Restless, Radical and Reformed

A Strategy for Embracing Change
Stephen Atkinson’s article did not make it into the Herald for lack of space but here he shows his age and reflects on the unchanging gospel in changing times.

We are about to enter 2010, and Bob Dylan’s words from1963, “The times, they are a changin’”, seem an understatement in the extreme. In one sense, my childhood years of the sixties are light years away from the culture, fashion, and morality of the second decade of the 21st century. Yet, in another sense, there is nothing new under the sun. The perversions and permissions of ancient Greek and Roman “culture” are with us today, and we engage in mission not with the backdrop of sixteenth century Geneva but first century Corinth.

Facing today’s world with holy gasps and sanctified blinkers, we have retreated into the bunkers and monasteries of Reformed learning, willing to travel forty miles to hear expert wisdom on the latest theological hot potato, yet unwilling to travel forty yards to speak to a lost soul. The danger of reaching stained humanity is that we might become tainted ourselves. In our work in particular, the danger of engaging with Jewish people, is that we might become too involved in things Jewish to the detriment of our Reformed Christian stance.

The world in which we live is vastly different even from twenty years ago; and Jewish mission has similarly changed. We need then to bring a Reformed perspective that is truly radical – even restless – in presenting an unchanging message to changed times. However, the church and missions have not always welcomed the unknown territory of the nouveau. The historic stance of Athanasius against the world and Luther’s “Here I stand” become the decided “not an inch” strategy against the encroachments of the world. We safely call the world to “Come in and hear” when, rather, our commission is to “Go forth and tell”.

Oh for a Reformed, radical, restlessness! Enough of hiding in our bunkers. Enough of looking over our shoulders at our fellow believers, lest we be deemed less “sound”. Enough of cerebral Christianity. Enough of theological in-fighting in churches and – dare I say? – even in Jewish missions. We need to change. We need a strategy of change. Let me offer a few suggestions.

Changing our attitude towards messianic believers
Time was when we rejoiced in the one Jewish believer that had come to faith, and we brought that person into our Gentile church as a “trophy of grace” and sought to ethnically cleanse them of their Jewishness so they could sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” with the same gusto as we. But the times they are a changin’, and increasing numbers of Jewish believers – praise God! – are wishing to retain their identity, culture and ethnicity. We need to affirm the advantage of being Jewish (Romans 3:1), recognizing that our Best Friend remains ethnically Jewish. Or is that too radical a thought? At the very least we ought to have a generosity of spirit towards the increased number of Jewish believers, since they expressed a generosity of spirit when the first century (Jewish) church had a radical new ingathering from the goyim – “We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God…” (Acts 15:19). We are so fearful of the Galatian error arising within messianic groups that we have little largeness of heart, desperately concerned about what our supporting churches might think of us. The words “baby” and “bathwater” come to mind.

Changing our attitude towards methods
While some churches still think the only way to preach the gospel is to have a tent campaign, I do hope we are becoming wiser in our methods of bringing the gospel post-1950’s style. Sticking a tract under people’s noses may still have a small impact but in this lonely world, friendship evangelism is key; and showing mercy and love in Jesus’ name is key to Jewish mission. This takes time, effort, and much manpower – this has a bearing on my final point below. But also, in the 2010 world, while some are just about able to email, others are Tweeting. The mobile phone is no longer just a phone, but a camera, a music library, a Global Positioning Device, and a web surfer keeping you up to date with your emails and social networking. We need to radically consider how to employ such to communicate with our supporters and also in our evangelistic efforts to reach Jewish people. We are radically updating our website going online on 1st December. I, for one, have been restless for that! But here’s one for us all:

Changing our attitude towards money
Haggai called the people to consider their ways: “Is it a time for you to be living in panelled houses, while this house [the temple] remains a ruin?” (Haggai 1:3). Knowing what time it is, is vital. My wife has the bedside alarm clock set at 16 minutes later than true time; the clock in the car is similarly set at 4 minutes later than true time. I shake my head and say, Why?! (Far be it for me to seek to explore the female mind in this article!) Can I say that for some of you, your attitude to money is not at the right time! I could go off on a tangent about treasures on earth etc, but I simply ask you to consider: What time is it?

Yes, Jewish mission will be radically different in 2010 than in 1910, for what we are seeing today is the time of God’s favour as the veil is being removed. For our supporters we want to say, lovingly, and yet seriously, this is the time for breaking the alabaster jar. And for us, as we engage in what you have entrusted to us, this is the time for visionary, faith-inspired, radical activity for the salvation of Israel.
For that, I am restless.

Stephen Atkinson's

Written in November 2009.

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