Gospel or caricature?

Scot McKnight recently referred to Josh Butler’s second book: The Pursuing God: A Reckless, Irrational, Obsessed Love That’s Dying to Bring Us Home and summarises the (caricature / gospel) themes in the book, saying it is an ‘atonement theology for a postmodern world’:

Caricature: Jesus stays at a distance and tells us how to get clean.
Gospel: Jesus gets dirty, in order to make us clean.

Caricature: God can’t stand to be in the presence of sin.
Gospel: Sin can’t stand to be in the presence of God.

Caricature: Lost means you need to go find God.
Gospel: Lost means God’s coming to find you.

Caricature: Jesus emphasizes how to be good.
Gospel: Jesus emphasizes the goodness of God.

Caricature: Jesus bearing our punishment is an act of divine child abuse.
Gospel: Jesus bearing our punishment is an act of divine love.

Caricature: The Father is cold, distant, and unengaged at the cross.
Gospel: The Father endures the greatest sacrifice of all the death of the Son.

Caricature: Sacrifice is how you clean yourself up so God can stand to be with you.
Gospel: Sacrifice is how God cleans you so you can stand to be with God.

Caricature: Wrath contradicts God’s love and is inappropriate for his character.
Gospel: Wrath arises from God’s love and deals honestly with our world.

Caricature: The Trinity is an abstract doctrine with no relevance for today.
Gospel: The Trinity changes everything—the Father, Son, and Spirit are a holy communion of love who invite us to participate in their eternal life.

Caricature: Jesus is the one and only way we go out to find God.
Gospel: Jesus is the unique and decisive way God has come to us.

Caricature: God prefers the polished, pretty, and put together.
Gospel: God goes after Nazis and whores, victims and oppressors, to make them his people and his bride.

Caricature: The church is a collection of individuals pursuing God together.
Gospel: The church is a body of people through whom God pursues the world.

Not a bad set of contrasts!! Maybe the atonement I would like to tweak?


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A new media?

In what follows I want to communicate a prophetic conviction of the arrival of a new media. Certainly a new media presence within Europe. The old ‘woman’ of Europe can produce, and will produce a new media presence.


A little while back I realised the myth of the independence of the ‘spheres’ within society (education, health, politics, arts etc). The concept I had been working with was of them having their own measure of autonomy. Indeed in a healthy society that is how it should be. However…

A little aside:

  • we live in a fallen world – left to its own devices this will ‘fall’ to a place of increasing evil.
  • fallenness can be redeemed – brought back to purpose.
  • hence we do not operate from a distinct line of good / evil but fallen / redeemed (or better situations in a process toward even greater fallenness / or in a process of redemption).
  • I do not see either the future (pre-parousia) as ‘all evil, rule of antiChrist’, nor as ‘all perfect’.
  • there is ground to be gained and seasons when this happens incredibly. This does not make it permanent as ground has to be held.

And before coming to the ‘a new media?’ issue I consider that one of the deep insights of the book of Revelation (and if wanting to read it in context get a history book that shows the total domination and myth of Rome) is that of the two beasts. I have wrestled with that for a while. What are the two beasts? The primary one is that of preserving the elite at all costs (Imperial power) and the second one is that which keeps the first in place – hence it can be literal Emperor worship (the Imperial cult of the day), politics, media (here is where I am going), or finally if necessary of course military power.

Still with it?

The media – free and independent?

Probably on the whole not free and independent! We have some very challenging situations with the media.

  • The news channel most watched by our charismatic friends across the pond, one that is strong on family values…, the same media empire that ran the infamous ‘page 3’. In other words it was not serving family values but serving an agenda of thought formation.
  • The percentage of the media in the UK owned by a handful of people. 3 companies own 71% of the UK national newspaper market.
  • In Spain we have government controlled channels (and one owned by a certain Berlusconi of Italian fame) and then one independent channel. When a political party rose in Spain with an incredible growth of members – totally newsworthy by any stretch of the imagination – the journalists employed by the established media groups were banned from giving any interviews with those involved.
  • The BBC website these past few days seemed amazingly silent with respect to the material on Mr Cameron and his connection to the benefits he drew from the Panamanian company his father was involved in.

