Robert Evans' Thoughts

Pursuing a passion for the LORD, the LOST, LIFE and LEADERSHIP

Cultural Anthropology Reflection

As a Corps Officer with The Salvation Army, an international Christian movement, living and ministering in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, this unit of Cultural Anthropology has provided me with “an informed understanding of the cultural ‘water’ in which divine-human interaction takes place” (Kraft 2011, p. 89). My current ministry context is a multicultural and multi-faith environment that demands an insightful and integrated cross-cultural perspective to appropriately wade into the ‘cultural water’ where Holy Spirit is already at work. Our church is currently supporting asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Egypt, engaging in inter-faith conversations with Pakistanis from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, forming partnerships with an Indian Christian group and working with volunteers from the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Fiji, Iran, Mauritius, Vietnam and New Zealand. In addition to my multicultural ministry context, I live in a neighbourhood with a Sri Lankan Vietnamese family on one side, an Indian family on the other and a Tongan family across the road. You could say that I am treading water in very deep ‘cultural waters’.

The study of Cultural Anthropology has significantly contributed to my current cultural context and cultural sensibilities by expanding my understanding of the lens of worldview, role of missions and a posture of learning. It is also providing me with a framework of thinking to observe and interpret the underlying meaning of people’s worldview that informs and shapes their cultural forms.

Understanding the deeper level of worldview and how it provides the lens through “which reality is perceived and interpreted” (Kraft 2011, p. 56) has shifted my focus in pursuing cultural change to below the surface of cultural forms to consider the underlying cultural assumptions and meanings. In a leadership context, this has provided me with insights and language to lead our church leadership team through a process to examine our current church culture and identify the inviolable values we need to establish to create a desired environment for mission and ministry. I used the worldview diagrams presented in class during week four to illustrate to our leaders where and how we need to influence change at this deeper level. The diagram illustrating the difference between the slow change (unobservable meanings) and fast change (observable forms) was particularly helpful to this process. In a mission context, I was also impacted by Kraft’s assertion that, “The Gospel is intended to influence and change people at the deepest possible level – the worldview level” (Kraft 2011, p. 57). This quote prompted me to write a blog post reflecting on the implications of a transformed worldview on evangelism. In this reflection on my blog I wrote the following:

“We are called to share a message of good news that transforms the hearts and minds of people towards a kingdom worldview, whereby their reality is seen through the eyes of God who “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Such a transformed worldview provides a vision of a redeemed reality where despair is turned to hope, sorrow to joy, oppression to freedom, death to life!”

Reading ‘Anthropology for Christian Witness’ has caused me to rethink the role of missions as I have begun to examine human behaviour from a cross-cultural perspective and discover how that shapes the way Christians give witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The author Charles H. Kraft relays a story illustrating some of the misperceptions that are experienced by the messenger and receptors of the gospel when there are differing views of reality. He shares the prayer that was prayed for three missionary recruits who were preparing to go to Nigeria: “Oh, Lord, help these young men to realize that it is You who are taking them to Nigeria, not they who are taking You” (Kraft 2011, p. 26). What a powerful prayer that somewhat challenges the paradigm of many missionaries and evangelists who genuinely believe they are taking God to not-yet-saved people. To believe that we are taking God anywhere is to assume that God is not already there. In contrast, this prayer affirms that God is already present and that He sends us to go and join in where He is already at work. This radically changes the context, content and conversation of mission for me. To go where God is already present opens our eyes to a partial revelation of God, opens our ears to interpret what God has already spoken and opens our mouth to speak appropriately into the conversation a full revelation of God through the person of Jesus Christ. It also highlights the need for a different mindset by missionaries and evangelists to realise that “we who enter other people’s societies from outside need to behave as guests” (Kraft 2011, p. 229) and therefore enter the mission field from a posture of learning and humility.

Adopting a posture of learning in a cross-cultural mission context turns mission into a shared experience of discovery and growth whereby the messenger and receptors are mutually benefited by the interaction. This has become real for me over the past couple of months as I have engaged in inter-faith conversations with a Pakistani Muslim enquiring about Christianity. While I passionately believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) and he holds fast to his Islamic beliefs, I understand that our respective beliefs about REALITY will be defined by a perceived reality from both of our religious and cultural contexts (Kraft 2011, p. 17-18). Therefore, engaging in these conversations from a posture of learning has required more listening than speaking on my part, which is not the intuitive posture for an evangelist or someone with my personality type! Kraft describes this learning role of cross-cultural witnesses: “As we work with the people, we need to find out what kinds of questions they are asking for which they are unable to find answers within their culture” (Kraft 2011, p. 125). I see a biblical alignment between this posture with that of Paul when he spoke with the men of Athens in Acts 17, speaking into what they didn’t know without condemning what they did know. Finding the questions the Athenians were unable to answer by observing their religious practices and identifying an altar to “an unknown god” (Acts 17:23) resulted in some of them reciprocating a posture of learning by saying, “we want to hear you again on this subject” (Acts 17:32). Adopting a similar posture as a cross-cultural witness with my Muslim friend has opened the opportunity for both of us to engage in each other’s faith perspectives and experiences and to see where the Spirit is at work. This reinforces some of my previous learning about Holy Spirit and other religions:

“We should watch for whatever Spirit may be teaching and doing among them. This posture creates the possibility of a dialogical relationship. We can enter into the faith of others and acknowledge truths and values found there. These are our fellow human beings, seeking truth as we are. God is reaching out, and people are responding. So let us watch for points of contact and bridges of communication” (Pinnock 1996, p. 205).

With this expanded understanding of the lens of worldview, role of missions and a posture of learning, I feel my physical and spiritual senses are heightened every time I interact with people from other cultures. From sharing a meal on the floor in an Afghan home, working side by side painting with my Sri Lankan friend, to discussing new ministry partnerships with Indian Christians, I am participating in a real life laboratory of application of what I am discovering through this subject. An added dimension to this personal and ministry journey is that I travel to and from Tabor College each week via Dandenong Railway Station on public transport, which presents me with a smorgasbord of cultural diversity. Each trip feels like an observation assignment as I try to identify and understand “the forms, structures, and patterns that humans use in the process of living” (Kraft 2011, p. 133).

