There was a time many years ago when I was in theological college that I was trying to work out what Christian ministry was all about. One pastor told me to forget about all that stuff they teach you in College. His conclusion was that it just didn’t work in the real world and in the pragmatics of dealing with people’s lives. He thought you just had to get on with helping people through the struggles of their lives. He was still keen to share the gospel with them but had come to the conclusion that these would be rare opportunities as he spent his ministry responding to the practical needs of the people around him.

Another senior minister who after 30 years of ministry told me he shaped his preaching more around the business practices and successful lifestyles of his well to do congregation members than a call to radical gospel centred, Christ focused, discipleship. He believed this better communicated with them simply in terms of establishing trusting relationships. With trust he thought it would be easier to bring the challenges of the gospel to bear on successful people who found it difficult to see themselves as sinners needing a Saviour.

I have seen professional men and women who had attended weekly Bible study groups during their university days struggle to work out what it is to be a Christian in their profession. They had gained a good grounding in the scriptures but it had not helped them do the hard work of integrating their Christian life with their professional life. The two remained in quite separate compartments.

Each person in these three stories lacks what Tim Keller calls Theological Vision.[1] He defines theological vision as, “faithful restatement of the gospel with rich implication for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history.” He means that we must firstly get our theology right and at the same time get our practice right. But our theology and practice will only engage with our culture in a meaningful, gospel centred way, if our theological vision ties the two together. In other words, unlike the professionals mentioned above, we have to do the hard work of integrating our theology with our practice. Inevitably this will mean that in reality our practice will look different in different cultures and in different times because our theological vision integrates our unchanged theology with our contemporary context.

One area I think we need to learn this lesson all over again is the area of hospitality. We know that biblical hospitality is about being generous to the sojourner and the needy. Yet how often do we think we’re being hospitable when we’ve just had a pleasant dinner party with the neighbours? How often do we think we’ve been hospitable when we’ve invited a group of friends to a BBQ because our children are at the same school? These aren’t bad things to do, but in terms of being generous to those in need, they are not necessarily biblical hospitality.

Biblical hospitality can be fairly radical and challenging. Like the family I know who on Christmas Day invited a stranger at church, who had nowhere else to go, to share their Christmas dinner. Other members of the family, looking forward to the usual excesses of the day, were somewhat horrified when they discovered that the tattooed stranger in their midst was no angel.

Theological vision ties us to radical, and sometimes scary, Christian discipleship. It is in the end a simple integrating of our theology with our practice. It can be hard and scary work. It can also be very rewarding. Just ask those who have entertained angels.

Frank had recently been released from prison and had been referred to a church by the prison Chaplain. Three men in the church who had trained as mentors for people coming out of prison welcomed Frank and helped him to have some sense of belonging. One couple got to know Frank and his background and invited him home for a family lunch. They gave other members of the family a heads up about his circumstances and there was a certain amount of nervousness in the air as lunch got off to a start. Nobody knew what to say or what questions to ask until the host asked Frank to tell the family how he had become a Christian.

Frank’s story is a fairly common story for a man caught up in our justice system. But as he began to speak about how at his lowest Jesus found him and brought him home these family members began to realise here was an angel in their midst. Here they were offering true hospitality as they had stepped out of their comfort zone and reached out to a man in need, a man who needed to be part of God’s family. Here they realised that just as God had stepped out of his comfort zone and called them home, they were now being called on to reach out to others in the same way. Here, a family who knew in their heads the theology of Christian hospitality, began to understand how Christian hospitality can work in reality. Here they were reaching out to the stranger and the person in need. Here was a family who were beginning to understand theological vision.



[1] Timothy J. Keller. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Zondervan. Michigan. 2012