Acts 2:1-13

Tongue of FireActs 2:1-13

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Have you ever heard of xenoglossy?  Xenoglossy is the phenomenon in which a person wakes up from a coma or emerges from some traumatic experience speaking a foreign language.  It is somewhat akin to Foreign Accent Syndrome, or FAS, accept that FAS involves a person suddenly having a thick foreign accent that they somehow cannot turn off.  (Think, for instance, of Madonna and the strange British accent she developed upon moving to England.  I jest.)

Xenoglossy is apparently a disputed phenomenon, with many doctors questioning if it is even real.  Even so, for those who claim to be suffering from it, it appears to be real enough.  It would indeed be a strange phenomenon, would it not, to wake up speaking a foreign language?

Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on xenoglossy lists our text as an early example.[1]  Of course, the New Testament sees what happened at Pentecost as something else entirely.  In the scriptures, this is not a freak occurrence resulting from trauma or other mysterious causes.  Rather, it is the deliberate act of God, granted at just the right moment and for very specific reasons.  This miraculous and astounding visitation of the Spirit was foretold by Jesus and had the worldwide proclamation of the gospel of Christ as its aim.  As such, it has distinctly theological, not neurological, overtones.

To get at the events described by Luke in Acts 2:1-13, let us construct a sentence.  Our sentence will have three parts, each highlighting an aspect of this miraculous display.

The Church is a God-empowered body…

We will begin our sentence like this:  “The Church is a God-empowered body…”  Whatever else is happening here, it is clear that God is visiting His people in power.  This is more than evident in the vivid imagery of our passage.

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4a And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit

First of all, note carefully the way in which Luke describes what happened here.  John Polhill explains.

Luke was well aware that he was using metaphorical language in these verses by carefully employing adverbs of comparison:  “like the blowing of a violent wind”…”what seemed to be tongues” (literally “tongues as of fire,” v.3).  He was dealing with the transcendent, that which is beyond the ordinary human experience and can only be expressed in earthly analogies.[2]

Yes, Luke was trying to describe something that required descriptive powers that no language possesses:  a movement of God.  What is most telling is that he speaks of this movement in elemental terms of “wind” and “fire.”  These are images that are pregnant with theological meaning.

First, Luke says that there came “a sound like a mighty rushing wind.”  The word for “wind” here is pnoe, which is a form of pneuma, also the word for Spirit.  Luke uses pneuma in verse 4, undoubtedly intending to create a link between the wind that fills the house and the Spirit that fills the disciples’ lives.

The Hebrew word for wind or spirit is ruach.  Tellingly, we find this word at the beginning of the Bible.  In Genesis 1, we read:

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Fascinating!  At creation, the Spirit of God hovered “over the face of the waters” or “the deep,” bringing creation out of the void as God spoke.  The Spirit, then, is the divine breath or divine wind that brings something from nothing, the Spirit of the living God that creates everything from nothing and that can make a dead heart live!

We see the same image in Ezekiel 37, when Ezekiel prophecies over the dry bones.

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Here again we see the animating, empowering, enlivening Spirit of God bringing energy and vitality and life to that which previously had been still and dormant and inactive and dead.  This is what the Spirit does to the unregenerate heart:  it resurrects it, bringing life into its otherwise dead chambers.  The wind that fills the house is the Spirit that fills the heart!

Then we see tongues as of flame descending.  This image of divine fire is likewise filled with provocative theological imagery.  You will recall that the Lord appeared before His people in the wilderness as a pillar of fire in Exodus 13.

17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” 18 But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. 19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.” 20 And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. 21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.

God goes as fire before His people.  Furthermore, at the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist foretold that Christ would one day baptize His followers with fire.  Interestingly, John says this in Luke’s gospel in Luke 3.

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Here the two images are combined:  wind and fire.  Both bespeak the mighty movement of a holy God in and among His people.  A Christian prayer from the 9th century says this:

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,

Vouchsafe within our souls to rest.

Come with thy power and heavenly aid,

And fill the hearts which thou hast made.[3]

The Church is a God-empowered body!  He has come to His people!

…of worldwide Jesus proclaimers…

The Church is a God-empowered body of worldwide Jesus proclaimers.  The holy fire of God falls upon the Church and it falls for a particular purpose.

4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.

Fire falls, and, significantly, it falls in the shape of tongues…and the tongues of the gathered Church are loosed with bold proclamation about the greatness of God in Christ.  Fire falls, and the Church speaks!

Throughout human history, one of the most shocking, brutal, and violent acts that a person or group of people would commit against another person whose words they found offensive or dangerous was the act of violence against that person’s actual tongue.  Consider Giordano Bruno, who was accused of writing heretical tracts at the close of the 17th century.  On February 17, 1600, Giordano Bruno was executed after being condemned to death by the Inquisitor Robert Bellarmine.  As an act of mercy a pouch of gunpowder was tied around his neck before the flames were lit.  His tongue was also nailed to his jaw.

Or consider Denise Stephenson.  Her parents were slaves in Halifax County, Virginia.  She relates the following story:  “The master wouldn’t even allow the people to pray.  They had to have their prayer meeting in secret.  Once they saw a man praying and they nailed his tongue to a tree…Had to be careful in those times.”

Or consider Pope Leo III.  Pope Leo III had his tongue cut out by an officer named Pascal.

Or what about a monk named Erluin?  In 910 AD, after Erluin “suggested that his monastery return to strict observance of the Rule of St. Benedict, his fellow monks ripped out his tongue and blinded him.”[4]

What is interesting about this disturbing trend is that it is the exact tactic the devil takes when he wants to derail the Church:  he seeks to remove our tongues.  He does not do so, normally, by actual physical violence, but rather by tempting us to employ our tongues in the service of every topic but Christ, by silencing us on the most important issues.  How unbelievable it is that the Church seems so often to remove its own tongue when it comes to proclaiming the truth of Christ!