As I write this reflection, last night I received a call from colleagues serving in a remote area of Australia who are feeling pressured to commence ministry among the aboriginal people of their town. They have no meaningful connection with the indigenous population, little energy or desire for cross-cultural ministry (due to other more pressing leadership demands), and are being asked to commence a ministry without knowledge of ‘felt needs’ among these people. This conversation demonstrated a complete contrast between the situation of my colleagues and everything I am learning through Cultural Anthropology. Ill-equipped leaders being coached to introduce forms of mission without an adequate understanding of the underlying cultural assumptions is a recipe for disaster. It is these conversations and the insights and experiences I’ve discussed in this reflection that fuel my passion to be an effective cross-cultural witness within my community and organisation. It seems to me the more diverse our community is becoming, the more complex the environment is in which to communicate the gospel. Therefore, old mission, evangelism and leadership paradigms will no longer suffice if we are serious about being effective cross-cultural witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The journey of cultural transformation continues for me as I seek to integrate this learning into my leadership and ministry in The Salvation Army – wherever that takes me!


Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Breathe in me O Holy Spirit,
That my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me O Holy Spirit,
That my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart O Holy Spirit,
That I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me O Holy Spirit,
To defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
That I always may be holy.

St. Augustine

The Devil’s Advocate

Movie:    The Devil’s Advocate
Starring:     Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves


 “Vanity is definitely my favourite sin.  Kevin, it’s so basic – self love, the old natural opiate.”[1]

The opening scene of the movie, The Devil’s Advocate, depicts a young hot-shot lawyer who is driven by his personal ambition and obsession with winning.  During a high profile trial, where he is defending a teacher accused of child abuse, the lawyer (Kevin) is faced with a moral dilemma when he realises his client’s guilt.  Despite the moral and social consequences of having him acquitted, Kevin’s ego wins the day; and it is this ego that lures Kevin into a decadent lifestyle that reveals a confronting concept of sin by the writers of this film.

The main concept of sin presented in this movie is centred on ‘vanity’; the primal love of self that seeks to satisfy ego-driven desires.  Throughout the storyline Kevin’s vanity is stimulated by the allure of status, success, sensuality and wealth.  Although there is a more sinister plot to the movie, the propagation of self-gratification lies at its heart.  In a climatic scene in the middle of the story, the character Mr. Milton, a sort of incarnated Satan, summarises this theme:

You sharpen the human appetite to the point where it can split atoms with it’s desire, you build egos the size of cathedrals, fibre optically connect the world to every ego impulse, grease even the dullest dreams with these dollar green, gold plated fantasies until every human becomes an aspiring emperor – he becomes his own god.  And where can you go from there?  And as we’re scrambling from one deal to the next; who’s got his eye on the planet, as the air thickens, the water sours – even the bee’s honey takes on the metallic taste of radioactivity.  And it just keeps coming, faster and faster.”[2]

It is this quote from the movie that makes some interesting connections with a more Biblical understanding of sin.

“You sharpen the human appetite to the point where it can split atoms with its desire”

Romans 7:5 highlights the truth of this statement by reminding us that “we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies.”  Paul identified how the ‘human appetite’ or ‘desire’ can control the thoughts and behaviours of every human being.

“until every human becomes an aspiring emperor – he becomes his own god.”

This brings us back to the origin of sin as revealed in Genesis 3:5 where the serpent deceives Eve by appealing to her vanity (ego):  “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”  Interestingly, Satan tries a similar tactic when tempting Jesus in the desert by appealing to His vanity (ego):  “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him…all the kingdoms of the world…I will give you al their authority and splendour…”[3]

Near the conclusion of the film there is a confrontation between Mr. Milton and Kevin where the web of deception is exposed and further revelations are made about the nature of sin, as presented by the movie.  These revelations from the movie also have some interesting connections with the nature of sin and other theological themes as revealed in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ.

“I’m no puppeteer Kevin.  I don’t make things happen.  It doesn’t work like that.  Free will, it’s like butterfly wings.  Once touched, they never get off the ground.  I only set the stage, you pull your own strings.[4]

“I don’t make things happen… I only set the stage, you pull your own strings.”

James 1:14 drives home the fact “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” [5] This is not to deny the reality of Satan and evil forces at work in our world, rather a reminder that the problem of sin is more an internal issue than one that is just a product of our environment.  Then of course, there is free will.  We have been given a choice to submit to our own evil desires or to submit to God, who has given us all that we need to overcome the sinful nature[6]

“God likes to watch, he’s a prankster.  He gives man instincts.  He gives you this extraordinary gift and then, then what does he do, I swear for his own amusement, his own cosmic private gag reel, he sets the rules in opposition.  It’s the goof of all time.  Look, but don’t touch.  Touch, but don’t taste.  Taste, but don’t swallow.  And while you’re jumping from one foot to the next, what is he doing?  He’s laughing his sick, %$#@! Off!  He’s a sadist!  He’s an absentee landlord.  Worship that, never!”[7]

“He gives man instincts… he sets the rules in opposition”

This is where we get a very different revelation from Scripture.  God does give humankind instincts, however, these instincts were originally designed to bring pleasure to God.  Sin, self-gratification, has shifted our object of pleasure from our Creator to ourselves.  In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren asserts that our first purpose in life is centred on the fact that we were planned for God’s pleasure.[8]  Scripture supports this view in Revelation 4:11 – “You created everything, and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created.” (NLT)  Consequently, we have two opposing laws at work, that of the sinful nature and that of God.

