Yearly Archives: 2011

“Aspects of Islam”

Aspects of Islam by Ron Geaves. London: Darton, Longman and Todd. 2005

Sectarian divisions for any religion tend to occur down the fault lines of the strongest convictions.  Ron Geaves sheds light on fundamental faith issues within Islam by exploring significant religious disagreements that exist between committed Muslims. This is a scholarly work that carefully avoids ideological judgment of Islam and instead compares and contrasts the internal struggles of those topics crucial to the world of Islam.  He portrays Islam as a faith that strives to establish faithfulness, consensus and stability amidst the diversity and challenge of forces both external and internal to the religion.

Geaves begins by providing an enlightening critique of both the rhetoric against Islam as well as those “rosy” affirmative pictures commonly found in the western media and moves on to describe with notable sensitivity the current diversity of faith and practice within the world’s second largest religion.  The fundamental tenet in Islam of the uniqueness and unity of God is explored to reveal two distinct interpretations.  While reforming sects, such as the Wahhabis, emphasize the transcendence of God, other elements, e.g. the more mystical Sufi movement, find its fulfillment in an immanent concept of “oneness” through which the follower becomes one with God.

The author next examines the tensions between the law of God in Islam, Shari’a, and cultural or contextual legal systems.  The following chapter considers the concept of brotherhood, Umma, which provides a monolithic image to the outsider while harboring deep divisions. These divisions are explored in greater detail through the contrasting Sunni view of “manifest success” revealing God’s favor versus the Shi’a doctrine of a remnant remaining faithful in suffering.  The figure of the prophet of Islam is looked at through the eyes of those Muslims who see him as the greatest prophet, albeit human, and those who have attributed almost divine characteristics to him. A holistic view of Jihad is then presented that includes both a personal, internal struggle and a political, external effort that are part of the universal war between God and Satan. It is the military expression of the latter, such as the revolution in Iran, as well as the imposition of Shari’a law to defend Islam against the infiltration of western values that gains the attention of outsiders. He concludes with an examination of the attempt of Muslim women to achieve liberation through the application of Islamic teaching rather than western feminism.

For each of these areas of tension within Islam, Geaves examines the historical roots for the dichotomy of thought and delves into the underlying faith assumptions that perpetuate the diverse practices and thinking current in the world of Islam. Although the author’s secular bias is revealed at times, such as the attempt to “get at the real Muhammad,” p. 144, and in assuming cultural sources for faith positions (e.g., the speculation that the Christian veneration of Christ may have influenced pious Muslims in attributing divine attributes to Muhammad, p. 163), he is exceptionally sensitive to the danger of allowing his assumptions shape the views he wishes to portray and the theological descriptions provided would most likely satisfy their proponents.

Although not an easy read for those unfamiliar with Islam, there are three features that keep the themes clear for the reader and enhance its value as a reference text on Islam:  Each chapter begins with a clear synopsis of the content, each chapter ends with a conclusion that summarizes the points made, and a glossary with helpful definitions of Islamic religious terms is provided.  This well researched and erudite book is highly recommended for those who wish to understand the tensions and struggles within Islam that often find their expression through conflict with western systems and ideals.

Inauguration of the Northwest Centre for Biblical and Theological Literacy

Douglas Moo, Ph. D.

Northwest is excited to announce the inauguration of the new Centre for Biblical and Theological Literacy.

The Centre endeavours to enable people to understand and apply scriptural truth (i.e. wisdom) for salvation and shalom individually and collectively in Canadian society. It is an agency of Northwest Baptist Seminary, striving to “give Scripture its voice” within the church, but also within Canadian society. Dr. Larry Perkins, professor of biblical studies and past president of Northwest Baptist Seminary, directs the Centre.

The inauguration was a two-day event held here on the TWU campus and featured Dr. Douglas Moo as the guest speaker. Dr. Moo is the Blanchard Professor of New Testament, Wheaton Graduate School.  He is also the Chair of the Committee on Bible Translation for the NIV 2011.

Go to the CBTL website for more information and view the videos of the event.

Thursday, November 3

  • 10:00 to 10:45 am – ACTS Chapel Address
  • 12:30 to 1:45 am – ACTS Faculty Reception: (RSVP required)
  • 2:00 to 4:00 pm – Symposium
    Paul’s Universalizing Hermeneutic in Romans : Dr. Douglas Moo
    Respondents:  Dr. Brian Rapske and Dr. Archie Spencer
  • 7:00 to 8:30 pm  –  Public Presentation
    The Bible in English: Translating for the World: Dr. Douglas Moo

Friday, November 4

  • 1:00 to 3:00 pm  –  Symposium
    What I have learned as a Bible Translator : Dr. Douglas Moo
    Respondents: Dr. Mike Walrod and Dr. Larry Perkins

{filelink=5} the event poster.  You can also:

Download a CBTL image file that you can insert into a presentation or bulletin insert (once the file opens in your browser save it to your computer)

Download a CBTL PowerPoint File

 

Why People Don’t Believe

Why People Don’t Believe: Confronting Seven Challenges to Christian Faith, Baker books, 2011

By Paul Chamberlain, Director of ACTS Seminaries’ Institute of Christian Apologetics (and guest author on this site. Ed.).

Headliner: Those who desire the eradication of Christianity should think carefully about what they wish for.  The beneficial impact of Christianity upon the world is nothing short of breath taking.

Is religion dangerous?  Should it, along with Christianity, be eradicated in order to ensure the very survival of the human race?  A number of influential thinkers today believe so and this is the challenge Dr. Paul Chamberlain, director of the Institute of Christian Apologetics at ACTS seminaries, addresses in his newly released book, Why People Don’t Believe: Confronting Seven Challenges to Christian Faith, (Baker Books, 2011).

Everyone has heard of the 9/11 attacks, suicide bombings around the world done in the name of religion, and acts of violence done against abortion clinics or providers.  Certain critics of religion, commonly dubbed The New Atheists, have been disturbed by these events and have capitalized on them to develop a passionate case against religion complete with arguments and supporting data.  Their contention is that religion, in its very nature, is the problem.  It allegedly breeds violence, is irrational and anti-scientific, it teaches a dreadful morality, and encourages intolerance.  To make matters worse, thanks to advances in technology in the past fifty years, especially in the art of war, our religious “neighbours” are now armed with chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.  As far as American atheist Sam Harris, a key proponent of this line of reasoning is concerned, anyone who is not afraid of the potential harm this represents, simply has not given the matter due attention.  Words like “God” and “Allah” must go the way of “Apollo” and “Baal” lest they destroy us all.

