Posts Tagged ‘Justin Welby’

The gospel in 30 seconds

March 24, 2015


As I discussed last week, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave a remarkable speech on the importance of personal evangelism, not simply for the “professionals” like me, but for everyone. The most recent episode of the podcast Unbelievable? includes the audio of that speech, along with an exclusive interview with Welby.

Here, the host of the show, Justin Brierley, asks Welby to imagine that Brierley were a non-Christian and asked Welby to explain the gospel in 30 seconds: what would he say?

Here the archbishop’s response:

I’d go straight in simple language to John’s gospel, chapter 3, verse 16, and say, ‘There’s a problem with human beings, which is that we don’t know God. In one way or another there’s a barrier between us and God. God has solved the problem, and it’s open to us to take that solution into our lives by opening our lives to his presence. And the Bible says that God so loved the world—because this is about love—that he gave—because it’s him taking the action—his only Son Jesus Christ—he himself—so that all who believe in him—that’s just put the weight of their lives on him—should not perish but have everlasting life. This is about hope. It’s positive. It’s really good news.

Welby is a theologically sophisticated person. Yet, notice how simple this short presentation is. It requires remembering one Bible verse, which we probably already know. Any of us can remember and recite something like this to someone.


Welby: Evangelism not a “growth strategy”—it’s far more important

March 14, 2015
Archbishop Justin speaking at Lambeth Palace on March 5.

The Archbishop of Canterbury speaking at Lambeth Palace on March 5.

Last week, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, gave the best speech or sermon I’ve ever read about what he calls the “E-word,” evangelism. He recognizes that his church isn’t doing it well. He says it’s the responsibility of every Christian, not just the “professionals,” and—yes—it requires words. 

I commend the whole speech to you, but here are some excerpts:

I want to start by saying just two simple sentences about the church. First, the church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ.

Second, the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything else is decoration. Some of it may be very necessary, useful, or wonderful decoration – but it’s decoration…

The best decision anyone can ever make, at any point in life, in any circumstances, whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever they are, is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. There is no better decision for a human being in this life, any human being…

Each day the Gospel comes afresh to me as a sinner and astounds me with the news that I am loved, accepted, forgiven, redeemed and chosen in Jesus…

Our motive driving this priority for the Church is not, not, not – never, never, never – that numbers are looking fairly low and the future is looking fairly bleak. Never. This is not a survival strategy.

This is not to say I am in any way nonchalant about the seismic challenge facing the church. But evangelism is not a growth strategy.

It is summed up in 2 Corinthians 5: 14-15: ‘For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.’

It is the love of Christ that compels us. Every time I think of that, I reflect on how often I have failed to act in the love of Christ, and how unsurprising therefore that there is little response…

The old adage is attributed to St Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times, where necessary use words.” Lay it aside, put it down, forget it. Don’t even think about it. Mainly for the reasons that he almost certainly didn’t say it, and even if he did, he was wrong. As T.S. Eliot’s character Sweeney said: “I gotta use words when I talk to you.”…

Luke says the last words of Jesus to the disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses.” [Acts 1: 8]

He is not describing what they’ll do – witness is not a verb, it is a noun. He is describing what they are. The question is not whether we want to be witnesses; it is whether we are faithful witnesses. We are all witnesses; it’s just whether we live that out. It is such a strong concept…

However weakly, however hesitantly, He calls us to extend our hands and our hearts, to use our words and lives, to echo His call to every person to follow Him…

As he so often does, “Archbishop Cranmer” offers insightful analysis. I especially liked this:

“I want to start by saying just two simple sentences about the church,” Welby began. “First, the church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ. Second, the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything else is decoration. Some of it may be very necessary, useful, or wonderful decoration – but it’s decoration.”

That’s right: foodbanks, soup kitchens, mums’ and toddlers’ groups are just decoration. Jesus didn’t tell His followers just before He ascended to heaven that “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will set up debt advice centres and credit unions in Jerusalem, and throughout Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

All of these social action projects that churches so valiantly maintain, which display God’s love in practical ways for the benefit of their local communities, have an incredibly valuable purpose and a place. But the Church is not an NGO or a substitute for the welfare state. When good works are detached from the power source of the Holy Spirit, they will inevitably dry up, and if any mention of Jesus is left at the door, then the gospel that drives motivation and compassion remains woefully hidden. And the very mission to which God has called His people is considerably hindered.

