually say?

Second, I had reason today to revisit a paper given at a Faith & Unity Commission Meeting in 2003. As the report from that commission states, ‘the paper represents the thoughts and discussions of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission. It comes out of a couple of workshops held at their Commission meetings in late 2002 and early 2003’. The result is a powerful restatement of the grace of God at work in the world and in particular human communities, the God who is determined to make himself known because he does not want to be God without us. Here is a rich testimony, akin to that which Donovan was offered by the Masai elders. The paper reads:

We are what we are – Spirit People

We Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples believe that the Creator has always been with our people since the beginning of time. Our connection to this land Australia and the stories from long ago emphasise this and reveals to us our ongoing relationship to the Creator. We know that the Spirit is always close to us and within us. The Spirits of our ancestors are always around us looking out for us and showing us the path we should travel. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.

We have been given a gift to offer the rest of humanity; the importance of relationships. The Creator still has a strong relationship with us and helps us build stronger relationships with one another. These relationships also cover everything around us, for it is through the land, water and air that we are continually reminded of this. It is not just the symbol of the rainbow that reminds us about the covenant between the Creator and humanity. There are signs all around us that continually reminds us of the Covenant.

Our peoples are generous, caring and compassionate towards each other and other Australians. We have survived many negative things yet we still reach out our hand in reconciliation. This is the message of long ago from our roots and also the message through the Christian Bible. It has been the message passed down from generation to generation from parent to children since time began.

The Spirit lives on through us and we must continually foster this relationship through acts that remind us of this great truth. These acts are ceremonies, which help us to draw closer to our creator who has left the Spirit with us. Through them we retell and relive the great stories of our past.

Since the coming of the Western Culture, there has been a breakdown in our relationship with the Creator. Our ways have been under threat and this has led us to move away from our roots and into a foreign way of thinking. This has caused hardships within our communities as we struggle to find our way. Sometimes we have failed to recognise the Spirit present with us. We looked to the new culture to show us the way forward and it has led to more confusion and loss of direction. This culture has failed our people. It has shown it cannot satisfy our deepest yearnings.

This culture wanted us to look for the Creator through their eyes. They have failed to see that the Creator exists within our culture. While Abraham was wandering in the desert our peoples had been for many generations living in close relationship with our Creator. We have an Old Testament, which we can now accept as part of our salvation history.

How short sighted Western Culture was to think they had the monopoly on the Creator and how blinded were we to believe this was true. It is up to us to reclaim our beliefs. Our Creator yearns for us to come back. Our relationship has been tested and made stronger because of the many mistakes along the journey because we have learnt so much from the experience. We now know about Christ. This story from the Western Culture has touched and had an impact on our lives.

We did not have Jesus amongst us as the Apostles did but he left us the Spirit of the Creator with us. We know this Spirit to be the same Spirit who is with us now because of what it has done and continues to do. This Spirit of relationships reminds us about our responsibilities to one another and creation and that we all come from the same source of life. This Spirit is also the Spirit of the Rainbow Serpent, the Brolga, the Emu, the Stars, the Fish, the Plants, the mountains and much more. We must hold on to and strengthen our Spiritual heritage.

As a Minority we stand as the strength of this Land. We affirm our belief in the Creator Spirit who created us. It is in our connection to this deep sense of belonging that our Identity lives. Our Culture can never be broken. We embrace our past. We are alive in the present and have hope in the future. The Creator Spirit calls us into a search for a deeper relationship with himself and each other. The Creator Spirit calls us to renewal.

Back in 1996, Wadjularbinna Doomadgee, a Gungalidda Leader on the Gulf of Carpentaria too bore witness to what Donovan had also ‘discovered’:

So the sad thing about it all was the missionaries didn’t realise that we already had something that tied in with what they’d brought to us. They saw different as inferior, and they didn’t ask us what it was that we had. And it’s very sad because if they had asked … things may have been different today.

Our people, before the white man came were very spiritual people. They were connected to land and creation through the great spirit, there was a good great and a great evil spirit … And Satan was the great evil one. So there wasn’t much difference in what the missionaries brought and what we already had …

One of the songs we used to sing regularly at our weekly college chapel services, and which bears witness to this reality, is Robin Mann’s You were in this place. I offer it here as a prayer:

1. At the dawn of the ages
You pulled land from the sea
With your Word You invented
All we know, all we see
Creek and desert and forest,
Red and grey Kangaroo
You were in this place
But we never knew.

2. Do we take after Jacob –
Blind to what lies at hand,
Needing dreams to inform us
God is here in this land?
See him suffering and dying,
Bread and wine tell the news
You were in this place
But we never knew.

3. Paintings seen on the rock face
Footprints left in the sand.
Campfire next to the river,
Songs that rise from the land
Signs that seem so elusive,
Shadows just out of view.
You were in this place
But we never knew.

4. Jesus, open our senses
Help us to see you today
In the person beside us,
As we work, as we play.
While we love you and serve you
May it never be true:
You were in this place
But we never knew.

‘Ecumenical and Eclectic’: A Review

Anna M. Robbins (ed.), Ecumenical and Eclectic: The Unity of the Church in the Contemporary World: Essays in Honour of Alan P. F. Sell (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007). xiv + 313 pages. ISBN: 978 1 84227 432 3. Review copy courtesy of Paternoster/Authentic Books.

Anna M. Robbins is a lecturer in Theology and Contemporary Culture at the London School of Theology. She completed her doctoral work under the supervision of Professor Alan Sell, and has continued to benefit from his work and friendship. Thus it is entirely appropriate that she gather together this volume of fifteen essays dedicated to honouring the ministry of Professor Sell. And it is entirely appropriate that this volume be published in this series of Studies in Christian History and Thought, a series to which Sell has been a contributor and of which he is one of the editors. My appreciation for both Professor Sell’s work and for the series in which this particular book belongs has already been noted here and here.

The diversity of essays – their themes and countries of origin – is itself a significant reminder of the testimony to the influence and interests that Alan Sell has so faithfully dedicated his energies towards: Reformed theology, ecumenism, philosophy, nonconformity, church history, mission, ethics and apologetics among them. As the introduction to this volume notes, ‘Throughout [Sell’s] work, he has sought to expose unsatisfactory divisions amongst the people of Christ, to pose necessary challenges to those who hold sectarian attitudes, and offer constructive proposals for ongoing dialogue and other expressions of unity’ (p. 1).