This case has been carried to a very concerned public throughout western culture by means of best-selling books and a host of other media, and it has molded people’s thinking about religion and faith.  Books by British evolutionist Richard Dawkins, Harris, journalist Christopher Hitchens, philosopher Daniel Dennett, and others have sold widely and, due to their authors’ personal standings from past works, many have come to see religion not as the solution to humanity’s problems but as the problem itself.

Many Christians are simply shocked and bewildered when they hear these allegations laid out in sufficient detail, and plenty have had their confidence shaken by what they hear.   Chamberlain became convinced this will be the mother of all apologetic issues for the next decade and, thus, thus felt compelled to research deeply into the issue, target the key questions and challenges, and respond.

This book does three things.  First, it sets out the challenges raised against religious faith, particularly Christianity, in an honest and compelling fashion .  Secondly, it provides responses to each of the main challenges issued by the new critics of religion, and thirdly, it goes the next exciting step and examines the many good and humane contributions Christianity has made to the world throughout the past 2,000 years.  Chamberlain’s contention is that not only is Christianity, properly understood, free of the main allegations leveled against religion by its twenty-first century critics, but it is the source of great good in the world.  In fact, the impact of Christianity for good upon human civilization is nothing short of breath-taking and unless readers have previously inquired into this question, he predicts they will be surprised and deeply encouraged by what they read.  Many of the good things in our world that we, in the west, simply take for granted and could hardly imagine the world without, exist as a direct result of Christian dedication and sacrifice.  He has come to see this as an integral part of replying to the charge that Christianity is a dangerous force for evil and we would be better off without it.

In the end, Chamberlain draws seven conclusions:

1) Both religious and irreligious people commit many acts of violence.

2) When they occur the vast majority of religious people around the world are outraged by them whether they are committed in the name of religion or not.

3) These acts are often driven by deep political and cultural motivations which would remain whether or not religion played a part.

4) Religion is sometimes turned into a tool to help recruit soldiers to fight these political and cultural battles.

5) While this is a horrific abuse of religion, virtually any ideal, including secular ones such as liberty, equality, nationalism and patriotism can and have been abused.

6) Humans will always divide into communities resulting in divisions and binary oppositions which lie at the heart of human conflict.  Some of these divisions are religious in nature (e.g., Protestant vs. Catholic, Shiite vs. Sunni) but most are not (e.g., Tutsi vs. Hutu, Conservative vs. Liberal) and would remain even if religion were eradicated.

7) Christianity, understood as following the teachings of Jesus, is not only free of the main allegations leveled against religion by its twenty-first century critics, but it is the source of great good in the world.  If we demand it be eradicated, we may not know what we are asking for.

This book is intended to operate as a public response to the challenges to religious faith mentioned above and also as a guide for concerned Christians seeking to interact with their friends and neighbors who harbor deep suspicions toward their faith.  Our hope is that not only will those who make the case against religion be given the chance to rethink their position, but also that Christians who read these pages will see how they could engage others around them who launch these charges against their faith.

Does Love Win or God Win? – A Review of “Love Wins”

Rob Bell. Love Wins. A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. New York: HarperOne, 2011. 202 pages.

Rob Bell, founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, raises and seeks to answer some tough questions about God’s intention and desire for all of his human creatures and earthly creation. As his title discloses, Bell proposes that because God desires all human beings to be saved, that this desire must in some way be realized. If it does not happen within history, then in some way it must happen beyond history, otherwise God is not the all-powerful, sovereign being that orthodox theology claims. The result is that theoretically all human beings eventually will participate in God’s restored earth.

On pages 102-111 he describes four perspectives that Christians have held through history about the destiny of unbelievers. Some believe we have one life in which to choose Jesus and if we do not, we spend eternity in hell. Or as Bell says, "God in the end doesn’t get what God wants" (103). But in Bell’s view God "doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn’t give up. Ever" (101). He speculates about a second perspective in which people who choose evil eventually extinguish the image of God within themselves and "given enough time, some people could eventually move into a new state, one in which they were in essence ‘formerly human’ or ‘posthuman’ or even ‘ex-human’" (105-106). Bell does not give this perspective much attention. And then he mentions a third position that holds there are two destinations, but "insist(s) that there must be some kind of ‘second chance’ for those who don’t believe in Jesus in this lifetime" (106). And lastly, he mentions a view in which "there will be endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God. As long as it takes, in other words" (106-107). If there is enough time, surely everyone will "turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence" (107).1

Bell then cites biblical texts (e.g. Matthew 19; Acts 3; Colossians 1) which talk about God "renewing all things" or "restoring everything" or "reconciling all things." He follows this with reference to past theologians such as Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Eusebius who affirmed the idea that "love wins." And then he reminds us that Jerome, Basil and Augustine noted that most or many people "believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God" (108). He concludes by asserting that "at the center (sic.) of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God" (109). He insists that "serious, orthodox followers of Jesus have answered these questions in a number of different ways" (109). And also he asserts that "some [Gospel] stories are better than others" (110), particularly the one which is "everybody enjoys God’s good world" (111). Finally then he says that "whatever objections a person might have to this story, and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it….To shun, censor, or ostracize someone for holding this belief is to fail to extend grace to each other in a discussion that has had plenty of room for varied perspectives for hundreds of years now" (111).2

It seems then, from the title of his book and from the perspective he develops, Bell desires to be accepted as "orthodox," even though he believes and proclaims the story that says everybody will end up enjoying God’s good world. His brief comments on the last two chapters of Revelation (112-114) underscore his perspective when he asks "How could someone choose another way with a universe of love and joy and peace right in front of them – all of it theirs if they would simply leave behind the old ways and receive the new life of the new city in the new world?" He affirms that people do make that choice. But then he observes that the gates of the city in the new world are "never shut" and interprets this to mean that "if the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go" (115). "Keeping the gates open" for him seems to be a metaphor for God’s openness to reconciliation. Bell wants to keep the options open, i.e. "leave plenty of room for all kinds of those possibilities" (116). We cannot be dogmatic on these issues according to Bell because "no one has been to and then returned with hard, empirical evidence" (116), although here he may be overlooking the unique situation of Jesus, the only one who has seen the Father, as John says, and can "declare him" (John 1:18) and the only one who has experienced resurrection from the dead.

Similarly with respect to the spiritual destiny of those involved in other religions Bell interprets John 14:6 as Jesus’ declaration that "he, and he alone, is saving everybody. And then he leaves the door way, way open, creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe" (155). Apart from his lack of clarity as to what this means and how this spiritual inclusivity works, Bell wants to interpret Jesus and his teaching in some rather unusual ways. While affirming baptism and communion (or eucharist), he says that these rituals are true for us, because they are true for everybody. They unite us, because they unite everybody. These are signs, glimpses, and tastes of what is true for all people in all places at all times – we simply name the mystery present in all the world, the gospel already announced to every creature under heaven (157).

