Friday, December 23, 2005

2005 Book List

Here are the top 10 books from this years reading list for Steve Cook (in no particular order, and excluding the Bible which is essential reading every year):

  1. The Theology of Paul the Apostle, James D.G. Dunn
  2. Jesus Remembered, James D.G. Dunn
  3. The Jesus Creed, Scott McKnight
  4. The Lost Message of Jesus, Steve Chalke and Alan Mann
  5. Contagious Holiness, Craig L. Blomberg
  6. Planting Churches in Muslim Cities, Greg Livingstone
  7. The Barbarian Way, Erwin McManus
  8. The Conversations of Jesus, Simon Kistemaker
  9. The Bubble Will Burst: Jesus is building something new, David M. Newby
  10. Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, Patrick Holford
and then there were the Inspector Rebus novels by Ian Rankin. I managed to get through 7 this year and am now on my eighth. The best so far was his latest: Fleshmarket Close.

"I will build my church"

Have you ever wondered why Jesus hardly ever talked about "church"? In fact, the word church occurs only twice in the Gospels, both times in Matthew. What Jesus talked about repeatedly was the Kingdom, and it's not until we get to Acts that the word ekklesia/church is used as the usual way to describe the people of God.

I'd like to explore what Jesus meant by "church" when He said "I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18).
  • What exactly did Jesus intend to build?
  • Is this reflected in the way anyone actually does church?
  • Is it reflected in Christadelphian ecclesias?
I may not actually post very much on this over the holidays, but when I do it should also tie in with what I'm posting about the characteristics of Christian leaders (i.e what leadership means in the church Jesus is building) and the earlier posts on the Gospel of the Kingdom and the Lord's table.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Characteristics of Christian leaders (7)

When discussing leadership or eldership the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy invariably come up, and rightly so (and I've already referred to this letter a number of times).

It's important that we look at the BACKGROUND and the CONTEXT of the list of qualifications so we understand the reason for it.

There was obviously a serious problem at Ephesus and Paul was instructing Timothy about his role in solving the problem. The problem centred around some of the leaders and was actually foreseen by Paul years before when he spoke with the elders of the Ephesus church on the beach at Miletus:

"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears." (Acts 20:28-31)

From 1 Timothy we discover certain features of these bad leaders:

  • they were guilty of bad behaviour as well as bad teaching (1:3-7; 6:3-10).
  • the bad behaviour included being argumentative and quarrelsome. They were proud, arrogant and divisive.
  • the false teachers believed they had a superior knowledge of doctrine (6:20-21), but it was not based on an intimate relationship with God.
  • these "knowledgeable" teachers are possibly of the same type as the people "in the know" (gnostics) in Corinth who set about making rules for believers - Judaizers and legalists.
  • money was a major part of the problem (6:5-10). Some people love to have control over church funds, not necessarily because they want to use it to feather their own nest, but for the CONTROL it gives them over other believers.

Timothy is not being instructed in how to appoint leaders. Rather, he is to tell the elders how they SHOULD be behaving! Many of the characteristics Paul describes are in contrast to the bad behaviour of the existing leadership.

This highlights a problem which the church has faced since the start. There have ALWAYS been bad leaders, so we should not be surprised when we are confronted by the same issue today. The challenge for us is how to deal with bad leadership when we recognise it.

Monday, December 19, 2005

An evening with Handel

Last Wednesday evening Stephanie and I attended a performance of Handel's Messiah by the Sydney Philharmonia choir and Sydney Symphony Orchestra in the Sydney Opera House.

Since then I have learned that when Handel composed this work in 1741 he was swimming in debt and it seemed certain that he would land in debtors' prison. On April 8 that year he gave what he considered his farewell concert as he felt forced to retire from public activities at the age of 56, going out only at night so that he could avoid his creditors. However, two things happened that would change his life. He was given a libretto based on the life of Christ by a wealthy friend, Charles Jensen, and he was commissioned by a Dublin charity to compose a work for a benefit performance.

He feverishly set to work, hardly leaving his room and rarely stopping to eat. In 24 days he composed the 260 pages of Messiah. It premiered on April 13, 1742, and raised 400 pounds for the charity and freed 142 men from debtors prison. A year later it was performed in London and attended by the King. As the first notes of Hallelujah Chorus
began the King rose to his feet in honour of his king ("King of kings"), and, following royal protocol, the entire audience stood, initiating a tradition that has lasted for more than two and a half centuries.