So maybe the beast has another associate – for the beast must have a voice – a servant in the media that is not allowed its own freedom, its own autonomy. BUT…

Prophetic prayer gives way to apostolic declaration – certainly that was my language of a few years back. Correct language at this point is not too important.


Maybe this does not mean everything will disappear and everything new will be here, but ground has been gained, there is a shift.

A dream

(In all I am writing it is not to demonise certain media organisations, or as in the dream, Northern Europe, they are symbols and examples of the structures that we all find ourselves living within.)

Last night I had a dream. I needed to go to the toilet to have a pee. I was not at home but knew it was in Southern Europe. (Dreams are strange!) When I got there I lifted the seat and in the bowl was stacks of paper and some dirty clothes. Pressed in and pushed down and the bowl was all-but full. In the bathroom were two other people (!!) who noted my surprise at what I had discovered. They were from France and Germany. One of them said – ‘Oh I did not know we couldn’t put that stuff in here (meaning both here as in the toilet and here as in Southern Europe) and that it would not just flush away’.

I knew I had to empty the bowl, but being pretty desperate, first peed then got on with pulling out of the toilet all the papers and clothing that was placed there to be flushed away from sight. Not such a pleasant task – but it was only a dream!!

So waking up this morning (a regular occurrence most mornings) I consider that there has been a way that the dominant powers have behaved that might have cleared stuff out of sight for the past years, but this stuff cannot be flushed down the toilets of Southern Europe. There will be a messy process that now ensues but there are papers and clothing that are going to be brought out to light, primarily (in the European context) from Southern Europe.

The mess has arrived. A new media, and new journalists who cannot be bought.


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Child-poverty, housing – Spain

The Panama Papers highlight the obvious corruption that many are happy to propagate and be part of, or at least the lack of willingness to use whatever they have benefited from to be of help to others. I suspect that the remaining years of this decade will see greater protests concerning the myth of the ‘trickle down’ effect as the results of austerity produce a continuing flow up of resources.

In Spain a government has not yet been resolved (elections were Dec. 20th, 2015 and since then there has been a lock up) and it is at times hard to get a real grip on what is in the land. Travel here as a tourist, live in certain parts and the shiny BMW’s, Mercedes, or SUV’s will be visible. Certainly there are more than a few Spanish whose names are appearing on the Panama list. Yet there is something, hidden from many, that is all to visible to those that the statistics affect directly:

Here are a couple of articles:

This second article says that statistically child-poverty in Spain is second only to Romania’s in Europe, (another article interpreted the figures and placed Spain third lowest, behind Romania and Bulgaria).

Here are a few paragraphs from that last article:

Child poverty in the European Union has increased from under 20 percent to more than 22 percent in the last three years, reaching 29.9 percent in Spain, said the organization’s general secretary Jorge Nuño Mayer.

That puts the country only second to Romania and closely followed by Bulgaria and Greece.

Even Cyprus, long considered an affluent society, also has a poverty rate of over 29 percent among older people, the report said.

“Austerity measures have failed to solve problems and create growth,” Mayer warned, adding that “the European project and cohesion in our societies is at stake.”

Many unemployed and uninsured have turned to their families for help, particularly in southern Europe, but after years of recession, this resource is also running dry.

“Families are now exhausted, they cannot continue paying,” Mayer said. “A second wave of poverty is expected… the negative impact can last for decades.”

In Spain, the economy could take 20 years to recover to pre-crisis levels, he added.

If we add to the above the most recent statistic on empty homes in Spain – 3 million. And Spain with a population just over 40 million. So many properties, but where re-possessed many not on the market so as prices are not lowered.

And on the housing front try this article:

This article says included were:

1,860 homes, which had been originally rented out as part of city programs to assist low-income families and the young. Many of these tenants had signed lease options with the EMVS, giving them purchase rights over the homes after seven to 10 years of renting, depending on the contract.