Again, I find Bell’s communication here rather opaque. How are these things true for "all people in all places at all times" if there is no conscious understanding of, acceptance of and participation in the very truth they represent? In what ways has the Gospel been announced to every creature under heaven such that they are now participating in the things expressed by baptism and communion? Sure "people come to Jesus in all sorts of ways" (158), but do they do this without knowing him personally, or without knowing his name (159)?

Bell’s last major chapter is entitled "The Good News is Better Than That." Building his ideas from the Parable of the Two Sons in Luke 15, he excoriates a "goat gospel" which describes God as "a cruel mean, vicious tormentor" (174), comparing him to an abusive parent. According to Bell this Gospel means that the God who consigns sinners to hell becomes "somebody totally different the moment you die" (174). Rather Bell argues for a Gospel that tells us that God in his very essence is love. "God has no desire to inflict pain or agony on anyone" (177). It is our refusal of God’s love "which creates what we call hell" (177). He argues that "Jesus invites us into that relationship, the one at the center (sic) of the universe" (178), which is not the same, according to Bell, as "getting into heaven." So according to Bell "Life has never been about just ‘getting in.’ It’s about thriving in God’s good world" (179). For Bell God’s "forgiveness is unilateral. God isn’t waiting for us to get it together, to clean up, shape up, get up – God has already done it" (189). This is true, but the Gospel also talks about our need for repentance and the appropriation of God’s gift of forgiveness. God has done what only God can do; but as Jesus says, we do need to "repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15). Is it true as Bell says that "everyone is already at the party,.." (190)? Is this what Jesus meant in Luke 15?

In my opinion, Bell’s exegesis of key biblical texts fails to convince, his interpretation of terms (e.g. the word "age") incomplete, and his use of biblical data to support his viewpoint very selective.

First, let’s consider some texts that he interprets in support of his thesis that "love wins site web." Bell builds several of his chapters around the interpretation of stories about Jesus’ interactions with people or parables that he relates. In his second chapter "Here is the New There" Bell focuses upon the question of the rich man in Matthew 19:16 "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" (26). Bell notes that Jesus, only in Matthew’s account, responds by saying "if you want to enter life,3 keep the commandments." He notes that in this interchange important words such as "eternal life," "treasure," "heaven" were used, but they "weren’t used in the ways that many Christians use them" (29). We might say, of course not! Jesus was talking to a Jewish person somewhere in Galilee in the early first century before his death and resurrection. We have to understand these words first in that setting before we discern how the Gospel writer, composing his account of Jesus’ ministry, understood them from within a post-resurrection, Christian framework, while remaining true to the essence of Jesus’ message. This approach does not mean that the Christian framework distorts Jesus’ teaching, but it does mean that we have to negotiate carefully the meaning of Jesus’ language in its pre- and post-resurrection setting. Further, Bell ignores that Jesus’ response to the rich man ultimately is "follow me" (19:21; Mark 10:21; Lk. 18:22). The man’s "treasure in heaven" would be not due only to his obedience to the Ten Commandments, but rather primarily to his acceptance of Jesus as authoritative teacher and his willingness to obey him. The specific things Jesus asks him to do are not the most important point, but rather it is Jesus’ insistence that he recognize who he is and follow him. Jesus has not, as Bell proposes, blown "a perfectly good ‘evangelistic’ opportunity" (29). Jesus in fact is expressing the good news if the rich man will hear it. Following Jesus, the only "Good One", i.e. God himself, is the key to "entering life," the kind of life that lasts eternally.

Another text that Bell refers to several times is the story about the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16. He affirms that Jesus taught the concept of hell, agreeing that human evil has to be defined in violent, over-the-top, hyperbolic language (73). He talks about "the surreal nature of the stories [Jesus] tells" (74). Now Bell urges his readers to understand the meaning of this story in terms of "whatever the meaning was for Jesus’ first listeners" (75). In the immediate context Jesus has criticized the Pharisees for justifying themselves before people, but ignoring the reality that God is one who "knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight" (Luke 16:15). According to Bell Jesus was warning the religious leaders about the serious consequences "for ignoring the Lazaruses outside their gates. To reject those Lazaruses was to reject God" (76). Bell concludes that this is a "brilliant, surreal, poignant, subversive loaded story" (76). True, but what does it mean? After several pages of comments Bell concludes that Jesus is affirming "there are all kinds of hells, because there are all kinds of ways to resist and reject all that is good and true and beautiful and human now, in this life, and so we can only assume we can do the same in the next" (79). "There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously" (79).

Undoubtedly, Jesus emphasized the reality of human accountability and divine judgment, particularly in reference to the rejection of him and his mission. There would be a resurrection of one who would return to tell the tale, namely Jesus himself, but even so not all would respond in belief and submission. So behaviour in this life has consequences beyond the grave – this surely is a significant part of Jesus’ message to the religious leaders through this story. Did the rich man regard his human life as ‘hell’? We have no evidence in the story that this was the case. If any character in the story experienced human existence in this way, it was Lazarus, even though he had faith in God. These dimensions of the story are not reflected in Bell’s analysis, but they do contribute to our understanding of the relationship between human behaviour in this age and the nature of our existence in the life to come. The use of the expression "great chasm" (16:26) describes the inability of people in the age to come to move from one destination to another, i.e. from the place of agony and torture in Hades to "the side of Abraham" (16:22). In this story Jesus holds out no hope of changed destiny in the age to come. This perspective clashes with Bell’s more restricted reading that Jesus "talked about hell to very religious people to warn them about the consequences of straying from their God-given calling and identity to show the world God’s love" (82). While such people may have considered themselves chosen, in fact their refusal to accept God’s covenant-reforming action represented in Jesus demonstrates that their father is the devil (John 8:44). Strong language but it indicates that even Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ view had no privileged status with God outside of a relationship with Jesus, even if they claimed to have Abraham as their father. In this regard Bell’s claim that "people believing the right or wrong things isn’t his [Jesus’] point" (82) is insufficient to describe Jesus’ concern. The only way such people could be transformed into "generous, loving people through whom God could show the world what God’s love looks like in flesh and blood" (83) is by responding to Jesus himself, not just carrying on in their normal religious practices.

