Author Archive for Ali Johnson

13
May
09

grace in the 21st century part 7

Post-Christendom

 

‘In post-Christendom, the church is that community of people who look to discover what God is actively doing in the world around them and then join themselves to that work.’[1] Tim Keel

Expansion

The presence of religion can be observed in Europe from the beginning of the Roman Empire. It flourished after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, as Hellenistic cults competed with Romans deities[2] for the dominant force of the religious era.[3] When the resulting Christianity came into the landscape something dramatically different happened. The world epoch that became known as the era of Christendom[4], has lasted for many centuries and has become the larger meta-narrative that has shaped the contemporary church throughout the western world, into the church that can be seen today.  Carter describes the troublesome relationship between the church and state when he says,

‘The concept of Western civilization as having a religious arm (the church) and a secular arm (civil government), both of which are united in their adherence to the Christian faith, which is seen as the so-called soul of Europe or the West.’ [5]

This description gives insight into how this period had a distinct impact on the Western church. The influence of this instruct relationship can be seen today on the continent of Europe, in its’ beliefs, value and direction. If Christians are to fully understand this epoch that they find themselves in they must reference from a time in history when Christianity was formed. Christianity must pinpoint key moments through history when the meta-narrative disintegrated into history and resulted in a new period known as ‘post-Christendom’.[6]

Christianity must look to ‘the author and perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2)  for the forward of the narrative of Christendom. Jesus of Nazareth was a Galilean man, nurtured on Jewish scriptures. He came to earth to complete an act of redemption and grace that fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament (Isaiah 22:21-25, Micah 4:1-3). Jesus was revolutionary and came to bring salvation to this world. It is from this foundation that the perspective Christendom must be understood.


[1] T Keel, Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor, and Chaos (London: Baker Books, 2007) p.127

[2] P Partner, Two Thousand Year: The First Millennium: The Birth of Christianity to the Crusades (London: Granada Media, 1999) p.3-15 has a great overview of this period of history and explains more of the conflict between Hellenistic cults and the Roman deities.

[3] J Luxmoore and Babiuch J, Rethinking Christendom: Europe’s Struggle for Christianity (Leominster: Gracewing, 2005) p.7-8

[4] S Murray, Post Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2004) p. 23 here he explains that the phrase was coined in the ninth century.

[5] C Carter, Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006) p. 14

[6] Frost M, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christendom Culture (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006) p.1-27 we see in this Chapter entitled ‘Self-Imposed Exiles’, a great explanation of the narrative of Christendom and its collapse.

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09
May
09

Good News

I hope you have all been following the ‘good news series‘ over at JR’s blog. Its been quite amazing and it is today my turn to enter my reflections on the good news, it was pleasure to be involved with such a great group of folks. Go and check it out and interact with the post.good-news-blog-series-picture-300x291

09
May
09

Grace in the 21st Century part 6

In a book called ‘The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus’ Manning comments on the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). He states, ‘Two thousand years later the Christian community is still scandalized by divine generosity’.[1] The nature of human self is that people do not like everyone to be let in to the kingdom because of their costly efforts, just like the workers who had been there all day. Some Christians struggle when people give their life on their deathbed because they haven’t behaved in a right way for their whole life. The reformation was a time in history when the nature of church was transformed by grace. Grace is the single concept that reconciles Christians with God, the world and each other.  Grace materialised for Christians when God incarnate on earth. The church of the 21st century has a problem in that the church is out of date and out of touch with this grace. It has lost the raw and imaginative power that is held deep within the model of grace.

gracesign1Hans Küng says of a church that does not that it is a group of sinners when he says;

‘It deserves neither God’s mercy nor man’s trust. The church must constantly be aware that its faith is weak, its knowledge is dim, its profession of faith halting, there is not a single sin or failing which it has not been guilty of… But if it is constantly aware of its guilt then it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness.’[2]

Justification through faith by grace means we have all been brought into a right relationship with God, an all-inclusive acceptance of Jesus Christ as Saviour. It is from this Christians must search deeper within our faith to gain a wonderful insight through an understanding of grace into God’s reconciliation of this world to God, to the world and to each other.