“So I find this law at work:  When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”[9]

“He’s an absentee landlord”

This inner conflict is not the result of an ‘absentee landlord’, rather a manipulative enemy who has come “to steal and kill and destroy.”[10]  Whereas, God “became flesh and made his dwelling among us”[11] so that “[we] may have life, and have it to the full.”[12]  Jesus whole purpose for entering into our existence was to deal with the issue of sin by offering Himself as an atoning sacrifice[13], thus rescuing us from the bondage of sin and self[14].  This is why we are called to die to self and to live according to the Spirit.[15]

In his book, Uprising – A Revolution of the Soul, I think Erwin McManus provides a helpful summary of the movie’s concept of sin and my understanding of sin from the revelation of God’s Word:

“Ironically, the Scriptures place human desires and passions at the epicentre of human action.  This is true in both the arena of sin and the arena of holiness.  Nothing explains why we sin more poignantly and clearly than human passion.”[16]



[1] Movie:  The Devil’s Advocate
[2] Movie:  The Devil’s Advocate
[3] Luke 4:5-6 (NIV)
[4] Movie:  The Devil’s Advocate
[5] See also 2 Peter 2:18 – “appealing to the lustful desires of the human nature”  (NIV)
[6] Romans 8:9 – “You, however are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit.”  (NIV), Joshua 24:15 – “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.”  (NIV), 2 Peter 1:3,4 – “His divine nature has given us everything we need…so that through them you may participate in the divine nature.”  (NIV)
[7] Movie:  The Devil’s Advocate
[8] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), 63.
[9] Romans 7:21-23  (NIV)
[10] John 10:10  (NIV)
[11] John 1:14  (NIV)
[12] John 10:10  (NIV)
[13] Romans 3:21-26  (NIV)
[14] Romans 8:1-2  (NIV)
[15] Romans 8:9-16  (NIV)
[16] Erwin R. McManus, Uprising – A Revolution of the Soul (Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2003), 8.

Gifts of the Spirit

The Continuing Relevance and Role of the Charismata

Before sending the disciples out into the mission field, Jesus told them to “stay in the city until [they had] been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49, NIV).   Luke reminds his readers of this instruction and promise at the beginning of his second letter when he quoted Jesus as saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NIV).  This promise of power is manifested in the lives of all believers after Pentecost through the charismata to direct and empower the life and witness of the early Christian community (Anderson 1997, p. 130).  The continuing relevance and role of the charismata beyond the early church is to empower and equip the Church today to fulfil the Great Commission.  Given that we are baptised by the same Spirit, subject to the same Commission and are still living in-between times awaiting the consummation of God’s kingdom, I am intrigued by continuing debate about the role and relevance of certain gifts within the contemporary church.  Each author approaches this subject from a different angle, but seems to come to the same conclusion, as affirmed by Paul, who addressed similar controversies within the Corinthian Church:  “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, NIV).  Yet, the controversy remains strong among evangelical churches; do the charismatic gifts have a place beyond the context of the New Testament?

Fee discusses the spiritual gifts as the experienced life of the Spirit in the context of community.  He raises questions about the tendency to group the gifts into categories, particularly when this separates ‘spiritual manifestations’ from their context of the worshipping life of the Christian community (Fee 1996, p. 163).  Paul’s various lists of gifts are not meant to be complete, rather an acknowledgement of the diversity of gifts and the manifestation of the Spirit “so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12, NIV).  The descriptions Fee offers of the ‘controversial’ or ‘charismatic’ gifts validates their continuing role and relevance in the Church:  “The reason for the gifts in the assembly is to build us up as we live out the life of the future in the present age” (Fee 1996, p. 177).

Anderson calls the church to repentance for the divisions in the Church over the charismata and submission to the activity of the Holy Spirit (Anderson 1997, p. 133).  He also highlights the importance of fellowship and the believing community being the environment of the Holy Spirit (Anderson 1997, p. 134).  According to Anderson the “charismata may be understood as the shaping of the ‘birth gift’ of ministry as applied in a particular context and to meet a particular need” (Anderson 1997, p. 135).  The variety of gifts reflects the variety of ministries within the community and each gift is important to fulfil that ministry.   His use of the term ‘birth gift’ expresses the charismatic nature of each Christian who possess the Holy Spirit. When embraced “the church emerges anew in every generation as the Spirit lives and empowers witnesses to Christ’s reconciliation of the world to God” (Anderson 1997, p. 136).

The article emerging from the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England evaluates the charismatic renewal within the Anglican Church.  In the interviews conducted, the charismata are explored in the context of ‘praying in the Spirit’.  Transcending theological and historical interpretations, the overwhelming feedback from those interviewed from this renewal was an experiential view of the Spirit within prayer.  Prayer became a two-way relationship with God where the pray-er cooperated with the Spirit in a continuing conversation in “an all-encompassing relationship” (Charismatic Experience:  Praying in the Spirit 1991, p. 21).  Although, the gift of tongues (glossolalia) were widely used in the context of private prayer, division still remained about their place and ‘spectacular usage’ in public worship.  The continuing role and relevance of the charismata was affirmed in a “deep and impressive commitment to the adventure of prayer” (Charismatic Experience:  Praying in the Spirit 1991, p. 33).

The chapter by Boyd and Eddy addresses the debate between the ‘Continuationist View’ and the ‘Cessationist View’ of the charismatic gifts.  It acknowledges that all evangelicals believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world today, but “are divided on the issue of whether the charismatic gifts are for today and should be practiced today” (Boyd & Eddy 2002, p. 213).  The arguments presented on both sides of the debate centre on the main theme of this paper – the continuing role and relevance of the charismata – each side arriving at a different conclusion.  I concur with the continuationist conclusion that “the New Testament generally depicts the work of the Spirit in believers’ lives as unchanging throughout the church age” (Boyd & Eddy 2002, p. 216).

