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The thesis of the book is found in the introduction where the author shares his desire to cover the topic of “imitation” in a broader, fuller sense than it has been handled by others. Dr. Hood says, “The idea is to progress from the imitation of God to the imitation of Jesus to the imitation of the saints. There is a certain narrative shape to our journey, one that follows the course of the canon before concluding with church history and contemporary concerns…These three aspects of imitation – the imitation of God, the imitation of his Son and the imitation of the saints – form the backbone of a biblical theology of imitation. They are an integral part of the biblical tapestry of humanity, discipleship and mission. But contemporary discussions of imitation often fail to consider the connection among these three aspects of imitation...” pg. 14. These three aspects of imitation shape Dr. Hood’s book: Part One is focused on imitating God in the Old Testament (covering chapters 1-4); Part Two is focused on imitating Jesus and the role of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament (covering chapters 5-11); Part Three is focused on imitating the saints as well as dealing with some questions about how the saints have chosen to use typological interpretation (covering chapters 12-13); and finally Part Four draws on parts one to three in order to explore how we can imitate them today (covering chapters 14-15).

Dr. Hood’s book is organized well and realizes his thesis. His readers will get a biblical-theology of imitation beginning in Genesis running all the way through the canon of Scripture up into Church History. Those that have read books like The Drama of Scripture by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, or Simply Christian by NT Wright, or The Servant King by TD Alexander will be at home with the narrative feel of the book. Because Dr. Hood’s book is only 220 pages in length there is an absence of in-depth examination of individual periods or characters within the biblical narrative aside from the persons of the Trinity. Nevertheless, Dr. Hood manages to stop along the way, and look at examples of key characters in the biblical narrative long enough to leave his readers challenged and enthused to undertake fuller, personal study of the characters themselves at a latter date. The writer also finds ways to creatively interweave illustrations from popular culture into his narrative readings, and connects some of the struggles of the original audience to the contemporary audience throughout his book. The reader will also notice the level of Dr. Hoods writing style as it relates to his intended audience. This is a popular level, non-technical book that is aimed at people who are either on the latitudinal left, muddled middle, reluctant right of Christian culture. Because of that Dr. Hood takes steps to reduce technical terms in the text, though they do seem to find their way into the main body toward the end. Dr. Hood moves his more serious scholarly conversation into his footnotes. The end result is that both those who’ve had exposure to formal Christian education and those who’ve not had that exposure find things to gain from the book.

Throughout the book the author provides his readers with simple summary statements to help them see the big picture of imitation within the biblical narrative. Here is an example of these summary statements, “Just as God’s people responded to God’s actions by imitating his ways in the Old Testament, God’s people in the New Testament respond to Jesus actions by imitating the one who is the way.” pg. 92. With these summary statements, the reader is admonitioned to imitate God, Jesus, and the Saints through the power of the Holy Spirit. In case readers think imitation is an option, Dr. Hood reminds them it is not. “The question is not whether we will imitate, but who and to what end.” pg. 190. What does viewing imitation in a fuller manner in light of the biblical narrative mean for the three audience’s Dr. Hood mentioned toward the beginning of his book? To the latitudinal left Christian they are reminded that imitation does not simply equal activism, there is a theological foundation they must also embrace. To the muddled middle they are likewise reminded that it is not enough to focus on “what would Jesus do,” they must also focus on “what Jesus has done.” To the reluctant right they are reminded that imitation includes not only having a good confessional statement of Jesus work, but allowing Jesus work to be embodied in how they live out their faith.

If there are criticisms to be made about Dr. Hood’s work, they are only of a secondary nature because this is one of the more well-written books on the subject of imitation that this reviewer has read. Having said that, here are a few criticisms: Dr. Hood’s chapter on “Objections, Obstacles, and Presuppositions for Interpretation” takes the popular level focus of the book beyond most popular level readers. Arriving where this chapter does late in the book it seems out of place because methodology and history of interpretation subjects are typically fronted. One way of correcting this would be to treat it like an appendix so that it is removed from the popular level style of the book. The only other criticism this reviewer has is that Dr. Hood could have allowed for more time on Imitating the Saints, and could have included a broader collection of Saints to imitate. Perhaps Saints that each of his three audiences could relate to. This would have added greater relevancy to chapter 15 for all three groups. Those criticisms aside, “Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing a Biblical Pattern” was a very encouraging and practical work. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to come to a biblical-theological understanding and practice of imitation.

Click here to purchase it at Amazon.

This book was edited by Michael F. Bird who blogs at Euangelion. The four contributors to this book are: Thomas R. Schreiner representing a Reformed Baptist perspective; Luke Timothy Johnson representing a Catholic Perspective; Douglas A. Campbell representing a mainline Protestant post-New Perspective on Paul; and Mark D. Nanos representing a Jewish perspective.

Here’s a quick summary of Bird’s comments in the front and back of the book:

Perhaps you’re wondering why you would want to read a book with four different viewpoints on Paul. Bird does a good job of answering that with two comments: “It is not too much to say that Paul – the man, the mission, and the martyr – was arguably the single, most driving intellectual force in the early church, second only to Jesus.” (pg.9) Which makes Bird’s second comment all the more important for why you would want to read a book containing four different perspectives on Paul, “Paul’s letters have been quoted in endless theological fights, denominational splits, and mutual denunciations – all by people who claim that they hold to the proper interpretation of the true Paul.” (pg. 10) Because Paul is so vital to understanding the New Testament, but also so diversly understood Bird has gathered four perspectives on Paul together. Each of the authors of these perspectives in their chapters and responses to one another will be answering four key questions;

  1. What did Paul think about salvation?
  2. What was Paul’s view of the significance of Christ?
  3. What is the best framework for describing Paul’s theological perspective?
  4. What was Paul’s vision for the churches?

