New book: Is Everything Mission?

Is Everything Mission? – my 2018 Keswick Lecture – is published today by IVP as a short 48-page book. Here’s what the blurb says …

Is everything a Christian does mission, or does it only count when we speak about Jesus and share the gospel? Does mission include volunteering at the food bank, campaigning for justice and providing aid overseas?As the needs around us multiply and opposition to the gospel intensifies, this question Is everything mission? becomes even more important for us to wrestle with. Tim Chester’s 2018 Keswick Convention lecture helps us unpack what mission is and the role that God wants you, your church, your mission agency, to play.

It’s available from https://smarturl.it/iseverythingmission.

#iseverythingmission

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New book: John Stott on The World – introduction and extract

It’s been a great privilege to be involved in giving a new lease of life to John Stott’s great book, The Contemporary Christian, which is being reissued as a series of five short books on 20 June 2019. I was asked to provide a light edit of Stott’s work (removing dated references and discussions) and to add reflection questions to help readers think through the application today. The five books are:

The Gospel: A Life-Changing Message

The Disciple: A Calling to be Christlike

The Bible: A Book Like No Other

The Church: A Unique Gathering of People

The World: A Mission to be Accomplished

Or you can buy all five books for the price of four if you use this link.

(Also look out for my volume on John Stott in Crossway’s Theologians of the Christian Lifeseries which is coming out in June 2020.) 

Introducing The World: A Mission to be Accomplished

In The World Stott first provides a clear defence of the uniqueness of Christ. There are two striking features of this. First, Stott starts with Christ and the centrality of Christ is a consistent feature of his thought. The second striking feature is his attempt to understand those who deny this truth. This is characteristic of his whole theology, a feature of what he called double listening (listening to the word and the world). The result is a stronger and more persuasive case for the truth presented in the Scriptures.

Then Stott shows how mission pervades the whole Bible, anticipating a theme that Chris Wright, Stott’s successor at the helm of Langham Partnership, develops in more detail in his book The Mission of God. In a chapter on holistic mission Stott summarises the integration of evangelism and social action that was a key theme in his ministry over many years. Finally he ends where he began: with Christ, as he develops a theology of mission around the incarnation, cross, resurrection, ascension and return of Christ.

Here’s an extract for this final chapter in which Stott looks at the implications of Christ’s ascension, or rather his exaltation, for mission (with footnotes and citations removed).

The exaltation of Christ: The incentive for mission

Motivation is an important aspect of every human enterprise. We need to know not only what we should be doing, but why we should be doing it. When our motives are sound and strong, we can persist in any task. But when our motivation is faulty, we begin to flag. This is undoubtedly true of Christian mission. To seek to win people for Christ is hard work, widely unappreciated and unpopular, and, as we have just seen, it often provokes opposition. The church will need powerful incentives, therefore, if it is to persevere. The exaltation of Jesus Christ to the Father’s right hand, that is, to the position of supreme honour, provides the strongest of all missionary incentives.

It is better in this context to refer to Christ’s ‘exaltation’ than to his ‘ascension’. For, although it is true that ‘he ascended into heaven’, yet to say that ‘he was exalted’ highlights the fact that God the Father vindicated, promoted, enthroned and invested his Son through the ascension. The apostolic statements about Jesus’ exaltation are at pains to emphasize that he was raised above all possible rivals, indeed ‘far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come’. This is ‘the highest place’ to which God has exalted Jesus and the ‘supremacy’ which God wants him to enjoy.

This throws light on the use of the word ‘superiority’, which is viewed with distaste by those who forsake the old exclusivism and inclusivism in favour of the new pluralism (see chapter 1). Certainly to adopt an ‘air of superiority’ towards the adherents of other faiths is a horrid form of discourtesy and arrogance. Certainly too, as Professor Hick points out, ‘in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the conviction of the decisive superiority of Christianity’ gave a powerful impetus to the imperial expansion of the West.But it is not ‘Christianity’ as an empirical institution or system for which Christians should claim superiority. It is Christ, and only Christ. We should affirm without any sense of embarrassment or shame that he is ‘superior’ to all other religious leaders, precisely because he alone humbled himself, in love, to the cross and therefore God has raised him ‘above’ every other person, rank or title.