[1] B Manning, The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, p.20

 

[2] H Küng, On Being A Christian (New York: Doubleday, 1976) p.507-508

08
May
09

Grace in the 21st Century part 5

The reformation is an example of a time in Christian History when people were transformed by the essence of grace. Martin Luther was prominent in the process of reforming a corrupt movement into a radically transformative movement. Luther wrestled through several core question’s, how could the gospel of Christ be called good news if God is a righteous judge who rewards good and punishes evil? Did Jesus really come to reveal that terrifying message?  How could the revelation of God in Christ Jesus accurately be called new since the Old Testament promoted that same message?

Luther broke into the insight of the theological phrase ‘justification by grace through faith’.[1] G K Chesterton once called justification by grace through faith,  ‘the furious love of God’.[2] God is not moody or precocious. God knows no seasons of change. God has a single relentless stance towards us; He loves us. He is the only true God that loves sinners. Many times these truth are too hard for the church to communicate or practice through communities or for Christians to understand as individuals but also to dispense in the wider community.[3] Luther highligted the wonderful truth that God is righteous and how His righteousness is inputted onto people so that believers are considered righteous and blameless in Gods sight. It was this wonderful insight in Martin Luthers commentary on Romans that led him to discover both true and active grace.[4]

Robert Capon wrote of the wonderful impact of the Reformation when he recorded,

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year old, two-hundred-proof grace of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saved us single handily… Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness”[5]

It is important to discern here the impact of grace on the whole Christian landscape. Martin Luther rediscovered a truth that would impact his life immeasurably more than he could ever imagine and how that would impact the heart of our faith today. Atkinson in his work on the, ‘Martin Luther the Prophet’ describes as ‘an instrument of God sent to reform and renew the church.’[6] Luther and the reformation started impacting the understanding of grace and how God justifies sin and a Christian’s role in the process of God’s grace.

In the gospel of Matthew an important part of Jesus’ passion for sinners can be viewed/observed. Matthew records, ‘As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him’ (Matthew 9:9). Here a glimpse of God grace through his Son. When Jesus chose his closest twelve men to follow him, he did not choose the Pharisees and Sadducees (the people who were viewed as the religious authorities) but he chose the tax collectors, the street people, the prostitutes and the failures. Even though His reputation was at risk from the bureaucrats who would judge His choice to offer grace and love to the lower class and His belief that these were the people who would shape His message and who His Father called him to save. He reacted vehemently against the bureaucracy and religious zealots of the day. This image of Jesus’ all-inclusive grace is given lip service in church but if taken to the heart of the Christian walk then will have a radical effect on the discipleship, ecclesiology and missiology. It is this that will re-write the vision for church but also the churches passion for prodigals. [7]


[1] A McGrath, Iustita Dei: Justification Through Faith By Grace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) p.100-109

[2] http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/diabolist.html 26/2/09

[3] S McVey, Grace Walk: What You’ve Always Wanted in the Christian Life (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1995) p.56-65 an overview of his work, his book takes on this concept idea further and at a more personal level.

[4] A McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd Edition (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2001) 454-455

[5] R Farrar-Capon, Between Noon and Three (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1982) p.114-115

[6] J Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic (Exter: Paternoster Press, 1983) p.216

[7] H Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: The Story Homecoming (New York: Image Books, 1992) In this book Henri Nouwen mediates on the story of prodigal son and it allows us to see the importance of this group of people in the missio dei. This book places the prodigals at the heart of the Christian message and impacts the very heart of our Christian understanding.

