Newfrontiers Guest Speakers

One of the things I love about the newfrontiers annual conference is Terry Virgo’s willingness to invite speakers from outside the movement to address us. While they share many of our core values, they typically bring their own distinctives that complement and even challenge those within our movement. In the last few years, we have had Mark Driscoll, Wayne Grudem, Rob Rufus, and CJ Mahaney amongst others.

So I was encouraged to hear that Terry Virgo is taking steps to get Tim Keller along next year (although sadly not for the Brighton conference). I have a lot of respect for Tim Keller after hearing and reading a lot of his material on the gospel and mission.

It got me thinking about who else I would like to see invited to a newfrontiers conference, either as a main speaker, or to do some training track seminars. Here’s a few of my ideas, along with a suggestion for a subject they could preach on…

Sam Storms – reformed doctrine and charismatic experience

Christopher Wright – Old Testament hermeneutics

Simon Ponsonby – loving God

Mike Reeves – church history

Tim Chester – church and the poor

Ravi Zaccharias – apologetics

How about the other newfrontiers bloggers? Who would you invite…

Together on a Mission 2008

I had the privilege yesterday of attending the newfrontiers Together on a Mission 2008 conference as a day visitor. Sadly I couldn’t attend the whole week, but it was great to get a taste of what has been going on this week in Brighton.

First up was a talk on “The Messiah of God” by Andrew Wilson. This addressed the way in which Matthew makes use of the Old Testament, which can pose a problem for some evangelicals as his exegesis appears to be somewhat unconventional. Andrew’s approach was to highlight the theme of Jesus as the “true Israel” and demonstrate how Matthew deliberately draws our attentions to parallels between the story of Israel and that of Jesus. He seemed to be drawing in a number of places from N T Wright’s excellent “Jesus and the Victory of God” and also recommended Tim Keller’s sermons as exemplary demonstrations of how to preach Christ from the Old Testament. It was an excellent seminar, and it is encouraging to see someone so theologically astute emerging from within newfrontiers. Andrew has already published two excellent books (Incomparable, Deluded by Dawkins), and I was pleased to hear that another is imminent. You can listen to some of his sermons at the King’s Church Eastbourne website.

Second was a talk by P-J Smyth on The Army of God. I felt this was the best sermon I have heard from him. Adrian Warnock has written some detailed notes. For me the highlights were his emphasis on the importance of respecting people’s consciences and the end section where he used a cricketing analogy to show how a leader defends, steadily advances, and breaks new ground. He also made some interesting points about church structure. Just as some people didn’t quite fit into David’s “thirty” or “three” mighty men, so there may be people in our churches who don’t quite fit neatly into our leadership categories yet still need to be utilised in their gifting.

Third was Mark Driscoll, speaking about Movements. Again, Adrian Warnock has blogged his sermon notes. I had been looking forward to hearing Mark and he didn’t disappoint, although I don’t think anyone was quite expecting what we got. He addressed some pertinent issues of how newfrontiers must adapt if it is to survive beyond its first and second generation and avoid becoming an institution. He very gently put his finger on an area in which he felt we were at risk. Will we be able to survive the transition when Terry Virgo hands over to the next generation? I personally feel that Vineyard has struggled with its self-identity as a movement since John Wimber’s death, and it was interesting to hear Mark Driscoll cite them as an example of a movement that has lost its way (although his reasoning is different – no prizes for guessing where he lays the blame!) At the end of the sermon, Mark was given a standing ovation. There was a real sense that his message had come as a timely prophetic word to us. The gentle spirit in which it was brought also blew away a lot of people’s stereotyped impression that Mark is always a headstrong outspoken bull in a china shop kind of preacher.

Finally, in the evening it was prayer meeting night led by Dave Holden. Evan Rogers was there leading us in the now traditional South African singing and dancing. Apparently he is moving to Dubai, so we expect next year to be singing in Arabic and doing some middle eastern dancing. It was great to hear news of the church planting that is going on, as well as pray into Mark Driscoll’s challenge to our movement to plant faster! Terry Virgo preached a short message encouraging us to emulate the lavish generosity of Mary as she anointed Jesus’ feet in John 12. Then followed the offering, but sadly we had to head home before the celebration got fully underway.