It is easy to see that these four authors don’t agree with each other in their answer to these questions, but “…they all agree that Paul matters. He matters immensely for the history of Christianity. He matters for relations between Jews and Christians. He matters for the faith of individual Christians and for the church corporately.” (pgs.16-17)

Bird has done a fine job of bringing together a group of authors who are not shy about their disagreements. At the end one is not left with a superficial wrap up statement regarding the unifying themes of these authors. They have very real, standing differences between one another (Schreiner and Campbell perhaps have the most dissonance between one another).

But they do have some basic agreements (ironically, their differences shine especially within their agreements) :

  1. Everyone agreed that Paul sees a form of salvation as intimately bound up with what God did in Jesus Christ.
    • On the matter of differences shining especially within their agreements see Bird’s summary of the four authors viewpoints on Paul’s form of salvation, “From my perspective, what we find here are different ways of construing salvation, based on whether salvation is about rectification of believing individuals (Schreiner), the preference for rennovative and restorative metaphors for salvation over forensic ones (Johnson), the attempt to prosecute a christocentric and even trinitarian view of salvation (Campbell), or else a saving act that incorporates non-Jews into a a Jewish story of salvation (Nanos).” (pgs. 211-212)
  2. Everyone agreed that Jesus is close to the center of Paul’s mission and message.
  3. Everyone approached Paul’s letters with, or with a view to, a certain framework (admittedly Campbell’s coverage of Paul’s letters was smaller than others).
  4. Everyone endeavored to demonstrate Paul at least had a vision for the churches.

Bird’s edited volume, “Four Views on the Apostle Paul,” is worth picking up  (its Amazon price is very fair at $12.23.) Readers will be attracted to it for different reasons. I personally was attracted to it because I wanted to see how Douglas Campbell and Thomas Schreiner would critique one another, and if their critique would remain civil. In my opinion it was civil-ish as long as one doesn’t mind being called a “Melanchthonian” or a “hyper-Calvinist.” (Good to know scholars aren’t above resorting to name calling). I also wanted to see how Bird would address the diverse ways people read Paul. Unfortunately his editorial comments in the front and back were short, but fortunately he has shared in other places his perspective on Paul and how scholars are reading him today (Click here for his Post-New Perspective on Paul article).

SOME OF THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2009

Best book I’ve read this year – Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch

Best New Testament Biblical Studies book – Seeing Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey

Best Old Testament/Biblical Theology book – The Servant King by T.D. Alexander

Best book on missiology – Mission in Christ’s Way by Lesslie Newbigin

Best book on ecclesiology – Deep Church by Jim Belcher

Best book on hermeneutics – Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul & The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture by Richard B. Hays

Best book on apologetics – The God I Don’t Understand by Christopher J. Wright

Best book church history related – The Apostolic Fathers by Michael Holmes

Best pastoral book – Can You Drink this Cup? by Henri Nouwen or The Prodigal God by Tim Keller

Best sociology book – The Lonely Crowd by David Riesman

Best business book – Tribes by Seth Godin

Best entrepreneurial book – The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki

SOME BOOKS IN 2010 I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO READING

Chosen by God for the Sake of the World: A Missional Ecclesiology for Today by Michael Goheen (forthcoming by Baker Academic).

Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God by Daniel Kirk.

The Meaning of the Pentateuch by John H. Sailhamer

After you Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N.T. Wright

The Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of the Church by Leslie Newbigin (Reprinted edition)

Against the Tide by Miroslav Volf

Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim

Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell

The Purple Cow: Transform your business by being remarkable by Seth Godin

Situational Leader by Paul Hersey

Cultural Intelligence: Living and Working Globally by David Thomas & Kerr Inkson

Downtown Owl: A Novel by Chuck Klostermann

I’ve just started reading Dan Roam’s book “On the Back of the Napkin” I’m really enjoying it.  Roam helped Peets Coffee & Tea (among many others like Google) visually layout its vision and mission and grow to be what it is today. (Watch the six minute clip above to see Roam talk about the general thrust of his book).

I’ve been thinking lately about how to use some of Roam’s ideas about visual thinking along with Wacom’s Intuos4 professional pen and tablet to illustrate ministry ideas to leaders, and to illustrate them in preaching and teaching materials. There’s a world of impact we can make as pastors with new media technology. We just have to start somewhere and explore…perhaps even on a no-tech back of a napkin.

Andy Stanley tells a story about what he did to help his team at North Point breakthrough in an area of ministry when they were feeling like they were hitting a creative wall. He took pieces of 8.5×11 paper, walked across the room about 15 feet, and then began to place pieces of paper down on the floor like stepping stones. On each stepping stone he had his team write simple answers to the problems they were facing. By the end of the meeting he had walked across the room on clear steps and North Point as a church was also ready to walk through its next season with clear steps. Sometimes its simple things that help us move forward.

IMG_0856This is an out of print booklet by Joel Green written at a popular level to encourage believers to consider what the meaning and mandate of the Kingdom of God is. You can purchase it at Amazon starting at only 0.46 cents. I’ve been a fan of Joel Green’s writings since I first encountered his “Theology of the Gospel of Luke” book during an in-depth bible study on Luke I was leading. He is sensitive to the social-scientific issues of the setting of Scripture but also has a prophetic interest in the churches role in culture today.