In the light of Christ’s elevation or exaltation to the highest place, God desires ‘every knee’ to bow to him and ‘every tongue’ to confess his lordship.The repeated ‘every’ is absolute; it allows no exceptions. If God has given this supreme honour to Jesus, and desires everybody else to honour him, then the people of God should share his desire. This is sometimes spoken of in Scripture in terms of ‘zeal’ or even ‘jealousy’. The prophet Elijah, for example, deeply distressed by the apostasy of Israel, in particular their worship of the Canaanite Baals, said, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts.’The apostle Paul spoke of himself as ‘jealous . . . with a godly jealousy’ for the Corinthians, because he had betrothed them to Christ as their one husband, but was afraid that they might now be led astray from their ‘sincere and pure devotion to Christ’.Similarly, Henry Martyn, that brilliant and faithful Christian missionary in Muslim Iran towards the beginning of the nineteenth century, once said, ‘I could not endure existence if Jesus were not glorified; it would be hell to me if he were to be always thus dishonoured.’

This same sense of pain whenever Jesus Christ is dishonoured, and this same sense of jealousy that he should be given the honour due to him, should stir within us, in whatever particular culture we live. The primary motive for mission is neither obedience to the Great Commission, nor even love for those who are oppressed, lonely, lost and perishing, important as both those incentives are. Our primary motive is zeal or ‘jealousy’ for the glory of Christ. It was ‘for his name’s sake’,in order that it might receive the honour which it deserved, that the first missionaries went out. The same passionate longing should motivate us.

This, surely, is our answer to those who tell us that we should no longer evangelize or seek conversions. Professor Gregory Baum, for example, has said that ‘after Auschwitz the Christian churches no longer wish to convert the Jews’, for ‘the churches have come to recognize Judaism as an authentic religion before God, with independent value and meaning, not as a stage on the way to Christianity’.Similarly, a Greek bishop, on his resignation, wrote to his friends, ‘As a bishop, a preacher of the gospel, I never tried to convert a Jew or Arab Moslem to Christianity; rather to convert them to be a better Jew, a better Moslem.’Have these men, then, no jealousy for the honour of Jesus Christ? Do they not care when he is despised and rejected? Do they not long, as God does, that all human beings, whatever their culture or religion, will bow their knee to Jesus, and submit to him as their Lord?

It is this zeal for Christ which integrates the worship and witness of the church. How can we worship Christ and not mind that others do not? It is our worship of Christ that compels us to witness to Christ, in order that others may come and worship him too.

@SPCKPublishing

New book: The Promises of God

For as long as I can remember my father has had a plaster bust of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892) in his study. Like my father and I, Spurgeon was a Reformed Baptist pastor, and Spurgeon has always been one of our heroes. When, in 2017, my father preached his last sermon, he passed the bust on to me. So, as I write these words, Spurgeon is looking down on me.

Known as “the Prince of Preachers,” Spurgeon attracted large crowds, often speaking to over ten thousand people at a time before the days of amplification. His preaching was characterized by the directness of his address and the vividness of his language. In 1861, his congregation moved to the specially-built Metropolitan Tabernacle with seating for five thousand people and standing room for a further thousand. It would remain his base for the next thirty-eight years until his death in 1892.

Spurgeon founded a pastor’s college to train church planters, opposed slave ownership, and opened an orphanage. He also fiercely opposed liberal theology. He paid a price for this work load and the controversies it brought, suffering for many years physically with gout and emotionally with depression. It is to these struggles that he alludes in his preface for this volume.

Spurgeon reached a still wider audience through his writings. His sermons were transcribed by stenographers as he spoke and on sale for a penny the following day. Among his many works was The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith.

It was not Spurgeon’s first book of daily devotional readings. In 1865, he published Morning by Morning, followed three years later by Evening by Evening. Soon they were combined into Morning and Evening, selling over 230,000 copies during his lifetime and many more since. Twenty years or so later Spurgeon wrote The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith as a follow-up. And this was my father’s favourite. He used to read it to our family during my childhood.

