‘Knowledge of God is not an escape into the safe heights of pure ideas, but an entry into the need of the present world, sharing its suffering, its activity and its hope!’ (Karl Barth)
Allow me to put before you two very different but necessary mission challenges, as we continue to follow Jesus into the world…
1) The Challenge of Our World Ecology…
God is involved with the world he created, and so must we be. We need to appreciate not only God’s transcendence but his immanence.
Evangelical Christians’ neglect of things ecological is notorious. Decades ago I read Francis Schaeffer’s ‘Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian view of Ecology’ (publ. 1970). In it he explained that humankind is separate from nature in that all people were ‘made in God’s image’ (Gen. 1:27), yet people are united to all other creatures as being created. They are interwoven into the web of life, related to and dependent upon every other living member of the ecosystem.
The Bible seems to indicate that the world will end in ‘fire:’ ”But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by (‘dissolved with’/NRSV) fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare … But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:10 & 13/NIV). Closer examination reveals that the word ‘fire’ also means to cauterize or purify. Similarly, the phrase ‘laid bare’ means to be ‘discovered.’ The argument is that the world will be ‘purified’ at the end of the age and ‘discovered’ by those in Christ in a new earth. This interpretation at least makes sense of the Bible’s many hopeful statements about the world’s future, promising the earth’s liberation from bondage (Rom. 8:18-24) and it’s becoming a place where there will be no more mourning or crying or pain, for the first things have passed away (Rev. 21:1-5) (1).
Pauline expert Prof. Tom Wright in his ‘Surprised by Hope’ has written,“When God ‘saves’ in this life, by working through his Spirit to bring them to faith, and by leading them to follow Jesus in discipleship, prayer, holiness, hope and love, such people are designed – it isn’t too strong a word – to be a sign and foretaste of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos. What’s more, such people are not just to be a sign and foretaste of that ultimate ‘salvation’; they are to be part of the means by which God makes this happen in both the present and the future. That is what Paul insists on when he says that the whole creation is waiting with eager longing – not just for its own redemption, its liberation from corruption and decay, but for God’s children to be revealed: i.o.w. for the unveiling of those redeemed humans through whose stewardship, creation will at last be brought back into that wise order for which it was made.”
I wasn’t aware that William Wilberforce, who fought so hard for the abolition of slavery and the protection of children, also helped found the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). If we each learn to ‘do our bit’ in our environment, as a family and faith group, great beauty can be restored to our earth, both now and in the future. What practical steps will you and I take in this regard??
2) The Challenge of the Islamic World… (1 out of every 4 people on earth is Muslim)
The world is still reeling from the Taliban’s recent invasion of Kabul in Afghanistan. CS Lewis wisely said, ‘If we are to convert our neighbours, we must understand their culture!’
For decades there’s been a huge neglect of Muslim evangelism, for different reasons. I was blessed during my formal pastoral days to have an astute missionary to Muslims serving on our eldership-board – he helped us keep in touch with the Islamic world and its needs.
Before we can influence Muslims, there are some huge issues that demand urgent addressing. I refer to a recent article, ‘Learnings From Kabul,’ by Dr. Daniel Shayesteh, a former radical Ayatollah-supporter from N. Iran (2). He writes that the fall of Kabul challenges the Western Church to ‘torrid self-examination.’ We in the West have to grasp that for radical Sunni Muslims, particularly, ‘democracy’ = ‘Christianity’ = licentious moral values. During the same period Islam resumed extremism, Western democracy has been fragmenting and declining in every way. From a nurturing ‘shelter’ for Christian beliefs, standards, attitudes and values, Western societies have increasingly become, not only non-Christian, but anti-Christian and aggressively secular, permissive, even pagan. Repeatedly the Church has flirted with emerging social and moral trends, embracing political correctness and affirmative action. The beautiful Gospel of Jesus has, in many places, been gutted, leaving an empty shell that has no authority to speak into its surrounding culture. Furthermore, many ‘Christians’ have embraced ‘moderate Islam’ through ‘ecumenism’ and ‘multi-faith’ events. Thus we have lost our capacity to discern good from evil, truth from heresy and God’s purposes from the wiles of the devil. ‘Sadly, the church now rarely speaks convincingly into its world. On the contrary, in many places it self-consciously teeters on the edge of extinction.’ How did this happen? According to Shayesteh, like with ancient Israel, it occurred as millions of believers ‘went to sleep at the wheel.’ They accommodated the godlessness of the surrounding nations and ‘did evil in the sight of the Lord.’ “Our world is in crisis because all of us incrementally compromise day in and day out. I find myself doing it. I’m reminded all too frequently of Rom. 12:2: of the world ‘squeezing us,’ molding us into the evils of the culture that surrounds us.” So, are you and I, and our faith-communities, willing to prayerfully repent before the Lord? Only then can we begin to impact our Muslim neighbours evangelistically, even those brought to our very doorstep. God created them in his image and Jesus died for them also, didn’t he!? They desperately need the message of God’s unconditional love in Jesus. (3)
[Keep posted for Pt. 4 of Missio Dei]
(1) Prof. HL Ellison, writing in the late 60’s, comments on 2 Pet. 3: ‘We shall always be plagued by those who insist on finding in Scripture what is not there… So we are told that v. 10 (together with v. 7 & 12) refer to the blowing up of the earth by a nuclear explosion… Such an idea has its place in science fiction but not in sober Biblical exposition. The earth is God’s, and neither Satan nor men can destroy it. What man’s puny A and H bombs have shown is that God can burn up the world by using natural law as easily as He destroyed life on it by water.’ Cf. British scholar Ian Paul’s excellent post ‘Which matters most: sin or climate change?’ (a false dichotomy): https://www.psephizo.com scrutiny
(2) Cf. https://dialogos.co.za/learnings-from-kabul
(3 The story of Nabeel Qureshi makes a brilliant read: ‘Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.’ Cf. The conversion of Al Fadi, Saudi Arabian Wahabbi Muslim and former Jihadist: https://youtu.be/6az_5mGa3QA