Handel went on to become a huge success. He was known for his generosity and concern for the suffering, donating freely to charities even in times when he faced personal financial ruin.

One of the amazing parts of the story is that Handel's greatest work was criticised by church leaders of the day. "Far too repetitive" apparently (I'm told that the word "Hallelujah" occurs more than 60 times in one chorus!) It's a strange irony that the contemporary Christian music criticised by one generation is praised by a subsequent generation as a classic.

You can read more of the story, and about Handel's religious convictions, here.

Intimacy with God - a quote

Erwin Raphael McManus in The Barbarian Way (Nelson Books) has this to say (p.61):

Somehow Christianity has become a nonmystical religion. It's about a reasonable faith. If we believe the right things, then we are orthodox. Frankly whether we ever actually connect to God or experience His undeniable presence has become incidental, if not irrelevant. We have become believers rather than experiencers. To know God in the Scriptures always went beyond information to intimacy. We may find ourselves uncomfortable with this reality, but the faith of the Scriptures is a mystical faith. It leads us beyond the material world into an invisible reality. We become connected to the God of eternity. ... God is Spirit. To walk with God is to journey in the spiritual realm.

What Erwin McManus says about Christianity in general is true also of Christadelphians: "It's about a reasonable faith. If we believe the right things, then we are orthodox. Frankly whether we ever actually connect to God or experience His undeniable presence has become incidental, if not irrelevant." I used to think that one of the best descriptors of the Christadelphian faith was that used as the title of a booklet (published, I think, by CALS or perhaps CMPA) - "A religion that makes sense". The main point of our preaching was that it made sense. We didn't preach in a way which helped people to connect with God, to encounter Him in their daily lives, or to experience the touch of heaven. So long as it made sense it must be true, and ought to be accepted. So we argued and debated and tried to convince people through logic and reasoning that it must be true because it made sense. I discovered that that wasn't enough, and it was the realisation that God was actually listening to my prayers, that Jesus was actually beside me as I went about my life, that the Gospel is real, relevant and life-changing, that friendship - intimacy even - with the Almighty was not only possible but that it is God's desire, that my life took a sudden turn and I set out on a new direction in my spiritual journey. That was over 25 years ago, and life has never been the same! My faith still makes sense (mostly - although there are a lot of things I simply don't fully understand, yet), but it has taken me beyond the merely intellectual and into relationship with God.

Characteristics of Christian Leaders (6)

If we compare the lists of qualifications for elders/overseers in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, we will notice that Paul directs Timothy that an overseer "must not be a recent convert". However, this qualification is missing from Titus 1. Did Paul forget to mention this to Titus? Or, in the new church in Crete where everyone was a recent convert, would this have been an unworkable and impossible restriction?

I believe the absence of this qualification for the Cretan church means that Paul was flexible in how elders/overseers should be appointed. This is a good example of how cultural differences might have been accommodated in the early church. I wonder if Paul had been writing to a church where multiple marriages was normal if he would have insisted that overseers be the husband of one wife, and therefore left them elder-less. Perhaps in a church made up entirely of women married to non-Christian men he might have said the elders should be "faithful to their unbelieving husbands".

So, are the lists in 1 Timothy and Titus meant to be inflexible rules for all churches in all times, or as guidelines for choosing elders/overseers from the most spiritually mature in our communities?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

N.T. Wright in the news

From the Wall Street Journal comes this interesting article by John Wilson (Dec 9, 2005) about the influence of N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, in the ongoing debate about justification.

He writes:
This scholar contends that the leaders of the Protestant Reformation--Martin Luther especially--misread St. Paul on the subject of justification by faith. A self-described Reformed theologian, he proposes nothing less than a reformation of the Reformation, 500 years on--and he does so by appealing to the Reformers' own motto, sola scriptura, "going back to scripture over against all human tradition."
His article concludes with a comment about a shift within the theology of mainstream Christianity:
We may be in the early stages of the most significant internal change in Christianity since the 16th century--an exciting prospect. But Dr. Wright suggests that the key question for interpreters of Paul in the 21st century "may well turn out to be a matter not so much of comprehension," as an onlooker following the intricate debates over justification might suppose, "but of courage"--the courage to live as a follower of Jesus.
I might make some comments of my own later about Dr Wright's enormous contribution to theology, but in the meantime you might be interested in reading some of Edgar Wille's comments on the Truth Alive forum about the Christadelphian doctrine of God Manifestation and its similarities to some new perspectives on Christology and the Trinity, referring especially to some of Dr Wright's writings.