The essays in this volume are organised in three movements. The first, ‘Ecumenical & Eclectic: Roots’, includes essays by Donald McKim, D. O. Thomas, Martin Fitzpatrick and Andrew MacRae. McKim begins his essay as many of the contributors do, by acknowledging his appreciation for Sell’s work and friendship. He writes of Sell, ‘There is no one I respect more as a theologian and whose work I appreciate more as a Reformed theologian’ (p. 7). High praise indeed. The essay proceeds to consider how some Reformed foundations serve the unity of the Church. Specifically, that the unity of the Church is Christ and is from God, that it is a unity of faith, that it is unity that acknowledges diversity, and that it is a unity that is both given and sought as divine gift. Unsurprisingly, and appropriately, McKim draws heavily from Calvin. Thomas’ essay examines the nature of the distinction between abstract and practical virtue in the thinking of Richard Price, again with an eye on the question of Church unity in the context of dissent and divine authority. Fitzpatrick too proffers a number of philosophical reflections on unity and dissent. Surveying the thought of the unitarian Joseph Priestley, and the eighteenth-century Rational Dissenters, Fitzpatrick argues how dissent may actually contribute to the unity of the Church. The final piece in this section is entitles ‘The Power of Christian Unity’. Here, Andrew MacRae, with an eye on both Scripture and more recent ecumenical developments, proposes a theological exposition on the power of Christian unity. His argument is that there can be multiple brands of ecumenical movements, all of which may contribute to the unity of the Church without being intrinsically divisive.

The second section is entitled ‘Ecumenical and Eclectic: Reflections’. With this group of six essays the focus shifts more to analyses historical, biblical and sociological. Clyde Binfield opens the section with one of the densest and heavily-researched pieces of writing on church history that I’ve ever read in a collection of this sort. He examines the sermons of William Page Roberts in order to demonstrate the relationship between change and continuity in the life of the Church. I thoroughly enjoyed this essay, but be warned, it really is one that you need to read when you are completely awake. David Peel invites us to reflect both appreciatively and critically on the legacy of Lesslie Newbigin, and David Cornick considers some of the ecumenical reflections of Olive Wyon. As one who has always wondered who this woman who translated Emil Brunner’s Dogmatics was, I was especially excited to be introduced to her through this essay. Indeed, Brunner once confessed that his theology was better in her English than his German. Cornick writes:

[Wyon] travelled the world, but Geneva made a great impression on her. She was particularly influenced by her contact with the Community of Grandchamp, founded by a group of Reformed women in 1931 as a centre for prayer, silence and meditation, but which developed into a Women’s Religious Order that worshipped according to the Taizé Office. That experience convinced her of the value of Christian community where ‘… men and women find each other in Christ and begin to pray and work as never before for the extension of the spirit of unity.’ She valued her Reformed roots deeply, but they rooted her in Scripture and therefore in the experience of all Christians, and she drank deeply and with delight from other wells. It is that combination of roots and generous openness that make her still a compelling guide to the spiritual life. (p. 150)

Cornick’s essay proceeds to explore her contributions to prayer (principally through her 1943 book, The School of Prayer), vocation and ecumenism. He notes that Wyon begins her exploration of the relationship between prayer and Scripture with the Barmen Declaration: ‘The Bible deals with God, and with nothing apart from God. Whoever seeks God in the Bible will find God there; for God comes to seek and find us in His Word…’. This, Wyon argued, is the core of the relationship between Scripture and prayer. Cornick comments on Wyon’s urging: ‘Being alone with Scripture and taking it seriously is a dangerous business, for we meet with Christ there. In his light we find ourselves judged and can “suddenly … find that Christ steps out of the pages and confronts us with an absolute demand”. Being alone with the Bible means risking a revolution in one’s life. That sounds austere and frightening, but judgement is merely the obverse of salvation; so Scripture also leads us to a knowledge of the trustworthiness of God, of forgiveness and mercy and “infinite support”‘. Citing Wyon, Scripture is the ‘springboard from which we may dive into the fathomless ocean of the love of God’ (p. 151).

The General Secretary of the United Reformed Church then proceeds to note Wyon’s ‘profound sense of the vocation of the church’ (p. 153). He cites Wyon: ‘The world is waiting for a “revelation” of God in community. The church is called to be this living community, in which all barriers between man and man, class and class, race and race, are down for ever’ (pp. 153-4). This is not something that the Church can achieve but is the work of God. Cornick then introduces us to Wyon’s book, The Altar Fire: Reflections on the Sacrament of the Eucharist, wherein she describes Reformed worship thus:

… the service begins with the revealed Word. That is: the first note struck in this rite is not the need of the worshippers, but the fact of revelation. From the very first the Christian Church realised that all worship must begin with God Transcendent. It is from such a God that we receive the revelation of His Being and His purpose. We begin with God, the high and Holy One, ‘who inhabiteth eternity’. We listen, first of all, to His Word (p. 154)

Cornick notes that Wyon was an exceptionally well-read theologian, who gently corrected the tendency towards individualism which is so characteristic of Western Protestantism by stressing the way in which the New Testament always speaks of the priestly activity of the whole church. ‘It is the whole church which is intended in the good purposes of God to bring God to humanity and humanity to God’ (p. 156).

The next essay is from the pen of John Tudno Williams who considers two Welsh New Testament scholars – namely C.H. Dodd and W.D. Davies – and their contribution to thinking on the nature and unity of the Church. Peter Ball, Chair of New Testament Studies at Károli Gáspár Reformed University in Budapest, contributes a paper on whether it is parents or Christ who have the foremost authority in the family and what it means for how children should honour their parents. He asks ‘Did the first Christians fulfil the expectation to honour their parents?’ (p. 175). The final contribution in this second section comes from lrving Hexham, who considers the work of Weber and Troeltsch with respect to the development of the grammar of ‘sect’ and ‘cult’. He concludes that such language is sectarian and ideologically loaded, and so ultimately unhelpful.

