Friday, March 8, 2013
On Easter Sunday, it is our hope to see these portraits interpreted by artists from Jonah's Call suing the Scripture verse from Corinthians 15, "Death where is your sting."
Below are the portraits taken on February 13, 2013.
Saturday, January 5, 2013
Boundaries are wonderful things because of their ability to give shape to our lives. From keeping out unwanted intruders to helping us achieve goals, boundaries allow us to work within or outside the lines that define our lives. The New Year marks a boundary in time. 2012 is gone and 2013 has begun. In this season, gyms will fill up, diets begin, goals are listed and another year begins; all because we crossed over a boundary (a year) into new territory.
In 2013, we will embark on a biblical road that will demarcate some of the most basic boundaries that God desires for our lives. Please join us for this sermon series as we travel throughout the Old Testament and learn to know boundaries. And, as always, invite a friend.
January 13, 2013 | Know Family | Ruth 1:1-22 | Jay Slocum
January 20, 2013 | Know Purpose | Joshua 24:1-18 | Jay Slocum
January 27, 2013 | Know Influence | Esther 7:1-10 | Jay Slocum
Monday, December 24, 2012
Friday, December 7, 2012
|Who is being born here? The child of an everyday couple from Nazareth... or God, come to live the life of a human being on earth? And if it's God, what did it feel like, putting on our flesh? Writer and journalist Martin Wroe asks some of the questions that go to the heart of Christmas.|
what colour are you God
what's your body like
any disabilities, distinguishing characteristics
would we spot you in a crowd
would we stare at you for some deformity
how many senses have you got
five, six, eighteen, ninety four
and what's your sense of touch like
is your handshake firm as a vice or slippery as an eel
what do you smell of
anything in particular - the universe, for example
planets, oceans, space, skies
do you smell of petrol like everything elsewe believe your Spirit is always willing
but is your flesh ever weak
and if the Word was made flesh
are you flesh of our flesh
bone of our bones
is that you there, meek and mild
all meanly wrapped in swaddling clothes
is that you Baby J Word of the Father
now in flesh appearing
is that you screaming as you arrived
like the rest of us
screaming at the shock of the new
the shock of the cold and the old and the broken
is that you Baby J
slipping clumsily out from between a Virgin's legs
covered in blood and gunge and straw
when moments before you had been covered in glory
is that you tied to the mother of God by a fleshy cord
sucking on a woman's breast for your very life
what a come down
still at least you had an audience
cows was it, a goat or two
did they look on in awe and wonder
were the cattle lowing a bit
or were they a right nuisance
but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes
well, that's not true is it
the thing about flesh is it makes you cry
for better or worse, you've got to cry
who is he in yonder stall
at whose feet the shepherd's fall
did they fall ? did they recognise you up close ?
did they know that was you, God, in the flesh
or were they just intrigued by the heavenly host
and the funny star
and did the flesh inconvenience and annoy
and anger you like it does the
rest of us, your fleshy creatures
did your nose run green
your skin flake or bruise red
did you itch
your breath catch from asthma
in that smelly barn
your chest tighten in fear
and later on what did you do about your desires
you know, the fleshly ones
and, just out of interest, where on earth
did you go for your private movements
and are there miraculously fertile plants there today
trees with roots for miles and branches into the heavens
never barren, endlessly ripe...
or are those places where the divine squatted in squalor
feeling quite a lot lower than the angels
- wiping his bum with leaves -
are they like every other place, where folks did their business
with no particular supernatural horticultural memento
and when you were tired, when it all was going wrong
when your friends misunderstood, lost interest, wandered off
did you think
what did I get into this body business for
swapping omnipresence for being somewhere in particular
did you feel trapped in that body
or didn't you know what it had been like before you became body
when you were in-carnate
could you know what it was like out-carnate
flesh can't be in more than one place at a time
flesh is limited
flesh is awkward
you must have wondered at the restrictions of the corporeal
did you ever notice , could you tell the difference?
and did the flesh also exhilarate you, excite you
did you run and laugh and kiss
did you sweat and wrestle and argue
and if you longed to be more...were you grateful to have lived
to have become one of us
he was little, weak and helpless
tears and smiles like us he knew
and he feeleth for our sadness
and he shareth in our gladness
how's the old body now
do you wear a halo
or a crown
is it of gold
or is it of thorns
are there marks on your palms
blood on the side of your shirt still ?
