Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy

The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God's Mercy by [Timothy Keller]

Like the two brothers of the parable

Many are familiar with Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, published in 2008. In that book, Keller highlighted the grace of God portrayed in the parable of the prodigal son. Similarly, in a more recent book, The Prodigal Prophet, he shows how the story of Jonah gives us an Old Testament illustration of that parable. He writes in the Introduction,

Many students of the book have noticed that in the first half Jonah plays the “prodigal son” of Jesus’s famous parable (Luke 15:11-34), who ran from his father. In the second half of the book, however, Jonah is like the “older brother” (Luke 15:25-32), who obeys his father but berates him for his graciousness to repentant sinners.1Timothy Keller, The Prodigal Prophet, 6.

In the Introduction, Keller outlines how the book of Jonah portrays the Prophet’s disobedience (chapters 1 & 2) and then his reluctant obedience (chapters 3 & 4) in a parallel fashion. Jonah’s main theological problem is understanding how God can be both merciful and just. Keller writes,

The question is not answered in the book of Jonah. As part of the entire Bible, however, the book of Jonah is like a chapter that drives the Scripture’s overall plotline forward. It teaches us to look ahead to see how God saved the world through the one who called himself the ultimate Jonah (Matthew 12:41) so that he could be both just and the justifier of those who believe (Romans 3:26). Only when we readers fully grasp this gospel will we be neither cruel exploiters like the Ninevites nor Pharisaical believers like Jonah, but rather Spirit-changed, Christ-like women and men. 2Keller, 5.

keep culture in perspective

Follow-up: Keep Culture in Perspective

Culture is high on the list of mission topics. For example, many colleges and seminaries have renamed their “Mission” departments as “Inter-cultural” departments or something similar. Certainly, cultural studies are essential for anyone proclaiming the gospel to people from other people groups. But we must keep culture in perspective. In 1 Corinthians Paul provides a perspective that both confronts and adapts to culture. Culture does not form the content of the gospel yet it is the context in which the gospel is proclaimed, understood, and lived.

Culture is not the source of saving knowledge of God

First of all, Paul announces that the wisdom of the world, which is part of culture, does not bring us a saving knowledge of God (1 Cor. 1:18-21). Knowing God depends on God’s revelation (1 Cor. 2:10-13), not on human wisdom. However, the wisdom of this world clearly impressed the Corinthian believers. So Paul makes it clear that the message of the cross eliminates any human boasting in God’s presence (1 Cor. 26-31). God’s wisdom, the message of the cross, has been revealed by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10). Ciampa and Rosner comment on the source of God’s wisdom:

In 2:8-12 Paul discusses the revelation of the wisdom that came to the apostles and prophets through the Holy Spirit. Negatively, it was not known (perceived or grasped) by the rulers of this age (2:8-9). Positively, it was revealed by God through the Spirit to the apostles and prophets who received the Spirit of God (2:10-12). 1Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 127.

In the New Testament, we have what the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles. Culture does not provide the content of the gospel. Scripture does.

Follow-up of church plants

Follow-up: Making sure they get the Gospel right

As I said in a previous blog post, follow-up is an important aspect of the missionary task — not just follow-up with individual new believers, but follow-up with churches that have been planted. I want to look at several of Paul’s epistles to see how Paul did this follow-up for churches he planted.

Galatians provides us with an example of the need for church-planting follow-up, as well as a model of how to do it. Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia was probably written about a year after he and Barnabas planted those churches on their first missionary journey in Acts 13 and 14.  Elders had already been appointed (Acts 14:21-23). The disciples had been filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52). Yet, a year later the purity of the gospel was under attack.

Do the Work of an Evangelist

In Paul’s final charge to Timothy, he instructs him to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). The word “evangelist” only occurs three times in the New Testament: Acts 21:8 as a description of Philip, Ephesians 4:11 as one of the gifts to the church, and here in 2 Timothy 4:5. There is not enough data to conclude that there was a distinct office of evangelist in the New Testament. What is clear, though, is that the evangelist proclaimed the gospel. “Evangel” represents the Greek word for gospel. Speaking and living out the gospel was essential to Timothy’s and to our ministry.

In a 1992 article in Evangelical Quarterly, Alastair Campbell explores the meaning of “doing the work of an evangelist.” He examines each of the passages above. He notes that in each case the evangelist explained the Scriptures. Philip explained Isaiah 53 to the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). The evangelist in Ephesians 4:11 is one of the gifts to the church for equipping, building up the body of Christ towards maturity. In 2 Timothy 4:5 the work of an evangelist is mentioned in the context of Paul’s charge to Timothy to preach the word. Campbell concludes his study:

Suffering for the Gospel without Shame

Most people want to avoid suffering. Yet, in this fallen world it is a reality of life. Suffering is a significant theme in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Commentator, William Mounce, writes, “the theme of suffering ties almost all of the epistle together” (Pastoral Epistles, 474). Each chapter of the letter has something to say about suffering. The suffering Paul writes about is suffering for the gospel associated with persecution.

Shame is often associated with suffering, but Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed when suffering for the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8). How is it possible to suffer for the gospel without shame? It is by the power of God. Timothy’s sincere faith (2 Tim. 1:5) together with fanning into flame his spiritual gift (1:6) empowers him to not be ashamed. God has given us “a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (1:7). Timothy can suffer for the gospel without shame because God’s power is displayed in the gospel. Paul writes to Timothy:

Behavior in the Household of God

In my last post in this series on the letters to Timothy and Titus, the focus was on Paul’s description of the church as the household of God. Paul’s description keeps the relational dynamics of a household together with standing firm for the truth of the gospel. Paul is writing to Timothy to inform him how Christians should conduct themselves in God’s household. In this post, I will focus on behavior in the household of God.

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth. (1 Timothy 3:14,15 ESV)

Book Review: Prepared by Grace, for Grace.

INTRODUCTION:

Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Way of Leading Sinners to Christ by [Beeke, Joel R., Smalley, Paul M.]

Historical theology does not often get a place at the table in missiological discussions. Its neglect can leave us at the mercy of current thinking and trends. Reading theologians from other eras guards us against our blind spots. Other eras have their blind spots too but they are usually different than ours. Historical theology is a safeguard against cultural bias. The book that I was asked to review looks at the Puritans, whose works I have spent a lot of time reading.

Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley have written a book titled, Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013). The volume deals with an issue central to missiology. The authors write in the introduction:

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