The tragedy is further compounded by the fact that those who deny the truth are in no way silent or shy about their errors.  It seems at times that the only people who will not bear witness are those who know the truth.  This should not be!  Commenting on our text, the 7th/8th century English Christian, the Venerable Bede, put it beautifully when he wrote:

Now the Holy Spirit appeared in fire and in tongues because all those whom he fills he makes simultaneously to burn and to speak – to burn because of him and to speak about him.   And at the same time he indicated that the holy church, when it had spread to the ends of the earth, was to speak in the languages of all nations.[5]

“To burn because of him and to speak about him.”  Friends, how can we be silent about our King?  When the Spirit fell upon the Church at Pentecost, it fell to enable them to speak!  The Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz wrote, “What is pronounced strengthens itself. What is not pronounced tends to non-existence.”[6]  Would that we understood that fact:  “What is not pronounced tends to non-existence.”

If Christ is real to you, you will proclaim His Kingdom!  If Christ is your King, you will not be shy to speak of Him!  If Christ has raised you from death to life, you will not be timid about this amazing miracle!

And to whom does the Church proclaim?  To the nations!  They speak in the tongues of the nations present.  While the New Testament does speak of “speaking in tongues” as we traditionally think of it, that is, of speaking in unearthly languages, that does not actually appear to be what is happening here.  Will Willimon explains.

            It is doubtful that Luke is describing ecstatic speech here, the glossolalia of 1 Corinthians 14, because that sort of speech needed translation for anyone to understand.  Judging from the discussion of glossolalia in 1 Corinthians 14, the Spirit manifested its presence in a variety of ways in Paul’s churches.  Luke’s concern is with the description of a Spirit-empowered intelligible proclamation in foreign languages (2:6,8).[7]

At Pentecost, then, when the Spirit fell, He fell upon the assembled Church to empower and enable them to speak the gospel in the languages of the gathered nations.  Jesus had already told them that they would be His witness “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Now it begins.  And as it began so it should continue.  We should, we must continue the worldwide proclamation of the gospel!

…whose message inevitably causes people to be amazed, perplexed, or angered.

The Church is a God-empowered body of worldwide Jesus proclaimers whose message inevitably causes people to be amazed, perplexed, or angered.  These are the reactions the disciples received as a result of their bold and surprising proclamation.

7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Let us be clear:  wherever the gospel is truly proclaimed, people will respond by being amazed, by being perplexed, or by being angered.  The reactions of the crowd were not all of one type then and they are not all of one type now.  Then, as now, the reactions are diverse.  Some believe.  Some are confused.  Some mock, accusing the disciples of being drunk.

What is significant is the fact that the early Church was too struck by the beauty of the message and the privilege of being able to proclaim it to worry about the divers responses of the crowd upon hearing it.  Their task was to speak, not to worry about the reactions of those to whom they spoke.  They clearly wanted all to believe, but the fact that many would not believe did not dissuade them.  They were a people on fire, a people on fire with holy fire.  Tongues of flame had taken up residence in and among them.  The incendiary message of the gospel was their message because it was God’s message, and they were God’s!

Church, when we read of this amazing miracle and hold it up against our current practice and our current witness, how stark is the contrast?  The God of 1st century Pentecost is the God of 21st century Central Baptist Church.  If you have come to Christ, He has poured His Spirit out upon you.  If the Spirit caused the early Church to speak with passion and boldness of Christ, how can He, who does not change, not cause us to do the same?

Brothers, if we do not speak, we achieve our silence only by fighting against the Spirit’s desire to be heard!  If we are quiet in the face of the watching world, it is to our shame.  The Spirit is a proclaiming, revealing Spirit.  He bears witness to Christ.  This means that if this Spirit takes up residence in the repentant, believing hearts of Christ’s Church, the Church must do what the Spirit does….and He has!  He has taken up residence within us!

Church:  speak!

Church:  speak!!


[2] John B. Polhill, Acts. The New American Commentary. Vol.26. David Dockery, gen. ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), p.98.

[3] Jaroslav Pelikan, Acts. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005), p.50.

[4] /Bruno_Giordano.html / PA51&lpg =PA51&dq= %22nailed+his+tongue%22&source=web&ots=2OdB7722Dv&sig= L4av RRhkeh LN8KQCwsVqtosbCsk#PPA51,M1 / cut+out+ his+tongue%22&source=web&ots=mP0JzYuN9V&sig=PBQ6vA5tlg9w1tSHZg-5TPwAo5k#PRA11-PR7,M1 /

[5] Francis Martin, ed. Acts. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, vol.V. Thomas C. Oden, gen. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), p.22.

[6] “The Church’s Way of Speaking”, id_article= 224&var_recherche=tongue

[7] William H. Willimon, Acts. Interpretation. (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1988), p.32.

Acts 1:1-5

Acts 1:1-5

1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Once upon a time, many years ago, into the dark and pagan world of the first century, a world of violence, tyranny, slavery, and ignorance, a new people emerged.  Their presence was, at best, tolerated with bemused irritation or, at worst, despised and plotted against.  They were a strange people and they had strange ways.  The faithful members of this new group sounded like madmen.  They refused to offer incense to the Emporer as a god, claiming instead that they could only offer praise and offerings to the one true God of Heaven and earth.  They practiced a strange kind of classless society:  the poor and the wealthy were treated the same and were seen to be of equal value.  They valued those elements of society that society at large saw as irksome reminders of human weakness:  the sick, the infirm, the impoverished, the outcast, the undesirable.  When respectable Roman women had babies they did not want and followed the custom of putting the baby in the wild to be consumed by wild animals or the elements, these odd people would go, gather them up, and raise them.  They acted as if people had intrinsic value, not value conferred by status or earned by accomplishment.  They called for peace and the end of violence.  They suffered bravely when persecuted and did not complain.  The conferred the title of “brother” and “sister” to those who were not of their biological family, thereby redefining the very nature of family.