This book is only 75 pages long, broken into four chapters with a preface and a note section at the end of the book. The chapter titles are: 1) Last things first; 2) ‘As it is in Heaven’; 3) Thy Kingdom come; and 4) Seeking the Kingdom. Each chapter closes with a few discussion questions. It is a non-technical book, including typical Sunday school charts throughout it to encourage a visual learning experience for the reader.

Summary & Review:

CHAPTER 1 LAST THINGS FIRST – Jesus was concerned with the end, not just how things in redemptive history would end, but how that end shapes the present. The early Christians, says Green, were likewise concerned and framed how they answered those concerns in light of Jesus death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return. These concerns can be summed up in the central theme of the Gospels, the Kingdom of God. Green says in order to understand what Jesus understood by the phrase “Kingdom of God” there are three questions that need to be answered: 1) what is the kingdom?; 2) where is the Kingdom?; and 3) when is the Kingdom?

The phrase the Kingdom of God while not present as a phrase in the Hebrew Old Testament was present in its thematic parts, especially among the prophets writings. Relying on George Beasley-Murray Green notes three parts to the prophetic vision of God’s Kingdom in the Old Testament: 1) it was a universal Kingdom; 2) it was  a Kingdom of righteousness; and 3) its presence established an age of Shalom (wholeness and abundance; peace). So what is the Kingdom? According to Green, “It is the coming of God! It is the coming of God to reign in peace and justice.” (pgs. 19-20) So where and when is this Kingdom?

“Where is the Kingdom? When is the Kingdom? whether we know it or not, all of us who think about and are involved in the mission of the church already have answers to these questions. Whether or not we have thought about the end times in a deliberate way, such end-time-related questions as these already influence the ways in which we live out our lives as Christians.” (pg. 20)

The what, the where, and the when of the Kingdom and how they illuminate the churches mission and the Christian life will occupy Green for the rest of this short book. The next chapter will focus more upon the where of the Kingdom, its prophetic nature. The chapter following that will focus more upon the when of the Kingdom, its apocalyptic nature.

CHAPTER 2 ‘AS IT IS IN HEAVEN’ – What is the prophetic vision of the Kingdom of God? Green looks to Amos to answer that question. Amos was a classic prophet who not only spoke of God’s coming judgment against the nations but also against Israel for the social atrocities that were being committed as Israel moved from an agrigarian people to an urban people and the rich began to get richer and the poor poorer. Israel was moving away from her covenant with God which in turn meant that she was practicing more and more dehumanizing acts of sin. As Green puts it;

Amos recognized, as did the other prophets, that how one relates to God is inseparably related with how one relates to the needs of others. To neglect the covenant of God, then, was not a spiritual matter only but had remarkable repercussions for the life of the people. Indeed for Amos the sphere of morality and spirituality includes what we today might refer to as international politics, social justice and civil rights. To follow God, in his reckoning, was to commit oneself to an ideal of a society willed by God to be just and righteous…God’s rule, he insists, extends beyond Israel to embrace the whole created order (see 4.13; 9.5-6). Nevertheless God’s reign was very much this worldly in its concerns.” (pgs. 28-30)

Amos and the other classical prophets were looking for the Kingdom of God to come in this world, here was their answer to the ‘where’ of the Kingdom. Green says that Jesus also believed that the ‘where’ of the Kingdom was here. See Matt. 11.2-5 for example: Jesus answer to the Kingdom question of John was to quote Isaiah 61.1 which expressed life after the Kingdom had come and relate it to his ministry. A number of people in the church today, says Green, have a prophetic understanding of the Kingdom and are looking to establish peace and justice here and now. Is this a right conclusion to make? Green says yes and no, the Kingdom has come in Jesus life and ministry and in the life and witness of his people BUT it is still coming. There is an apocalyptic side to the Kingdom that we must also have. Something many people are missing in dangerous ways like the “health-and-wealth gospel” crowd. The Kingdom has not yet come in its fullness.

CHAPTER 3 THY KINGDOM COME! – There was a significant situational shift that occurred for Israel between the classic prophets and the latter prophets and New Testament writers, that shift came in two forms: the exile and Hellenization. Tying to Kingdom of God only to the Land and the Temple in the exile period seemed pointless because both were lost. After Israel returned in part from the exile the Hellenization agendas of Alexander the Great were carried out and a new sense of the cosmic scope of creation and empire fell upon all people at the time. Therefore the Kingdom of God in apocalyptic vision took on a cosmic scope, acknowledging that the Kingdom was coming in present history but eclipsing prophetic concerns of land and temple  with a grander vision of the peace and justice of God for all things finally through a promised Davidic king. For the early church this King was Jesus.

The contemporaries of Jesus looked for the Kingdom of God in largely two ways, a return to how it was or a cataclysmic shift to the eternal cosmic kingdom. In this apocalyptic vision of the Kingdom of God people began to reconsider what time and space where. Green says concerning the apocalyptic views new understanding of time and space that;

…they opened their eyes to a new way of viewing time. These people did not attempt to mask over the evils of their present experience. They refused to pretend suffering was not a major component of their experience in the present world. However they broadened their vision so that it placed the present in a larger temporal context. They came to appreciate that what God was doing could be viewed on a macro-scale, that their present circumstances could be seen in the context of God’s overarching redemptive activity. In this way they developed an appreciation for a greater sweep of history, embracing creation and new creation…

these people began to look differently at space. They developed a more cosmic view of reality, a view that focused on the existence of a cosmic battle, such as that portrayed for us in the Book of Revelation.” (pg. 45-46)

The apocalptic view saw the where and the when of the Kingdom in wider terms. God would bring his shalom (peace and justice; wholeness and abundance) but He would bring it largely in the future, not the present order. Jesus, says Green, also had an apocalpytic understanding of the where and when of the Kingdom that he held in tension with his prophetic understanding (see Mark 13, 14; or the prayers of the disciples Matt. 6.9-13). Modern adaptations of this view can treat the present time as a lost age and make the work of the church be one largely of discipleship and evangelism and not social and political action. Green says this misses the already/not-yet tension Jesus encouraged his followers to live within, a Kingdom tension he encouraged them to seek.

