Systematised propositional statements vs a Gospel story of salvation

When I became a Christian I thought I might be a theologian. My standard Gospel presentation reflects this. It’s a series of systematized answers to leading questions. Who is God? Who is man? Who is Jesus? What must I do to be save? The short answers are God is holy, man is sinful, Christ is the way, repent for the forgiveness of sins.

This past week I spent some time with two very different men at the Baptist Union of Southern Africa Assembly. Bradley Trout from Mountain View Baptist Church and Craig Duval from Pinelands Baptist Church.

Bradley’s a friend. He’s a bookworm. But he’s more than your average bookworm. He remembers stuff, simplifies stuff, and repeats it back in relevant situations. He is an interesting addition to any conversation and I wish I could have more conversations with him in the room. Anyway Bradley has been on my case to get into Biblical Theology this year so that I can give some thought to progressive revelation and a narrative view of Scripture.

Craig’s different. One evening at the Assembly I sat down next to Craig and introduced myself as a Reformed, Dispensational, Cessationalist and asked him a couple of questions. He graciously spent the next 5 hours giving me answers. The Theological can of worms aside, what I got from Craig was a story. He started in the garden and wove through to eternity to come. He talks of the people of the Bible, the places of the Bible and the God of the Bible. Rather than a series of systematise propositional statements about Scripture he tells the story of Scripture. Simple, compelling, replicable. A transfer mechanism for theological concepts to an audience with an attention deficit.

So with Bradley and Craig in mind I’ve been thinking about my own Gospel narrative. The diagram below represents the major events I think need to be highlighted and I’ve given some indication as to why in the key below. But what have I missed? What needs expanding?

1. Creation: Theology proper. Who is God? The Creator. Our Creator. And His creation is very good. He is perfect, eternal, transcendent and immanent.
2. Corruption: Harmatology. Who is man? Corrupted, conceited, cursed. In every faculty of his being. Sinful. Yet, in the midst of the curse you have God pointing to the cross.
3. Abraham: The People of God, elected and loved, despite their stiff-neckedness. And in the covenant promise of God you have a clear point to the Seed, Christ, the cross, and blessing to come.
4. Moses/Law: The 10 Commandments. The impossible standard, blessing on/curse received. The Law which can’t save but can drive to the cross.
5. David/King: The promise of an eternal throne and a righteous King to come.
6. Christ Died: Christology. The person of Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. The work of Christ, Saviour, God died for us.
7. Christ Rose: Victory. The sacrifice is accepted. Heaven’s gates flung open wide.
8. The Church: The Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the great commission, the bold proclamation. Repent for the forgiveness of sins!

Systematised propositional statements vs a Gospel story of salvation? That’s a ridiculous title. It’s not an either or answer. It’s a both and. Note how I crafted my Estcatology into the diagram. :). Maybe I will grow up to be the Theologian after all.

Praying for the Holy Spirit

BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Assembly

The theme for the 132nd Assembly of the Baptist Union of Southern Africa was Missions. Click image to enlarge.

I’ve just arrived home from the Baptist Union of Southern Africa‘s 2013 Assembly (It was the 132nd gathering of South African Baptists). The keynote sermons are a mixed bag of fruit. A sermon that really stood out for me this year was preached by Charlie Rampfumedzi. He is the principal of Christ Seminary (can someone closer to the seminary confirm the actual name of the seminary for me? I was told by Rocky Stevenson this past week that it’s actually Christ Baptist Seminary) in Polokwane. Christ [Baptist] Seminary is a campus of The Master’s Academy International.

Now in my home, over Sunday lunch, we play punch the preacher. OK, that’s an overstatement, Liezl (and whoever else is visiting for lunch) gives a critique of the Sunday sermon. Anything’s up for grabs, mannerisms to content, there are no holy cows. I find it useful to my personal growth and it’s become a way for me to gauge whether the main point of my message translated into the mind of my hearers.

BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Assembly, Trent, Trent Eayrs, Umbizo

A highlight of the conference for me was the rich worship. Click image to enlarge.

