Friends 2007: For God So Loved The World

Seems other people are blogging faster than me … the conversations are flowing … Here’s one from my good friend Alwyn: For God So Loved the World

“Tan Soo-Inn’s voice sounded a lot deeper than I remembered. Ng Kam Weng appeared more playful than I’ve ever seen him. Alex Tang, Tan Kong Beng, Herman Sastri and many others I was pleased to meet ‘in the flesh’ for the first time. Jojo Fung is one groovy dresser and can make the entire floor erupt whilst maintaining a straight face. Sherman blessed us with more than his smile. Bishop Philip Lok proved himself no stranger to spontaneous fun and laughter.

And we also (*smile*) had Brian McLaren lead us, a group of friends, in a 2-day conversation about sparking quiet revolutions of hope(QRoH) for the world.

Revolutions is the right word, although only a few will say that McLaren’s material was entirely new to them. I think we’ve all felt that something wasn’t clicking with this whole Christianity/Church thinggy, but we’ve never totally articulated them, trashed them out, at least not in such a forthright manner. And whilst it appears that we certainly need more granularity in the solutions discussed during the conference, it’s lways a good thing that new sets of questions are raised and given new life to – this can be revolutionary.

All kudos for Sivin, Yew Khuen and the Alex’s post for more comprehensive summary). This fresh Gospel was contrasted with the generally conservative portrayal of Jesus’ message as being essentially about how the self could escape the eventual destruction of the world and eternal torment in hell.

McLaren delivers his messages in a serious yet gentle manner. His words flow effortlessly and smoothly, producing (and is this just me?) a calming effect on his listeners, clearing the path for new models of understanding, or new ways of seeing things. He makes you want to listen to him.

I think McLaren is doing the Church a favor by refocusing us back to what Jesus said the Gospel was about. Was it mainly about avoiding hell and reaching a blissful afterlife? Or was it about, somehow, transforming the world via the creation of a new kind of people?

“Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” This is Jesus. Not Luther, not Calvin, not the Baptist General Convention and definitely not the American President.

Now, I’ve read N.T. Wright many times, but why did I still feel like this message was new to me?! Could it be because there’s a tendency to keep reverting to an equilibrium which is so “heavenly” minded it neglects efforts to make earth AS IT IS in heaven?

A Christian is someone who is healed of AIDS so he can join the healing initiative to rid the community of the disease. It’s the community, the world, which drives the entire plan of God and one finds meaning (and “salvation” from ultimate punishment) by accepting the world-mission of the Creator and locating one’s self within His grand plan.

As McLaren’s slides illustrated so wonderfully (and I’ve certainly missed out something here but I think you’ll get the picture), a huge problem today is that ESCAPING HELL has so often been the main big title of the Gospel contract, with a sub-title about personal happiness, followed by a small footnote on character development, with an even smaller footnote on service and contributing to the Christian community, and finally the tiniest footnote about social and global transformation.

I absolutely loved his stories, too. The first session included a hilarious one about his daughter’s Japanese Shiba Inu dog who runs away at the first available opportunity yet turns back at the smell/sound/sight of its owner waving cheese at him! He was using this to illustrate what he thought was a good picture of the ‘old gospel’ church: the preacher waving cheese at his members, promising enough self-fulfilment to take them through another week of secularism, materialism and hedonism with a gospel of sin-management, before repeating the process again.

I guess what he was trying to say that if we do NOT constantly keep the big picture of God’s love for the world in mind, we’ll end up either adding to the world’s problems or giving up any semblance of following Jesus. Or both.”

Thanks Alwyn, and you did great as a facilitator.

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