EFAC Australia


Book review: Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements are Changing the Church; Thomas C. Oden, Baker, 2006, 272p $US17.99

Oden's latest book is key for anyone interested in the renewal of Protestant mainline churches. As a resource, it chronicles the recent history of the renewal and confessing movements in the US and Canada and celebrates their coming together, theologically and organisationally, in what Oden terms a "new ecumenism of orthodox Christian teaching after the collapse of modernity" (208). Oden includes evangelical groups within the renewal movement, but downplays their contribution in favour of "classical ecumenical teaching" (208). In "boring but important" chapters Oden provides examples of orthodox theological statements and of legal argument relating to the trust of property according to the discipline of the church. He helpfully discusses the place of discipline, and of church and civil courts.

For orthodox Christians, the book is a great encouragement. Oden records the perseverance of faithful groups with few resources in the face of plain unfaithfulness by well resourced denominational leaders pursuing their own agendas (16). He names the way denominational headquarters have marginalized these groups by calling them fundamentalists, old-fashioned, exclusive or obstructive. He gives a clear call on theological and prudential grounds to stay and steward God's great heritage in the mainline (27-34). However, unity must be based on truth, and heresy disciplined (103-119). Amiable separation with entitlements is urged for those who cannot assent to doctrinal foundations. An excellent chapter (179-196) on confessing and its noble history challenged me to make this more integral to church life.

Godly integrity + Godly relationships = Godly influence
A reflection from a country archdeacon

I have now been ordained just over 21 years. All of my ordained life has been served in the Diocese of Bendigo. I now find myself as the Archdeacon of Bendigo and Vicar General of the Diocese. This involves me being in regular contact with the Bishop, being on a wide range of diocesan committees, offering pastoral support to various clergy as well as the leadership of one of the few growing parishes in our diocese.

Over the years, it has felt at times that I have been serving two masters. Sometimes the diocesan demands have meant that I haven't devoted the time needed to grow the parish as quickly as I would have liked. At other times my serving in the parish has led to frustration at a diocesan level where I have not had enough time to think clearly through key issues.

The Lure of the Story

As a preacher, I always have to resist the temptation of preaching from biblical narratives, either Old Testament or New Testament. I love them. Well, I just love stories generally. Actually, most of us do. From kids to 'prime timers', Christians love the stories of the Bible. Why, even Hollywood loves them as it regularly presents the stories of Moses, David, Esther, and the passion of the Christ on both the big and the small screen.

Stories have a universal appeal. Just watch people on trains or planes passing the time reading the latest Grisham or Clancy. Wise journalists often present a news item by beginning with a story. A report on the latest Middle East conflict, or a plane crash, or stem cell research will often begin with a human-interest story about someone affected by the particular issue.

So, I don't need to be convinced to preach from books like Acts because the battle in gaining and maintaining audience interest is already half-won.

In 2005, John Dickson released Promoting the Gospel: A Practical Guide to the Biblical Art of Sharing your Faith (Blue Bottle Books). John recalls that as a young teenager, recently saved, he was a passionate promoter of the Christian message. He remembers at that time he "had absolutely no idea Christians could be coy about their faith" (7). That soon changed when he attended a church course on 'personal evangelism.' He became self conscious as to whether he was getting the gospel presentation 'right' and his "joy and ability at passing on the Faith evaporated" (8). John rediscovered his original joy in sharing his faith by simply approaching gospel opportunities as a "friendly conversation about my favourite topic" (10) without feeling the necessity to unload a full gospel presentation in every situation. He comments that "most Christians are not 'evangelists' (in the biblical sense of the word) and should not be made to feel the pressure to act as if they were" (11).

Indeed, 'word ministry' is just one of numerous activities identified in Scripture that promote Christ and draw others toward Him. Evangelism (proclaiming the gospel) is a 'subset' of a broader category of promoting the gospel. Other subsets include prayer, godly behaviour, acts of compassion and mercy, financial assistance, answering people's questions and public praise. A key aim of Promoting the Gospel is to show the all-encompassing nature of the Bible's call to be involved in God's mission. All Christians are called to, and gifted by the Holy Spirit, to promote the gospel.

To be honest, I'm generally no great fan of conferences. My experience of the National EFAC Conference however was one of pleasant appreciation. Put simply, it had a well considered mix of 'components', and importantly, a genuine sense of fellowship. Well catered for by the hospitality at the Port Hacking site, not even the inclement weather could dim the experience.

Given the plethora of glossy conference advertising that crosses our desks these days, it is worth asking why we should consider participating in such events. I'll return to that question in concluding, but let me say that this conference was more than an opportunity to hear quality input - although such quality input was indeed presented in abundance.

The keynote sessions addressed the conference theme 'Growing Gospel Passions': Passion for Christ (Peter Jensen); Passion for Prayer (Steve Abbott); Passion for Ministry (Lyn Sarah), and Passion for God's Glory (Glenn Davies). I usually reckon that if I come away with one memorable presentation I've done well, but these were delivered with such a consistent mix of insight, challenge and passion, they are worth acquiring and giving an ongoing life. If you haven't heard them, download them and pass them on to home groups or fellow-workers.

One of the important issues of recent times is the 'new perspective' on Paul (the name Professor Dunn gave it in 1983).

I want to look at Paul's own perspective on something, the righteousness of God, focusing on Galatians.

Let me make four preliminary observations.

First, the word 'righteousness' and its brother word, 'justified' are law court words. For example, in 1 Cor 4:4 Paul speaks about the Corinthians' 'judgement' about his ministry where he says,'I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted (Greek: justified').

Paul uses this language to describe the relationship with God of those who are (in Paul's words) 'in Christ', Christian believers. He says that they are 'justified' (= 'acquitted').

The passive voice means that if I am 'justified' it means that someone else has 'justified' me, and that someone else is God. So: to be 'justified' means to be 'acquitted', acquitted by God.

Paper from 2006 National EFAC Conference

In this seminar I am not beginning by arguing that we should employ specialist local church evangelists but simply working from the assumption that this is something to think about. However, towards the end of the seminar, a couple of questions arise as to whether such a position really is the best way to sharpen and grow a church's evangelism.

What to look for in an evangelist
Of course the baseline requirements for any Christian leader are that they measure up to the biblical standards in passages such as 1 Tim 3:1-10, Titus 1:7-9 and 1 Pet 5:1-4. These qualities and gifts are required of all in Christian leadership. Beyond this, we must also specifically look for a person of both truth and love – someone with a passion for the Word and also for the world around them. It is no good being an evangelist if you are only interested in theology and doctrine and don't have a real heart for the lost.