Anyhow, the following critique emerged after I preached a sermon from Acts 1 (from both a parishioner and my wife), “You said you must be filled with the Spirit but you never said how.” This past Tuesday, when I sat down with a group over lunch and discussed Charlie’s sermon with them, John Rowland’s critique stood out for me because I’d heard it before. Let me be clear – I’m not advocating John’s position (he makes a link to Dispensationalism whereas I’d make the link to Cessationalism – and for the record, I’m both) but I’d love there to be some debate and John was bold enough to put pen to paper. Below is his thinking. I’d be interested to hear what you say (for the record Charlie only had 20 minutes to preach a sermon on a chapter from Acts so it was impossible for him to develop every theological point, however because this was noted, and because it’s been pointed out in my own preaching, and because John MacArthur… oh, you get the point… read it and comment below):


The thesis of this short paper is that it is an inherent aspect of dispensational theology that Christians should not pray that God would grant the Holy Spirit to them.

In Luke 11:13 Jesus says:-

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

CI Schofield comments:-

‘To go back to the promise of #Lu 11:13, is to forget Pentecost, and to ignore the truth that now every believer has the indwelling Spirit #Ro 8:9, 15 1Co 6:19 Gal 4:6 #1Jo 2:20, 27.’

In his book ‘Found: God’s will’ Dr John MacArthur, Jr writes:-

‘I have sat in church and heard sincere people pray, “O, God, send Your Spirit,” and have thought to myself, No, He is here. He is here! I have heard people pray, ‘God give me more of Your Spirit,” as if He came in doses.’

Is it not also significant that MacArthur says nothing in his study Bible on Luke 11:13 about the wonderful promise, in answer to prayer, of our Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit?

Both Schofield and MacArthur are being consistent with dispensational theology. This teaches that after the Jews had rejected Christ and the kingdom, God moved to his parenthetical plan B and introduced the church age. Hence since our Lord’s words in Luke 11:13 were given in his teaching to Jews they no longer pertain to the church age because the church received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

I have heard two brothers from dispensational backgrounds; give moving messages on the need of the power of the Holy Spirit in ministry. Especially, they spoke of our need of him in preaching. Both failed to tell us how to obtain that power.

There are two problems with dispensational theology at this point:-

1 It dismisses precious truth taught by our Saviour as irrelevant.

2 It does not account for prayers in the other parts of the New Testament:-

‘I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.’ (Eph 1:17)


‘For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,’ (Eph 3:14-16)

On the same page quoted above, MacArthur also dismisses prayers for more grace. In many of the letters of the apostles we find such greetings as:-

‘Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Phil1:2)

Also closing words of their letters such as:-

‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ (2Cor 13:14)

Are these two latter references not prayers?

To my dispensational brothers, I encourage you to turn from such erroneous teaching and to seek the Lord’s face for what the church in South Africa desperately needs. We need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in revival. Pray in terms of our Lord’s promise in Luke 11:9-13.

John Rowland

Who are the Baptists in South Africa?

I created a little content for an interested party a month back or so and I thought I’d test it out on open platform. Please, take a look, make a comment. Agree? Disagree? Make sense? Confusing? I’d like your feedback.

Who are South Africa’s Baptists?

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

The Baptist Union

The South African census of 2001 recorded that out of a population of 44,819,774 citizens 691,235 people identified themselves as Baptists in South Africa.

The Baptist Union of Southern Africa in 2010, held in association 524 churches with 43431 members.

I’m a member (ok, I’m the pastor) of a church which is in the Baptist Union of Southern Africa and I think it’s fair to say that even as I look to the interests of my own local church I also desire to see the Union of churches as a whole strengthened. I’m not a passive bystander.

Theological identifications within the Baptist Union

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

Theological identifications within the Baptist Union

Two main theological camps have begun to emerge in the last 10 years within the Baptist Union.

Sola 5 Is a grouping of Reformed Baptists who are unified by their Soteriology (Reformed). They are a very well mobilised, cohesive group.

Isaiah 58 Is a grouping of Baptists who are unified primarily by their adoption of church growth strategies and – in lesser part – by their Pneumatology (Charismatic). It’s been pointed out to me that some in Isaiah 58 would see themselves as Reformed Charismatics, others Liberal Charismatics, still others not Charismatic at all.

The majority of the Union is not aligned to either of these camps but in our postmodern world, where truth is a grey substance that no one wants to be caught holding when the music stops, it is very interesting to me that groups are beginning to form which stand for anything. The church which supports me as a missionary is a member of Sola 5 and I actively foster relationships with churches in this group. Over time it seems inevitable that our church would seek dual membership with the Baptist Union and Sola 5.

Who’s networking with who?

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

the networks are far more complex than this, but this should get a conversation rolling?

