Archive for the ‘Gospel’ category

The Word of God is not chained

May 7, 2015
Title page of Lucena’s revision of the Reina Valera  printed by the Oxford University Press in 1862

Title page of Lucena’s revision of the Reina Valera
printed by the Oxford University Press in 1862

The Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy, written from a prison cell, were meant to encourage him as to the irresistible power of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:9). In today’s Europe we need to hear this message and to hold on to the promise that nothing can contain the power of the gospel.

This edition of Vista deals with Bible translation and engagement in Europe. That Bible translation might still be necessary in some European languages may come as a surprise to some. More generally, the challenge of Bible engagement is a pressing one across the continent.

Our guest editor for this edition is Maik Gibson, director of the Centre for Linguistics, Translation and Literacy at Redcliffe College. He presents the challenge of reaching today’s audience with translations which effectively and authentically communicate the good news.

Jim Memory then tells the story of two forgotten heroes of Bible translation and engagement in Spain: Lorenzo Lucena and George Borrow.

Darrell Jackson gives a personal account of evangelical Orthodox collaboration in Bible translation in Eastern Europe, and Joanne Appleton completes the edition with another review of resources, in this case non-English language Scripture resources.

No chains can bind God’s word, not even the apathy and secular disdain of today’s Europeans. Paul’s words to Timothy, written to encourage him to hope beyond hope in the power of the Scriptures, are words that we need to heed today. May we never take for granted the Bibles we have in our hands nor fail to remember those who work to translate the message of the gospel into the language of today’s Europeans.

Download Vista 21 here

Vista 15: On reflection

October 30, 2013

on reflectonThe last edition of Vista highlighted that one person’s viewpoint alone however well informed, can never give a true picture of what is happening; particularly in a continent as diverse as Europe. What is needed are thoughtful and perceptive insights into the realities of mission practice across Europe – from those engaged in mission. In other words, Europe needs “reflective practitioners”.

This term was coined by Donald Schön as recently as 1983. He defined reflective practice as “the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning” (Schön). Other educationalists have observed that, consciously or not, learning often takes place through a series of stages. The Kolb Learning Cycle, for example, isolates these as concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation.

kolb_cycleThe key insight was that we don’t automatically learn from our experiences. Reflection on experience is fundamental in order to obtain generalisations which might then be applied to new situations. And this is no less true for Christian mission.

Mission in Europe doesn’t need gurus; it needs reflective practitioners who have been equipped with the tools to think deeply about their own immediate context and mission practice. That has certainly been the ethos of the MA in European Mission at Redcliffe College. And Vista is one forum for highlighting examples of good reflective practice.

The articles in this issue of Vista are all written by practitioners who are combining their work with a period of academic study. James Cochrane, who has lived and worked in Portugal for a number of years, researches the relevance of the missiological conversation for Portuguese church.  Redcliffe MA student, Rosemary Caudwell brings an understanding of the workings of the European Parliament to her refection on the churches’ engagement with the EU.

David Roche, also a Redcliffe student, as well as a policeman in London, writes about how London City Mission is approaching the issue of homelessness amongst migrants, balancing practical care with sharing the Gospel with this growing population.  And Australian pastor James Sutherland compares three very different ministries he encountered on a study tour of Europe this summer with Darrell Jackson & Mike Frost.

The concept of missio Dei reminds us that “the missionary initiative comes from God alone” (Bosch). It is God’s mission, not ours. And yet, not only in active participation in the experience of mission but also in the acts of reflection, conceptualization and experimentation, “the marvel is that God invites us to join in” (Wright)

Vista 15 October 2013

“Theologizing” the City in Europe

November 7, 2012

The unprecedented phenomenon of urbanization since the European Industrial Revolution has gone global, and shows no sign of letting up. Today, more than half of humanity is in, or within the domain of, a city. European Urbanisation is currently over 75% and is predicted to reach 82%.

The Industrial Revolution produced an entirely new urban reality requiring new paradigms for church and mission. Since the end of the Second World War, a new form of the city, the post-industrial, postmodern, globally-connected megacity or global city, is proliferating worldwide. All indicators suggest that this wave of urban expansion represents more than a mere extension of the Industrial Revolution: the emergence of the megacity portends another fundamental metamorphosis in human sociology with its own set of spiritual perils, missiological challenges and opportunities.

Urban missiology in the developed world is woefully out-of-touch and out-of-sync with today’s city-builders, each out to create his/her own idea of urban paradise. Inadequate theologies of the city and consequent non-theological understandings of modern urbanization have stifled the growth of urban churches and movements in European cities, and contributed to the demise of urban Christianity.