The final section is headed ‘Ecumenical and Eclectic: Resonances’ and invites reflection on the future of ecumenism and the practices of church life. It consists of essays by Keith Clements, Alan Falconer, Botond Gaál, Anna Robbins and Gabriel Fackre. Clements reflects on where two decades of intentional ecumenism in Europe has led us, highlighting its future uncertainty. Falconer, Gaál and Robbins also explore this theme in terms of ecumenical dialogue, the latter in light of how the church’s fragmentation weakens its voice to speak on issues that affect the whole world and about which the world is concerned. In the concluding essay, Gabriel Fackre takes on board some of Sell’s own apologetic methodology and explores the question of divine impassibility by reflecting on Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ. He argues that ‘the film can be an occasion for confessing and commending the faith if treated as a Reformation-like “teaching moment”, the interpretive Word conjoined to the visible Word’ (p. 270). Fackre proceeds to use the film to talk about ‘the very heart of God’ in the cross. In an interesting turn, Fackre seeks to resurrect the ancient fishhook-bait analogy of the early Fathers. Commenting on the cry from the cross, ‘My Lord’, Fackre writes:

… it means that the knowledge that the effects of our sin reach into the very heart of God overwhelms us. Is that what prompts the tears of worshippers in the theatre pews when they view this film? How else do we know ourselves to be the sinners that we really are unless we see our hand in the very crucifixion of God? And hear from the Victim’s lips, ‘Father, forgive …’? No power in this world can so drive us to our knees. Only this Power of the divine powerlessness, the Christ who reigns from the cross. The fishhook-bait analogy has yet another meaning. The Devilfish did get caught. The power of God in the powerlessness of Jesus accomplished its purpose. So Aulén, interpreting Irenaeus, says: ‘The redemptive work is accomplished by the Logos through the Manhood of His instrument, for it could be accomplished by no power than by God Himself.’ Can we put it this way? God stoops to conquer. God comes into our midst in human form in Galilee and on the road to Calvary in order there to expose us for who we are. We see first-hand One who is as we should be and strike out at this embarrassing Presence. Yet it is, paradoxically, only through our lacerating and crucifying ways that God can disclose as well as expose, disclose the suffering Love that makes reconciliation possible. The proper emphasis on the suffering of Jesus when it excludes the suffering of God constitutes the discontinuity Aulén rightly criticizes. Without making the mistake of this discontinuity, we can yet affirm the concern to preserve the role of the humanity of Christ in the Work of salvation, while knowing that it was the God who was ‘in Christ’ who evokes our repentance and brings forgiveness to the sinner. (pp. 280-1).

He concludes by asserting that defenders of divine impassibility are ‘right in what they affirm – the tearless power of God at the beginning and end of the cosmic drama, and wrong in what they deny – the God who weeps in and for Jesus at the centre of the Story’ (p. 282)

Like most edited volumes, Ecumenical and Eclectic is not immune from its weaker contributions. However, every essay bears witness to something of the work of the one to whom it is meant to honour, and has something important to donate in its particular area of concern. Unfortunately, there is no essay devoted to theological education, an area which Sell has contributed not a little. That said, those interested in many themes that so interest Alan Sell will not be disappointed with many of the papers in this book. It also includes a comprehensive 27-page bibliography of Alan Sell’s work.

On Being the Church of Jesus Christ in Tumultuous Times: A Review

Joe R. Jones, ON BEING THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST IN TUMULTUOUS TIMES (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2005). Pp. xxx + 239. $27.00, ISBN: 9781597522762. A review.

Joe R. Jones, author of the massive The Grammar of Christian Faith and Doctrine, and who Stanley Hauerwas names ‘the best unknown theologian in America’ (how would Hauerwas know?), is well aware of at least two important realities that inform good theology. First, that theology is a discipline not of the academy but of the believing community which is ever to be that ‘sort of community that sustains a vigorous and continuing conversation within itself as to who has called it into being, to whom it is responsible, and what it is called to be and to do’ (p. xiii). Second, that Christian theology has its ground and end in the redeeming economy of the Triune God. These two convictions inform this collection of essays, sermons, and prayers composed over four decades.

The volume is made up of three sections. In the first, he addresses what it means to be the Church, that ‘broken body [which] must strive, in the midst of its brokenness in tumultuous times, to remember its calling and mission as an alternative community living an alternative way of life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ‘ (p. xiv). He repeatedly posits (pp. xvi, 6, 21, 35-6, 51, passim) his working definition of the Church:

The church is that liberative and redemptive
community of persons
called into being
by the Gospel of Jesus Christ
through the Holy Spirit
to witness in word and deed
to the living triune God
for the benefit of the world
to the glory of God.

Jones, a confessing pacifist ‘with many questions about how to be a pacifist’ (p. xxiv), contends that wherever Jesus’ body lives in the world, there the Church is properly a political entity with a distinct theology and ethic, and whose political witness is never for itself but is for the benefit of the world. Thus with definition above before him, Jones, in the tradition of that prisoner on Patmos, pens ‘A letter to the Churches After 9/11′ in which he reminds the church that it is ‘not called into existence by the American way of life, not called into existence in order to punish evildoers, not called into existence to endorse any given political regime, and not called into existence to protect Christians and wreak vengeance on nonchristians. But it does exist for the “benefit of the world,” though not on the world’s own terms regarding what it finds beneficial as an endorsement of the way it prefers to live’. When the Church, either ecumenically or as a particular congregation, is unclear about how to answer the key questions of its own identity ‘then its life will be a miasma of disarray and confusion’ (p. 6). Jones consistently names nationalism for the destructive and deceitful idol that it is, calling the Church to allegiance to its Lord alone, rather than serve two masters.

Jones turns in the second, third and fourth essays to a reflection on the Church’s illiteracy wherein he argues that the Christian community whose ‘language of faith has too often become hallow and empty’ has become ‘illiterate’ and ‘uneducated’ (p. 11). The Church needs to recover its ‘distinctive language’ (p. xv), its own voice – or that of her Lord’s – lest it be repeatedly ‘overwhelmed and held hostage by the nation-state and its political discourses and practices’ (p. xxiv), and whose discourse and practice form a necessary purlieus for doing theology. The witnessing Church requires a literacy in the Gospel: ‘The Gospel is not willy-nilly whatever people choose it to be. It is not just any presumably good or comforting news. But to be able to hear well and to witness well, the church must incessantly cultivate an understanding of the Gospel and the light it throws on the world. Whenever the church has neglected this cultivation, this education, it has itself become a wandering nomad, bedeviled by the mirages of passing fancies and fads’ (p. 14). He calls for a recovery of the Church’s educational processes that accentuate learning the Gospel’s content and giving it intelligent expression for the world. This doing of theology is not a luxury (or responsibility) for a few but for all the people of God. That said, the Church also needs to recover, he argues, a sense of the pastor as teacher and theologian for the community, to equip the community of theologians for ek-static movement towards and in the world as witness to God’s loving life (see pp. 21-34).