I am delighted that newfrontiers are continuing their policy of allowing free sermon downloads this year. They have already got a good number of sermons from the conference up and ready to download. This is a great way of ensuring that those who could not make it to the conference get to benefit from some of the excellent teaching we have enjoyed.

TOAM – Calling the Nations to the Obedience of Faith

OK, here’s my next report from the Brighton Together on a Mission conference. Dave Devenish was speaker at session 7 on Thursday morning. His text was Rom 1:1-15; 15:17-24; and 16:25-27. You can read what Adrian Warnock made of this session here.

He wanted to focus on the way Paul begins and ends the letter of Romans – parts that can get missed as there is so much good stuff in the middle. The key verse he picked out is Rom 1:5 –

through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

Through his apostolic ministry, Paul wanted to bring the gospel of grace to every nation – bringing people to the obedience of faith. Dave had clearly been reading some N T Wright, as he contrasted Christ’s kingdom with that of Caesar’s. Our King is claiming the whole world – but his kingdom is brought in not by brute force, but by grace and apostleship. All this is done for the glory of Christ – which according to Stott is the highest missionary motivation.

He then went on to list some enemies of this vision, which result when we preach a gospel that is not truly the gospel of the kingdom. For example, where Christ is promoted as an alternative therapy for felt needs. Or the western consumerist gospel plus a private ambition of going to heaven when I die. Other examples include churches in Africa where tribalism and sexual immorality is not renounced despite claiming to be Christian.

Where Christ is not Preached

Dave then spoke of Paul’s desire to preach where Christ was not known. Even though the areas already evangelised were by no means Christianised, Paul had left reproducing churches behind. They could be entrusted to plant more churches. Paul’s own ministry was pioneering, and others were called to fill in behind him. He wanted to reach “Greeks and barbarians” – he was not limited to those who were culturally reachable. Dave then gave some space to giving examples of unreached people groups – defined as peoples without an indiginous, witnessing (i.e. reproducing) church.

Why are we involved in this mission to the unreached?
1) Prophetic Promise
2) Apostolic Passion
3) Eschatological Necessity (Matt 24:14)
4) Contemporary Urgency

What is stopping us reaching them?
1) Non-missional churches. We need everyone involved, not just the keen few.
2) Culture-bound instead of culture-challenging churches
3) The Muslim identification of Christianity with the west. The only way this is overcome is by planting small communities of believers who demonstrate that Christianity is something different.
4) Cultural and linguistic challenges

Practical Outworking

We need to keep preaching this message of reaching the nations, and give practical help to those going – more than giving money, this includes strategic support. Pray continually and give generously. Encourage people to go and support them.

My thoughts

I thought this was an excellent message, and underscores some of what I feel is best about newfrontiers. There is a real desire to bring the gospel to the nations, and work to build cross-cultural churches in our own cities. It would be easy for a group of churches like newfrontiers to settle for just having some large churches in major UK cities that thrive simply on Christians moving in from other churches, but here a strong commitment reaching the unreached was articulated passionately.

I am glad for the emphasis on the gospel of the kingdom. It is clear that Tom Wright has been influencing many of the newfrontiers leadership team, and informing their understanding of the proclamation of Jesus as King as politically subversive.

I think it is also interesting that the word missional is being liberally used this year (I suspect in a few cases by those who aren’t quite sure what it means). Missional is a buzz-word at the moment, speaking of a church that doesn’t see the church service as the main connecting point with unbelievers, rather we meet people within their culture by expressing the gospel through the way we live. It is about living out a Christian counter-culture and not retreating from the culture around us, but bringing the gospel to it in a way that is contextual.