From blogs I read

There is a great story about Albert Einstein and Billy Graham on Ben Witherington's blog - worth a read.

Lukas McKnight (son of Scott, author of The Jesus Creed, etc) has a great comment about tithing our time.

And from Michael Bird's blog I like this line in his profile: "I got saved 2000 years ago, but only heard about it recently."

Characteristics of Christian Leaders (5)

The pastoral letters say elders/overseers should be "able to teach" (1 Tim 3:2; see also 2 Tim 2:24)

Elsewhere Paul emphasises the important role of teachers in the church (e.g. 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11).

In 2 Timothy 2:23-26 he explains what he expects from a teacher:

"Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."

  • About the MANNER of their teaching he emphasises that they must be "gentle", "kind" and "not quarrelsome".
  • About their MESSAGE he says they must believe in and be dependant upon God as the One who grants repentance and leads people to a knowledge of the truth (v. 25). In other words, they must not hope to be able to lead people to "the truth" or to repentance through their own abilities or arguments. They must see themselves as the instruments of God; they must believe that it is God Who LEADS, and Who GRANTS repentance*.
  • About their MOTIVATION he emphasises that their role is redemptive - that is, the teacher can have no other motivation than to be God's instrument in the salvation of those who have fallen into the devil's trap. Their role is not to develop persuasive arguments to be used in cutting people off, or to enforce their own authority. Their sole motivation must be the salvation of all in their care.

Another illustration of how leaders ought to teach is in 2 Tim 2:15 - "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."

The expression translated in the NIV as "correctly handles the word", is translated in the KJV as "rightly dividing the word" . What does Paul mean by "dividing" in this context? The Greek expression literally means "to cut straight" and occurs only here in the NT. It probably is a reference to the terminology used by the Romans to describe their method of "cutting roads". Their practice, which can still be observed throughout parts of the Roman world including Britain, was to take the most direct route possible between two points. Conseqently they would "cut through" mountains and obstacles so that travellers could follow a straight and easy road.

Similarly, teachers should keep their message clear and follow a straight and simple path.

  • They should not use terminology which makes them appear "scholarly" unless it genuinely makes things simpler.
  • They should avoid complex arguments which assume a knowledge many of their listeners will not have.
  • They should avoid going off on tangents which do more to show-off their knowledge than to lead their audience to the right conclusion following the most direct route.

William Barclay made the comment (I've forgotten where) that in the early church a copy of the NT would cost more than a years wages and was out of the reach of most people (and churches). They therefore relied on the teacher to explain things clearly and simply. He made the comment that "we still learn more about Christ from other people than we ever will from books". I know from my own experience that I have learned much more by observing and relating with faithful Christians than I have ever learned from books. That is why Paul puts such an emphasis on the importance of good character as the primary qualifications for leadership in the church.

* Note that repentance is seen by Paul as God's gift - every step in our salvation is the work of God, and we are truly saved by grace. Teachers must believe and teach the gospel of GRACE.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Characteristics of Christian leaders (4)

Most discussion on this subject usually centres on the list of qualifications for elders, overseers and deacons in the Pastoral epistles, and I'd like to return to these lists later, but first, notice that "leadership" is a gift from God.

"We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. " Rom 12:6-8

So before we appoint people to positions of leadership in the church we should be checking if leadership is one of their gifts. We should not be appointing leaders simply because they are available, and we should definitely be cautious of people who desire to lead.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

I just did a quiz called "What's your theological worldview?" - for a bit of fun. My score was a bit surprising, as it tells me I am an "evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition". Surprising because I've only ever been to a Wesleyan/Methodist/Uniting Church once or twice in my life; I've used John Wesley's Notes on the New Testament as a reference occasionally (but not frequently); and I remember being inspired by Howard Snider's biography of "the radical Wesley" years ago, but I've forgotten why; and that's been about my only contact with or influence by Wesleyans or the Holiness movement (unless you count the anabaptist roots of the Christadelphian movement in that - but that's too distant to be relevant really).

It might come as a surprise to some people that this test scores me higher as an Emergent Christian than a Charismatic/Pentecostal.

Well, I wouldn't put too much confidence in it, but do it yourself and tell me what kind of Christian you are - just for fun.