In the second of the three sections, ‘Theological Baselines for Doing Church Theology’, Jones explores, among other themes, notions of faith, soteriology, trinity, and Jewish-Christian dialogue. The essay on salvation (chapter 7) outlines the basis upon which believers have good reason to hope in an apokastasis panton. He argues that ‘the logic of a radical incarnation/atonement view centred in Jesus Christ moves resolutely to the final conclusion that all we be ultimately saved by God’s sovereign grace’ (p. 119). It is of little surprise, therefore, to read that Jones lists among his most significant influences and conversation partners, Karl Barth, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne.

Also, not a few of the essays betray Jones’ indebtedness to Søren Kierkegaard and to that Dane’s insistence that ‘to be a Christian is to learn how to be a Christian’ (p. 51). This American nonconformist does not, however, share Kierkegaard’s despairing thoughts on the Church more generally, or the latter’s over-subjectivism. Instead, Jones persuasively posits that learning how to be a Christian ‘involves being a member of a community that has characteristic discourses and practices about the narrative of God’s grace’ (p. 67). Little doubt, if Kierkegaard had a different model of Church in mind when he made his bold criticisms, he would agree with Jones here. Jones’ collection includes two fine chapters on Kierkegaard: one on Kierkegaard’s thoughts on authority and revelation; the other on Kierkegaard as ‘Spy, Judge, and Friend’ in which he outlines the basic life, contributions and contours of Kierkegaard’s thought. He laments that while Kierkegaard ‘was one of the most influential intellectuals for the twentieth century’ today ‘I find few entering divinity students that can spell his name, fewer still who have read anything of his, fewer yet that have benefited from his friendship’. He describes Kierkegaard as ‘a Spy who will push you into inward places of hiddenness you are reluctant to explore, a Judge who will indict your vagaries of life with inescapable and relentless precision and vivacity, but finally a Friend who might spiritually edify you on the multifaceted journey of becoming a Christian‘ (p. 154). He proceeds:

‘With uncanny prescience, Kierkegaard knew he would someday be famous but feared and loathed the prospect that he would fall into the hands of the professors, who would analyze and reduce his life and writings to a thumbnail sketch or footnote, or even to a voluminous narrative, but would never realize that the whole of his literature was directed even to the professor as an existing person who still had to exist somehow. He criticized professors, philosophers, and theologians unmercifully for building grand mansions of theory and thought only to live their actual, existing lives in the barnyard, feeding daily out of the pig trough. The point here is this: intellectuals are given to the pursuit and development of thought, concepts, and ideas, and they can easily fool themselves into supposing that if they have thought the thought they have also lived the thought. No, says Kierkegaard; to live the thought means to have one’s living passions and decisions shaped by the thought. Intellectuals are inclined to forget the actual passions and concrete decisions that shape their daily living, and therefore are forgetful of their actual existing. Their theories cannot – of themselves – encompass and shape the theorist’s existential reality without decision and persistence in passions’ (p. 155).

The final section is made up largely of pastoral prayers and some moving sermons, including those preached by Jones at ordination and funeral services.

While few will be convinced of all Jones’ claims, this an engaging and at times provocative miscellany properly written with one eye on the Church (and not least his own Disciples of Christ denomination the focus on which, at times, gives the reader a sense that she is reading an in-house review) and one on God as both God and Church direct their engaging gaze to the world. The reader would have been better served with the inclusion of an index and a little more editing out of repetitious material. That said, this book will assist the Church to better understand, celebrate and practice the good and missional news of Jesus Christ in tumultuous times.


David Livingstone on video

The Royal Society has made available online an informative documentary of David Livingstone FRS, missionary, explorer, doctor and natural historian. A team of experts is now publishing Livingstone’s letters online, including those in the Royal Society’s archives. While it is not the most exciting documentary I’ve ever seen, it is a wonderfully informative introduction nevertheless to an important figure in Victorian church, and missiological, history, describing Livingstone’s adventures and introducing us to an exciting new project. The video can be downloaded here.

The website that the documentary refers to is Livingstone Online.

Missiologists meet to Brainstorm on Asia Mission

Today, some prominent western missiologists have met in Bangkok with some of their Asian counterparts for the first international conference of the Asian Society of Missiology. Meetings will take place over the next few days on the theme ‘Asian Mission: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’. It would be good to remember these meetings in our prayers.

Dr. Timothy K. Park, ASM president and associate professor of Asian Mission at Fuller Theological School of Intercultural Studies has commented: ‘Asian churches are emerging as new forces of world mission, but have not been fully developed to play their unique roles in the missionary movement of the Church’.

More information here.

What Does It Mean To Be Saved?: A Review

John G. Stackhouse, Jr., (ed)., What Does It Mean To Be Saved?: Broadening Evangelical Horizons of Salvation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002). 203 pages. ISBN: 080102353X. Review copy courtesy of Baker Academic.

‘This book shouldn’t be necessary’. So begins the Preface to this collection papers from a 2001 conference hosted by Regent College. Unfortunately, as each of the essays suggests, a book such as this will remain necessary this side of the Lord’s parousia. How well this collection, and the church itself, addresses such a perceived void ought in itself be a subject of some discussion too.

John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College, and editor of Evangelical Futures and No Other Gods before Me?, has again placed us in his debt by gathering together a group of fine papers by a distinguished group of scholars: Loren Wilkinson, Henri A. G. Blocher, Amy L. Sherman, Rikk E. Watts, Cherith Fee Nordling, Vincent Bacote, D. Bruce Hindmarsh. The inclusion of two critically responsive essays, by John Webster and Jonathan R. Wilson, are a most valuable inclusion to this volume, identifying common themes among the various contributors, suggesting areas of concern and possible trajectories for further conversation.