In The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith, Spurgeon likens the promises of God in the Bible to checks (or “cheques” as Spurgeon himself would have spelled it). A check is a promise in written form. It promises to give the recipient the stated sum whenever they present it at a bank. The promises of God, says Spurgeon, are like checks waiting to be cashed in “the bank of faith.”

In 2003, Crossway published an edition of Morning and Evening updated by Alistair Begg using the English Standard Version of the Bible. I have taken the liberty of doing the same with The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith. I have replaced archaic words, shortened sentences, used modern word ordering, and added references to biblical allusions. I have also changed the title to The Promises of God, partly because checks are becoming dated and partly to prevent a fight with my publishers over the spelling of “cheque” (the UK spelling) and “check” (the US spelling)! Apart from this the content is the same. Only occasionally have I retained an archaic phrase to retain the poetic power of the original text. My aim has been to let Spurgeon speak to a new generation. Why? Not as an historical curiosity. But so the promise-making and promise-keeping God of the Bible speak words of comfort to his people. As Spurgeon says in his preface: “I have written out of my own heart with the view of comforting their hearts … May the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, inspire the people of the Lord with fresh faith!”

The Promises of God is available here: http://smarturl.it/promisesofgod

#spurgeon

#thepromisesofgod

New book: John Stott on The Church – introduction and extract

It’s been a great privilege to be involved in giving a new lease of life to John Stott’s great book, The Contemporary Christian, which is being reissued as a series of five short books on 20 June 2019. I was asked to provide a light edit of Stott’s work (removing dated references and discussions) and to add reflection questions to help readers think through the application today. The five books are:

The Gospel: A Life-Changing Message

The Disciple: A Calling to be Christlike

The Bible: A Book Like No Other

The Church: A Unique Gathering of People

The World: A Mission to be Accomplished

Or you can buy all five books for the price of four if you use this link.

(Also look out for my volume on John Stott in Crossway’s Theologians of the Christian Lifeseries which is coming out in June 2020.) 

Introducing The Church: A Unique Gathering of People

Stott begins the volume on The Church with a great example of his double listening (listening to both the world and the word). He explores some of the longings of our culture (for transcendence, significance and community) before showing how each of these is fulfilled in the life of the church (or should be). He then shows how, for both theological and pragmatic reasons, the church should be the main context for evangelism, before exploring the steps required to make this a reality. Then, in a reflection on John 17, Stott argues that church renewal needs to bring together a commitment to the truth, holiness, mission and unity. Finally he argues for a pastoral model of church leadership.

Here’s an extract in which Stott explains how the church must understand itself aright if it is to be an effective centre of evangelism (with footnotes and citations removed).

Many churches are sick because they have a false self-image. They have grasped neither who they are (their identity) nor what they are called to be (their vocation). We all know the importance of an accurate self-image for good mental health. What is true of persons is equally true of churches.

At least two false images of the church are prevalent today. The first false image is the religious club (or introverted Christianity). According to this view, the local church resembles the local golf club, except that the common interest of its members happens to be God rather than golf. They see themselves as religious people who enjoy doing religious things together. They pay their subscription and reckon they are entitled to certain privileges. In fact, they concentrate on the status and advantages of being club members. They have forgotten – or never known – that, as Archbishop William Temple put it, ‘The church is the only co­operative society in the world which exists for the benefit of its non­members.’ Instead, they are completely introverted, like an ingrown toenail. To be sure, Temple was guilty of a slight exaggeration, for church members do have a responsibility to each other, as the many ‘one another’ verses of the New Testament indicate (‘love one another’, ‘encourage one another’, ‘bear one another’s burdens’, etc.). Nevertheless, our primary responsibilities are our worship of God and our mission in the world.

At the opposite extreme to the religious club is the secular mission (or religionless Christianity). In the twentieth century some Christian thinkers became exasperated by the self-centredness of the church. It seemed to them so absorbed in its own petty domestic affairs that they resolved to abandon it. For the arena of divine service they exchanged the church for the secular city. They were no longer interested in ‘worship services’, they said, but only in ‘worship service’. So they tried to develop a ‘religionless Christianity’ in which they reinterpreted worship as mission, love for God as love for neighbour, and prayer to God as encounter with people. A similar movement of ‘post­evangelicals’ or the ‘emerging church’ abandoned traditional congregations in favour of unstructured Christian com­ munities with a focus on neighbourhood transformation.

