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Why, despite everything, is Gerard Kelly still an Evangelical?

gerard-kellyGerard Kelly will be a familiar figure to anyone who has spent time in rainy English seaside towns attending the annual Spring Harvest event. Preacher and poet in equal measure, he has made his home in mainland Europe for most of his adult life, reaching across languages and cultures with the message of Jesus. In his latest book he explains why, despite everything, he still sees himself as part of the Evangelical ‘tribe’.

Buy The Prodigal Evangelical for just £7.49 (RRP £8.99)

What would you see as the essential elements that define what it is to be in the Evangelical ‘tribe’?

For me the identity revolves tightly around the incarnation – I think it is about a certain way of receiving, and acting on, the story of Jesus. Related to this, there’s a dynamic of conversion / transformation. My sense is that the section of the Christian community that is most visibly winning new adherents – especially those from non-religious backgrounds – will tend to claim and retain the label ‘evangelical’.

With these essentials in mind, how much of the other aspects can be up for debate whilst still retaining an evangelical identity – especially those things that are see as big questions for ‘millennials’ such as money, sexuality, identity etc?

A lot is currently up for debate, including the issues you mention. The struggle at the heart of the Evangelical community right now – more in the USA but also here in Europe – is that we are also debating what the essentials should be. My own view is that we need urgently to articulate a core gospel narrative that we can unite around, so that our healthy and necessary debates can be held within this context of unity. Unity, for me, is not to be found in our attitudes to social issues but in our understanding of who Jesus is. Some of the things we have thought of as essential may need to be held more lightly, with a greater emphasis on our core confession of the incarnation story.

A positive example is the quiet revolution that has taken place in regard to 7-Day Creationism in recent years. What was once seen as a litmus-test of Evangelical beliefs is now widely viewed as secondary, and this has happened without causing a meltdown to the movement. The more we can work together on exploring and articulating the story of the incarnation, the more confident we will be in approaching these other questions together.

Buy 'The Prodigal Evangelical' for just £7.49 (RRP £8.99)

Buy ‘The Prodigal Evangelical’ for just £7.49 (RRP £8.99)

In the book you write about the dangers of confusing the proper place of simplicity and complexity in the Christian faith. How should we respond to the deep, complex questions of experience and existence from those outside of the Church?

The quick answer is – with great sympathy! I’m learning that questions I might at one time have seen as combative, even aggressive, are nothing of the sort. They are, rather, the honest efforts of people made and loved by God to come to terms with their lives, failures, successes and sufferings. We need to learn above all to listen, and to let people know from the very start that their creator loves and values them. The ‘big truths’ of the Bible’s narrative – particularly those of the trinity and of the incarnation – are richly complex and deep in mystery. It may be possible to express them simply at times, but they are never simplistic truths. I would love to see a generation learning to see and articulate the million and one connections that exist between the everyday questions of human experience and the deep truths revealed in Christ’s incarnation.

With the breadth of belief and opinion within evangelicalism, is it still a useful term to use, or even a coherent identity?

I used to think the word might have outlived its usefulness, but I have changed my view, largely because I could not identify another label that properly describes the unique set of markers by which evangelical self-identify. I have a hunch that having suffered a few decades of bruising, the term may well re-emerge in a more positive light in the years to come. Of course, we are all better off simply using the term ‘Christian’, and standing alongside all those willing to use it, but I still find it useful to use ‘evangelical’ as a subset, because it describes a movement that we will otherwise lose sight of.

You discuss in The Prodigal Evangelical some of the theology of the Cross – is there a particular view of the crucifixion and the atonement that is distinctly evangelical?

To me, yes there is. I would want to capture it in the term ‘transactional’. The people that I think of when I use the term evangelical, who for me would include evangelicals within Catholicism and Orthodoxy, are those who have a transactional understanding of the incarnation, and therefore of the cross. They believe that the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus change everything, and that it is possible for an individual to enter into and be impacted by those changes. They are Gospel people, shaped above all else by a personal encounter with the story of the coming of Jesus, and an account of reality that centres on that story.

What future do you see for evangelicalism?

I think we’re in for a few more years of hard knocks – the storm-batterings of our transition to post-Christendom conditions aren’t quite done yet – but I think it will then re-emerge as a significant movement. I don’t know about numbers – these are impossible to predict – but I do know that the evangelical movement will find its soul again. There is never a time when people are not looking for hope and transformation, and the story of Jesus remains a powerful stream in our culture. Whilst I am realistic about the challenges we now face, I am deeply optimistic about the movement that can, and I believe will, emerge from our current ‘sea of troubles’. 

Buy The Prodigal Evangelical for just £7.49 (RRP £8.99)

Following the Rabbi Jesus

Joe GisbeyHas the Christian faith has lost its way because it has cut itself loose from its Hebrew roots? In ‘Follow’ author and Pastor Joseph Gisbey argues that faith, love, witness and discipleship – the basic tenets of our faith – come from a world very foreign to the stoic philosophy developed through the early centuries of Christendom to the Church today.