Sola 5 churches have, and are developing, good relationships with paedo-Baptists. You can see these developing relationships in efforts like the Rezolution Conference and fraternal gatherings, like the recent visit by David Carmichael.

I’m a little far removed from Isaiah 58, however, I understand that they are developing relationships and holding joint conferences with a wide range of Charismatics. I hope I haven’t misrepresented them (anyone reading that can fill in the blanks?).

The Baptist Union ties two important Baptist groups together namely the Baptist Convention (former black union of churches) and the Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke (Afrikaans association of churches).

Who’s training who?

Baptist Union, Rezolution Conference, paedo-Baptists, Sola 5, Liberal, Charismatic, Pneumatology, Isaiah 58, Soteriology, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Baptists, South Africa, BUSA, Baptist Union of Southern Africa, Baptist Convention, Afrikaanse Baptiste Kerke

The picture roughly demonstrates who feeds Our colleges and who they service

There are four colleges producing pastors for the Baptist Union in South Africa.

Christ Seminary produces candidates for churches like mine, Conservative Evangelical (although one could go further and say they groom Dispensational graduates – anyone want to contend?). Cape Town Baptist Seminary and the Baptist Theological College provide graduates to a far wider Baptist pool of churches. The Bible Institute of South Africa services a Reformed base of churches and the Afrikaanse Baptiste Seminarium addresses the Afrikaans constituency.

SATS and UNISA as distance learning institutions are all things to all men and I guess pick up the rest, but play an important role in post-graduate studies.

The Reformed camp, which is notoriously untrusting of local institutions, sends a number of their most promising candidates overseas for university education (Master’s Seminary, London Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary… – is this a fair statement?).

It’s my opinion that the ratio of graduates to established churches in South Africa is mismatched.

That, in a nutshell, is how I see the lay of the land. Too simple? Too complex? Too pointless? Comment below.

Why I’m using the Holman Christian Standard Bible

Baptist, Benoni, Crystal Park, Crystal Park Baptist Church, dynamic equivalence, English Standard Version, ESV, formal equivalence, gender neutral language, GNB, Good News Bible, HCSB, Holman Christian Standard Bible, King James Version, KJV, NASB, New American Standard Version, New International Version, New King James Version, NIV, NKJV, optimal equivalence, translation

Photo by Tom Cocklereece

Hey there church,

I hope I find you well this morning? It’s getting colder in Johannesburg and we’ll be starting to fire up the heaters in morning services very soon.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading the Bible. “Ah”, you might say, “I kinda expected that from my pastor” :). Yes you should, but what I’ve been reading has been a little different and I wanted to tell you about it.

I’ve been concerned about which Bible we use as a congregation. You may have noticed, we’re a diverse bunch of people. Lots of kids who generally read out of the Good News Bible. Lots of foreigners (I love that Crystal Park is the melting pot of Africa) and second language English speakers who generally read out of the New International Version. And the rest? They generally read out of the English Standard Version, King James Version and New American Standard Version.

Now I’m all for diversity, but something’s changed. The New International Version has changed their translation policy to include more gender neutral language. This might not seem a big deal, but think about the way we preach – verse by verse, line by line – we really care about what the original author meant to say to his original hearers. This changed policy is a step too far away from the original language. We need to consider our options.

I received a Holman Christian Standard Bible a few weeks ago. I’ve read the Pentateuch, the Old Testament books of history and long portions of the New Testament since then. I’m impressed. I’ve also done a detailed word study of Colossians 4:2 – 6 and 7 – 18, asked the translators questions and gotten back satisfactory answers.

Maybe you’d like to know a little more about this translation? Well English translations can be simplified into three basic categories: formal, dynamic and optimal equivalence. What does that mean?

The English Standard Version, King James Version and New American Standard Versions are formal equivalence translations. They’re word-for-word, literal translations, and seek to preserve the original language by representing each word of the translated text with an equivalent word so we can see what the original author wrote. I favour this for myself and recommend Bible students to study out of one of these translations.

Translations like the New Living Translation and the Message are called dynamic equivolence translations. They are thought-for-thought and try to capture the meaning of the text more than the form. At Crystal Park Baptist Church we don’t generally encourage people to use these (even though I know some of you do… and yes, I know they’re sooo easy to read).

The HCSB uses optimal equivalence. By that they mean that a literal translation is used when possible, but when clarity and readability demand they’ll opt for an idiomatic translation, the reader can then access the original text through footnotes.