How should we evaluate such movements? Their distaste for selfish religion is surely right. Since it is nauseating to God, it ought to sicken us as well. But the concept of ‘religionless Christianity’ is an unbalanced overreaction. The message of the gospel cannot be adjusted to suit modern sensibilities. And we have no liberty to confuse worship and mission, even though (as we have seen) each involves the other. There is always an element of mission in worship and of worship in mission, but they are not synonymous.

There is a third way to understand the church, which combines what is true in both false images, and which recognizes that we have a responsibility both to worship God and to serve the world. This is the double identity of the church (or incarnational Christianity). By its ‘double identity’ I mean that the church is a people who have been both called out of the world to worship God and sent back into the world to witness and serve. These are, in fact, two of the classical ‘marks’ of the church. According to the first, the church is ‘holy’, called out to belong to God and to worship him. According to the second, the church is ‘apostolic’, sent out into the world on its mission. The church is to be simultaneously ‘holy’ (distinct from the world) and ‘worldly’ (not in the sense of assimilating the world’s values, but in the sense of renouncing other­worldliness and instead becoming immersed in the life of the world). Dr Alec Vidler captured this double identity by referring to its ‘holy worldliness’.

Nobody has ever exhibited ‘holy worldliness’ better than our Lord Jesus Christ himself. His incarnation is the perfect embodiment of it. On the one hand, he came to us in our world, and assumed the full reality of our humanness. He made himself one with us in our frailty, and exposed himself to our temptations. He fraternized with the common people, and they flocked round him eagerly. He welcomed everybody and shunned nobody. He identified with our sorrows, our sins and our death. On the other hand, in mixing freely with people like us, he never sacrificed or compromised his own unique identity. His was the perfection of ‘holy worldliness’.

And now he sends us into the world as he was sent into the world.We have to penetrate other people’s worlds, as he penetrated ours – the world of their thinking (as we struggle to understand their misunderstandings of the gospel), the world of their feeling (as we try to empathize with their pain), and the world of their living (as we sense the humiliation of their social situation, whether that is poverty, homelessness, unemployment or discrimination). Archbishop Michael Ramsey put it well: ‘We state and commend the faith only insofar as we go out and put ourselves with loving sympathy inside the doubts of the doubter, the questions of the questioner, and the loneliness of those who have lost the way.’Yet this costly entry into other people’s worlds is not to be undertaken at the expense of our own Christian integrity. We are called to maintain the standards of Jesus Christ untarnished.

Seldom in its long history has the church managed to preserve its God­given double identity of holy worldliness. Instead, it has tended to oscillate between the two extremes. Sometimes (in an overemphasis on its holiness) the church has withdrawn from the world and so has neglected its mission. At other times (in an overemphasis on its worldliness) it has conformed to the world, assimilating its views and values, and so has neglected its holiness. But to fulfil its mission, the church must faithfully respond to both its callings, and preserve both parts of its identity.

‘Mission’ arises, then, from the biblical doctrine of the church in the world. If we are not ‘the church’, the holy and distinct people of God, we have nothing to say because we are compromised. If, on the other hand, we are not ‘in the world’, deeply involved in its life and suffering, we have no­one to serve because we are insulated. Our calling is to be ‘holy’ and ‘worldly’ at the same time. Without this balanced biblical ecclesiology we will never recover or fulfil our mission.

@SPCKPublishing

New book: John Stott on The Bible – introduction and extract

It’s been a great privilege to be involved in giving a new lease of life to John Stott’s great book, The Contemporary Christian, which is being reissued as a series of five short books on 20 June 2019. I was asked to provide a light edit of Stott’s work (removing dated references and discussions) and to add reflection questions to help readers think through the application today. The five books are:

The Gospel: A Life-Changing Message

The Disciple: A Calling to be Christlike

The Bible: A Book Like No Other

The Church: A Unique Gathering of People

The World: A Mission to be Accomplished

Or you can buy all five books for the price of four if you use this link.

(Also look out for my volume on John Stott in Crossway’s Theologians of the Christian Lifeseries which is coming out in June 2020.) 