The result has been evictions with many more to come.

Protests on the streets? Yes, that is sure to be part of the future. Protests that produce change? I think so if they can be impregnated with the hope that Jesus gave.

In a weekend that celebrates an anniversary of Azusa Street, the outpouring that many would see as the first of three distinct outpourings in the 20th Century, it is worth remembering that this was not just an outpouring of ‘power from on high’ but of social justice that crossed the very real racial and gender barriers. Egalitarian at heart it gave to the disempowered dignity and significance. Without that effect we have no gospel.


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The Sykes-Picot agreement

Well if you know the content from the title you have one over on me. I read this article this morning by Giles Fraser (‘loose canon’, of ex-St. Paul’s Cathedral fame) in the Guardian that explains all. There is never a sufficient explanation for evil (‘the mystery of evil’) but there are factors that can be tracked in terms of what is sown in one generation producing fruit in subsequent generations.

Fraser’s last paragraph hits things pretty straight on:

Yes, there is much more to Isis than the desire to undo the century-long effects of British and French colonialism. But that’s a key goal. And if Iraq ends up splitting into a Kurdish, a Shia and a Sunni bit, and if Syria ends up splitting with an Alawite strip along the coast, and a Sunni bit further east, then Islamic State may end up getting precisely what its name proclaims, even after it has been defeated. These new borders will be based on ethnicity and religion rather than 100-year-old imperial design. And, this time, I don’t think western intervention can stop it.

‘Imperial design’ are strong words. Yet this is the nature of empire. The myth that all who comply will benefit, but the reality that the few at the top shape what is to be, promising benefits, but with the real benefits flowing back to the centre / top.

My guess is little real (identificational) repentance has been undertaken in the situation regarding the stitch up (betrayal) by the imperial powers of the day. And it remains a critical issue with regard to the gospel as to whether the problem is that we have had bad people at the top and all we need is to work it so that we have good people (the born again ones) at the top, or we have a fundamental issue that is contra the gospel that has to be opposed: imperial power whether the emperors are good or bad. My vote is strongly with those in the latter camp.

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves (Lk 22:24-27).

I suggest there will be a number of tracks that will run and run. IS / Dayesh might well become a lesser player in the immediate years ahead, but that is to misunderstand what is going on. An organisation can rise but unless there is something deeper that is healed the ‘starfish’ phenomenon will continue. And parallel to the rise of all despotic rule, God will continue to answer prayer for transformation and the increase of his kingdom. The result of this will be (theological) debate with regard to the gospel but the real issue will be over the fruit of the gospel – a people who rule top down or serve without asking for recognition. We can disagree over theological details but over the fruit we have to be clear.”,”post_title”: “The Sykes-Picot agreement”,”post_category”: 0,”post_excerpt”: “Well if you know the content from the title you have one over on me. I read an article this morning by Giles Fraser that explains all. There is never a sufficient explanation for evil (‘the mystery of evil’) but there are factors that can be tracked in terms of what is sown in one generation producing fruit in subsequent generations.


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A ramble

John Barr was a good friend and I still miss him at times (he passed away in 2001). His stories were always entertaining, but it was some of his insights, the dots he connected that made sense. One such piece of wisdom was – what parents do in moderation their children will do in excess. Of course like many axioms there is not an indelible straight line – after all God called Israel ‘my son'(!!) so there is a principle here that cannot be made a law.

I think though the principle remains, and I am not thinking primarily about biological family reproduction but more on the societal level. World leaders are coming to terms with what most of them knew was already going on with the Panama papers leak. This did not just ‘happen’, but seeds were sown over decades. Indeed Panama is not the biggest ‘tax haven’ but one of Britain’s protectorates, the Virgin Islands probably takes the prize for that title. The network of tax havens – which to a significant extent includes the city of London with its exemptions that have roots all the way back to 1066 – is probably something that is highly ‘beneficial’ to many Western nation-states and multi-nationals.

