The fight of faith

Here is the final part of my blog posts on preparing people for cross-cultural mission. (Here are parts one, two, threefour and five)

Walking with Christ and growing in him is not easy, especially in a cross-cultural context. We are called to the fight of faith. Last year I climbed the mountain Skiddaw in England with a friend. It was hard work! The final push is across loose rock at a 45 degree angle. Each step is agony. The calves are aching as you try to lift your body weight on tired legs. It feels like a form of torture. And this is what we do for leisure! So why do we do it? Why not just give up? Because we are confident that the view from the top will make all the effort seem worthwhile. And so it was for me and my friend.

It is a great picture of the way we are sanctified by faith. Sometimes it can be agony. Each step is hard work. It is painful. You feel like giving up or giving in. But you press on because faith tells you that the view from the top will be glorious. Legalism would make you climb the slope by berating you or beating you. And if you have ever tried climbing a mountain with reluctant children you will know that approach does not work very well. At best you might get them up one mountain, but you will not get them up a second. The gospel gets you up the mountain by promising you a glorious view from the top. The path is no less hard, but there is a spring in your step as you anticipate what is coming. Faith is fixing your eyes on the mountain top. Every now and then you can turn round and get a glimpse of the glorious view just as we experience more of God the more we know him and serve him. And those glimpses are a foretaste of what is to come: the mountain top of God’s eternal glory.

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God is good for cross-cultural missionaries

Here is the fourth part of my course preparing people for cross-cultural mission. (Here are parts one, two and three.)

What do you think you will miss most?

  • friends and family
  • home comforts
  • familiarity (e.g. favourite foods)
  • entertainment
  • a professional environment
  • Christian community
  • corporate worship and teaching

What frustrations will you face?

  • inability to operate in an unfamiliar culture
  • slow progress with language learning
  • conflict with colleagues
  • lack of ministry opportunities
  • time-consuming, boring or annoying cultural customs
  • bureaucracy
  • inefficiency
  • corruption
  • injustice
  • set-backs
  • the special challenges and limitations on women in a patriarchal society

Choose to enjoy the city
Choose to enjoy the city and its culture. It is all too easy to become bitter or resentful or to despise the people you are reaching or the place where you live. ‘It is not like home.’ ‘They don’t do things “right”’. ‘They are resistant to our message.’ ‘They don’t enjoy the things you enjoy.’ So work hard to enjoy the city.

Sometimes this will be a choice. Make a habit of saying positive things about the city and its culture. Delight in the city. Be 100 percent there 100 percent of the time. In other words, do not live in the past or the future, looking back or forward to life at ‘home’. Make your home in the culture for as long as you are there.

ð            Make a list of ten things you like about the city and its culture.

Choose to enjoy God

Keep telling your heart that God is good.

ð            What behaviour and emotions might follow from not embracing the truth that God is good?

Again, think of the towel over the head. Take refuge in God. Find joy in him. Get your pleasure from knowing him and being faithful to him. Remind yourself of all that he is and all that he has done. Search the Scriptures each day for something that makes you rejoice in God afresh.

ð            Rewrite Psalm 84, either as a version adapted to your context or as a negative Psalm which says the opposite of the original

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God is great for cross-cultural missionaries

Here is the third part of my course preparing people for cross-cultural mission. (Here are parts one and two.)

God is great

What are the worries you have about doing mission in another culture?

The refrain we kept repeating when I visited missionaries in the Middle-East was: ‘fallen world, sovereign God.’

This world is full of broken people. It is full of people who are sad, needy, insecure; people who misuse their power; people desperate to prove themselves; people who are fearful. And that is just your team! Seriously, co-workers are often the main cause of grief on the mission field – perhaps because our expectations are higher.

You may be wondering, ‘Will I be able to adapt? Will it get easier? Will I find friends?’ Do not panic. It will come. You are not failing. You are normal. You are a frail, finite human being.

This world is fallen. It is a mess. It is full of corruption and injustice. It is full of lost people who desperately need a Saviour.

And you cannot mend it. You are not sovereign and you are not infinite. If you try to fix everything then you will burn out or break down.

You can only do so much. It is not just that there are some things you can not do. You cannot do all the things you could do! In other words, there will be many things you could fix, but you will lack the time or energy or emotional strength to address them. And that means there will be many things that are left undone; many suffering people unhelped; many lost people who do not hear the gospel.

That can be difficult to live with. The danger is that it will drive you to over work, over stress, over worry. Or you will push those emotions onto other people – making them feel guilty that they are not doing enough.