Introducing The Bible: A Book Like No Other

The volume on The Bible is a fascinating example of the very thing Stott advocates. In the opening chapter he expounds 2 Timothy 3-4 to call us to continue in the word. And his exposition show how contemporary the Bible remains. Is this passage addressed to the first century or the twenty-first century? Stott’s treatment very much makes it feel like both. Stott then shows how responding to the word is vital for every aspect of our discipleship and ministry.

In chapter 3 Stott provides a brilliant discussion on how we interpret the Bible in a very different culture to one in which it was written. He calls for what he describes as transposition. ‘In musical transposition the tune and harmonization remain the same; only the key is different. In biblical transposition the truth of the revelation remains the same; only the cultural expression is different.’

Finally Stott offers a summary of his approach to preaching. This involves an explanation his definition of preaching: ‘To preach is to open up the inspired text with such faithfulness and sensitivity that God’s voice is heard and God’s people obey him.’ If you’ve read Stott’s book on preaching (I Believe in Preaching in the UK or Between Two Worlds in the US) then this will be great reminder. If you’ve not, then this is required reading, especially if you’re preacher.

Here’s an extract in which Stott links fidelity to Scripture with humility. It’s an argument he often employed against liberal theology which he saw as an attempt subvert the lordship of Christ exercised through his word.

Submission to the authority of Scripture is the way of personal Christian humility. Nothing is more obnoxious in those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ than arrogance, and nothing is more appropriate or attractive than humility. And an essential element in Christian humility is the willingness to hear and receive God’s Word. Perhaps the greatest of all our needs is to take our place again humbly, quietly and expectantly at the feet of Jesus Christ, in order to listen attentively to his Word, and to believe and obey it. For we have no freedom to disbelieve or disobey him.

The ultimate issue before us and the whole church is whether Jesus Christ is Lord (as we say he is) or not. The question is whether Christ is Lord of the church (to teach and command it), or the church is lord of Christ (to edit and manipulate his teaching). In the contemporary crisis of authority in the world, and loss of authority in the church, my plea is that we return to a humble submission to Scripture as God’s Word. We must submit to Scripture out of a humble submission to Jesus Christ as Lord, who himself humbly submitted to Scripture in his own faith, life, mission and teaching.

In so doing, we will find the way of mature discipleship and intellectual integrity, the way to unite churches and evangelize the world, and the way to express a proper humility before our Lord Jesus Christ. That is what I mean by the ‘wholesomeness’ of submitting to the authority of Scripture.

@SPCKPublishing

New book: John Stott on The Disciple – introduction and extract

It’s been a great privilege to be involved in giving a new lease of life to John Stott’s great book, The Contemporary Christian, which is being reissued as a series of five short books on 20 June 2019. I was asked to provide a light edit of Stott’s work (removing dated references and discussions) and to add reflection questions to help readers think through the application today. The five books are:

The Gospel: A Life-Changing Message

The Disciple: A Calling to be Christlike

The Bible: A Book Like No Other

The Church: A Unique Gathering of People

The World: A Mission to be Accomplished

Or you can buy all five books for the price of four if you use this link.

(Also look out for my volume on John Stott in Crossway’s Theologians of the Christian Lifeseries which is coming out in June 2020.) 

Introducing The Disciple: A Calling to be Christlike

In The Disciple Stott argues that discipleship begins with listening – listening first and foremost to God, but also to one another and to the world around. In the second chapter Stott expounds one of the characteristic features of his theology – the importance of the mind. He also speaks of the importance of the emotions in spiritual experience, public worship, gospel preaching, and social and pastoral ministry. Nevertheless he maintains the priority of the mind for ‘the mind controls the emotions’. Chapter 3 on guidance, vocation and ministry summarises a common theme in Stott’s ministry, namely the need to bring our faith to bear on every aspect of life and especially for Christians to see their careers as a context in which they serve Christ. This volume ends with a delightful meditation on the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Stott says this is a ‘biblical text that has come to mean much to me’. It is one which he recited every morning.

Here’s an extract in which Stott laments the restriction of the term ‘ministry’ to pastoral ministry when it should refer to the work of every Christian (with footnotes and citations removed).