Their beliefs strained credulity.  They claimed that God had become a man and had been born in Palestine, of all places, to a virgin girl.  They claimed He worked miracles and healed the sick.  They claimed He announced the coming of a new Kingdom, a Kingdom of which He was King and a Kingdom populated by all who would come to Him in repentance and faith.  When this God-Man was nailed to a cross and killed, they claimed He allowed it to happen so that, in so doing, He could pay the price for the sins of the world.  When He was buried they claimed the grave could not hold Him and that He rose again.  They claimed He lived still, reigning at the right hand of the one true God, but reigning also in the hearts of His people through the Holy Spirit Who He sent to seal, keep, instruct, and guide His people.  They claimed He is coming again.

It is fascinating to see what this strange group of people did say two thousand years ago.  It is also fascinating to note what they did not say.  We never find them involved in sustained complaint against the fallenness of the world.  We never find them protesting the secular businesses of the Roman Empire.  We never find them protesting this or that movement in the world.  We never find them appealing to the secular powers to aid and assist them in the advancement of their cause.  We never find them angry at the world for being the world.  We never find them hating the world for being the world.  We never find them expecting Rome to be anything other than Rome.  We never find them expecting Rome to legislate in their favor.  There were no “culture warriors” among these people.  They were concerned only with proclaiming their peculiar message to the lost culture and calling fallen men and women to come to their King in obedience and faith.

As I say, it was a strange group indeed!

This group of people were first called “Christians” in the city of Antioch but were also known as “The Way.”  They were also called “the Church”:  that body of people comprised of Jesus-followers who recognized Him as Lord, King, and God.

It is interesting to hear the Church spoken of in this way in our day.  In our day, the Church, in many quarters of America anyway, has become a somewhat domesticated puppet of the state:  held on a leash of false promises, manipulated and cajoled into thinking that the Church still matters, is still valued by society at large.  For our parts, we want desperately to believe this nonsense, though the increasing secularization of our society is making this mythology harder and harder to believe.  Born on this side of Constantine as we are, we have been raised in a context where government support or, at least, appreciation is a given.  It is debatable if this has ever really been the case, of course, or if the Church in America simply received the thankful nod of the state insofar as it was politically expedient for the state to do so.

Regardless, it is time for us to come to terms with the death of the Bible Belt and the coming death of nominal Christianity in America. Why?  Because as our society becomes increasingly secularized and thereby more belligerent to the Church, it will ostensibly cost more and more to follow Jesus in this society.  Thus, there will be a kind of pruning of the fringe.  We will experience what the believers of the first centuries experienced and what the persecuted Church experiences today:  the need for genuine commitment if we are going to identify as Christ-followers in the world.

Which is simply to say that the Church needs the book of Acts now more than ever.  This is because the dominant culture ethos in which we reside is coming increasingly to mirror the ethos of the society in which the first Christians first lived.  The world of Acts is now our world, and we would do well to listen.

I say none of this in an effort to complain.  Far from it.  The stripping away of the nominal Christian veneer from society will force the Church to be the Church.  This is a good thing.  It is so because it means we now reside in an arena in which the scandal and prophetic challenge of the gospel can be clearly seen and clearly felt by society insofar as it is clearly proclaimed by the Church.  And this means that the light may now shine in the darkness since we can no longer deceive ourselves that the darkness is really light after all.  It is not.  It is darkness.  Christ is light.  The sides are now clear and the lines are more easily discernible.

This means that we are now free to receive both the outrage and admiration of the watching world since the watching world, in our country anyway, no longer feels the need to pretend to be Christian.  Make no mistake, the watching world of the first century felt both:  outrage and admiration, the desire to kill or the desire to join.  There were very few responses in between.

The coming of Christ and, then, of His Church was a threat to the dominant world system.  Christ turned everything on its head.  In For the Time Being, W.H. Auden imagines Herod’s reaction to the news that “God has been born.”  Though a fictional imagining, of course, this is likely an accurate depiction of what despots then and now feel when they see Christ and His gospel taking root in the populace:

Reason will be replaced by Revelation. Instead of Rational Law, objective truths perceptible to any who will undergo the necessary intellectual discipline, and the same for all. Knowledge will degenerate into a riot of subjective visions…Idealism will be replaced by Materialism . . . Life after death will be an eternal dinner where all the guests are twenty years old. . . . Justice will be replaced by Pity as the cardinal human virtue, and all fear of retribution will vanish. . . . The New Aristocracy will consist exclusively of hermits, bums, and permanent invalids. The Rough Diamond, the Consumptive Whore, the bandit who is good to his mother, the epileptic girl who has a way with animals will be the heroes and heroines of the New Tragedy when the general, the statesman, and the philosopher have become the butt of every farce and satire.[1]

Yes!  This is the threat of Christ and His Church to a society lost in darkness.  It inverts the assumed verities and shows them for the farces they are.  Christ changes everything!

More positively, Boris Pasternak got at the revolutionary implications of the coming of Christ in Doctor Zhivago, when he had Nikolai Nikolaievich record the following in his diary:

            Rome was a flea market of borrowed gods and conquered peoples, a bargain basement on two floors, earth and heaven, a mass of filth convoluted in a triple knot as in an intestinal obstruction.  Dacians, Herulians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Gyperboreans, heavy wheels without spokes, eyes sunk in fat, sodomy, double chins, illiterate emperors, fish fed on the flesh of learned slaves.  There were more people in the world than there have ever been since, all crammed into the passages of the Coliseum, and all wretched.

            And then, into this tasteless heap of gold and marble, He came, light and clothed in an aura, emphatically human, deliberately provincial, Galilean, and at that moment gods and nations ceased to be and man came into being – man the carpenter, man the plowman, man the shepherd with his flock of sheep at sunset, man who does not sound in the least proud, man thankfully celebrated in all the cradle songs of mothers and in all the picture galleries the world over.[2]

The revolutionary impact of Christ on civilization simply cannot be overstated.  The book of Acts tells the beginning of His impact on and in the world through the life of His people, the church.  Again, we desperately need to reacquaint ourselves with the story of Acts, if for no other reason than to see again what Jesus did through a group of people living in a predominately hostile environment and what He can do in and through us in a similar environment today.

Acts is presenting evidence that the work of Jesus continues in and through the Church.

Acts is the second volume written by Luke, the physician and historian, as he notes in the beginning of Acts.

