All posts filed under “Gospel


Life Together in Christ

Two of the most “overpromised, underdelivered” aspects of church life are community and transformation – so says Ruth Haley Barton in the opening pages of Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, and I’m inclined to concur.

Barton has learned from experience, as you likely have as well, that “it is possible to hang around other Christians a lot, meet regularly for worship, study our Bibles, join a church and even call ourselves a community but not change at all in ways that count.”

Rather than settling for life without community and transformation, however, Barton makes the case that our best chance at experiencing a measure of both is to pursue them in tandem, as two sides of the same coin. “Spiritual transformation,” she writes, “takes place incrementally over time with others in the context of disciplines and practices that open us to God.”

Life_Together_in_Christ_1024x1024Fundamental to spiritual transformation, she goes on to say, are three things held in common: shared understanding about what it is we’re pursuing; shared language for speaking about the process; and a shared commitment to making transformation a priority in how we orient our lives.

If transformation is to be Christian in any meaningful sense of the term, it will not end with us. In other words, it will not only be a matter of the heart, though it may very well begin there. That’s because, in Barton’s words, “Spiritual transformation results in an increasing capacity to discern the will of God so we can actually do God’s will in the world. This is how spiritual formation and mission come together in fruitful synergy for the good of all.”

And as we become the kinds of people who are able to discern and do the will of God in the world, we’re able to help others figure out what God has called them to do and support them as they accept “God’s risky invitations.” She continues:

We might even discover that there is a shared mission God has in mind for us as well – something we are called to do together for the sake of the world. Then together we will learn how to live within a constellation of beautiful paradoxes that are held together in creative tension. Love for God and love for neighbor. Solitude and community. Silence and word/Word. Prayer and action. Work and rest. Discerning and doing the will of God. Formation and mission. Just like the disciples who journeyed from Jerusalem to Emmaus and back again, we will learn how to move into the center and out and then back again; and at every point along the way, Jesus’ presence is there, causing our hearts to burn within us as we walk the road together.

That’s a beautiful picture of what “life together in Christ” looks like, if you ask me. It doesn’t change the fact that Christian community and spiritual transformation are woefully elusive for so many of us. But if nothing else, let it remind us that our longings to experience life together are God-given. As such, we can move forward in faith, believing those longings are not in vain.

Header image: “The Road to Emmaus” by Daniel Bonnell via


No Accident

“Jesus dies like a migrant worker who suffocates in a freight container, like a garbage-picker caught in a slide, like a child with an infected finger, like a beggar the bus reverses over. Or, of course, like all the other slaves ever punished by crucifixion, a fate so low, said Cicero, that no well-bred person should ever even mention it. Christians believe that Jesus’s death is, among other things, a way for God to mention it, loudly and with no good breeding at all, a declaration by the maker of the world, in pain and solidarity, that to Him the measure of the waste of history is not the occasional tragedies of kings but the routine losses of every day. It is not an accident that Christianity began as a religion ‘for slaves and women.’ It is not an accident that, wherever it travels, it appeals first to untouchables. The last shall be first and the first shall be last, said Jesus.”

– Francis Spufford, Unapologetic

Image: Epitaphios, from the Stavronikita Monastery, Mt Athos (16th Century) via


All Is Not Well

“The same God who looks upon my soul and declares my fundamental condition to be ‘well’ for all eternity looks down on oppressive structures and impoverished cities and war-torn villages and grieves over the fact that all is not well in his creation. Someday all will be well—when Jesus declares that all things have been made new. But that day is not yet here. And so all who know that it is well with their souls must actively work toward the day when all will be well again in God’s larger creation. And this enterprise we evangelicals have often failed to pursue with any sustained sense of urgency.”

– Rich Mouw, The Smell of Sawdust

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The True and Living Way

“We shall prove our faithfulness to the gospel by being both fundamentalist and liberal; fundamentalist in the sense that we acknowledge no other foundation upon which to build either our thinking or our acting, either our private or our public life, than the Lord Jesus Christ as he is known to us through the Scriptures; and liberal in the sense that we are ready to live in a plural society, open to new experience, ready to listen to new ideas, always pressing forward toward fuller understanding in the confidence that Jesus is indeed the true and living way, and that when we follow him we are not lost.”

– Lesslie Newbigin, Truth To Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth

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For the Healing of the World

There’s a lot of good stuff in N.T. Wright’s short book For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church. Wright begins by offering a series of reflections on “the God who is worthy of praise,” before considering what it means to “[reflect] God’s image in the world.” In that second section he gets around to addressing the question, in light of God’s glory and love, how are we to respond? What is our calling as the people of God? His answer is profound:

We are called, simply, to hold on to Christ and his cross with one hand, with all our might; and to hold on to those we are given to love with the other hand, with all our might, with courage, humour, self-abandonment, creativity, flair, tears, silence, sympathy, gentleness, flexibility, Christlikeness. When we find their tears becoming our own, we may know that healing has begun to happen; when they find Christ in being held on to by us, whether we realize it or not, we are proving the truth of what Paul said: God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, so that in him we might embody the saving faithfulness of God.

He goes on to say that there are three “varieties” or “levels” to this calling. The first level applies to us all, as a sort of least common denominator — “and such insight as we gain from that will help those who aren’t called to the second and third to pray intelligently, at least, for those who are.” Here then, are Wright’s three levels of Christian calling.

  1. Each of us individually and all of us corporately are called “to hold on to Christ firmly with one hand and to hold on to those around with the other, in prayer, discussion, generosity, gratitude, teaching or learning, caring or being cared for” — all of which God uses for the healing of ourselves and others. “Whatever skills God has given you,” he writes, “be prepared to use them as instruments of the gospel.”
  1. Following on the first variety, some are called “to be all this for the church,” specifically (but not exclusively) through ordained ministry. “Ordination isn’t the be-all and end-all of Christian ministry,” he writes, “but the church desperately needs ordained clergy, needs them now more than ever.” Such ministry requires a willingness “to share and feel the agony of the church’s follies and failings, and to know the power of Christ to restore and heal the church and set her feet back on the right path. That is a vocation not to be lightly dismissed.”
  1. Finally, “especially at times of crisis,” Wright suggests we ought to pray that God would call “people to do for the world, for society as a whole and in its various parts” what clergy do for the church — that is, to serve in a very real sense as healers. “We must pray that God will raise up a new generation of strong weaklings; of wise fools; of wounded healers; so that the healing love of Christ may flow out into the world, to confront violence and injustice with the rebuke of the cross, and to comfort the injured and wronged with the consolation of the cross.”

In a passage reminiscent of Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer, Wright elaborates:

We don’t need people to yell at these situations or to bully them. We don’t need people to back off and pretend it’s somebody else’s problem. We need Christian people to work as healers: as healing judges and prison staff, as healing teachers and administrators, as healing shopkeepers and bankers, as healing musicians and artists, as healing writers and scientists, as healing diplomats and politicians. We need people who will hold on to Christ firmly with one hand and reach out the other, with wit and skill and cheerfulness, with compassion and sorrow and tenderness, to the places where our world is in pain. We need people who will use all their god-given skills, as Paul used his, to analyse where things have gone wrong, to come to the place of pain, and to hold over the wound the only medicine which will really heal, which is the love of Christ made incarnate once more, the strange love of God turned into your flesh and mine, your smile and mine, your tears and mine, your patient analysis and mine, your frustration and mine, your joy and mine.

I hope you can find your own calling as a wounded healer somewhere in there. I think I can identify mine, and I’m grateful for the chance to be used by God, in my own faltering ways, for the healing of the world.

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