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  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
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Entries in evangelical (8)

Monday
Jul112011

Evangelism, discipleship and the Kingdom of God

What good is 'good news' that never comes to pass? I have heard many wonderful sermons about God's Kingdom. Sadly I have encountered far fewer 'good news' communities and Churches - groups of disciples who seek to be agents of God's good news. I am convinced that our mission is to do what Jesus himself came to do. Christians are called to establish God's Kingdom of loving and transforming grace in tangible and practical ways.

The following quote (via @invisibleforeigner) resonates strongly with me:

“If the Good News is the presence of the kingdom of God, then ‘evangelism’ is much more than ‘saving souls.’ Evangelism means sharing and showing to the world how to realistically, faithfully, and creatively respond to the real needs of the world laboring under ongoing rebellion. Evangelism means living according to the ways of the kingdom of God and inviting others to join us on the way. Evangelism is not selling Jesus, but showing Jesus; evangelism is not mere telling about Christ, but about being Christ.”

— Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship

Of course there are many wonderful Christian communities and groups that are visible expressions of God's 'good news'. I want to be part of such a community!

Friday
Apr012011

Rob Bell - Love Wins

I picked up my copy of 'Love Wins' after I saw a young friend, Ryan Vermooten, reading it when I visited LA last week. Ryan is extremely contrarian. He has dreadlocks, multiple piercings and both his arms are works of contemporary art - I love looking at his tattoos! But, Ryan is passionate about Christ and the ways of Christ. He is doing his DTS (discipleship training school) with YWAM (Youth With a Mission - an international evangelical mission agency). In fact as I write this he is serving on a mission in Haiti - that's deep, sincere, Christ-like, commitment!

Perhaps, Ryan is the kind of person for whom 'Love Wins' was written? I have encountered many young people who are passionate about Christ and the ways of Christ, yet they are less passionate about the narrow theology and approach of traditional evangelical Christianity (particularly as it is expressed in the Western world).

Please take a few minutes to read Ryan's perspective on 'Love wins' here. It sat next to him as he typed this... It is awesome to see a person who loves Jesus think so deeply and critically about our faith, the contemporary debates within the faith, and about ways in which we cultivate an authentic witness to the person of Christ!

I will start reading the book this weekend and then let you know what I think about it. The review below has been quite helpful in framing my approach to the book.

invisibleforeigner:

I had been eager to pick Love Wins up for while. I’ve read both Velvet Elvis and Sex God, and found both simplistic and boring, but I figured a book about an evangelical universalist understanding of hell might be interesting. Once I got past the strange prose, the book was engaging, and I can see why evangelicals are up in arms about this issue.

Love Wins asks a lot of good questions that evangelicals, at least in my experience, are afraid to ask. As someone who has wrestled with the idea of hell, I found myself sympathizing with Rob Bell’s determination to challenge people who might be too complacent about the existence of hell and the eternal damnation of the people around them. Love Wins is very good at talking about the beauty, glory, and mercy of God. God is radiant in this book, and some of the extended meditations on the overwhelming God has for his creation were heartbreaking, in a good way. His view of creation as a place that reveals and displays the glory of God is a powerful corrective of an unfortunate Christian tendency to treat heaven and hell as distant places in the future, and reminds us that what we do in this world important.

Unfortunately, that’s all I really can say that is positive about Love Wins. I think part of that is because I am not the book’s intended audience. Rob Bell is reaching an audience of evangelicals who are disenchanted with a narrow view of a vicious God who condemns people to hell for no good reason, and I commend him for that. However, this book should be the start of discussion, if we have to talk about it at all. Bell messes up basic elements of theology and church history; he treats people like Origen as venerated mainstream church fathers, when the reality is far more complicated; he misquotes Martin Luther; he assumes the worst of opposing views of hell; he calls other views of salvation tribalistic and narrow-minded; he treats demonstrably poetic language as literally as possible when it suits his purposes.

In the end, he reminds me of a less educated version of N.T. Wright, or even of C.S. Lewis. Lewis writes a powerful rebuttal of a narrow view of hell in The Great Divorce, and yet manages to convey that approaching heaven is a terribly painful process, one that will demand the total casting off of everything we held dear. Love winning in The Great Divorce requires losing ourselves utterly, while in Love Wins it just seems to demand infinite amounts of time. While I’m sympathetic to Bell’s worries about hell, I can’t quite say that I’m convinced. I think he tries too hard to make the Gospel palatable, and sin insignificant.