Jesus of the body, of the flesh, Jesus of the Spirit
welcome to the body God
thank you for being it
putting flesh on the bones of our skeletal lives
fleshing out the way life might be lived
thank you Spirit of Jesus for becoming body among us
thank you that veiled in flesh the Godhead we see
flesh is all we have
but, now you now - as well as any of us -
flesh is not all we are
Martin Wroe is a freelance writer, mainly working for Sunday newspapers in the UK. He is an organiser of the Greenbelt Arts Festival. Something similar to the above is published in When You Haven't Got a Prayer (Lion, 1997), a collection of reflective spiritual writings. In another age he would have liked to have been a heretic but not burnt.Top of Page | Archive | Ship of Fools Central
© Ship of Fools 1999
Friday, August 17, 2012
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Friday, December 16, 2011
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
The early church grew from a disparate band of followers in Jerusalem to a worldwide movement that changed the very fabric of the world in the span of 300 years. In the midst of this movement, the Church in Philippi offered the city and the world a model of what it looked like to be the church to and in the world. The letter to the Philippians is a book that celebrates the very best of what it looks like when people’s lives are changed by the Good News of being a people redeemed and redeeming the world as a result of the saving love of Jesus Christ. Join us for this series, titled Season of Celebration and invite a friend.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
On Sunday, April 10, 2011, our Bishop, the Most Rev. Robert Duncan confirmed 11 candidates from Jonah’s Call: Maggie Dahl, Mark Dahl, Jill King, Josh Moyer, Elisabeth Moyer, Thad Pellegrini, CJ Pellegrini, Jay Roszman, Rachel Roszman, Elaina Sadd and Emma Slocum.
During this time, he also reaffirmed Liz Delgado and Linda Stewart.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Location:The Union Project (801 North Negley Ave. Pittsburgh, PA)
Facilitated by: Dr. Gideon Strauss, CEO, Center for Public Justice
Dinner will be served.
To RSVP please contact Stephanie Summers at 202.669.6926 or firstname.lastname@example.org Have questions or need directions? Contact Lisa Slayton or Valerie Faust
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
To Read this article in PDF form from Trinity Magazine Click Trinity Lent (March)
New ministry seeks to bring beauty to the city of Pittsburgh in ways that reuse, restore, and renew physical resources.
“This is Jesus.” This was the reaction of a teenager whose home was redesigned by a new outreach ministry at Jonah’s Call, East End. Re:Design helps create home interiors that nurture hearts and help others to feel God’s love through beautiful design. The mission of Re:Design is to bring beauty to the city of Pittsburgh in ways that reuse, restore, and renew physical resources. Through this ministry, Jonah’s Call assists others in reusing quality resources to restore homes in Pittsburgh, with the hope of seeing people renew their belief in the beauty of God’s design for the world. They put quality, gently-used furniture and household items to reuse through donations from many different sources. “We want to show people God’s love by making their home beautiful,” says Jen Brandenstein, lay leader of Re:Design.
Re:Design started when Ruth Thompson, a parishioner at Jonah’s Call who redesigns kitchens for mostly wealthy clients, saw resources going to waste. The Rev. Jay Slocum, rector of Jonah’s Call, heard about this and cast a vision for redesigning homes for those who couldn’t afford it, as a way to spread renewal and hope. Jen Brandenstein, a member of Jonah’s Call with a degree in Fine Arts, was ecstatic when she heard Slocum’s vision. “My real passion has always been interior design. Design is a gift I have been given,” she says. Brandenstein agreed to lead the new ministry and Re:Design was born.
The Brookline Project was the first Re:Design home makeover. A low-income, single mother of three teens was selected to receive a complete makeover of her home in Brookline. In August, Jonah’s Call (with the help of Church of the Ascension) raised $5,000 at The Big Sale, an annual parish rummage sale. The money raised at The Big Sale allowed Jonah’s Call to secure space at a storage facility to begin accepting donations and to purchase supplies for the Brookline Project. “Through The Big Sale and Re:Design, we believe that redistributing wealth is a powerful form of Christian love that helps to bring restoration to people’s lives in profound ways,” said Slocum.