07
May
09

Grace in the 21st Century part 4

Christians should consider the leading character in Eugene O’ Neil’s play The Great God Brown:

“Why am I afraid to dance, I who love music and rhythm and grace and song and laughter? Why am I afraid to live, I who love life and the beauty of flesh and the living colors of earth and sky and sea? Why am I afraid of love, I who love love? Why am I afraid, I who am not afraid?”[1]

People strive so hard to please God that the existence of the gospel of grace is denied within Christians’ lives. The word grace itself has become trite and debased through misuse and overuse. In some European countries the high ecclesiastical offices are called, “Your Grace”. Sportswriters speak of Cristiano Ronaldo being the best footballer, “to ever grace a football pitch”.[2] Gordon Brown is said to be “lacking in grace”.[3] A new perfume comes out called “Grace”.[4] The word, ‘grace’ is becoming frequently used out of the context of its true meaning, reducing the depth and purity of it in its authentic state. Grace has lost its pure, raw and imaginative power.

In book of Galatians Paul states, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3: 28). He explains here that there is no one who is outside of God’s grace. There is a certain shock and scandal within the gospel of grace and it is right here at the heart of Paul’s message. Scott McKnight takes this forward when he speaks of people as cracked eikons. He argues that for too long the gospel of grace has been misunderstood as punishment avoidance. God’s grace was flourishing long before the first sin was ever committed and therefore God’s grace is not limited to  only include the saints but encompasses sinners also.[5] 

When the word grace used within the writings of Paul readers observe that he uses the Greek word charis, which had a wide range of meanings in Hellenistic Greek.[6] The early Christians borrowed this word and transformed the term until it took on the character of their belief alone. Paul took an old word and filled it with new content.[7] People such as Brennan Manning and Max Lucado are putting the question to the church, has it gone away from the real meaning of the word charis and returned to a different meaning. If the church has gone away from its root meaning then how does  Christians return to the powerful image of grace that is present throughout the word of God and throughout the history of this world.

Lucado notes the following in his book, ‘the church has become a judgmental place’.[8] Grace won’t fully be received inside the walls. An example would be, a condemned man asked for forgiveness from the church and its leaders.  It was declined, but he asked it from the man next to him on the cross and it was granted (Luke 23: 43). A radical shift needs to happen at the heart of our Christian landscape if the church is able to understand, and dispense, the very concept that saved our life. More over that this concept has the power to change and transform lives, namely grace. Van Buren wrote, ‘the church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners’.[9]  Jesus invited the sinners to his table (Mark 2:13-17); he denied no one the opportunity to join him. No matter how great their sin or how many sins they had committed He invited them to be included. When the gospel of grace transforms a persons life something radical should happen. His eyes should be open to his sinful nature and he should be able to accept his poverty and powerlessness in the eyes of his Saviour. How has the church become so distant from that? The gospel of grace proclaims and acclaims the saints – the perfect – and it denigrates the sinner and the lost.


[1] http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks04/0400091h.html 24/2/09

 

 

[2] http://www.cristianoronaldohq.com/biography.php 26/2/09

[3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/concoughlin/3562253/Gordon-Brown-has-lost-Britain-the-ear-of-the-White-House.html 26/2/09

[4] http://www.sephora.com/browse/product.jhtml?id=P33801 26/2/09

[5] S McKnight, Embracing Grace: A Gospel For All of Us (London: SPCK, 2005) p.xi-xxi

[6] W. E Vine, Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (McLean: Macdonald Publishing, 1984) p.509

[7] J Moffat, Grace in the New Testament (New York: Ray Long & Richard R Smith Inc., 1932) p.35-70 An argument that he portrays and embraces in his writing. 

[8] M Lucado, In the Grip of God’s Grace, p.41

[9] http://thinkexist.com/quotation/a_church_is_a_hospital_for_sinners-not_a_museum/327520.html 26/2/09

[10] A McGrath, Iustita Dei: Justification Through Faith By Grace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) p.100-109

[11] http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/diabolist.html 26/2/09

[12] S McVey, Grace Walk: What You’ve Always Wanted in the Christian Life (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1995) p.56-65 an overview of his work, his book takes on this concept idea further and at a more personal level.

[13] A McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd Edition (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2001) 454-455

05
May
09

Monday with…Mike Tyson

Continue reading ‘Monday with…Mike Tyson’

04
May
09

Grace in the 21st century part 3

Continue reading ‘Grace in the 21st century part 3’