Each essayist, from a wide range of specialisations, representing diverse confessions, various (Western, though not from lack of trying to include participants from the Two-Thirds World) countries, and different stages of academic life, though all with a common commitment to an evangelical expression of Christian faith, seeks to respond to a narrow understanding of salvation that amounts to ‘a sort of spiritual individualism that is little better than Gnosticism’ (p. 9) and point us towards a more holistic vision of what God is up to in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit. The goal: ‘to prod evangelical theology out of its comfortable spiritual individualism and toward a vision of salvation as large as God’s mission to the world he loves and redeems’ (p. 10).

Stackhouse invites theology professors and pastors to move beyond the notion that salvation is not about ‘Christians going to heaven’. Instead, he suggests, ‘salvation is about God redeeming the whole earth. Salvation is about Christians – and perhaps others, also saved by the work of Christ but perhaps not knowing about him in this life – heading home to the God they love and the company of all the faithful. Salvation is about heading for the New Jerusalem, not heaven: a garden city on earth, not the very abode of God and certainly not a bunch of pink clouds in the sky. Salvation is not about the mental cartoons drawn by medieval illustrators and found in Far Side comic strips. It is about the splendid collage of images offered up in the wealth of biblical glimpses of what is to come. And salvation is not only about what is to come but also about what is ours to enjoy and foster here and now’. (p. 10)

In the opening essay, entitled, ‘The New Exodus/New Creational Restoration of the Image of God’, Rikk E. Watts fitly argues that a recovery of a biblically-informed and determined soteriology will transform our understanding of humanity as the imago dei. Specifically, our soteriology must maintain at or near its centre the notion of the new exodus/new creational restoration of our embodied humanity. Thus eschatology is fundamental to any soteriology worth its name. Watts traces this theme from creation as YHWH’s temple-palace though to the installation of YHWH’s image into that temple-palace, from the exodus as re-creation and image renewal to the final restoration of the imago dei in the Incarnation. This is a fascinating essay, and sets the ball rolling for multiple reflections throughout the book on the centrality of the imago dei for soteriology.

D. Bruce Hindmarsh’s essay, one of the most interesting in the collection, explores what being saved meant for the early evangelicals. He argues that the resources for a renewal and broadening of the grammar and praxis of soteriology that is called for by the Lausanne Covenant and the Manila Manifesto are to be found within evangelicalism itself. He suggests that there is a congenital weakness in the evangelical tradition that pulls evangelicals in the direction of withdrawal from society and a privatised, individualistic piety. The Lausanne discussions, he notes, along with a host of political, cultural, and charitable initiatives begun by evangelicals in the second half of the twentieth century, witness to a significant effort to redress the effects of the great reversal and restore a more balanced evangelical integration of gospel proclamation and social concern. The focus of Hindmarsh’s contribution is principally John Wesley, and Hindmarsh offers a beautiful account of early Methodism’s concern for the body and soul, for society as well as for individuals, for the poor as well as for the rich. He notes that Wesley understood his mission as privileging the poor, whom he believed have a ‘privileged place in God’s program’ (p. 48). Moreover, Wesley maintained a sociology of mission that understood that the gospel went to work on a society normally from the bottom up, not the top down. The very last to enter the kingdom, Wesley argued, will be the academics: ‘Last of all the wise and learned, the men of genius, the philosophers, will be convinced that they are fools; will be “converted, and become as little children, and enter into the kingdom of God”’ (p. 49). Hindmarsh cites John Walsh: Wesley ‘tried to re-sacralize the poor in an age in which moralists and economists often saw them only as a problem; as reluctant producers of labour, as a social threat, or at least a nuisance. For Wesley, the indigent were “poor members of Christ”’ (p. 51). Hindmarsh proceeds to note that the early evangelicals had a vision for the transformation of society and the entire cosmos, the gospel itself transforming first individuals, then families, Christian nations and finally non-Christian nations.

Henri A. G. Blocher, in certainly the most cogent historical-dogmatic paper in the book, seeks to redress the distortion in Aulen’s over-stated Christus Victor motif by bringing together the ‘classic’ and ‘Latin’ views of the atonement. He writes: ‘The key position of the doctrine of vicarious punishment answers to the privilege of personal-relational-juridical categories, within the framework of covenant, to deal with the divine-human communication, over against that of ontological participation and moral assimilation in other strands of the Christian tradition. This “mind” is biblical. However, such a position does not make other languages and schemes superfluous, and it does not rule out ontological dimensions and moral influence. The polemic presentation, especially, is a welcome complement: When one understands that Christ’s victory was based on his sacrifice, one should unfold the fruit of his death as radical and universal victory! Understanding that Satan was defeated as the Accuser may help us to retain the particle of truth in the awkward suggestion that God’s attributes of mercy and justice had to be “reconciled” by the cross: Though God’s attributes are one (descriptions of the one essence), once evil entered the world (through God’s wholly mysterious, inscrutable permission), his justice became in a way the enemy’s weapon – until the divine wisdom (and love) provided the way for God to be both just and the one who justifies sinners through faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26)’ (p. 90).

Vincent Bacote questions the adequacy of much evangelical soteriology, charging it with individualism and an over-concern with maintaining the status-quo. He proceeds to offer us what he calls ‘concrete soteriology’ which he describes as public in nature, political in character, pneumatologically inspired, and emphasises the need for place. ‘Concrete soteriology’ he argues, ‘recognizes that we were created to be at home somewhere and does not gloss over that fact by trumpeting the slogan, ”I’m just passing through this world.” While here, this life is not to be merely survived, particularly in nations and communities in which other Christians flourish’ (p. 112).

Cherith Fee Nordling’s delightful essay is one of the collection’s most instructive. Like Watts’, her concentration too is on the imago dei which she expounds as the relationality of the Triune Family into whose koinonia we are drawn to participate by virtue of God’s saving action. This reality also informs and defines humanity’s horizontal sociality and liberates sinners for fellowship. She then turns to the question of sexuality as an essential feature of the imago and argues that to be a human being is to be sexually differentiated, and therefore to be saved means that we continue to be female and male human beings in the age to come as new creations in Christ.

