Reflections on living on a low income in Australia (Part 2)

In my last post I talked about the challenges of living on a low income in Australia. In the following I want to affirm that living on a low income is by no means a sign of God’s abandonment. Nor is it necessarily a hindrance to participate in the purpose and mission of God. Here I will briefly mention a few things that I have learned in this journey.

First, focus on God and trust him for his provision. This is not as simple as it sounds. It is in fact a lifelong journey, with many failures along the way. There are many miracles of God’s blessings, even though sometimes they are very tiny miracles. Sometimes God blesses me with the company of friends who buy me coffees. At other times we receive substantial financial gifts from friends who do not expect anything in return. And there are times when we simply have to faithfully trust in God’s love.

Second, have a sense of God’s vocational calling. When I lost my job, I was anxious to find work. But after prayer it became clear that I should wait on God for work that fits into his purpose for me and for his world. Over the years God has given me opportunities to participate in his purpose through theological teaching and other voluntary services. Regardless of how much I earn, I know that I am walking with God, which is most important. The one who calls us is faithful (1 Thess 5:24).

Third, not having many material possessions is a good thing. God has supplied all our needs. We live a simple life, and it is good! Some months ago I asked our 14-year-old whether he wanted an iPhone or smart phone, knowing that almost all his friends had one of those gadgets. But he said that he didn’t need one. He is accustomed to not having extra material things. Living simply is great.

Fourth, low income draws the family closer. We don’t have much, but we have each other. We enjoy our yummy meals at home. Our son always praises Mum’s cooking. Isn’t that wonderful? We also enjoy cheap meals in the Asian restaurants in multicultural Melbourne. There are many precious moments that we cherish as a family.

Fifth, our experience helps us to identify with the pain of others, albeit only in very small measure. Our struggles remind us of the much greater suffering that the poor and marginalised experience on a daily basis. Trials help us to be better listeners to the stories of those who suffer, especially those living with poverty and social injustice. If anything, I hope our low income can reduce the power differentials between us and the poor, even though only by a little bit.

Sixth, our experience helps us to understand the mission of God. God sent his Son to become a human being, to identify with the suffering of humanity, and to die on the cross so as to set them free from the power of sin and death. God raised him from the dead so that all who are in him may flourish as people created in his image. Christ did not just say that he cared, he came to share—to share the joys and pains of humanity. Our very small struggles give us an opportunity to follow the footsteps of our Lord, saviour, and king. We pray that by God’s grace we may also share the reasons for our hope with the people around us.

The Book of Revelation and the call of the church to mission (Dean Flemming)

Sometimes Christians find it hard to understanding the Book of Revelation in the Bible. At the same time, the followers of Jesus don’t always know how to embody the mission of God in their lives. But in his book, Recovering the Full Mission of God, Dean Flemming helps us to read Revelation (and other New Testament books) and understand God’s call for the church to participate in his mission, especially in the Western world.


Here are a few excerpts from Flemming’s book.

[The] church is to come out of Babylon—“to be a godly community in the midst of the ungodly empire.” (Page 238; emphasis added; see Rev 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21.)

From Revelation’s perspective, the church lives out its missional calling in a world dominated by a Roman Empire that had declared its power to be absolute. Rome had hijacked the claim to sovereignty over the world from the one true God. This idolatrous order was demonstrated above all in the emperor cult, which thrived in the cities of Asia. (page 238)

It is a call for God’s people to abandon Babylon-like living. Practically, it means distancing themselves from such ordinary cultural practices as eating food sacrificed to idols (Rev 2:14–15, 20–21). Christians could encounter idol food in a whole variety of settings. These included public festivals, social dinners at the temple, and meetings of the trade guilds, all of which involved honouring the emperor and the traditional pagan gods. But although this might be a “normal” activity in the culture, in John’s prophetic eyes, it is a compromise with state-sponsored idolatry. Leaving Babylon would also involve forsaking unjust economic practices. And, as Christ’s message to the church in Laodicea reveals, it is a departure from self-indulgent consumption, along with the arrogance that fuels it. “I am rich,” boast the Laodiceans, “I have prospered, and I need nothing” (Rev 3:17). In short, exiting Babylon entails leaving behind whatever values and practices support the idolatry of the empire and oppose the claims of the true and living God. (page 239; emphasis added)