Bell uses Jesus’ words about Sodom and Gomorrah to argue that "there is still hope" for these cities that experienced such devastating divine judgment. Jesus said that "it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for you" (84). But is Jesus offering hope for those who died in the judgment described in Genesis 19? Is this what Ezekiel prophesied in Ezekiel 16 when he talked about the restoration of these cities?4 So here again we encounter the broader issues of hermeneutics. In Matthew 10 Jesus condemns the residents of Capernaum for refusing to acknowledge his Messianic status and mission. By rejecting him they are doing something more sinister than the sinful actions of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus used the classic device of irony to indicate that if they thought God’s judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah was justified, as horrific as it was, this is nothing compared to God’s response to their rejection of his Messiah Jesus. Sodom and Gomorrah will experience God’s final judgment, but the people of Capernaum who reject the Messiah will experience it even more severely.

On page 87 Bell lists an impressive number of OT texts that speak of God’s promise to restore Israel. He interprets these to demonstrate that God’s goal is not judgment, but correction and reconciliation. What God does for Israel, he will do for all. Again, however, has Bell got it right? Such promises of restoration may be fulfilled in terms of the opportunity offered to Israel in the Messiah, both in his first and second comings. Paul seems to relate these kinds of promises to God’s actions as a result of the Messiah (Romans 11:25-32) and anticipates opportunity for Israel to respond and be forgiven at some future point before God concludes "this age." We have no warrant from these texts to consider these events happening in the "age to come."

Bell attempts to use Paul’s action of handing a person over to Satan for the purpose of spiritual recovery as another piece of evidence that in the end "love wins." How confident is Paul that when he orders churches to turn "over to Satan for the destruction of the sinful nature" (90, quoting 1 Corinthians 5:5, with reference to 1 Timothy 1:20) that good will result from this? In other words "Paul is convinced, that wrongdoers will become right doers" (91). We do have one case where that result occurs (at least this is how many commentators understand Paul’s reference in 2 Corinthians 2:6-8). However, although Paul may have this intent in mind for all such cases, he cannot predict that in fact this will always be the outcome. If the Alexander of 1 Timothy 1:20 is the same Alexander mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:14, Paul indicates that God will hold him accountable for his opposition to the Gospel. Again the texts do not seem to bear the weight of Bell’s desired exegetical outcome.

In his seventh chapter entitled "The Good News is Better Than That" Bell derives some principles from his interpretation of the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:12-32, one of the longest and most developed stories Jesus tells. Bell’s goal in this chapter is to establish a viable story of the Gospel. The point of this story, according to Bell, is that "people get what they don’t deserve" (168). Within this one story he identifies three different stories, one told by each brother and one by the father. The difference between the story the father tells and those recounted by the brothers is "the difference between heaven and hell" (169). Somehow "in this story, heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other" (170). He claims that the older brother is "at the party" but refusing to participate. Because the older son refuses "to trust God’s retelling" of his story, he is experiencing hell (170). Bell concludes that the key message of the father figure in the story is that "we are all going to be fine. Of all of the conceptions of the divine, of all of the language Jesus could put on the lips of the God character in this story he tells, that’s what he has the father say" (172). However, as Bell himself says, the older brother refuses to accept the story his father is telling. We have no sense in the story that he changes his mind and as a result he does not participate in the party, even though it is happening within his father’s house.

How should we respond to such an interpretation of this parable? The insight that three different stories are being recounted in this parable is helpful. The father does function as the God character. But whom do the sons represent? The context of Luke 14-15 involves Jesus’ interactions with Jewish religious leaders, as he responds to their questions and criticisms. In particular Jesus has addressed the question of who will in fact "eat bread in the kingdom" and thus experience "the resurrection of the just." The religious leaders are critical of Jesus’ acceptance of tax-collectors and sinners into his Messianic movement (15:2-3). He tells the parable of the Great Banquet (14:15-24), concluding that "not one of those men invited will taste my banquet" (14:24). He makes it very personal. The nature of discipleship and its personal costs becomes the focus in 14:25-33, with concluding comments about the worthlessness of salt that no longer possesses the properties of salt (14:34-35). "It is thrown away!"

Then in Luke 15 the Pharisees articulate their complaint: "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them" (15:2). Three parables follow, each focusing upon the fierce determination to find a lost coin, sheep and son and the great rejoicing that happens when the lost is found. So these three parables are a critique of the Pharisees’ evaluation of Jesus’ interaction with sinners and tax-collectors. In the parable of the two sons, Jesus compares the Pharisees and their attitude with that of the older son. They in fact become critics of God in criticizing Jesus, whose invitation is the expression of God’s love for lost people. Their refusal to accept Jesus and his mission means that they snub God and will not participate in the great Messianic banquet, despite their sense of self-assured chosen-ness. I do not think Bell builds his exegesis from Luke’s explicit gospel context.

Bell then moves into a more speculative question. He invites his readers to consider whether a Gospel that portrays God as on the one hand loving and inviting and on the other judging and tormenting is the true Gospel. He puts it this way: "Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die?" (174). He claims that this kind of Gospel means that "many people, especially Christians…don’t love God" (174). Rather for Bell the Gospel story is that "God has no desire to inflict pain or agony on anyone" (177). It is our refusal of God’s love that "moves us away from it…and that will, by very definition, be an increasingly unloving, hellish reality" (177). Bell seems to be arguing that people create their own hell because of what they believe. The essence of the Gospel is God’s invitation into a relationship, not entrance into heaven. No one needs to be rescued from God because He is the rescuer (182).

While this speculation may be helpful, does it in fact relate to or derive from the story of the father and the two sons that Jesus has told? We noted that the primary issue Jesus addressed was the criticism by the Pharisees of his social interaction with sinners and tax-collectors, actions they deemed inconsistent with someone claiming to be Messiah. In the character of the father Jesus affirms God’s merciful inclusion of sinners and tax-collectors in his new kingdom action, if they repent and seek God by accepting Jesus’ claims. The oldest son, who represents the Jewish religious leaders, also receives the same invitation based upon the same terms. However, if they refuse the father’s invitation, it is unclear what their future situation will be, because Jesus did not address that in this parable, despite Bell’s speculation.

What generally did Jesus teach about those who refuse to accept God’s will in Jesus? The earlier story in Luke 14 about the person who hosts a banquet focuses upon the theme of invitation and rejection. Jesus stated clearly that "none of those men invited shall taste my banquet" (14:26). So we have an idea about the destiny of the older son, if he persists in rejecting the overtures of his father – he will have no place in the banquet. Now whether we hold the father responsible for this or the older son is perhaps a moot point. The father has set the rules for participating in the party and the older son has refused to accept them. God is rescuer, but he will not change the rules under which rescue is available. The older son could be rescued, but he refuses the invitation.