On December 3, volunteers began work on the Brookline home. The result was dramatic (see photos). Volunteers did a complete makeover of the home and decorated it for Christmas, complete with a Christmas tree. As Christians around the world celebrated Jesus coming into the world, a family in Brookline celebrated Jesus coming into their home through the Re:Design ministry.
Brandenstein says that Re:Design projects present a unique opportunity to be welcomed as a guest into someone’s home and for people with a variety of gifts and skills to serve. Re:Design has something for everyone who wants to transform their community. “Some living conditions are full of despair; we want to change that. When you improve someone’s environment to make it beautiful, they feel better about themselves and can receive God’s love,” says Brandenstein, “Re:Design is about loving people who can never seem to get ahead. I can’t think of a more intimate gift of service.”
Join Re:Design: Reuse, Restore, Renew
Re:Design is about much more than giving practical or pretty “stuff” packaged in good design. It is about renewing lives one home at a time. There are three things Re:Design strives to do:
- Reuse - Distributing quality unwanted household items to those in need through individual partnerships.
- Restore - Providing personal consultation and labor to redesign living spaces.
- Renew - Bringing hope by helping people see the beauty of God’s created order and the grace he offers in renewing our lives, spiritually, physically, and relationally.
If you are interested in joining Re:Design in renewing the city of Pittsburgh, there are many ways you can help. Re:Design is especially looking for a crew of people who can drive a truck and pick up donations once a month. To find out more about how to volunteer with Re:Design, contact Jen Brandenstein.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Wednesday, March, 9th at 7:00 p.m.
Allegheny Cemetery Hall of Memories
(Penn Ave. Entrance) 4715 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh
A Christian worship service that will remind us of our mortality and give us
a hope for the renewal of all things. Special music, a beautiful sacred space, and the imposition of ashes will highlight the evening.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
I am at the 2011 Anglican 1000 Conference in Plano. Dr. Keller has spoken of how important it is for movements to keep the dynamic between informal & formal, liquid & solid, a movement & an institution.
We all know how not hip institutions are.
"We are a movement not an institution. We form teams not committees. We are organic not bureaucratic. We experience Jesus in intimate community not formal churches, blah, blah blah.
But the genius of Dr. Keller is the way in which he holds the tension between formality & informality, movement & institution.
The great German sociologist, Max Weber once laid out the way in which the charismatic authority of a visionary leader (say, King David and his mighty men) moved from being able to 1. Order chaos into a compelling way to see the world or live life.
2. To then take that ordered way of life and "routinize" it so that a group or community could take part in its dynamic way of life.
3. To then further order this way of life (or compelling vision) into a bureaucratized system that could be applied to a larger segment of society.
4. To then institutionalizing this ordered way of life or compelling vision so that an entire nation could apply it to the chaos of life.
Keller has done a great job drawing these vary dynamics out when discussing the health of the church. Below is his piece from the Redeemer City to City Blog:
27 Jul 2010, by Tim Keller
The word "movement" is often used to describe a kind of vital, dynamic human organization, in order to distinguish it from what are called "institutions." Both of these words can have broader meanings, but for the sake of this discussion let us define them in the following ways.
A movement is marked by an attractive, clear, unifying vision for the future together with a strong set of values or beliefs. The content of the vision must be compelling and clear so that others can grasp it readily. It must not be so esoteric or difficult that only a handful of people can articulate it. Instead, it must be something that all members of the movement can understand and pass along to others. By contrast, "institutionalized" organizations are held together by rules, regulations, and procedures, not by a shared vision.
This unifying vision is so compelling that it takes pride of place. First, the vision leads to sacrificial commitment. Individuals put the vision ahead of their own interests and comfort. They are willing to work without high compensation, power, or perks. The satisfaction of realized goals is their main compensation. There is no more practical index of whether you have a movement or not. If the leader is making all the sacrifices, you don't.
Second, the vision leads to generous flexibility. Institutionalized organizations are very turf conscious. Members are suspicious of anyone encroaching on their area of responsibility. Positions and power have been hard-won and jealously guarded. This is done by slavish devotion to rules of procedure, accreditation, and tenure. In movements, however, the accomplishment of the vision is more important than power and position. So people are willing to make allies, be flexible, and cooperate with anyone sharing the basic vision and values.
