And a child shall lead them

Seems an appropriate post-title on Christmas day. A child who grew in favour to become the Saviour of the world.

Earlier this year the shocking picture of the body of the Syrian three year old child washed up on the beach in Turkey provoked comments such as this one in the Indepndent:

If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don’t change Europe’s attitude to refugees, what will?

In the immediate aftermath of that image there was a change. How deep, how long it will last, and how effective it will be is still to be seen.

The eschatological hope of reconciliation and the impact on Creation is summed up in Isaiah 11:6

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

And a little child will lead them. I add to that the answer to the question from the disciples as to ‘who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ In response Jesus

called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matt. 18:1-5).

We can have five year or ten year strategic plans but the future is always held hidden in the hearts of those who are young. A truly long-term strategic plan can only be unfolded if the future of the next and subsequent generations are considered. We think so short term. Here in Spain in a recent conversation with someone who is involved politically they told us that for those who are 55 and younger there will be no pensions for them when retirement comes. The money having been used to bail out the banks post-2008. It was proudly stated in the recent elections that the growing economy meant that ‘no-one is now talking of Spain needing a bail-out’. A so-called growing economy seemingly is the goal, but that hides a myriad of issues that will surface down the line. The recent global climate conference in Paris with all its compromises has to be applauded with its desire to give some hope to future generations.

So many movements have a focus on youth. Yet there is a difference between harnessing the energy and vitality of youth for a movement or releasing a generation that will change the face of a movement beyond recognition.

Do children know the way? No, they are likely to get us lost. Yet there is something in the vulnerability of being led by those who don’t know the way that exposes our desire for control and centralisation.

We are biased but we see Spain as facing issues that are larger than herself. And certainly in the closing days of this year, post-elections, and the opening days of next year the question that will have to be answered is what direction she will face. ‘And a child will lead them?’

So on this wonderful day a big honour to those whose focus, directly and indirectly, is on the next generation. Teachers, parents and youth-workers: thank you. And for the coming year to people like me, it is time to shift from all centres to the margins and be clothed in humility. Well that sets the agenda for me!!

Off at 4.00am tomorrow so will write again sometime before the beginning of the year.

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Adelante o…

Forwards or… well there is one other alternative.

We have had an exciting, though somewhat wearying, time and were in Madrid with a good friend Julie Tomlin (UK) over the election period. There is so much that could be written but I want to get across some of the central parts. The results are in and three of the four main parties have done very badly leaving the whole situation unresolved. Just first to summarise the four top results and the personalities involved:

PP – this is the revamped ex-Franco party since the democratic period (1977 onwards). Currently led by Mariano Rajoy.
PSOE – socialists, led by Pedro Sanchez.
Podemos – grass roots left wing, anti-corruption. Led by Pablo Iglesias (deliberately named by his parents after the founder of the socialist party).
Ciudidanos – led by Albert Rivera. Anti corruption, Catalan based anti-independence, right wing but presenting themselves as centrist.

The outcome as it currently stands though there are discussions behind the scenes that mean everything could shift in a specific direction at any point is

1) there has been a total break for the first time in the democratic period of Spain’s history with bi-partisanship, and 2) there is a current lock-up with no clear way forward.

Today Rajoy and Sanchez meet (the two old parties) and if they come together a government could be formed. Sanchez had said he would not make a pact with PP – Rajoy has said that the PP can discuss a pact with PSOE but without Sanchez as the socialist leader. (They have said – what will they say at the end of today?!!) Ciudidanos has said that PP, PSOE and Ciudidanos need to discuss the way forward but exclude Podemos. From a political orientation perspective this might be understandable but from a respect and meeting together this is politics over relationship, career over friendship. Both Rivera and Iglesias have debated each other in a bar, they stood in the lobby of TV studios and embraced, so to move forward but with Podemos’ exclusion seems disrespectful.

Some significant aspects from our perspective:

Today there was a headline on a news site from the south sent to us by Amy:
‘This is Franco’s third death in Spain’.
One being in 1975 when he died; one in 82 when the socialists came to power for the first time and now this time. This statement is very significant in the light of the 40 years since 75 and the prayer at Valle de los Caidos in March this year.

The collapse of the Ciudidanos vote – they were expected to do well and be able to back up Rajoy for government.

The old parties lost 5 million voters… to the new parties there was a gain of 8 million. Worst result for PP since 89 and worst result for PSOE (socialists) since democracy began!