Buy Follow for just £7.25 (RRP £9.99)

What led you to write Follow?

I have always loved communicating both speaking and writing and grew up really wanting to either be a writer or an actor! In the end I became a missionary, preacher and church leader and have actually found the things that I learnt studying theatre and literature of huge benefit. 

Follow tells my journey from anorexia and depression, coming to a place when I jumped into a relationship with Jesus and my life became about a pursuit of more of him at any cost. That pursuit has allowed me the amazing privilege of being able to travel to many parts of the world and see many lives transformed. Central to the vision of writing this book was a desire to provoke people to a place of hunger to really know Jesus.

Secondly I grew up in a family that has always had a deep love for the Jewish people, my late Grandfather Albert Mosedale would lead teams out to Israel every year and even lived out there for a time working in the garden tomb complex. I have always been convinced that the church has lost much revelation and understanding of the scriptures because it has cut itself off from its Jewish roots. When we reconnect with those roots it is as if the Bible goes from black and white to HD Technicolour, in 3D!

Buy 'Follow' for just £7.25 (RRP £9.99)

Buy ‘Follow’ for just £7.25 (RRP £9.99)

Is there a danger we spiritualize the teachings and life of Jesus, perhaps missing the ‘earthiness’ you describe in the opening chapters?

Absolutely, I often hear people in church say that they worry about the parts of the bible they don’t understand, to which I respond ‘I worry about the parts I do understand!’ The truth is Jesus’ teachings were not hard to understand but they are impossible to live out without the indwelling power of The Holy Spirit. Jesus’ mission was the Kingdom, heaven on earth, the restoration of Eden and we do the world a grave injustice if we put off the promises of God to an afterlife. The church owes the world an encounter with God and that will only happen when we walk so close to Jesus that we are covered in his dust. 

Is there a danger, in understanding the 1st Century context of the ministry of Jesus, of falling into a new form of legalism, or perhaps into a romanticized Christo-Judaism?

I think perhaps this is the biggest danger and I see it all the time that people will begin to be inspired by the Jewish roots of Christianity and that will become their ‘thing’. All their focus will be on the Jewish elements of our faith and there will often be an unhealthy focus on a spiritualized political agenda too. However, this danger is just as true when other issues become the main focus, be that healing, spiritual warfare, or justice and social issues; all of which are hugely important – but Christianity is about Christ and He has to be our main focus. It is not simply a love for things Jewish that should drive us.

If Jesus had been born into an Amazon tribe I would want to know everything about the way that tribe viewed the world, but in God’s divine plan Jesus was born as a Jew and lived as a Jew. I understand and know Him better when I understand his world. However this has to be balanced with an understanding of scripture and much of the Apostle Paul and the early church’s writings are all about taking something that was essentially a tribal religion and showing the world what it could mean to them. It was not a call for the world to become Jewish. This does not mean however that there isn’t huge value in understanding our Jewish roots and celebrating them. An example would be the Jewish feasts and how each prophetically represent Christ.

What do you see as the practical implications of the critique of Hellenism (and Humanism) in Follow?

As I mention in the book the real danger of Humanism is that we see ourselves as the ultimate authority in the universe. Man has become his own god. Even within the church we try to fit God into a box and try to make him into our image. We presume he thinks just like us, acts just like us, likes the same music as us! However our God, though present, loving and relational is also Holy and totally above any of our preconceptions. Only God is worthy to be truly followed and obeyed. D L Moody once stated that God spoke to him saying the World had not yet seen what He could do with a man totally surrendered to him. What could happen if the church was really surrendered to The Holy Spirit? If we really believed the promises and obeyed with radical and reckless abandon? We could change the world.

You spend time bringing some helpful illumination to the various sects and schools of thought in 1st Century Judaism – what resonance does this have for the modern-day reader?

As I began to study the various power groups of Jesus’ day, first of all it made the scriptures come alive to me and really helped me to understand Jesus’ interactions, comments and criticisms regarding each group. I remember when it became clear for instance that the Sadducees were responsible for the trial of Jesus and their reasoning being far from theological, but rather political. Understanding the history of the Samaritans made Jesus’ interactions with them far more revolutionary and his parables even more powerful. However I also very quickly became aware of the fact that all these groups exist within the global church in many new and modern guises and we all too battle the Pharisee and Sadducee within each one of us.

Does seeing Jesus as ‘Rabbi’ change how we practice Christianity?

As I mention in the book, If Jesus did what he did as the son of God it would still be immensely impressive, however it would not challenge me to walk in his footsteps. When we understand that Jesus did what he did as a man, filled with the spirit of God, in relationship with his heavenly Father it releases a challenge to us. This is made even more intense when he calls us to ‘Follow’. A Rabbi believed that a disciple or ‘Talmid’ could be just like the Rabbi. Jesus believes we can be just like him. This changes everything. If there is any area in my life that does not match up with the teaching of Jesus and the actions of Jesus then there is much work to be done – and believe me, I definitely have much work to be done. We are called to re-present Jesus as his disciples, when people look at us they should be able to see him.

