Living outside of your passport country can often mean that the passport is promoted from an item found on the ‘holiday list’ – “check! it’s in the bag” – to being more like a wallet- it gets carried around all the time. Whether driving across town or driving to the next city, checkpoints may mean showing documents, and often the passport. Why? Well, of course, the authorities need to see that there is a valid visa in the passport. And then you leave the current country and go to another, well another visa is required. Just 10 days this time? Or will it be a full month? Certainly not longer – that’s not possible. The point that I’m trying to make is that passports and, more importantly, visas are part of an everyday reality when living outside of your passport country.

imageSo returning home, even for a short spell, may feel slightly strange. You step off the plane, enter the airport, show your passport and… it will not be stamped – you can stay as long as you want. No need to show it to police at checkpoints. No need to count the days remaining on a visa and make travel plans. A feeling of the possibility of once more being settled and not having to seek permission to settle via the (oftentimes unsettling visa process!) sinks in again. Why? Because of a return to home.

How does this relate to being a ‘citizen of heaven’, as Paul puts it in Philippians 3:20? Being a citizen of heaven, are we expected to feel unsettled in the world and long for the settledness of being with God in … Heaven…? Continue reading

Here’s an amazing quote from an amazing author of an amazing book that I recently rediscovered.  (There’s a free PDF of the first chapter here.)  It sums up perfectly what I’ve tried to articulate (here and here) in the term catholic Composing

.. since none of us can read the Scriptures without cultural blinkers of some sort, the great advantage, the crowning excitement which our own era of Church history has over all others, is the possibility that we may be able to read them together.

Here are two quick reflections on the recent BBC article which asked the question: Is the UK still a Christian country?  Essentially, the author writes about the findings of a Pew report which (rather unsurprisingly) shows that Christianity is in decline in the West but growing in the global South.  Except the author (again, unsurprisingly) focusses on the first part of the trend.

At just over a week old, this article is old news and a lot of discussion has already taken place so I’ll try and keep this concise.

1. A Christian Country…?

In briefly commenting on this article, Eddie Arthur seems a little exasperated… and rightly so:

My problem with the whole thing is that I consider the notion of a “christian Country” to be pretty bonkers to start with. What on earth is a christian country?

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I recently listened to Alistair Begg preach a sermon on Revelation 7 entitled ‘The Multitude and the Mission‘.  I was tremendously encouraged by all that he had to say, but in particular, his focus on the innumerability of the multitude.  We often recite that it was a company ‘that no man can number’ but it seems that we live out a theology that stands in opposition to this.  Alistair really challenged this thinking.  Here’s a quote (emphasis added):

Now, it’s important that we understand it is innumerable because it corrects a kind of faulty thinking.  And the faulty thinking goes along the lines of: God somehow or another is putting together just a very small group of people.  And we’re very pleased about that because we happen to be in it.  And now that we’re in it we’re not really too concerned about anybody who isn’t in it.  And some of you have got yourselves tied up in dreadful knots in the first eight verses of Revelation chapter seven over the question of the 144,000.  Have a great afternoon thinking about that and please do not send me any emails!  My understanding of Revelation seven is that the 144,000 is the company from the perspective of God and [vv.] 9-17 is the same company described from a human perspective which is an innumerable company.  In other words, from God’s perspective the Lord knows them that are His.  There will be no empty seats when He finally puts it all together.  From His perspective it is a perfect number.  From our perceptive it is an unquantifiable number.  And so we are immediately corrected if we are beginning to think at all along the lines of: us four; no more; shut the door.  It corrects that and at the other side encourages us to dream big dreams, to think vast thoughts and to claim the whole world for Jesus Christ.  So as to think in comprehensive terms about the significance of John 3:16.

He repeated this emphasis when talking about how secular America is becoming.  Basically, what should the Christian response be when society shows no signs of bowing before Christ:

What are we going to do?  Well somebody says, ‘I think what we’ve got to do is just retreat.  Pull up the drawbridge and sing some songs to each other.  Let’s all sing Christian songs.  We don’t need to worry about it – those poor people out there on the other side of the moat’.  We can’t do that.  Or why don’t we go down and remonstrate with them, give them a bad time.  Tell them, ‘I can’t believe you people say these things and believe these things,’ and we’ll just tell them what a bad group they are.  We can’t do that either.  No, what do we have to do?  Well we have to remind ourselves that God has purposed to save all who believe.  That God really loves saving people.  That’s why it says it says the ‘stars’ that’s why it says the ‘sand’ [e.g. Gen. 15:5].  So that we would say, ‘well you can’t count the sand?!’  No, and you can’t count the stars.  No.  That’s what He’s doing.  So we remind ourselves: ‘God, you are planning on saving an innumerable company of people, therefore I renew my commitment to seeing unbelieving people become the committed followers of Jesus Christ.’