But I have good news for you. God is great. He is sovereign. He is in control. He is the great mission strategist. He will bring people into the lives of those he plans to save. You can trust him with the big picture. You are called to be faithful with the task which he gives to you and have faith in his sovereign control of the big picture.

Consider this: Jesus said, ‘I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.’ (John 17:4) Jesus could say that he had completed the task. Yet many people were left unhealed, many did not hear his proclamation, many were not fed. But he had completed the task that God had assigned to him.

Give up any notion of being a super-hero or a super-missionary. You are allowed to be mediocre! Forget your missionary hagiographies. This is not what you are called to be. You are called to be faithful, not fruitful. Keep telling your heart that God is great. He is in control.

Indeed if you try to be a super-hero then you will distort the message. ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’ (2 Corinthians 4:7) The message of the cross is proclaimed by weak people (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5).

What behaviour and emotions might follow from not embracing the truth that God is great?

One danger is that you feel the pressure to say something so when you do it comes out in a burst of pent up frustration. This leads to unhealthy or destructive speech. Being free from the need to change other people or be in control allows you to speak freely and faithfully, entrusting the outcome to God. This creates healthy speech. Be slow to speak.

Your initial focus is on learning the language. Do not have any bigger ambitions than this. Take a day at a time. Have small expectations for each day. Be patient. Be content with slow living. God will use you as he chooses if you are faithful to him.

God is also in control of the situation back home. You can trust our great God for those you have left behind.

ð            Rewrite Psalm 27, either as a version adapted to your context or as a negative Psalm which says the opposite of the original

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God is glorious for cross-cultural missionaries

Here is the second part of my course preparing people for cross-cultural mission. (Here is part one.)

God is glorious

You are going to be very conscious of what other people think about you.

Your fellow team members

Do they think you are competent? What are they making of your progress? How do they evaluate your ability to adapt to the culture? How do they evaluate your ability to do ministry?

They will make many suggestions, mostly from a desire to help you. But they will often sound like criticisms – especially if you are already feeling insecure (‘You should have done this.’ ‘Don’t say that.’ ‘You should try doing this.’).

Your neighbours and friends.

You want to make a good impression for Christ. What do they think of you? What do they make of your strange ways? Are you getting the culture right? Are you reading their responses accurately?

Your supporters back home

People are giving to support you. Are they getting value for money? Will they continue their support? Will they be impressed by your reports? Do they value what you’re doing? What will you say when you have nothing about which to write home? What will you say when all you have been doing is slowly learning the language? What will they think when things go wrong?

Communication back home is difficult. You will be going through experiences that are hard to share, that are outside other people’s experience.

We can easily become controlled by the opinions of other people. This is one of the commons reason why we sin: we crave the approval of other people or we fear their rejection. We ‘need’ the acceptance of others and so we’re controlled by them. The Bible’s term for this is ‘fear of man’. ‘Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe’ (Proverbs 29:25).

The Bible’s response is a vision of the glory of God. We need a big view of God. We need to fear God. ‘He will be the sure foundation for your times,’ says Isaiah, ‘a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.’  (Isaiah 33:6) The key to God’s treasure is to fear him. To fear God is to respect, worship, trust and submit to God. We tremble before him in awe. The fear of God is the response to his glory, greatness, holiness, power, splendour, beauty, grace, mercy and love. Often, in Psalms 18 and 34 for example, this is what the Psalmist is doing. In the face of some threat he is speaking the truth about God to himself. Keep telling your heart that God is glorious so that fear of others is replaced by trust in God. ‘I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.’ (Psalm 34:4-5)

What behaviour and emotions might follow from not embracing the truth that God is glorious?

Again, think of putting that towel over your head so you find refuge in God. Whenever you see someone who you fear or whose approval you crave, imagine God next to them. Who is the biggest? Who is the most majestic? Who is the holiest? Who is the most beautiful? Who is the most threatening? Who is the most loving?

Jesus says: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,’ says Jesus. ‘Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ (Matthew 10:28) The fear of God liberates us from being controlled by other people’s expectations. We are controlled instead by God’s expectations. We still serve other people. That’s why we’ve been set free (Galatians 5:13). We take other people’s expectations seriously because we want to love them as God commanded. But we’re not enslaved by them. We don’t serve them for what they can give us in return – approval, affection, security or whatever. We serve them for Christ’s sake. By submitting to his lordship, we’re free to serve others in love.