Secondly, Bell’s analysis of the meaning of specific terms leaves several questions unanswered. Bell argues that this term zōē aiōnios (translated as "eternal life" in the NIV) does not mean "eternal" in the sense of forever, but rather "life in the age to come" in contrast to the current age of space-time history. In Matthew 19 Jesus did not define what life in the age to come would be like or exactly where it would be. Bell argues that the normal Jewish perception of life in the age to come is a continuation of life as it is on the earth, but experienced under God’s righteous rule. This may be, but we read in some Second Temple Jewish documents other visions of what life in the age to come would entail. Some consider the messianic age to be an interim phase between this age and the age to come. Others portray the messianic age to be identified with the age to come. Although the means by which "this age" is destroyed and the transformation of the earth for the "age to come" occurs is not always discussed, a common expectation in Judaism was that it would be annihilation by fire.5 In other words there were various eschatological beliefs in Judaism during Jesus’ day. We cannot tell just from the phrase zōē aiōnios exactly what ideas the rich man held about this future period. Jesus goes on to add some clarification in the passage and elsewhere. We should not assume that Jesus merely adopted Jewish terminology or beliefs without modifying them.  Jesus, for example, does not affirm explicitly where this future life will occur. Bell says that Jewish people in the first century "did not talk about a future life somewhere else, because they anticipated a coming day when the world would be restored, renewed, and redeemed and there would be peace on earth" (40).

Bell insists that the rich man in Matthew 16 or Mark 10 "isn’t asking about how to go to heaven when he dies. This wasn’t a concern for the man or Jesus" (30).  Rather, he wants to be involved in God’s new day, the age to come. Now Bell is correct that the term "heaven" is not used for instance in Mark 10:19. However, as you read through Jesus’ comments and interactions with his disciples following his encounter with the rich man and his failure to respond positively, the disciples seem to understand the man’s concern in precisely those terms. They ask Jesus "who then can be saved" (Mark 10:25) if the rich can’t? Jesus assures them that in the "renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne….everyone who has left houses…for my sake…will inherit eternal life6" (vs.28-30). Note that Jesus used the same phrase as the rich man and refers by this to a future time when the Son of Man is victorious, and seems to understand this as "salvation." While this may not exactly be equivalent to our term heaven, it certainly points to a context very different from this current life and a context which usually is identified with the second coming of Jesus, after which all things are renewed.

Further there is the expression "unto the ages of the ages" used in the New Testament in 1 Peter 4:11 (cf. 1 Peter 5:11; 1 Timothy 1:17; Ephesians 3:21; perhaps Romans 16:27; Hebrews 13:21). Usually this expression occurs as a descriptor of God’s glory or power, emphasizing that these attributes are his possession "unto the ages of the ages." It would seem that this language, building upon the eternality of God’s existence, is expressing clearly the concept of eternity. It is not true that a concept of continuous existence, whether one calls this "eternity" or characterizes it as "eternal", is absent from the New Testament. Jesus promised in Matthew 25:31-46 that his followers will "inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world" (v.34) and this later is characterized as going away "into life eternal" (eis zōēn aiōnion). This is set in the context of end of the world, divine judgment. The use of the phrase "eternal life" in Matthew 25:46 should be understood in a way that is consistent with its occurrence in Matthew 18:16. If Jesus was at all consistent in his use of language, then "eternal life" in Matthew 18:16 cannot refer merely to transformed life in this era.

One strategy that Bell uses to avoid such conclusions is to argue that "Jesus blurs the lines, inviting the rich man, and us, into the merging of heaven and earth, the future and present, here and now" (59). However, as I have sought to argue, Jesus did not do this, at least with respect to the expression zōē aiōnios.

So what was this "life" that Jesus promised this man if he responded and followed him? Bell is correct is saying that Jesus offered the man the possibility of "possessing" eternal life now and beginning to enjoy its blessings to some degree in this age, but fully in the age to come. However, even in John’s Gospel Jesus was not teaching a fully realized eschatology. One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to experience life with God in the present. However, this cannot compare with what believers will yet experience, as Paul articulates in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10.

Another phrase that Bell comments upon occurs in Matthew 25:46, usually translated as "eternal punishment" or "punishment without ending" (eis kolasin aiōnion) (91-92). Building upon his treatment of the term aiōnion Bell suggests that this refers to "a period of pruning" or "a time of trimming," but does not stipulate something that is without end. However, if he argues this sense for its use in v.46, then he must also argue for a similar sense in v.41 where Jesus defines the destiny of "those on the left" of the Messiah’s throne as "the eternal fire (eis to pur to aiōnion) prepared for the devil and his angels." Is this fire similarly only for a period of time? Some consider Jesus’ comments here to reflect the sentiments in Daniel 12:2-3 (cf. John 5:29).

Bell asks whose version of the story, i.e. Gospel, we will believe and share, and he has asked the right question. However, his version of the Gospel story, I believe, unfortunately is deficient. I would rather seek to grasp and believe the whole of Jesus’ teaching and ground my life in that Gospel.

At the end of the day Bell wants to keep the word ‘hell’ but primarily to refer "to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way" (93). It is an eschatologically realized hell, not one that threatens a person with a destiny in the age to come that is truly horrific and to be avoided at all costs because of sinful rejection of Jesus in this earthly, human context.

The third issue where Bell’s perspective is deficient, in my view, occurs in his selective use of biblical data to support his position. He admits that he has not written a biblical or systematic theological treatment of these issues. However, to raise so many serious and challenging questions, but then not to attempt seriously to respond to them using the whole of the biblical resources available borders on the irresponsible. For example, I do not believe I once read about the concept of God’s righteousness, i.e. his faithful adherence to his covenant arrangements, in his book. Yet, as we know from key Old Testament texts such as Exodus 34:7-7, God in these covenant arrangements defines his response to those who are obedient adherents and those who act wickedly. The guilty he will not hold guiltless. Jesus in his teaching constantly warns Jews that refusal to accept him and his teaching will bring divine judgment, not only in this age but also in the age to come. What did Jesus mean when he said that "the Son of Man would be ashamed" of those who in this age are ashamed of him, "whenever he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38). Shame surely carries connotations of judgment and lack of acceptance. In John’s Gospel (3:18) the writer affirms that "the person who has not put faith in the name of the only begotten Son of God" already (ēdē) stands condemned or judged. Jesus’ words will be used to judge those who set aside his teachings (John 12:47-50), because his words are zōē aiōnios (eternal life). Jesus provides no suggestion that the judgment that will come will be limited or overturned in the age to come.