1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach

This Theophilus is either an individual who bears that name, or he is an individual to whom Luke has given a pseudonym, possibly for his protection, or this is a general reference to those who are “loved by God,” as the word suggests.  Regardless, Luke sends this letter as a follow-up to his “first book.”[3]

The first book was Luke, the gospel of Luke.  It tells the story of Jesus:  His birth, His life, His teachings, His miracles, His death, His burial, and His resurrection.  That is telling because of how it pours meaning and significance into one word in Acts 1:1.  That word is began.  “I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…”

Why is that significant?  Think it through.  It is as if Luke is saying this:

Theophilus, do you remember the first book I wrote and sent to you?  The book of Luke?  Do you remember how in that book I told you all about Jesus?  And do you remember how in that book I told you about what Jesus began doing?  Well, in this second book I want to tell you the rest of the story.  I want to tell you what Jesus is still doing.  You see, Theophilus, He is still at work.  He has not stopped.  You might wonder how He is still working, since He has ascended to Heaven.  I’ll tell you.  He is working through His church.  That’s right.  Think of it like this:   Volume 1 – What Jesus started doing.  Volume 2 – What He is still doing.  Volume 1 – Jesus’ incarnate life.  Volume 2 – Jesus’ life continuing through His church.

T.C. Smith notes that many commentators see the phrase “began to do” in “Jesus began to do” as being “poor form” grammatically, or grammatically “clumsy.”  Against these critics, Smith argues that Luke “has a purpose in using this so-called clumsy expression.”  The purpose in using this wording is to show that “the earthly ministry of Jesus is but the beginning of an action which is without termination.”[4]

This is why Acts needs to be studied and studied carefully:  it is a chronicle of how Jesus continued His life in and through the life of His people after He ascended.

Do you see?  If we do not grasp the reality of the current reign of Christ in and through His people we will be forever limited to discussing our Christian life in terms of our conversions and not in terms of what Christ is doing in and through us today, here and now.

Acts is presenting evidence that the Church continues the work of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit (v.2,4-5)

But how does the life of Christ continue in and through His church?  It cannot be through mere imitation of Christ.  Left to our own devices, our best-intended efforts to do what Jesus did inevitably end with futility and an increased awareness of the disconnect between who He is and who we are.

Left to our own devices, that is.

But what if we aren’t left to our own devices?  Based on Luke’s introduction to his second volume, the early church was certainly not left to its own devices.  This is abundantly clear in verse 2 as well as in verses 4-5.

2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

Luke says first that Jesus instructed his disciples during the forty days between his resurrection and ascension “through the Holy Spirit.”  His instructions, in other words, leading up to His bodily removal from them through the resurrection were bathed in the Holy Spirit.  True, the Spirit of God would fall upon the disciples in a unique and powerful way at Pentecost, but here, in this season of preparation, Christ speaks to them “through the Holy Spirit” about what is going to happen when He ascends.

In verses 4 and 5, Jesus foretells this powerful coming of the Spirit.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

“You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus tells them to wait and get ready because something amazing, something cataclysmic was about to happen to them.  That amazing cataclysmic “something” was, in fact, Someone:  the Holy Spirit.

What role did the Holy Spirit play in the life of the early church?  Simply this:  the Spirit enabled the church to live the life of Christ.  He is the animating Spirit.  He is the presence of Christ in us.  He is our seal and our deposit.  He is the indwelling, enabling, empowering Spirit of God.  St. Augustine said, “What the soul is in our body, the Holy Spirit is in the body of Christ, which is the church.”[5]

That is very true!  Without the Spirit’s indwelling power and presence the church has no power and is no presence.  This is why it is so tragic that so many churches corporately and so many Christians individually do not depend on the Spirit who has been given to them.  Francis Chan put it like this:

If I were Satan and my ultimate goal was to thwart God’s kingdom and purposes, one of my main strategies would be to get churchgoers to ignore the Holy Spirit. The degree to which this has happened (and I would argue that it is a prolific disease in the body of Christ) is directly connected to the dissatisfaction most of us feel with and in the church. We understand something very important is missing. The feeling is so strong that some have run away from the church and God’s Word completely.

I believe that this missing something is actually a missing Someone-namely, the Holy Spirit. Without Him, people operate in their own strength and only accomplish human-size results. The world is not moved by love or actions that are of human creation.  And the church is not empowered to live differently from any other gathering of people without the Holy Spirit. But when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural.  The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.[6]

The early church was Spirit-led.  The early church was Spirit-empowered.  The early church was Spirit-filled.  The early church was Spirit-driven.

Jesus told them that what they were about to do they would only be able to do through the power of the Spirit.  The Spirit fell and the church moved and the church lived and the church worked and changed…the…world.

Want to know the difference between a club and the church?  The Holy Spirit.

Want to know the difference between an institution and a movement?  The Holy Spirit.

Want to know the difference between church as a product and church as a life?  The Holy Spirit.

Without the Holy Spirit, we will read the story of Acts as a story alien to us, for the presence of the Spirit of the living God can be the only connection point between us.  We are separated from the church of the first century by two thousand years, by wildly different customs and cultures, by language, by ethnicity, by political context…in short, by a thousand different things.  But the one thing we have in common is the presence of the Spirit of the living God Who has been sent by the divine and resurrected second person of the Trinity to indwell and to empower us.

Acts is our story only insofar as we are truly the people of God.

Acts is demonstrating how the Church advances the breaking-in of the Kingdom of God in the world. (v.3)

The church continues the life of Christ, and it does so through the power of the Spirit.  But to what end?  Why?  Note what Jesus said in verse 3.

3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

What did Jesus speak about in the forty days leading up to His ascension to Heaven?  The Kingdom of God.  Why?  Because the Church is ultimately serving the Kingdom’s advancement.  How?  By calling men and women into it through repentance and faith, by modeling Kingdom lives before the watching world, and by salting this current decaying order by being salt and light through their Kingdom lives.