The influence of women in and through the process is incredible. We have taken on ourselves to pray for one of the candidates for a softening of presentation, demeanour and of language. The change has been very noticeable and he has said this is due to being influenced by Manuela Carmena (mayoress of Madrid) and Ada Colau (mayoress of Barcelona). For the past three years we have seen a battle over whether the young woman of Spain will be allowed to shape the future or whether the sterility of the old woman will dictate that there is no future.

The practical way forward will be for Rajoy to seek to get a majority coalition – incredibly difficult as Ciudidanos did not do well. The only real practical way would be to make a pact with the socialists!! That would be the two old parties coming together to hold the ‘old’ and would be like a death throw for the socialists.

The socialists have more possibilities, but only if they pull with Podemos, with whom they say they will not deal with.

If all this remains unresolved then 2 months later there would have to be either other elections or there is a possibility of a minority government and elections in 2 years time.

The current situation is so symbolic of where we are at across this continent. There could be the stifling / killing of the new – and the palpable fear that is in parts of Europe is that there is something loose that is uncontrollable (YES!!!).

The other side of this election, when the dust settles, we expect that the landscape will be quickly tidied up, but underneath there has been such a shift of the ground that there will be increasing instability. Earlier this year we sent a dream to one of the parties concerning this decade and if it now goes the expected way in the next few months they will be marginalised but have to stay focused over the next five years. It seems to us that Spain has to release a new way of being one and give honest recognition to diversity. These aspects will either be marginalised or brought on to the table for discussion – but they are there right now and even if marginalised they will manifest continually and increasingly these next five years. If marginalised there will be (sadly) violence.

An important footnote

We are not pursuing an interest and perhaps even an involvement in this because of a political persuasion, but because of a gospel persuasion. Did Jesus form a political party? No. But neither did he form a spiritual group that were focused on mutual self-help. He formed a political movement that were obsessed with a New Jerusalem where there was no more crying, where the wolf could lie with the lamb. The outworking of the gospel is intensely political where the mountains are levelled. This is why we are pushing for these things. Part of what brought us to Spain (and maybe not ‘part of’ but ‘what’) was the recovery of the Pauline gospel. It is not about right / left or this party or that. It is about a new way of being human as has only been seen in Jesus to date.

By way of contrast to our persuasion you might have read of a certain seminary that has ousted a professor who suggested that Christians and Moslems worship the same ‘god’. That is not deep enough nor too relevant for us. The issue is whether we worship the same ‘God’ that Jesus revealed or hide behind the fig-leaf of being born again.

Journeying through this world of politics (small ‘p’) is a dirty pathway. It is not about ‘christianising’ the road. There has to be something new in all this. The same applies to the world of economics. Maybe we did not respond well to that post-2008. Certainly the growth in the disparity suggest so. But now there is another European-context that presents a new possibility. The death of the One, born in Israel, in Jerusalem released a two year seeding in Rome of a new politics with Paul’s gospel (Acts 28). Clean hearts ultimately have to partner dirty feet I guess.

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So Dec. 21 is here

kenarchyshoesEverything is up in the air post the election in Spain on this the shortest day in Europe. 10 years ago this was the day that Steve Lowton with a whole bunch stood in St. Peter’s Sq to announce the shift in Europe, that every day was to get brighter as a new future broke in. The narrative is something we buy into but there are certainly going to be some very challenging days ahead. The ‘solution’ is not in a political party but there has to be a political transformation that has to follow the hopes of the kingdom. So 10 years ago in Rome and today in Spain there are connections.

The wonderful sign is the end of a locked up system that has been dominating and effectively silencing grassroots for the past so-called era of democracy. The two ‘old’ parties lost last night 5 million votes, the new parties took in 8 million votes. The only way, it would seem, for the current conservative party to form a government would be to make a coalition with the socialist party. This would be done simply to make a strong statement of resistance to what is new. Ever since our time in Spain our prayer has been for the rise of the ‘new woman’ of Spain that has been crushed and dominated to date by the ‘old woman’. So the figures and the results which is now where it will be incredibly difficult for anyone to form a functioning government. If it is not resolved then there will be fresh elections after 60 days.

The media has made it clear that last night’s results mark the end of an era and the door is open to new expressions. It seems very fitting that nothing is resolved but the issue is clear.

And the photo? No these are not the feet of the next president of Spain (although one of the main papers carried the headline: Spain in search of a president!!). The ‘kenarchy shoes’ are Gayle’s in Puerta del sol on the day of the elections standing on the map from where all Spanish measurements are made.