I know that Bell is writing towards a specific audience of evangelicals, particularly the ones who are bitter towards a God they think is cruel. I think a lot of the people who read this book will be pushed towards a deeper understanding of who God is, what Jesus did, and what salvation and sanctification are all about. I know that this book should be taken as an introduction to people who have no idea about the depths of Christianity, and the best case scenario will be that this book will cause people to seek out people like N.T. Wright, and hopefully continue on to reading church fathers like St. Athanasius.

However, I also know that there will be people for whom this book is the last word. Instead of freeing Christians to explore the depth and breath of God’s faithfulness and their faith in full, this book could be the end of the questioning for some. For that reason, I found the book shamefully lacking. Other elements of Christian thought, such as the concept of realized eschatology, which both John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas write extensively about, would have strengthened Bell’s argument, and would have been far more convincing than platitudes about how a God that damns his creation to hell cannot be loving and glorious. The Eastern Orthodox understanding of theosis and the impassibility of God would have been a welcome addition to a text that is sorely in need of depth.

In the end, I hope that this book allows people to seek out what makes Christianity great. I hope people find Jesus in these pages, but I don’t think I did.

If you've read the book I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Friday
Oct152010

Expectations for the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town 2010

Well, today the registrations started picking up a great deal as friends from all over the world joined us in Cape Town.  The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization has drawn together a wide range of cultures, ages and theological perspectives.  Here are a few short videos from new friends, and some I have known for a while.

What are you expecting from this congress?  Make your voice heard on the many topics under consideration!  Simply sign up at http://www.lausanne.org/conversation

Here's Jason Mandryk from Canada (Jason is the author of the great Operation World book - a wonderful mission resource).

Next we have Daryl from the Philippines.

I just love this 'energetic' video from Anja (pronounced Ansa) from Madagascar / France.

Here's an encouraging video from Mike from the USA.

Tuesday
Aug242010

Re-Appropriating the term Evangelical - is it worth it?

My friend Jenny posted a great reflection on her blog about an 'evangelical' gathering that she attended.  I am reposting it below because it raises some very interesting points for consideration, however I would encourage you to visit her blog to see the discussion related to her post.

I've just spent the weekend at the Methodist Evangelical Renewal Movement consultation - or countrywide gathering. It was such an encouraging experience. I must admit that I went along with some hesitancy as I have struggled to fully understand what this fairly new movement is all about. I hoped to catch a sense of their vision - and I did. I am still trying to process and absorb everything and I hope that I will blog about it all eventually.
What I think at the moment- it's ok to believe the Bible is the word of God. It doesn't mean I am a fundamentalist (I don't read it word for word literally).
It's ok to believe in a 'whole salvation'. We speak of both personal salvation and social salvation. Personal holiness and social holiness.
The Bible informs us of these salvations and 'holinesses'. I go to the Bible to discover how to live in order to bring about the kingdom of God.
Sometimes people understand the word 'evangelical' differently and even negatively - that doesn't mean I am like their understanding!
The Methodist Church has always had a missional ecclesiology and we should reclaim that.
There is too much more and I really need to process it properly.
I came away believing that there is real hope for the Methodist Church and the God truly is a God of love and action.

My response to Jenny's post is below.  In particularly I am keen to re-appropriate the term / descriptor 'evangelical'.  I feel, rightly or wrongly, that it has been missunderstood in popular society and theology, and hijacked by a conservative element in the Christian tradition. As a result it has a fairly negative connotation in popular theology and even in social and theological discourse.

Here are my thoughts (reposted as a comment on Jenny's blog):

Hi Jenny,

Thanks for this reflection. I am so pleased to hear of your experience - I too have been on a journey to 're-appropriate' the term 'evangelical'. In my understanding the common usage has been far too narrowly applied to the act of 'evangelical preaching'. However, in the Bible we see that Jesus' 'good news' (Luke 4:19 ff) was very social. He not only wished to describe the state of 'good news', his intention was to establish God's good news as a life changing reality for those whom he encountered.

I am passionate about journeying with people towards a personal encounter with Christ. But that is only the starting point, not the end. Once the encounter has taken place the results of Christ's transforming love must flow out into society. You cannot love Jesus without loving His ways - and his was are just, merciful, inclusive, empowering and renewing. The ways of Jesus set people free from sin and the structures that enslave (some clear examples are Jesus' encounter with unethical business people in the temple, and false religious leaders with the woman and man caught in adultery. Jesus cares about the rights of children and the fate of the oppressed).

For me, the whole Gospel for the whole world means precisely that! Not just a narrow personal salvation from individual sin.