In the paper, ‘Salvation as Life in the (New) City’, Amy L. Sherman reminds us that the ultimate destination for believers is a city. She proceeds to define this city as characterised fourfold: (i) a refuge for the weak; (ii) a place of permanent residency; (iii) a place where we are named; and (iv) a place where we see Jesus face to face.

In the final essay, Loren Wilkinson tries to make a case for why ‘Christians should be converted pagans’. He suggests that Neo-paganism is ‘an attempt to recover an aspect of being human that is central to the gospel but is often obscured – that is, we cannot be fully human until our restored relationship with the Creator results in a restored relationship not only with other men and women but also with the rest of creation, which is seen and accepted as a divine gift. Paganism (old and new) sees that divine gift as the only essential revelation, and harmony with creation and its resident gods or spirits as the only salvation. Thus, paganism is forever inadequate for the wholeness its believers seek. But inasmuch as paganism does have open eyes to the gift-nature of creation, it glimpses a truth to which Christians are sometimes blind’ (p. 154). Beneath the puerility and plain silliness of a good bit of neopagan ritual, he argues, lies a longing for wholeness that can be fulfilled only through reconciliation with the Creator, a reconciliation that cannot be achieved outside of what God has accomplished in Christ. The danger for Christians today, he suggests, is that we are so afraid of the possibility of paganism or pantheism that we radically distance Creator from creation and understand salvation in such a way that it has no implications for creation. Until our understanding and our living our of new life in Jesus Christ involve a changed relationship with the earth, which God is also making new, we encourage an unconverted paganism, for paganism, rightly understood, is not an alternative to belief but rather a preparation for it. Wilkinson thus considers neo-paganism as a point of contact. He goes so far as to state that ‘a Christian who is not at the same time a redeemed pagan is in danger of a kind of Gnostic or Manichean denial of what it means to be a physical, created being enmeshed in the cycles of created. Thus, Christians need to be converted pagans’ (p. 155). Wilkinson’s essay is essentially a renewed defence of natural theology and, as Webster perceptively notes, highlights the incredibly high price that theology has to pay for its engagement in apologetics. Commendably, each contribution in this volume, and perhaps especially Wilkinson’s, is undergirded by a conscious concern for the mission of the church as part of the missio dei.

While this assemblage of conference papers has less of a ‘hit and miss’ feel to it than do many published collections, the combined voice of the essayists, although traversing a lot of rich soil with a good torch, still left me quite unsatisfied and somewhat concerned about the current state of evangelical theology. Allow me to note just a few of my concerns:

On a minor point, it is unclear who the intended audience for this book is.

More substantially, there is very little explicit discussion on the issues of justification, and none at all on sanctification nor on the question of universalism. Whether these areas are simply assumed (can they ever afford to be?), or ignored as being in the ‘too hard basket’, the absence of any discussion on these themes across the papers is a disappointment. Also, the absence of any exposition on the notion of God’s wrath and final judgement seems to reflect evangelicalism’s increasing embarrassment and failure to speak about wrath in the context of a positive soteriology.

The largely unqualified acceptance of some undefined form or other of natural theology is troubling, especially if this collection represents the future direction of any theology which wishes to retain the name ‘evangelical’. While not all evangelicals will want to echo a ‘Nein’ as strong as Barth’s here, all ought to share Barth’s concern at what is at stake in the question, and proceed with caution as wisely as Calvin or Forsyth does regarding this question. Far too much is at stake to do otherwise.

Finally, a call: Salvation is not an idea. It is an act! In a collection of this type, more ought to be have been made of this. As Hartwell has reminded us, ‘Objectively (de jure) all [people] are already justified, sanctified, and called in Jesus Christ in and through what He has done in their stead and for their sake. In Him, objectively, the old [person] has already passed away; in Him, objectively, we are already the new [person], represented as such by Him before God. However, though the salvation of all [people] is already objectively accomplished by Jesus Christ – without them and, as His Cross teaches, against them – many of them have not yet perceived and accepted what God has done for them in Jesus Christ. In order that Jesus Christ’s objective reconciling work may subjectively (de facto) bear fruit in the lives of individual [persons] and through them, as His witnesses, in the lives of other [persons], there is still needed as an essential part of the reconciling work of Jesus Christ the subjective apprehension, acceptance, appropriation and application of that work’. More attention could (and should) have been given to this reality than is given in this volume.

These concerns aside, Stackhouse and Co are to be commended for putting together a helpful assembly of essays (and responses) that address such a central question What does it mean to be saved? – and to do so in a way that engages with contemporary issues. Each essay invites us to reflect again on how wide is the love of God in Christ, and to broaden our soteriological horizons so that the things of this world may not grow strangely dim in the light of God’s glory and grace.


Tom Wright , Andrew McGowan and Post-Modernity

Is Christianity a rival, an ally or a coping mechanism in the post-modern empire? In this engaging podcast, N T Wright addresses this question in front of Melbourne Anglicans and is joined in the discussion (it’s not a debate) by Rev Dr Andrew McGowan, Director of Trinity College, University of Melbourne.

On the way, Wright talks about postmodernity, 9/11, the current invasion of Iraq, beauty, ‘authenticity’, and the arts.

McGowan (definitely not the Andy McGowan from Scotland) offers us a much more positive view of the relationship between Christianity and Postmodernity, and also a critique of the Church’s relationship with consumerism, a go at conservative Anglicanism (read Sydney? and a ‘Hillsong-style Anglicanism’), and relevance vs authenticity in mission.

Other topics of discussion include immigration policy, the current state of worldwide Anglicanism, and human rights,

The discussion is well worth listening to.

A reflection on Vincent Donovan

In The Church in the Midst of Creation, Donovan builds on his previous work, Christianity Rediscovered: An Epistle from the Masai, and in many ways it really cannot be appreciated without having first read that book. I was particularly reminded of one part of his earlier work where he writes about what he is observing amongst the Masai, an observation that is pertinent for his later book. He observes:

There is no use arguing that it isn’t true happiness they have, or that they aren’t really happy – because they are, at least in that momentary escape from their loneliness and hopelessness while drinking the rich butterfat milk of their Zebu cattle, or striding across the Masai plains, or dancing the beautiful dances of the nomads. St. Paul says this happiness is a sign of God among them. He was here before we ever got there. It is simply up to us to bring him out so they can recognise him.