It is an act of believing the gospel to open up, to be able to say: ‘I’m having a bad day, please pray for me,’ to not feel the need to protect your reputation or project your best.

Rewrite Psalm 31, either as a version adapted to your context or as a negative Psalm which says the opposite of the original.

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God is gracious for cross-cultural missionaries

I recently ran a short preparation course for people about to go out as cross-cultural missionaries. We looked at some standard material on culture and contextualization. But half the course was based on a conversation with a missionary we have sent to the Middle-East. As we talked about what people need to know as they approach cross-cultural ministry it became clear that it added up to the ‘four Gs’ in You Can Change [available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk]. Here is the material I put together. First, God is gracious.

God is gracious

What gives you a sense of achievement?

All the normal things from which we gain a sense of worth, success, achievement, competence are stripped away when you move to another culture.

  • You will be unable to communicate because of your lack of language ability
  • You will be unable to relate because of your lack of cultural understanding.
  • You will be unable to do ministry or contribute to church life.
  • You will not achieve much because your work life is on hold for language learning.
  • You will feel incompetent to manage ordinary life. (Where do you buy glue? What do you say at a road block? How do you get your washing machine mended?)
  • Your self-justification framework is taken away. Your behaviour will be weird and your productivity will be low.

It is not wrong to feel a sense of achievement in these areas as long as your ultimate identity in found in Christ. The test of that is when the sense of achievement is taken away. What remains? Where does your sense of worth reside? You’re about to face that test.

Your true self will be revealed and exposed:

  • by the exhaustion of your routine
  • by the worry of ‘dramas’ in your life
  • by the pressure of ‘crises’ in church life and ministry
  • by the exhaustion of continually relating cross-culturally
  • Your marriage may come under pressure because you will have to cope with a different version of your partner and your self. The pressures of cross-cultural life will reveal new attitudes and behaviours.

Look at Luke 10:17-20. We are not to rejoice in success or in ministry. Nor need we be downcast by the lack of success and our inabilities in ministry. We rejoice that our names are written in heaven.

Look at Luke 10:21-24. We rejoice in God’s grace. We rejoice that we are God’s children.

Look at Luke 10:25-37. Why does Jesus tell this story? See verse 29. The lawyer wanted to justify himself. He wanted a checklist that he could tick off so he knew he had proved himself. But we cannot justify ourselves for the task is without limit.

Look at Luke 10:38-42. Martha wants to justify herself through her service. But the necessary thing is to sit at the feet of Jesus and to listen to his teaching – to hear his word of grace.

Expect less productivity. Expect cultural mistakes. Expect your sinful heart to be exposed. But when this happens find refuge in God.

The Russian tennis player Vera Zvonareva was a finalist at Wimbledon in 2010. She had previously had a reputation for cracking on court. She would often be in tears and her game would disintegrate. One of the techniques she used to turn her career around was to put a towel over her head during games. She would block out the world around her and focus on what mattered.

I want to suggest you do the gospel equivalent. When you feel the pressure, block out the world. Stop listening to its voice. Block out your own heart. Stop listening to its doubts and desires. Instead listen to the word of Jesus. Think of God’s word as a towel you can put over your head for a few moments. Keep telling your heart that God is gracious. This is the truth that will set your free and get you through. Say to yourself:

  • ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’  (Romans 8:1)
  • ‘How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!’ (1 John 3:1)
  • ‘The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.’ (Zephaniah 3:17)

What behaviour and emotions might follow from not embracing the truth that God is gracious?

What do you want other people to see in you? When you’re struggling, when you’re having marriage difficulties, when you make mistakes, when you mess up – will you want to hide this from people – from your team, from your unbelieving neighbours?

What do you want other people to see in you? That you are a great person or that you have a great Saviour?

Rewrite Psalm 103, either as a version adapted to your context or as a negative Psalm which says the opposite of the original.

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Questioning the incarnation as a model for mission

One of my blog posts that garnered the most ever comments was one questioning whether the incarnation is a right model for mission as expressed in the oft repeated phrase, ‘incarnational mission’. So I was interested to see two people independently questioning it along similar lines:

Eckhard J. Schnabel in his major work, Early Christian Mission Pt 2: Paul and the Early Church, says:

“I submit that the use of the term ‘incarnational’ is not very helpful to describe the task of authentic Christian missionary work. The event of the coming of Jesus into the world is unique, unrepeatable and incomparable, making it preferable to use other terminology to express the attitudes and behavior that Paul describes in 1 Cor 9:19-23. The Johannine missionary commission in Jn 20:21 does not demand an ‘incarnation’ of Jesus’ disciples but rather their obedience, unconditional commitment and robust activity in the service of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is precisely John who describes the mission of Jesus as unique: Jesus is the ‘only’ Son (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:14, 18), he is preexistent (Jn 1:1, 14), his relationship to the Father is unparalleled (Jn 1:14, 18). For John, it is not the manner of Jesus’ coming into the world, the Word becoming flesh, the incarnation, that is a ‘model’ for believers; rather, it is the nature of Jesus’ relationship to the Father who sent him into the world, which is one of obedience to and dependence upon the Father … The terms ‘contextualization’ or ‘inculturation’ certainly are more helpful.” (pp. 1574-1575) (HT: Tony  Reinke)

Andraes Kostenberger argues along similar lines in an interview for The Gospel Coalition:

The term that I think captures the nature of our mission according to John’s gospel is “representational.” That is, we are to re-present the message of redemption and eternal life in Jesus on the basis of the finished cross-work and resurrection of Christ. Clearly, John’s Gospel presents Jesus’ incarnation as utterly unique (read the introduction, 1:1–18!), so it is hard to conceive of John teaching an “incarnational model” in which the disciples share in Jesus’ incarnation in some way … The major implication from this kind of “representational” model, then, is that we are to focus on the gospel message, not the messengers, and pass that message on faithfully and accurately in our mission to the world.

My argument is not with what people generally want to affirm through the phrase ‘incarnational mission’, but that this is the wrong theological category to use.

HT: JT.

Thursday Review: Soul DVD and CY evangelistic courses

A review of Soul DVD and the CY and CY Nano evangelistic courses.

Soul is a seven-session evangelistic presentation. It’s designed for young people. That said, although there is a youth slant (references to image, peer pressure and following the crowd), it would be perfectly acceptable for an adult audience.

Trailers and session titles are below.

Soul is basically Christianity Explored for young people. Rico Tice has been replaced by Nate Morgan Locke, but the basic content is similar. That means it’s cross-centred and grace-centred. There’s a clear explanation of sin, judgment and atonement while the cost of following Christ is plainly spelt out (using Mark 8:34-38). The tone is serious to the point of being sombre (go on, Nate, give us a smile). Extracts from Mark’s Gospel are read with the words appearing on the screen so that much of the time the format is Bible reading followed by exposition. There’s no compromise on the truth of the gospel for the sake of relevance. Instead, relevance is established by establishing our need of a saviour. The distinctions from other religions are highlighted which is important in our increasingly pluralistic context.

Rico Tice is a more natural presenter, but Soul is more visually creative. There’s plenty of moody lighting and overhead panning shots as well as strong visual images. The stilling of the storm is told with water beating down on a hooded narrator and the resurrection is narrated in an underground car park climaxing in a motorbike riding up a ramp into the light. Think of the production values of Nooma videos combined with the content of Christianity Explored.

CY is an accompanying course for teenagers and young adults while CY Nano is aimed at 11-14 year-olds. The material in both courses is very similar with just a few tweaks and a different visual feel. The courses are designed to be used alongside Soul. Each session begins with a short Bible study from Mark’s Gospel. Then you show the Soul episode followed by discussion questions. That said, both Soul and CY can be used independently. There’s a leaders manual that covers both versions of the course.

I like CY and CY Nano. It’s a great gospel presentation based on a Gospel (surely that’s the obvious place to start) with a clear explanation of sin and grace as well as the cost of following Christ. Plus they’re a bit easier to use than Christianity Explored. Again, I would be happy to use CY with any adult. Indeed my problem with Soul and CY is that now I’m not sure whether to use the Christianity Explored course material or the Soul and CY combination!

Soul DVD is available here in the US and here in the UK.

The CY Sample Pack is available here in the US and here in the UK.

The CY Starter Pack is available here in the US and here in the UK.

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Thursday review: Becoming a Contagious Christian

A review of Becoming a Contagious Christian course with DVD, CD, workbook and leader’s guide by Mark Mittelberg, Lee Strobel and Bill Hybels, Zondervan, 2007.

Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

The Becoming a Contagious Christian course is an updated version of a previous course based on the book Becoming a Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg. The core of the course are six DVD sessions with Mark Mittelberg and Lee Strobel speaking to an studio audience interspersed with dramas and vox pops. I feared the dramas would be too cringey, but they are well done (though I’m still not convinced how they would go down with a British audience). This material is supplemented by a participant’s workbook as well as an extensive leader’s guide, a CD with further resources  and the original book. The CD includes sample text for six sermons that can be delivered alongside the course with a view to creating a ‘contagious campaign’ in your church.

It’s great material, especially for people who are nervous about evangelism. It covers much that you would expect in personal evangelism training – motivation, building relationships, beginning a gospel conversation, presenting the gospel.

The real added value is its recognition that people have different styles of evangelism. There’s a 36-question questionnaire that enables people to identify their personal style. You might quibble with the six categories, but the idea that people do evangelism in different ways is important. Too often people are made to feel guilty about not doing evangelism in the way that others do. It would be worth working through this session alone with a missional community. It may mean some people start to recognize the role they can play while others learn to esteem the role of others even when this does not look like what they do. Ironically the course does not really follow through this insight with something of a one-size-fits-all approach in the rest of the material.

The session on sharing your story is very helpful. The gospel presentation taught in session five, though, is somewhat too individual-centred for my liking. The centrality of the people of God in the story of salvation is neglected and the presentation is fairly man-centred rather than God-centred. It’s focus is getting to heaven rather than the renewal of all things or the glory of God. That said, all gospel frameworks are reductionistic. They are at best a training tool.

There is much that is helpful in this material. But some of it is not appropriate to the deeply secular culture of Europe. In our context the chance to run through a gospel framework is a rare opportunity. Even if people were interested (which they’re not), they lack the background knowledge to make sense of an abbreviated gospel framework. Nor would you get away with ‘turning’ a conversation, as suggested, by moving from a discussion of ‘physical fitness’ to raising the issue of ‘spiritual fitness’. Sharing the gospel is inevitably fragmentary with interest and understanding growing over an extended period. That said, I could see us using the second session on evangelism styles.

The course kit is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

The book is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

The DVD is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

The participant’s guide is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

The leader’s guide is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

The Limits of Incarnational Models Part 3: The Need for a Whole Gospel Approach

Here is final guest post from Dr Jonny Woodrow suggesting the need for a robust trinitarian theology to supplement an incarnational model of cultural engagement. This argument draws on reflections on Colin Gunton’s The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US. The first two posts in this series are here and here. Jonny  is a tutor with the Northern Training Institute and a church planter with The Crowded House.

I have benefited from the incarnational approach. I love the emphasis on contextualisation and cross-cultural mission. We practice this in our context with teams devoted to being part of the communities they seek to reach. It helps to bring culture to the fore in our strategising. But the more we seek to mobilise people for this kind of mission or try to pastor people through the inevitable personal and social battles this incarnational lifestyle forces to the surface, the more I find the concept of incarnation as a principle powerless to help. This is because it fails to address the real problem with humanity.

The Fall brought about relational brokenness between mankind, God and creation through man’s attempt to put a non-Trinitarian being (i.e. self) at the centre of the universe and crush difference. Post-Fall Adam wanted the death penalty to fall on Eve, removing the different one from the Garden, blaming God for creating her. The construction of the tower of Babel around the exaltation of man threatened to exchange God’s plan to fill the world with fruitful people for a monocultural existence. The key problem the gospel must over-come is not transcendence but every attempt mankind makes to define himself and the world by something other than relationship with the Trinitarian God. An incarnational approach does not address this problem. It simply wants to bring God down to earth. Having read Gunton, a truly relational approach to creation and redemption means we need the whole gospel to mobilise us and remake us as truly human and not just incarnational.

The incarnational approach has helped us to critique the mission of the church where we stay in our own cosy subculture. But it simply operates at the level of example. The Son of God became one of us so we become one of ‘them’. At this point we strategise our way into culture. Examples, devoid of life changing truth and grace in the end become sticks to beat people with. The incarnational approach alone fails to help people to missionally live out their identity in Christ.

Someone committed to incarnational theology might reply at this point that the incarnation enabled us to become truly human since God became man. Or they might say that the church is the body of Christ, therefore incarnation is a principle that directs our mission. But I want to suggest that this is category confusion. It is not the incarnation that makes us the body of Christ or that makes us truly human. Incarnation is the miracle of God taking on human flesh. What makes us truly human is putting on Christ and being remade in his image through baptism into his death and resurrection. Putting on Christ, being found in him at the right hand of the Father, and being remade in his image are not summarised by incarnation. Incarnation is not the correct term for this. Regeneration is the correct term.