CHAPTER 4 SEEKING THE KINGDOM – Does Jesus hold to a prophetic or apocalyptic understanding of the Kingdom? The answer, says Joel Green, is yes and he finds it in Jesus understanding of Mark 1.15;

Jesus’ announcement focuses on the fulfillment of past expectations in the present and leaves for the future the completion of the Kingdom of God. Does Jesus, then, adopt the prophetic view of the Kingdom? Yes. Does he adopt the apocalyptic vision of the Kingdom? Yes. Jesus holds these two previously competing notions together, rooting the apocalyptic vision in the prophetic. In this way he is able to announce that the Kingdom of God is already breaking into the present world, even if the definitive rule of God is still to come.” (pg. 58)

Joel Green spends the rest of this final chapter helping us understand the practical significance of this tension held together by Jesus for the Churches mission. He starts off by going to the Parables of Growth in Mark 4.26-32. In these picture we get a glimpse of how the already/not-yet growth of the Kingdom works in the life and ministry of the church. We see that God’s Kingdom while small in form as it grows finally reaches a grand cosmic maturity latter. We also see in these parables that for the church the presence of the Kingdom of God is not something that she merely gives assent to, rather “The presence of the Kingdom calls for action, for response.” (pg. 64)

This call for action helps us define what discipleship is all about;

The coming of the Kingdom of God brings a new time, a fresh way of life, a new kind of existence. Because the Kingdom of God is breaking into present history, life can no longer be the same. People are called to a new life, a life of repentance and belief, a life that revolves around the good news of the coming of God.” (pg. 64)

What are the implications for the churches mission in light of what we’ve said about the Kingdom of God?

According to this way of perceiving the Kingdom of God, our answer to this question can never be either evangelism or social witness. Rather, the answer can only be both involvement in the ministry of reconciling persons to God and in mission of all kinds that incarnates God’s peace and justice in the world…God’s grace is present in this world, in this time and place, so we continue the ministry Jesus himself began…

This means that no aspect of life exists outside the ambit of God’s Kingdom. And it means that we are challenged individually and collectively to serve the kingdom in every aspect of our lives. In doing so, we understand that such activity does not bring the Kingdom, of course. God brings the Kingdom. On the basis of the entry of God’s reign into the world in the person and work of Jesus, however, we are called to live and serve according to a new time. Meanwhile we continue to pray for the fullness of God’s reign: “Thy Kingdom come!” (pgs. 65-66)

This is what it means to seek the Kingdom of God corporately as the church and singly as an individual. God’s Kingly agendas in world are not something we prioritize in a list, they shape the act of list-making itself. “…the mission of the church must embrace all of life…for the church is called to serve the Kingdom, and God’s Kingdom knows no boundaries. The rule of God extends to all of life...” (pg. 69) The collective call for all believers is everyday discipleship: Seek ye first the Kingdom!

Afterthoughts & Interaction:

I think Green’s book is one of the best brief accounts of what the meaning and mandate of the Kingdom of God is. The way he connected his topic to the mission of the church and to discipleship was invaluable and should be something that every pastor should likewise be able to do. Jesus understanding of the Kingdom of God should be what shapes our ministry philosophies, and what empowers our pastoral care. I highly recommend this book!

IMG_0089The book is only 40 pages in length and is now out of print. It came from a series of bible study lectures that Newbigin delivered at a synod meeting in 1986 for the Church of South India. There are four chapters to the book, a brief foreword by Joan B. Campbell, and a brief preface by Newbigin where he acknowledges the tension that was in the air at the synod between the topics of evangelism and social justice. It will come as no surprise that much of Newbigin’s emphasis’s throughout the book concern themselves with the relationship between evangelism and social justice. A book that is roughly 3 times in length and of the same mind with Newbigin worth reading is Harvie M. Conn’s book “Evangelism: Preaching Grace & Doing Justice.” You can purchase “Mission in Christ’s Way: A gift, a command, an assurance” by Lesslie Newbigin used at Amazon starting at $6.

Summary:

Chapter 1 – Mission in Christ’s Way: The scripture this study is structured around is Mark 1:14-18. The question that occupies Newbigin throughout this chapter is “What was, and is, the way? How did the Father send the Son?” (pg. 1) Because for Newbigin the way the Father sends the Son is the way He sends the church. Newbigin makes 6 points from Mark 1.14-18:

1) The gospel is an announcement of a fact, the Kingdom, the reign of God, has come near;

2) the announcement is not about religion the way we like to compartmentalize things today, it is about world affairs;

3) the announcement is news in that it tells its hearers that Kingdom has come near now, not simply that it will come but that it has come near;

4) the message carries with it an imperative, you must turn around;

5) the message is also turn around AND believe the gospel that the reign of God has come near in Christ;

and finally 6) but this turning and believing is not something we can do, it is His work, He takes the initiative.