While there is little debate or division surrounding the continued relevance of other groups of gifts listed by Paul[1], I find the controversy surrounding the charismatic gifts out of step with Paul’s intended instruction and correction of the churches regarding the use of these gifts.  He highlights the ‘common good’ (1 Corinthians 12:7), ‘effectiveness of the body’ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) and ‘unity’ (1 Corinthians 12:13) when discussing these gifts, in response to misuse and disunity within the church.  Paul’s desire was for the church to reach maturity and unity of faith to fulfil her kingdom potential in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:4-13).  I agree with Boyd and Eddy’s commentary on Paul that “until the body of Christ is fully built up into ‘the measure of the full stature of Christ’ – until the Lord returns – the gifts are to remain in operation” (Boyd & Eddy 2002, p. 216).  From my vantage point, the church is not yet at that place and the ‘Great Commission’ is yet to be fulfilled.  While we live between the times, awaiting the consummation of God’s kingdom (Fee 1996, p.176-177), the manifestation of God’s supernatural power through intimacy with the Holy Spirit is as relevant today as it was for the early church.  The whole spectrum of gifts graced to the church ought to be embraced and fully utilised, rather than rationalised or rejected, otherwise the body risks being incomplete and ineffective.  Like Paul, our response to the manifestations of the Spirit should be “never to eliminate such phenomena… but to correct by urging proper use” (Fee 1996, p. 174).  I will give Anderson the final word to affirm the continued relevance and role of the charismata in the church today:  “There appear to be as many gifts available to the community as there are needs, with some highlighted in each community according to the ministry focus” (Anderson 1997, p. 136).

[1] Personal Gifts (Romans 12) and Ascension Gifts (Ephesians 4)

Spirit in Other Religions?

Spirit in Other Religions?

“Late last century, missionaries came to Aboriginal groups in North Queensland…Being convinced of the vital importance of the Christian message, they sought to convert our people to their Christian beliefs and habits.  Some tried to understand the customs of our people.  One or two tried to understand our religion.  For the most part, our religious beliefs and ceremonies were regarded as pagan, barbaric and evil.  The sooner these were replaced with civilised Christianity, the better for all concerned; or so they thought.  Because most missionaries had little regard for the beliefs and practices which were central to the way of life of our people, and actively promoted a European culture as superior, our people became confused…The Spirit of God is speaking to and through Aboriginal Australians.  God does not speak to us first and foremost through European and Western theology.  God accepts us as we are.  Our people need to be free of the terrible burden of believing that they need to think and live like Europeans before they can be Christians.”  (Rainbow Spirit Elders 1997, p. 2-3, 6)

Despite the best intentions of early missionary movements and modern evangelical endeavours, the message of the Gospel has been and is often presented with the assumption that people, whatever their cultural or religious background, are fundamentally godless.  From this standpoint there has been a failure or unwillingness to recognise that God’s Spirit is already at work, and that many other religious expressions reveal a deep spiritual yearning to fill that “God” space which exists within every human being.  Karl Rahner describes this common spiritual dimension of humanity as “the innermost centre of his existence” where God “has already communicated himself in his Holy Spirit always and everywhere and to every person” (Karkkainen 2002, p. 113).  Rather than joining the spiritual conversation that has already begun, many within the Christian church have made misplaced assumptions and judgements about the spirituality of people from other faith traditions.  In addition to these assumptions and judgements, ecumenism has been challenged by “dialogue with people of other living faiths,” fearing this may lead to religious pluralism (Victorin-Vangerud 2000, p. 9).  Yet, against this backdrop, Scripture reminds us of the universal work of the Holy Spirit who reaches all people, revealing the scope of God’s grace in Jesus Christ: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:17, NIV); “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16, NIV); “…who wants all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4, NIV).  In recognising the universality of God’s Spirit and the scope of salvation (Pinnock 1996, p. 185ff) there is much to be gained from engaging in theological reflection that explores the “Spirit’s presence and activity in other faiths” (Yong 2005, p. 247).  In this research paper I will discuss the legitimacy of a ‘pneumatological theology of religion’ that seeks to dialogue with other faiths about the work of the Holy Spirit and the implications that such dialogue has on our approach to Christian mission and evangelism.

In contrast to a closed theology that assumes an exclusivist view, which sees “those who have never heard the Gospel [as] eternally lost” (Karkkainen 2002, p. 230), a pneumatological theology of religion invites us to “seek redemptive bridges to other traditions and inquire if God’s word has been heard by their adherents” (Pinnock 1996, p.201).  This requires an open dialogue that broadens our theological boundaries to recognise and discern the work of the Spirit in a multi-cultural and multi-religious context (Yong 2005, p. 240).  If God’s Spirit has indeed been ‘poured out upon all people’ (Acts 2:17) and “blows wherever it pleases” (John 3:8, NIV), then it stands to reason that this also includes the realm of other religious expressions.  In his book ‘The Go-Between God’, Taylor makes a valuable contribution to the “debates about inter-faith dialogue” by redefining religion from a static idea to a more dynamic experience that attempts to respond to the presence of the Holy Spirit (Taylor 1972, p. 181).  He says, “I believe it is truer to think of a religion as a people’s tradition of response to the reality the Holy Spirit has set before their eyes” (Taylor 1972, p. 182).  If you incorporate into this theological framework Augustine’s idea of prevenient grace, “that God’s grace is active in human lives before conversion” (McGrath 1994, p.378), then one begins to look upon other religions as a cultural response to the Spirit of God who is actively drawing all people to himself (John 12:32), rather than a threat to Christianity.  This is not to suggest that all religions lead to the same destination or that all forms of spirituality are a legitimate pathway to salvation.  Attempts to define a pneumatological theology of religions in this way only plays into ecumenical concerns about syncretism and hinders any productive inter-faith dialogue.  Reflecting on Rahner’s pneumatological theology of religions, where he describes those of other religious traditions who have a “transcendental experience of the Spirit” as “anonymous Christians” (Karkkainen 2002, p. 116), Karkkainen succeeds in bringing balance to the discussion:

“All religious traditions potentially express truth about God’s self-communication in the Spirit and therefore are part of the history of revelation.  This does not mean, of course, that all religions express equally valid expressions of divine self-revelation:  There is error in any religion.  But through Christ’s death and resurrection, God’s gracious self-communication in the spirit has become manifest in history:  The ‘world is drawn to its spiritual fulfilment by the Spirit of God, who directs the whole history of the world in all its length and breadth towards its proper goal” (Karkkainen 2002, p. 116).

Pinnock would agree that people are in search of God in other religions and that we ought to be careful not to dismiss that God can indeed be found there, while being discerning of the truth within this search.  He states that “We have to say yes and no to other religions.  On the one hand, we should accept any spiritual depth and truth in them.  On the other hand, we must reject darkness and error…The key is to hold fast to two truths: the universal operations of grace and the uniqueness of its manifestation in Jesus Christ” (Pinnock 1996, p. 202).

The importance of developing a balanced pneumatological theology of religions is to remain open to the universality of the Spirit in that God loves the whole world and desires for all people to be saved, while maintaining the particularity of Christ who is ultimately the only way to salvation (Pinnock 1996, p. 192).  Careful not to set the mission of the Spirit against the mission of the Son, Pinnock sees them as complementary: “The Spirit’s mission is to bring history to completion and fulfilment in Christ.  Thus the double mission of Son and Spirit can provide the perspective we need to handle the tension of universality and particularity” (Pinnock 1996, p. 194).  This has enormous missional implications, as it redefines how we interact with other religions and reshapes our evangelical approach to a ‘lost world’.

The quote at the beginning of this paper from the Rainbow Spirit Elders illustrates one of the consequences for mission of not having an appropriate pneumatological theology of religions.  Aboriginal Australians are among many cultural and religious groups where western Christianity has not recognised the universality of the Spirit and has forced an arrogant form of theology that has misrepresented God’s grace.  An alternative approach to mission requires a genuine openness that looks and listens for the work of the Spirit “in advance of mission, preparing the way for Jesus” (Pinnock 1996, p.207).  This attentiveness to the work of the Spirit needs to be of mutual benefit if we are to be truly open to what the Spirit is saying, as “The Spirit of God may be addressing the Christian community in a prophetic way from another religious tradition” (Edwards 2004, p. 63).  Therefore, our interactions with other religious traditions can no longer be based on what we can tell them, rather from what we can learn from each other.  The advantage of this approach lies in a deeper, more genuine appreciation for each other and the ability to see the Creator at work in His creation, enabling us to love the world the way God does.  Taylor captures this powerfully as he describes the impact of persevering in “listening openness:”

 “I shall begin to see more of that other man’s real world.  I shall see past what to me are distasteful rituals, alien symbols and concepts that carry no conviction to the insights they are trying to express…And then, at last, I shall see the Saviour and Lord of that world, my Lord Jesus, and yet not as I have known him.  I shall understand how perfectly he matches all the needs and all the aspirations and all the insights of that other world – He who is the unique Lord and Saviour of all possible worlds” (Taylor 1972, p. 189)

It may be helpful at this point to provide a specific context for the implications of a pneumatological theology of religions for mission.  The rise of Islam in Australia has certainly been met with a variety of responses from the community and church.   A secular culture of tolerance will try and highlight points of commonality to promote freedom of expression and cultural diversity (Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001).  Fear of religious extremism, on the other hand, will focus on cultural and religious differences that divide us and potentially threaten ‘our way of life.’  The church that takes an exclusivist view will lead any mission or evangelical endeavour from a Christological platform, declaring Christ to be the only way to God, effectively shutting down any possibility of interfaith dialogue.  However, the church that approaches mission from an inclusivist view, while recognising that salvation is found in Christ alone, will engage with the universal revelation of God through the Spirit, opening opportunities for dialogue.  While arguing for a Trinitarian approach to theology and mission, Karkkainen recognises that to avoid an exclusivist standpoint and to remove obstacles for dialogue with monotheistic faiths such as Judaism and Islam, a pneumatological approach may be more appropriate to the Christian-Muslim discussion[1] (Karkkainen 2006, p. 50-51).  Approaching mission with the Islamic community with a healthy pneumatological theology of religions doesn’t deny or ignore our differences, rather intentionally and lovingly looks for common ground for communication and witness, as expressed by Pinnock:

“We should watch for whatever Spirit may be teaching and doing among them.  This posture creates the possibility of a dialogical relationship.  We can enter into the faith of others and acknowledge truths and values found there.  These are our fellow human beings, seeking truth as we are.  God is reaching out, and people are responding.  So let us watch for points of contact and bridges of communication” (Pinnock 1996, p. 205).

In his discussion about Christian-Muslim dialogue, Yong asks the question, “Is it not possible for the Spirit, who empowers the diversity of voices to bear witness to the wonders of God, to bring forth unexpected gains from this specific Christian-Muslim dialogue” (Yong 2005, p. 264)?  Such a question and openness for mutual learning redirects an exclusivist approach to mission and evangelism towards an inclusivist “dialogical relationship” (Pinnock 1996, p. 205).

Taylor cites a biblical example of how the Spirit led the magi towards the Christ child, providing them with their own revelation of Jesus in the context of their cultural and religious distinctiveness.  He states that “Christians with a true enthusiasm for the gospel should be the first to welcome the lesson of the Epiphany story of the magi” (Taylor 1972, p. 190).  Pinnock seeks a similar level of evangelical enthusiasm, “We do not affirm the possibility of God’s revealing himself outside of Christianity begrudgingly – we welcome it!  Not only does such a possibility suggest bridges in other cultures to enhance mission, but it also allows us to hear the word of God from others and deepens our own understanding of revelation”  (Pinnock 1996, p. 208).

While researching this paper I had the privilege of observing the universal work of God’s Spirit, providing me with a first hand encounter to reflect upon the implications of a healthy pneumatological theology of religions in our mission context.  Over the past few weeks, Hiran, a man of Hindu faith, began attending our mid-week service we conduct specifically for people accessing our Community Support Services.  He came initially for friendship, as he was a new arrival to Australia and had recently been divorced and estranged from his family.  Through the acceptance and open dialogue from a couple from our congregation, Hiran began attending Sunday services while I was preaching on “Encountering the Holy Spirit.”  He found himself crying throughout the messages, unsure of what was happening to him.  While engaging in follow-up conversations with the couple who had befriended him, Hiran made the realisation “I now know that God [as he understands him] has sent me to Australia to find Jesus.”  What this experience and research paper has taught me, is that without an appropriate awareness and openness to the universal work of the Spirit, my ability to connect with people like Hiran will be hindered by my cultural and theological biases.  Unless I approach mission from where the Spirit is already at work, I risk making wrong assumptions about people’s spirituality and revelation of God in their lives.

