Books

Cover Image: The World We All Want

The World We All Want

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis (Authentic Media, 2005)

Blurb Review by Steve McAlpine

Review by Steve McAlpine

My cousin Phil has had a difficult few years. A messy divorce and the ensuing financial hassle, a false start in another relationship, plus a general disquiet about the state of the world, have all joined forces to batter any happiness he had out of him.

Phil doesn't know Jesus, but recently whenever we've been together we've talked a lot about him. A critical conversation occurred on Christmas Eve 2006. At one point Phil asked me the "money" question: "So Steve, how can you tell if you actually are a Christian?"

We talked for a while about how a Christian is someone for whom Jesus' death was a death for them. Being the day it was other people and things crowded the conversation and we had to end it prematurely, both promising to pick it up next time we see each other.

In the interim I've been doing some thinking. Why do some "God" conversations become critical, the tipping point talks, while others seem to float aimlessly, leaving you in the same place where you started? You're going to say "Holy Spirit", and yes, that's the right answer. But let me be so bold as to say that the way I structured what I said to Phil that day was what the Holy Spirit used to speak to him.

Rather than start where many evangelism tools begin - what's the problem with you, I decided to try the method espoused by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis' little book The World We All Want, an evangelistic tool framed by biblical theology.

For many people biblical theology is what you learn after you've become a Christian - the deeper stuff that you move onto once you've figured out who Jesus is and why he came. However The World We All Want (TWWAW) presumes that biblical theology is evangelistic at its core, and fashions itself accordingly.

So in my conversation with Phil I started, not only where TWWAW starts - eschatology - but where his heart was. The age to come espoused by the gospel is what Phil desires, even if he is unable to fully articulate that longing for himself.

"Imagine a world in which all of the dreadful stuff you've been through recently no longer existed," I said to him, to which he replied "Yeah, that's what I'd love."

TWWAW starts there. The first of its seven sections reveals how God's desire is to offer us that kind of world, immediately putting us onside with who God is at his core - a loving, creative, generous God who wants us to share in the good things he has made. The very first page says "We all dream of a better world - a world of security, plenty and friendship."

Importantly it doesn't just tell us about that world - we get to read about it for ourselves. The first Bible reading in TWWAW is not from Mark or John, nor even from Genesis, but from Revelation. A brave move, some might say, but not for Phil. He hasn't had years of poor exegesis to deal with, so people like him are prepared to take it on face value.only.

More importantly, however, we are introduced to Jesus early on. Similar material, such as Two Ways to Live don't get to Jesus until the fourth segment. Here however, we see Jesus immediately doing the "stuff" of the age to come in the present age, healing the sick and raising the dead in Mark 5.

This prepares us for the second session: Jesus shows us God's new world. Once again using Mark's gospel TWWAW demonstrates Jesus' power to bring about God's new world. Yet it leaves us hanging at the end, by raising the spectre of Jesus' death.

Two vital component of this course are the icons and slogans used to encapsulate each session. They are simple, but very effective. So for example, session two's picture box has a rudimentary drawing of a tree and a man, with the words "Jesus" and "glimpsed" written next to them. A short statement below summarises the theme of the session, in this instance: "Jesus had the power to make God's new world. But Jesus said it was necessary for him to die so we could enjoy it."

If anything this simple graphic is a reminder that biblical theology is not simply for a reading culture, it can be grasped by those for whom reading is often a trial. Indeed all seven picture boxes have a continuity about them, making it simple for someone to draw if they were sharing the gospel message with a friend.

So we start at the end of the story, then move to the middle. Where from there? Back to the beginning of course. The tension in the story is what happens in the garden isn't it? Sessions three and four deal with the spoiling of God's world and his promise to restore and renew it.

As with each of the others, these contain critical Bible passages and simple questions, not just about the verses, but about life in the here and now. Session three asks: "What do you think are the biggest problems facing the world today?" and "What do you think the world would be like if evil was never punished?" In the age of prime-time tsunamis and mobile-phone recordings of executions on the internet these theodicy questions are critical. Any evangelistic tool which does not deal with them at the start of the 21st century will be anaemic.

Briefly, here are some other strengths of the course. First, we get to read Nehemiah! Never mind non-Christians, how many Christians have read Nehemiah even once? We even confront a passage from Ezekiel. The strength of an evangelistic tool based on biblical theology comes to the fore with the retelling of the Israel story from Abraham to the return from exile, as it both creates the context into which Jesus came, as well as showing us our place within Israel's own story. Right at the outset the Old Testament's critical role is displayed. TWWAW is simply emulating Jesus' method of "beginning with Moses and the prophets" in order to show the necessity of what the Christ had to suffer.

This build up of tension in the story is deliberate, allowing session six: We can enjoy God's new world because of Jesus, to create the denouement the narrative has been crying out for.

A second major strength of the course is the centrality of the church. This is no individualistic "God's got a really good plan for your life" approach, but rather a calling to become part of the only society that will inherit God's new world. All too often many pastors who have a thorough grounding in biblical theology miss the vital link between the new world and the new people. The result is privatized sermon applications that do not do justice to the corporate nature of the text.

I particularly liked the manner in which God's people are described in session seven as "a waiting community, a proclaiming community, a loving community." It's been reported recently that many people on the street are cool with Jesus, but have a problem with the church. TWWAW demonstrates that you can't have the bridegroom without his bride, nipping that particular problem in the bud. No one taking part in the course will be under the misapprehension that the church is a side-serve to the main dish.

On a stylistic level TWWAW is approachable and clear. The graphics, layout, and questions give non-readers a good chance of retaining the information more readily than a course containing chunks of Old Testament narrative and prophesy, not to mention Apocalyptic literature, might at first suggest. I know of at least one group using it with those whose first language is not English.

The leaders' notes are helpful, especially to any who are new to the idea of biblical theology as a base-level evangelistic tool. The method of teaching is interactive, suiting small group and one-on-one evangelism. Indeed one of the stated aims of the format is to ensure enough time is given to building relationships with those doing the course, so they can see what the Christian faith looks like in action.

Finally, it is a great tool to use for those Christians who have never been introduced to biblical theology. By showing the centrality and import of the whole story TWWAW begs the question, Why are so many Christians so impoverished in their understanding of, and their passion for, the biblical narrative? The answer surely lies in the fact that unless you understand fully that Jesus is the one to whom the whole Bible points then your heart won't burn within you as fiercely as it should.

And if there is one thing I want for Phil, it's that his heart would have a burning desire for Jesus.

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