‘Calvinism IS the Gospel’.  So said a good friend of mine in an ‘end-of-conversation’ tone as our discussion was winding up.  He was echoing the words of Baptist preacher C. H. Spurgeon:

I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.

I enjoyed my friend’s quotation, remembering the time when I would have affirmed this 100%.  Now that I try to view things through the wider perspective of the Worldwide Church (which this blog attempts to do) this quote seems very narrow and domineering!   Continue reading

IMB worker Chandler Snyder has written a practical little piece over at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary blog.  It briefly summarises three points of what he had ‘learned in the halls of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’ and their importance in a cross-cultural context:

  1. Learn what you can… and then learn some more
  2. Challenging the culture with the gospel
  3. Leave no one behind

Thinking about these, I particularly appreciated his insightful third point which touches on the dangers of language learning as a family:

As both spouses jump into life and learning, it is easy to become disconnected and disjointed in life. This time of transition is incredibly delicate because the work, as essential and important as it is, can never take the place of your wife and children.

His first point about the never-ending learning process is, as he admits, pretty obvious (but still pretty important!):

Humility must define the heart of the learning missionary. If it does not, then learning will cease. And if learning ceases, then finding ways to speak gospel truth into the hearts and lives of those you are attempting to reach ceases.

The point that I found most interesting, however, was the second. Continue reading

In an interesting piece concerning a proposed anti-conversion law in India, Saurav Datta briefly reflects on the less-than ‘salubrious’ overlap between Christian mission and British colonialism in India.  It is an interesting and balanced appraisal from an Indian secularist perspective.  Here is one specific highlight:

It would be downright specious, even dishonest, to claim that missionaries and proselytisers’ activities in India had nothing but a salubrious effect. Historical records bear ample testimony to the rigorous implementation of St Caprion’s [sic.] axiom – “extra ecclessium nulla salus” (outside the Church, no salvation), even by the proverbial fire and sword, especially by explorer-cum-conquistadors like Vasco da Gama, the tales of whose brutalities in enforcing a harvest of faith in the erstwhile Portuguese-controlled state of Goa are legion. 

Active proselytisation was an integral part of the colonial project; indeed, as historian Ranajit Guha states, “the Bible and the toothbrush were one of the main instruments of the British colonialists”. 

This reveals that the missionaries did bring “material” gifts to the native population – especially western medicine and hygiene. But these benefits aside, there was another more substantive reason why many Indians, especially the Dalits (Untouchables) and tribals embraced Christianity, and even Islam. 

Both these religions liberate them, or at least hold out the promise of unshackling them from the pernicious burden of the caste-system which is so deeply entrenched in Hinduism.

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[A]s Christian faith is about translation, it is about conversion… the translated element from the source language has also, in a new sense, been expanded by translation; the receptor language has a dynamic of its own and takes the material to realms it never touched in the source language.  Similarly, conversion implies the use of existing structures, the ‘turning’ of those structures to new directions, and application of new material and structures to a system of thought and conduct already in place and functioning.  It is not about substitution, the replacement of something old by something new, but about transformation…

I love this quote from Andrew Walls‘ book The Missionary Movement in Christian History: studies in the transmission of faith (1996, p. 28).  It resonates with what ‘catholic Composition’ is all about – Christianities (to use Phan’s term) from every culture conversing with one another and critiquing each other’s perspectives of the Bible to gain a fuller and deeper understanding of God.

What I find particularly exciting about Walls’ comment is that this task is ever on-going.  As translations of the Bible take place – and the theologies that then develop from the translations – ‘the receptor language… takes the material to realms it never touched in the source language’.  We ought to always be on the lookout to learn from Christians in other cultures who converse with God in a language other than ours. Continue reading

The call of God can be lost in the counsel of people.  Be careful who you take counsel from as I can be fairly sure that they will not counsel you to go beyond what they would do themselves.  Have they counted the cost?

This was from a sermon in which the speaker outlined some of the barriers he had experienced in attempting to follow God’s calling into a cross-cultural context.  This is insightful, searching and very helpful.

In amongst all the solemn commemorations of the First World War in this, the centenary year since its outbreak, one recent article really sticks out.  Instead of focussing on the outbreak of the war it focuses on the outcome; rather than the courage of the allies it focuses on the colonial carving-up of the Middle East.  Nashashibi’s article Balfour: Britain’s Original Sin is written to critically commemorate the 97th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration which would lead to the creation of the State of Israel in the post-war redrawing of the Middle East.

That Britain ineptly handled this issue is vividly documented by Eugene Rogan in The Arabs: a history:

The Jews of Palestine declared their statehood on May 14, 1948, and would henceforth be known as Israelis.  The defeated Arabs had no state to dignity their Palestinian identity… On May 14, as they had promised, the British played the ‘Last Post’, took down their flag, and boarded ship, turning their back on the disaster they had made of Palestine (p. 330, my emphasis).

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