I personally welcome newfrontiers embracing the concept of being missional. However, I am not too sure that many churches are entirely thinking along the same lines as those who write about being “missional”. In particular, I think the “church growth model” has also been widely embraced, which is often-times at odds with a missional approach (see my posts on the principled missional church and the results driven church). Sunday services especially focus less and less on equiping Christians to live out the kingdom lifestyle and try instead to be enjoyable for unbelievers. I know there were some other seminars at the conference that included the word “missional” in their blurb, so hopefully I will get a chance to listen to them and see if there is any more clarity on exactly what is understood in newfrontiers by the word “missional”.

12 Biblical Values (Part 3)

OK, here is very briefly, my thoughts on John Hosier’s choice of 12 biblical values (see part 1 and part 2).

The 12 biblical values list is not meant to be exhaustive, and Dan pointed out that his book does indeed include quite a few more. John Hosier himself acknowledged from the outset that grace was not included in the list, not because it wasn’t an important biblical value, but rather that it permeated all the other values. Another notable missing newfrontiers emphasis was church planting, and as Ger pointed out in the comments, restoration was not there either. Despite including the controversial subjects of baptism in the Holy Spirit, and modern day apostleship, other potentially explosive issues such as women elders or preachers and eschatology were left out. Other pervasive Biblical themes such as holiness, mission, prayer, suffering and healing were not included either.

Despite these omissions, I am pleased to see churches in newfrontiers taking the time to communicate their biblical values in a structured way. We can too easily assume that sharing a common vision is enough. However, two people may have the same vision (e.g. to build a church of 1000 people), but if their values are different, what and how they build will be very different. As newfrontiers seeks God for more churches, and increased growth in existing churches, I pray that we will truly see these 12 biblical values (and more) at the foundation of all that is built, that the church would truly be “Christ’s Radiant Church” bringing glory to God alone.

12 Biblical Values (Part 2)

Continuing from my previous post on 12 biblical values, here are the second six from John Hosier.

7. The ministries of apostles and prophets
The church has never had an issue with the ongoing ministries of evangelists, pastors and teachers, butapostles and prophets are a different matter. He cautioned against the use of the phrase “Ephesians 4 ministries” and especially labelling someone as an “Ephesians 4 teacher” (I have always felt that sounded like a description of someone who always preaches on the same chapter of the Bible).

The main thrust of the argument is that Eph 4:11 speaks of gifts that the ascended Christ gave. But the 12 were appointed before the ascension, so who does Paul have in mind? Just himself? John Hosier then argues for four categories of apostles:
1) The Apostle – Jesus, sent by the Father
2) The 12 apostles, chosen by Jesus to be with him. They saw the risen Christ and were uniquely placed to be witnesses to the resurrection. Matthias was chosen according to the same criteria – he had been with Christ and witnessed the resurrection.
3) Paul – a unique “transitional” apostle. He could say that he too had seen the risen Christ, but he was appointed by the “ascended Christ”. Placing Paul in a category by himself is I think a diplomatic move to appease those who think it intollerably arrogant to consider anyone as sharing his minsitry. I think his uniqueness came more from his place in church history as the first apostle to the Gentiles and his being used to write Scripture, rather than his role as apostle.
4) All other apostles, appointed by the ascended Christ, including Timothy and Barnabas. There have been many through church history, even if they have not been known as “apostles” – Hosier suggests Wesley, Carey and Booth as examples. The point being, newfrontiers does not consider the gift of apostleship to have died out and only come back recently with Terry Virgo. These apostles may lead churches, but will typically do so only for a short time – their gifting leads them to regions beyond (c.f. Paul in Ephesus).

8. The government of the local church is to be exercised by elders
The church is not to be a democracy, where everyone has a vote. He argues that people who want democracy really just want their own way – they will still complain if they are out-voted. Having said that, a wise eldership will not be a dictatorship – it will seek to keep in touch with the views of the whole church.