Not only is a pneumatological theology of religions legitimate, I believe it is essential if we are going to effectively engage in the mission of the Holy Spirit to lead those who are already seeking God towards faith in Jesus Christ.  With eyes wide open to the ministry of the Spirit within other religions I am better positioned to “seek [and] discern the Spirit’s presence and activity in other faiths” (Yong 2005, p. 247).  It could be said that Paul was the first theologian to embrace pneumatological theology of religions when he addressed the Athenians in the meeting of the Areopagus:  “Men of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘to an unknown god.’  Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you…” (Acts 17:22-27, NIV).  Paul respected and acknowledged the spirituality of the Athenians, connected where the Spirit was already at work, engaged in open dialogue and introduced them to his God, Jesus Christ.  The positive implications of such a theology for mission, as I have presented, is evidenced by those who said, “We want to hear you again on this subject” (Acts 17:32).  May we approach dialogue with other religions, by God’s grace and in step with the Spirit, in such a way that we form open relationships where spiritual seekers say, ‘we want to hear you again on this subject.’

[1] Karkkainen argues “that the proper context for advancing a pneumatological theology of religions is a healthy Trinitarian framework” (Karkkainen 2006, p. 48).

Olympic Spirit – Vision of Endurance

Few Olympic events require more endurance than the cycling road race, marathon, triathlon, 50 km walk or 10 km swim! These are long distance events that push the human body and will to the limit, requiring athletes to break through several physical and mental pain barriers.

As a cyclist who has participated in several long distance rides, I recognise that the greatest battle in these endurance events is more often than not against myself, than my competitors – will I make it up this hill, can I stay with the slip stream of the rider in front of me, my legs are burning, how many kilometres before coffee?

There are times when I’m riding the hill seems too high, the distance too far, the wind too strong or the pace too fast! In those moments I have a choice to get off and give up or to press on and finish the ride.

Athletes, who win, simply never give up!! They stay the course, go the distance and win the prize!

These long distance events in the Olympic Games give us a “Vision of Endurance.”

The Apostle Paul shared this “Vision of Endurance” with the church in Philippi as he encouraged them to pursue a life in Christ:

“I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

Paul often drew inspiration from the ancient games in Greece to compare the race of life with the pursuit of the athlete. He understood that the same commitment and determination in the sporting arena is required in the arena of life.

1. Forget what is behind

Leave the past behind – let go of failures, successes, barriers

2. Strain for what is ahead

Keep moving forward – embrace every opportunity

3. Press on toward the goal

Keep your eye on the prize – don’t lose focus

It concerns me when I see Christians allow the demands of life to derail their faith and then blame God for giving up! When athletes abandon the race they are not defeated by anybody else except themselves.

Jesus didn’t give up on you when he pursued the pathway to the cross, so don’t give up on yourself!

He has left us the ultimate coach in the Holy Spirit who empowers us to complete the race.

Embrace a “Vision of Endurance” and forget what is behind by surrendering to God, strain for what is ahead by fixing your eyes on Jesus and press on toward the goal through the power of the Spirit!

Olympic Spirit – Vision of Strength

What an extraordinary week of Olympic competition, where the Olympic motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger” has come alive with gold medals being contested and world records being broken! The best of the best athletes of the world have displayed a “Vision of Strength” as they have pushed themselves to their physical and mental limits.

As I have sat up late every night cheering the wins and lamenting the losses of the Australian team, I’ve seen this “Vision of Strength” transcend the colour of any medal. While strength is obvious in victory, how and where is it seen in defeat?

A “Vision of Strength” can be seen picking yourself up after a crash or when you fall.
A “Vision of Strength” can be seen congratulating your competitors in their victory.
A “Vision of Strength” can be seen facing the media in defeat.
A “Vision of Strength” can be seen responding to public expectation and criticism.

One such example of strength was demonstrated by the Chinese girls at the velodrome after comprehensively winning the gold medal, being relegated to silver due to a technicality. As they stood on the dais listening to the English national anthem being played for the medal they had won, the smiles on their faces and respect shown to their opponents gave me a “Vision of Strength.” Despite their devastation of losing the gold, they displayed grace in receiving the silver.

Another example of strength was displayed by Leisel Jones who responded to criticism about her weight coming into the Olympics with a determined will to prove her critics wrong in the pool. Instead of publicly reacting, she used what was meant to tear her down to drive her to success. Despite the outcome of her events, her unshakeable determination was a “Vision of Strength.”

Strength is a state of being that combines attitude with aptitude, character with competence and humility with honour.

Beyond the display of strength we see in the Olympics, the Bible provides us with a “Vision of Strength” that gives testimony to the power of God who strengthens and sustains his people through times of adversity:

Joseph (Genesis 39)
It was a “Vision of Strength” that enabled Joseph to resist and run from the seduction of Potiphar’s wife by resolving “how could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God.”

Moses (Exodus 3-4)
It was a “Vision of Strength” at the burning bush that led Moses to go back into Egypt to confront Pharaoh and demand, “Let my people go.”

Joshua (Joshua 1)
It was a “Vision of Strength” that told Joshua to “be strong and courageous” as he prepared to lead God’s people to take possession of the promised land.

Elijah (1 Kings 18)
It was a “Vision of Strength” that empowered Elijah to stand up to the prophets of Baal and call upon the name of the Lord, “so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God.”

David (1 Samuel 17)
It was a “Vision of Strength” that brought David before Goliath with nothing but a sling and five stones, challenging the giant, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

Daniel (Daniel 6)
It was a “Vision of Strength” that protected Daniel, defying his accusers, by shutting the mouths of the lions and proclaimed his innocence before the pagan king who declared God to be “the living God who endures forever.”

