MESSY DOGMA

Jesus’ ministry and the subsequent ministry of His disciples utterly transformed the known world of the First Century. Society was turned upside down, or more correctly, it was turned the right-side up.

Theirs was a Gospel that ushered in the Kingdom of God; a Gospel that boldly confronted the religious and secular systems of their day (and specifically, the systemic injustices of these constructs); a Gospel that wholly transmuted the values of first-century society—an impact that continues to reverberate down the line of time two thousand years later.

Today, Christendom’s influence on the Twenty-First Century is anaemic at best. Too often, the church is turned upside down by society. By and large, we’re not particularly interested in confronting the systemic injustices of our day and while we decry “worldly values,” for all our endeavour (largely within the confines of the church walls), statistics reveal that there is little difference between the state of nonbelievers and believers in terms of “moral markers”.

More to the point, these moral markers tend to largely address personal piety and not the societal illnesses that seem to occupy Jesus’ focus (and are often at the root of so much immorality). In other words, if we listed some of the global issues that ravage our world today—such as hunger and malnutrition, water and sanitation, lack of education and communicable diseases, climate change and environmental abuse, population and migration, economic dysfunctions and disparities, racism and prejudice, abusive governance and corruption, and war and conflict—many believers would struggle to see how these issues relate to their “personal faith” or their “church ministry”.

Why do these global issues (and their related local challenges) seem incongruent with the ministry of the church and the faith practices of many followers of Jesus, when the Master Himself was concerned with such matters? And to touch a flaming hot-potato topic right at the get-go, how can we contend for widespread societal change that might affect the next two thousand years when so many believers are expecting to escape within the next decade via the rapture? (I’ll burn my fingers on this topic and others in the articles below).

Has messy dogma muddied our message and muddled our mission?

Having served as both a senior pastor and a missionary over the past two decades, I now see that my approach to ‘mission’ was too narrow. Weighing the successes and failures of this journey—both my own and what I’ve observed in the church at large—I’m convinced that mission, if it be true and aligned to Jesus’ message, must address the global issues that threaten our world today.

If I pray, Father, Your Kingdom come … Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven; then I cannot blithely close my eyes to the issues that oppose God’s Kingdom and contradict His will—especially when these issues ravage God’s earth and devastate its inhabitants. Worse, I may be ignorantly perpetrating the problem.

Edmund Burke’s infamous quote rings loudly today.Edmund Burke quote.The question that probes at my mind is this: how much more does evil triumph when the something good well-intended men do, deepens the darkness?

Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom addressed the socio-political issues of His day head on—confronting societal dysfunction and systemic injustice, calling people to defect from the very oppressive regimes and systems that perpetrate such crimes (both religious and secular), empowering them to liberate all of creation. This is missio Dei: God has restored mankind as custodians of the globe, and as stewards of this planet, we’re to usher in God’s will on earth—tuning the planet’s noise in harmony with heaven’s song.

  • First, a warning. This is dangerous ground. You’ll be forced to think as we challenge a number of underlying assumptions that most believers simply take for granted. To stimulate thought around ‘messy dogma,’ I often make definitive statements and draw categorical comparisons. The statements should be questioned (tested, weighed, critiqued), and the comparisons are built on generalisations; thus, the reality is often not as dramatic as depicted. (It’s advisable to read the statements clearly and consider the comparisons deeply; the words chosen are often intentionally provocative.) Comparisons and generalisations are merely teaching tools; use them. Allow them to stretch your thinking.

    Second, a request. You won’t agree with everything on this page or the articles referenced. The aim is not to please or appease. The goal is to stimulate thought. I am quite sure I am wrong about some of these things, and don’t claim to have the final word on any matter, so feel free to disagree. But herein lies the request: please think deeply about the topics you have an instant knee-jerk reaction to. It’s often in these ingrained impulses that the deepest change may be wrought. I am confident that the truth will prevail (not what I perceive as truth, but God’s Truth). If we seek diligently (humbly and faithfully), He will reveal His will to us.

    Third, a suggestion. In re-thinking the basic assumptions around theology, our minds tend to scream for the end-game too quickly. At every step, you’ll probably be eager for application (“So, how does this then work here … or there?”). However, genuine practical application (in line with a different way of thinking) emerges quite naturally only once the process is worked through. Patience is required. New thinking leads to new actions.

    Fourthly, a qualification. In this material I am not criticising any specific person, church, denomination or theological persuasion. I am reflecting on the journey I have had over the last twenty years as a believer, pastor and missionary, an experience which has been influenced by numerous streams of Christian thought, influence and practice. Although my pastoral ordination lies within an Evangelical context, my missional and interdenominational work over the last decade has enabled me to work fruitfully across multiple denominational streams. Thus, I’m simply questioning my inherited/perceived view of Christendom, and offering these thoughts for others to ponder over.

    Finally, a statement. I believe the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed capture fundamental Christian doctrine, and the Great Commandments and Great Commission govern essential Christian practice. If we are in agreement on these essential issues, Romans 14 serves as our guide on non-essential matters. It goes without saying that non-essential does not mean unimportant, and it is among these non-essential matters that the waters have become very muddy. If you’re prepared to re-think these matters, read on…

Thinking Differently about

Messy Dogma

I have arranged the material in ten sections. Each section flows into the next and thus, while you may want to dip in and cherry-pick from the list, it will serve you better to work through each section in order.

Some sections are covered in one article post, while other sections are unbundled over several. If you want to be notified when new articles are posted, please subscribe below.

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Section 1: The Background to Jesus’ Ministry

Year Zero: The Word Jesus Invaded

Section 2: The Essence of Jesus’ Message

Vacuums & Values: Making Music or Noise?

Section 3: The Substance of Jesus’ Message

An Uprising: Revolutionary Talk

A Declaration of Sizeable Intent

Offending the Good; Applauding the Bad

Heaven and Other Minutiae

Section 4 ~ The Words We’ve Fudged, Part A

Salvation & Righteousness

Section 5 ~ The Words We’ve Fudged, Part B

Eternal

Hell (Hades)

Hell (Gehenna)

John’s Lake of Fire and Paul’s Wrath of God

Section 6 ~ Approaches that Affect Interpretation

Paul vs. Jesus

John vs Jesus

Section 7 ~ The Scope of Jesus’ Message

A Scandalous Gospel, Part 1

A Scandalous Gospel, Part 2

A Scandalous Gospel, Part 3

Section 8 ~ The Societal Machine

The Societal Machine

Section 9 ~ Confronting Today’s Dominant Framing Reference

Confronting Today’s Corrupt Societal Machine

Section 10 ~ Cooperating with Jesus’ Work Today

Cooperating with Jesus Today, Part 1

Cooperating with Jesus Today, Part 2

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