There are many possible imminent implosions, the fruit of ways of living and acting that has gone unchecked over decades. A politics that has become simply more and more confrontational and agonistic is increasingly non-Christlike. Imagine Jesus in politics… insults, insinuation, or working alongside?

I am a strong believer that the years of prayer for God’s presence in society is leading to two aspects. An increasing exposure of corruption and what has been hidden becoming visible, and unprecedented opportunity for the body of Christ. A while back I took part in a conference in Brazil through Skype and was asked to state what I saw for the next 5 years. My answer – exposure of corruption at all levels, and the opportunity for a move in the church of humility from the bottom up.

The two go hand in hand. Certainly the opportunity is there, and I hope that the church lays hold of the opportunity that is before us. We can seed the future with something different. To do so we have to go much deeper than politics of right / left; of the shallowness of ‘Christians in the top stratas of influence’, to a radical response to the call of following Jesus.

The UK faces its referendum in June. There are arguments pro and against, but my plea is that as believers we rise above the simple pro and against issues. I am pro-European not primarily politically, but from my understanding of the spiritual history and issues. I have maintained for many years that this continent, with its clear post-Christendom context, can and should become the place that releases another wave of the Gospel but without the hierarchical, imperial clothing that creates ghettos, but with egalitarianess at its heart that is hidden within the wider society. An opportunity that maybe has not been possible since the early centuries.

Unless statistics have changed dramatically, 1/3 of those who are happy (happy-ish?) with the label evangelical and are European live within the UK. Their commitment – whether they vote in or out – to Europe spiritually is vital. The children might be on course to do in excess what has been sown… or…

Here are two examples of voices in Europe that are sounding out a hope for something different. We can see them as ‘secular’ voices, and then look for the ‘God voice’ to rise also, or (I think much better) we can understand that the prayers of the church are not fulfilled when the Christian speaks, but when the voice of the Lord is released and we hear wisdom cry out in the public square.

The first is a long, but extremely well-written article by Yanis Varoufakis in the Guardian and the second a very short video by the mayoress of Barcelona.


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Vatican gives a home to homeless Jesus

An Ontario artist’s sculpture of a ‘homeless Jesus’ has been given a home near to the Vatican. Schmalz, the sculptor, said in an interview, “Historically, symbolically, it’s probably the greatest location for it.”

Since Pope Francis took office (March 2013) there has been an increased focus on the homeless:
last year, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, head of the charities, unveiled showers for homeless pilgrims near St. Peter’s Square and free shaves and haircuts are also now offered.

In the article it also noted that:

In London, Methodist Central Hall, across from Westminster Abbey, wanted to install it in front of its church, but the City of Westminster’s council rejected that, saying the sculpture would fail to preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square conservation area. An online petition has been launched to try to overturn that decision.

Another church in London, St Martin-in-the-Fields, rejected the statue because it has a rule banning people from lying down inside church, and there were fears the statue would expose the church to ridicule, according to the Church Times.


Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?


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The fullness of times

Why did Jesus come when he came – why not much earlier, circumvent Abraham, Moses etc.? Assuming – based on Scripture which helps with assumptions!! – that God’s intention was always that of Incarnation, why the ‘delay’ in coming? In Galatians there is the phrase ‘when the fullness of times had come’:

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Gal. 4:3-5).

An inadequate interpretation (and a very modernistic one) was that when there was the Pax Romana, effective transportation and communication in place and so the gospel could spread easily as a result that Jesus came at that opportune time. So the fullness of times is reduced to a pragmatic issue! However, writing to the ‘we’ (Jews) the fullness of times was when there was a bondage to the elemental principles (ta stoicheia). He goes on to strongly chastise the Gentile converts in Galatia for being influenced by the Judaisers and through their influence turning to the Jewish law. Before conversion they were enslaved to non-gods and now in turning to the law they were only going to be enslaved again to worthless elementary principles (ptocha stoicheia – same as before with the derisory ‘poverty stricken’ added). Jews and Gentiles alike in bondage to these ‘elemental spirits’.

So the fullness of times seems more related to a level of bondage than to anything practical. It was when there was domination at a level that enslaved the whole world, with even the Jews subject to the law in a non-liberating, enslaving relationship.