What this means is that the Church in the world is to be a subversive movement, but a movement that subverts with love, the love of Christ.  The Church represents the door through which the Spirit of God breaks into the world.

How revolutionary this is!  How it shatters our petty church consumerism and our church shopping.  When we return the church to its rightful status as a revolutionary movement, we are freed from the tyranny of having always to make the church about us.  We are thereby enabled to see the Church as about God:  His plan for humanity, His design, His priorities, His Son.

And when we do this, the story of Acts really does become our story.  We are now able to read it as a story that is continuing, here and now, in our own lives as Christians.  Acts, then, really is for us.  It is our model but it is also our prequel.

The great poet John Donne put it well when he wrote:

Now the Acts of the Apostles were to convey that name of Christ Jesus and to propagate his gospel throughout the whole world.  Beloved, you too are actors on this same stage.  The end of the earth is your scene.  Act out the Acts of the Apostles!  Be a light to the Gentiles who sit in darkness!  Be content to carry over these seas him who dried up one red sea for his first people and who has poured out another red sea – his own blood – for them and for us.[7]

Yes!  May we “act out the Acts of the Apostles.”  We have the same King, Jesus.  We are empowered by the same Spirit.  We are commissioned by the same Father.  We have the same goal:  the salvation of every man, woman, and child on this plant.

Be the Church.

Be the Church!

[2] Boris Pasternak.  Doctor Zhivago.  (New York, N.Y.:  Pantheon Books, Inc., 1958), p. 43.

[3] F.F. Bruce rejects the idea that this was a reference to Christians in general, pointing out that “Theophilus was a perfectly ordinary personal name, attested from the third century B.C. onward.”  He goes on to surmise, “It is quite probable that Theophilus was a representative member of the intelligent middle-class public at Rome whom Luke wished to win over to a less prejudiced and more favorable opinion of Christianity than that which was current among them.”  F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (Revised). The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Gordon D. Fee, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p.29.

[4] T.C. Smith, “Acts.” The Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol.10. Clifton J. Allen, gen. ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1970), p.17.

[5] Francis Chan, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit.  Kindle Loc. 964.

[6] Francis Chan, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit.  Kindle Loc. 42-58.

[7] Esther Chung-Kim and Todd R. Hains, eds. Acts. Reformation Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, vol.VI. Timothy George, gen. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), p.2.

An Interview With Brad Brisco on Missional Living

Last week I posted a review of Brad Brisco and Lance Ford’s Missional Essentials here.  Brad has graciously agreed to answer some questions I sent him about missional living.  I hope you’ll find this encouraging and helpful.  My thanks to Brad for his willingness to do this.


I wonder if you could offer a good definition of “missional” for those who may be unfamiliar with the word?

I usually say I have a short answer and a long answer when defining missional. The short answer is that missional is simply the adjective form of the noun missionary. Therefore missional, like any other adjective, is used to modify or describe a noun. So when we use the phrase “missional church” we are simply saying that the church is a missionary entity. The church doesn’t just send missionaries, but the church is the missionary.

However in most cases that very brief definition isn’t enough. To provide a more comprehensive way of understanding the word I will talk about core characteristics that should inform the way we understand the missional concept? I believe there are at least three major theological distinctions that help to undergird the missional conversation. Without such a foundation we run the risk of simply attaching the word “missional” onto everything the church is already doing, and therefore ignoring the necessary paradigmatic shift. Those three key theological foundations include: 1.) The missionary nature of God and the church; 2.) Incarnational mission; and 3.) Participation in the missio Dei.

How would a “missional church” look different from an “evangelistic church”?

I think the best way to answer that is to say a missional church is one that is organized around, informed by, and/or catalyzed by mission. In other words, the programs and activities of the church are shaped by God’s mission. Therefore, it is not just about having a “missions” department, or an evangelistic committee, but everything the church does has a missionary component. The reality is that the nature or essence of the church is rooted in the nature of a missionary God. If God is a missionary God (which He is) then we as His people are missionary people. Every member is to think think and act like a missionary in their local context.

I’ll be honest:  I’ve resisted studying the missional movement mainly because of a sense of “movement fatigue.”  But Missional Essentials as well as a number of conversations with people I truly respect has led me to think that what’s happening here is really quite important.  Still, for the skeptical part of me, is this all just a fad?  Twenty years from now, will we look at the word “missional” the way most of now look at the phrase “seeker sensitive,” as kind of a quaint moniker that came and went as so many trends do?

I think what is different here is two fold. First this is not a recent phenomenon. Serious theological reflection around missional thinking has been talking place since the 30’s with Karl Barth. Later in the International Missionary Councils in the 50s and 60s. Later through the influence of Lesslie Newbigin, David Bosch and others. It has deep theological and missiological roots. Second, because it has such roots it is not a renewal movement, but instead is a missiological movement. It is not about strategies, human ingenuity or church growth techniques, but instead it is about recapturing the missionary nature of the church.

Are there examples in church history of movements that we might call “missional”?

I think there have been many times in church history when the people of God understood themselves as a sent people. In large part it has been in the last four decades, as the result of church growth mentality, that the church moved from being a “go and be” people to a “come and see” people. The church growth movement put too much emphasis on how to get people to come participate in what the church was doing. With our actions we told the world that if they wanted to know Jesus they needed to come be with us, and be like us. Rather than seeing ourselves as the missionary people of God who are sent to where people are.

I’m curious to know whether or not you think the presence of church sanctuaries and architecture undermines missional living conceptually?

Buildings certainly do not have to be a hinderance. They can become that if the emphasis is on getting people to come to the building, but the reality is that we are a called and sent people of God. We do still need to gather together for worship, study, prayer, etc. We can and should gather together to be equipped to be sent out to participate in what God is already doing. I love the Lesslie Newbigin quote about the church when he states: “[The church] is not meant to call men and women out of the world into a safe religious enclave but to call them out in order to send them back as agents of God’s kingship.”

You write a lot about the missional use of our homes.  It has resonated deeply with my wife and me and we are now involved in discussions about home stewardship and reaching our neighborhood.  Should we abandon the idea of the home as an escape?  Should we feel guilty about closing the blinds and doors and unwinding?  Where do we draw the lines on this?

