April 2010


Last week, the Redeemer community had the opportunity to hear NT Wright, Bishop of Durham, speak on Christian Character. I found him to be both extremely learned (which was not surprising) and yet very down to earth (which was on the other hand, refreshingly surprising). He focused on Christian virtues suggesting that courage is demonstrated by having made a deliberate and intentional decision to do that which is right in 1,000 situations, so that by the 1001st time, once character is formed, we act instinctively and without hesitation.  As in the case of Sully Sulenberger who successfully guided a jet to land on the Hudson without the loss of life.  Due to his many years of  flying, he made the right call in that sliver of 90 crucial seconds.

Wright also challenged us to think about something he heard as a young man that all the fruits of the spirit can be found in counterfeit form in happy, healthy people: ponder that for a moment.  Except self-control.  Now ponder that a little longer.  The truth of this statement of course makes his point, that these are not fruits at all, but aspects of one fruit, led by and nurtured by the Holy Spirit.   You get them all or you don’t get any of them.  A sobering reminder.

My favorite part of the talk was the gospel according to a London cabbie. Wright was taking in a cab in London recently, dressed in his royal purple Bishop’s robes.  The cabbie noticed and asked him if he were a Catholic.  “Actually a Bishop,” he replied, “in the Church of England”.    To this the cabbie commented, “You’ve been taking a lot of heat lately haven’t you?” to which Wright responded ‘Yes”.  The cabbie was unfazed:  “As far as I’m concerned, if God raised Jesus from the dead, the rest is rock ‘n roll. ”

By George, I think he’s onto something.

So if you want to be really challenged to think about what it would mean to apply the gospel of Jesus to Western culture, I would suggest you plow through Leslie Newbigin’s provocative book, Foolishness to the Greeks. Based on a series of lectures he gave at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1984, it is nothing less than brilliant! But also challenging, convicting, enlightening (no pun intended!), layered,incredibly insightful, and definitely a call to action.

Among other things, he exposes and critiques the influence of the beliefs and values of the Enlightenment on contemporary society. One key one is the idea of the importance of a maintaining a dichotomy between the public and private spheres, between “values” and “facts”. This false dichotomy relegates religious views to the private sphere of values (“what you believe is your own business”), out of public debate, discourse or as a matter of influence in which “facts” hold force.  However, as human beings, we are a unity, the same person in our most private prayers and in our most public facts, so as believers, we must wrestle with how to practically live out of this single identity, created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Newbigin who is no longer with us (1909 – 1998) was uniquely placed to write such a book. He served as a missionary to India as a village evangelist for many years and was eventually made a Bishop in the Church of South India. He subsequently led a church in the UK for a time and served in a leadership position in the World Council of Churches.

This book is definitely heavy going, so I would recommend you read it as a book club, perhaps a chapter at a time, with some good friends, and give yourselves sufficient time to digest it.   We just finished reading it as a team of directors and interns with Rev. Abe facilitating and it was indeed a rich experience.

It is well worth the effort!

Today is Maundy Thursday, which Christians the world over call the day before Jesus was crucified.   The night when he washed his disciples’ feet; the night when he gave them his most personal of sermons; an extended tribute to his Father; a summing up of his calling here on earth.  The word “maundy” is from the Latin mandatum which means “love one another”.  So it’s a day in which we are mandated, or commanded, to be a people who love each other (as Christ has loved us).  And what better demonstration of his love in action than for Christ to bear the magnitude and weight of our collective sin, to be wrongly accused, and give up his life, for us.

On his final night with his disciples, in John 13-17, we have some of the most profound glimpses into Jesus’ mission and his relationship to his Father.  And then when a group of soliders come for him once he’s at Gethsemane with his disciples, a place Jesus frequented with them often, I find this exchange so convicting. 

John 18:4 tells us that “Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ ”  And when they confirmed it was Jesus, he simply responded, “I AM He.”  In the original Greek, it is simply “I AM”.   He repeats this, and asks again “Who is it that you want?” When they  again say that its Jesus of Nazareth, he again confirms unequivocally, “I told you that I am he.  If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”

And so as the crescendo leading to the Cross – and subsequent Resurrection – sounds louder and louder, Jesus is asking all of us that question:  Who is it that YOU want?

Is it really him that we want or are we content to settle for lesser things: careers, money, success, a spouse, children, comfort, security etc?

What he offers us is the humble gift of himself, freeing us to truly let go of all those other (men and) things that we (think )we want.

This Easter, can we truly acknowledge that HE is who we want (and need)?