Advent 1: The Advent of our God

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The Advent of our God
Our prayers must now employ,
And we must meet him on his road
With hymns of holy joy.

The everlasting Son
Incarnate soon shall be :
He will a servant’s form put on,
To make his people free.

Rev. John Chandler, The Hymns of the Primitive Church (London: John W. Parker, 1837), Number 36, pp. 39-40.

Advent invites us to both remember historical events leading up to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, and to anticipate and participate in the continuous incarnation and encounter with God.

The above hymn encapsulates in just these two short verses key themes for this season:

  • As God moves towards us we also ‘must meet him on his road’
  • Incarnation is about service within a specific context
  • Incarnation brings freedom within a specific context

…more anon…

Book Review: Global Church: reshaping our conversations, renewing our mission, revitalising our churches

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In Global Church: reshaping our conversations, renewing our mission, revitalising our churches, Graham Hill nails his thesis firmly on the doors of the Western Church and Academy:

Those of us in the West need a new narrative. It’s time to abandon our flawed Eurocentric and Americentric worldviews. We need a new, global and missional narrative. We must turn to the churches of Majority World and indigenous cultures. They can help us explore what it means to be a global missional community. (Hill,16).

Scot McKnight observes in his introduction to Global Church that ‘there is no one more alert to the global and theological shape of missions today than Graham Hill’ (McKnight, Forward p 11). This book demonstrates that alertness resourced by twenty-seven years of personal enquiry, immersion and practise. Global Church threads the stories of personal encounter and observation with rigorous scholarship and presents the reader with a set of proposals to chew over which demand our engaged and considered response. I doubt that this book will be without its critics and this is a good feature of it- that it invites an ongoing conversation; the outcomes of that ongoing conversation depend on all of us.

In Global Church Graham Hill engages us with the reasons he believes that the Western Church needs to integrate a new narrative or worldview which explores what it might look like to be a ‘global missional community’. He set out clearly in what ways Majority World Christians are redefining Twenty First century Christianity and how he thinks the Western Church needs to take this into serious consideration. Numerically, 61% of the world’s Christians now live in the global south or Majority World and he cites Phillip Jenkin’s prediction that by 2025 two-thirds of Christians will live in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Graham Hill is emphatic that it is time to stop marginalizing and ignoring the voices of the Majority World Churches.

Global Church follows Graham Hill’s Salt, Light and a city: Introducing missional ecclesiology and develops his proposals of how to integrate and learn from non-Western missional reflections and practices using Mark’s three powerful images of the Church as salt, light and a city. It is a book of considerable scope which introduces, in Part 1, Reshaping our conversations, the need to move beyond the Western academy legacy to embrace ‘glocal conversations…dialogue, learning and partnership… [with] Majority World, indigenous and Western thinkers…activists, communities and ordinary believers.’ (p25) It moves on in Part 2, Renewing our Mission to develop interesting and important topics such hospitality, care for creation and ethical living alongside a review of liberation theologies, pneumatologies and contextual theologies of the Majority World. In Part 3, Revitalising our Churches, the book concludes with an expansive review of the resources which the Majority Church has to offer to scripture engagement, education, models for servant leadership, community building, spirituality and discipleship. The final chapter closes the book with a reassertion of its central emphasis:

Global missional theology challenges that historical and inherited way of doing theology. It challenges its dominance and myopia and cultural superiority. It challenges the assumption that our inherited Western so-called canons of theology are universal and true for all times and all places. That assumption is false. The voices of the global church-its communities and leaders and theologians-challenge these western theological canons and assumptions. They highlight their shortcomings. They emphasise the need for global theological conversations. (Hill, 422)

This book offers very good engagement and material for students, practitioners and educationalists alike. The breadth of its focus is supplemented by clear chapter end summaries, a study guide and an invitation to access the GlobalChurch project video series. It serves both as a mandate for reform and a helpful survey of Majority Church contributions to the glocal conversation.  The content is thorough in its breadth but not exhaustive in its analysis which keeps the considerable volume of material moving forwards at a reasonable pace but which inevitably means that some important conversations which emerge from Graham Hill’s proposals are not explored in more depth-maybe material for the next book! The style is passionate and assertive which for some readers may be somewhat exhausting whilst for others it will be an exhilarating and motivating read.