In this sense I am evangelical!

With regards to Wesley's theology of personal holiness and social holiness it is always worth remembering the context in which he served. Not unlike us, he faced some massive social challenges around his ministry. Slavery, the abuse of labour, unjust governing authorities, a Church that was disconnected from the needs of society etc., it was into this situation that he came to understand that personal piety (my prayers, my acts of worship etc.) is meaningless unless it is expressed socially.

As South Africans I think we can understand this relationship very well. For many years Christians would worship on Sunday's declaring the Glory of God in Church, reading our Bibles and praying. Yet, we lived in a society that was fundamentally unjust. 

Such a disconnect between faith and belief invalidates belief (as the Epistle of James clearly says).

You may be interested in the paper that I presented at the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies at Christ Church in Oxford in 2007. It deals with a history of social holiness (Wesley's 26th sermon, plus his theology around that), and in particular relates it to the South African Christian Church. You can find that article here: Dion Forster Oxford Institute - Social Holiness.

The chapter was later reworked and published in the book Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission. Some of the stuff that was cut out of the chapter for the book was also published in 2008 in Journal of Church History Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae.

Thanks for sharing this reflection! I am grateful to be an evangelical!

I would love to hear your thoughts on the use of the term evangelical.  Is my approach to this term appropriate, or should I seek some other descriptor?  Or, is the term so strongly 'branded' with negative religious and social connotations that we should move beyond it?

Wednesday
Feb102010

A brief history of the Lausanne movement.

This is a very special year to be in Cape Town!  Not only is South Africa hosting the Soccer World Cup, but we are also hosting the 3rd Lausanne Congress on World Evangeliziation.

If you've never heard of Lausanne, or only have a vague understanding of what Lausanne does then please watch the short history video below.  It is a remarkable movement with a great deal of practical and theological diversity, centered around one aim - to bring the whole Gospel to the whole world.

I have been so encouraged by the young, passionate, creative people that I have been engaging with around Lausanne.  Yesterday I had the joy of spending some time on a conference call with Charles Lee (see his website here), the founder of the ideacamp and ideation Conference- This guy is revolutionising TED style gatherings in the US, and he is giving some of his time and expertise to drive the social media strategy for Lausanne.

In in his 'personal' capacity he formed the 'Just One' campaign - which is a faith based social justice movement in the US.  There are so many like him who have understood the core of the Gospel, and they're engaging in making it real in creative and engaging ways!  I can't wait to have them all here in October this year!

You can participate in the Global Conversation!  Your voice and input counts and it will shape the strategy and the theology of the Lausanne movement going ahead. 

 

 

Steve, do you have any thoughts on Lausanne? Wes, what are your thoughts? You two are the most astute Missiologist I know (personally)!

If anyone has any ideas about Lausanne please leave a comment below!  Could I also please ask you to encourage your friends, family and Christian Networks to follow the twitter feed, facebook page and engage in the conversation?

 

Tuesday
Feb092010

Are social justice and evangelism mutually exclusive in the Christian faith?

Among evangelical Christians there seem to be some basic differences, perhaps one could even call them divides.  One of the more common differences relates to what the intention of the Gospel (good news) of Jesus is about.  

Some would suggest that the intention of the Gospel is to 'preach truth' to people so that they are convicted of their personal sin and so make a commitment to Christ that saves them from eternal damnation.  The outcome of that process in this life may be a transformation of behaviour.

Others, such as myself, believe that the thrust of the Gospel has to do with connecting people with the saving power of Christ that not only deals with their personal sin, but also empowers them to engage with structural sins in the world around them.  Why do persons steal?  Frequently it is because they have need, or they have been poorly socialized.

So, are these two approaches mutually exclusive of one another?  Here's a great video from Skye Jethani, the editor of the Leadership Journal and a founder of the 'Out of Ur' blog on this topic.  I'd love to hear your feedback!

Sunday
May172009

Exposing people to the transforming love of Jesus WITHOUT the evangelical stereotypes!

I love Jesus! I love the ways of Jesus! I have experienced the transforming and liberating power of the person and way of Christ in my own life and I have seen how it transforms persons and communities.

The Jesus I know is loving, just, inclusive, caring, affirming, understanding, compassionate and life giving! I long for more people (and systems) to be transformed by the truth and power of Christ!

Sadly, however, Christians have not done too well when it comes to exposing people to the love of Christ. We have tended to be overbearing, judgemental, 'holier than thou' and sometimes just plane weird about our faith!

