hearts on fire

What is the goal of Christian mission? I sometimes feel that some mission activity is more about being validated. Or, and much much worse, the objectification of individuals as “bums on seats”. Without a clear aim, how can Christianity reach out for Jesus?

Maybe mission is about providing people with information about Jesus? Logical, rational, and apologetic discussion on Jesus. And individuals, based on that information, make a decision to follow Jesus or not. I have information about a number of topics, none of which make any difference in my life. If the information does not change me, does not challenge me to change, is that information really the goal of mission? Yes, information is part of the process but it is not the end.

I think the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24) is a good example of what Christianity should aim for in mission: an experience of Jesus. After the two travelled with Jesus, talked to Him, and even had “communion” with Him, their experience is much deeper than any of those things:

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:31-32

What does the “Jesus experience” feel like? “Our hearts burning within us”. An experience that transcends words and even emotions. A mystical experience of the presence of the Eternal in Jesus:

One definition is that a mystical experience is one in which you feel filled with God’s presence in an intense and unmistakable way. Or you feel “lifted up” from the normal way of seeing things. Or you are simply overwhelmed with the sense of God in a way that seems to transcend your own understanding. …

Needless to say, these experiences are hard to put into words. It’s the same as trying to describe the first time you fell in love, or held your newborn child in your arms, or saw the ocean for the first time. But just because they are difficult to explain doesn’t mean that they’re not real, or authentic.

Everyday Mysticism

The problem, for the modern mind, is that an experience can not be quantified. But that is the paradox of Christianity and faith in Jesus. It is about a life more than information. It is about an experience that transforms me and the way I see the world around me.

holiness and mission

I have been reading The Mystic Way of Evangelism. It is an interesting read with much to think about – much more than I had first assumed. The book takes a wider view of mysticism than other books I have read. I have been exposed to the thoughts of individuals that I had not previously encountered. And that is always a good thing!

Last night I was thinking about how, in the mystics (and maybe modern-day “charismatics”) there is a real connection between a desire for holiness – oneness with Jesus – and the proclamation of Jesus to the world. In the history of the church movements have arisen that connect this desire with mission – mysticism, pietism, charismatic movement. Holiness and discipleship are intimately related to mission and witness.

There is no holiness without mission, no discipleship without witness. We cannot put discipleship in one box and have mission in another. Or have witness in one and holiness in another. These areas of the Christian life are not mutually exclusive – they are intimately related. A person set apart for God will reach out to people with the good news of Jesus. A disciple of Jesus will follow Jesus and witness to Him with their life.

I have been thinking that rather than a plan for mission, parishes should have a plan for discipleship that includes a plan for outreach. A plan for holiness that reaches out into the world. People transformed to transform people. To sound terribly judgemental, people need to understand that Jesus changes them and this relationship is not a private matter without consequences.

Transformed people ready to transform people.

transform to transform

I have just purchased this book. While I suspect that it will not be my cup of tea, I am intrigued by the premise. And it follows from the previous post. So the premise is:

Christian mysticism is about the holy transformation of the mystic by God so that the mystic becomes instrumental in the holy transformation of God’s people. This transformation always results in missional action in the world. The idea that mysticism is private and removed from the rugged world of ministry is simply false. All the Old Testament prophets were mystics. Their visions, dreams, and other experiences of God were for the express purpose of calling God’s people back to their missional vocation.

Elaine Heath, The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach, 5

“Being transformed leads to a desire to transform”. Yes! Experiencing Jesus leads to a desire for others to experience Him. There are movements that emphases the experience of Jesus that are also intensely missional. (Pietism and Pentecostalism are only two.) Yet the missional impulse does not grow out a “requirement” but rather from love.

So mission is about people experiencing and being transformed by Jesus. And that can only happen if I am transformed and reflect Jesus in my life. And the modern prophet is a mystic who calls individuals back to their mission to proclaim Jesus.

encountering Jesus?

I woke up thinking about the Knowledge argument. Yes, I am really weird! Actually I suspect I was thinking about Ex Machina that includes it. It goes by some other names – Mary’s room or Mary the super-scientist – yet fundamentally it is a thought experiment by Frank Jackson. In short:

… Jackson’s Mary is a scientist who knows everything there is to know about the science of color, but has never experienced color. The question that Jackson raises is: once she experiences color, does she learn anything new? Jackson claims that she does.

I find that idea really interesting. I think we sometimes, in a modern scientific world, downplay experience in epistemology. Is something that I know but have never experienced really “knowledge”?

So allow me to move the discussion in a theological direction. Does the experience of Jesus change me? Can I know Jesus without ever experiencing Him? Of course these questions actually influence the way we do “mission” and “evangelism”. Unfortunately sometimes “sharing my faith” is more about personal validation than transformation.

I think that I can tell people about Jesus and then the individual experiences Him. So is the speaking about really transformative or is the experience that may or may not follow? Of course, the issue is further complicated by the very fact that Jesus is a person and not an idea. A person who needs to be encountered. It is the personal meeting with Jesus that transforms – what role does my speaking about Him play?

Anyway, I was wondering what gospel story could be used to illustrate the above philosophical point? The Road to Emmaus? The blind man in John 9? Any suggestions?

irony and paradox

I have been thinking that two concepts I do not really grasp are irony and paradox. So I thought I would share the following quote:

The more common type of irony, he says, is irony in which something that is a jest is said as if it were meant seriously. The rarer type of irony, the type he himself exemplifies, is when an author says something serious but does so in the form of a jest.

C. Stephen Evans. Kierkegaard on Faith and the Self: Collected Essays (Provost) 207-208.

I think the important thing, for me, in the above is that irony is about ideas or speech. And paradox, therefore, is about existence. I think the two can overlap and sometimes something is said to be ironic when in fact it is paradoxical, in the Kierkegaardian way of seeing things. But both confront us with the absurdity of life or of a particular idea.

I think it is all related to communication. And, for me, it is related to the paradox of the incarnation – how I am called to proclaim a Person who is a paradox.

follow me

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Matthew 4:18-20

I have been thinking about the “mission” of the people of God in a digital age. Since Covid-19 we have communicated in completely new ways. And there is no going back! We can no longer repeat the same methods that worked (or not) in the past. We cannot rely on people seeking out the church. Religion as a whole has lost most of the influence it had in the past. And all of that is actually good news!!

The task of each individual who has a relationship with Jesus is to “follow Him”. It is that simple! And part of that life is to be a “fisher of people”. But the simple fact that my relationship with Jesus is about “following Him” means I am called to reach out to people and proclaim the Kingdom of God, to proclaim the person of Jesus, to other people.

I want to write more about the theology of mission in a digital age. I think there is much to be written about but, more importantly, much to be done. And most of what is to be done is not artificial but the very centre of my relationship with Jesus.

I would be interested in people’s thoughts on mission, especially in what Jesus’ mission consists.