The secret of the kingdom is given to those who have been chosen –  chosen not for themselves but chosen to be bearers of the secret for others. But it is still a secret, a mystery. It is not something that is obvious or that comes naturally to the human reason and conscience.” (pg. 4) Where is this mystery most revealed? The cross. “…the cross…[is] the place where the kingdom of God, his power and wisdom, is hidden and revealed. To those who are called to be its witnesses it will be revealed by the resurrection, to the rest it is nonsense and a scandal, a blasphemous caricature of God’s kingdom. How can a man crucified as a rebel and a heretic be the embodiment of the wisdom and power of God?” (pgs. 5-6)

From his discussion of Mark 1.14-18 Newbigin suggests some themes emerge regarding what Mission in Christ’s Way is: Jesus is the kingdom; Jesus preaches the kingdom; and mission is not a success story.

JESUS IS THE KINGDOM – The kingdom of God, His kingly rule and reign has a human face. The face of Jesus. It will simply not do if we try and put Paul’s theology against Jesus’s. Yes Jesus talks about the Kingdom and Paul talks about Jesus but the reason says Newbigin is because the kingdom is present in Jesus. God has come near in Jesus. Which of course means that the kingdom is not the spread of modern civilization. Its not merely a socio-poltical program like Capitalism or Marxism, its the presence and rule of God in King Jesus. “When the message of the kingdom of God is separated from the name of Jesus two distortions follow, and these are in fact the source of deep divisions in the life of the church today. On the one hand, there is the preaching of the name of Jesus simply as the one who brings a religious experience of personal salvation without involving one in costly actions at the points in public life where the power of Satan is contradicting the rule of God…On the other hand, when the message of the kingdom is separated from the name of Jesus, the the action of the church in respect of the evils in society becomes a mere ideological crusade, inviting men and women to put their trust in that which cannot satisfy.” (pg. 9)

JESUS PREACHES THE KINGDOM – “In the mission of Jesus we see that there is both the presence of the kingdom and also the proclamation of the kingdom.” (pg. 10) The presence of the kingdom is found in Jesus and his prophetic actions (Matt 10). Jesus sets up a pattern he desires his disciples to imitate, they as well are to be the presence of the kingdom as well as proclaim it. In a moment of frankness Newbigin says very plainly, “words without deeds are empty, but deeds without words are dumb. It is stupid to set them against each other.” (pg. 11) We must not set deeds and words against one another, as though deeds were kingdom work and preaching was church work. “The church is only true to its calling when it is a sign, an instrument and a foretaste of the kingdom. But, on the other hand, talk about the kingdom is mere ideology if it is not tied to the name of Jesus in whom the kingdom is present and if it does not invite men and women to recognize that presence, to do the U-turn, to become part of that company that (sinful as it has always been) acknowledges Jesus as the one in whom God’s kingdom is present and so seeks to honor him, to serve him, to follow him.” (pgs. 12-13)

MISSION IS NOT A SUCCESS STORY – “Mission in Christ’s way will not be a success story as the world reckons success. There is a kind of ideology of success that fits badly with the gospel.” (pg. 13) Newbigin tells a story about traveling evangelists who would write him in India promising great revivals, but his understanding of the growth of the church in its first centuries through the death of martyrs kept Newbigin from buying into the latest program or sales strategy. “Success in the sense of growth in the number of committed Christians is not in our hands. It is the work of God the Holy Spirit to call men and women to faith in Jesus, and the Spirit does so in ways that are often mysterious and beyond any possibility of manipulation or even of comprehension by us. What is required of us is faithfulness in word and deed, at whatever cost...” (pg. 14)

Chapter 2 – A question about the Kingdom: A Promise about the Spirit: The scripture this study is structured around is Acts 1.6-8. The central question Newbigin seeks to answer in this chapter is “Is mission a program and task for the church or a promise and gift to her?” Newbigin says its the latter. He begins this chapter by recounting an answer he gives when asked is he opptimistic or pessimistic about the Kingdom coming to India. He says neither, the Kingdom coming isn’t a question, its a fact. “We are constantly tempted to see the cause of the gospel as if it were a program about which we could be optimistic or pessimistic…We need the warning [in Acts 1.6-8]. The kingdom of God is, quite simply, God’s reign; it is not our program. The question is not optimism or pessimism; it is belief or unbelief.” (pg. 16)

The kingdom of God is a gift of God to us, promised by him and present in the ‘arrabon’ of the Holy Spirit. The ‘arrabon’ is a word taken form business culture in Jesus day. Its a promissary note that of payment to come that was treated as if the payment was already received. Its worth quoting in length Newbigin’s understanding of the Spirit in mission as our ‘arrabon’ from God;

The Holy Spirit is the arrabon of the kingdom. It is not just a verbal promise. It is a real gift now, a real foretaste of the joy, the freedom, the righteousness, the holiness of God’s kingdom. It is real now. But its special character is that it carries the promise of something much greater to come and makes us look forward and press forward with eager hope towards the greater reality that lies ahead. And it is this that makes the church a witness to the kingdom. The witness is not essentially a task laid upon the church; it is a gift to the church. It is an overflow of Pentecost.” (pg. 17)

Because the churches missional character is a promise and gift, an arrabon of what is to come, the church is not worry about how it will witness. The Spirit who precedes from the Father will bear witness through her. It is God Exodusing the church that is her witness more than a program or task she is to perform. “It is not that the church is called upon to undertake a program. It is that the liberating presence of the Spirit will constituted the church a witness to the mighty acts of the living God who alone is King.” (pg. 18)

In speaking of his own experience in Madras Newbigin says, “This was no humanely devised program for mission. It was the work of the Spirit, present in the life of the congregation, flowing out into the community through the faithful words and deeds of its members…mission is wrongly understood if it is seen primarily as a task laid upon us. It is primarily a work of the Spirit, a spill-over from Pentecost.” (pg. 20) A good metaphor from life in India for mission is that from the traveling of someone early in the morning. They set off toward what they think is the place where the sun rises, but before they see the sun they see the faint glow of new light on the faces of those they are passing which causes them to realize its time to turn around because the sun is behind them.

