Friday, April 27, 2007

Gospel Optimism 2

Having to write a report about time in the US with Redeemer Presbyterian and co. has reminded me of many examples of gospel optimism in practice.

One in particular sticks in the mind. Charlie Drew planted Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in the upper west side of Manhattan some 7 years ago. After some God-given growth for many years and spurred on by the gospel imperative, the church began to think itself of planting another church somewhere.

But Drew told us how there had been a recent plateau in numerical growth. Many would be tempted in such a situation to consolidate and bide time until growth returns before taking the risk of 'hiving off' significant givers and ministry leaders and making a financial commitment to a church plant. By contrast, Drew was inclined to see this plateau as an indication that it is time to plant. For Drew, not only does the gospel demand it in the long term, but in the short term church planting is perhaps the necessary strategy to overcome the growth plateau. What would be counter-intuitive to many was intuitive to Drew.

Gospel optimism means leading for growth not for maintenance.

(Oh, and for those who might be excited about such things, Drew described himself as a Presbyterian sacramentalist and said he had a very high view of the importance of the Lord's Supper, all in a non-Roman way I imagine)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Gospel Optimism

One of the things our brethren across the pond are rather better at than we are is big and optimistic thinking, dreaming and planning.

For example, you're New York and some terrorists fly a plane or two into a couple of your biggest baddest buildings. What do you do? You reply by saying 'tell you what, we'll build one building covering the surface area of the two and taller than the previous two, and we'll make it pretty impossible for people to fly planes into it. oh yeah, and we'll call it something like Freedom Tower.' Ok, so us Brits choke slightly on the implied jingoism and raise our eyebrows at the imperialistic arrogance that might stand behind that sort of thing. But 10/10 for sheer in-your-face positive thinking.

That sort of optimistic big-thinking can be found in the American church too. And when it's combined with Reformed theology and Gospel confidence, I can't help but see it as a good thing, and something we could do with spades more of here in the UK, where we've managed to find theological glosses for our in-built cynicism and sanctified our smallness.

E.g., Redeemer Presbyterian Church think big. They're optimistic about the depth and breadth of the gospel's power to change their city. They're working and praying towards the cultural renewal, conversion and transformation of New York. That's all. Oh, and while they're at it they want to help others in the US and some 50 other major cities around the world do that sort of thing too.

Now, whilst the 1,000+ caveats, questions, qualifications and worries about big visions flood your mind (many of which might be necessary and godly, many of which Redeemer and co. would go along with), remember that God's ambition for the world and for the glory of his Son is a lot bigger than Tim Keller's. Daniel 7:13-14, 2 Cor 10:4-6, Mark 4:20

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Word Alive and Well

Anyone wondering about the reason for Word Alive and Spring Harvest parting company could do worse than to have a look at this blog entry. It boils down to a sad, necessary, gospel-affirming, Christ-exalting stance taken by the Word Alive people on the cross.

Also, the Bluefish has helpfully blogged about current blogosphere activity on all this.

Did Jesus take our penalty on the cross? Does God justify and forgive sinners whilst establishing and magnifying his own justice and righteous wrath against sin? Is this penalty-bearing element of the cross worth struggling and contending for? These are the questions which, when answered with a joyful 'yes', have made this sad parting of the ways necessary.

I don't really have anything to contribute by way of new insights into the doctrine or what this says about the poverty of current UK evangelicalism. But I for one am extremely glad for the stance UCCF and others have taken over this issue. I am equally disappointed, angry, frustrated, confused and saddened by the lack of clarity and passion for this central plank in God's salvation amongst loads of evangelicals.

All that aside, New Word Alive looks like a great new alternative.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


My wife Claire (who should know about these things) informs me that in this country it is illegal to have in your possession a live badger. The stipulations of the Protection of Badgers Act (1992) also outlaws the possession of a dead badger or any part thereof.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Gospel according to the UN

One of the places we visited in the US was the UN building. Of the touristy stuff we did it was probably the most interesting part of the trip. As a Christian it was especially interesting for a number of reasons.

In particular two murals struck me as interesting, almost startling.

The first one (outside the Security Council Chamber) pictures the story of human history from early 20th century confusion, death, plague in a war-torn fractured world followed by something of a recreation of humanity through the UN (which emerges from the chaos of the 'old' world) into a world of peace etc.

The second one (inside the Security Council Chamber) tells a similar story, similar imagery of re-birth and unification is used, though this time the UN is pictured as a pheonix rising from the ashes and death of the old world order.

  • Both of these murals picture 'gospels' - they tell the story of human history as a story of re-birth, decreation, new creation, death-resurrection of humanity/the world.
  • In both of these 'gospels' the Messianic saviour/redeemer/peacemaker/re-creator of the world is the UN.
  • Both of these murals display therefore a false hope, false gospel, false saviour, all based on secular humanism and religious pluralism (the UN was big on that too - another chamber sported another mural with the slogan 'do unto others...' etc. We were told that the mural was intended to represent the core message of all religions. Elsewhere we were treated to a view of some construction containing Buddha's remains, added in deference to the unique contribution Buddhism has made to the world).
  • Even though it might do some good, the UN, when it sees itself in the same vein as in these murals, is an idol, an antichrist even, and therefore destined to failure.
  • Only the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ really offers what the UN seeks to achieve. This obviously is best seen if we have a creation-affirming understanding of the gospel that sees Christ's Lordship as extending to political/economic & social structures, as a Lordship that re-creates and reconciles creation as well as individuals, as a Lordship that directly rivals secular humanism's claim to provide the path to true human life and experience in God's world. A society/city/world-building gospel (which fitted really well with what we'd been reading/seeing/hearing from the Redeemer Presbyterian people).
'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you'

'May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. May desert tribes bow before him and his enemies lick the dust. May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastland render him tribute...May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed'

'Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall lie down with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat'


Sorry for the low blog profile of recent. Been all over the place (geographically speaking), and therefore there's lots to report over the next few days/weeks (if I ever get round to it).

For now though, I'm delighted to say that you can find some photos from my trip to New York HERE ('they' assure me that even if you're not a member you can view the photos). They're photos only of all the touristy stuff we did; I didn't take any photos of interviewing people or of listening to Tim Keller preach or of talking about church planting whilst sitting in Starbucks as that sort of thing makes for good conversation but lousy photographs.