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Did Jesus and Paul avoid conflict?
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Do Jesus and Paul avoid conflict?

In a previous blog post, I suggested that sometimes Christians need to argue. In fact, I believe healthy teams must have productive and passionate debate about important issues. We will lose much if avoid engaging in them. But I also noted that Christian unity is very important to Jesus, and in fact is taught throughout the New Testament. So does our commitment to keeping the unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:3) restrain us in participating in these types of arguments? Let’s look at both Jesus and Paul and their posture toward arguments.

Jesus does not avoid arguments

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we often find him in debate with the religious leaders of the day (e.g. Mk 8:11, 12:28). Generally, these debates were initiated by the Pharisees as they sought to trip up this young, popular teacher who was threatening their power base. But Jesus does not steer clear of controversial subjects or refuse to answer their provocative questions.

Nevertheless, when he overhears his disciples arguing about who was the greatest (Mk 9:33-34, Luk 9:46), he puts a stop to it. These were not productive debates, and reflected a completely wrong idea of what leadership entailed.

Jesus joins an argument

But I would have thought that after the dramatic events of the cross and the resurrection, Jesus would be done with the rough-and-tumble of debate and argument. Somehow I imagined that in his resurrected glory, he would not want to have anything to do with them. Then I read Luke 24. I see that in Luke, Jesus’ first resurrection appearance is to join an argument between two disciples.

young pastor being ordained
Photo by Marc Scaturro on Unsplash

Follow-up: Understanding Authentic Christian Ministry

As we saw in an earlier post, the Corinthians needed to learn to keep culture in perspective. This was especially true in their understanding of leadership and Christian ministry. The leadership values of the culture were exploited by Paul’s opponents, causing some in Corinth to question Paul’s credentials. George Guthrie observes,

In short, in the apostle’s seeming humility (even humiliation 12:21), his taking on the role of a servant, his rejection of patronage and the concomitant rejection of financial gain, and his refusal to advance his status by use of rhetorical skills, he stood in violation of key leadership values and principles embedded in the Corinthian culture. The apostle, on the other hand, presents to the Corinthians an alternative; a theocentric and biblical vision of authentic leadership. 1George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2015, p17.

While not all cultural leadership values will conflict with authentic Christian ministry, they will need to be compatible with the message of Christ crucified. We, like Paul, need to model and teach authentic Christian ministry so that the leadership of the churches we plant reflects the cross in their ministry. I observe seven key characteristics of authentic Christian ministry in 2 Corinthians.

Which hills to die on

Theological Triage: Which theological issues are worth fighting for?

The term “Theological Triage” was introduced in 2005 by Albert Mohler1A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity. Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage (The Gospel Coalition) by [Gavin Ortlund, D. A. Carson]It is a “system of prioritization”2Gavin Ortland, Finding the Right Hills to Die On: the Case for Theological Triage, 2020 . Since I have spent most of my life in theological education, on one side of the desk or the other, this is an important issue for me. Distinguishing the relative importance of theological issues has been a very practical task in navigating relationships with others in ministry. Furthermore, the metaphor of triage resonates from the time I spent serving as a volunteer EMT for many years. So, when the Gospel Coalition published Finding the Right Hills to Die On: the Case for Theological Triage by Gavin Ortland earlier this year, I added it to my reading list. Though the book does not directly address missiological issues, its relevance to cross-cultural workers is underscored by the cross-cultural examples mentioned by D. A. Carson in the preface.3Ortland, 11-14.

Four categories

In the Introduction, Ortland spells out the categories of his fourfold ranking for theological triage:

  • First-rank doctrines are essential to the gospel itself.
  • Second-rank doctrines are urgent for the health and practice of the church such that they frequently cause Christians to separate at the level of local church, denomination, and/or ministry.
  • Third-rank doctrines are important to Christian theology, but not enough to justify separation or division among Christians.
  • Fourth-rank doctrines are unimportant to our gospel witness and ministry collaboration. 4Ortland, 19.

Why Theological Triage?

The book is divided into two parts: 1. Why Theological Triage? (chapters 1-3) and 2. Theological Triage At Work (chapters 4-6). The first two chapters address the danger of doctrinal sectarianism and doctrinal minimalism respectively. We tend to two extremes: every issue is a hill to die on or nothing is worth fighting for. He urges us to find our identity in the gospel, not our theological positions, hence the need for theological triage. 5Ortland, 42. Second-rank and third-rank doctrines preserve, picture, protect, and pertain to the gospel.6Ortland, 57.

Keep the Cross Central

Follow-up: Keep the Cross Central

In surveying Paul’s letters to churches he planted, I have been pointing out lessons we can learn about following up with churches we have planted. In studying 1 Corinthians, we see two primary concerns that Paul sought to clarify and correct. The first is the need to keep the cross central and is the focus of this post. The second is the place of culture in Christian proclamation and life and will be the subject of the next post.

The cross was central to his message

Paul summarized his message as “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). As he said just a few verses earlier (1 Cor. 1:17), it is the power of the cross that is central to the Christian message. The word of the cross is the power of God that saves us (1 Cor. 1:18). This message that Jesus Christ was crucified distinguishes Christianity from Judaism and all other religions. In writing about the uniqueness of the gospel message, Leon Morris notes,

It was the place of Jesus that made the difference. To see him as Messiah was to put everything in a new perspective. Not only did the Christians see him as Messiah, but as the crucified Messiah. For them the central thing was the cross, so that Paul could sum up the message he proclaimed in the words, ‘we preach Christ crucified’ (1 Cor. 1:23). Whatever subordinate and incidental issues were involved, the essential difference between Judaism and Christianity was the cross (for that matter it is the cross that is the difference between every other religion and Christianity). 1Leon Morris, The Atonement: Its meaning and Significance, p. 11.

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.

Book Review: Against the Darkness

How long has it been since you read a theology book? I lament that reading theology does not appear to be a priority among missionaries. In Mere Christianity, C .S. Lewis comments on the importance of theology and doctrine:

 . . . if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayer and religious reading and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who have lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?

Mere Christianity, Kindle loc. 1601.

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Gifting

It happens every year: the gift that no one else wants finds its way under my Christmas tree. One year it was an electric hot dog cooker. The contraption had twelve metal prongs that sent electricity through the meat—I felt like Dr. Frankenstein every time I plugged it in. Another year I received a box of homemade cookies regifted to me because the original recipient thought the treats “tasted like smoke.” They did.  And who hasn’t received a perfect candidate for an ugly sweater contest? Confession: I’m sure I’ve given a few poorly chosen sweaters, too.

These experiences, along with the commercialization of Christmas, sometimes make me want to give up gift giving altogether. I wonder how all this madness celebrates Christ. It’s so easy to forget the real reason for the season in the rush to get the best bargain online or at the mall. Is it possible to find the Savior somewhere in the mix of shopping, wrapping, and exchanging presents? Would it be better to eliminate the tradition in order to focus on Jesus? In my search for answers, I decided to turn to the Christmas story for insight. I was surprised to discover how much gifting occurs there.

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