Chapter 3 – Participating in the Passion: Witnessing to the Resurrection: The scripture this study is structured around is John 20.19-23. The question that seems to occupy Newbigin in this chapter is how should the church go out in mission? Newbigin’s answer is that she should participate in his passion and witness to his resurrection. In this chapter more than the others Newbigin connects the missional nature of the church to her fundamental identity. He says, “And that is the launching of the church. It is a movement launched into the public life of the world. I has no life except in this sending…the churches being is in that sending” (pgs.22-23) Newbigin recalls his own ministry in Madurai, how the churches had no buildings, they met in the public squares and people slowly moved from outer rings to the center as the gospel took root in their lives.

If the church is to be an authentic witness to Christ she must bare his scares, doing mission in his way;

It was the scars of the passion in his risen body that assured the frightened disciples that it was really Jesus who stood among them. It will be those scars in the corporate life of the church that will authenticate it as indeed the body of Christ, the bearer of his mission, the presence of the kingdom. It will not be enough for the church to place a cross on top of its buildings or in the centre of its altars or on the robes of its clergy. The marks of the cross will have to be recognizable also in the lives of its members if the church is to be the authentic presence of the kingdom.” (pg. 23)

Newbigin is quick to warn his readers that the cross was not the place of defeat but the place of triumph over evil. “The cross is not abject submission to the power of evil; it is the price paid for a victorious challenge to the powers of evil.” (pg.25) It is this cross that should mark the mission of the church. Jesus in his mission neither withdrew from the world into a religious cloister nor did he engage the world on the worlds own terms. Neither should the church retreat to words alone or trust in actions alone; in preaching alone or social justice alone.

John 20 reminds us again of the gift of the Holy Spirit and His work of mission in the church. He empowers the whole church to live missionally. “It is the whole church, acting in all its members in the secular life of the world, that is to be the bearer of the reconciling grace of God.” (pg. 29) This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for the priesthood of ordained ministry but it doesn’t replace the missional lifestyle the whole church is to live. “The priesthood of the ordained ministry is to enable, not to remove, the priesthood of the whole church.” (pg. 30) Newbigin is aware of how often pride and self-interest lead the church away from doing mission in the way of Christ but the call in John 20 is clear – participate in the passion and bear witness to the resurrection.

Chapter 4 – A Gift, a Command, and an Assurance: The scripture this study is structured around is Matthew 28.18-20. The central question Newbigin addresses in this chapter is that of discipleship and mission. What does it mean for the church to make disciples of the nations? Before he engages that question Newbigin offers some advice on how to understand the “Great Commission” passage in context with the other passages of this book. He says;

If we take it alone, and see mission as essentially obedience to a command, then mission becomes part of the law rather than an expression of the gospel; it becomes a burden to be carried rather than a joy to be shared. It becomes essentially our program, rather than a work of the Spirit in which we are caught up.” (pg. 32)

Newbigin says if we look at this passage closely we’ll notice that it opens with a shout of victory, of joy. It is the that joy working inwardly in the life of the church that propels it outward. Outward to the nations, to make disciples of the nations. But what does that entail? Newbigin points out three things it entails: 1) It does not mean that the nations must become culturally identical to the Western church; 2) but neither does it mean that the nations cultures are un-reprovable; and lastly it doesn’t mean that the nations remain separate churches unto themselves, the cultural differences are to be respected between the churches but not absolutized. Simply put discipling the nations, according to Newbigin,  means “bringing those who were outside the family of God into one family, in which unity does not mean uniformity and diversity does not mean division…” (pgs. 37-38)

But even the apparent command to go isn’t simply a command, it rests upon a promise says Newbigin. The promise that he is with us until the end of the age. He gets the glory for mission;

Perhaps it is unfortunate that the history of mission is so often written by missionaries. They over-estimate their role. It is the Holy Spirit who is the primary missionary; our role is secondary. Mission is not a burden laid upon the church; it is a gift and a promise to the church that is faithful. The command arise from the gift. Jesus reigns and all authority has been given to him in earth and heaven. When we understand that, we shall not need to be told to let it be known. Rather, we shall not be able to keep silent.” (pg. 40)

Afterthoughts:

If you’ve never read Newbigin before I think this booklet is a great place to start.

If you’re a ministry practicioner trying to create a theological foundation for mission and social justice in your church this is a great book for you to consider.

If you’re someone who’s passionate about missions but also weary because of the triumphalistic language so often used in missions agencies this is a great book for you.

Newbigin has helped me in this booklet think through evangelism, preaching & social justice, and the missional church in fresh ways. He has encouraged me to consider that mission is a gift, a command, and an assurance founded on the fact that God’s kingdom has come near in His Son, and that it will come near through the life of the missional church by the Spirit. What more could you ask for in a booklet only 40 pages long.

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read on missions, period!