Third, the vision leads to innovativeness. Institutions are organized more vertically, where ideas from "below" are unwelcome. Movements are flatter because the commonly shared vision unifies and empowers. The vision is what matters - so anyone with a good idea about how to accomplish it is welcome to give it. Ideas flow out of the whole organization, top to bottom, which leads to greater creativity.
Finally, a movement is marked by spontaneous generativity. Spontaneous combustion means energy generated from within - a conflagration without the need for external ignition. A movement is able to generate its own resources, recruit its own new members and participants, and (especially) raise up its own new leaders. This does not mean that movements have no formal training programs. Rather, it means that first, the vision of the movement (especially as its content is disseminated) attracts people with leadership potential, and, secondly, that the work of the movement provides opportunities that reveal emerging leaders through real-life experience and then prepares them for the next level of leadership in the movement. Denominations or church networks that always have to recruit ministers and staff that were raised up in other environments, and that attract them mainly with good compensation, do not show signs of being a movement.
David Hurst, a Harvard scholar, summed up how movements become institutions this way - vision becomes strategy, roles become tasks, teams become structure, networks become organizations, recognition becomes compensation. It is wrong, however, to draw such a hard line between the two forms. It is typical in the Christian movement literature to be highly critical of "institutionalism," for good reason. But the impression is left that all authority, central control, and formal processes are bad for ministry. The reality is more complex.
It is natural for new churches and ministries to try very hard to stay informal, non-codified, and non-centralized. But part of what makes a movement dynamic is a unified vision, and that always requires some codification and control. As time goes on, to maintain the main engine of movement-dynamics - a unified vision - a ministry must adopt some of the aspects of institutions. A strong movement, then, occupies the difficult space between being a free-wheeling organism and a disciplined organization. A movement that refuses to take on some organizational characteristics - authority, tradition, unity of belief, and quality control - will fragment and dissipate. A movement that does not also resist the inevitable tendency toward complete institutionalization will lose its vitality and effectiveness as well. The job of the movement leader is to steer the ship safely between these two opposite perils.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
AC1000 Conference- Tim Keller cites DA Carson on Six ways people receive the Gospel in Various Contexts
I am at the AC1000 conference in Plano Texas listening to Tim Keller present on contextualizing the Gospel in various cultures. He cites an amazing article by DA Carson on ways people receive the Gospel:
2. Relieving the Burden of Guilt,
3. Relieving Shame,
4. Receiving a Future Grace,
5. Being Drawn to the Attractiveness of Truth,
6. A Deep-Seated Fulfillment of an Inner Need,
7. The Attractiveness of Jesus' Shear Love for Us,
8. And a Sense or Urge to be on God's Side.
Themelios: Volume 35, Issue 2
Pastoral Pensées: Motivations to Appeal to in Our Hearers When We Preach for Conversion1
D. A. CarsonD. A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.
Most of us, I suspect, develop fairly standard ways, one might even say repetitive ways, to appeal to the motivations of our hearers when we preach the gospel. Recently, however, I have wondered if I have erred in this respect—not so much in what I say as in what I never or almost never say. What follows is in some ways a mea culpa, plus some indication of why I think the topic should be important for all of us.
Before I survey the motivations themselves, I should specify that because the gospel is to be preached to both unbelievers and believers, the motivations that here interest me may be found among both parties. Nevertheless, I shall tilt the discussion toward those motivations of unbelievers to which we should appeal when we preach the gospel to them, aiming, in God’s mercy, at their conversion.
1. A Survey of Possible Motivations
The eight motivations I am about to list are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Several may, and often do, coexist at one time and in one person. In no particular order of importance:
The Letter to the Hebrews insists that people are kept all their lives in fear of death but that the coming of the Son of God as a human being, a son of Abraham, set in train the destruction of him who has the power of death, namely, the devil himself (Heb 2:14–18). With respect to this particular fear, then, the preaching of the gospel promises a reduction in fear. On the other hand, in various ways Jesus tells his hearers to fear him who has power to destroy body and soul in hell (Matt 10:38). Not a few of the parables end in a simple polarity: gathered into barns or burned (Matt 13:30), entering the home of the wedding feast or being shut outside where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 22:10–13), and so forth. Some apocalyptic images depict people calling for the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from the wrath of the Lamb (Luke 23:30; Rev 6:15–17). Belonging to the same theme are texts asking us, rhetorically, where the profit lies if we gain the whole world but lose our own souls (Matt 16:26), or the insistence that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31).