If you’re a visual person I tried to capture the thinking above in the chart below:

Baptist, Benoni, Crystal Park, Crystal Park Baptist Church, dynamic equivalence, English Standard Version, ESV, formal equivalence, gender neutral language, GNB, Good News Bible, HCSB, Holman Christian Standard Bible, King James Version, KJV, NASB, New American Standard Version, New International Version, New King James Version, NIV, NKJV, optimal equivalence, translation

So what’s going to change? I’m so excited to begin preaching through the book of Acts from the 2nd of June. I’m planning to use the HCSB from then. Add to that, the weekly memory verses in the pewslip will be out of the HCSB from now on.

I visited CUM Books in Eastrand Mall last week and they sell HCSB’s at reasonable prices and I checked Christian Book Discounters and they’ve got them available on their website. When we can get hardcover copies at reasonable prices we’ll stock them at church too.

the Penrith's, Mark Penrith

Got questions? Come speak to Gideon or me. I’m sure we’ll release an Elder’s Questions and Answers in the next few days.

In Christ and for His glory alone,


Three reasons why you return to your sin like a dog returns to vomit, and three reasons why you don’t have to

Dog vomit, sin, shackles

Sin has a power, it festers, it makes you a slave. Click image to enlarge.

What, you think because I’m the pastor I don’t understand the power of sin? It’s festering grip? Enough about me, let’s talk about Joe Soap (that’s you by the way). Why can’t Joe shake off the shackles of sin? Why do you keep on doing precisely what you don’t want to do? Actually, there are tons of possibilities, here’s a stab at three:

1. You enjoy it, you love it, you revel in it.

Oh, I’ve heard plenty of testimonies of how bad things were before a person came to Christ, and how rosy things are now; but maybe that’s not you. Maybe you think back and you’re not quite sure things were as bad as the guy weeping his heart out at the front of the church says it was.

2. You’re not a mass murderer, it’s not like anyone’s getting hurt by what you’re into.

Like we all know of someone who gets drunk and beats up their wife or kids. Those guys really need Jesus. For their own sake, and the people around them. But you’re not that bad. You’re not hurting anyone. Your sin is under control.

3. You’re on top of things. Yes you sin, but you’re trying really hard to keep Mr Hyde under wraps.

Like everyone else you’re doing what you can. Trying really hard not to get cross, really hard not to watch porn, really hard not to drink, really hard not to… I don’t know what you’re wrapped up in but I know if you try hard enough the neighbours’ll think you’re a saint.

But, it doesn’t work does it? Ever watched a dog return to it’s vomit? It’s a disgusting thing. But they do; again and again and again. Good News is you don’t have to and here’s why:

1. If you love your sin more than Jesus I’ve got to tell you about my saviour.

Sin’s lying to you. Remember Eve in the garden of Eden? Remember the snake? The fruit? Remember what he said? “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan lied. In a way Eve did die that day, and with Adam she lost her ability to choose good of her own free will. Maybe that’s you? Maybe you’ve fallen in love with the forbidden fruit? Don’t feel alone; the Bible says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and it says that “the wages of sin is death” and it says that “God’s wrath remains on them.” If you’re a great sinner you’re in need of a great saviour. Jesus Christ lived a perfect live and died so that you may be saved from that wrath, from that death. A wonderful life in eternity is promised, free from sin; and an abundant life in the present can be experienced too, no longer living as a slave to one’s sin.

2. If your sin is as black as night I’ve got to tell you something of God’s grace.

I’ve got one of those testimonies where I tried everything. Well maybe not everything but enough to make my ears burn red and leave me knowing I needed a saviour. For the longest time I didn’t trust anyone who said they’d become a Christian when they were a kid. I just couldn’t see what drove them to the cross unless they’d done something dreadful, something wicked, like me. I underestimated the sinfulness of sin. Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and whoever else you put up on a pedestal all have something in common: they have a condition they share; sin. Oh their sins may look a little whiter than yours or mine but we’re not their judge. Comparing ourselves to Adolph Hitler or Lady Gaga isn’t helpful when one day we’ll stand before a holy God who’ll compare us to His perfect standard. Even our good works on that day will be like filthy rags. But His grace; His infinitely, brilliant, saving grace, which makes me weep right now even to think of it, is enough! It’s enough to turn you and save you and keep you.