Harvie Conn argued: “Current evangelical discussions, as rich as they are, largely orbit around a missiology of the city more than a theology of the city…. Our missiological vision for the city must also be a theological vision of the city.” These new urban phenomena require fresh theological reflection, missiological creativity, and united action if Christian mission is to address the unprecedented opportunities, as well as potential new levels and forms of hardship and conflict for city dwellers, generated by the emergence of global cities. Urban thinkers and actors must give priority to a re-examination of the biblical data with regard to the theological meanings of the city and their significance for Christian mission.

French city theology pioneer Jacques Ellul, in his groundbreaking The Meaning of the City (1970), demonstrated that the abundant biblical data with regard to cities – human and divine, temporal and eternal, as places of rebellion and of devotion, as objects of judgment and of blessing – are, in fact, evidences of a well-developed theology of the city. For Ellul this theology seems prophetically intended to aid the church in her understanding and practice of mission during this age of global urbanisation. Ellul is probably the first biblical commentator to truly “theologise” the city not as a metaphor of human culture (e.g., in the tradition of Saint Augustine’s The City of God, early fifth century), but as a concrete social reality (e.g., in the line of Lewis Mumford’s The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformation, and Its Prospects, 1961).

Ellul wrote: “We are in the city, and this is one of the most important facts of our generation. It is absolutely indispensable that we realize what that means for us, for our actual life: the undeniable presence and influence of the city are of infinitely greater importance than the urban problem itself…. If the Word of God is clearly marked out for us in our concrete situation, and if at the same time as it takes hold of us (for our condemnation and salvation) it enlightens our understanding of that situation, and if we are truly involved in the city and the Bible shows us what we are in the city for and what the city signifies for us and our relation to her, then all that we have learned should form the proper nucleus for a science of the city.”

It is precisely this spiritual and theological “science of the city,” which is begging to be nourished so that it might mature and bear fruit in the form of a thoroughly biblical and missional theology of the city. Such a theology of the city would be a sufficient foundation on which to build sound urban missiology, allowing for the discovery and development of new paradigms and strategies of mission to Europe’s urban centres.

Such a theology would ensure that the church-in-mission

… comprehend that the essence of the city is not a random collection of sociological phenomena under purely secular powers, but rather a profoundly spiritual entity – the locus of spiritual powers vying for the souls of men.

… rejoice in the knowledge that the Scriptures portray a merciful and loving Creator who progressively takes pains to accommodate man’s insistence on city-building and city-dwelling, sovereignly carving out spaces in cities where his redemptive purposes may operate in the midst of human rebellion and perversion.

… marvel at God’s sovereign election of the human city – the very symbol of man’s rejection of God, – as the epicenter of his salvific act in Christ and his ongoing loving actions in human history, and understand that God’s election has resulted in the localization of the conflict of the ages in the world’s cities.

… be liberated to be intentionally, proactively, and strategically present in the cities, to engage their inhabitants both intelligently and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

… might labour with the assurance that the fruits of mission among redeemed peoples of diverse nations and in their centers of culture, their cities, will have some kind of real continuity in the New Jerusalem, and therefore, have eternal value.

With such a renewed theology, might Christian mission to the global city, as Harvie Conn once conjectured, in fact “provide the contextual instrument for fulfilling David Bosch’s prediction of an emerging paradigm shift in the theology of mission for our day”?

Ben Beckner

References:
Harvie Conn, 1993, “A Contextual Theology of Mission for the City,” in The Good News of the Kingdom: Mission Theology for the Third Millennium, eds. Charles van Engen, Dean S. Gilliland, Paul Pierson, Maryknoll, N, Orbis Books, p. 101.

Ellul, 1970, The Meaning of the City, Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p. 147-148.

Harvie M. Conn, 1994. “Introduction” in God So Loves the City: Seeking a Theology for Urban Mission, Charles Van Engen, Jude Tiersma, eds., Monrovia, California, MARC, p. v.

Benjamin Beckner, former urban church planter in several European cities and based in Lyon, France,
serves as professor of missiology, missions consultant, trainer and mobiliser for the church in French-
speaking Europe.