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Summary: Chapter 05

The title of this chapter is “The Word of the Cross.” In this chapter Gorman attempts to consider the full breadth of the meaning of the cross in Paul, specifically exploring how Paul’s expounding of the cross corresponded to the life of the believing community. Gorman points out that Paul only uses the verb crucify twice, instead he likes to mention the death of Christ. In order canvass the material Gorman offers three categories that Paul’s statements about Christ death fit into: texts that have Christ as the subject/actor/protagonist; texts that have God the Father as the subject/actor/protagonist; and the few texts that list them both as the subject/actor/protagonist. In his book Gorman quotes these texts in full taking up several pages. I won’t re-quote them here. 

What the great number of texts show is that there are narrative patterns to the cross in Paul;

Even a cursory reading of these texts reveals that for Paul the death of Christ on the cross is multidimensional, indeed polyvalent. Various interpretations of that death appear, constituting a “dazzling array of colors in the mural of Paul’s theology of the cross,”…” (pg. 82)

What are these narrative patterns in Paul’s theology of the cross? There at least 13 narative patterns: Obedience/Righteousness/Faith(fulness); Love; Grace; Sacrifice; Altruism/Substitution; Self-giving/giving; Voluntary self-humbling/abasement; Culmination of a story that includes “incarnation” and suffering; Paradoxical power and wisdom; Interchange; Apocalyptic victory and liberation for new life and transformation; Reconciliation and justification; Prelude to resurrection/exaltation. The multidimensional reality of the cross for Paul as demonstrated in the different narrative forms it can take up in his writing often coalesces for him in particular passages such as: Rom. 3.21-26, 6.1-11, 8f; 2 Corinth. 5.14-21; Gal. 2.15-21; and Phil. 2.6-11. 

The last passage, Phil. 2.6-11, is what Gorman calls Paul’s master story and I think he’s aptly named it in light of how multidimensional the cross is in Paul’s thought. So many of the narrative forms of the cross that we mentioned above are present in this pre-Pauline hymn that’s its hard not to be reminded of just how central the cross was to Paul’s spiritual theology. Gorman, summarizing this section of Paul’s Master Story, says; 

For Paul, to be in Christ is to be a living exegesis of this narrative of Christ [Master story of Christ], a new performance of  the original drama of exaltation following humiliation, of humiliation as the voluntary renunciation of rights and selfish gain in order to serve and obey.” (pg. 92)

We’ve noted above that there are 13 narrative patterns of the cross in Paul, from these Gorman has comprised four fundamental patterns of the cross in Paul;

  1. The first, taken from the first cross-narrative pattern #1, is cruciformity as faithful obedience, or cruciform faith.
  2. The second, synthesizing the next several patterns #2-8, is cruciformity as voluntary self-emptying and self-giving regard for others, or cruciform love.
  3. The third, corresponding to patterns #9-12, is cruciformity as – paradoxically – life-giving suffering and transformative potency in weakness, or cruciform power.
  4. The fourth, found in the last narrative pattern #13, the pattern of reversal, is cruciformity as requisite prelude to resurrection and exaltation, or cruciform hope.

Gorman closes the chapter summarizing the story of God in the story of Christ cross. You’ll have to purchase the book to find out how he does this: click here. 

Afterthoughts:

So much was surveyed in this chapter its hard to list the afterthoughts its stirred within me. One thing Gorman’s handling did for me was refresh me. Instead of burying himself in the endless debates over atonement he surveyed the cross of Christ as it related to the story Paul himself lived from – deeply refreshing. 

Some questions I’m living with after reading the chapter;

  • Is the story Paul lived from, the story of the cross, the master narrative in my life? 
  • In my preaching, and in my reading of scripture have I magnified the polyvalent/multi-dimensional nature of the cross or have I flattened it due to a prior agenda of staking a claim in polemical debates within the church today?
  • How can I help people see just how majestic the mosaic portrait Christ’s cross casts upon our spirituality is? 
  • Does this picture of Christ cross render suspect any division between word and deed in a believers life? Yes.

9780300149890I’ve been a fan of Gary Anderson ever sense my Old Testament professor Doug Green at Westminster introduced me to his writings via “The Genesis of Perfection: Adam and Even in Jewish and Christian Imagination.” There are a few, not many, a few biblical scholars whose books I can honestly say have made me rethink and relearn how I read scripture and Anderson is one of them. I’m sure his latest book, “Sin: A history,” will offer new challenges. The thing I like about reading Anderson is that he always points to things I’ve never considered before in very familiar passages and stories. Not to say I don’t have disagreements, but even in those I leave rewarded by Andersons thoughts.

Here’s the publishers write up on it at Yale Press;

“What is sin? Is it simply wrongdoing? Why do its effects linger over time? In this sensitive, imaginative, and original work, Gary Anderson shows how changing conceptions of sin and forgiveness lay at the very heart of the biblical tradition. Spanning nearly two thousand years, the book brilliantly demonstrates how sin, once conceived of as a physical burden, becomes, over time, eclipsed by economic metaphors. Transformed from a weight that an individual carried, sin becomes a debt that must be repaid in order to be redeemed in God’s eyes.

Anderson shows how this ancient Jewish revolution in thought shaped the way the Christian church understood the death and resurrection of Jesus and eventually led to the development of various penitential disciplines, deeds of charity, and even papal indulgences. In so doing it reveals how these changing notions of sin provided a spur for the Protestant Reformation.

Broad in scope while still exceptionally attentive to detail, this ambitious and profound book unveils one of the most seismic shifts that occurred in religious belief and practice, deepening our understanding of one of the most fundamental aspects of human experience.

Gary A. Anderson is professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible in the Department of Theology at Notre Dame. He lives in South Bend, IN.”