God’s people must live as a holy, distinctive community in the public square. Loyalty to the Lamb is no private affair. They have “his [the Lamb’s] name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Rev 14:1; cf. Rec 22:4), for all to see. In Revelation’s symbolism, they bear a divine “seal” (Rev 7:3–8; 9:5) as an outward, visible sign that they belong to God, not to the beast (cf. Rev 13:16–17). The church’s life is not hidden, but on parade before a watching world. As God’s people “Follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (14:4), they become a public embodiment of the narrative of the crucified Lord. And this draws others to the Savior.[1] (page 241; emphasis added, except for “in the public square”)

What would it mean for Christian communities to “come out of Babylon” today? In the first place, we must seek to discern, by the Spirit’s guidance, where “Babylon” is to be found. It may be nearer than we think. Where in the world do governments or corporations increase their own wealth and security at the expense of powerless people? Where do nations use political, military or economic force to promote self-serving policies? Where do political or economic powers act in ways that demand idolatrous allegiance? Where do individuals and societies cuddle the culture-god of consumerism? And in what ways are Christians drawn into being an accomplice to Babylon, whether actively or passively? (page 241; emphasis added)

Source: Dean Flemming, Recovering the Full Mission of God: A Biblical Perspective on Being, Doing and Telling (Downers Grove: IVP, 2013).


Book review: David W. Smith, The Kindness of God

Book review: David W. Smith, The Kindness of God: Christian Witness in our Troubled World (Nottingham, UK: IVP, 2013).

In his book, The Kindness of God, David Smith asks some penetrating questions about how to bear witness in a trouble world. Smith turns his readers’ attention to two things at the beginning of the book. First, he talks about his experience as a speaker at a conference in Jos, Nigeria. Jos is described as a post-colonial city that owes its existence to the expansion of European colonial power, and it sits on the fault line between African Christianity and Islam. Second, Smith refers to the foresight of the well-known missionary and scholar, Leslie Newbigin, that in the coming century there would be three factors that would compete for people’s allegiance: the gospel, the free market, and Islam.

The book then proceeds to discuss many issues concerning the world today: globalisation, urbanisation, market economy, suffering, poverty, violence, and religious tension. Smith argues that we need to translate the gospel for the globalised world in the twenty-first century. He challenges Christians to critique their own understanding of the gospel in light of the Scripture. He skilfully proposes an informed reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans for the urban world. Smith concludes by bringing his readers back to his experience in Jos, Nigeria, as well as Newbigin’s insightful comments about the gospel, the free market, and Islam.

David Smith's The Kindness of God

David Smith is well versed in the history of mission, missiology, and the Bible. This is demonstrated by his familiarity with the works of Justo González, Walter Brueggemann, Kevin Vanhoozer, Robert Jewett, and Leslie Newbigin. His competence in these areas allows him to provide a lucid, insightful, and informed discussion on Christian witness in a world of racial conflicts and religious tensions. His book helps its readers to understand the historical and present inter-relationships between faith, the free market, globalisation, and urbanisation. This, in turn, assists Christians to assess the way they face the challenges that lie ahead of them.

The book contains many perceptive uses of Scripture. Smith refers to the Bible frequently, with one chapter focussing on Romans and its implications for the urban churches today. He argues that in church history there were times when Christians interpreted the same Scripture in opposite manners. He then suggests that in our troubled world nowadays Christians still read the Bible differently, resulting in opposing interpretations and applications for the same issues. Smith calls for a faithful reading of Scripture in our troubled world—one that is in line with our allegiance to the crucified and risen Christ rather than human idolatrous desires.

The book is not for those looking for a self-help book that simply tells people what to believe in. But if you want to read a book that invites you to think carefully and respond thoughtfully about Christian witness in the world, then The Kindness of God is for you. Smith does not go into convoluted theological arguments. He is, however, a passionate and persuasive writer. The book is engaging, full of insights, and challenging. It will leave the reader with plenty to ponder.

Finally, it is worth citing an excerpt of the endorsement by Jonathan Lamb, Director, Langham Preaching.

[The book provokes] us to think freshly not only about the missiological challenges out there . . . but also the challenges at home that we so easily neglect — a church shaped by materialism, a gospel distorted by secular culture, a proclamation of the cross without the experience of its weakness and power. In this troubled world, he urges us to rediscover the fullness of the gospel . . . and to listen to the voices of compassion from the underside of globalisation . . . this book provokes reflection on the hope which flows from the kindness of God. It is an urgent, prophetic and compassionate book that is rooted in our broken world but lifts our eyes to see God’s purposes for his global church.

