Day: May 1, 2009

becoming a church of irresistible influence (2)

Step into the shoes of the average non-Christian in your suburb for a moment. Imagine how they’d react if they woke up tomorrow and your church had vanished. Would they feel much do you think? Would they even notice?

The tragic reality is that its very easy for a local church to become a more or less self-sufficient island. Effectively cut off from its community. Doing the odd letter box drop at Easter and Christmas. Maybe turning up on people’s doorsteps occasionally. Or holding a stall at a community festival. But making no significant or lasting impression. And falling far short of Jesus’ insistence that like a city that can’t be hidden because it’s so brightly lit, those in the kingdom will offer impossible-to-ignore testimony to the glory of God by our good deeds.

Rottnest Island, WA (Jan 2009)

Rottnest Island, WA (Jan 2009)

This is deeper than an image problem, isn’t it? It’s a full-blown credibility gap.

The authors of The Church of Irresistible Influence have a simple but profound word for this situation: Start working on bridge building. Don’t just continue to fortify and ‘build up’ the island. Re-establish your credibility by doing good in impossible-to-miss ways.

Of course, bridges cost — both to build and to maintain. And they often bring change. Threatening to disturb our comfortable island lifestyles. But they also offer concrete answers to the biblical challenge: ‘Don’t cut yourselves off from the world (like a sect). And don’t blur the boundaries between church and world so that no difference remains. Instead, be in the world but not of it — for the world’s sake.’

Do you have a sense of what might be different about your church if it was connected to its community by a significant bridge or three? What sort of bridges have you seen or tried to establish?

the enigma of the rich young ruler

In a chapel sermon at College once I heard it suggested that Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler strikes a decisive blow against the New Perspective.


It may just be me but something feels slightly off in claiming that a passage in the Gospels might prove decisive for our reading of Paul (not that it’s impossible of course but it kind of doesn’t sit right).

Nevertheless, assuming that it gives us a genuine insight into at least one eddy within the broad stream of Second Temple Judaism, then the rich young ruler’s opening question — ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ — does raise a question mark about E. P. Sanders’ reconstruction of Christianity’s Jewish background.

That’s part one of the enigma. The second part, however, comes with Jesus’ answer. Get this: When the rich young man asks Jesus what he can do to inherit eternal life, Jesus doesn’t wheel out the ‘do/done’ or the ‘bridge to life’ illustration. In fact, in the terms we’d comfortably reach for, he doesn’t mention grace at all!

Rather, He asks the guy about how his obedience to the law is going (quite well as it turns out). Then He really lays down the gauntlet — and exposes the dark reality of this guy’s heart: ‘One thing you lack. Sell everything and give the money to the poor. Then come, follow me.’

What’s with that? Any ideas?