This article first featured in Issue 11 of Vista.
You can download the full pdf and previous issues here

Norwegian belief and Ice Age 2

April 11, 2011

The percentage of Norwegians who claim to attend church at least once a month has declined over the last ten years from 11 to 7% of the population, according to the Norwegian BAR magazine. During the same period, the percentage of self-described ‘atheists’ has increased from 10 to 18%. The percentage of children being baptised has fallen from 81% in 2000 to 68% in 2009. Figures from the Norwegian Research Institute, KIFO, indicate that while 81% of the Norwegian population remain in membership of the Norwegian (Lutheran) Church, this figure falls to 72% among the 20-30 year olds. However, census figures returned to the Church in March 2011, showed that the average Church of Norway member went to church once a year in 2010, that in 2010, 78% of Norwegians were church members, 66% had their children baptised, and confirmations had declined from 68.3% in 2000 to 64.9% in 2010. The percentage of Norwegians opting for a Church funeral was 91.1% in 2010.

In their book ‘Religion in Norway today: between secularism and secularisation’ Ulla Schmidt and Pål Ketil Botvar, point to the significant numbers of Norwegian young people who are leaving the Church for new religious movements. Meanwhile, and lending support to europeanmission’s own pan-European research (download from here), there is a noticeably low level of religious orientation and activity among 55-65 year olds. Botvar comments ‘This group has been vaccinated against religion.’

Consequently, the opinion shapers for the last ten to fifteen years in the media, education and government appear to have been active secularists and it may be that children and young people are gaining most of their religious impressions from the globalised entertainment industry.

Norwegian Professors, Liv Lied and Dag Øistein Endsjø, responsible for a book on religion and popular culture in Norway, suggest that Norwegian young people are far more likely to have learnt about ‘a ship that rescues animals from a flood’ from Ice Age 2 than from the book of Genesis. Consequently the religious preferences of many young people are drawn from popular culture and not the traditional teaching of the church. The authors argues that the Church has to understand popular culture in order to know how best to communicate with and disciple young people today. Equally importantly, the authors describe religious identity in Norway as something that is built according to personal choices and preferences – the Church cannot assume that it’s dogmatic teachings are being accepted without challenge or adaptation.

The willingness of the Norwegian church to adapt does not seem to be an issue, rather it seems to be a failure of the Church to understand what kind of religious identity and experience Norwegians want and how best to address that with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

One World, One Mission… is not enough

May 4, 2010

With its theme of ‘One World, One Mission’ the recent 2010 British Baptist Assembly offered vibrant and truly inspiring moments in the main venue, Prism venue, and seminar venues. I hope regular readers will forgive my referring to my own church family but I think that our own short-sightedness and amnesia are shared by other church and Christian traditions in terms of our commitment to mission in Europe.

One glaring omission seems to have bypassed the Assembly programme committee and it points to a serious malaise that is characteristic of too many Christian communities, confessions, and denominations in Europe. Why was there no reference, given the theme, to either of the two major World mission conferences about to take place in 2010? The Lausanne III event in Cape Town will even offer a chance for revisiting the theme of ‘The whole church taking the whole Gospel to the whole world’. There’s more than a little overlap with the Assembly theme: yet there was a complete absence of discussion of either Cape Town or of the Edinburgh 2010 conference taking place in a little over four weeks.

All the more amazing that both events will commemorate the 1910 World Mission Conference, a conference for which William Carey had fervently dreamed of nearly a century earlier and – oh yes – Carey founded the Baptist Missionary Society! It was the Edinburgh 1910 Conference that launched the contemporary ecumenical movement and which continues to inspire the evangelical Lausanne movement.

British Baptists will be present at both the Edinburgh 2010 and the Cape Town 2010 Conferences and the lack of mention, presentation, discussion, or debate at the annual Assembly leaves them ill-prepared to adequately represent the views of Baptists at either of the Mission Conferences. The omission represents a missed opportunity and has, I fear, not served well our sisters and brothers who will speak as Baptists in either place.

It’s also disappointing because the theme of ‘One World, One Mission’ can only take us so far. It is vital that British Baptists consider the part they play in taking the whole gospel to the whole world alongside other labourers in the harvest. These may be Baptists from other countries (and BMS World Mission reflects this reality well) but they will also be Christians from other parts of the worldwide church. There is a worldwide church but Baptists are not it, merely an essential part of it. If we truly proclaim one mission then we have to take this reality utterly seriously.

Oh yes, and if you’re not Baptist, try inserting your denominational name into the appropriate gaps. I suspect that too many denominations are still struggling to come to terms with the nature of contemporary mission in Europe – that it is from everywhere to everywhere and gloriously diverse.

One world, one mission, one church under Christ.