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Neo orthodox


Modern Liberal




Classical Liberal


Reformed Evangelical




Roman Catholic


What's your theological worldview?
created with

Characteristics of Christian leaders (3)


One of the terms used in the New Testament for Christian leaders is episkopos, usually translated “bishop” or “overseer”. It derives from skopos (from which we get words like ‘telescope’) = to look, and translates literally as over-seer. It derives its meaning from the Old Testament seers. “Seer” is a term applied to prophets who could see into the future, or have visions (almost exclusively in Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, e.g 1 Sam 9:9). The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament means “to see, to have vision” and describes the prophets who were able to look into the future.

The root word skopus is used in Phillipians 3:14 of the target or goal or end in view for which we aim.

An episkopus/overseer should be a person with vision and focussed on the goal.

Being a visionary is an important characteristic for a Christian leader. Vision is important for the church because it creates hope and enthusiasm.

Habakkuk 2:2-3 contains these important principles for visionary leaders:

Then the LORD replied:

"Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come and will not delay.

  1. The vision should be written
  2. It should be clear (“make it plain”)
  3. It should be motivating (“so a herald may run with it”)
  4. It should be communicated with an exhortation to patience (it “awaits an appointed time” and may “linger”, but “wait for it”).
  5. It should be communicated with certainty (“it will certainly come”).

In the NT the word episkopos is used of the overseers of the church and of our Lord Jesus (1 Peter 2:25 “the shepherd and overseer of your souls”). This should remind us that “titles” or “offices” in the church are modelled on the example of Christ Himself. Peter links episkopus with a word translated ‘shepherd’ (poimen). This word is translated ‘pastor’ in Eph 4:11 and is also used of the elders in Acts 20:28. Again, this should remind us that essentially the role of elders and overseers is not as masters over the church but rather to care for and nurture the flock, following the supreme example of the Good Shepherd.

It is important to note from 1 Timothy 3:1 that the designation of an “office” in the church moves quickly to the personal qualities needed for it, rather than to the duties of the office.

Characteristics of Christian Leaders (2)

In Romans 12:6-8 Paul lists several "gifts of grace" (Gk charismata - in 1 Cor 12:7-11; 28-30 he uses the term pneumatika and the list is different). They are (from the NIV):

  • prophesying
  • serving
  • teaching
  • encouraging
  • contributing to the needs of others
  • leadership
  • showing mercy

These almost identify personality types insofar as some people seem to be "born leaders" or naturally good at teaching or encouraging. However, we should be careful to note that Paul says these are gifts from God and while they may relate to "natural" strengths or abilities there is nothing "natural" about God's gifts. We tend to find that people will automatically function best in one or two of these areas. It's unlikely that anyone will be good at all of these, or even more than three. Personally I believe that when we surrender our lives to God and submit to the Lordship of Jesus He enables and empowers us to rise to a higher level for His glory, and His gifts of grace turn our "natural" traits into strengths which will help to achieve His purposes.

Hence, while everyone can serve we will find that some people are particularly gifted in this area and we should encourage them to "specialise" in this area in their work for the Lord. I've seen brethren put onto the platform, for example, who would much rather be mowing the lawns. My own late father used to suffer nervous dyspepsia for days whenever he had to speak because it was not his gift and he should never have been rostered on to do it. I've been a member of ecclesias where all the work is apportioned equally: everyone has an equal number of speaking appointments, and are rostered to mow the lawns an equal number of times. This is not God's way. God gives us teachers so they can teach, and the church will come to maturity by hearing our teachers teach rather than by watching them mow lawns (perhaps badly); and the church will come to maturity by letting the servers serve and the encouragers encourage, and by letting the gardeners tend to the gardens. We should keep the teachers out of the garden (unless gardening is their secondary gift) and keep the gardeners off the platform (unless teaching is their secondary gift).

I have found through my own experiences that the church functions better when we identify our members' gifts or strengths, and get them working for the Lord in areas where these strengths are needed. By pushing people into other areas we only create frustration and unnecessary tension, and no one benefits. But by folllowing God's way the whole church benefits.

Characteristics of Christian Leaders (1)

The prerequisite qualification for leadership in the church is servanthood.

" Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:26-28 NIV)

Paul applies this principle to various relationships, especially the husband-wife relationship. He says "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. ... Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:21-25).

We should note from v. 21 that Paul teaches mutual submission, not just the submission of wives to husbands (isn't it strange that many marriage services start the reading at verse 22, not verse 21?). The wife submits to her husband in the same way that the church submits to Christ, and the husband submits to the wife in the same way that Christ served the church to the extent of surrendering His own life for it. In this way the husband demonstrates his leadership by following the example of the Servant-King.