Obviously it is possible to preach the wrath of God in such an angry and self-righteous fashion that we bear a much closer resemblance to Elmer Gantry than to Jesus Christ. On the other hand, in addition to the example of Jesus and the apostles, we have occasional examples from church history where God has used the appeal to the fear of judgment in powerful ways. The best known witness is doubtless Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which I reread some weeks ago to remind myself how biblical most of it is.
1.2. The Burden of Guilt
I specify “the burden of guilt” instead of “guilt” because I prefer to use the latter for one’s moral and legal status before the holy God. In other words, one may be very guilty and not feel guilty, that is, not labor under any burden of guilt. If one is in fact guilty but feels nothing of the burden of guilt, the objective guilt is not a motivation for conversion. Until one cries, in these words or something similar, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps 51:4),2 one is not strongly motivated by the burden of guilt. On the other hand, that guilt, rightly perceived, can be a crushing burden and thus a powerful and desperate motivation for relief.
It is a truism of much Reformed theology, not least Puritan theology, that the law must do its work before grace can do its work. Without an adequate dose of the former, the latter is likely merely to heal the wounds of the people slightly (to use King James English). That Puritan heritage influenced many who were, strictly speaking, outside that heritage. For example, John Wesley’s advice to a young minister on how to preach the gospel in any new situation is replete with this perspective.3 The text to which many in this tradition appealed was Gal 3: the law is our παιδαγωγός to bring us to Christ, for the law was added to turn sin into transgression, to make us see our fault, to shut us up under condemnation (Gal 3:19–25). Careful exegesis of Gal 3 has often shown, of course, that this interpretation is substantially mistaken: Gal 3 is less interested in the psychological and moral profile of the person transitioning from guilt to grace, than in unpacking the place of the Mosaic law in redemptive history. Nevertheless, the Puritan vision of the place of the law is not as off-base as some think. For even if Paul’s primary point in Gal 3 is to locate the law’s rightful place in redemptive history, over against the place that many Palestinian first-century Jews thought it should have, the conclusion one must inevitably draw is that God took extraordinary pains to establish and nurture the law-covenant across a millennium and a half as preparatio Christi. Total ignorance of this OT background is one of the reasons that so many in contemporary culture feel almost no burden of guilt when they are first confronted with the Bible, with Jesus, with the gospel. In fact, nurtured on a spongy epistemology, many hear the law’s demands and conclude, at least initially, that the God who thought this lot up is not worth respecting, for he must be a manipulative and power-hungry despot. Still, at some point the burden of guilt catches up with many people, and it can become a powerful motivation in their conversion.
A glance at the literature shows how difficult it is to distinguish absolutely between guilt and shame. Some cultural anthropologists speak of “shame cultures” as if such cultures know little of guilt, and of some traditional Western cultures as if they are guilt-ridden but know little of shame: the two kinds of cultures are sometimes treated as if they are categorically disjunctive. Some in the field of psychiatry assert that guilt arises from what we do, while shame arises from what we are, but that is certainly not a biblical distinction. In the Bible we may be guilty and feel guilty for what we are, and equally we may be ashamed of what we do.
In popular parlance, I suspect that shame has more to do with losing face, primarily (though not exclusively) in horizontal relationships. Nevertheless, if one loses face before one’s family or peers, it is usually because one has done something “wrong” as judged by those peers, so it is hard to see why guilt feelings do not also intrude. Similarly, one may be genuinely guilty of some sort of moral breach and be ashamed of what one has done. Initially Adam and Eve are naked and unashamed: they have nothing to hide. But when sin changes everything, does Adam hide from God because he feels guilty or because he feels ashamed? Must one choose? Nevertheless, there does appear to be a slight difference in focus between the two: shame has to do with losing face, often objectively, and hence feeling shamed. Such loss of face commonly springs from one’s own faults, but of course it may spring from something one has endured—like David’s envoys who are ashamed of losing half their beards at the hands of the Ammonites and whom David therefore consoles by instructing them to remain at Jericho until their beards grow back (2 Sam 10:1–5). They have lost face, but of course in this instance they are not guilty of anything.
Many have argued that in a culture like ours, which protests that it is unmoved by the law’s demands and that refuses to admit to guilt feelings because it refuses to admit to guilt, a better way to unpack the nature of sin is to unfold the nature of idolatry rather than the nature of law. Idolatry is bound up with corrosive relationships, with de-godding God, with shameful distortions and substitutions; and, it is argued, these evils are more easily admitted among yuppie postmoderns than are the evils of transgressing law. In other words, shame is more readily acknowledged than guilt.
1.4. The Need for “Future Grace”
When John Piper unpacks this category, he has primarily Christians in view. Historically, however, a great deal of evangelism has been carried out by urging people to prepare to meet God, to receive the grace now that alone prepares a sinner for resurrection-existence in the new heaven and the new earth. Where is the profit in gaining the world and losing one’s soul? Where there is widespread belief that one must finally give an account to a holy God who does not grade on the curve, this sort of appeal carries quite a lot of weight. The motivations to which one appeals are a mixture of fear (which I have already mentioned) and the desire to be found right, just, before this God, acceptable to him.
1.5. The Attractiveness of Truth
Frequently the apostles declare that they bear witness to the truth, that they declare the truth, that they do not peddle the truth, that they cannot do other than speak the truth, that they speak the truth plainly in the eyes of all, and so forth (e.g., John 19:35; Rom 9:1; 2 Cor 4:2; 11:10; 13:8). The assumption, of course, is that by the grace of God, the truth itself is attractive to some. Cornelius was such a man. He was a good deal more eager to hear the truth, at least initially, than Peter was to declare it. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the truth can be self-attesting; for others, like some of Jesus’ opponents in John 8, the truth is precisely what is detested: “Because I tell you the truth, you do not believe” (John 8:45; cf. also Isa 6, cited in Matt 13 and elsewhere). To draw an analogy: the one gospel can be a wonderful aroma to those who are being saved and a disgusting stench to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18). So also the truth can appear wonderful to those who by grace begin to see its beauty and compelling nature, while actually causing offense and unbelief in those who are perishing.
When I was a young man, many university missions spent a lot of time defending, say, the deity of Christ or his resurrection from the dead. The widespread assumption, both among the evangelists and among many of the student hearers, was that if one accepted the truth of these claims, one was already on the path toward becoming a Christian. This assumption sustained quite a lot of evidentialist apologetics. The approach is flawed in several ways, of course. James reminds us that the devil knows and believes such truths, but such “faith” does not save him (James 2:19). Granted, however, the need for grace to enable the “natural” person to perceive the truth, one cannot deny that one of the motivations in people as they begin to “close” with Christ (to use an old Puritan expression) is the attractiveness of the truth. While some in Athens sneered, others, in some ways already hooked by what the apostle Paul was saying, wanted to hear him again on these matters (Acts 17:32). They were drawn to the truth.
1.6. A General, Despairing Sense of Need
It is pretty clear from the Gospel accounts that many who pursued Jesus did not do so out of a well thought-through theology (e.g., law precedes gospel, and they were under deep conviction of sin), but out of desperation fed by their most acutely perceived need. Witness the woman with the history of hemorrhaging (Matt 9:20–21), the two blind men by the side of the road calling for the Son of David to have mercy on them (Matt 9:27), the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:25–28), and many others. In some cases, of course, Jesus responds to such needs yet also pushes on a little farther to deal with the sin in their lives (the Samaritan woman [John 4:10–18], the man by the pool of Bethesda [John 5:5–14]). Moreover, it does not follow that everyone who is healed by Jesus is “saved” in the fullest theological sense of that word. For instance, nine of the ten healed lepers do not have the courtesy of gratitude, let alone saving faith (Luke 17:11–19). Yet where there is a whole-hearted and desperate plea to Jesus, even absent much theological understanding, it is wonderful to see how embracing Jesus is.
Pastoral experience supports this assessment. Many of us have witnessed people turning to Christ with remarkably little exact theological knowledge. The knowledge comes later. Why these people come, at least initially, is that they need help, need it desperately, and turn to Jesus. This may prove to be part of a broader, whole-life turning to Jesus. Their initial motivations, however, are all bound up with desperation.