The display of wealth of the city and the urban poor

I came across an article written by Dr Jayakumar Christian, someone I respect greatly. It is entitled The Rise of the Urban Poor. There is much to ponder, but I will only highlight a few things using the following quotes.

Jayakumar Christian talks about the “vulgar display of wealth” of the city, and observes that the rich-poor disparity is an increasing problem.

In a strange way, the city brings to the fore in a pronounced manner the gap [between the rich and the poor]—the worst of urban poverty. The rich display their wealth as if the poor do not exist in the cities. The malls and neon lights overshadow the dark corners where the poor eke out their living. Shining India happily coexists with abject poverty as though poverty was a mere landscape issue. One wonders if this is a consequence of our religious philosophies and worldview . . . There is a parasitical relationship––not manipulation but helplessness. In the process, the poor and vulnerable children get exploited and oppressed.

What is often touted as a ‘lack of political will’ in our governance and bureaucratic leadership is really an intentional (ideological) effort to crush (never allow) any uprising of the poor and to suppress any emergence of hope. This is about a powerful collective playing god in the lives of the poor and wounding the souls of the poor, reducing them to a state of hopelessness.

In terms of the church’s response, Jayakumar Christian has the following (and much more) to say.

Grassroots practitioners/agents of change must:

reflect their ‘inner being’ through their engagement. Poverty and powerlessness are human and relational; therefore responses to poverty must also be human and relational. This requires investment of life. It cannot be reduced to mere action plans; demonstrate covenant-quality inclusive relationships based on truth practitioners must allow truth to confront their public and private life;

be competent to exegete God’s work among the poor-trace the ‘patterns’ in God’s movement among the poor in the city; be competent to analyse the worldview of a people and the ideology that drives the economic, political and other systems that crush the poor; and be countercultural in a society that values entitlement over sacrifice.”

The church—the prophetic community—must rediscover herself in her own neighbourhood. The church must locate its mission in the space . . . between hope and hopelessness, life and joy, and pain and death. The church is the evidence that our God has not given up on the urban poor.

Source: as at 8/9/2014

A quick reflection on reading Romans missionally

I spoke at a mission event recently. Here is a thought I shared, based on Romans 8:3–4, 29; 12:2, 9, 13.

A missional reading of Romans urges us to see God’s purpose of creating a Christ-community that has given its allegiance to Jesus because of his self-sacrificing death. This community seeks to be conformed to the image of the Son, so that it may be transformed into a Christ-centred, love-motivated and stranger-loving missional church.

Holistic mission of CIM

This year OMF International celebrates their 150th anniversary of participating in the mission of God in East Asia.


As an Asian, this passage from their new book brought me to tears.

Along with perhaps a thousand independent churches planted, and many more embryonic small gatherings of believers, the CIM started schools and Bible colleges, hospitals and clinics, and refuges for opium addicts to detoxify. CIM workers cared for orphans and abandoned babies. They brought love to abused women, to rejected leprosy sufferers and to the outcast. They challenged every power of darkness, the breadth and length of the vast country of China. They often buried their children, their spouses or their colleagues, as so many diseases simply treated today were then beyond the scope of contemporary medical knowledge. Some died a martyr’s death, such as during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, when many Chinese Christians also lost their live. Many served year after year, trusting that God who is faithful would one day bring a harvest, whether or not they lived to see it.

Source: Rose Dowsett and Chad Berry, God’s Faithfulness, pages 24–25.

Dimensions of incarnational missiology

Some time ago I read the late Ross Langmead’s The Word Made Flesh. I really enjoyed reading it. Here is a summary of the three dimensions of incarnational missiology that he mentioned.

(1) Following Jesus. “This vision of incarnational mission emphasises costly discipleship which involves a whole-of-life response in Christopraxis. It pursues holistic mission . . . It sees mission as being patterned on the life and teaching of Jesus, including solidarity with the poor, a life of vulnerable love, and a socio-religious challenge to the status quo which is likely to lead to suffering (the way of the cross).”

(2) Participation in Christ. This emphasises the “continuing presence and initiative of the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit, without which discipleship is impossible. . . . If mission as following Jesus emphasises the cost, mission as participating in Christ (or conforming to Christ) emphasises grace. Eastern Orthodoxy expresses the transformation which occurs as Christians live in Christ in terms of being drawn into the likeness to God or deified (theosis).