Jesus came, I suggest, at a time when there was the maximum amount of slavery to binding principles (elemental spirits) that manifested to dominate and crush all, Jew and Gentile alike. In coming at that time, Jesus, came to redeem the slaves at their low point in order to not simply set the slaves free but to destroy the yoke of slavery once and for all. Had he come earlier this slavery would not have reached a level of fullness whereby it could be fully broken. Jesus was born under the law (Jewish), born of a woman (human so not only for Jews but also for Gentiles, for all of humanity) at a time when all things were in place for the total domination of humanity. That domination is maybe best described as ‘bio-power’ – the consuming of human life itself (yes I am listening to, and maybe learning from, Gayle as she writes up her dissertation!!!).

Consuming is where it all began to go wrong, and that initial consumption of the forbidden fruit leads eventually to the inevitable consumption of human lives. Jesus the only true human allows himself to be consumed, rather than consume. He is consumed by the powers – religious, political, economic, demonic – for in eating him they can become like God, or better they can dispossess God and fully set in place a rebel government based on ‘might is right’. The submission of Jesus, to death, even the death on the cross is what breaks this power, it establishes love within the world and throughout all of creation. Love proves to be the currency that opens the door to freedom. Not power, not appeasement but love.

The presentation of the atonement as satisfaction to God (his honour as per Anselm, or the law and justice as per the Reformation) falls far short of the NT presentation. What is missing in the world is the presence of God, and at the cross ‘God was in Christ’ going to the depths so as from the lowest point to the highest point there could be a filling of all things with his presence.

The fullness of times – the hold that the powers had is gone.

Could we again be coming to a fullness of times? Could there be the complete re-imagining of the body of Christ in and through the earth to stand redemptively so as humanity does not totally self-destruct on the forbidden fruit?


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The gift of isolation?

Community is in the heart of God. Trinitarian belief, the corporate ‘my people’, ‘it is not good for the man to be alone’… all point to community as not simply beneficial but healthy existence. When community is denied a person there is loss and pain. Given the norm of community and the lack of it that many experience I write cautiously what follows. I also write from our personal context here.

We have a strong conviction that over these next couple of decades many will find themselves uprooted from their former setting. We believe that thousands will re-locate to the cities and regions across Europe as the continent is re-seeded not simply with a gospel of words but an incarnated gospel of people (Mk. 13 parable #1 ‘seed’ = ‘word of the Lord’; parable #2 ‘seed’ = ‘people of the Lord’). In the relocation some will go with distinct purpose and vision, others will go by ‘circumstance’. If we come from a background of (Christian) community there are a few surprises waiting for us.

‘Clubs’ give us ready made friends. Many believers do not need to connect to others, the construct is what provides the context where they find the friends. This is not a bad thing in itself but all clubs by default insulate, they separate, and more so when we have no need of connecting external to that club. This is also accentuated if one held a measure of leadership within that club context. Friendship-making outside that context and with those who do not share the same world-view is a challenge – Paul, even with an incredibly developed world-view, achieved this (Acts 19: 31).

Appreciating beliefs that are different are wonderfully challenging. A gospel that is insulated can make sense when one is also isolated… but against the context of other beliefs can be deeply challenged. This, from what I understand, is what brought Steve Chalke to describe penal substitutionary atonement as ‘cosmic child abuse’. Our gospel is ‘foolishness to the Greeks’ but this does not mean there is no coherence to it. To re-examine the gospel is no bad thing. And certainly when one realises that the Western Protestant versions do not have a monopoly on interpretation opens up a few healthy doors.

Separation from the known, entering the liminal spaces, are so necessary for growth. Richard Rohr apparently recently described fundamental evangelicalism as ‘religion in its early phase’. He, being a Catholic, might indicate where development should take such a fundamentalist, whereas I would go in a totally different direction!

In transitioning into adulthood in many tribal scenarios there is a commonality to many of the rituals. What is in common is the removal of the known surroundings and boundaries, and the entering into a disorientating world. This is necessary for growth.