1.7. Responding to Grace and Love
Both Testaments repeatedly emphasize the matchless love and grace of God. Some are drawn to Christ when they begin to glimpse the Father’s love for this damned world in sending his Son to the cross, and the Son’s love in accomplishing his Father’s will. One suspects that the appellation Mary and Martha had for their brother Lazarus—“the one you love,” they say to Jesus (John 11:3)—reflects a common experience: so many felt peculiarly loved by Jesus, even the Fourth Evangelist himself (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). Paul cannot talk long about justification and the cross-work of Christ without breaking out with an adoring exclamation such as “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Whether it is the love of the proverbial father for his prodigal sons (Luke 15:20–24) or the assertion that Christ loved the church and gave himself for her (Eph 5:25, 29), whether it is the gut-wrenching portrayal of the love of God in Hosea or Paul’s prayer that believers might have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp the limitless dimensions of that love (Eph 3:17–19), the response to the love of God is one of the most powerful motivations people experience, not only when they first close with Christ but also when they mature in Christ.
1.8. A Rather Vague Desire to Be on the Side of What Is Right, of What Is from God, of What Is Biblical, of What Is Clean, of What Endures
I know that sounds terribly vague. If I had to attach one word to what I am talking about, it would probably be the motivation of hope. Consider the encounters with Jesus in John 1:19–51. The Baptist’s disciples begin to follow Jesus because their master had pointed to him. They clearly hope he is the one to come. The christological confession at Caesarea Philippi (“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” [Matt 16:16]) is part of this hope, of course—even though the context shows the apostles at this point have no category for a crucified Messiah. The same sort of longing, with even less theological understanding, is reflected in the desire of Zacchaeus to entertain Jesus in his home (Luke 19:6). I am not trying to specify exactly when the apostles or Zacchaeus were converted. I am pointing out merely that at least part of their motivations in pursuing Jesus, at least initially, lay in their desire to see if he really would fulfill Scripture-anticipation, if a good and powerful man would come to the home of a corrupt civil servant. They hoped so. Transparently, such hope can merge with other motivations already listed: people may hope for release from the burden of guilt, hope to be justified by God on the last day, hope that things will turn out well both short-term and in eternity.
So I turn now from this survey of possible motivations that people display when they turn to Jesus and offer:
2. Four Theological and Pastoral Reflections on This Survey
1. We do not have the right to choose only one of these motivations in people and to appeal to it restrictively.
Consider an analogy. It has become common to speak of half a dozen distinguishable models of the atonement. I do not much like the rubric, but I shall use it for the sake of convenience. Many is the recent book that argues that since all these “models” are grounded in Scripture, we are free to choose the one we prefer. But that is precisely what we are not free to do, unless we conceive of Scripture as little more than a case-book, an inspired volume of cases, warranting readers to glom onto those few cases, and only those cases, that seem to fit their own situations or preferences most closely. If we hold to a more traditional and faithful understanding of Scripture, then to the extent that the various models of the atonement are warranted by Scripture, we must hold to all of them—and then work out how each is related to the others, what holds them together, where there is a priority among them that is established by Scripture itself, and so forth. But we dare not choose merely one or two of them.
So also here. Insofar as these diverse motivations enjoy biblical precedent or even biblical warrant, preachers do not have the right to appeal to only one or two motivations as if they were the only legitimate ones. We ought to appeal, at various times, to all these motivations—and, again, work out how each is related to the others, what holds them together, and where there is a priority among them that is established by Scripture itself. But we do not have the right to appeal constantly to, say, fear before God, without also on occasion appealing to other biblically illustrated and sanctioned motivations.
2. On the other hand, we may have the right to emphasize one motivation more than others.
In the same way that the structure and emphases of Paul’s evangelistic addresses could change, depending on whether he was addressing biblically literate Jews and proselytes (Acts 13) or completely biblically illiterate pagans (Acts 17), so the particular motivations to which we appeal may vary according to our knowledge of our audience. In a somewhat similar vein, if we are addressing biblically literate but unregenerate people, some of our appeal will presuppose that they know the Scriptures at some level, that many of them, say, will be convinced that there is a judgment to be faced, a heaven to be gained, a hell to be shunned and feared. By contrast, if we are addressing biblically illiterate people, then although all those themes will at some point have to be introduced, our initial appeals may sound quite different. Some motivations are of course unworthy, and we should never appeal to them. For example, “Come to Jesus, and you will receive a lot of cargo,”4 or “Turn to Jesus, and you will always be free of trouble.” Where motivations are not unworthy, however, and especially where they are biblically sanctioned, we may find it particularly appropriate to appeal to certain motivations rather more than others.