(3) Joining God’s incarnating mission. This dimension, as Langmead understood it, sees “God continually reaching out to the universe and becoming embodied in many ways in it, particularly in the life of humanity . . . The incarnating dynamic of God, therefore, is seen to begin in creation. It is also seen definitively in God’s redemptive self-emptying in Jesus Christ. It moves toward eschatological consummation, when the creator will fully indwell creation. God’s mission of enfleshment, meanwhile, is revealed to be the basis for inculturation . . . In considering this emphasis we [note] . . . that it would be a narrow view of incarnation if it referred only to God’s ‘turn to the world’ and it neglected the challenge to culture represented in the cross and Jesus’ prophetic teaching. Overall, this third dimension provides the basic view of reality in which the incarnation is a natural expression of God’s outgoing and incarnating nature.”

Source: Ross Langmead, The Word Made Flesh: Towards an Incarnational Missiology (Lanham: University Press of America, 2002), 270–1.

Learning from each other in the new urban world

I am reading Jared Looney’s Crossroads of the Nations: Diaspora, Globalization, and Evangelism (Portland: Urban Loft Publishers, 2015). In the first chapter Looney talks about the changing shape of mission, and how God has brought people from different cultures to the urban centres in North America (and the Western world). Looney recognises the benefit of the people of God learning from each other. Mission is no longer a one-sided affair, but a matter of mutual partnership.

Jared Looney’s Crossroads of the Nations

Here is a good excerpt.

We may incarnate an evangelistic presence among people from any number of nations, and we may also greatly benefit from partnerships with disciples of Christ who bring perspectives and experiences radically different from our own. The opportunity to “sit at the feet” of Christian leaders coming from radically different societies and cultures from our own should not be overlooked . . . Many of us whose cultural roots are in what has been the dominant culture in the West . . . have been accustomed to a society where Christianity had a dominant voice, and we built large institutions to preserve and protect our religious culture. However, many Christian migrants come from contexts that are clearly defined as non-Christian where they have been accustomed to living in a dominant culture without completely identifying with it. In many respects, Christian migrants may have much to teach the church in Western society about living transcendent of a mainstream culture that cannot be mistaken for being Christian . . . We may learn that we have some blind spots in determining our own cultural accommodation to ideological worldviews or values that seek to undermine the Gospel. We may at times be blind to them due to our immersion in our home culture even when that culture has compromised the Gospel of Christ. However, we live on the edge of an opportune time to refine our vision of Kingdom life through the experiences of brothers and sisters who come from foreign lands and teach us once again how to live as aliens and foreigners in our own country, as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. (pages 31–32; emphasis added)

Having grown up in East Asia and having lived in Australia for more than two decades, I think Looney’s words are true. I want to make some brief comments here.

Early this year I had the privilege of teaching a class of students (mostly) from a part of the world where persecution was very severe. They are former refugees, and some of them lived in refugee camps for more than ten years. I might have advanced academic knowledge of the Bible. But I felt that they had much to offer to me and to the class because of their faithful walk with Jesus in their suffering.

These students are an inspiration to me.

In view of this, I would like to encourage my East Asian migrant friends in Australia (and in the West) that you can make a genuine contribution in this land that you now call home. Do not abandon what you learned in the past where Christianity was not a dominant culture, especially what you learned from your suffering, be it socioeconomic hardship or religious persecution. I would also like to encourage you to develop thoughtful discernment through prayer and careful Bible studies as you live in the West. Learn from Christians in the West, but at the same time be aware that some aspects of the faith and practices here have been shaped by its affluence, prosperity, and security, rather than by a cruciform existence that models after the Crucified Christ and risen Lord. It is not that one type of Christian is superior to another, but that we all need to discern what is good in light of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

To my Aussie friends and others in the West, I want to thank you for the contribution you have made to Christianity. And I am grateful to those who brought the gospel to our countries of origin. But I also want to encourage you to learn from people of other cultures. Many of them have much to teach us about the love of Jesus because of their suffering and experience in Christ.

Michael Goheen on Christian mission today

I am always interested in mission, because without missionaries going to my home country more than a hundred years ago, I would never have known Jesus.

Recently I have been reading Michael W. Goheen’s Introducing Christian Mission Today (Downers Grove: IVP), 2014. I bought this book because of the recommendations by quite a few missiologists and scholars. Christopher J. H. Wright, for example, says the following about the book.