We have to use wisdom in knowing where healthy boundaries need to be set. But in most cases, Christians look at their homes as places of security rather than a vehicle for biblical hospitality. Our focus on the family as a place of safety has been disastrous for missional living. We must learn to overcome our fears and open our lives and our homes up to others. We must welcome the stranger!

What do you see as the great challenges to missional living within the institutional North American church?

There are several challenges, including fear of the world, living lives without time margins, consumerism, and the idol we have created called the American dream.

Finally, how have you and your family lived missionally in your community?  What lessons have you learned?

I like to frame living out missionality in three arenas; where we live, work and play. Where we live includes being a good neighbor to those we live around and opening up our home. Where we work is about vocation. We must rethink what it means to contribute to and participate in God’s mission through our work. And where we play has to do with engaging social space in our community. We must engage Third Places and public space. We must have eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing in our community and neighborhoods. We must then ask how He wants us to participate in what He is already doing.

Brad Brisco and Lance Ford’s Missional Essentials

46092205Some months ago, Dave McClung of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention wanted to know if I would like to participate in one of a few small groups working through Missional Essentials by Brad Brisco and Lance Ford.  Now, Dave is a cool, eclectic, smart, well-read guy with a deep love for the church and a keen eye on how the church engages culture.  Furthermore, I have for some time now regretted the fact that I have never seriously wrestled with the whole missional concept , so I said yes.

Missional Essentials is a workbook, though it has some strong sections of insightful prose on the missional church as well.  It is an insightful primer to missional thinking as well as a practical challenge to many of the assumptions undergirding the institutional church today.  The reading sections are helpful and make very good use of other sources and the workbook interaction sections do a good job of (a) leading the reader to interact with scripture and (b) challenging the reader to think through the practice of missional living.

In essence, the missional movement is calling the church to see itself as a missionary in its culture.  What this means is that the local church should stop seeing itself as an entity that engages in mission projects and trips and instead should see itself as the mission project.  What this means is that church doesn’t send out missionaries, the church is God’s missionary.  Therefore, all believers are to embrace missional living, in and through their church, to be sure, but in their neighborhoods as the church preeminently.  If you have grown up in the conservative, institutional, North American church, you will readily get what is so revolutionary about this thought and against what fallacious ecclesiological concepts it is pushing.

I would caution you in one way about reading Missional Essentials:  if you do not want to be seriously unsettled in your complacency concerning loving and reaching your neighbors, do not read this work.  This workbook, especially the last third of it, really engages the reader with pretty direct questions about whether or not we love our neighbors, are actively forming relationships with them, and are being good stewards of our homes.  It has certainly caused me to have a number of conversations with my wife about developing a strategy to reach the streets on which we live.

I have every intention of leading Central Baptist Church through this study.  I believe this is fantastic, biblical, soul-stirring stuff that I, for one, desperately needed to hear.

Giorgio Agamben’s The Church and the Kingdom

It’s rare that I’ll pick up a book I do not know from an author I’ve never heard of from the Philosophy section of a Barnes & Noble, but that is precisely what I did with Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s The Church and the Kingdom.  I did so because I have been thinking a great deal lately about precisely those realities (i.e., the church and the kingdom) and because I thought a different take on the question might be, at most, illuminating and/or, at least, interesting.  I’ve been thinking about these things lately because working through the Sermon on the Mount on Sunday mornings has (thankfully) forced me to do so.  It is not a new concern or a new question.  Indeed, for two millennia Christians have been discussing these questions:  What is the church?  What is the Kingdom of God?  How is the church to operate in the world?

What struck me about Agamben’s little book is that it is, ostensibly, from an outsider, yet it is from somebody who has obviously thought deeply about the question at hand.  Agamben is apparently one of a number of modern philosophers who are interacting with theology today.  It is an intriguing turn of events, and one about which I know very little as I do not read much in continental philosophy.  But it is, as I say, intriguing nonetheless.  I have long thought that we can learn a great deal by listening to how those outside of the church speak about the church, though there are obvious limitations to such observations as well.  That is precisely what Agamben is doing here.  (I should say that I do not know whether or not Agamben is a believer.)

This book consists simply of a sermon that Agamben delivered in Paris at Notre Dame Cathedral in March of 2009 in front of the Bishop of Paris and other church officials.  It has been translated into English by Leland De La Durantaye of Harvard University who also provides a helpful reflection on the sermon in an Afterword entitled, “On Method, the Messiah, Anarchy and Theocracy.”  Furthermore, the book is a beautiful little work consisting of compelling photographs by Alice Attie.

Agamben’s primary thesis is that the New Testament envisions the Church as abiding within “messianic time.”  Messianic time is not chronological time (i.e., historical time) and neither is it the time that begins at the consummation of all things.  Rather, it is the time between those two times.  It is a time within chronological time that began with the resurrection of all things.  It is Kingdom time, the Kingdom that Christ Jesus came to usher in.

Agamben is arguing that Paul did not see the Church as simply waiting within chronological time for the coming of the Kingdom at the end of all things, but rather that the Kingdom has come now and is coming yet (shades of George Eldon Ladd here).  That means that our very lives and vocations are revolutionized by the breaking in of Messianic time into chronos (Agamben does not use the chronos/kairos distinction, but it seems to be connected to what he is saying).

Let me suggest that Agamben has actually been a pretty faithful biblical interpreter in arguing this point, as I understand him.  The New Testament does indeed view the Kingdom as “already/not yet” and, I believe, does indeed view the current time of the pilgrim church as a kind of time within the times.  What is unclear about Agamben’s proposal is whether or not he has an overrealized eschatology, that is whether or not he is weighing the “already” so much more than the “not yet” that it lets the latter die the death of a thousand qualifications.  This is not necessarily the case, especially as Agamben does acknowledge the “not yet” aspect of the Kingdom.  On the other hand, in pointing to the linguistic commonalities between paroikousa (i.e., sojourners) and parousia (seeing the root of each as a call for immediacy and “nowness”), I do wonder if there is room in Agamben’s eschatology for the future, though imminent, return of Christ.  Regardless, the upshot of Agamben’s concerns is clear enough:  by losing a sense of Messianic time, the Church has become simply one of many institutions within chronological time.  The Church, then, has lost a sense of ultimate things and has become simply one more purveyor of temporal power.

