Reading the Bible with the Tanzanian Church: Grace and Works

May 3, 2012 in Mark, Africa, Bible, Church, Front, Mission, Tanzania, Theology

I had a fascinating conversation with a Tanzanian friend the other day about God’s grace (giving us good things that are not earned by our good deeds), and our working hard to follow him and live a good life. The conversation started as we discussed a western missionary who believes that many Tanzanians have not understood the fullness and extent of God’s grace, and so who preaches about God’s completely unearned gift of salvation at every opportunity.

While my friend believes that God’s grace is completely free and unearned, he was concerned that the missionary has not completely grasped the cultural paradigm in which he is working. Many uneducated people go to church in order to hear the pastor tell them exactly what they must do to please God. Emphasising too strongly that God’s grace is not linked to our good deeds will result in people feeling they can do whatever they like, ultimately going against the major thrust of Scripture which is to live good lives that honour and obey God. Read the rest of this entry →

The Truth Project, part 2: Actions speak louder than words

September 29, 2011 in Mark, Church, Culture, Mission, Theology

Last night was the second session in our church discussion of The Truth Project, a DVD series that aims to promote a biblical worldview. Following on from last week’s session I was slightly sceptical about the way the DVD series approaches the idea of truth, but was interested to hear what they had to say on the topic of Philosophy and Ethics.

Well, the session was interesting. On one level I agreed with much of the content, about how it is potentially problematic for any philosophical system to explain life and the universe using only what is contained within the universe. However, the session for me was overshadowed by two things, one ironic and the other tragic. Read the rest of this entry →

What is truth?

September 21, 2011 in Mark, Church, Theology

Pilate said, “So you are a king?”

Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

John 18:37-38

This evening we had a fascinating study at church after watching one of the “Truth Project” videos. We went through the first session which was an introduction to the series, looking at what truth is and why it is important that we know and believe the truth.

While I agreed with almost everything that was said in the video, I have one or two concerns about its approach. Is “truth” a valid hermeneutic with which to read the Bible? I think it is, but I also think that we need to be very careful in what we mean by truth, and aware of any subtle differences between the meaning of “truth” in our culture compared to that which Jesus and the biblical authors had in mind. Read the rest of this entry →

The Weakness of God

September 16, 2011 in Mark, Mission, Theology

We often talk about God being all-powerful, strong and able to do anything and everything, supreme over the whole universe. But to what extent is our view of God influenced by the way we see power used and abused in the world? Have we lost touch with the message of the gospel that God is made known through his weakness more than his strength (1 Corinthians 1)?

Greg Boyd looks briefly at the way the church has viewed and interacted with issues of power throughout its history, challenging us to question whether the God we worship is really the God of the Bible, or if we are merely making God in our own image…

How does our view of God and his power affect the way we relate to others, and the way we view God’s mission in the world?

HT: Kurt Willems

God moves at three miles an hour

September 8, 2011 in Life, Wycliffe, Mark, Mission, Tanzania, Theology

Nine years ago I was nearing the end of my time at university and considering what I wanted to do next. After a couple of short-term trips to Kenya I was very interested in returning to East Africa longer-term, and felt that Bible translation may be a good way to indirectly use the maths skills that I had learnt as part of my degree.

As I considered joining Wycliffe, I had the option of either doing so immediately after leaving university, or working in the UK for a year or two first. As I thought and prayed about this decision I became more aware of what I considered to be the urgency of Bible translation for people who currently have no access to the Bible, so decided to join Wycliffe as soon as I could.

Nine years later I am happy that I made a good decision (for one thing I probably wouldn’t have met Laura otherwise!), but I think I would see things differently now.  Over the past few years I have become less convinced that God is in a hurry, and more convinced that he is much more concerned that we do things that are consistent with his character and his kingdom.

Last week I read through Simon Cozens’ excellent critique of the “unreached people groups” approach to mission, which is essentially a strategy for “reaching” the whole world with the good news about Jesus as quickly and efficiently as possible. It is an extremely pragmatic, business-oriented approach to mission.

Simon explains why he believes this approach to be flawed from various angles, particularly in relation to the way God works and the way he involves his church in his mission. I would encourage you to read the whole article, but one line really stuck in my mind, where he was quoting the idea of Kosuke Koyama that

God moves at three miles an hour because walking pace is the pace of love.

The more I think about this the more I think it is true of God. He is more concerned about loving and relating to people than he is about achieving goals quickly. He allowed thousands of years to pass before he sent Jesus into the world, and when he arrived Jesus wasn’t in a panicked rush to achieve everything that he came for. There were even times when people died because Jesus was “distracted” by others along the way and didn’t reach them in time. Jesus moved at walking pace because that was the pace of the people around him, and because he had complete confidence that if he was obedient to the father that God was more than able to achieve his goals, even if it meant raising people from the dead.

Eight years after I joined Wycliffe I am starting to learn that God often moves at walking pace, because that is the pace of love. As we have recently moved closer to the centre of town, Laura and I are enjoying walking around the neighbourhood more, and even walking to places where we would normally drive. I am starting to realise how much we can miss out on what God is wanting to do in us and through us when we zoom from one place to another in our (metaphorical and literal) cars, rather than taking an hour or two to walk from one place to the next, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of life, and allowing ourselves to be distracted by the people along the way.

As we have been preparing to go to Tanzania over the past few years it certainly feels like things have been moving at walking pace. We originally planned to leave in January 2008, and our hope finally seems to be coming to fruition in January 2012. As we look back we can see that God has taught us a huge amount in those four years of waiting, not least that when we finally live in Tanzania we shouldn’t be so focused on urgency and goals that we forget to walk at three miles an hour.

Men standing by car