Very few people can combine multiple areas of expertise in their own thinking, let alone in a single book. Mike Goheen is one of those few. This wide-ranging survey is the fruit of a true teacher’s passion for the whole scope of his discipline. We are led steadily to understand mission from its biblical foundations, in theological reflection, through millenia of historical practice, across multiple cultural and ecclesial contexts, to the most urgent issues facing the church in mission today and tomorrow. Theologically enriching, reliably informative, and both conceptually and practically challenging.

A quick look at the table of contents and the first few chapters will show that Christopher Wright is right here. In the following I will cite a few things I have read so far.

Goheen starts with a brief summary of his understanding of mission (pages 25–26). First, he says that mission is not so much about “witness in six continents.” Also, it is not from Europe and North America to Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Rather, it is “from all six continents.”

Second, Goheen thinks that mission is not primarily “what the church does.” Instead,

the church must understand its mission as participation in the mission of the triune God. And this mission has a communal nature: it is a mission of God’s people. Often evangelism and cross-cultural missions are understood in individualistic ways. However, mission is the calling of a people. Finally, the scope of mission is as broad as creation because God’s mission is the redemption of his whole world. (Pages 25–26)

Third, mission is not mainly about geographical expansion. Rather,

[mission is] the task given to God’s people everywhere to communicate the good news not only with their words but also with their lives and deeds. Mission is witness in life, word and deed. Putting “life” before “word” and “deed” is intentional: the gospel is first of all communicated in the lives of believers, both in their communal life together and as they are scattered in the world. (Page 26)

Finally, Goheen seems to agree with The Lausanne Covenant in 1974.

Mission is the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole person in the whole world. (Page 26)

Cultural (suburban) captivity of the church

Tim Foster, vice-principal of Ridley College, Melbourne, has written a book, The Suburban Captivity
of the Church: Contextualising the Gospel for
Post-Christian Australia (Melbourne: Acorn, 2014). (The price of the Kindle version is AUD$6.64 today.) Tim Foster studied at Moore College, Sydney, Australia, and did his DMin at Fuller Seminary, US.

I am very interested in this book, but haven’t got the time to read it yet. But I am delighted to read a number of reviews on this book. I will highlight a few things from those reviews and then offer some reflections. Please note that I haven’t read the book myself, and hence the following is not a review of the book as such. Rather, it is a reflection on my observations on the Australian church and the implications to mission in the non-Western world.

Here are the authors of the reviews. Click on his/her name to read his/her review.

Philip Hughes

Tess Holgate

David Burke

Simon Holt

According to Tess Holgate, Foster moved from a suburban parish to an urban one, and there his understanding of the gospel was challenged. Not surprisingly, then, in his book Foster provides the profiles of suburbanites, urbanities, and battlers. I haven’t got the book myself, but I find the following diagram from Philip Hughes’ review helpful. Note that the information in the diagram is from Hughes’ review, not directly from Foster’s book.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 5.47.58 pm

Here is Hughes’ summary of Foster’s understanding of suburban values and how evangelical Christians in Australia may fit into that.

The suburban vision, says Foster, is ‘the pursuit of a comfortable, secure and settled life, in an ordered domain, with one’s family and closest friends, where each individual is free to pursue those interests that will bring happiness with minimal disruption’ (p.75). However, he notes that consumption is conspicuous and functions as a sign of upward mobility in the suburbs. Competition is also inherent in the suburban ethos, not only in consumption, but in spectator sports, cooking and parties, and even giving one’s children private education (p.76). The evangelical churches are strongest in the suburban areas as the values they espouse may be closest to suburban culture in terms of their emphasis on family life. Yet, God often has little place in the suburban vision, Foster says, except to bless the aspirations and assist in their fulfilment (p.77). People sometimes turn to God when things go off the rails.

I haven’t read the book myself. But whether Hughes’ summary reflects accurately Foster’s book, I think the above observation of suburban life is not surprising.

The following from Hughes’ review is also noteworthy. It won’t be new to anyone who has spent some time in an urban church.

Foster notes that, in Australian cities, the working class has diminished as the middle class has grown. Some of the other groups who are at the bottom of the socio-economic range, such as refugees and some non-Western immigrants, some people with disability and mental illness and some on long-term social benefits, share some characteristics of the battlers, but each of these sub-groups is distinct in their own ways (p.116).

In the following I want to offer my own reflections.

(1) Let us not allow the suburban culture to shape our lives. In the Gospels and in Paul’s letters we do not find Jesus or the Jesus-followers living an upwardly mobile life. Middle-class prosperity and aspiration were not the focus of their lives. Rather, the disciples were called to follow Jesus, take up the cross, and embody his life, suffering, death and resurrection in their everyday life. Our value system should be shaped by the cross, not by the values of suburbanites or urbanites, or any other belief or ideology. (It doesn’t mean that we should feel guilty if we were born into a middle-class family, or if we happen to have a high income. What matters is that we live a cross-shaped life.)

(2) We should read the Bible carefully. Anyone who reads the Scriptures carefully would find that individualism, consumerism, and materialism are incompatible with the values of God’s kingdom. We must learn to critique our culture with the Bible.

(3) Let us make the move. It is interesting that Tim Foster’s view of the gospel was challenged when he moved from a suburban parish to an urban one. I am not proposing that we should all move to an inner-city church. But it helps to spend time with people there, so that we can give ourselves the opportunity to discern whether we have unwittingly allowed a suburban mindset to shape our lives. It is important to spend time with the urban poor, the marginalized, the asylum seekers and refugees, and allow their lives to speak to us. There are Christian communities and churches that can assist us to do that. They are not hard to find.

(4) Make sure that we do not export a distorted gospel to the rest of the world. It seems to me that a “gospel message” that is held captive to our culture of materialism and individualism (“me” as the centre, not Christ) is incompatible with the gospel in the Bible. A “gospel message” held captive to the pursuit of upward mobility is not based on the Scripture. A suburban lifestyle that keeps us from the plight of the poor and marginalised is deceptive. It actually keeps us from seeing the Jesus in the Gospels, who identified with the suffering of humankind, not least the pain and affliction of the poor and oppressed. My concern is that western Christians spread a distorted gospel to people in other parts of the world. (I am worried that this may have already happened!)

The best way to avoid this is for western Christians to spend time with the poor and needy in their home country. It is a great preparation for anyone in the West who wants to serve God overseas. This is particularly the case if they spend time in an urban church. Inner-city churches—if and when they are truly missional—are often multicultural, with not a few people coming from low socioeconomic backgrounds. What a great training for those who feel that God may have called them to overseas cross-cultural mission!

N T Wright on image-bearing in the world

I just came across this good quote from N T Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013).

To put it in shorthand: in a world whose icons had been reflecting non-gods, the renewed iconography which informs and sustains the material symbolic universe of the Messiah-people begins with renewed human behaviour. And this dovetails exactly with the ‘new Temple’ vision … The spirit’s indwelling enables the Messiah’s people to be a dispersed Temple-people, the living presence of the one God launching the project of bringing the true divine life into the whole cosmos.

I often think that the “idols” (the “non-gods,” if you like) of our world today manifest themselves in terms of consumerism, materialism and individualism. It seems to me that the vocation of Christ-followers is to bear God’s image in the world through the empowerment of the Spirit. I would add that this image-bearing is indeed about cross-bearing—to live a life that is shaped by the suffering and death Jesus. As we do so, we bring life into the world. Our “temple” is not so much the physical church buildings per se, but the embodiment of God’s presence in a hurting world.

God’s “oneness” and his establishment of a worldwide community of believers (Bruce Longenecker)

I finally have a chance to read Bruce Longenecker’s The Triumph of Abraham’s God (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), a book that I should have read a long time ago.

As I read the New Testament, I become increasingly convinced that God’s sovereignty over the cosmos, his triumph over evil, and his gathering of a worldwide community of believers in Christ, are crucial to our understanding of the gospel. We are called to participate in this gospel by proclaiming Christ to the nations and by our active involvement in the worldwide missional community that he has established.

Here is a wonderful quote from Longenecker’s book that leads me to worship, and say “Amen!”

Accordingly, in Paul’s thought, God’s ‘oneness’ — that is, God’s sovereignty, supremacy over competing deities, and worthiness as the one who alone is to be worshipped — is advertised in the social constituency of God’s people. God’s eschatological triumph results in, consists of, and is exhibited by, the establishment of a community of catholic membership. The formation of such a group is itself the placard, the display, and the disclosure of the power of the ultimate divinity. This fundamental tenet of Paul’s vision for Christian corporate identity is articulated succinctly in Gal. 3.28: in the eschatological community of God’s people ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’. (page 57)

Christ-centred (covenant) leadership (Sherwood Lingenfelter)

Recently, I came across the Sherwood Lingenfelter’s Leading Cross-Culturally: Covenant Relationships for Effective Christian Leadership (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008). Although the book is about leadership in cross-cultural contexts, it has many insights that are relevant to every context. In fact, given our increasingly global and multi-cultural (and postmodern) world, the book’s insights are really worth considering. Here is a great quote.