Writing from back home in the United States, Donovan, in The Church in the Midst of Creation, has, between the Preface and the Epilogue, nine chapters in which he peruses back and forth across history seeing the way that the Roman Catholic Church has became standardised, specialised, and centralised (he argues largely because of the industrial revolution), with a uniformity imposed by the Vatican and a Christ who has become a European Christ and has shackled the Spirit. Donovan responds by proposing a cosmic, or planetary, Christ.

There are echoes here of a response he offered to a review of his previous book, Christianity Rediscovered, where he wrote that

While we have to admit that Western Christianity has monopolized Christ, and has shackled Christ in the bondage of a single culture to such an extent that the Western Christ has become a stumbling block for the Holy Spirit, Christ will remain, I believe, the point at which Christianity and Hinduism will meet, the point at which Christianity and every religion and culture will meet. It will serve no purpose at all to water down the heart of the Christian message to make it more acceptable to the world of humankind. We must bring the full brunt of the gospel message to the religions and cultures of the world. The understanding of Christ will undoubtedly change, and expand and grow as a result of this process, perhaps even in a frightening and unfamiliar manner, but it should have grown long ago out of the narrow dimensions of the Mediterranean Christ.

He develops this thought further in The Church in the Midst of Creation where he advocates the need for the Western Church to embrace a planetary Christ, a world Christ. He writes:

We have to admit that after all this existence and scientific scholarship, after nearly two thousand years of Christianity, the Christ that is worshipped in our churches, the Christ that is the basis for our church and all its faith life and activity, is no more than a Mediterranean Christ. That is as far as Christ has grown. European and American theologians see nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with the fact that we have not even begun to think of, or search for, the meaning of a planetary Christ, a world Christ. We continue to let all our efforts revolve around a Mediterranean Christ. We of the West have monopolized Christ…. There is surely more to be revealed about the Christ than is already known. But we, trapped in our own culture with its exact and measured scientific view of the world, with our lack of sacramental vision, may not be the ones to discover it. Like Mary Magdelene, we are afraid to let go of Christ, to let Christ out of our grasp, out of our control.

This kind of thinking raises serious questions about how we understand the nature of Church as Incarnational. In what sense are Christ’s people his form in the world? This is a different question than that of whether of not the Church is a continuation of the Incarnation. With Forsyth, I contend that it is not. However, Donovan’s question, one of many raised in his book, is one that I wish to consider in this post, albeit briefly.

I think that we need to respond to this question firstly by seeing the Church as a kenotic community. There is at the heart of reconciliation the solidarity with the world which the Church does not take on as an extra-curricula activity, but which is constituted of its very existence as the kenotic community. The kenosis of Christ is the ‘self-emptying’ (Phil 2) which constitutes the inner movement of condescension and humility which characterises the life of the Son to the Father. As Jesus drew his disciples into his own ‘self-emptying’ life and ministry of obedience and service to the Father on behalf of the world, he formed them into a ‘kenotic community’. As those who bare continuous testimony to the presence of Christ in the world following Pentecost, the Church exists as the community where the world can discover and experience its own participation, reconciliation and salvation in the kenosis of God in Christ. Karl Barth noted that ‘The world does not know itself. It does not know God, nor man, nor the relationship and covenant between God and man. Hence it does not know its own origin, state or goal. It does not know what divides nor what unites. It does not know either its life and salvation or its death and destruction. It is blind to its own reality. Its existence is a groping in the dark.’

All this serves as a sober reminder that the Church does not ‘possess’ Christ as its own. To this end, Bonhoeffer observed that ‘Everything would be ruined if one were to try and reserve Christ for the Church and to allow the world only some kind of law, even if it were a Christian law. Christ dies for the world, and it is only in the midst of the world that Christ is Christ.’ It is not as though the world needs the Church in order to have Christ; the Church also needs the world in order to know Christ. In this sense, Christ’s existence in the world is ‘non-religious’ or ‘worldly’. Thus there is a certain ‘boundary-lessness’ to the Church in the world. Because Christ is the true centre, there are no longer any boundaries by which one can determine or define the existence of God in the world. So there is a need for us to be able to speak freely of the reality of the world for the Church, and of the solidarity between the Church and the world. The latter because the true community of Jesus Christ does not exist esoterically and invisibly but visibly and exoterically, so that it may be noted by the world around. Otto Weber notes,

Seen Christologically, every rejection of the world by the Community would have to place in question “docetically” the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It would have to have been the case that God did not become “true man” in Jesus Christ if the Community were intended not to be “truly” in the world. But above all, the victory of the Resurrected One over the “cosmos” (John 16:33) would have to be disregarded if the Community were supposed to understand the “world” solely as a confusing, alien reality, to be held at a distance and excluded.

The incarnational solidarity between Christ and the world binds the Church to the world and the world to the Church in a critical but positive tension of judgement and reconciliation, of sin and grace. As Barth says,

Solidarity with the world means full commitment to it, unreserved participation in its situation, in the promise given it by creation, in its responsibility for the arrogance, sloth and falsehood which reign within it, in its suffering under the resultant distress, but primarily and supremely in the free grace of God demonstrated and addressed to it in Jesus Christ, and therefore in its hope…. Solidarity with the world means that those who are genuinely pious approach the children of the world as such, that those who are genuinely righteous are not ashamed to sit down with the unrighteous as friends, that those who are genuinely wise do not hesitate to seem to be fools among fools, and that those who are genuinely holy are not too good or irreproachable to go down “into hell” in a very secular fashion…. since Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world, [the Church] can exist in worldly fashion, not unwillingly nor with a bad conscience, but willingly and with a good conscience. It consists in the recognition that its members also bear in themselves and in some way actualise all human possibilities.

Given this, there is an obligation placed upon the Church towards the world. This obligation is the responsibility for the world, or to the world, which Christ assumed in coming to the World as the Word. So one cannot discharge obligation to God and at the same time be irresponsible toward the world.