9. A comittment to pastoral care
Seeking to bring individual believers to maturity.

10. Training of leadership from within the local church
Leaders may sometimes be “imported”, but the normal pattern should be training them up locally. If the newfrontiers vision of 1000 churches in the UK is to be realised, a significant comittment to training is necessary.

11. Recognising we are only part of the body of Christ
“We recognise we are only part of the body of Christ and seek real fellowship with all true believers”. Here John Hosier sought to address criticism of an aloof or separatist attitude within newfrontiers. He pointed out that the speakers and newfrontiers conferences have always included a number from other groups. He also mentioned small steps at the local level towards a greater working unity with other churches.

12. Avoid inflexible church structures and traditions
Newfrontiers has reacted against some of the legalism that was developing in traditional evangelical churches. However, he warned that there is a danger of “reverse legalism”, where (for example) those who are teetotal or dress smartly for church are treated as second class citizens. There may also need to be greater flexibility in the future with regards to issues such as
meeting times.

I’ll add a few thoughts of my own in a third post soon, about what has been left out of this list.

New Frontiers Leadership Conference – Wednesday

I had the privilege of attending the New Frontiers Brighton leadership conference for the day on Wednesday. I arrived just in time to sneak into Ian Stackhouse’s seminar on preaching. I chose the seminar because I had never heard him before and I was hoping that he might discuss some of the issues in his new book (that I haven’t read) – the Gospel Driven Church. However, the main point of the seminar was that preaching is still relevant and that we should stick to the Biblical text and let it speak. He seemed to disapprove of using lots of illustrations or preaching on topics and current events without explicitly saying that you shouldn’t. I was annoyed I hadn’t chosen Philip Greenslade’s seminar instead.

Anyway, things greatly improved for me when I got to the bookshop. I noticed a man buying 10 volumes of the Word Biblical Commentary series. I knew immediately that this meant it was on special offer and so I ran to make sure I grabbed the 2 volume Hebrews commentary by William Lane. This means I now own my first choice commentary on each book in the New Testament.

The first main session of the day was a sermon by Dave Holden, and as usual he was outstanding. His main point was encouraging those who build churches to build them well. I had lunch with a doctor and two pastors, who discussed how to help people with terminal illnesses (the balance between praying for healing and preparing people for death). It was a subject that I felt way out of my depth on, but for these guys, its part of their job.

The afternoon was a seminar by PJ Smyth, one of New Frontiers up and coming new leaders. His style is very dynamic, and he likes his audience to participate with various noises and actions. My preference is for preachers to be a bit more boring and academic, but I guess I’m in the minority there as lots of people really appreciated his style. His sermon also brought up the interesting issue of how we treat contemporary prophecy as compared to the Bible. Much of the sermon was based around significant prophectic words spoken about New Frontiers. His main point was that New Frontiers needs to be getting into the major world cities and building big (‘juggernaut’) churches from which to plant smaller (‘fiat uno’) churches.

I had dinner with a bunch of Ukranians who didn’t speak any English, but I did also get to speak to someone who has just got back from an extended visit to Zimbabwe. Sounds like things are really bad there – she told us about beheadings of people who voted the wrong way in the recent elections.

The evening was CJ Mahaney. I explained to someone beforehand that CJ was a very dynamic and amusing speaker, and most likely to speak on subjects such as humility, suffering or the cross. I got it exactly right. He did one of his typical extended introductions where he waxes lyrical about his gratefulness, love and admiration for New Frontiers. Finally, he preached a very solemn and passionate sermon on Christ’s gethsemane experience – where he looked into the cup. It was an unashamed advocation of the penal substitution theory of the atonement, which it looks like New Frontiers are underlining their commitment to in light of Steve Chalke’s book, which Dave Holden had subtly alluded to in his talk.

Another great blessing of the conference was that it gave me an opportunity to finally meet Andrew Fountain, who I have been in email contact with for some time now. (In fact we met up just before the conference as well). I’m hoping to get him round to my house to tell me all about New Covenant Theology before he heads back off to Canada.