It would be easy to go through the list I laid out and conjure up situations where it is the part of prudential wisdom to appeal to one or two motivations rather more often than to all the rest. Had we time, it would be an excellent exercise to envisage the kind of audience that ought to find us appealing to primarily this or that motivation in our hearers.
3. Nevertheless, the comprehensiveness of our appeal to diverse motivations will reflect the comprehensiveness of our grasp of the gospel.
Once again, let me draw an analogy first before establishing my point. For the last fifteen or twenty years, many of us have wrestled long and hard with the doctrine of justification, judging that something essential to the gospel is at stake in the current discussions. The result, however, is that we have sometimes so tied the gospel and conversion to the question of our right standing before God that we have downplayed the new birth. We have emphasized Christ’s bearing our guilt and the nature of imputation without correspondingly emphasizing the regenerating work of the Spirit and the gospel as the power of God, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, in transforming our lives, in our becoming part of the new creation. Suppose, then, that we managed to emphasize both of these elements of conversion appropriately (let us call them the forensic and the transformative). We might, of course, then tumble into neglect of the running biblical tension between our joy in the kingdom of God now already operating in the reign of King Jesus and the joy that awaits the consummation of that kingdom in the resurrection-existence of the new heaven and the new earth. Understanding this tension will engender hope, thereby reinforcing all the motivations that spring from a godly anticipation of what God has promised that still lies ahead. In other words, while the exigencies of our pastoral location during these past twenty years have demanded that we focus on forensic elements of the gospel and conversion, a robust biblical theology demands that part of our ministry be taken up by the biblical exigencies, the shape of the gospel itself, the rich and complex nature of its outworking in conversion and in the spiritual maturation of the believer and of the church.
So also this matter of choosing the motivations to which we appeal—choices that largely shape our sermons. For pastoral reasons, we may decide, for instance, that our particular audience, with its endless frustrated and idolatrous relationships and its suspicion of law-categories, needs a heavy emphasis on the generosity and freedom of God’s grace: our God, as Tim Keller likes to put it, is an overwhelmingly prodigal God.5 Well and good. But the Bible itself depicts Jesus inciting fear in the hearts of people with his insistence that the God with whom they have to deal “can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). Again, Jesus openly appeals to motivations that seek eternal rather than temporary and material rewards. He does not hesitate to elicit awareness of guilt and to invoke shame: Who goes home justified, the Pharisee or the publican (Luke 18:9–14)? Who gives more, the wealthy givers or the widow with her two mites (Mark 12:41–44)?
So while we may, for pastoral reasons, initially choose to appeal to certain motivations and not others, it is surely the path of biblical faithfulness so to teach and preach the Word of God that we awaken new motivations in the hearts and minds of our people as we unpack the complex richness of the glorious gospel of our blessed God. If instead we find ourselves constantly appealing to the same two or three motivations while ignoring others, it is probably because our choices are too much shaped by our perceptions of local cultural needs and too little shaped by the richness of the biblical gospel. Sooner or later, our people may read their Bibles with limiting and even dangerous blinkers that we ourselves have given them.
4. To put this another way, all of the biblically sanctioned motivations for pursuing God, for pursuing Christ, say complementary things about God himself, such that failure to cover the sweep of motivations ultimately results in diminishing God.
Thus, the motivations characterized by fear are bound up with the truth that God is holy, that he is rightfully our Judge, that he gathers some into his presence and casts others into outer darkness, that his knowledge of us is perfect, extending not only to a grasp of our motives but even to a full-bore knowledge of what we would have done under different circumstances (a form of so-called “middle knowledge”). The burden of guilt reminds us that God does not grade on the curve, and unless we are justified by the one who is himself just while justifying the ungodly, there is no hope for us.
And so we could work through the list. The point to be made is simple: any failure to appeal to the full range of biblically exemplified and biblically sanctioned motivations not only means that there are some people we are not taking into account, but, more seriously, that there are elements in the character and attributes of God himself that we are almost certainly ignoring.