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Off to Madrid

We head to Madrid tomorrow till mid-Tuesday next week. Well up for calling for a shift for Europe. Certainly there are some signs around that indicate an era is ending. Owen Jones is in Spain and is pretty excited about what he is seeing. In this video (just under 7 minutes long) there are some good summaries on the situation in Spain and the economic repercussions from the 08 crisis.

Sadly due to bureaucracy a sizeable number of Spanish who have left Spain – many because of the economic crisis are in a position where they will not be able to vote Sunday. They are eligible but the papers have not been delivered to them.

Whatever takes place Sunday though is a sign of what is blowing across Europe.

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Facilitate or be?

We are at a wonderful moment in our corporate body of Christ journey in Europe. In 2001, right after 9-11, Target Europe began to take shape with some focused prayer into the ’40-70 window’. It was at that conference in Hannover that I first understood the role of Spain was to re-capture some core elements of the Pauline Gospel. (Disclaimer: the strength of our faith is that it is ‘faith’. We seek to make sense of the world in the light of the belief in the resurrection. What I write in this post is my making sense of what is around. Others use a fear window to look at the world. So what follows is a perspective – but a considered on and it focuses on ‘politics’ in the sense of the world being re-constituted.)

We have watched political debates (elections are days away) and on Monday the two historic parties went head to head. It was so ‘old’. Insults, lack of respect, criticism. In the studio were the two leaders of the two young parties, one that worries us because of its leanings to the ****t (no give aways there then!) and the other for a reason I will come to a little later. So ‘politically’ they are poles apart but to see the two leaders of those parties embrace each other was a sign that maybe a new politics does not need be adversarial. (If you have not seen it check out the video from yesterday of Owen Jones and his enthusiasm for coming to Spain at this time – for Europe.)

So now follows some dots that I have connected.

  • Persecution in the history of the early church was not primarily because of being a new ‘religion’ but for being perceived as a new political movement. Here I am pulling on ‘gospel’ being the direct challenge to Imperial rule. There is something of a kick back to this view from some but I suggest that the Pauline gospel is not simply the good news of the kingdom to Israel (as was proclaimed by Jesus) but what was imparted to him in the Damascus and post-Damascus wilderness experience. The Jesus-to-Israel message had implications for the re-shaping of the world.
  • If there is something new happening in Spain that is pushing us beyond the old politics then I consider that this is part of the recovery of the Pauline gospel itself. (For those who follow this blog you might realise at the beginning of the year we eventually made a connection between a full square and a proclamation from heaven for Spain, and now at the end of the year we are making a similar connection.)
  • The rebirth of a new politics – forget the old definitions – that are taking place in Greece, and to some extent even the UK, are gathering momentum here in Spain. This election might well give us more of the ‘same old same old’ as before but something has shifted forever. This re-birth is part of the Pauline gospel – maybe even the core of its outworking. The challenge then for the body of Christ is to be present, for in her absence there is a vacuum to be filled, a ‘spirit’ to be imparted.
  • In the same way as I watch the new voices calling for a new Spain, a new country for the next generation, and see the tears flow as hope comes, I have all my memories kick in of the wonderful days from the late 80s and through the 90s of church movement conferences in the UK where proclamations of a new future were declared. I am reliving the experience.
  • And that gives me the lead in to the title of this blog and also the concern over the other new party I mentioned above. In those ecclesiastical days there was inevitably a view that had ourselves placed at the centre. We somehow would feature in the fulfillment. So the concern (maybe we have lessons from our past that can help those who are now, at least in part, carrying the torch of hope for the future?) is related to a belief that our call is always to facilitate what is rising, to be preparers of the way and not to become the way.
  • The early stages are not the most dangerous. Fluidity and a non-defensiveness are not too difficult to embrace. Even embracing the ‘opposition’ is not too difficult. It is in the stages beyond that the difficulties arise. The church is never meant to take centre-stage (sorry to those with the thought of the ‘highest mountain’ perspective!). Priesthood is the call. And ‘new’ political parties. Are they to take centre-stage? For me the jury is out on that, and what is more important is the release of a new politics, a facilitation of a re-shaping of the world. That brings me full circle – I think that was Paul’s vision. Blind for three days then with sight.

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Not about left or right – much more important

We are in times of change. We always sensed that this mid-year in the decade would be one of big swings, but the status quo pulling things back. However, there should also be some firstfruit signs along the way. We have elections December 20, Gayle and I will be there meeting up with Julie Tomlin, staying with a good friend Ana, during those days.