Genesis 1 and 2 show that being in the image of God means being a community in fruitful, cultural engagement with creation. This, as we have seen, leads to a relational and Trinitarian view of being which the gospel affirms and enables. Therefore the basis for mobilising a culturally engaged church that takes particularity, diversity and creativity seriously is the call to become image bearers. This means we need to be reconciled to God through the whole Jesus story as he takes up humanity, kills us, resurrects us and brings us into the presence of the Father to receive the gift of the Spirit.  We don’t become image bearers through our own incarnational efforts. This is category confusion.  We become image bearers by being remade through death and resurrection into the image of God (e.g. Colossians 3:9).

Pastorally, I find it much more empowering to encourage Christians to live missionally by calling them to the death and resurrection of Jesus for them and to live in light of their new identity in Christ. It is helpful for a student entering the home of an alcoholic where many drug addicted and dangerous people hang out, to know that Jesus entered these kinds of places as well. But what really enables him to do it is the knowledge that he has died with Christ and now his life is hidden with the ascended Christ. Now his life is not found in the comfort and safety of socially acceptable company, he has died to these idols and he has been given new life in Christ.

It seems to me that relationship with the incarnate, resurrected and ascended Christ for our renewal in his image is the correct and most fruitful basis for missional contextualised theology. This relational approach reflects the mobilising categories of Scripture: in him, reconciled to God, adopted etc. It requires all moments of the gospel story to shape practice.

Without the incarnation there would be no true human to take humanity into the presence of God. Without the death of the true human, creation and humanity could not be brought through death to be renewed. Without the resurrection a new humanity would not be possible. Without the ascension renewed humanity would not be represented in the presence of God. We were made to live in the world in the presence of the Father. That was the Genesis 1 and 2 foundation for cultural engagement and now, through the Son, the new humanity again lives in the presence of the Father through Jesus’ ascension. If the ascension had not happened, the Spirit would not have been sent to begin the work of recalibrating the creation around the throne of Jesus. In other words, creation and culture are affirmed and renewed by every moment of the gospel story which brings us back into relationship with the Father, each other and creation.

We need the whole gospel to mobilise us for mission and to inform our missional practice. I want to suggest that to truly engage with culture, the missional church needs to become increasingly relational rather than incarnational. This will mean that the missional church needs to recover a robust Trinitarian and Biblical theology. For some, much of what they have packed into the incarnational category can be kept but it needs to be recategorized if we are to be able to let the biblical categories inform practice. We need to live in the whole Jesus story and not just one aspect of it if we truly want to engage culture for Christ and avoid worldly engagement with a Christian veneer.
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The Limits of Incarnational Models Part 2: Embodiment and Incarnation

Here is the second of three guest blogs from Dr Jonny Woodrow highlighting the limits of an incarnational model of mission by reflecting on Colin Gunton’s, The One, the Three and the Many purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US. Jonny  is a tutor with the Northern Training Institute and a church planter with The Crowded House. The first post explored the question of the triumph of the many (embodied local realities) over the one (transcendental reality) in modern culture.

In his book, The One, The Three and the Many, Colin Gunton argues that the culture of modernity has failed to manage the tension between the one and the many. This tension operates on a number of levels. It can be seen wherever the concept of diversity threatens unity or vice versa. For instance; the state versus local government; the rights of the individual verses society; the objective truth verses the variety of many subjective opinions. Gunton shows how modernity has ostensibly wanted to champion the many over forms of the transcendent one. It has tried to do this by overcoming the transcendent God in order to find meaning in the particular and embodied.

While embodiment is central to Gunton’s theology he shows that it is the wrong solution to the tension between the one and the many. This is because transcendence is not the enemy of the local and the particular. Gunton argues that the problem is a non-Trinitarian and non-relational conception of the ‘oneness’ of the transcendent God. This non-relational view of God and his will presents God as anti-diversity.

Following on from the first blog, I want to unpack the idea that the Christian doctrine of the transcendent becoming embodied – the incarnation – can not help us critique and engage with modern and post-modern culture on its own. Too often, the incarnation becomes our key principle without setting it within a framework of the Trinitarian story of redemption. When this happens we are in danger of simply attempting modernist embodiment with a Christian veneer to overcome a misdiagnosed problem with culture.

Foundations for Particularity: Unitary or Relational Will

Gunton’s argument is complex and nuanced. It is presented here in outline only. Gunton contrasts two models or paradigms of the relationship between creation and the will of God. These contrasting models shape a different view of God’s will and the nature of will in general. These differing views of God’s will, in turn, lead to differing understandings of the place of the particular. Continue reading