3. If your best isn’t good enough I’ve got to tell you about His best.

I was a dreadful student at school. I remember once or twice my dad sitting me down and saying, “Son, just do you best, that’s all I ask.” God doesn’t demand your best, He demands perfection, and you’re never going to measure up to that. That’s why He sent Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God, is the best. Ever heard that hymn “Jesus paid it all?” We’re beggars at the foot of the cross with nothing to offer. “Jesus paid it all.” Your work, your effort, it’s stupid hypocrisy. Trust in that and on that Day you’re standing on sinking sand. But trust upon the name of Jesus Christ, His finished work upon the cross, and you’re standing on a sure foundation.

What am I saying? Maybe you’re struggling with sin because in truth you’ve not laid the burden of it down at the foot of the cross and come empty handed to the saviour, trusting in His finished work rather than your own; God’s abundant grace rather than your own excuses or a professed a love for the beautiful saviour rather than a lust for the things of the flesh. Maybe this note’s for you.

Three reasons why you didn’t go to church today, and three reasons why you should have

The Body of Christ

The church is a body. The Head is Christ. Click image to enlarge.

So here’s the thing, it was cold this morning, I was lazy this morning, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m the pastor I might have been tempted to give church a skip this morning. Actually, there are a billion reasons (little bit of hyperbole there) why you might not have gone to church this morning and I’m not going to uncover all of them, but here is a stab at three:

1. Church is for people that need church, I’m fine, by myself, with my Bible, at home.

Truth is if you think anything like the heading above you’re not in the minority. Loads of folk think church can happen wherever they are (like underneath the duvet on cold Winter days). Church is for people who need church and if you don’t need church don’t feel guilty for not going.

2. Church is for people who have something to offer, I’m too short/too nerdy/too poor/too rich to add any value to church.

Can’t help driving around Jozie and noticing the billboards all over the place with really rich looking pastors, bling draped around their necks and on their fingers, 1,000,000 Million Dollar smiles plastered on their faces. Or those guys that lead worship with the rock star haircuts and designer clothes. Even the woman that operate the coffee pots look like they hold theological degrees. Churches can sometimes leave us with the feeling that they don’t need you. So why bother going?

3. My local church wouldn’t miss me if I disappeared for 10 months on an excursion to the Amazon, I’m just not needed.

So here’s the thing, have you ever gone to church, for ages, and then you skip a few weeks and no one notices? Yip, like they make such a big deal about how important people are, but when push comes to shove you’re not too sure if you matter… to anyone other than your mother… and she doesn’t go to that church anyway!

Well here’s the thing (take two), whilst many of us have experienced any number of the objections listed above at one stage or another, they are dreadful excuses for not finding, getting involved in and grafting yourself to a local church. Here’s why:

1. You’re not fine, by yourself, with your Bible, at home.

Church isn’t all about you ninny; it’s about Jesus. Think of this metaphor. Church is like a body. You’re a member of the body. Jesus is the head. Want to be connected to Christ? Be connected to the body! Cut a finger off the body who’s worse off? The finger or the rest of the body?

2. You have something to offer, and maybe it is that you’re too short/too nerdy/too poor/too rich.

God chooses us. And He’s got a plan in mind. He chooses every individual member with intent and has predestined good works for us to live in before the foundation of the world. So it doesn’t matter what your deficiencies are, your characteristics are needed, both by others and to God’s glory.

3. Don’t go on a 10 month excursion to the Amazon, not just yet, you’re needed where you are.

So maybe you’ve had a bad experience. Sorry about that. Truth is just because some group here or there messed up your relationship with them doesn’t negate your obligation to serve God and His people. See, the church isn’t a building that people go to, leave and don’t go back to. The church is the people. You are part of that people. That people need you to be the people they are supposed to be. I’m thinking of Paul right now. I read Romans 16 and Colossians 4 earlier this morning. Paul lists about 36 people in those two chapters that are part of his life and his ministry. Who’s life and ministry are you part of? Who’s part of your life and ministry? You’re required.

Get out of bed. Find a church. Get connected to the body and Head. Live out your life to God’s praise and glory.

A personal review and application of Tim Keller’s Ministries of Mercy

Ministries of Mercy

So Ministries of Mercy was first published in 1989. Maybe you can remember, shortly after, in the 1990’s, red ‘WWJD?’ armbands popped up all over the place. You just weren’t cool if you didn’t have one. ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ quickly became “a personal motto for adherents of Evangelical Christianity who used the phrase as a reminder of their belief in a moral imperative to act in a manner that would demonstrate the love of Jesus” (Wikipedia 2012a). Ministries of Mercy as a book was not causal in the social concern explosion of the 1990’s, but was rather a product of its time.