There is so much at stake. Some of the old adverserial politics is slowly disappearing making way for collaboration and the prioritisation of the marginalised. The British author and activist Owen Jones is on his way to Spain (should be here by now!!) and he posted this a few hours ago from Heathrow airport. He has captured the moment:

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A short post on developing theological trends

I will make this brief and because of that the level of accuracy will be “in the ballpark maybe”, but it is a short and scandalous cliff note version of two trends I am following and why I think they are important.

First there is the NPP…or “The New Perspectives on Paul”  the primary heavy hitter here is our beloved NT Wright (others include E.P.Sanders and James D.G. Dunn) and the scholastic writing is geared towards seeing Paul in a fresh context as a “Renaissance” kind of thinker who had many many influences in his writings that were easy to miss because of a lack of historical perspective. This approach incorporates the Greek philosophy of Pauls day, the Hebrew model of religious instruction, the influence of Rome and even pagan religions of the day, lots and lots of stuff that previous scholars sort of skipped over when reading Pauls letters…Wrights Tour De Force would probably be “Paul and the faithfulness of God”.

What is significant about the NPP is it suggest primarily that Reformationist era theologians got a lot of Pauls writings wrong because a lack of historical perspective on his Jewish roots obscured concepts like righteousness, imputation and really justification itself and because of this obscured vision things were kind of made up or smeared (my word) and then forced into a medieval framework…

Why is this important? Well it basically is a reframing of some fairly heavy theological definitions…

In a nutshell, the NPP suggests that:

  1. the Judaism of Paul’s day was not a religion of self-righteousness that taught salvation by merit;
  2. Paul’s argument with the Judaizers was not about a “works-righteousness” view of salvation, over against the Christian view of salvation by grace;
  3. Instead, Paul’s concern was for the status of Gentiles in the church;
  4. So justification is more about ecclesiology than soteriology, more about who is part of the covenant community and what are its boundary markers than about how a person stands before God.

So as you can see there is some pretty radical stuff floating around in NPP…

But wait there’s more!

The other growing trend is the “Apocalyptic” reading of Paul…which sort of stands the NPP (and all other approaches) on its ear…

The heavy hitters here will be J. Louis Martyn with his translation of Galatians and commentary (I am halfway through it)

Douglas Campbell with “The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic rereading of Pauls justification” and a few others…

This reading steps way out of the box (but does it via an academic paper trail of both historical and theological readings) and says essentially we have been reading Paul as Arians (Arius was a presbyter in Alexandria who basically said God the Father created the son based on John 14:28) but rather than focus on Arius’s theology the idea is that he begins with the foundations we have in human experience and then works upwards to make judgments about the divine nature (hence “foundationalist”), whereas Athanasius urges the impossibility of doing things this way round, and the necessity of starting with revelation from God (hence “apocalyptic”). An apocalyptic reading of Paul says we cannot know things like justice (and being justified) outside of the definition offered through the revelation of Jesus…

Now both camps are kind of in very polite debates and I will leave it up to you to decide where you want to camp, both groups have tremendous merit and are shifting theology in really radical ways…

Here is a link to an interview with NT Wright: GospelCoalition

And here is a link to Douglas Campbells article: How do you read Romans?

And here they are having a lively go at it: NPP debate

 

My final thoughts on this: I think both views are doing serious lifting of the goalposts for us, the NPP basically says the believing Gentiles are included in Israel which is in Christ, and the Apocalyptic reading goes quite a bit further when you fully engage it, it basically says there are no lines and everyone is included in Christ…while you will not find thats specific reading and spelled out clearly (you must wade through a LOT of academic discussion to get there trust me) it does end up there…as I am reading Martyns book it has done some serious reframing of how I now read the New Testament in particular Paul and Luke…it is challenging but it is also where the church is headed…typically the average church is about 50-100 years behind the theological centers of thought, I no longer think that time frame is accurate since knowledge is increasing and even average folks like me can tap into serious theology as it develops…my point is these discussions will affect you sooner than you expect…so expect it.

As usual your mileage may vary especially if you are walking.

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The until with a twist

The twist entails a few random thoughts, so please recall this is not a carefully aimed attempt.