Every community has its own standard of accountability, and the issues and structures of accountability vary significantly across cultures. Some societies and particularly Western industrial nations, insist on accountability structures that require extensive documentation and eternal structures and processes. Others insist on accountability as a product of relationships and emphasize that people are accountable primarily to the groups to which they belong and to the standards the groups hold for their members. As a consequence building a community of trust is always a major challenge for cross-cultural leadership. (p. 21)

Acknowledging his indebtedness to Max DePree’s Leadership is an Art (2004), Lingenfelter says that leadership “is not achieved through structures or social processes.” (p. 99) For Lingenfelter, “the critical factors for leading cross-culturally are Christ-centered learning and trustworthy covenant-centered leadership.” (p. 101) Lingenfelter also says the following, which, I think, is very insightful.

[L]eadership need not be power focused or governed by the tyranny of consensus. Rather, a leader defines the rules of participation to reflect inclusiveness in the body of Christ, commitment to the work of the kingdom, and effective communication among team members that understands the essence of mutual submission, weakness and forgiveness. That kind of leadership is not driven by results but rather is focused on mobilizing people to concentrate on mission and work effectively together to achieve the very best impact for the corporation or the ministry. (p. 100)

For those who are involved in cross-cultural leadership in particular, the following example is really worth reading.

The expatriate mission director, who adamantly opposed Thai corporate culture, expressed certainty that his vision of “servant leadership” was the correct biblical “form” that must replace the distortions of Thai cultural leadership. He used his role and resources to drive the team members toward his “transforming” form of empowerment and decision making. Such leadership behavior distorts and destroys the very teamwork and community relationships that the leader aspires to achieve. (p. 100)

This distortion resides first in the assumption that there is only one kind of servant leadership: that which is expressed in an individualist, egalitarian vision of social life. Most of the Westerners on these Thai multicultural teams have embraced the individualist, egalitarian vision and define servant leadership in terms that fit their social values. They are free to do what they “feel called” to do and to “fulfill their dreams.” They do not bring to the table a commitment to relationship over self-fulfillment or a willingness to submit to others with a priority for unity. They do not see building trust in covenant community as a greater priority than their ministry focus and calling. They assume that “exercising my gifts,” and “doing ministry tasks” are more important than “being the body of Christ.” (p. 100)

I think what we should consider here is not only that there are different forms of leadership, but also what a Christ-centred leadership truly looks like from a biblical perspective. In other words, is our leadership shaped by an individualistic culture? Or is it community-focussed and shaped by Christ’s self-giving way of life?


The mission of the church (Jürgen Moltmann)

What is the mission of the church? To some, it is obviously about evangelism. For others, there are different dimensions of the gospel according to the Bible. It seems to me that it has to do with declaring the lordship of Jesus, and making disciples who are willing to embody the crucified Christ and risen Lord in their lives and communities. It is about participating in the mission of God. What do you think?

Last month (10th Feb 2014) Joel Willitts cited in his blog the following from Jürgen Moltmann’s book The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. It is about the mission of the church and I think it’s insightful.

In many Christian churches, similar polarization have come into being between those who see the essence of the church in evangelization and the salvation of souls, and those who see it in social action for the salvation and liberation of real life. But in Christian terms evangelization and humanization are not alternatives. Nor are the ‘vertical dimension’ of faith and the ‘horizontal dimension’ of love for one’s neighbor and political change. Nor are “Jesuology’ and christology, the humanity and the divinity of Jesus. Both coincide in his death on the cross. Anyone who makes a distinction here, enforces alternatives and calls for a parting of the ways, in dividing the unity of God and man in the person, the imitation of and the future of Christ.