One of the other HUGE problems with traditional evangelism is that it tends to be more interested in 'souls' than it in people - pretty much like the high school boy who makes notches on his bedpost for all the girls he's kissed. Jesus is not that way. Jesus longs to engage whole persons, and to find ways of transforming all of who they are. Jesus brings life, life that heals bodies, creates justice and establishes news ways of living with others.

A further problem with conventional evangelism is that it operates on the principles of propositional truths - in other words, it says things ABOUT the person, nature and character of Christ and then challenges people to make a decision to accept or reject these truths without having experienced them. The postmodern mindset does not deal all that well with 'absolute' truths that have not been experienced. There are simply too many things, people and powers that try to convince us of their competing truths.

Ed Silvoso once summed up these two notions in this way:

Preaching the truth without love is like giving someone a good kiss when you have bad breath. No matter how good your kiss is, all they will remember is your bad breath!

I think that statement is quite true for many attempts at evangelism I have heard about - we expect people to that Jesus is love, when they do not experience that love, or even see it in the Church. We tell people that Christ is merciful and just, and sadly they are exposed to judgmental and unjust Christian communities... The list could go on and on.

 

Well, I have recently come across a model of facilitating an encounter with the person and nature of Christ that is transforming my ministry! This is a method that does not require an extensive knowledge of the Bible. Neither does it manipulate people or simply try to reach their 'souls' - rather it seriously attempts to encounter them with the love and grace of Christ!

It is called 'L10T' (Luke 10 Transformation). Here's a great video that explains this approach to 'evangelism'. I have been involved in developing the model and the videos for it. There is a great DVD series that one can do with one's Church, cell groups, or even just watch by yourself. (The quality is not great - I tried to keep the video file size to 6 MB, so please do contact me if you require a higher quality version).

 

Here's a summary of the model.

Here’s a link to download the powerpoint slides that have the headings, scripture verses, and they also have sections on the ‘Luke 10’ transformation principles.

Briefly stated, the Luke 10 paradigm shift is significant. One of the mistakes that we make in the contemporary Church is that we tend to approach persons in the following manner:

 

  • Preach to them, if they respond,
  • Minister to them, then once they respond to our ministry,
  • we become their friends (i.e., fellowship with them, get them into 'small groups'), and finally,
  • if they respond appropriately to all of the above we then we ‘bless’ them (e.g., make them members of our Church, baptise them or their Children, do their marriage ceremony, offer them financial support, allow them to hold ministry positions in the Church etc.).


The reality is though, that in our contemporary post-modern culture, very few people respond to being 'preached at'. Amazingly, when you read Luke 10 (where Jesus sent out the 72 disciples to do ministry he took exactly the opposite strategy)...

 

Jesus said when you enter into a city, find a person of peace and bless him - so blessing comes first.... If we can find tangible and real ways to share God's love and blessing with people by addressing their felt needs, this is a much more effective witness than 'preaching'. So, for example, in South Africa we feed people (without preaching), we simply feed them because God would not want them to be hungry, and they feel 'blessed' when people feed them.

Then Jesus said when you've blessed the person of peace, stay in his house and eat with him - that’s fellowship. We need to find ways to engage with people on their level and in their primary location (e.g., instead of trying to first bring people into Churches, lets get to know them and love them where they are. Whether that be in a school, or an office building or their home). Relationships are key to facilitating faith, after all, what God gives us in Christ is not 'doctrine', but the truth of transforming love in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Then having fellowshipped with persons we minister to them, this is where we pray for persons to be healed, for them to find wholeness, for the marriages and children to be whole etc. Ministry flows out of a relationship of trust (point 2 above) and an experience of God’s blessing (point 1 above). People are open to being ministered to, and to receiving God's grace, when they trust us, and they have already experienced God’s blessing.

Finally, as a last step one will ‘preach’ - this is the discipleship phase, not the evangelism phase. I have experienced that this is much more in keeping with 1 Peter 3:15 (give an account of the hope that lives within you...) than it is 'preaching'. In Luke 10 Jesus instructed the disciples to share the truth only once people had been blessed, included into a community, and experienced God’s healing, love, and provision.

Anyway, this is the methodology of ministry that I apply in my ministry. So, I operate according to 5 ‘new’ paradigms of being Church and being a Christian, but my functional methodology is the Luke 10 methodology (Bless, fellowship, minister, then preach)... This has been quite a change for me since as a Pastor I was accustomed to always preaching first. However, I have come to recognise that the ‘old Church’ methodology is no longer as effective in the post-modern context.