CAMDELIVEIf you’ve been following at all the back and forth between John Piper (“The Future of Justification“) and NT Wright (“Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Mission“) on the doctrine of justification then Douglas Campbell’s forthcoming book is one you’ll want to pick up because it creatively explores ways beyond the impasse between the two pastor/scholars. Even if you haven’t followed their back and forth Campbell’s book is still one I’d suggest reading because he explores Paul’s theology through the lens of apocalyptic thought. Here’s the link to the book at the publishers website, “The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul.” 

Here’s the write up on it from Eisenbrauns; 

“This scholarly book breaks a significant impasse in much Pauline interpretation today, pushing beyond both “Lutheran” and “new” perspectives to a new, noncontractual, “apocalyptic” reading of many of the apostle’s most famous — and most troublesome — texts.

Douglas Campbell holds that the intrusion of an alien, essentially modern, and theologically unhealthy theoretical construct into the interpretation of Paul has disordered the broader interpretation of his thought and created many of the difficulties that scholars now struggle with. It has, in fact, produced an individualistic and contractual construct — which Campbell terms “the Justification discourse” — that shares more with modern political traditions than with either orthodox theology or Paul’s first-century world. In order to counteract that influence, Campbell argues that it needs to be isolated and brought to the foreground before the interpretation of Paul’s texts begins. When that is done, new readings free from this intrusive paradigm become possible and surprising new interpretations unfold.

Demonstrating in detail how prior positions in theological and political terms affect exegesis — how commitments to either lead to bad exegetical decisions at key points, shifting the theoretical implications of certain key texts — The Deliverance of God proves itself a unique and very important work for those looking for an accurate reading of Paul’s words.”

(HT: Stephen Young)

21178024The Study of Evangelism: Exploring a Missional Practice of the Church” edited by Chilcote and Warner is a veritable treasure trove of essays relevant to the missional church discussion being had today. This book is worth the price of admission because within it are pieces taken from other sources by some of the leading missiologists whose thoughts helped form the missional church movement like David J. Bosch, Leslie Newbigin, Darrell Guder, and more. One of the things that excited me as I looked through the table of contents was how the editors combined those known for mercy like Ron Sider and Orlando Costas with the fore fathers of the missional church discussion. This is not only a great text book, but its also a great primer for anyone who wants to understand the foundation of the missional church.

3716The next book worth mentioning is a forthcoming book from IVP called “Deep Church: A third way beyond emerging and traditional churches.” Belcher’s mention of seeking a third way in the subtitle of this book enthused me. 

And reading Scot McKnight’s blurb where he says Belcher has found a charitable way to seek a third way, along with Tim Keller’s supportive comments makes me think he has found one. I’m curious to see where he goes with this book. It could be of huge significance. I first learned of this author and his book at his Tweeter page here.

37433791The last book that recently caught my eye regarding ecclesiology was a book my college mentor Dr. Daniel Ebert suggested I read. The title of the book is “Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical introduction” by Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger. My mentor is usually spot on with his book suggestions so when I’m able I’m going to pick this one up. I’m definitely curious with where they go in their final chapter, “From building programs to building God’s missional kingdom.”

9780310273332mHave you ever heard that reading leads to an incessant desire to read more. Well I’m sure some people have found thats not the case but I haven’t. The more I read the more I realize that there’s books I still want to read and the “want to read” list begins to far outweigh the “have read” list (Facebook’s ap on books is a perpetual reminder to me of that). One of the books on my “want to read” list is the book in the Zondervan counterpoints series called, “Three views on the New Testament use of the Old Testament.”

To hold me over when I can’t read a book right away I look to solid reviews of it that either give a good survey of the book or offer penetrating insights into the main tensions for the books writer(s). Steve Moyise’s review in the “Review of Biblical Literature” is an example of the latter for the “Three views on the New Testament use of the Old Testament.” 

One of the more helpful things I found in his review was his reflection on why Walter Kaiser and Peter Enns view the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament differently. He says its not only a matter of hermeneutical difference between them, but also how they understand the nature of God;

In one sense, the debate is about hermeneutics, but one wonders if, more fundamentally, it is about one’s view of God. Kaiser’s God would not inspire Hosea to speak about the exodus and then inspire Matthew to find new meaning in the same words. Enns thinks this is precisely what the God who became incarnate in Jesus would do. 

What do you think about Moyise’s suggestion?

Here’s a small bibliography to read further on the issue of how the New Testament authors used the Old Testament:

Inerrancy and Hermeneutics” edited by Harvie M. Conn. Dan McCartney’s essay in this collection of articles is of fundamental importance to understanding how the New Testament uses the Old Testament. Several of the other essays are of course helpful as well. 

Inspiration and Incarnation” by Peter Enns. Enns draws out in further detail his approach to the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament in this book, but what is even more helpful is the way he situates his approach in his broader hermeneutical commitments, particularly the incarnational analogy. 

Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period” by Richard Longenecker. Longenecker’s book is now considered a classic, while it may at times be dated his perceptions and the passages he discusses continue to in their own way not only form the foundation for scholars like McCartney and Enns but also contribute to what they seek to clarify as the extra-biblical and biblical data continue to be related.

Early Biblical Interpretation” by James Kugel. This is Kugel’s earlier work on the subject, he has three larger, more current works to consider as well (Traditions of the Bible, The Bible as it Was, How to Read the Bible). I choose to list this book for its size and comparable significance with the others in this list.

Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul” by Richard B. Hays. Hays work is focused upon Pauline literature, exploring how and why Paul used the Old Testament the way he did. Hays work holds both hermeneutical and theological interests at heart and is a standard work referenced in the ongoing discussion about the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament.

(HT: Art Boulet)