I am just finishing the edits of volume 3 in the amazing series (oops… and I had some paragraphs in earlier versions of not believing one’s own advertising) of explorations in theology. The second volume will be available any day soon. Below I put in some extracts from the closing chapter of Volume 3.
We can be very thankful when there are believers who have a position where they can influence the future. In those situations they face particular challenges as to how they exercise any influence they have. The powers might even make space for believers who do not understand the kenotic nature of God. As a result the church might rejoice, and yet the healthy outcome the kingdom of God should bring is set back years. In such situations I think we might be witnessing two aspects: answered prayer and kingdom setback! So ironic as those two phrases (‘answered prayer’ and ‘kingdom setback’) should be a total oxymoron.
Following Jesus was once simple for me. Respond to Jesus as Saviour, read the Bible with a set of lenses that my tradition gave me, keep on track and make sure that I remained thankful for the ticket to heaven. Now, I realise that with a fresh prescription, the Bible ends up more wonderful, relevant and challenging than ever, that there is a path to follow, and as I long for heaven to come… I think you get the thrust.
I can only see the future that is healthy being made up of the multiplicity of the small. Not the uniformity of the big, the ‘one size fits all’ program. The small complemented by the richness of diversity.
Some will be positioned in a place of influence. Use it wisely, prayerfully, and in following Jesus, kenotically. Others will be marginalised, their gift not welcomed. Seek to live at peace with all, ‘as far as is possible’ (Rom. 12:18), and find a way of rejoicing that the one you follow was likewise marginalised.
The body of Christ is here to influence, to shape the world as is. Paul, working in specifically defined localities, used the highly politicised word, ekklesia, to describe the community he planted. The politicised term for those called to speak up concerning the future direction and to act in a way that helped shape their localities. We should expect that to continue, and with the incredible developments beyond localities (even now with ‘virtual spaces’) we should also anticipate that there will be an even greater diversity of expression. Shapes can change, ways of doing things can develop, but faithfulness to the story has to continue.
With the resurrection of Jesus a new world had already been brought to birth therefore old values were not appropriate. The ethics he proposed were based on behaviour suitable for a world different to that of the Imperial order. Rome instructed behaviour to be ordered ‘because you are members of Rome’; Paul instructed believers to behave a certain way because they ‘were members of each other’. Those who had received the Spirit of Jesus, and Spirit as in Person, were equipped to be the ones acting in that world. They were uniquely placed to live it out, to show and to inspire, and also to be persecuted.
In the course of the ongoing history of the world’s interaction with the people of Jesus there have been times of influence (for good and for bad), times of compromise and also of great opposition. The church has grappled with the questions raised. Questions such as, ‘Is the church to be separate, somehow holy and set apart from the world?’ And at times of extreme opposition, ‘Is the world destined to always oppose the values of the kingdom?’ And at times when the lines have been blurred, the question arises ‘Is the world to embrace the values without embracing the Person of Jesus?’
Those, and many more, questions persist. This volume has not answered them all. In this book you will have had hints at my responses to the questions. My responses, not the final word, and my responses at this time and context. We can, and should, seek to make our response so that at this time in history we are faithful to the trajectory as we understand it. To do that we need wisdom from heaven, grace toward one another, and an insatiable draw to the world, the environment where God has placed us.