Jesus (Luke 23)
It was a “Vision of Strength” that expressed such love by Jesus who looked his enemies in the eyes and uttered, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” as they hung him on the cross to die.

Each of these biblical heroes faced temptation, bondage, fear, evil, opposition and accusation with a “Vision of Strength” that came from faith in the power and presence of God. On their own they were confronted by overwhelming odds, but they possessed something beyond themselves that empowered them to overcome their obstacles.

The prophet Zechariah reminds us that it is “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6). It is this “Vision of Strength” that gave David the unshakeable confidence to declare in his psalm that “He (God) alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:2).

When you face temptation, bondage, fear, evil, opposition and accusation in your life, do you have a “Vision of Strength” that strengthens and sustains you to overcome your circumstances?

Olympic Spirit – Vision of Unity

From the spectacle of the Olympic Games opening ceremony to the anticipation of Olympic glory on the dais, athletes and spectators from all over the world unite together for a common purpose for the next two weeks. Political divisions, armed conflict, economic crisis, global poverty, racial tension, environmental concerns are all set aside to compete in the biggest sporting arena on earth. The Olympic Games seems to be able to achieve what political diplomacy or force is incapable of every four years!

The sight of nearly every nation on earth marching into the Olympic stadium under their national colours is reminiscent of the scene in Acts 2 when all the known nations of the Mediterranean gathered together for the celebration of Pentecost. This annual Jewish feast was a “Vision of Unity,” fulfilling the prophesy of Joel when God “pour[ed] out [His] Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:17).

In this modern era of sporting excellence, it is the ‘Olympic Spirit’ that provides us with a similar “Vision of Unity.” Amidst the fierce competition for gold, this “Vision of Unity” enables the international community to see beyond that which divides and participate in that which unites! For a brief moment in time the world is as it should and could be.

Leadership guru Peter Drucker affirms this idea, “Common vision, common understanding, and unity of direction and effort of the entire organization require definition of “what our business is and what it should be.”

Applying the success of the ‘Olympic Spirit’ to the Church requires the same clarity of vision and commitment to that which unifies, beyond that which divides.

Pentecost gave the early Church a vision of God’s Kingdom, but I wonder what happened to this “Vision of Unity” when the nations returned to their reality? What will happen to the “Vision of Unity” when the ‘Olympic Spirit’ dissipates after the closing ceremony of the London Olympic Games?

Clearly, the spirit that unites humanity under a single cause needs to become an integrated reality for the vision to remain clear and strong before the people. Similarly, the Spirit of Pentecost cannot just be an event, but an integrated reality for the fulfilment of God’s vision for His Kingdom!

What will it take for an Olympic sized “Vision of Unity” to capture the hearts and minds of every person who bears the name of Christ?

Let’s not wait until the next Pentecost or Olympic Games to find out, because the answer is right in front of us!

Acts 2:1 – “They were all together in one place.” That’s it! That’s all it will take!

A “Vision of Unity” = ALL …Inclusive of all people, regardless of race, gender or age.

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” (Martin Luther King Jr)

A “Vision of Unity” = TOGETHER …Is not done in isolation, but in community.

“We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship, and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfill God’s purposes by ourselves.” (Rick Warren)

A “Vision of Unity” = ONE …Unity of heart and mind.

“We must have unity, and we must return to the kind of power the Early Church has if we plan to complete the Great Commission.” (David Cannistraci)

Don’t let a “Vision of Unity” fade away with the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games.
Don’t let difference or indifference rob you from a “Vision of Unity.”
Don’t allow your attitude or behaviour to cloud a “Vision of Unity” from others.

Allow a “Vision of Unity” to burn brightly in the depths of your soul.
Allow a “Vision of Unity” to ignite a belief for a better future.
Allow a “Vision of Unity” to fan into flame a passion for God’s Kingdom.

Inerrancy Debate

Must the Bible be accurate in every detail in order to be true?

“We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God and that they only constitute the divine rule of Christian faith and practice.” (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine 2010, p. 1)

“Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 2, Article 3, II. – Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture)

“The Uniting Church acknowledges that the Church has received the books of the Old and New Testaments as unique prophetic and apostolic testimony, in which it hears the Word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated.” (Uniting Church in Australia, Basis of Union, 5. – The Biblical Witnesses)

“We believe that the Bible is God’s Word. It is accurate, authoritative and applicable to our every day lives.” (Australian Christian Churches, Assemblies of God in Australia, What We Believe)

“We believe the Bible to be God’s inspired word for us. We look to the Bible to discover the mind of God and therefore our life values.” (Australian Baptist Ministries, What We Value)

From the above statements of belief, representing various mainstream churches in Australia, it is clear that the Scriptures have a central place in Christian faith and practice. They are viewed as the inspired Word of God, revealing God’s divine nature and are upheld as the authoritative standard for Christian living. This elevated view of a collection of writings compiled nearly two thousand years ago, has left the Bible open to scrutiny, misinterpretation, and scepticism throughout the history of the Church. Yet, within the pages of the Bible it affirms itself as being divinely inspired (2 Timothy 3:16) and as God’s self-revelation, containing the message of salvation for all humankind through Jesus Christ (John 20:31). It is described as a spiritual weapon (Ephesians 6:17), a source of power (Romans 1:16), useful for teaching and instruction (2 Timothy 3:16), a giver of hope (Romans 15:4) and a guide towards knowledge of eternal life (1 John 5:13). From this standpoint the Church recognises the authority contained within the written word, “accepting the authority of the Bible as the ultimate deciding factor on issues of true Christian belief and discipleship, and placing itself in submission to it” (The Salvation Army 2010, p. 6). With an established biblical and historical foundation of truth and trustworthiness, the Bible has become “foundational for believers in every generation in that it provides the interpretive framework for the Christian community” (Grenz 2000, Kindle ed.) and is “authoritative in that it is the vehicle through which the Spirit chooses to speak” (Grenz 2000, Kindle ed.).