Bell on page 107 describes a church tradition that "God will ultimately restore everything and everybody" and he used texts such as Matthew 19:28 ("the renewal of all things"), Acts 3:21 ("the time for the restoring of all things") and Colossians 1:20 ("reconcile all things to himself") to support this contention. Bell then concludes that "restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn’t. Reconciliation brings God glory; endless anguish doesn’t. Renewal and return cause God’s greatness to shine through the universe; never-ending punishment doesn’t" (108). Those are dogmatic assertions. But are they true and is this the conclusion that Jesus, Peter and Paul wanted Christian disciples to reach based upon these expressions? For example, Jesus achieved glory by triumphing over Satan through the cross and resurrection, preparing for his ultimate judgment (Revelation 19-20). Throughout the Old Testament God’s glory emerges through the destruction of his enemies (cf. Exodus 15). While we may struggle to accept that idea today, it is embedded deeply in Scripture. When human beings identify themselves with Satan’s kingdom, they also become the focus of God’s powerful judgment. As Peter notes (1 Peter 3:10-11; 5:5-7) God resists the proud and his face is against those who do evil. He judges the living and the dead. Restoration and reconciliation are God’s desire, but the New Testament is consistent in its message that human participation in these divine movements are dependent upon our repentance of sin and acceptance of Jesus as Son of God and Saviour.

In the end "God wins," but God is not only characterized as love, but as truth, justice, and light. One of his names is "Jealous" and he will not tolerate sinful opposition. God’s desire is that all of humanity might be rescued, but this desire does not negate his commitment to justice, as Paul indicates clearly in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-8. Unless Bell excises such texts from the canon, we have to consider that God’s justice is not contrary to his love, as if he is a schizophrenic deity. Rather the perfection of God enables him to integrate his love and justice with complete integrity. Although Bell understands sin to be a terrible thing, in the end I do not think he is willing to perceive sin as God perceives it and thus does not consider that a human, sinful life deserves eternal punishment according to God’s standard of justice. Further the logic of his preferred position on these matters requires him to also abandon the concept of security in God’s promises. If evil people at some point in the age to come may be wooed by the wonder of God’s love into the heavenly city, then it must also be possible for those present in the heavenly city also to rebel against that love and find themselves in hell, just as Satan rebelled and was cast out of heaven. In the end then it is God who does win, but he wins in ways totally consistent with his justice, truth, love, and power.

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.
Professor in Biblical Studies
Northwest Baptist Seminary
April 19, 2011

See also Dr. Perkins’ article in Internet Moments on Rob Bell’s use of the NT Greek word "kolasis, kolazein" – Punishment.

  • 1Bell does not consider the question of whether evil spirits and even Satan himself might eventually be rehabilitated.
  • 2Concepts such as purgatory, saying mass for the dead, etc. are some of the ways that these ideas gain expression in some segments of contemporary Christianity.
  • 3It is interesting that Bell on pages 180-182 will argue that the Gospel is not about entering, but participating, seeming to forget what Jesus has said here about “entering life.”
  • 4In the case of Ezekiel’s prophecy (16:53-58) the point seems to be the humiliation of Jerusalem for its sinful condition. Yahweh “restores the fortunes of Sodom…and the fortunes of Samaria” (53) “in order that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all that you have done" (54). There is no hint that this restoration of Sodom or Samaria will occur in the age to come or represents their positive response to God’s kindness.
  • 5E. Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, Volume II, revised and edited by  G. Vermes, F. Millar and M. Black (Edinburgh: T & T Clark Ltd., 1979), 536-539.
  • 6Mark’s Gospel says “in the coming age eternal life.”

NBS – ACTS Graduation 2011

On Saturday, April 16, Northwest and ACTS Seminaries witnessed 58 men and women walk forward and receive their diplomas/degrees of graduation.  We wish to extend our congratulations to each of our graduates.  May you go forward in God’s grace and strength and serve Him well with the tools you have acquired or honed while with us here at Northwest / ACTS.  May God bless you richly in the days and years ahead and make you a blessing to many for His Kingdom’s sake.

In case you missed it, here is a video of the graduation

[flv:2011-04-ACTS_Grad.flv 500 282]

The Arenas of Christian Life

In the process of establishing the community of the “underground” German Confessing Church seminary, Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of both the nature and the spirit required to enjoy the divine reality of fellowship. As for the spirit, there was a call for humility: He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial … God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious…[1]

Given the nature of western Christian expression, those words sound prophetic. Each year new models of Church life are added to a growing list: house church, missional church, emergent church, mosaic community, satellite church, mega church, meta church … With each addition to the list, there is a subtle subtext: this is the way Christians were intended to meet … this way, and no other.

In balance to that, Bonhoeffer wrote: Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily.[2]

From that call for a spirit of humility, Bonhoeffer was then able to define the direction, order and balance expected of community. The directions embraced a fairly wide bandwidth: Let him who cannot be alone beware of community …  Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.[3]

The “zen-like” nature of those warnings only serve as a challenge for a Christian to provide equal attention and care to all of what I would call “the Arenas of Christian life” or, better yet, the circles that define Christian interaction and fellowship.

During my term as the Pastor of the Bethany Baptist Church in Richmond, British Columbia, our congregation underwent a significant period of transition and growth which included a building program, a move, and in Biblical terms, a season where the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.[4] Among all of the challenges posed by that season, the most significant was the transition from being the “big-little church” to becoming the “little-big” church. Such a transition demands careful attention. [5]

In order to guide the church through the transition, I found it necessary to paint graphic pictures to help orient the congregation to the “new feelings” required by our growing dynamics. In order to do this, I needed to describe the context in which Christians are intended to gather together. I termed this concept “The Arenas of Christian life” or the “Circles of Fellowship” depicting it as five circles, each with a name:

Celebration: the largest conceivable group of people … a mass of humanity gathered together for a single purpose. Here, the title of “arena” fits well to describe a faceless mass of people gathered together in a stadium. It’s a familiar biblical image. The Bible speaks of us, in this life, being “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses”[6] and in the reality of heaven being numbered with “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands”[7] all gathered with one purpose: “to worship the Lamb .. the one who sits on the throne.” In our Church context, this circle of Celebration was to describe the expectations we were to bring to our worship, and view the worship as training for our ultimate heavenly occupation. Because of the nature of Celebration, it was not necessary for everyone to know everyone else by name because only one Name really mattered.

Congregation: a “church-within-the-church”, a “manageable” group of people .. typically more than 15 in number and, in some cases as many as 50. I used this to describe a group of people who gathered together primarily for the purpose of service. Whether it was a choir or a mission’s group or a Sunday school class, the group gathered around a specific task or mission. While they could expect to develop a sense of personal relationship and belonging, the defining purpose of such a group was to accomplish a particular task. If there was to be a Biblical illustration of this, the 72 disciples appointed by Jesus to go out “two by two to every town and place where he was to go”[8] could serve as such a group united by a missional purpose.[9]

Community: the small-group, local home fellowship, a familiar group of people .. typically more than 8 but less than 15 who would meet with regularity. While the conventional image of such a group was that it gathered for Bible Study, the interaction was intended for more personal support and care. Names matter in such a group, and spiritual growth the object of attention. The community of the 12 disciples with Jesus could serve as a picture of such a small group.

Cell: the intentional fellowship with those who are “closer than a brother,” [10] an accountability group, typically no more than 2 or 3 people with whom a bond of trust allows a depth of interaction, confession, and care. The exclusive boundary of such a situation allows for more intimate conversation.  The interaction of Jesus with the three: Peter, James and John[11] could serve as an example.

Communion: the direct relationship that a believer cultivates and enjoys with God in private devotion, and spiritual discipline. Typically. that’s done alone! This circle touches the core of a believer’s heart and serves as the primary resource for life to be lived in all the rest of the circles.

None of the circles exist in exclusive isolation. The picture that we used showed a sense of interaction and flow between each and all. The idea was that to have a healthy fellowship, each member of a church would earnestly, and equally, cultivate and value participation and relationships at each level.

Graph:

Group Type Quick Definition Example Advantages: Needs Met
Celebration Large, encompassing mass gathering,

One purpose – to worship

Typically: innumerable

the Myriads, the heavenly host, worshipping God.

Sunday Morning worship

Corporate worship, augmenting and elevating a shared voice of praise
Congregation A church-within-the-church:

Primary purpose – to serve

Mission oriented

Typically: 15 and up

the 72 Disciples

Sunday School class,

Worship team, choir, Board of Deacons, Mission team

Corporate service: augmenting and strengthening the impact of service
Community A localized group of care

Primary purpose – to support and care – and to know each other by name

Typically: 8-15

the 12 Apostles

Home Growth Groups, House Bible studies

A sense of belonging, ability to serve one another with individual impact
Cell A private circle of accountability, the special few who have earned the right to care in confidence

Typically: 1,2 or 3

John, the beloved Apostle; Peter

Marriage, close friendship,

A sense of knowing, an environment of honesty and accountability
Communion A personal encounter with God, the one-on-one relationship of devotion and spiritual life, typified by a meaningful quiet time, devotional life Jesus [Matthew 14:23]

Personal devotional time

Cultivating an authentic relationship with God

 

As the conditions in the church changed, it was important to focus on how each of the five arenas would be found in the Church experience.  Even more, how each of the five would be expressed and valued. This was especially important during a time of turbulence when the nature of “doing church” began to change, and we entered unfamiliar territory.

Keeping these five circles in focus helped address two particularly troublesome temptations:

Limiting the “Church” to one exclusive definition: As models of ministry compete, I’ve noticed a tendency by some to promote their  experience of fellowship at the expense of others. The assumptions vary: a small church is better than a large church, a home fellowship is more authentic than a church that meets in a building, a mega church is more exciting than a small church. It is possible to violate the spirit of community with the sort of spiritual hubris described by Bonhoeffer:  God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the visionary proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself  .. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure ..  he becomes an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.[12]

Misplacing expectations from one circle to another: While each circle provides an environment for multiple experiences, each has an primary purpose that defines appropriate behavior and expectation. It proved to be quite helpful for people to see the picture of the arenas and circles in order to recalibrate their expressions and expectations. A few examples: Occasionally I would encounter a person who would leave a worship service, disappointed that God hadn’t really spoken to Him. Pressing the issue further, I would discover that they had expected the worship service to provide their personal devotional needs. Occasionally they would “meet God” in a worship service, but it was more an act of serendipity than intention. Cultivating a personal devotional life allowed them to find the sort of spiritual balance that renewed their experience of worship.

Another example: It’s easy to imagine what happens when a person walks into a classroom of a 50-person Sunday school and announces that their marriage has just ended. It happens often, in various ways. At best, a few people may sympathize and pray with the person. But the class goes on, and the person is left to wonder if anyone really cares. Again, the best expressions deserve an appropriate arena, which only enhances the need for “community of care” rather than a “congregation of service.”

Learning these lessons helped our church navigate through the turbulence of change. It helped provide a  plan for us to go beyond building a Church building – to create meaningful Arenas. And it helped people get down to the real business of fellowship and consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.[13]


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Harper and Row, 1954  page 27

[2] Life Together, page 28.

[3] Life Together, page 77

[4] Acts 4:47 [a wonderful phrase that could easily outline the Book of Acts: Acts 2:41, 4:4, 5:14; 6:7; 11:24, cf. 14:1, 16:5, 17:4, 18:8

[5] There is a whole discipline of study given to growth and transition issues. Notable studies include: Gary MacIntosh [One Size Doesn’t Fit All, Taking Your Church to the Next Level], Alice Mann [The In-Between Church, Raising the Roof]

[6] Hebrews 12:1

[7] Revelation 5:11

[8] Luke 10:1

[9] I had to observe some caution in applying Biblical illustrations to the model, realizing that I was drawing principles from descriptions which is based on much softer ground than specific precepts given by command. The one command that did define the effort was that we “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:25]

[10] Proverbs 18:24

[11] Matthew 17:1

[12] Life Together, p. 27-28

[13] Hebrews 10:25

Theologies of Leadership – are they new forms of clericalism?

During the Reformation the assumed, privileged position of clergy came under serious challenge. More radical elements claimed to have eliminated the need for any specific clergy group within their formulation of church. In the early part of the 20th century we heard renewed calls for a “theology of the laity,” which continues to have significant impact in Protestant and Catholic circles. Slogans such as “every member a minister” became rallying cries that promoted further reformation so that “lay-people” in the church might enjoy their full position as part of Christ’s body. Within Evangelical circles a sense of congratulation emerged in the progress made to empower the laity.

In the last twenty-five years the issue of leadership, at least within North American Evangelical churches, has also become dominant. Seminaries seek to develop effective “ministry leaders.” The cry is for “visionary leaders” who can propel congregations to new heights of missional endeavor. Pastors’ shelves or computer memory drives are chock-full of books, papers, and digitized essays, videos, blogs and reports to help them become the leaders they were called to be. In many ways I applaud this focus.