Now, I rather suspect Agamben has a particular goal while speaking in a Roman Catholic Church to Catholic authorities, but as an American Protestant I see application as well.  Agamben is correct to suggest that the Church should not forsake its place in the Kingdom of God in order for inordinate fixations on the power structures of the kingdom of the world.  He is correct that if the Church diminishes itself to a merely human organization within mere chronological time, it is setting itself up to suffer the inevitable fate of all merely human organizations.  For me, Agamben’s cautions are worth heeding for those Christians who would like to see the Church become simply another political party.

Agamben’s primary concern may be political.  I do not know.  What I do know is that this Italian philosopher, believer or not, has (largely) correctly diagnosed a major malady in much ecclesial life today:  namely the abandonment of our Kingdom identity rooted in the time-altering act of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for the a paltry place at the table of modernity and its numerous special interest groups.

We are to be salt and light, showing the verities and values of a greater Kingdom.  That includes responsible citizenship and political involvement to be sure, but it is much, much more.

G.K. Chesterton’s St. Francis of Assisi

Chesterton’s little biography of St. Francis is essential reading, not only because of its penetrating insights into the magnificent person of Francis but also because of its insights into the magnificent person of Chesterton.  It is not a conventional biography, but then it is not a conventional subject, much less a conventional author. (See how you start sounding like Chesterton when you type right after reading Chesterton?! Ha!)  Rather, it is a spiritual biography of Francis of Assisi that seeks to explore a matter more interesting than the details surrounding his life, mainly, Francis’ actual mind and heart.

The book does assume some knowledge of Francis, but, in truth, enough of the rudimentary details of his story are provided where the reader with no knowledge of Francis will not be completely lost.  Still, if Chesterton’s approach is confusing, it may be better to read one of the more fundamental biographies available today, probably Omer Englebert’s work (which is at least available on ebook format).

What Chesterton does (with uncanny but, for him, typical brilliance) is draw the reader into the mind-boggling simplicity and singleness of vision that characterized Francis’ view of life after breaking with his old way of life as the son of Pietro di Bernardone.  Chesterton treats Francis sympathetically, describing him as a man who, quite literally, started over.  When Francis gave himself to God, embracing the principles of poverty, charity, and obedience, he did so with a startling purity and, some might say, naiveté.  Chesterton is at his best when defending this naiveté.  He recognizes the danger of trying to institutionalize or force these virtues on all of Christendom in the way that Francis embraced them personally, arguing that it was more necessary for Francis to be absorbed into Christendom than for Christendom to be absorbed into Francis, but he sees Francis nonetheless as a necessary and crucial reminder and challenge to the church and the world.

Chesterton fairly marvels, as any observer must, at Francis’ courage and daring.  His treatment of Francis’ attempt to convert the Muslims to Christianity during the Crusades is fascinating and insightful.  Furthermore, Chesterton’s treatment of Francis’ “ignorance” (in his discussion of Francis as a poet) was really well done.

Along the way, Chesterton rightly skewers the skepticism of the modern world, specifically regarding the more fantastic stories surrounding Francis (which Chesterton, himself, does not necessarily buy hook-line-and-sinker), but more generally regarding the modern penchant of swallowing camels and straining on gnats.  He is right to do so, and Chesterton is at his best in pointing out these modern hypocrisies.

Above all, however, this book, more than any Chesterton book I have ever read, is amazingly inspirational.  There are times when your heart soars reading a book like this.  I suspect that part of this is the similarity between Chesterton and Francis.  Now, of course, there are MANY dissimilarities.  Chesterton could not be called a champion of self-discipline and restraint!  However, they both maintained a kind of childish wonder at the world that God has made.  They both evidenced a purity of faith.  They both, in a sense, lived lives quite against the current of the cultures into which they were born.  One can imagine Chesterton laughing at a bird just as easily as one can imagine Francis doing the same, and both from the same deep theological storehouse.

Chesterton is no Francis.  Chesterton himself would say that very quickly.  But it is hard to imagine a writer who could understand Francis like Chesterton did, or who, in ways fascinating and compelling, saw the world in the same way.

This a very good book.

Read it.

Eric Geiger, Michael Kelley, and Philip Nation’s Transformational Discipleship

I was asked to read this book for a LifeWay pastor’s conference I’ll be attending in a couple of weeks.  In general, I would rather choose what I would like to read than be assigned it, a shallow fault I’ve had since middle school.  However, I really did appreciate Transformational Discipleship.  The book is a careful, studied, and measured look at how genuine discipleship actually happens.  It is based on an extensive LifeWay study that was the basis for the earlier Stetzer/Rainer book, Transformational Church.

In this book, the authors describe what they call the “Transformational Framework.”  The framework is depicted as three circles representing the three realities of “Truth,” “Leaders,” and “Posture.”  The authors look at “Truth” through a consideration of the gospel, our identity in Christ, and the Christian disciplines.  They look at “Leaders” by discussing what healthy leadership is.  They consider “Posture” with a discussion of weakness, interdependence, and outward focus.  Within the framework, the “Transformational Sweet Spot” is that area where these three realities overlap, and can be defined as “the intersection of truth given by healthy leaders when someone is in a vulnerable posture.”

Now, I’m hesitant about buzzwords (i.e., “Transformational Sweet Spot,” etc.), but the authors are making a very good point:  true transformation comes about when solid leadership imparts solid truth to a person who is in a position to receive it.  The basic premise is that the appropriate convergence of truth, humility, and a godly leader is critical for growth in discipleship.  There is a great pastoral challenge here, which the authors rightly return to time and again:  the challenge for pastors not to miss these moments for great transformation in the lives of our people or in our own lives.

