I’m preaching the book of Jonah after Christmas to set us up for mission to West Bromwich. God said to Jonah, the reluctant missionary, “should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left.” Jonah 4:11. [West Bromwich may not be as universally lost as Nineveh, there are Christ-centred churches here, but the size of the two towns are similar and, as we had a riot here, have several strip clubs and there’s a general sense that things are getting worse, parallels of course exist]. I was delighted to find Tim Keller’s six principles for mission in the postmodern world which he derives from Jonah [from chapter 5 of TheSupremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World – also available as audio files from the Desiring God Conference 2006]. Here’s the intro and headings.
So how do we get the gospel across in a postmodern world? The gospel and the fact that we are now a church on a mission field will dictate that almost everything the church does will have to be changed. But that is too broad a statement to be of any help, so I will lay out six ways in which the church will have to change. Each of these factors has parallels in the account of Jonah on his mission to the great pagan metropolis of Nineveh.
1. Gospel Theologizing…Jonah 1:1-2 “Go to …Nineveh and preach.” …All theology must be an expression of the gospel, especially in the postmodern age.
2. Gospel Realizing. When God called Jonah to go to Nineveh the first time, Jonah ran in the other direction. Fear? No, Jonah was hostile toward the Nivevites. He needed to realise that he was a sinner saved by grace. Jonah was caught in a storm, thrown overboard, needed rescuing and so God saved him by grace (Jonah 2:9).
3. Gospel Urbanizing. “Should I not take pity on that great city?” Big cities are huge stockpiles of spiritually lost people. How can you not find yourself drawn to them?
4. Gospel Communication. Evangelism in a postmodern context must be much more thorough, progressive and process-orientated.
5. Gospel Humiliation. God intends to bring life out of death. We may well think of this as the principle behind all evangelism. …It is out of Christ’s weakness that the sufficiency of his saving power will be born….his power is demonstrated in our weakness and others are drawn to him. This is exactly what was happening to Jonah. [Sinclair Ferguson].
6. Gospel Incarnation. I believe Jonah is a setup for the amazing letter from God to the exiles of Babylon in Jeremiah 29. The Jews had been living in their nation-state in which everyone was a believer, but when they arrive in Babylon God tells them to move into that pagan city, filled with unbelievers and uncleanness, and work for its peace and prosperity – its shalom.