The foundation of authority in Christian relationships is love. The husband does not seek to rule, but to give himself. The leader in the church seeks to serve, not to rule. If the husband does not love his wife and give himself for her, then he has no basis for authority. If the Christian leader does not become the servant of the church, then he has no real authority.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Reading the Word

Scott McKnight (The Jesus Creed) quotes M. Robert Mulholland Jr (Shaped by the Word) to make a helpful distinction between two approaches to reading the Bible: informational, and formational.

The difference has to do with how we read the Bible and why we read the Bible. Either we read the Bible informationally (to learn more) or we read the Bible formationally (to be changed). Robert Mulholland provides a set of comparisons of the two kinds of bible reading that can provide for us a checklist of what we do when we open the Bible.

In Informational reading we:

Cover as much as possible
Read line after line
Have a goal of mastering the text
Treat the text as an object
Read analytically
Solve problems

In Formational reading we:

Cover what we need to
Read for depth, perhaps only a word
Have a goal of being mastered by the text
Treat ourselves as the object of the text
Read receptively
Are open to mystery

His suggestions to read formationally push us away from the desire to know and shift us towards the yearning to become.

Saving truth

I came across this little gem from Charles Schulz earlier today. One thing I have learned over the years is that I have been wrong, more than once, and I expect I'll get some things wrong again.

One of the things I struggled with in my earlier Christadelphian life was the idea that to be "acceptable" to God we had to understand "the Truth" and that understanding some truths was "essential for salvation". Christadelphians have a concept of "saving Truth" - the idea that you cannot be saved if you get some doctrines wrong - and most of the divisions within the Christadelphian community have been over doctrinal issues which, to the outsider, appear to be about trifling details. However, if you believe that a knowledge of the truth is essential for salvation, then defining which truths must be understood in order to be saved becomes a life and death issue. Christadelphians in North America, for example, have been divided for 100 years over details such as whether the dead are raised mortal or immortal. To them, it's not enough to believe in the resurrection - how the dead are raised is an issue of such importance that most Christadelphians in North America won't fellowship or break bread with other Christadelphians who hold an opposing view.

The frightening thing about this is that many Christadelphians live in fear of the fact that because of their faulty understanding of some of the details they may be rejected at the Judgment Seat. (One ecclesia in Australia made a fellowship issue of where this Judgment seat would be - Mt Sinai, or Jerusalem!). It's so important to many Christadelphians to get these details right that error or "wrong doctrine" is often treated as a more serious issue than moral failure, and while "errorists" are disfellowshipped (excommunicated) moral failure is often tolerated (after all, with our sinful human nature sin is inevitable. Ironically, people who believe that sinlessness is theoretically feasible and that sin is not "inevitable" have been disfellowshipped, demonstrating that correct belief is more important than correct conduct).

However, at the foundation of this common belief among Christadelphians that God will only accept people who have first worked out the doctrinal details correctly, is a view of God which is itself perverse. The Bible teaches that we are saved "by grace". There is nothing we can do which will make us deserving of salvation - not even a perfect understanding of "Truth". Salvation is God's gift, and He gives it freely to people who turn to Him. He forgives sin, He overlooks failure, and He ignores ignorance. If God can save murderers, adulterers and thieves, He can save people with dodgy theology.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

God speaks to our hearts (2)

When we are led by the Spirit God sometimes asks us to do 'unpleasant' things - things which are contrary to our natural inclinations. That's one way of testing whether we are really being led 'by the Spirit' or just giving into a natural desire. I can well imagine someone thinking that "God has called me to do missionary work on a tropical island, to give up my life in the rat-race and to witness to people in the sun and surf" and being really convinced that they are "led" by God to do that because the 'call' keeps coming back again and again. However, if we're in a difficult situation, having to tough it out and facing despair, opposition and ridicule, then we may possibly be more inclined to want to ask God to lead us out of that situation when He may, in fact, have been the One Who led us into it.

"Surrendering" to God means doing the tough stuff He calls us to do. It means listening to Him and obeying even when what He calls us to do seems irrational or unpleasant.

I have found, through personal experience, that when I 'surrender' and follow where He leads me - even though it goes against my natural inclination - that ultimately the place to which He leads me is much better than I ever imagined, although the journey there may have some rocky moments. But if I hadn't stepped out in faith and obeyed I would never have known that.

Too many Christians mouth the words "Jesus is Lord" without stopping to think that Lordship means He has total control of our lives - Lordship is not a partnership. He rules - we surrender. But it's in surrendering that we find true freedom.