Note: Today’s blog is a guest blog by my colleague Dr. John Bolt, Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, and I thank John for his contribution to The Twelve.
No, the first part of the title of this blog is not a double typographical mistake for “tiger” that mysteriously snuck past the otherwise watchful eyes of the grammar and spellcheck police. Rather, as Greek-literate students of the New Testament know, it is the Apostle Paul’s first-century equivalent of today’s “Whatever” response and it is found in Philippians 1:18: Paul had observed (vss. 15-16) that “some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will (and love).” And even though the former were not sincere but filled with “selfish ambition,” seeking to “stir up trouble for him” (vs. 17), Paul is remarkably indifferent to all this and almost nonchalantly concludes: “Whatever . . . so long as Christ is preached . . . I rejoice.”
This is the verse that came to me as I reflected on a recent day of rich experiences among two quite different groups of Christians. In the morning I participated in an ecumenical conversation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit about, of all people, the Dutch Reformed theologian G.C. Berkouwer (1903-1996). We discussed topics and issues that have for a long time divided Reformed and Catholic thinkers, such as nature and grace, reason and revelation, Scripture and tradition. Not only were we able to clear up significant confusion on both sides but, especially over lunch-time discussions with seminary students, I was struck by our common commitment to the gospel and a shared passion to communicate this to the next generation.
After lunch I joined six of my Calvin Seminary colleagues at Kensington Church in Troy, MI, some 20 miles north up along Interstate 75. Kensington Church began with a nucleus of some 40 people, drew 463 people to its first service in 1990, and is now a four-campus church of some 15,000 members and still growing by planting new churches. We came on behalf of CTS’s new Global Institute for Church Planting and Renewal to listen, learn, and explore potential partnerships with Kensington. A four-hour meeting was climaxed with our attending the church’s regular 5:30 PM Saturday service where we heard a 40-minute-long message — punctuated with professional and effective video clips — about spiritual warfare that resonated with Augustine’s two cities in his City of God, Abraham Kuyper’s emphasis on the antithesis, and C.S. Lewis’s Screwptape Letters, even though none of the three were explicitly mentioned. Here too, I was overwhelmed by the clear commitment to the gospel and the passionate desire to communicate it in fresh, contemporary ways so that others might be won to Christ.
Common to the two quite different venues was a shared rootedness in and awareness of the audacity of the gospel. One need not swallow the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation — as I most certainly do not — to acknowledge that it is based on an audacious claim that is inseparable from the audacity of the incarnation itself. The bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ? “Impossible,” say Protestant critics. “Really, why not?” is the Roman Catholic response: “Isn’t the incarnation itself ‘impossible’”? God became human “for us and our salvation?” I was reminded once again that believing in the power of an audacious gospel, celebrated in daily mass, is exactly what propels devout Roman Catholics to active lives of service for Christ. In that, I can only rejoice.
Kensington Church’s audacity (and notion of “apostolic”) is quite different from Rome’s. Its staff is committed to a vision of 40 multiplying churches worldwide, reaching 250,000 people by 2020. (In case, you aren’t paying attention, that’s in six years!) This includes 12 campuses in the greater Detroit area reaching 50, 000 people, plus another 5 national churches reaching 15,000 more people. In addition, the vision includes reaching 225,000 campers in a summer ministry. This is what the church understands by “apostolic” (from the Greek apo-stellō = to “send out”); bold, entrepreneurial, visionary leadership that just keeps on moving out into the world with the gospel. Again, as I listen in awe, I can only rejoice.
Two quite different modes of gospel audacity; neither of them my own. I am less sacramentally oriented than my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters and more liturgical/sacramental in my longings than is presently available at Kensington Church. Yet, I recognize and gratefully acknowledge our commonality in the gospel. (And, lest I be misunderstood; neither place gave any evidence of “rivalry” or “selfish ambition. On the contrary, selflessness and common commitment to mission were abundantly evident.)
In both instances, therefore, Ti gar! In fact, I rejoice for both, have some envy for the audacity I encountered that day, and long for more of it for myself as well as for my church.
Calvin Theological Seminary