But accompanying this engagement with the essence, competence, and theology of leadership is a serious question – if only some within the church are leaders, what does this say about the rest of us? Is this emphasis upon leadership in ministry and the general belief that only a few are called to exercise such leadership perpetuating clericalism, but under a new guise? Did Jesus intend only a few in his Kingdom to be leaders or was one of his radical changes the opportunity and requirement for every disciple to be both leader and follower, rather than a few being leaders and the rest followers? In my reading about ministry leadership and interactions with denominational, seminary and church leaders, I sense that the prevailing perspective is the first and not the second, i.e. only a few disciples are called to be leaders. It is their vision that dominates, after all they are the visionary leaders!  The incorporation of CEO models of pastoral leadership, particularly in larger churches, as important and useful as this may be, nevertheless also contributes to this perspective.  We all “know” that successful entrepreneurs and business leaders are a select group. This thinking spills over into the way average Christians tend to view the local church organization. Spiritual leaders are few. Only some are called to be spiritual leaders or ministers.

The New Testament offers a different understanding. Pentecost demonstrated that the presence of God’s Spirit among his people enabled each one to evangelize, to proclaim the Good News, and make disciples. Paul’s use of the body metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12 demonstrates that every believer, gifted and empowered by the Spirit, contributes to the well-being of the whole body. Similarly his statement in Ephesians  4:12-16 puts emphasis upon the work of restoring “the holy ones” to do the work of ministry so that “the whole body generates the growth of the whole body” (v.16) as they live connected with Jesus Christ. The concept of mutual submission expressed in Ephesians 5:21 leans in the same direction. And then there is Peter’s concept of the new temple constructed from living stones and each one together forms a priestly community, “a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices well-pleasing to God through Jesus Messiah” (2:5). Further he asserts that God gifts believers to speak and serve to his glory. Other elements could be referenced, but these may suffice to indicate a general perspective.

These same texts, however, indicate that God provisions his people with gifts so that the whole body can be effective in its service. Some of these gifts include people who can be entrusted with responsibilities to care for, teach, and guide the local expression of the faith community. However, as Jesus himself stated, such roles are essentially serving or “slaving” roles (Mark 10:43-45). Kingdom greatness is centred in humility and available to every believer (Matthew 18:1-8). Parenting serves as a primary metaphor for how “leadership” functions in a local church.

One of the significant benefits that the Theology of Work movement can bring to the understanding of the church today is a renewed sense that every member of the body is indeed called in Christ to exercise Kingdom leadership in their place, i.e. to be a Kingdom agent. This may be through the role of parent, spouse, employee, employer, student, etc.  However, we have to recapture the Kingdom perspective that leadership is not about power, but rather is about serving and thereby demonstrating God’s proper kingship in family, vocation, church, and society. Every believer exercises influence in his or her sphere of relationships towards the accomplishment of God’s will on earth. This is Kingdom leadership – something that the Holy Spirit empowers every believer to accomplish. People who fill functional roles of organizational leadership within a congregation do important spiritual work, but they have to remember that their work serves to enable all believers in the body to be the Kingdom leaders God has called them in Christ and empowered them by his Spirit to be.

Calendar for Church Websites

Have you been looking for a good calendar plugin for your WordPress based church website?  I regularly review lists of calendar offerings and am usually disappointed with what I find. Today I reviewed some more plugins and was delighted with one that looked like it would do what a church website would need.  The plugin is CGM Event Calendar by Ryan Farrell.  The beauty of this plugin is that it is designed to use the new WordPress Custom Post Types.

Here are some of its very cool functions:

  • Completely flexible setting of event dates, recurring dates etc.
  • Events can be assigned categories.  This allows events of a certain grouping can be listed together.
  • The calendar of events can be viewed in a monthly, weekly and print format.
  • The calendar is flexible and expands to accommodate more or less events.

You can view a screen shot of a test that I did of the calendar.

Northwest News Interviews Larry Perkins

Larry Perkins

Larry, you have served as the editor of Northwest News for the past 10 years and in those years you have interviewed a variety of individuals for this publication.  Now it is my privilege to turn the tables and interview you.

  1. Before you began teaching at Northwest back in 1978 how did God use the experiences in your growing up years to prepare you for your many roles here at Northwest and within the Fellowship.  Would you reflect on your early years a little?
    (View Larry’s response)
  2. Looking back to when you were a young scholar just entering the teaching ranks here at Northwest I’m sure you had dreams of what you would like to be and do for the sake of Christ’s kingdom – have you fulfilled those dreams?  How have those dreams matured over the years?
    (View Larry’s response)
  3. Thank you very much! Looking forward, I understand that after a sabbatical you will be returning to Northwest and ACTS Seminaries as a 1/2 time faculty member.  What are the things you would still like to accomplish?  What personal dreams would you yet like to realize?
    (View Larry’s response)
  4. OK! Thank you! The next question I’d like to ask relates to the seminary and the ongoing ministry of the seminary.  As Northwest moves forward in the days ahead, what are some of the things that you are praying that Northwest will accomplish for God’s kingdom?
    (View Larry’s response)
  5. That’s encouraging! As Academic Dean (both at Northwest and ACTS Seminaries) and more recently as President, your life has been often times a flurry of meetings.  Will you miss those?
    (View Larry’s response)
  6. On a more personal note, I have seen you mostly in your public role as president, New Testament Professor and even as my boss.  I (and probably our readers) would like to know a little more about Larry Perkins the person.  Would you reflect on your personal journey as a follower of Jesus, as a Christian man, a husband, dad, grandpa and colleague?
    (View Larry’s response)
  7. Thank you. That’s very encouraging. Yours has been the 6th presidency here at Northwest.  As president you have followed in a significant line-up of personalities within the Fellowship and within evangelical circles.  Would you reflect on the leadership legacy that you have received, have been a part of and are now passing on?
    (View Larry’s response)
  8. Over your years here at Northwest you have taught many different courses, met many different students and worked along side of many different colleagues. As you reflect on these varied experiences are there some landmark life lessons or insights that stand out to you that you could share for our benefit and encouragement?
    (View Larry’s response)
  9. That certainly been my privilege in working with you over these past years.  I understand you will be taking a Sabbatical in January.  Do you have any projects that you will be working on?  What are you hoping to accomplish during your sabbatical?
    (View Larry’s response)
  10. That’s great! Larry, you’ve done many interviews in the past for Northwest News.  You’ve always ended the interview by asking, “How can we pray for you?”  I’d like to turn the tables and ask you the same question!
    (View Larry’s response)

Thank you, Larry, thank you for the privilege of working with you – with Northwest News. It’s been a great privilege. Thank you for this time of interview as well.

You are welcome!