How might we summarise the content of Ministries of Mercy? “Who is our neighbour, and how should we relate to them?” asks Garibaldi McFlurry (2012), “That’s the question that drives this book.” Ministries of Mercy is divided into two parts, the first part, a running contextualized commentary on the parable of the Good Samaritan, is captured succinctly in this quote from the book, “The only true and enduring motivation for the ministry of mercy is an experience and a grasp of the grace of God in the gospel. If we know we are sinners saved by grace alone, we will be both open and generous to the outcasts and the unlovely” (Keller 1989:58). The second part is very practical, dealing with implementation ideas and issues.

In December 2009 Midrand Chapel set up two Bible Studies using Ministries of Mercy as a guide book (Penrith 2009). As elders we desired to initiate an evangelistic work into Olivenhoutsbosch, a neighbouring township, and felt there needed to be a deeper theology of social concern tied to the project. At the time there was also a perceived lack of social concern in our congregation and we wished to approach the issue in a measured way. Over the period of the study I evaluated the book and was involved in initiatives which flowed out of the study. Both my positive and negative observations are detailed in the evaluation section below.

It’s a parable not a fable

Ministries of Mercy is very well written. It is engaging. It is challenging. The use of a single passage of Scripture upon which several chapters are hung gives it a flow and makes it come across exegetically. Tim Keller is a great writer. However, I believe the book’s use of the parable of the Good Samaritan is flawed. Let me demonstrate:

Chapter Title Passage
1 The Jericho Road Luke 10:25-37
2 The Call to Mercy Luke 10:25-29
3 The Character of Mercy Luke 10:34-35
4 The Motivation For Mercy Luke 10:33
5 Giving and Keeping: A Balanced Lifestyle Luke 10:33
6 Church and the World: A Balanced Focus Luke 10:33
7 Conditional and Unconditional: A Balanced Judgement Luke 10:33-35

Keller sees a point of teaching or point of application under every stone and behind every bush in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Oh, he isn’t as allegorical as Origen (Lienhard 1996:138), but he breaks a fundamental rule in interpretation. Each of Jesus’ parables makes only one main point.

Keller will have his reader believe Luke 10:33, “And when he saw him, he took pity on him” underpins The Motivation For Mercy; and, from the same verse, “But a Samaritan…” makes a point about Church and the World: A Balanced Focus. No, that’s beyond Christ’s intent. The parable as a whole is Jesus’ single answer to the single question, “And who is my neighbor?” To go beyond that is to inject meaning into the text that was never intended. I believe that’s what Keller does; for noble reasons he embellishes the point of the text until the point becomes obfuscated and the intended meaning to the intended recipient is lost.

I’m a chapel not a mega-church

The second negative is hardly Keller’s fault, so I’ll not dwell on it too long. Much of the application seemed to be focused on a straw church of 1,000,000 volunteers and an unlimited budget (weighed in Dollars not in Rands). We had neither.

Also Keller’s use of surveys immediately smacked of church-growth which is anathema to the conservative church culture I come from.

It’s not the Gospel and social concern, it’s the Gospel and social concern

To me it seems amongst the Christian’s primary challenge is to maintain one’s focus upon the cross. That’s really not easy in this messed up world, but we make it harder when we start to allow even good things to impinge on that which should be singular.

Keller presents a model in which the Gospel and social concern go hand in glove.

The Gospel must be primary in the relationship, social concern may be necessary, but it remains of secondary import. I don’t believe Keller got that balance right. He implementation of Ministries of Mercy strategy feels like social concern leads, with the Gospel tagging along.

So what did I get out of it? A lot actually.

An increased awareness

Before reading Ministries of Mercy I lacked a heart for social concern. I hate myself for saying it, but, I knew I needed to do something, but didn’t see the urgency of what I needed to do. Whilst I may not agree with everything between the pages of Ministries of Mercy it certainly challenged me towards action.

Keller’s heart bleeds off the page and his zeal for the afflicted is contagious. I loved the desire to do something that the book instilled into me.

A stalled project

Very soon after completing the Ministries of Mercy Bible study our church began working in Olieven providing a number of services to the community including Saturday tutoring at the local high school. Whilst our church plant stalled the experience gained was incalculable.

