Archive for January, 2011

The Church Needs to Get Scandalised!

Posted in Church, Reconciliation with tags , , , , , , on January 24, 2011 by stephengardner

One thing that will sell a newspaper is a scandal. One thing that will sell a newspaper and incite mobs of angry people is a scandal within the church. However, Miroslav Volf, in his book, Exclusion and Embrace,  argues that the Christian community needs to a scandalous one. A community that is willing to get scandalised because that is exactly what God has experienced in event of the gospel:

At its core, however, the scandal of the cross in a world of violence is not the danger associated with self-donation. Jesus’ greatest agony was not that he suffered. Suffering can be endured, even embraced, if it brings desired fruit, as the experience of giving birth illustrates. What turned the pain of suffering into agony was the abandonment; Jesus was abandoned by the people who trusted in him and by the God in whom he trusted. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15.34). My God, my God, why did my radical obedience to your way lead to the pain and disgrace of the cross? The ultimate scandal of the cross is the all too frequent failure of self-donation to bear positive fruit: you give yourself for the other – and violence does not stop but destroys you; you sacrifice your life – and stabilize the power of the perpetrator. Though self-donation often issues in the joy of reciprocity, it must reckon with the pain of failure and violence. When violence strikes, the very act of self-donation becomes a cry before the dark face of God. This dark face confronting the act of self-donation is a scandal. (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 26)

Volf goes on to say that ‘there is no genuinely Christian way around the scandal’ (26). Volf explores such practices of self-donation in the political sphere but his challenge, I think, is just as valid for the way our church communities relate to one another.  Getting scandalised, in this sense, is a non-negoitable for our churches. He goes on to write:

the only available options are either to reject the cross and with it the core of the Christian faith or to take one’s cross, follow the Crucified – and be scandalized ever anew by the challenge. (26)

I love it when different thoughts from different books collide. I find Volf’s challenge resonates deeply with much of the work of the brilliant Christian psychologist Larry Crabb. When it comes to thinking through how the Christian life should be expressed in relationship with others, there is no one sharper than Crabb. In his book Encouragement, he argues that too often we are motivated by fear to serve others, or that we hold back from serving because we are self-protective and anxious that we must first have our need for encouragement met by others before we can give of ourselves, or ‘self-donate’ as Volf would say.

What radical a call the cross makes on our communities, and yet isn’t it odd how few of our churches come close to resembling  such radicalness. Imagine the difference it would make if we actually believed that our security and significance was found in Jesus Christ alone.


A warning to preachers

Posted in Church, Leadership with tags , , on January 18, 2011 by stephengardner

I believe that one of our big weaknesses is in what is called ‘application’ in imparting God’s Word. I don’t mean a personal appeal tacked on to the end of a sermon. I mean an awareness on the part of the speaker of the condition of the audience, and the addressing of his utterance to that particular condition. Or to put it in more personal terms: a knowledge of the people on the part of the person who speaks…The personal relation between pastor and people, between friend and friend, is absolutely integral to effectual imparting of God’s Word…Yet a chief defect of modern preaching is that it is so often fundamentally impersonal: no amount of earnestness, or desire to get decisions, or shouting, or belabouring the audience, or tricks of rhetoric, or even conversational tone, will make up for a lack of awareness on the speakers part of just who he is talking to, and what their spiritual condition is in the actuality of their daily lives, and what they are likely to make of what he says. Nor will it make up for, above all, a lack of love for them which, even while he knows himself to be the messenger of the Lord, constrains him to be their servant, and to frame him message in such a way as fits their need rather than his own.

D.W.B. Robinson, ‘The Theology of the Preached Word’ in Donald Robinson Selected Works: Volume 2 – Preaching God’s Word. p146-147