Yesterday we (Gayle and I) speculated that perhaps there is now the possibility of a fresh (Christian) movement, not one simply based on guilt and forgiveness at a personal level though probably with deep roots within that, but one focused on the body of Christ as the ‘soul’ of the world, the priesthood in the earth. If so I think that isolation will be one of the gifts from heaven to act as a catalyst for the conversion that is needed. Maybe Christian community will have to become (for a period, or maybe permanently) less of a defining element? Community, acceptance and accepting, is vital for healthy human existence, but those who have a vision for healthy community probably need to experience some measure of isolation along the way. To those much further down the road than I, thank you.


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Do not vote for the believer!!!!

I read a text yesterday that caused me to stop and think, as well as it amusing me:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:9-12)

So reading this text yesterday it caused me to think somewhat tangentially. An old line thinking was a straight line to church discipline and removal from fellowship. Easy, though defining what is meant by ‘guilty of greed’ or ‘is an idolator’ is always going to be somewhat more problematic than ‘guilty of sexual immorality’, but then even with that description we have to assume that it only relates to sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage. ‘Assuming’ and bringing definition to these injunctions indicates that it is not always as easy as appears at first reading. However laying that on one side, I had both a funny and an interesting thought…

There is a myth that if we get the right person (God’s person) to the top of government we will then move in the right direction. I describe it as a myth – it seems to fly totally in the face of Luke 3:1-3 and Rev. 4,5 and also the whole thrust of the following-Jesus subversive movement that I see in the NT. Here is the funny thought. So often we, or at least Christians with the conviction of ‘get the top position’, want to know if the person has made a confession of faith. If they have, even though they might exhibit some elements of racism, biggotism, excessive exploitative life-style, they are worthy of the ‘Christian vote’. But in the light of the passage I thought, but how are we to respond if the person has made a confession of faith but is ‘greedy’ (to pick one item from Paul’s example list)?, Does the instruction not to eat with that person mean I need to distance myself and that they of all people cannot get my vote. For once they ‘bear the name of a brother / sister’ I am supposed not to associate with them. While maybe if they were not a believer they could get my vote?

Amused me. The deeper issue remains – Caesar’s throne or heaven’s? Greatest of all or servant of all?


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We now have all the answers

We are just in process of tidying up from a few days together where we shared our stories, passions, difficulties and aspirations all within the broad canvas of ‘what is the gospel?’ The ‘we’ were: Craig and Kate (Oliva – been in Spain for 10 years); Noel and Tricia (Palma de Mallorca); Simon and Amy (Cádiz); Rachael (Tenerife). It was a privilege to hear from each other, and to be part of the openness and the willingness to listen to each other.

One thing is for sure is that we do not have all the answers as a result of being together. Yet I think the desired outcome of being strengthened and encouraged to follow whatever God has put in each person’s heart was more than achieved. Being present over these days illustrated to me that we desperately need situations where the open-ended questions can be asked. Truth is there to be discovered

I cannot possibly summarise all the discussion and prayer, but I think for me the conviction was strengthened that the overall proclamation of the gospel is that Jesus is risen from the dead and that there is a new way of being the world that is now possible in the here and now and will be manifest in fullness in the future. From that flows everything about economics, politics etc. Within that big picture proclamation there is the invitation to forgiveness and to be endued by the Spirit to enable participation in the Jesus-mission. The world needs the church – the salt within society that promotes kingdom growth and hinders the growth of evil, domination and destruction.

Those who do not respond to the personal message within the gospel can still be released to contribute kingdom activity, they can contribute to the future. And our perspective would be that the church over the past decades have opened space for less-than-perfect expressions more appropriate to the new humanity than before.

As I have increasingly embraced this wider view of the gospel it has left me with unanswered questions also, yet I think those questions are healthy. The church becomes at one level less about the community of the ‘saved’ and more about a movement for change in the wider community that it is connected to / is responsible for.

We did also look together at Brad Jersak’s presentation of ‘the gospel in chairs’. Well worth a look:


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