“The jihadis can destroy nothing but the body”

December 1, 2014


I’ve preached about Canon Andrew White, the “Vicar of Baghdad,” a couple of times before. His faith, his courage, and his witness are an inspiration. Here, Archbishop Cranmer reflects on the decision by Archbishop Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the Church of England, to bring White home in the wake of ISIS’s $57 million bounty on his head. Much to digest here, but let’s start with this:

[White] has no fear of ISIS personally, and has said so many times. He knows that at an appointed time he will go to be with the Lord in eternity, and that the jihadis can destroy nothing but his body, which is already ravaged and weary with Multiple Sclerosis. His witness throughout his own suffering has been manifest; his courage consistent; his sacrifice of love profound. His love of Jesus radiates like laser of light in a world of darkness and shadows. “I’ve been shot at and bombed and they’ve tried to blow me up,” he says. “People say, ‘Aren’t you afraid where you are?’ Never, not one day; I love it. I feel really sad that I’m not there now.”

Sermon 09-28-14: “Bible Heroes, Part 8: David”

October 12, 2014

superhero graphic

Whether we like to admit it or not, we disciples of Jesus Christ often doubt. Maybe we don’t doubt God’s existence the way some people do, but we doubt that God has the power to make a difference in the challenges we face in life. What can we learn from today’s Bible hero, David, about trusting in God and his power to bring change?

Sermon Text: 1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is the spiritual head of the Church of England. I love Justin Welby! He’s a plainspoken man—humble, down to earth; doesn’t put on airs, doesn’t take himself too seriously. Most importantly, he is a person of great Christian faith, which is obvious to everyone who knows him or knows of him. But he made headlines last week for an interview he gave in which he was asked the following question: “Do you ever doubt?” And he answered,

Justin Welby meets Queen on his first day in office

Yes I do… There are moments, sure… The other day I was praying over something while I was running and I ended up saying to God, ‘This is all very well, but isn’t it about time you did something, if you’re there,’ which is not probably what the Archbishop of Canterbury should say.”

See, I even like him for praying while he runs, which I also do!

Anyway, the British press had a field day with what they regarded as some stunning admission of doubt. One headline read, “Head of the Church of England doubts the existence of God.” Read the rest of this entry »

Occasional doubt is a part of a healthy Christian faith

September 25, 2014

Not long ago, I had a parishioner who was suffering from a mysterious ailment that doctors didn’t quite know how to treat. Three times he had shown signs of improvement, was sent home, only to suffer a relapse and return to the hospital. It was frustrating and worrisome, to say the least.

I visited him several times during this two- or three-week period of his being in and out of the hospital. At the end of each visit, as is my custom, I held hands and prayed with him and any friends or family present.

Once, while I was preparing to pray, I had this internal dialogue with God: “Why am I bothering? You’re not going to do anything, no matter what I pray. Do you know how bad this is making you look? Do you  know how bad this makes me look?” (I’m vain and self-centered even in my prayers.) “This is why my atheist friends don’t believe in you. We pray and pray and pray and nothing happens.”

Yes, friends, yours truly has thoughts like these sometimes.

On another occasion, during a dark moment of self-doubt about my vocation, a friend of mine tried to cheer me up: “I admire you for all the sacrifices you’ve made. You gave up a successful career… money… prestige. Most people wouldn’t have the guts to do that.”

Immediately I thought—without saying out loud—”Yeah, I hope Christianity turns out to be true. Otherwise I’ve wasted my life!” I am “of all men most to be pitied,” as the Apostle rightly understood.

My point in sharing this is to say that I completely understand what Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, meant when he was asked recently if he ever doubts:

Yes I do. I mean there are moments, sure, where you think ‘Is there a God?’, ‘Where is God? The other day I was praying over something while I was running and I ended up saying to God, ‘This is all very well, but isn’t it about time you did something, if you’re there,’ which is not probably what the Archbishop of Canterbury should say.”

The press in Britain had a field day with this, as if the archbishop were admitting something shocking. One headline read, “Archbishop of Canterbury doubts the existence of God.”

Oh, brother! Only someone who doesn’t practice the Christian faith could imagine that Christians never doubt.