Saved by the skin of their teeth

Paul has a serious go at the childishness of the body that divides around apostolic figures in 1 Corinthians 3. He then calls for those working apostolically to be careful how they build, his language is both explicit and implicit temple language. The materials produced he says are related to how a person builds works and builds, and the possibility of the materials being ‘gold, silver or precious stones’ were the building material to be employed in the OT Temple.

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Cor 3:12-15).

Saved by grace yet judged by works. Those two have to be held together, and they have also to be separated. Works do not save (though works will show what kind of faith was involved) but they are related to the issue of rewards.

The New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven (it cannot arise from the earth) is an amazing city. It is not a Garden, which was God’s gift to humanity, but it will contain all that was in the Garden and even multiplied (a tree of life seems to become many trees of life, for example). It is a city and the early chapters of the Bible show that humanity gets stuck in to city building with the less than favourable outcomes typified in Babel. In that New Jerusalem we find gold streets and wonderful jewels throughout. Where do they come from? Even accepting that this is all symbolic language we note that the city is the fulfilment of creation as the Temple for God’s dwelling place. The pattern is in heaven, but the materials are from where? I suggest that the materials are the same materials that will have come through the fire that Paul speaks of. Rewarded by works.

We do not build the future, but there is no eschatological future without our contribution. (Maybe Paul meant more than we humans are co-workers but that we co-work with God when we read in 1 Cor. 6:1 ‘As we work together with him.’)

So my restoration-ish hangover is not focused on the perfect mature church but on the body of Christ being what it should be in and for the world. Part of our task is to enable the world to be the world it is supposed to be. In biblical language the body is to be a kingdom of priests, maybe we could even suggest that the body is to learn to steward the resources of the world. There will always be personal accountability but also there has to be responsibility by the body for the world. We become responsible for a new society. Imperfect though society will always be there has to be enough mined in and through it all to supply enough quality material for the age to come.

So I am suggesting that the end cannot come till we have done the work. I just hope that the stock that has been laid up is not diminished each and every time we mess up.

Why has God not wound it all up yet? My speculation is there is work to be done.

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Not until…

I have a lot more work to do on the eschatology simplified(!) series and have been distracted by the related subject of Revelation. I have got as far as writing a 10,000 word introduction to Revelation that of course simplifies everything and makes it all totally understandable. (‘Really?’, I hear you say.)

Anyway here is – I hate the analogy – a random shot from the hip, a kind of a theological push. I grew up with the standard old Disensationalist stuff that Jesus could come at any time. I was even in a meeting as a teenager when someone was talking on ‘any time he could come and if you are not ready you will be left behind’ and in a back room the preacher had a trumpet player arranged to play a loud trumpet blast as he got to the ‘when the trumpet sounds’ line. As a teenager I was impacted. Fear compensated by the assurance of pray the sinner’s prayer and you will be safe was the model for bizarre evangelism.

Just in case I leave anyone in doubt, I have moved on since those days.

Ditching an old eschatology that only appeared on the scene from 1831 onwards is the easy part. Replacing it with something sustainable is another thing. In my research on ‘The Eschatology of the so-called New Church Movement in the UK’ I noted that a shift in ecclesiology is what led to an abandonment of the former prevalent eschatology, then it was only at a later stage that a ‘victorious eschatology’ based on the restoration of the church appeared. The positive restorationist ecclesiology demanded a new eschatology. (I see the same pathway in some of the current charismatic wings of the church in the USA.)

Scriptures such as Acts 3:21

who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.

or Ephesians 4: 13

until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

became the foundation for a new eschatology. The theology was along the lines of the restoration of all things equated to the church restored, marked by maturity, for we could read that he was coming for a bride without spot or wrinkle. It marked an interesting take on those Scriptures and of course effectively could only work if the ‘bride’ was the final mature generation. In my thesis I put a ‘cheeky’ chapter in there for the sake of those examining me that a belief in restoration is not something that is restricted to a few avant-garde charismatics but the whole theological world is riddled with it too. Read the theologians and be assured that we now know much more about Paul, and the historical Jesus than ever, indeed maybe we know more about Paul’s theology than he knew! Restoration? We seem to like the idea.

So my Dispensationalist beliefs went by the board a long time ago, then I adopted the whole restoration of the church approach and could put together the ‘until…’ Scriptures along with the clear theme of ‘an overcoming generation’ being the strand that held Revelation together. Guess what – I am still there-ish in my thinking though am aware of the proverbial bus driver being able to drive his bus through the exegesis without causing too much damage to the bus.

So the shot from the hip is still going to be a little restorationist but with a twist. I will get to that tomorrow.

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