2005 header for issue 31

Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Word
By R. Bauckham.
Carlisle: Paternoster, 2003. 112 pp.
Review by Dr Aquila Lee  

What is the relevance of Christian mission for the globalized world of the 21st century? Is it a threat to the cultural diversity of our various communities to be carefully avoided or an asset for global citizens to be welcomed and promoted? Bauckham convincingly argues that the God of the Bible is both universal and particular and defends the view that Christian mission in a truly biblical sense is neither a tidal wave of religious homogenization and imperialism sweeping away all diversity of the world nor a kind of ecclesiastical imperialism or ecclesiastical globalization (p.10). In this book the writer presents a timely response to the issue of globalization by taking seriously the postmodern cultural context and the realities of Western political and economic imperialism.  

How the themes of particularity and universality are related in the Bible is the main thrust of the book. The writer attempts to show how the Bible itself embodies a kind of movement from the particular to the universal (p.11). For Bauckham, the God of the Bible is the God of the one people Israel and the one human being Jesus Christ, and is also the Creator and Lord of all things.

 The writer begins his book by highlighting the postmodern rejection of all metanarratives. By definition a metanarrative is an attempt to tell a single story about the whole of human history in order to attribute a single and integrated meaning to the whole. However, postmodernism sees all metanarratives as attempts to universalize ones own values and they are thus seen as necessarily authoritarian or oppressive. Should Christianity be criticized in the same way as Western imperialism in the past and global capitalism today are often criticized for their attempts to universalize themselves at the expense of the particularity and diversity of different cultures? Should the event of September the 11th be seen as a collision of two universalist cultures, Christianity and Islam?

 In order to give answers to these questions the writer presents in Chapter 2 four forms of the biblical movement from the particular to the universal: (1) from Abraham to all the families of the earth; (2) from Israel to all the nations; (3) Gods enthronement of David in Zion to the ends of the earth; and (4) to all by way of the least. And Bauckham rightly notes that the fourth trajectory of the biblical story reminds us of the downward movement of solidarity with the people at the bottom of the social scale of importance and wealth (p.54). In Chapter 3 he speaks about geography in the Bible and begins with the table of the nations in Genesis 10. He brings out the idea of representative geography. He notices that in Genesis 10 the number of descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth listed there is precisely seventy. Just as the number seven in the Bible indicates completeness, but also it can stand, representatively, for all, the seventy nations in the genealogy of the descendants of Noah in Genesis 10, also a representative list. The writer rightly notes that this idea “does not turn the specific peoples and places into mere symbols. They retain their reality and their own real particularity, but they also stand representatively for all other places or peoples” (p.60).

 Mission studies have shown that there are two directions of movement in the Bible: the centripetal and the centrifugal. The former refers to movement in towards a center and the latter to movement out from a center. These images are seen in both the Old and New Testaments. However, the writer has rightly observed that besides these two, there is another geographical image. He refers to this third image as the image of Gods people as exiles among the nations. Although the earliest church assumed the centrality of Jerusalem (Acts 1:8), Bauckham also finds that the NT church began to interpret this geographical image metaphorically and the new Temple came to be seen as “the church itself, not a building but the community” (p.75). He explains the importance of a new Temple, which is not tied to any particular geography, as follows:

So with the idea of a new Temple that was not a location, but a people, we can see the spatial image of the center and the periphery beginning to lose its literal geographical reference. . . In the church both [Jews and Gentiles] have access to God in Christ. God’s presence is now among his people in the metaphorical Temple they themselves compose . . . This new centre is everywhere and nowhere, just as with the advent of modern geography and postmodern globalization the ends of the earth are now everywhere and nowhere.

 

In the final chapter he returns to answer the critique posed by the postmodern rejection of all metanarratives. Bauckham asks whether the biblical concept of mission the narrative movement of the Bible from particularity to universality is really a kind of narrative imperialism or ecclesiastical globalization, a form of self-aggrandizement on the churchs part (p.89)  He also asks a practical question whether Christian mission can resist the narratives of global power that dominate our world today. These questions are attractive enough for thinking Christians and I invite you to pick up the book in the library or to purchase it! Although Bauckham says that this book is not an account of what the Bible says about mission, I’ve found full of insights in it and a much needed biblical perspective on mission. This book will be of great help to all those interested in theology of mission, especially a biblically sound Christian response to globalization.

 

CHAPEL NOTES

 Fourteen Terrifying Words
(An Epilogue)

Rev Ng Seng Chuan on 5 Oct 2005

As the speaker supplying his own sermon summary, I thought I would make this into a kind of an "epilogue".