What do you hope people take away from Follow?

My deepest desire is that people who read this book will find that their hearts will be ignited with renewed passion to follow after God, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, knowing that He believes that they can be like him, representing the heart of the Father to this orphaned planet and seeing God’s kingdom break out everywhere they go.

Buy Follow for just £7.25 (RRP £9.99)

“Freedom is not only for ourselves, but to assist in the freedom of others”

Jen BakerThe former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, famously said, “The Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members.” With ‘Unlimited’ and ‘Untangled’ writer, preacher and activist Jen Baker has written accessible devotionals that free Christians to become those who can work for the benefit of the whole of society.

Buy ‘Unlimited for just £7.99 (RRP £8.99)

Buy ‘Untangled’ for just £7.99 (RRP £8.99)

What was your aim in writing Unlimited and Untangled?

I wanted to write a devotional for busy women – one which challenged, encouraged, and inspired.  But I also wanted to include thought provoking questions, so that it would be a journal as well.  This way women could record what God was speaking to them in this particular season of their lives.  Each day should take up to 15 minutes to do, and it’s only for 12 weeks, so it’s very ‘user friendly’, so to speak!

Where these books written particularly for women, or is the content relevant for men as well?

The books were designed for women, but the majority of the content could easily be for men as well.  In fact, I’ve had a few men tell me that they’ve ‘borrowed’ their wives’ books and loved them!

Buy 'Unlimited' for just £7.99 (RRP £8.99)

Buy ‘Unlimited’ for just £7.99 (RRP £8.99)

You structure Unlimited around the idea of Voice, Hands, Heart and Feet. Can you explain a little of what your thinking was?

When I was a theatre major at University we were taught that each person ‘leads’ with a particular part of their body when they walk.  So I took that concept and brought it into everyday leadership — the importance of ‘leading’ with our voice, heart, hands, and feet.  Each section teases out those leadership concepts in more depth – what our voice is saying, words we are declaring, necessary heart attitudes, and the spheres of influence in which we find ourselves placing our feet, for example.  As we focus on strengthening each area, our leadership ‘walk’ becomes stronger, more purpose filled, and intentional.

How does someone distinguish between the helpful and harmful things that can shape our identity, other than God; such as culture, family, friends etc?

That’s a good question and one that is best discovered through the Word and prayer, because we are all on a journey, and at different points in that journey. So, what might be ‘wrong’ for one person, may not be wrong for another.  With that said, the overarching culture which shapes all we do is Kingdom culture — is it Biblical and do I have peace?  Those are two brilliant culture shaping questions when uncertain about which direction to take, which friends to invest in, or discerning what is or isn’t helpful to your identity!

Buy 'Untangled' for just £7.99 (RRP £8.99)

Buy ‘Untangled’ for just £7.99 (RRP £8.99)

In Untangled it is striking that after chapters listing the many influences that people need to be free ‘from’, the final chapter is called ‘Free to Influence’. How would you describe the purpose of finding freedom?

We discover freedom not only for ourselves, but to assist in the freedom of others.  This is a lifelong journey as we go from ‘glory to glory’, so I believe it’s important that along our journey we are always helping someone else on theirs. And often in helping another, we discover our own journey furthered without even realising it!  Therefore the purpose is never solely selfish, but always intentionally kingdom.

What do you hope readers take away from reading Unlimited or Untangled (or both!)

Untangled focuses on our freedom and Unlimited focuses on our impact, so they go hand in hand together!  I pray regularly for whoever has the books, that they would discover new depths in their relationship with God, and in doing so would be inspired to walk out their faith at a new level, truly living their best life now!

Buy ‘Unlimited for just £7.99 (RRP £8.99)

Buy ‘Untangled’ for just £7.99 (RRP £8.99)

This week’s ten of the best: 1st June 2015

The Love LettersLots of changes in the bestsellers this week with A Rushing Mighty Wind from Angus Buchan the only survivor from our last chart. The new book from one of the most popular inspirational fiction authors, Beverley Lewis, is showing that Amish Fiction can still fire the imagination of readers, whilst the revision of The Challenge of Jesus from the prolific theologian N T Wright proves that people are still interested in theology when written with clarity and an engaging style.

Joyce Meyer is another regular favourite, and her new book, Get Your Hopes Up!, has already inspired many readers in the few weeks since its release.

A Rushing Mighty Wind by Angus Buchan (Monarch)
The Love Letters by Beverley Lewis (Bethany House)
 Walking with Old Testament Women by Fiona Strata (Bible Reading Fellowship) 
The Challenge of Jesus by N T Wright (SPCK) 
Healing for Damaged Emotions by David A Seamands (David C Cook) 
 Get Your Hopes Up! by Joyce Meyer (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Shed that Fed a Million Children by Magnus Macfarlane-Barrow (Willian Collins) 
The Awesome Journey by David Adam (SPCK)
There are no Ordinary People by Jeff Lucas (CWR)  
The Illustrated Guide to Bible Customs and Curiosities by George Knight (Barbour)