A new gameplan

Ministries of Mercy gave me pause to think about the need for social concern, how it related to the Gospel, and how to drive the church towards a Christ glorifying end. I felt that Ministries of Mercy advocated a ‘Gospel plus social concern’ mechanism, but decided that for myself and my church we’d adopt a ‘Gospel followed by social concern’ mechanism. Oh, and our external projects were to be measured against verses like Galatians 6:10, 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.”

A new day

Crystal Park Baptist Church, the small congregation I now serve, has embarked on a number of internal and two sustainable external social concern initiatives. We approached the two schools in our suburb and offered to take their assembly devotionals. After a year of interacting with them we began to offer them social services. We go in and provide counselling to children in the high school once a week and provide drama, singing and dance classes to the primary school.
It is worth pointing out that we’ve recently begun to see fruit from these two evangelistic activities, only realised after the social work began.

Whilst Ministries of Mercy is an excellent read, and will certainly allow the thoughtful bookworm to ponder afresh the need and importance of social concern in the midst of the church they serve. That said I’d caution against running a Bible study following the material.

Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo – Pastor to Pupils

From Pastor to Pupils

Presenting the National Anthem in a School environment

Crystal Park Baptist Church

This is our church’s local area evangelism board. It shows our primary evangelistic outreaches. Over and above the schools and the police station we also go door to door on Sundays. Click image to enlarge.

I love South Africa. I want to make a difference in my country but I’m not always sure where to start. More than anything I desire to see revival in my land, my nation turning to the one, true God, faith in Jesus Christ His Son, a repentance, which is a turning away from sin and a turning to Him. It is to that end I strive.

Crystal Park Baptist Church has established great relationships with the schools and the police station in our area. In the last three blog spots (see bottom of this post for links) I’ve spoken about going to our local High School once a week and the local Primary School too. We also go to the relief parade at our local police station every Tuesday morning and address the officers and members going off and coming on shift.

In the following set of articles I briefly describe the devotionals that we’re currently presenting to the schools and police station in our area. We work line by line through the national anthem at the primary gathering or assembly. The Gospel goes out each week, which is what the church wants, and the school or police station benefits because currently nation building and the national anthem are in the spotlight. We’ve been attending to this ministry for the last year and have begun to see much fruit.

Again, this is a work in progress and I’ll be most grateful if you gave me feedback.

Lesson 4

Lord bless us, We are the family of it – Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.

The forth line, ‘Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo’, translates to ‘Lord bless us, We are the family of it’.

In the second half of the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul goes from city to city in the Roman world preaching the Good News of the Gospel, that while God is Holy and separated from sin, and while man is sinful and therefore separated from God, God made a plan, He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to save sinners. Jesus paid the price we could not and so, if we believe in Him, trust upon His finished work on the cross rather than our own efforts, repent from our sin and turn to Him, we will be saved.

So Paul is going around the known world teaching this Gospel to whoever would hear it and in Acts 17 we find him in Greece, in the capital city, Atheans. And here he addresses the crowd. I want to to hear part of his sermon:

Acts 17:22 – 27,

22 Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed:


Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.

Three things about the text above (I’m a Baptist, we do everything in threes):

Number 1, at any school, police station, hospital (or any other place I can think of… your church?) if you ask the following question you get a delightful answer, “How many nations are represented here this morning?” At the police station this morning there were Englishmen, Afrikaaners, Zulus, Pedis (biggest smile on the planet when I acknowledged him), Xhosas… God did that. If we’re a rainbow nation it’s because we serve a God who is creative by nature and without limit. What an awesome God He has revealed Himself to be.

Number 2, Maybe even more amazing to me is that the creative diverseness that occured in the station house this morning is no accident, rather God, as the sovereign ruler of the universe, determined the times, place and people who were there collected. Sure in the strictest sense the meaning of this passage is a little broader than that but it doesn’t exclude the providence of God to bring together a specific people at a specific place and specific time. As Paul says in another place, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways!”

Number 3, God is not doing all this for nothing. He has a plan. He has a plan to save sinners. And it’s not a small plan. He plans to save nations! Another apostle, John, when describing what heaven looks like says this, “After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

God’s is the creator, planner and saver of the nations. Let the nations be glad! Amen!

Previous lessons can be viewed here:
Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika – Lesson 1
Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo – Lesson 2
Yizwa imithandazo yethu – Lesson 3