John Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: Wrapping Up, Part 2

endangered gospelSo I’m struggling with this concept of the Kingdom as a preview of heaven. I mean, it’s not mainly about the assembly — right? It’s not about whether we can achieve a phenomenal emotional high on Sunday morning — not that that would be a bad thing. But we can’t let the assembly substitute for a community shaped like the cross.

So how does a local congregation become a community? I mean, what draws a few hundred people together into a spiritual community? How does that happen?

Well, I’m no sociologist or anthropologist, but I think the answer is shared passion and shared experiences.

I mean, I’m an Alabama football fan. I go to many of the games. I watch them all. And so that makes me a part of the “Bama Nation” (even though I’m not a fan of the term since it started with, I think, Florida and “Gator Nation”). Continue reading

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John Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: Wrapping Up, Part 1

endangered gospelSo I find myself somewhere in between Nugent, Thompson, N. T. Wright, Christopher Wright, McKnight, Hunter, Hauerwas,  Yoder, etc. I find much of great value in what they teach, but the truth, I think, is somewhere in between. (Scot McKnight is probably closest to my thinking.)

I agree with Thompson and Nugent that the early church was not focused on evangelism. The heart of Christianity might be found in the Great Commission, but it’s more the part about making disciples. And as I love to quote Ray Vander Laan saying, a “disciple” is a follower of a rabbi who wants more than anything to be just like his rabbi.

The goal of converting the lost isn’t to create a new evangelist (as great as that would be) but to create a new follower of Jesus — a disciple. And followers of Jesus do evangelism, but evangelism is not their beginning or their sole focus.

I also agree with Thompson and Nugent that the early church was not focused on benevolence and social justice — although these were not foreign concepts by any means. They began by seeking to be faithful — that is, obedient to God’s commands. But, of course, obedience is really a poor substitute for regeneration and transformation by the Spirit. And the early church was all about being led by the Spirit to be transformed into the image of God found in Jesus.

Hence, the first mission of each Christian and each congregation is to become like Jesus, to follow Jesus, to be a disciple of Jesus, to have faith in Jesus (which includes trust and faithfulness). The first thing — the most  important thing — is not what you do but who you become. And the heart of Christianity is becoming like Jesus. Continue reading

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John Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: N. T. Wright’s Perspective, Part 2

endangered gospelWright argues that New Heaven and New Earth (NHNE) theology leads to the conclusion that every good and holy thing we do will survive into the next age. If I were to write a beautiful poem in praise of God, somehow that poem would survive the destructive fires that purge the world of all that is unworthy of God and be even improved — redeemed — to be a part of the world made new by God.

And that may be true. I just can’t find biblical support for that position. And having read too many bad Christian poems, I’m not going to miss the doggerel.

(As powerful as God is, I have trouble imagining even the Maker of the Universe redeeming some Christian poetry. I still have nightmares from a certain Advent “poem” we read about 50 times in my church. But maybe God needs to redeem my distaste for bad poetry. It’s my own fault, I’m sure. Really.)

So let’s start in 2 Pet 3 —

(2 Pet. 3:9-12 ESV)  9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.  11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,  12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!

Amazing! Peter says we can hasten the Second Coming! How? Well, why is the Second Coming being delayed? So that “all should come to repentance.” God is delaying the return of Jesus to give more people time to repent. So it would seem that we hasten the return of Jesus by bringing more people to repentance. Evangelism and missions will hasten the return of Jesus. Continue reading

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John Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: N. T. Wright’s Perspective, Part 1

endangered gospelNugent’s perspective is different from N. T. Wright’s. Wright’s perspective is important because it has influenced so many theologians and teachers — myself included. I’ve expressed some doubts about Wright’s thinking in the past, and so maybe this will be a good opportunity to sort through the question in more detail.

The point of this final section of the book is that a proper grasp of the (surprising) future hope which is held out to us in Jesus Christ leads directly and, to many people, equally surprisingly, to a vision of the present hope which is the basis of all Christian mission. To hope for a better future in this world—for the poor, the sick, the lonely and depressed, for the slaves, the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, and in fact for the whole wide, wonderful and wounded world—is not something else, something extra, something tacked on to ‘the gospel’ as an afterthought. And to work for that intermediate hope, the surprising hope that comes forward from God’s ultimate future into God’s urgent present, is not a distraction from the task of ‘mission’ and ‘evangelism’ in the present. It is a central, essential, vital and life-giving part of it.

So Wright sees benevolence and social justice efforts as central to the gospel because of his understanding of the new heavens and new earth. Continue reading

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John Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: Being the Church

endangered gospelSo I find Nugent’s theology of the powers helpful and more detailed and more deeply rooted in the scriptures than Yoder’s — not that Yoder is wrong, but Nugent has helpfully deepened the teaching.

And like Hauerwas, Nugent argues that the task of the church is to truly be the church. Which requires some unpacking, and he works hard to explain how he sees Christian and church life in light of his studies.

But I don’t think he quite ever hits the nail on the head. I mean, he says many good things I agree with, but as is true when I read Yoder and Hauerwas, I find myself thinking that they never quite articulate the ultimate, real point.

To me, the point is this: the church’s foremost task is spiritual formation for individuals in community. If we skip this step, then we’re just a secular social club or do-gooder organization with a cross hung on it. If our goal is to save the damned or to help the poor and we skip shaping our members into the image of Christ individually and in community, then we’ll fail at every task.

