Posts Tagged ‘UCCF’

I’m going to Greece!

June 10, 2009

This July I will be joining a mission team going to Paros in Greece for two weeks. There are nine of us going from the UK (students and UCCF workers), and we will be joined by some members of the Greek CU movement out there. The aim is to get to know Greek students and introduce them to Jesus – through “first-contact” style evangelism and evangelistic bible studies.

I’m pretty excited about it all! I hope to be able to post more about it before we go, and potentially also some updates from when I’m in Greece. Any prayers would be appreciated, particularly as this is the first mission team I have been on outside of the UK.

More about the trip over on another team member, Ben’s blog here.

Mark’s Big Question

April 15, 2009

Today I’ve been working on an essay on Mark’s gospel. The question at the centre of Mark’s gospel is the identity of Jesus – and the gospel seems to turn on the episode often referred to as “Peter’s confession of Christ” in chapter 8:

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am? Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”

Jesus himself asks this question, and Peter answers that he is the Christ. Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Christ; the Messiah. But is this really the answer Mark is hoping we’ll get at? Are we supposed to applaud Peter’s statement here?

In light of what follows, and Mark’s wider narrative of the way to the cross, I’m not sure we should. Peter’s answer to the question “You are the Christ” (8:29) is true, but it’s not the whole story: before we can applaud Peter’s faith, Mark continues the same episode with a shocking exchange of mutual rebuking between Peter and Jesus, culminating in the suggestion that Peter’s denial of the divine necessity (δεῖ – “must” or, perhaps better, “it is necessary”) that the Christ will suffer means he is playing the role of Satan! Just before this, we have the account of the “botched” miracle (8:22-26), which serves as an “acted parable” of faith. Mark uses the restoration of sight as a metaphor for spiritual “seeing” things throughout his gospel. By placing this two-stage restoration of sight miracle just before Peter’s confession, perhaps we are supposed to understand that Peter’s confession and then rebuke of Christ show his eyes are only half open – that is, he only comprehends half of the truth about Jesus. Peter does not understand the necessity of Jesus’ death, and won’t finally understand until after the crucifixion.

Richard B. Hays points out in “The Moral Vision of the New Testament” that the whole “narrative strategy” of Mark “challenges the reader to… answer the question ‘Who do you say that I am?’ by acknowledging Jesus as the crucified Messiah” (p.79). This is an insight I’m becoming more and more convinced about. There’s just so much in Mark that points to the cross, and that Jesus isn’t the Christ the people are expecting, but the one they need, who must go to the cross. From the rest of the New Testament it is clear that both Jews and Gentiles had big problems with this idea – in 1Corinthians 1:23 it is a stumbling-block (σκάνδαλον) to Jews and foolishness (μωρία) to Gentiles, and an “offence” (σκάνδαλον again) in Galatians 5:11 and 1Peter 2:8. The idea that the Christ would be crucified was literally scandalous, and if you think about it – it still should be! The idea has become perhaps too familiar to us, and to our culture, if people aren’t shocked by this message.

So, if the answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” isn’t just “The Christ” but “The Crucified Christ”; “The Messiah who must suffer and die”, how do we get this across when using Mark’s gospel evangelistically? I think the Free gospel project UCCF are running at the moment touches on this scandalous theme a little – the ‘graffiti’ on the page with 8:27-30 raises the question of why Jesus has to die – but doesn’t major on it, concentrating more on affirming the divinity of Jesus. (Which is something Mark thinks is important, too, but which only intensifies the scandal that Jesus should die on a cross!) Maybe there’s room for presenting this more explicitly – because if the “real Jesus” we want people to find in Mark’s gospel is the crucified Christ then we should tell them about that – and also why Jesus died. “Free” does do a very good job of raising the “why did Jesus die” question in the comment on 10:45 and the endnotes, actually. But perhaps it tones down Mark’s emphasis on the cross, and on the corresponding need for those who want to follow Jesus to be prepared to suffer as they do so (8:34-38). If CUs are about “making disciples of Jesus Christ in the student world for the glory of God” then we don’t want to hide the nature of Christian cross-shaped living from those we reach out to. Maybe it’s possible to draw these two ideas together more that I have done previously, in evangelism using Mark’s gospel… something to try out anyway.

New Word Alive 2009

April 8, 2009

Last week I was part of the first week of the New Word Alive conference in Pwllheli – only my second time at a Christian conference like this. First off, I had a really great time, thought the student price of £89 was a bargain, and was even pleasantly surprised by the sunny weather in the Lleyn Peninsula!

There was a good range of different seminar tracks to attend, and I had trouble choosing which one I wanted to go to the most, though fortunately we were encouraged to all attend the morning Bible readings led by Vaughan Roberts, who was giving an overview of 1 Corinthians 1-7 in his sermons. 1 Corinthians is great, and a lot of the points Roberts made felt very timely for me, and for the evangelical community in Britain at the moment. He chose to focus on “True Spirituality” as a uniting theme – authentic Christianity which looks to God’s revelation, not to human wisdom, focussing on Christ’s cross. Coming up to Easter it is good to be pointed back to the cross and to be made to think about how it forms the centre of the Christian gospel, but also informs the mode of Christian living and discipleship. I’m currently studying Mark for an essay and was surprised to see how many of the themes Mark draws out are there in 1 Corinthians – the scandal of the crucified Messiah, the need for a cross-shaped life for his followers, the emphasis on service and the way in which the first become last and the last become first in Christ. A big challenge for me was how much I can value things in secular terms – things being wise on a purely human level, or impressive, or powerful, or persuasive. This is a big temptation in studying Theology – but also in being part of a church and in Christian gospel outreach. It’s a huge issue and I’d like to work out what some of the implications are for evangelism – I think what Paul is suggesting in 1 Corinthians 1:18ff. does imply that the cross needs to inform not only the content, but also the mode of our gospel proclamation.

One of the things that made the conference great was the genuine Christian unity going on across many church boundaries – I met students from a number of different CUs and church backgrounds, and there was a welcome diversity in the official speakers while retaining a real heart-felt commitment to the gospel and the evangelical convictions of the sponsoring organisations. I helped organise the group from NUCU and was glad to see it wasn’t just people who had been last year who came, or people from one church only. I had worried at one point that New Word Alive could just end up being the “conservative” conference while Charismatics felt excluded and went elsewhere, but this didn’t appear to be the case. Don Carson, in his Q&A session during the week (standing room only!) alluded to the growing number of Christians who fall into both the “conservative evangelical” and “charismatic evangelical” camps like C.J. Mahaney (or, in the UK, Michael Green) – he called them “Reformed Charismatics” –  and it was good to meet a number of students who fell into this category during the week too. Carson seemed to be optimistic about the chances of inter-church cooperation in mission and service between “Reformed Charismatic” churches and the more traditionally conservative ones, which would be a welcome development. It’d be a shame if these churches were only meeting together for a week a year and not enjoying fellowship in the sense of working together for the gospel the rest of the time. Likewise for students, it’d be a shame to see interdenominational groups like the Christian Union be replaced or sidelined by competing denominational groups when there is a chance for real partnership based around unity on the essentials.