Offering a theological analysis of contemporary society does not mean that we ‘curse’ the society within which we live. We must always bring the Good News of God’s love – “God so loved the world …” (John 3:16). That doesn’t mean that we become uncritical of the world. We must never forget these words: “Do not love the world or the things of the world” (1 John 2:15). How are we to “seek the welfare of the city”? Do we get so caught up in the earthly city that we forget about “the city of God” – so wrapped in a this – worldly outlook that we lose sight of the eternal dimension – God’s eternal love, God’s eternal purpose, God’s eternal Kingdom? It’s often said that we can become too heavenly-minded to be any earthly-good. Have we reached the stage where we need to be reminded that we can become too earthly-minded to be any heavenly-good?
It’s often said that people no longer understand Biblical and theological language. What are we to do about this? Are we to “demythologize” the Christian message? Can we share the Good News if we are dismissive of the facts on which the Gospel is based – “Christ died for our sins” and was “raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)? By focusing on words such as suffering, social justice and mystery, we may find points of contact with people’s experience. This may lead to wide-ranging discussion of issues that are of general interest to people who might describe themselves as humanists. At what point do we speak of Christ? Sometimes, when we speak of dialogue, it can end up in a rambling type of discussion which never really gets very near to focusing attention on the Jesus Christ of the Bible. He always has more to say to us than simply calling us to love our neighbour. When we get people’s attention, what are we to say to them? If we are to get their attention for Jesus Christ, we must surely seek to move beyond a conversation about social issues.
It’s often said that our theology should be an “answering theology.” We are to engage with the questions people are asking. Recognizing the importance of this approach, we should be aware of the danger that our theology can end up becoming a “questioning theology.” When we end up saying things like, “We have more questions than answers”, are we not losing the simplicity of the Gospel which tells us of God’s Answer to the problem of human sin? We don’t need to have “all the answers to all the questions”, but we can point to “Christ Jesus who came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). “The courage to doubt” may help us to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. It is only the courage of faith that will enable us to confess Christ as our Saviour and call upon others to trust in Him.
What do we mean when we use words like “evangelism” and “mission”? If “evangelism” means no more than bringing people to faith in God, have we taken them any further than the deist who sees ‘God’ as the most rational explanation of the mystery of life. Surely, evangelism takes us beyond this by focusing attention on our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. When mission emphasizes the importance of being a “gracious neighbour”, we must surely take care to make it clear that being a gracious neighbour arises out of loving the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (Luke 10:27). If, in our understanding of our work for the Lord, we emphasize the importance of both our words and our actions, I don’t think there is any great need to say that evangelism is one thing and mission is something else. Both words describe our commitment to serving the Lord in the whole of life.
What are we to say about the distinction between “believing” and “belonging”? There may be people of ‘vague faith’ who do not have a feeling of belonging because they do not really want to move beyond a ‘vague faith.’ Surely, we must ask whether this kind of ‘vague faith’, which shows no real interest in becoming a life-changing faith in Christ, should be described as ‘believing’. There may also be people of a very strong faith who do not have a sense of belonging when they come to our congregations because they do not feel that Christ is at the centre of all that we do. Often, such people will go elsewhere, feeling that they must look for a fellowship of believers who seek to keep Christ at the centre of their worship and witness. Whatever else may be said about ‘believing’ and ‘belonging’, those who wish to focus attention on Jesus Christ must surely agree with the statement that “any attempt to promote the church as an institution, to ‘sell’ the church as a form of religious commitment is futile.” We do not promote the church. We “preach … Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5). We do not ‘sell’ the church. We point people to the Saviour, emphasizing that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).