With such importance placed in Scripture by the Church, how vital is its accuracy? Does this foundation of truth and authority become vulnerable if details contained within Scripture don’t agree? Does it really matter? To even attempt to answer these questions and maintain a level of confidence in what has been established as the foundation of authority in the Church we must understand what the Bible is and is not.

1. What the Bible isn’t: The Bible is not, as some would reduce it to, merely a historical text book. While it does record historical events, it wasn’t written as a history book. Wright concludes that suggesting the Bible is something it isn’t “is a low doctrine of inspiration” (Wright 1991). Neither is the Bible a scientific text book. The Bible teaches us much about the world that God created, but doesn’t endeavour to explain the ‘how’ as much as it describes the ‘why’. Even with a literal understanding of the Creation story in Genesis, one must concede that the purpose of the Creation story was not to provide scientific answers, but “an expression of God’s creativity and love, which calls for a response from us of love and worship” (Lecture Notes 8.3). Finally, we need to be cautious of bibliolatry, where the Bible itself becomes an object of worship. While it is the inspired word of God, as a document it cannot save us, but points us to the One who can. Inspiration comes from God and revelation leads to God, making the Bible a means through which God communicates His divine love and purpose for humankind. In recognising what the Bible isn’t we come to an understanding that the “Bible is a vehicle, not just for stating truths, but also for creating spiritual connection and growth” (Boyd & Eddy 2009, p. 22).

2. What the Bible is: The previous quote from Boyd & Eddy leads us into a correct understanding of the purpose of Scripture which transcends truth to transformation: “God intended that the Bible go beyond truthful information to achieve spiritual transformation. God’s purpose for the Bible is that we not only connect with ideas about him but also connect with him” (Boyd & Eddy 2009, p.22). The Bible records God’s interaction with humanity so that He may become known and that our lives may be transformed by that knowledge. The gospel writer John makes this clear at the end of his record of the life of Jesus by stating that “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). Grenz places the purpose of the Bible in the context of community, “providing the foundation for the life we share as believers, that is, for our identity as the Christian community” (Grenz 2000, Kindle ed.). Based on this idea, the Bible not only enables us to have an understanding of the Triune nature of God, but helps us to understand the community in which it was written, allowing us to apply that knowledge across historical, cultural and religious contexts to the community of believers today. Grenz quotes Paul Achtemeier who concurs with this understanding:

“The major difference of the Bible is not that it is a book, but rather that it reflects the life of the community of Israel and the primitive church, as those communities sought to come to terms with the central reality that God was present with them in ways that regularly outran their ability to understand or cope” (Grenz 2000, Kindle ed.).

As the “book of the community” it became more important to early believers that Scripture “lays hold of the life of the reader and calls that life into divine service” than the truths it claimed (Grenz 2000, Kindle ed.). Thus, affirming that the ultimate goal of studying the Scripture is spiritual transformation. “Through Scripture the Spirit shapes our identity as the community of Christ and as individual members of that community” (Grenz 2000, Kindle ed.). Rick Warren, church leader and author, also communicates this transforming understanding of the Bible in the context of community in his popular book, The Purpose Driven Life – “The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives” (Warren 2002, p. 192)

By establishing what the Bible is and isn’t lays the foundation for answering the original question, “must the Bible be accurate in every detail in order to be true?” If the Bible was intended to be an historical and scientific textbook, then accuracy of every detail would be necessary for its integrity. However, having made the case for the Bible being a transformational book of the community with the purpose of pointing people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, then it can be argued that accuracy in every detail is not the point of the revealed word of God. The inerrancy debate presented by Boyd & Eddy highlights how argument over accuracy “tends to shift the focus of faith away from Jesus Christ and toward the accuracy of the Bible” (Boyd & Eddy 2009, p. 30). They present the view and I agree that “according to the Bible itself, faith should rest on Jesus Christ, not on one’s opinion about the degree of accuracy of the Bible” (Boyd & Eddy 2009, p. 30). God’s intention is for the salvation of humankind and the restoration of the community that He created in His image. It seems to me that the preoccupation with the accuracy of Scripture runs the risk of dividing that which God intended to reconcile. The irony of this debate is that the means through which God seeks to unite becomes the source of division. This is often the problem when human beings superimpose their agenda over God’s divine purpose.

The accuracy or inerrancy of Scripture therefore lies in whether it effectively communicates the author’s original intent, not whether it aligns with the reader’s culturally conditioned interpretations. As God’s primary source of revelation giving testimony to the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ; the Prophets prepared the way for Christ, the Gospels provided a faithful witness to the mission of Christ and the Epistles affirm the transforming power of Christ by His ongoing mission through the community of believers called the Church. Even today, the Bible continues to fulfil God’s original purpose of transforming lives as “the Spirit [speaks] through the Bible [to] orient our present both on the basis of the past and in accordance with a vision of the future” (Grenz 2000, Kindle ed).

Grace and Truth

The Gospels provide us with a clear representation of God through the person of Jesus Christ, whom I fear the world has rarely been introduced to by the Church. Clark Pinnock, an important theological voice for these times, suggests that atheists are “not rejecting the God of the Bible – they haven’t even heard of Him!” To a certain degree I think Pinnock is right, as the Church has too often presented a God, not seen through person of Jesus, but through the polarising lenses of the Church. John 1:14 says that Jesus came “full of grace and truth”, which I firmly hold as a guiding principle for all matters concerning human relationships, justice and morality. This description of Jesus was perfectly personified when he was confronted by the religious leaders of the day with a woman found in “sin” who was deserving of death according to the law (John 8:1-11). The Church would do well to rediscover this example of “grace and truth” in action (note the order). Jesus not only didn’t condemn the woman, but he stood along side her before her accusers, even after challenging those “without sin” to throw the first stone! In other words, he was prepared to die with her while she was still a “sinner” (Romans 5:8). This action of grace laid the foundation for truth. I think the Church runs the risk of legalism when it assumes the right to speak truth in the absence of grace; and runs the risk of licentiousness when it manufactures grace devoid of truth. Grace must be authentic, absolute and actioned if it has any hope of laying a foundation of truth in this complex world of relative morality and injustice that we live in today.