These alternatives are equally absurd from the point of view of practice. Evangelization would lead either to a crisis of relevance or to an inevitable involvement in the social and political problems of society. Beginning with preaching, one is then faced with questions of community organization, the education of children and the work for the sick and poor. The humanization of social circumstances leads either to a crisis of identity, or inevitably to evangelization or pastoral care. Beginning with the improvement of social conditions in the poverty-stricken areas and liberation from political oppression, one is then faced with the question how the wretched and oppressed can be removed from their inner apathy and given new self-confidence, that is, with the question of how to arouse faith and conquer the structure of servility in their minds. Of course one cannot do everything, but at least everyone must recognized the other charismata in the body of Christ and the necessity for other work by other people to relieve misery.

‘Change yourself,’ some say, ‘and then your circumstances will also change.’ The kingdom of God and of freedom is suppose to have to do only with persons. Unfortunately the circumstances will not oblige. Capitalism, racism and inhuman technocracy quietly develop in their own way. The causes of misery are no longer to be found in the inner attitudes of men, but have long been institutionalized.
‘Change the circumstances,’ other say, ‘and men will change with them.’ The kingdom of God and of freedom is suppose to be a matter only of circumstances and structures. Unfortunately, however, men will not oblige. Breakdowns in marriage, drug addiction, suicide and alcoholism continue undisturbed. Structures which make people unhappy can be broken down, but no guarantee is attached that men will be happy.

Thus both must be done at the same time. Personal, inner change without a change in circumstances and structures is an idealist illusion, as though man were only a soul and not a body as well. But a change in external circumstances without inner renewal is a materialists illusion, as though man were only a product of his social circumstance and nothing else. (22-23)

Source: accessed on 8th March 2014

Incarnational faith and mission through multicultural exchange

I am reading an article written by Professor Douglas Sweeney at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, called “Modern Evangelicalism and global Christianity Identity,” in After Imperialism, edited by Richard R. Cook and David W. Pao (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2011), 1–22.

I find something very interesting about the evangelical missionary movement and how some missionaries repudiated imperialistic methods. I am glad that Sweeney is happy to critique the mistakes of some evangelical missionary endeavours, and highlight the good work of people like Hudson Taylor. Here are two quotes.

Western culture often suffused their presentations of the faith. And Western military and economic force too often guaranteed that those they went to serve would bear the weight of all their baggage. As a host of history writers has made clear in recent years, modern evangelical missionaries have often been seen as agents of imperial expansion on the part of Western powers. And, as Brian Stanley has shown, this view has nowhere been more prevalent than in the land of China, where the Opium Wars were only the most egregious sign of aggression on the part of Western “Christians”. (page 14)

This is not the whole story, though, as Andrew Porter explains. Many missionaries repudiated imperialistic methods, as did many local Christians who contextualized their faith more fully than foreigners ever could. In China, a county that has a long history of Christianity and high-level Christian efforts to indigenize the faith, Hudson Taylor and his nineteenth-century China Inland Mission favoured “faith mission” strategies for raising their support, clearly distancing their ministries from Western money and might so they could embrace indigenous cultural forms authentically. (p. 15)

Two things are noteworthy here. Hudson Taylor and co-workers distanced themselves from Western money and might. In other words, their mission work depended on God, rather then the resources and power of the British Empire. Second, such practice enabled them to embrace indigenous cultural forms authentically. This is vital. Embracing indigenous cultural forms is very much a biblical missional practice. Sweeney’s remarks here are helpful.

Further, as Andrew Walls insists, Christianity has always been an incarnational faith, spread through limited, cultural forms: “no one ever meets universal Christianity in itself; we only ever meet Christianity in a local form, and that means a historically, culturally conditioned form.” Wall continues, “We need not fear this; when God became man, he became historically, culturally conditioned man, in a particular time and place. What he became, we need not fear to be.” (pp. 15–16)

Gambian church historian Lamin Sanneh has applied this incarnational theme insightfully in a spate of recent writings. As a convert from Islam, Sanneh is well positioned to see the beautiful cultural diversity intrinsic to Christianity and the cultural malleability of an incarnational faith… Christianity, then, “is not … a religion of cultural uniformity.” And its pluralism “is not just a matter of regrettable doctrinal splits and ecclesiastical fragmentation.” Rather, the Christian faith is meant to spread and grow through multicultural exchange, witness, dialogue, and partnership in ministry. The Christian church is built by God as faithful, humble witness put flesh on His grace, mercy and love—without exhibiting favoritism (Jas 2:1–13). (p. 16)

I really like this: “the Christian faith is meant to spread and grow through multicultural exchange, witness, dialogue, and partnership in ministry.”