But at the same time, there is a necessary contradiction which must be borne within the ‘same body’, a contradiction that Donovan, in my opinion, fails to take seriously enough, and which Hauerwas and Willimon bear witness to when they write:

The challenge facing today’s Christians is not the necessity to translate Christian convictions into a modern idiom, but rather to form a community, a colony of resident aliens which is so shaped by our convictions that no one even has to ask what we mean by confessing belief in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The biggest problem facing Christian theology is not translation but enactment. No doubt, one of the major reasons for the great modern theologians who strove to translate our language for modernity was that the church had become so inept at enactment. Yet no clever theological moves can be substituted for the necessity of the church being a community of people who embody our language about God, where talk about God is used without apology, because our life together does not mock our words. The church is the visible, political enactment of our language of God by a people who can name their sin and accept God’s forgiveness and are thereby enabled to speak the truth in love. Our Sunday worship has a way of reminding us, in the most explicit and ecclesial of ways, of the source of our power, the peculiar nature of our solutions to what ails us.

Returning back now to our earlier discussion regarding that necessary contradiction between Christ and the world, we might deduce that the reconciliation of the world to God produces and sustains the contradiction for the sake of its healing. Thus, the ‘kenotic community’ exposes the contradiction by virtue of its solidarity with the world. Barth discusses the problem between the reconciliation actualised in Christ and the contemporary situation of the Christian in the world as the ‘divine problem’, and says that God takes up this ‘problem’ and solves it in the presence and action of the Holy Spirit.

Thus there remains a ‘difference in solidarity’. ‘In Jesus Christ the community and the rest of humanity constitute a differentiated, yet in this differentiation firmly integrated, whole.’ This leads to a three-part conclusion: (i) the world would be lost without Jesus Christ and his word and work; (ii) the world would not necessarily be lost if there were no Church; and (iii) the Church would be lost if it had no counterpart in the world. The ‘difference’ is the presence of Christ – ‘For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them’ (Matt 18:20).

With this theological horizon, and motivated by his conviction that God is still creating and calling the Church to participate in what is its ontological purpose for being, Donovan appeals for the people to “refound” the Church. His experience with the Masai, and what this experience has helped him to discover in Scripture, has clearly played a significant role in shaping his sense of creation’s direction. Writing out of a post-Vatican II context, he finds Scripture pointing to an ecclesiastical model with increased simplicity in its lifestyle, with less oppressive hierarchy, with less space between leaders and people at all levels, and with a keener awareness of the pressing needs of a close-by world. In his last chapter, he gives us a glimpse at how such a congregation could look. He also espouses an approach to evangelism whereby both parties are changed by God during their communicative interchange. It is with this awareness that he argues for “evangelization of culture” which includes genuinely mutual dialogue with the other major faiths of the world. His argument is interesting: that convert-making is geared to individuals and its success is measured numerically, when what is required is to evangelise the whole culture.

Unfortunately, he falls victim, I believe, to contemporary culture’s addiction to “new age” expectations. Citing as his gurus Sorokin, Rahner and Toffler, he argues that our time (written in 1989) is a time of significant change to the point where we are “an age in the process of breaking up”. His discussion is helpful in that he argues for the need for the Church to ‘grow-up’ to meet these changing conditions, but I wish that his grounding in Scripture reminded him that the new age is God’s gift in Christ and is not a pseudohistorical concept.

In light of this, NT Wright, in a discussion of Romans 9-11, offers some poignant insights into the Church’s ontological nature as that which issues from the Cross – that place/event which serves as the passionate concern of the Church, led by the Spirit, as the loving justice of God to all the world in real space and time. He writes,

And when the church really turns to face this task, as it must if it is to be true to its vocation, it will find (as Paul saw in 2 Corinthians particularly) that its role is Christ-shaped: to bear the pain and shame of the world in its own body, that the world may be healed. And with this we realize (in case it were not already apparent) that there is no room in this hermeneutic for a Christian or ecclesial triumphalism, which is precisely what Paul is opposing in Romans 11. The church is called to do and be for the world what the Messiah was and did for Israel … The church must find out the pain of the world, and must share it and bear it.

Another issue that is raised by Donovan, moreover, raises this issue of the Church community’s place in time and space. In other words, in what sense is the Church an eschatological community? Surely the Church is the community that is determined by its final destiny, the resurrection of the Incarnate Word-Son of God, Jesus Christ. The Church’s ‘now-life’ is lived in this realised sense as Christ’s presence in the Church and world is as the Coming or Last One, and it’s in this sense that his ministry is one of reconciliation, liberation and hope.

Karl Barth wrote that “We must understand that God is the measure of all reality and propriety, understand that eternity exists first and then time, and therefore the future first and then the present.” In this sense the Church is simultaneously the ‘kenotic community’ and the ‘ek-static community’. The ek-static dimension of the Church’s life is its orientation toward the ultimate destiny, by which it ‘stands out’ (ek-stasis) of its existence in solidarity with the world toward the source of its life and being in the Christ who is coming.

A brief story. Imagine that geese could talk, Kierkegaard once said, and that they arranged things so that they too could have their Church services and their worship:

Every Sunday they would assemble together and a gander would preach. The essential content of the sermon was the exalted destiny of the geese, the exalted goal for which the creator had destined geese (and every time his name was named all the geese curtsied and the ganders bowed their heads). With the help of their wings they could fly away to far countries, blessed countries, where they really were at home; for here they were just like exiles. And so every Sunday. Then the gathering broke up, and every goose waddles home. Then the next Sunday off they went to the service again, then home again. That was all. They throve and grew fat, they became plump and tender… that was all. For while the sermon sounded so exalted on Sundays, on Mondays they would tell one another of the fate of the goose who wanted to take his destiny seriously, with the help of the wings the creator had given it. And they spoke of the horrors it had to endure. But they prudently kept this knowledge among themselves. For, of course, to speak of it on Sundays was most unsuitable, for as they said, in that case it would be obvious that our service would be a mockery both of God and of ourselves. There were also among the geese some that looked ill and thin. Of them the others said, “You see, that’s what comes from being serious about wanting to fly. It is because they are always thinking of flying that they get thin and do not thrive, and do not have God’s grace as we do. That is why we get plump and fat and tender, for it is by God’s grace that one gets plump and fat and tender.

So it is with Christians, added Keirkegaard: they conclude that the domesticating grace of God is not meant to take seriously the wings of the Spirit, for to do so emaciates one’s well-being and destroys one’s peace as an earth-bound creature. Whereas, in fact, the wings are meant to be used – humans have Spirit, and thus are destined to live a transcendent life of ek-statis, the content of which is love.