If you would like to read more about the theology and biblical perspective that shapes this form of ministry you can see the following link that I wrote on my blog about a year ago...

I would encourage you to watch the video above, download it (you can use 'kissyoutube') and share it! If you're interested in getting the DVD material to run it with your group, or in your Church then please email me. I'll gladly put you in touch with the folks who are distributing it.

So, what do you think? Is this a tool that could be useful in your setting? Can you spot any problems we may not be aware of? Any advice or help you could offer would be very much appreciated!

Friday
Oct262007

Celebrating theological diversity, with respect. It is the way of Christ's Kingdom.

A fellow blogger, Stephen Murray, whose posts and insights I have enjoyed a great deal blogged the following challenging thought today:

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs of late where my guess would be that the authors wouldn’t classify themselves as ‘evangelical’. I read them because I appreciate the way these folk wrestle with so many pressing issues and how they integrate multiple academic disciplines with such skill trying to probe into important topics facing the broader Christian movement. Yet as I read these folk I often wonder what they think of us.

Let’s say that by chance they drop by …daylight and browse around, reading some of the posts. I wonder what they think about 4 young evangelicals who believe the Bible is God’s authoritative, infallible word for life and salvation, that salvation comes only through repentance and faith in Christ because of his work of substitutionary atonement and that hell is a real and coming judgment for those who reject Christ? Do they think we’re simpletons? Naive in our faith? Closed minded and narrow? Anti-intellectual? Misguided? What do they think?
Here's my response to him:
Hi Stephen,

 

Thanks for sharing this honest, and challenging, post. I have wanted to respond to it all day long but have not yet had the time. So, here goes....

I have also often wondered what others think of my particular approach to Christ... It is important on some level since my hope is that we (those who love Jesus and the people whom Jesus loves) will find one another now so that eternity won't be quite so difficult! Ha ha!

Seriously though, my realization in the last number of years has been that there are very few 'complex' and 'simple' expressions of faith. Rather there are simple and complex labels for approaches to faith. Each approach, I believe, is filled with complexity, depth, and a measure of conviction that makes it both precious to the person who holds it, and precious for God in relation to whom they hold it. It is much the same as me relating to my two children, I do not love or appreciate either of them more (even though one is older, more articulate and has a richer life experience because of her age). It does not make her experience of life, or of my love, more valuable or worthwhile. The fact that both of them live, and love me, is all that I long for. The rest is just unique (and sometimes just odd!) It doesn't impress me that my older child can do bonds of 18 while the younger child cannot yet crawl, since both are appropriate expressions of who and where they are. As I say, what impresses me is that they love me.

With regard to judgement however, I know that people often make the opposite assumptions to the ones you mention above about me i.e., that I am too open minded, that I am too intellectual, that I have lost my naive and simple devotion to Christ and that somehow I have lost sight of what truly matters in the Christian faith. Sometimes that hurts... However, I know that God is not impressed with my degrees, or titles, or anything else - these are simply thing that are more or less appropriate for someone who has had the education, opportunities, and experiences I have had. My quantum theories, and neuroscience, intricate readings of the Greek text, and all the things that I think are quite smart, must seem like 8 year old Maths to God - appropriate for who I am, but not important in the big scheme of things!

The people who judge me are probably correct, to some extent, about some of those assumptions, but they are also quite wrong in many others.

One of the things I have particularly tried to foster, at great cost, within our denomination (the Methodist church) here in South Africa is a love for my sisters and brothers that recognizes that diversity does not mean separation, neither does disagreement mean a lack of respect. I have sought to encounter people, rather than ideas, and to find what God loves about them first, before saying what I find objectionable about their words, thoughts or actions.

It is important that we are brave enough to leave our 'corners of conviction' in order to allow God to speak to us about new things, through strange prophets. That, I think, is the way of the Gospel.

There are of course some ideas and approaches to Christ, and Christ's Kingdom that I find incompatible with the Gospel (such as judging people by their race, which was a huge issue for us in the previous decades. In such instances I would encounter people with such views in love, and where they were not willing to change or repent I had to be honest, but loving, about how wrong they were). However, I know that I am often as wrong as those that I am quick to judge - so as time has passed I have sought to understanding first, then to make up my mind about people and their ideas. It takes discipline to do that, and I am still learning!

Know that even if I should find some aspect of your approach to the Christian faith different from mine, and I have not yet found such difference but the possibility does exist, I respect and admire your love for Christ.

Together with you in Him,

Dion

Thanks Stephen, you have challenged me, and reminded me that God's standard is both gracious and supreme.