The sermon on Hebrews 10:31 represents something of a paradigm shift for me.  In my long "career" of preaching spanning some 35 years (yes, my first sermon was preached in 1970), I have always done it "expository" style.  Then, having been an "itinerant" preacher for some ten years now, I thought it meaningful to experiment with "textual" preaching (sermons based on a single verse of Scripture).

At about the same time, I stumbled across Hebrews 10:31, and it was a text I could not get my mind off from.  So I prepared for the first time in my life a "pure" sermon - a statement of theological truth not with any particular congregation or audience in mind.  Today's chapel gave me the opportunity to share my thoughts with BGST staff and students.

The thrust of the text is simply that God Almighty is a deserving object of fear.  This is a perspective of God that the modern accommodating church imbued with a desire for political correctness and public relations "psazz" has lost sight of.

Why fear God?  Because He is pure transcendence, exalted far above everything man holds meaningful.  Two common causes of fear, consequence and displeasure, make us both law-abiding (the fear of judicial penalty), and filial (the fear of parental disapproval).  Might not a corresponding fear of God render us even more fervent in our discipleship than we are presently?

The text spells out the possibility of apostasy - of falling away from the grace of God.  We have erected systems of belief that negate that doctrine - the modern equivalents of "the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord"  (Jeremiah 7:4).  The result is a misconstrued sense of confidence that becomes insensitive to the awesome dimension of God's judicial wrath.  We can serve God and not know we are objects of His wrath: from Ahithophel (David's counsellor) to Judas, Caiaphas, the Pharisees the apostates of Hebrews.

God's hands are not always hands of blessing in the mind of the author of Hebrews.  They may be fingers (think Daniel & Belshazzar) that spell destruction: from fire (think Sodom and Gomorrah) and flood (think Noah and the Red Sea), to waves (think Tsunami) and winds (think Katrina) and pestilence (think Aedes).

And God is fearsome precisely because He is the living God.  Dead idols may create phantoms of fear.  God alone has interminable potential for irredeemable sorrow. These are dimensions of God's character we would rather not face.  That's okay.  We can make God in our own image.  Whatever we sow, that we reap.

Hebrews' perspective is that the proper fear of God can counter-balance every other possible human fear.  That the church is weak today has simply to do with the many things it fears to lose - approval of the masses, loss of revenue, decline in political and economic clout.  There is only one thing we ought to fear, but fear no longer: GOD Himself.  The Lion of Amos we have transmuted into a sacrificial lamb that exists for OUR benefit.  The cry of the author of Hebrews is ringing more and more faintly: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

PS.  I have taken the liberty to include a poem I have written in the process of meditating on this text.  I hope it is something you can resonate with.

A Sonnet on Fear
(Hebrews Ten Thirty One)

 

It is an awesome thing - God to engage;

Is this why our faith is trite and feeble?

A mere confession, God's wrath to manage.

Fearful of losing out, a reasonable

Thing to worry about; some advantage

To gain, and faith is hence dispensable.

Fall from grace?  Not something we envisage!

Into God's hands we commit our spirit!

The doctrine of grace our safety ensures,

Hands of God to uphold and encourage!

Of two opposing truths we inherit,

The love we embrace, and wrath but endure,

Living the lie, despite the truth proclaimed;

God stands awaiting, unheeded, untamed!

Chapel speaker on Oct 19 was Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

NEWS BITS

1.  New Admission. Samuel Soong Heng Kok is a student in the Diploma in Christian Studies. He is a Business Analyst, a member of the Light of Christ City Church and an active lay leader in mission and outreach ministries.

2. Dr Ng Peh Cheng was away from Oct 11-13 to visit a theological education institution as a member of the Asia Theological Association Visiting Evaluation Team.

3. Library News.

  • Evangelising Today's Child Magazine has been renamed as Teach Kids! on it's Sep/Oct 2005 issue. 

  • Free 1 year IMPACT Magazine(Oct/Nov 2004 - Aug/Sep 2005) to give away. Please call library on 62276815 to reserve on a first come first serve basis.

A Blessed Birthday to…

 

Ms Hor Yuet Sim  17/10

Mrs Ng Soh May  18/10

Mr Kelvin Teo  18/10

Ms Lee Siew Lan  19/10

Mdm Tey Lay Yong  19/10

Mdm Laura Seet  19/10

Ms Bessie Lee  19/10

Dr Tan Poh Kiang  19/10

Mdm Sharlene Yeo  19/10

Dr Carolyn Tan  20/10

Ms Joyce Carino  20/10

Mdm Maisie Kang  20/10

Mr Andy Sng  21/10

Mr Mark Sng  22/10

Mr David Au  23/10

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Last update : 21 Oct 2005. 
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