If our members and churches aren’t shaped into crosses, then our evangelistic efforts will feel like pushing rope up a hill. We’ll be constantly chasing the next evangelistic fad, looking for new methods, seeking the key to the hearts of Millennials, or the Y Generation, or whatever — buying lots of books and going to lots of seminars and converting hardly anyone. Sound familiar? Continue reading

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The Afterlife, Lesson 10, Summary and Some Conclusions, Up to Now

heavenhellToday’s lesson is  a little short. Our early service ran late and cut off about 10 minutes of teaching time.  I reviewed and summarized, took some questions, and tried to introduce the next couple of lessons on the impact of all this on mission.

Download here. Lesson 10: “August 14, 2016“.

Right click and select “Save Link As” to download. (If you left click, it will stream.)

Or stream here:

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John Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: The Powers

endangered gospelI know that I’ve left several very important questions unanswered. Before we get there, we need to consider one more of Nugent’s ideas: the significance of the powers to the modern church.

We’ve covered this topic here a couple of times, but it’s one that’s rarely preached or covered in Bible class, although it’s fairly prominent in the NT. For example,

(Eph. 6:11-12 ESV)  11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Paul plainly believes in spiritual rulers, authorities, powers, and forces that are opposed to the gospel. On the other hand,

(Col. 1:15-17 ESV)  15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.  17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

While the powers are opposed to the gospel, they are also creations made by Jesus “for him.” They were made to serve Jesus’ own purposes. Therefore, Christians should submit to these authorities — Continue reading

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John Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: The Teachings of Jesus

endangered gospelThe strongest case for charitable work to benefit non-Christians comes from the words of Jesus, but these are often not nearly as non-Christian oriented as we assume. For example, Jesus’ famous Judgment Day description in Matt 25 speaks to caring for the “least of these,” generally assumed to be a reference to the poor regardless of their faith. But the commentators uniformly reach a different conclusion.

(Matt. 25:34-40 ESV)  34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 

Notice that Jesus refers to those who should have been helped in v. 40 as “my brothers.” Fellow sons of God. The NET Bible translator notes state,

… Jesus is ultimately speaking of his “followers” (whether men or women, adults or children), but the familial connotation of “brothers and sisters” is also important to retain here.

Continue reading

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John Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: Over-arching Scriptural Observations

endangered gospelA few observations about the scriptures in support of Nugent’s position:

  • As James W. Thompson argues in his The Church according to Paul: Rediscovering the Community Conformed to Christ, there are surprisingly few admonitions in the NT urging church members to share the gospel with their friends and neighbors. It’s not that the idea is absent, but it’s not central. Rather, both Jesus and Paul spend far, far more of their teaching on how to live together in community as fellow Christians, and they make hardly any effort to urge personal evangelism.
  • In fact, if you look at the passages that clearly stand out as central teachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount and 1 Cor 13, they are plainly about living in community with other believers, not how we deal with the surrounding lost world.
  • Paul’s most theological epistles, Rom, Gal, and Eph, all deal with the relationships of Jews and Gentiles within the community of the saved.
  • The NT’s most prominent work of prophecy, the Revelation, is about how the church endures against opposing forces. Evangelism and benevolence aimed at the lost world are minor themes at best. Faithfulness in community is the emphasis.
  • In Acts, Luke frequently describes the internal life of the newly formed church. Evangelism is a major theme of Acts, as we see the apostles and other missionaries spreading the gospel through gospel proclamation and miracles. But we don’t see the apostles urging the members to invite friends and neighbors. However, it’s clear that they did.
  • In Acts, we do see the early church developing works of internal benevolence: the care of widows, the support for the Jerusalem congregation by other congregations. But we don’t see acts of benevolence targeted to unbelievers, other than miracles performed by apostles and other church leaders to encourage belief in the gospel.
  • In fact, it’s hard to find any NT example of charitable work done by the church for the benefit of unbelievers — other than miracles performed in the service of gospel preaching. The works of charity that are most prominent are internal — especially the care of Christian widows and support for the poor in the Jerusalem church.
  • When the NT writers make lists of Christian virtues, they heavily emphasize the virtues that relate to getting along with each other in Christian community. These lists do not include the virtues of proclaiming the gospel to the lost or doing service for the lost. In fact, when Paul describes the requirements for widows to be supported by the church in 1 Tim 5, he expects widows who will be supported by the church to have washed the feet of the saints — to have done acts of charity for fellow Christians.
  • Jesus’ seminal command for us to “love one another” speaks, of course, of internal care. In fact, Paul explicitly interprets “love your neighbor” to mean “love one another” in Rom 13:8-10. He certainly doesn’t deny that we should love the lost as well, but he plainly puts the emphasis on love for fellow Christians.

Continue reading

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John Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: Introduction

endangered gospelJohn Nugent is professor of Old Testament at Great Lakes Christian College. I would consider him a neo-Anabaptist following in the footsteps of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas.

His new book, Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church argues for a view of the Kingdom similar to that taken by Scot McKnight in Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church and James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World

It’s a an easy read and very persuasive. Nugent makes some arguments I made in the Mission of the Church series, but also adds some new ones — which I mostly agree with.  I think in a few places he over-argues his case, but his overall premise is sound. And it happens to be a question I’ve been wrestling with and looking for some additional guidance on, and I find Nugent very helpful, especially in his presentation of the purposes of the “powers” (which we’ll get to, Lord willing).

I’m not going to follow Nugent’s book very closely. But I do want to pass along his thinking, but I’m going to try to translate into Church of Christ terms. Continue reading

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