As Archbishop Cranmer puts it:

If those who bring us the news and the majority of those who consume it had any idea what the Bible says, they would see that doubt is a continually recurring theme. The Psalms are full of it:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? (Psalm 13:1,2)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1,2)

But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair. (Psalm:88:13-15)

Great heroes from the pages of the Bible, including King David, Elijah, Job and ‘doubting’ Thomas had desperate moments of questioning God. John the Baptist had a major crisis of faith regarding Jesus’ divinity, despite having waited his adult life to baptise him as the Messiah. Even Jesus had his moment of turmoil in the Garden of Gethsemane.

So Justin Welby is in good company. He is doing little more than being frankly honest about his relationship with God. There are things he finds wonderful about his faith and others he finds frustrating and challenging. He is not trying to pretend to be something he isn’t and most Christians will find his words resonating with their own experiences.

Glenn Peoples also says it well in this post:

As it turns out, the story could have just as easily (although not as tantalisingly – or smoothly) been called “Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has some thoughts and feelings every now and then that most normal Christians have, nothing to see here.” But there is something to see here, and it’s this: Doubt is a normal part of a committed Christian faith. Not all the time, of course, but anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t know what it’s like to be a mature, thoughtful Christian or else they don’t want to admit it…

Doubt can exist for a variety of reasons (usually more emotional than strictly rational), and the denial of doubt is foolishness. A faith that has never been exposed to real doubt at all must surely be weaker (or I insist, at very least much less mature) than a faith that has come out the other side of episodes of long, dark doubt that relentlessly occupies the whole mind. I have no authority over the church, but if I did I would insist that a person is only considered eligible for ministry if they have experienced that sort of doubt. You’ll need that experience when a member of your church approaches you and tells you they’re having doubts and you don’t want to respond like the idiot who says “come now, where is your faith?” How will you know how to answer the question of how to come back from soul-crushing doubt and set your eyes on what you know to be true if you’ve never had to do it? Of course it would be a mistake to automatically respond to doubt as though it were a rationally compelling factor in itself, and so to give up belief, taking the path (at that moment) of least emotional resistance. But depicting the faith as a place where serious doubt simply doesn’t happen is madness.

What would it look like if making disciples were really our church’s priority?

June 11, 2014
Archbishop Welby talking about evangelism.

Archbishop Welby talking about evangelism.

A while back, I shared a link to a blog post by a professor at the United Methodist Church’s lone orthodox seminary, United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, who complained that if the UMC believes that fulfilling the Great Commission and making disciples is our top priority, shouldn’t, our denomination’s website, reflect that in some way? He wrote:

Perhaps the public website should take a more evangelistic approach. How about, right up front, a link to the testimonies of people who have accepted Christ and known his transforming power? How about a link to a video called something like, “Why Should I Choose Jesus?” Or perhaps a video, or at least a page, called something like, “Why Does Christ Make A Difference?” Perhaps one could have the option to chat or have a video call with a pastor. Maybe it would be helpful to have something on the basics of Christian belief.

I’m certainly no marketing expert, but it does seem to me that if we wish our public internet presence to be consistent with our mission, these types of changes would be in order.

As I said then, “Indeed. But one shouldn’t hold one’s breath.”

Meanwhile, the Church of England (the actual English church, not its heterodox cousin in America, the Episcopal Church), which faces all the same challenges our little UMC faces, only more so, have gotten their priorities straight. Last Sunday, on Pentecost, he Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops are telling their people that they must do the work of evangelism.

The word ‘evangelism’ means sharing good news. For Christians, it means sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ – what he has done for us, and what he continues to do in our lives.

What does that mean in practice? It means introducing the people around us to Jesus. We do this by how we live our lives and how we relate to one another. But we can also do it by how we express our faith in conversation.

Jesus did all of this so well, and he invites us to share the gospel not just in actions but in words too.

Did you get that: “not just in actions but in words too”? Their website is even called And they provide resources for helping you use words.

But they place their primary emphasis on prayer: they recognize that it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we’re equipped and empowered to do evangelism. As Archbishop Justin Welby said, “There’s absolutely nothing I can do or any of us can do without the power of the Holy Spirit in the service of Christ. Nothing at all.” Well said!