As someone who is also passionate about truly glocal conversations in mission I warmly recommend this excellent book.

 

key issues for equipping the church for mission today – a short reflection (part 1)

In view of space limitations, I don’t propose to critique the contemporary meaning of some of the key words in this title; equipping, church, mission. Of course, the concepts of church and mission are in flux – dealing with that will not be my priority here. Rather, I simply wish to reflect briefly on a few key thoughts that seek to challenge the core of what being a disciple of Jesus means for us living in Britain today, so that the community of believers may be better equipped to engage in meaningful and authentic mission practice

A contemporary snapshot…

We live in a world of insecurity, despair and hopelessness – that is the picture for a major part of humanity as we lurch through economic crisis, displacement of identity, war, conflict and a loss of confidence in truth and meaningful existence…this presents a significant opportunity for the global church to reflect the love of God in its mission. In the West, and in the Britain in particular, fresh challenges meet us – an angry constituency demands effective political leadership and greater economic justice, as food banks dole out provisions to more and more in need each week. Distrust in authority, the erosion of purpose and tiredness of existing brittle structures, leaves the community of Christ-followers standing on the threshold of an opportunity that has, perhaps, been rarely available in the recent past – people are looking for signs of hope amid the rubble of despair and lostness, as Leslie Newbiggin once discerned and articulated. Generous dialogue with ‘the other’ is imperative in our cultural milieu.

So, I wish to raise three key dimensions as to how the church might be better equipped to engage effectively in reaching 21st Century Britain. These three dimensions touch on; where we are (the contextual dimension, part 1), who we are (the empathic dimension, part 2) and where we are going (the hope dimension, part 3). These dimensions are to be understood within an overarching framework which is the biblical vision of shalom – or in other words, being sign-bearers of God’s reign ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

Firstly, where we are

I suggest there are 3 key issues we need to fully engage with in contemporary Britain. Firstly, our community must be inclusive and welcoming. In Hebrew life the alien was given certain protections and the Old Testament is full of provisions which sought to include the outsider and welcome the alien amongst God’s people. Contemporary migration gives the church opportunity to show loving acceptance and warm welcome, as well as change cold and oppressive attitudes. Secondly, economic inequality is rampant and a recipe for social dislocation and conflict. Challenging unjust economic and financial structures, and promoting simpler and more creative life-affirming lifestyles is part of the churches’ prophetic function. Being bold, courageous and true disciples points the way that others may follow – becoming missional communities affords that possibility. Thirdly, the Gospel of love and truth needs new forms of expression within a plethora of ideologies and worldviews. We stand at the crossroads where our legitimacy and message is questioned and critiqued as never before. Postmodernity asserts that we no longer hold to a meta-narrative of the Truth, but that we must mutually tolerate each and everyone’s truths. Secularism, consumerism, pluralism and multiculturalism make for a lively context in which to live and breathe – our voice is one of many, but our actions can be unique. So, a long hard look at our context and awareness of these three key issues which face our nation today, is a good starting point for taking a reality-check and beginning the process of equipping the church for mission.

This is the first dimension for equipping the church for mission – contextual awareness

Parts 2 and 3 to follow shortly…

Churches and Sustainable Communities conference (part 2)

Here’s is part 2 of Richard’s week-long blog posts on the JRI/Redcliffe environment day conference last Saturday – an excellent summary of Tim Gorringe’s thought-provoking and stimulating talk.

Bread ovens and bicycles

Yesterday I began a mini-series of blog posts reflecting on a conference I went to at the weekend exploring the role of Churches in developing sustainable communities and today I will continue by reflecting on the second session on the subject of “Community, Church and Transition”.

Transition

One of the biggest movements in sustainability at the moment is the Transition Network which is a network of villages, towns and cities around the world, all trying to increase their community resilience.  This involves recognising that fossil fuels are going to continue to get more and more expensive and that communities of all sizes need to be more resilient against fluctuating oil prices and consequently food prices, resource availability etc.  Although Transition initially began in response to the challenge of Peak Oil (the idea that global oil production has reached its peak and is now declining and any future extraction is going…

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