All Christians without exception are called to ministry. Indeed, we are to give our lives in ministry. Ministry is not the privilege of a small elite, but of all the disciples of Jesus. You will have noticed that I did not say that all Christians are called to the ministry, but to ministry, diakonia, service. We do a great dis- service to the Christian cause whenever we refer to being a pastor as being in ‘the ministry’. For we give the impression that pastoral ministry is the only ministry there is, much as medieval churchmen regarded the priesthood as the only (or at least the most ‘spiritual’) vocation there is. Whenever somebody says in my presence that ‘so-and-so is going into the ministry’, I always ask innocently, ‘Oh really? Which ministry do you mean?’ If they reply, as they often do, ‘The pastoral ministry’, then I come back with the gentle complaint, ‘Then why didn’t you say so?!’ The fact is that the word ‘ministry’ is a generic term which lacks specificity until we add an adjective.

I come back to my first proposition that all Christians without exception are called to ministry. How can I make such a dogmatic statement? Because of Jesus Christ. His lordship over us has a vocational dimension. Since he is ‘the servant’ par excellence, who gave himself without reserve to the service of God and human beings, it would be impossible to be his disciple without seeking to follow his example of service. He preached the kingdom, healed the sick, fed the hungry, befriended the friendless, championed the oppressed, comforted the bereaved, sought the lost and washed his apostles’ feet. No task was too demanding, and no ministry too menial, for him to undertake. He lived his life and died his death in complete self-forgetful service. Shall we not imitate him? The world measures greatness by success; Jesus measures it by service …

I was brought up as a young Christian to think of different vocations or ministries as forming a hierarchy or pyramid. Perched precariously at the top of the pyramid was the cross-cultural mis- sonar. They were our heroes. I was taught that if I was really out and out for Christ, then I would undoubtedly join their ranks overseas. If I was not as keen as that, I would stay at home and be a pastor. If I did not aspire even to that, I would probably become a doctor or a teacher. But if I were to go into business, politics or the media, then I would not be far from backsliding! Please do not misunderstand me. It is a wonderful privilege to be a missionary or a pastor, if God calls us to it. But it is equally wonderful to be a Christian lawyer, industrialist, politician, manager, social worker, television script-writer, journalist or home-maker, if God calls us to it. According to Romans 13:4 an official of the state (whether legislator, magistrate or police officer) is just as much a ‘minister of God’ (diakonos theou) as a pastor. It is the hierarchy we have to reject; the pyramid we have to demolish.

There is still, of course, an urgent need for missionaries – people who are characterized above all by humility. We need missionaries with the humility to repent of cultural imperialism and identify with another culture, the humility to work under national church leader- ship, the humility to serve people’s felt needs (social as well as evangelistic), and the humility to rely on the Holy Spirit as the chief communicator.World evangelization remains at the top of the church’s agenda. Pastors also are greatly needed to teach the Word of God.

At the same time, there is a crying need for Christians who see their daily work as their primary Christian ministry and who are determined to penetrate their secular environment for Christ.

Christians are needed in business and industry who see ‘service to the public’ as the first goal on their ‘mission’ statement, who make bold experiments in working relations, worker participation and profit-sharing, and who accept their responsibility to produce an annual ‘social audit’ alongside their annual financial audit.

Christian politicians are needed to identify the major injustices in their society, refuse to come to terms with them, and determine to secure legislative change, however long it takes. And Christian economists are needed to find ways of both creating and sharing wealth.

Christian film-makers are needed to produce not only overtly Christian or evangelistic films, but also wholesome films which indirectly commend Christian values, and so honour Christ.

More Christian doctors are needed who, in co-operation with moral theologians, face the contemporary challenges of medical ethics and develop ways of maintaining the uniquely Christian vision of the human person and the human family.

Dedicated Christian teachers are needed, in both Christian and secular schools, who count it a privilege to serve their students and help them develop their full God-given potential.

And more Christian social workers are needed who, in their concern for those with mental and physical disabilities, abused children, drug-abusers, Aids victims and others, combine the latest medical treatment and social care with Christian love, believing prayer and church support.

@SPCKPublishing