The book is well-written, solidly biblical, and helpfully illustrated.  I appreciated the fact that not all of the illustrations were modern.  In fact, many are taken from antiquity and church history.  There is an earnestness about this work that is engaging.  The authors seem truly convinced of the importance of what they are doing.  Their discussion of the gospel was particularly helpful, and they offered some very helpful reminders about the need to understand who we are in Christ.  Furthermore, I appreciate their take on the need for a humble posture to receive divine truth.

As a leader, I found this work appropriately challenging and full of significant content.  I look forward to discussing it in the conference to come, as well as in thinking more deeply about what is being proposed here and how it can effect my own pastorate.

Akers, Armstong, and Woodbridge’s (eds.) This We Believe

“Of the making of books there is no end.” This is true enough, but we might also say, “Of the making of doctrinal statements there is no end.” There has been a rash of Protestant and ostensibly Evangelical doctrinal statements published recently. However, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration” is one of the more ambitious efforts out there today. Its list of signees is impressive and its marketing scheme (cheap mass-market editions and pastors’ edititions) has obviously been well thought out.

This We Believe includes the statement as well as chapters by noted Evangelical authors speaking in further detail to divided portions of it. While the chapters are by and large very good, the statement itself, presented in its entirety in an appendix, is the best part of the book.

I believe this is a very good statement. It is broadly Evangelical without being excessively latitudinarian. It speaks with conviction but not an undue harshness. It has obviously been prayed over and labored over for some time.

One hopes that this statement will receive a wide hearing and acceptance. The list of signees should guarantee the former. We may hope that a committment to biblical fidelity and cautious ecumenism will guarantee the latter. You will enjoy this book.

Fred Craddock’s Reflections on My Call to Preach

Reflections on My Call to Preach: Connecting the Dots is Fred Craddock’s autobiographical consideration of his calling to be a preacher.  The book bears all the marks of a classic Craddock sermon:  accessibility, winsomness, insightfulness, honesty, and encouragement. I have come to love Christian biography and autobiography more and more, and Craddock’s ranks up there with the best of them.

Craddock is a preacher’s preacher, a masterful homiletician and teacher whose insights never fail to challenge and edify the reader. He is also an amazing story-teller. So when I saw that he had published this memoir (in 2009) I knew that, eventually, I’d spend some profitable time with it.

The story is precisely what it purports to be: a preacher’s reflections on the various peoples, places, scenes, and occurrences used by God to call him into the ministry. It is dominated largely by Craddock’s life as a boy. Having been called myself at the age of fifteen, I am always intrigued to hear others’ stories of their own callings.

A call is as unique as the person being called. This is vividly portrayed in ways moving and touching by Craddock. I was particularly touched by the dynamic of his parents: the tragedy of his father’s struggle with both fatherhood and alcoholism and the solid, persistent anchor of his mother’s nurturing faith. Unlike some sons’ takes on their less-than-perfect fathers (see Frank Schaeffer), Craddock’s depiction is charitable but honest without spilling into thinly-veiled vitriol. In fact, the story of his father pulling one of his own molars with pliers in order to pry out the gold filling to sell for Christmas presents for his children will remain in my mind as a powerful example of fatherly love (even as the stories of his alcoholism has reminded me again that the decisions we fathers make will affect our children all their lives.) I was also struck by Craddock’s revelation of his own perilous infancy and his mother’s offer of him to God should he survive (not least of all because I haved a similar story in my own calling).

Craddock tells his story with sympathy, introspection, humility, and a sense of reserve, but also transparency. I can tell it was difficult for him to write. I was moved by his account of the awkwardness of sitting with his elderly brothers trying to approach issues that haunted them into later life. I also appreciated his self-awareness in admitting that memories are tricky things and notoriously difficult to offer with exact certainty.

This book offers a moving account of one young man’s growth in a world of racial strife, social complexity, and poverty. The stories of the Craddock’s relationships with black friends and some of the tragic dynamics that living in a racially divided South introduced into their lives were painful reminders of our own scandalous, recent past as a nation.

Above all else, it is a story of divine calling. It is told without pretension or romantic mysticism. It is, instead, the cautious but sincere retelling of one man’s self-understanding of his own pilgrimage.

This is really a fantastic book.

Highly recommended.

William Carey’s An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens

William Carey’s Enquiry is rightly considered the manifesto of the modern missions movement, of which Carey is considered the father.  It is a relatively brief and utterly fascinating work in which Carey sought to convince the Particular Baptists of England that the Great Commission applied as much to the modern church as it did to the original disciples who first received it from our Lord.  It is readily available online and will likely serve the modern reader as much, if not more, than it served the original readers of the 19th century.  I do regret not having read this entire work until now.  In addition to being a seminal missiological text, it is compelling, articular, insightful, and convicting.

Carey argued in the Enquiry that the missionary imperative of the Great Commission is as binding today as its calls for baptism and the making of disciples is.  Furthermore, he found in Christ’s words “lo, I am with you always” an implicit akcnowledgment that the Commission is transgenerational in its calling (i.e., it applies until “the end of the age”).

Parts of the Enquiry will seem almost quaint to the modern evangelical, accustomed to large missions boards as we are.  For instance, Carey argued that missionaries would simply have to commit to learning languages, something, he said, that could be fairly easily done in the space of a year or two.  Furthermore, missionaries on the field would need only a small plot of land on which to grow a garden sufficient to sustain them.  Most of all, Carey argued, these missionaries would need to be men of courage and resolve, unafraid of hardship or death.

I was struck by the earnestness of Carey’s tone and the simple logic of his argument.  He pointed out that when a trading company is granted a charter, it wastes no time in pressing to the outer regions of its territory in order to establish relationships and open profitable avenues of trade.  The church’s charter, he argues, includes the whole world and eternity itself is at stake.  Thus, should we not be equally zealous in reaching the world?

Carey’s time was, in some ways, different from our own.  Even so, the same subtle (and not so subtle) arguments he heard against the missionary enterprise are prevalent today as well.  As such, William Carey’s Enquiry remains, and will remain, timely and needed.