A Call to Live in Faith Communities
Recently, I had the privilege of spending some time with a kindred spirit. I first met Dr. Grier a few years ago in Michigan and ever since then his heart has been knitted together with mine. It’s a strange union because we’ve not spent much time together nor have we been in the same circles much but what we do share is a common Christ and a common vision for the church and her work in this life. I’ve transcribed a bit of his sermon “The Glorious Hope for which We Stand” which was delivered this month at the 2008 national FIRE conference “Defending the Hope: Kingdom Apologetics” in Felton, CA. I pray that it will challenge and encourage you as we co-labor for Christ’s glory.
“God engages people redemptively right in their present history by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Nothing has to happen in this culture for the Spirit to regenerate people. He will address them right there in the midst of the post-modern shift, we can be absolutely confident in that.
Mission begins in the person of God.
We don’t have to wait for anything to go back, we don’t have to yearn for the Puritan days… we don’t have to yearn to go back when America was supposedly a Christian country… we don’t have to wait for Roe v. Wade to be reversed before the gospel will indeed, blessed by the power of the Spirit, address the people of this culture in midst of this present worldview shift… I am confident about that. We should not back down because of the concern that we have and the insecurity we feel as this shift takes place.
In doing apologetics and evangelism, not only do we have to be confident that the Spirit will engage the culture redemptively, but there must be a faith community in which this gospel is lived out and thus is seen in reality to fulfill the purpose for which it is given.
We have got to get over this individualism, we have lived so long with everybody coming to church and when they come, they are looking for increments of personal holiness, they want to move up another notch on the ladder, they want to be told of some more benefits they have received in Jesus Christ so they can sit and bask in the benefits.
But may I say to you that the force of the gospel is not to make us sit and bask in the benefits…the force of the gospel is to send us on a mission …the benefits are the basis to prepare us for that mission.
We’ve made mission almost a percentage of our budget that we give for overseas. But may I suggest to you that mission begins in the person of God. God is the one who sent His Son, the Father and the Son sent the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and the Father and the Son and the Spirit send the church- it isn’t the sending church it’s the sent church.
We’ve lost that focus. We have become almost a community in the Reformed structure that is committed to a cognitive head-shop kind of approach where we fill with all the niceties of doctrine and all the things that we would die for, and I’m willing to die for them, but I want you to know that increased knowledge brings increased accountability.
I want you to know that the focus of the church of Jesus Christ is not inward it is outward.
The task of apologetics in a post-modern culture is going to have to be to show that this biblical redemptive narrative – Genesis through Revelation – is coherent and is cogent on its own terms. The day is past when we’re going to be able to marshal arguments and deductive reason in order to prove certain things to be true.
The day is present when we are going to have to master this narrative, this entire content of God’s biblical revelation. We are going to have to learn to be able to demonstrate how that hope fits all the way back to Genesis 3, how it comes to its consummation in Revelation 21 and 22… that means we can’t stop with just preaching expositorily through books of the bible we’ve got to put the content of the book into the larger structure of the redemptive narrative. We must master this narrative.
We must be able at any moment when we are asked to defend our hope to defend it not by going external to the narrative, not by going out to archaeology and proofs that we’ve tended to use in the past in a much more rational time period. We are going to have to be able to listen carefully to people of other faiths and to the people of post-modernity and we are not good at listening.
We need a redemptive community that is a foretaste of the consummation.
When somebody is talking to us we are thinking more about how we are going to answer then we are listening to what they are saying, that’s what we do when we pray in groups, right? You don’t pray with the person praying… you’re thinking about what you’re going to say when you pray. We’re not good listeners.
We’re going to have to be able to take the content of this entire redemptive canon of Scripture and show how it all goes together and not just isolate little pieces of it.
What we need is a redemptive community that is a foretaste of the consummation. I should be able to bring any post-modern person to your church and say, “If you’d like to get a taste of what the consummation of the work of Jesus Christ is like in the future come along with me to this church and you’ll get a taste of it today!”
I preach in a lot of churches and quite frankly if that’s what the consummated Kingdom is going to look like I just as soon not go. That’s what I mean by a faith community. A community that lives under the rule of God for whom this narrative is embracive of every part of life… for whom the study and the grasping of this narrative and the ability to use it and to put it together in its wholeness becomes the basis of witness and the basis of giving an answer, defending, the hope in your midst. ”
James M. Grier, Th.D. – Seminary Vice President and Distinguished Professor of Theological Philosophy at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary