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What does it mean to be ‘lost’?

The idea that those outside the Christian faith are ‘lost’ has, in the past, been of central importance in evangelical devotion. Around 10 million times a year, Christians sing John Newton’s autobiographical devotional hymn:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

NEWTON2_360Newton was, of course, writing from his own experience, and seeing a sharp contrast between his previous, unreligious and irreligious former life, and what he now experienced. But this idea is more than merely experiential; it has been a central part of evangelical theology in the way that it understands the world. When I was leaving home for a gap year which included time in Israel (on a kibbutz), my youth leader gave me a copy of David Watson’s book God’s Freedom Fighters (later republished as Hidden Warfare) which set out his understanding of New Testament eschatology. In it, he explores how the NT talks of two ‘kingdoms’ or realms—the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God—and that becoming a Christian means passing from one realm, one way of life, to the other. This understanding lies behind the ‘conversionism’ which David Bebbington identifies as one of the four key hallmarks of what it means to be evangelical, along with activism, Biblicism and crucicentrism.

But one of the interesting things that appears to be happening (at least in the C of E) is that, as mission finds its way into public discourse more often, and apparently with less embarrassment, the language of conversion has largely been left behind. There has been a tacit but widespread rejection of using the language of ‘lost’ and ‘found’ as a way of characterising the boundary between faith and non-faith. Brian McLaren, the theologian of ’emerging church’, recently posted on his blog a letter from an appreciative reader. This person had been brought up with precisely the kind of ‘in/out’ understanding of reality that I outline above, and was grateful that he had been able to move beyond this, in part through reading McLaren’s books. He goes on:

I have three parishes with falling electoral rolls (I am in Norfolk UK, three rural parishes) and falling Sunday attendance though I work my socks off from Monday through Saturday and can easily become discouraged and sad. It seems that though people love to hear that God loves them, they do not want to worship him. Whereas my old Charismatic/ evangelical persona would have been preaching salvation is through the blood and the cross – Get Saved!!!! Mind you, I’m not sure that would fill my churches today either!

However, I pray that the seeds I am planting with this gentler and more inclusive understanding will one day produce a harvest for God’s Kingdom that we can see this side of heaven! In the meantime I think [my denomination] will expire and God will do a new thing.

It is hard to miss the sense of relief that this person has found by shedding the burden of past, possibly unrealistic, expectations. But it is also quite hard to miss an important link here: because God is at work outside the Church, and even outside articulated faith, then it is not part of loving, Christian ministry to offer the challenge to ‘get saved.’ And, lo and behold, without such a challenge, the churches this person leads are not growing—in fact, this person is fairly clear that his denomination (I am guessing the C of E?) will simply disappear. I confess to having felt a great sadness in reading this—and not just a sadness of this minister’s toil and discouragement.

I hear a similar rejection of the ‘lost/found’ distinction all the time in media coverage of Christian events. A week ago last Sunday, the morning service was broadcast from Worcester College, Oxford chapel. And in the intercessions, we were led in prayers to the Spirit ‘who is at work in all the world and amongst all people of faith.’ In a radio broadcast, it always sounds so uncharitable to assume that God is present amongst those who profess Christ in a way which is not true of those who don’t—and besides, it is not very British! This instinct was captured rather well in a Tweet sent by a friend last week:

‘So people are basically lovely and kind, strangely misguided at times and occasionally rude but mostly nice’.

A recent article in the Independent was quite clear how the Church could find new life—by having fashion shows, beer festivals and art installations.

This type of vicar is more likely to appear on Gogglebox than encourage everyone to be baptised via total immersion; I am referring not to Alpha Group leaders here but C of E vicars who, alarmed by the current sogginess of things, want to spice them up a bit.

It’s not about challenging people regarding faith, but about having a bit of fun. (As it happens, I am not sure that either of the people described in the article would agree with that.) But at one level, she has a good point—it does seem to work. People are drawn more by honey than by vinegar.


Of course, there are many other reasons, besides politeness, for dispensing with the ‘lost/found’, ‘in/out’ paradigm for understanding the relation between the ‘church’ (the body of believers) and ‘the world.’ For one, it can lead to a serious detachment between church culture and the world around. In Poole, we set up an afternoon service once a month for older members of the congregation who liked a traditional service, and offered a sandwich tea afterwards to which they could invite their friends. After several months, still no-one new had come. When we asked them why, the reply was ‘All our friends are already here!’ This group had become totally self-enclosed socially. Having a ‘lost/found’ theology does not have to lead to this, but it often does—and I think it is why many evangelical churches have struggled to take seriously an agenda of social engagement.

There are other problems with it too. Such an outlook can lead to a very static understanding of discipleship: once you are in, that’s it. The most important thing has happened. All that is left is to enjoy the new place you are in, rather than having a sense that this is the first step on a journey. And the ‘in/out’ approach can often have a credibility problem. Are Christians that good? Are non-Christians that bad? Do they really look lost, especially when they have reasonable houses, nice cars, and 2.4 kids making their way happily through the education system? Besides which, who wants to be told they are ‘lost’ in need of being found, or are sinners who need to repent? It doesn’t make church look very attractive.

For those in Christian ministry, there is a final blow to this kind of thinking. Can I really live with the burden that, in a parish of 10,000 souls where, even in a ‘successful’ church, I might be fortunate to see a few hundred on a Sunday, the vast majority are ‘lost’? If I really believe that, how do I sleep at night, let alone take a day off, go on holiday, or have any kind of life outside ministry? I think it is this, more than any other, which Brian McLaren’s reader is reacting to. But to abandon this understanding then raises the exact opposite set of challenges. If people are not ‘lost’, do I really need to ‘find’ them? If life is not all that bad, why should I follow the costly path of obedience to Jesus, and the costly path of Christian ministry—and why would I invite them to?


I was really challenged about this by listening to our friend Kim. Kim had no Christian background of any sort, but approaching her fifties, divorced and with the children having left home, decided she ought to sort her life out. So she looked online for somewhere that offered an Alpha course, came to ours, and became a Christian about 18 months ago. She came with us on a week at Lee Abbey in Devon in the summer, and I asked her about her story, and what difference it had made coming to faith.

It’s really hard to put it in words—becoming a Christian has just changed everything in my life. The best way I can describe it is that it is like being a child who has got lost, separated from its parents in a supermarket—and now had suddenly been found. That sense of relief, and the end of worry.

shepherdThere is nothing quite like talking to someone who has recently come to faith for showing up, in sharp relief, the difference faith makes! And it reminded me that the Jesus of the gospels had a very developed ‘theology of lostness.’ At the core of his preaching on the kingdom was a call to radical change, to ‘repent’, or (perhaps better translated) start living with a complete change of mind and outlook. He goes on, in the Sermon on the Mount, to talk about the narrow road that leads to life and the wide road that leads to destruction (Matt 7.13–14). And it is in Matthew that, six times, Jesus talks of a place of ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’ (8.12, 13.42, 13.50, 22.13, 24.51, 25.30).

Perhaps the most focussed teaching by Jesus on lostness comes in Luke 15, with the parables of the shepherd searching for his one lost sheep, the woman for her lost coin, and the father awaiting his ‘prodigal’ son. Jesus’ clarity about the ‘lostness’ of the lost puts a number of things in focus. The Red Letter Christian movement wants us to take notice of Jesus’ radical teaching on ethics—but to focus on Jesus’ words also highlights the lostness of the lost and the urgency of responding in what looks like a very ‘in/out’ view of life. And current discussion of Jesus’ ‘inclusiveness’ also gets a corrective. Jesus was really clear that the tax collectors, prostitutes and all manner of ‘sinners’ really were lost, heading for destruction and (as yet) outside God’s kingdom, which is precisely why he spent time with them. ‘The Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost’ (Luke 19.10); Jesus did not come to approve of such people or their lifestyle, but to include them in the dynamic of God’s transforming love. The ‘lost/found’ dichotomy appears to be a fundamental category of thinking and motivation for Jesus, and he appears to expect it will be for his disciples too.


Continuing through the NT, it appears that Paul, too, had a developed theology of the lost similar to that of Jesus. ‘Such you were, but you have been washed, you have been sanctified…’ (1 Cor 6.11). Before coming to faith, we were ‘dead in [y]our sins’ (Eph 2.1) until we made that remarkable transition to being made alive in Christ. ‘All have sinned…’ (Rom 3.23) and are enemies with God until reconciliation takes place (2 Cor 5.19). Put this way, it all sounds rather obvious and unavoidable. How can we read a page of the NT without seeing this ‘lost/found’ divide? But it means that mission is not simply about going out and ‘seeing what God is already doing and joining in’ as is so often said at the moment. If our mission follows that pattern (and motivation) of Jesus and Paul, then it must be much more about ‘going everywhere Jesus wanted to go’ (Luke 10.1) into places where people do not yet know God.

This leaves me with a challenge: can we (can I?) recover a theology of lostness that is motivating, realistic, credible and sustainable? Answers on a postcard, please…


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29 Responses to What does it mean to be ‘lost’?

  1. James Byron September 18, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    Thanks for such a nuanced exploration, Ian. 🙂

    I agree that conversion likely boosts numbers. Alongside theology, there’s psychological explanations for this: being born again creates an in-group, with clear boundaries, and with it a sense of purpose and belonging. Also appreciate you highlighting, in clubby behavior, the potential downside of this closeness. On balance, I’d say that the strengths of a close-knit community outweigh the weaknesses.

    As regards the Bible, the Gospels certainly record Jesus separating the sheep and the goats, but this isn’t necessarily tied to conversion in the modern evangelical sense, as Jesus so often emphasizes behavior and being perfect. Paul, in Romans 11, not only suggests that all Israel will be saved despite their unbelief, but that God has deliberately kept them in that state in order to be merciful!

    If Paul were around today, he might well be considered unsound for his universalism. 😉

  2. Phill September 18, 2014 at 10:33 pm #

    Thanks for this Ian. I am preaching on John 3.16-21 on Sunday, where God’s love is demonstrated through ‘lostness’ (although it’s not put in those terms there).

    I’ve been rubbing up against exactly this kind of challenge – that I don’t think people really believe in the idea of being ‘lost’ any more.

  3. Dave Male September 19, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    Thanks for this Ian, over the last 30 years I have seen the evangelical constiuency, especially in the traditional denominations, retreat massively from this idea of being lost without Christ. I wonder if it part of this is an overraction to the evangelistic message of my youth of ‘what would happen to you if you died tonight ‘ kind of preaching which was often an attept to scare people into the Kingdom. In wanting to move away from the ‘dangling people over the pit of fire’ we have retreated from a biblical notion of lostness which you highlight so well.

    Maybe your friends analogy of lostness in the supermarket is at the heart of our theology, the desire to reunite or reconcile lost people with a God who loves them. Its the picture of the Prodigal Son being reunited. Maybe this might help us to develop a greater urgency in evangelism and mission which comes from seeing people around us as God sees them.

    In planting a church for lost people we discovered people had no problem in understanding they were lost but we also discovered they often needed time and space to decide if they wanted to be found.

    • Ian Paul September 19, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

      Fascinating, Dave—thanks

  4. Chris Bishop September 19, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    As well as “lostness” what I think is also very strongly missing from the christian message and has been swept under the carpet is the notion of “judgement “and in particular the judgement of God upon the world, in the final stages of history and of the individual at death.

    The message that we will all be judged does not sit well with the post-modern ethic of moral relativity…

    • Ian Paul September 19, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

      No, in some ways it doesn’t—but I do find it fascinating how much popular culture values ‘judgement’ both in the trivial (talent shows) and in the serious (sexual abusers).

      Whenever I have preached on judgement, I have found people agreeing that, uncomfortable though it is, it is a vital part of reality in our culture.

  5. Dave September 19, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    I think Brian McLaren has been doing just that reenergising. I’ve found his ‘secret message’ very helpful. I thought his image of baptism, washing off the old to be clean in the new kingdom, his thoughts on Jesus only excluding the excluders helpful. I certainly didn’t read into his work that being nice in a particular way was the same as following Jesus. I also read that his context was also one of correcting that belief in Jesus is mostly about a ticket to heaven, rather than living well and deeply by the Spirit this side of the grave. That such living dovetails with people that don’t believe yet – but do care for the environment, the downtrodden for example. That joining in with those folk opens the possibilities of friendships which then naturally enable observations of a life shaped by God and the telling of the whole Jesus event.

    • Ian Paul September 19, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

      Thanks Dave. There is a complex of issues here, and it has made me realise that I should read some more McLaren. I think though I will not be persuaded on his exegesis; for Paul baptism is about death and life—much more ‘in/out’ than it appears McLaren will allow.

      On the ticket to heaven business, of course he is beating the same drum as Tom Wright…who would also argue for common cause with others on key ethical issues.

      • Dave September 19, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

        A good idea Ian! I’ve had a disagreement with somebody who wrote a thesis denying Brian held to some Orthodox Doctrines, particularly over what happens after we die. They categorically stated something about his beliefs – and it took me literally two minutes to thumb through some chapter headings in several books, to find a particular paragraph in direct contradiction to their thesis.

        My comments are just from memory from reading ‘The secret message of Jesus’ once several years ago. He may well hold to that exegesis of Paul. Or may have.

        I think, if time is available, reading an author is a good exercise. Like all of us, our theologies and understandings change. I’ve found it beneficial to read most of his books from ‘a generous orthodoxy’ to ‘a new kind of christianity’ – against the vociferous backdrop of reactions from John Piper, Jeffery and others. Complete with misquotes out of context et al. A painful and sad episode. Theology and theological disagreement is wrong fundamentally when love and respect are thrown out of the window. But if it can be more Jewish in style (experience from my family!), and include steaming off out in exasperation with genuine forgiveness and respect afterwards then its not so bad.

        Its certainly a mistake to bunch all of ’emerging church’ into one basket! Pastorally, Brian’s writing has helped me help several folk deeply wounded by some expressions of conservative evangelicalism.

        A good little read, tracking with permission, the conversion of a musician is “More ready than you realise – evangelism as a dance in the postmodern matrix’. Its gentle, deep, moving. Had me in tears.

  6. Gill Kimber September 19, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

    A major question, with no ‘easy’ answers. People no longer consider themselves sinners or lost, and consider Christians as being rather naive or downright nasty if they think so. How to go after the lost in such a climate of unbelief – that’s the challenge.

  7. Ian Paul September 19, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

    There have been some very interesting responses on Facebook, which I will repost here.

  8. Ian Paul September 19, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    Maggie Barfield comments:

    Not sure that I can justify what I’m about to say, theologically, but it feels as though there’s a difference between ‘me’ describing my experience as having been lost and now found; and someone else defining or identifying me as being lost. One is an expression of a personal spiritual moment (as with Newton); the other can quickly become yet another way to fall short of God’s plan – and, as the stories you quote show, not always a helpful way to approach… well, anyone.

  9. Ian Paul September 19, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    Anthony Delaney of Ivy Church, Manchester, comments:

    Well I know I was lost (now) but when you are, you don’t know you are – that’s the point. Our website is being rebranded and the movement I’m part of (New Thing) has at it’s heart that we are here ‘Helping People Find Their Way Back To God.’ The implication is that they are missed by the God who’s not far away because in him we live & move etc.

    In the tough urban environments we work in a lot with ex prisoners & addicts etc they don’t have a problem with hearing they’re lost really but I’d rather them hear they are missed by the Father & Jesus has come to lead them home. Adoption motifs work far better in these contexts. Middle class suburbanites react against the idea as much nearly as daring suggest they’re sinners – again not a problem with the people off the estates. We reach both by connecting to who they are and having the mindset that it’s not in/out and bounded sets but centred sets as Alan Hirsch & Michael Frost set out brilliantly in works like The Shaping of things to come etc.

    Personally I want to keep the fire going that people are lost & Jesus’ self described mission is to seek and save them. It’s an image that inspires me as an ex police officer because I’m a run into the burning building type. Thanks Ian for getting me thinking on this – you’re great at doing that!

  10. Ian Paul September 19, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    Wayne Coppins comments:

    Here’s one observation that may contribute to an attempt to develop a theology of ‘lostness”. It seems to me that in Luke 15, the language of “lost and found’ is brought in because it serves to show that joy is obviously the proper response when something lost is found, as shown with the sheep and coin in preparation for the son. So it is a way of reframing a keep-separate-from-sinners paradigm by defining the sinners as ‘lost’ so that it is obvious that there should be joy when they are ‘found’, naturally with the characteristic Lukan emphasis on repentance.

    All that to say, if one wishes to do something with the language of ‘lost’ then it might be more ‘Lukan’ to place more emphasis on the joy of finding what is lost than on the dire situation of the one who is ‘lost’, even if Luke also develops the latter point by way of the prodigal and the pigs. Hopefully that makes sense. It just seems to me that the language of lost in contemporary Christian discourse often functions rather differently than how it is functioning in Luke, where the language of ‘lost and found’ functions to set the language of ‘righteous and sinners’ in a new light.

    and further…

    I am inclined to think that it is valid and potentially fruitful to explore and underscore the dimension of “lostness” that you are highlighting, so long as equal or greater emphasis continues to be given to how the language is primarily functioning in the Lukan context, namely as a way of justifying and grounding Jesus’ and his disciples association and connection with groups and individuals that other religious people are presented as distancing themselves from (cf. Luke 5:27-32)

  11. Ian Paul September 19, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

    Anthony Delaney again:

    Just been wuth our recovery group – men & wonen with all kinds of stuff going on who I always love because they’re so in your face honest about brokenness & (yes) lostness. Sometimes they might feel more found or more lost but for me it’s not the demand of change as Ian describes it than the invitation, the possibility – because of Jesus’ acceptance up front that’s helping them be like Zaccheus, sons of Abraham. The love as you are makes you what you’re not yet. I think there are a lot of people lost in church because they never had Jesus love them in their house.

  12. Ian Paul September 19, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    Steve Hollinghurst, formerly of Church Army:

    Some comments as invited – i think we need to perhaps pull apart some of the terms as well as look at them in their context (actually this is already happening in this thread). Jesus discussion of the ‘lost’ seems to be in the context of addressing the pharisees condemnation of Jesus being with the lost – it is in that sense their term that he adopts but he doesn’t argue they are not lost rather that he is of course spending time with them as anyone should to find them. elsewhere he makes the same argument about a doctor going to the sick. so sick and lost are arguably saying the same thing. other phrases might be used – Paul talks often of those imprisoned by sin an death – people who clearly need to be set free. all of this leads me to suggest we can focus too much on one of these metaphors and ignore the others that speak of the human condition – as one in which all of us need to be changed. – this leads us into the language of conversion, that process of being changed.

    Then there is people’s experience and self expression – i have met plenty of people who would say they are lost – they don;t mean lost to God in most cases but they know their lives are not good, lacking purpose sometimes awful. last night i spoke at an open meeting on Christianity in contemporary culture and spoke of Christianity as a relationship with God that Jesus made possible – one young woman asked if one sought such a relationship would God meet her half way? a question that takes us straight into Jesus as the one who goes looking for the lost but i don’t think that language was the right language for that person – though the language of reconciliation might have been. so God needs to meet us and change us and does so through Jesus and one metaphor used for that is finding the lost – but there are others and they may be better in different situations.

    But how does that relate to other ideas explored in Ian’s post? and this is where I think we have to be careful our biblical metaphors don’t over influence us. if we take the metaphor of being lost as saying that God is absent from their lives i think we have made an assumption that is based on an over literalisation of the metaphor. in one sense God’s Spirit is active in all life lest it is dead as the Psalmist reminds us. God can speak through pagan prophets like Baalam or two goodly spiritual pagans like Cornelius – God can be present int he lives of those who have no desire for God to be so, Baalam, or do desire it but have not encountered Christ in conscious way, Cornelius. But is God was clearly at work in Cornelius life before Peter told him of Jesus he still needed that encounter that filling by the Spirit already at work in him, that baptism into Christ. we cannot assume that that God is absent from anyone’s life, or culture but if God is present outside the church or the Church, and i believe God is that is a bridge for witnessing to faith not an excuse not to.

    Lastly i want to question the language of in and out. i think this unhelpful makes conversion an event when i think Jesus and Paul see t as a journey – i see scripture offering rather than the bounded set view of in and out a centred set view in which we ask which way are people heading and how far have they to go -and the goal is not ‘becoming a Christian’ but being transformed into the likeness of Christ. a journey i am still on and ask others to join me in, but one in which by God’s grace there has been movement and change.

    So finally on that journey i find some who are lost and wandering, i find others who are one the road but off beam, i find others who have stppped and need to start moving and i find that i still am not always on course and i have some way yet to go – only the first of these are lost, but all of us need Jesus to change our lives and overcome the power of sin and death – oh and BTW i wouldn;t use the language of sin and death in my evangelism either – but i would want my witness to help people find God dealing with its reality

  13. Ian Paul September 19, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

    Dorothy Lee from Australia:

    Your definition of ‘lostness’ with the image of the child who has lost her parents in a supermarket is a very helpful way of retrieving that biblical image. It expresses a winsome sense of homecoming. Unfortunately, however, by ‘lost’ some evangelicals seem to be convinced that certain people are destined for Hell. I find this very difficult to deal with theologically: a rather monstrous image of God.

    I’m not entirely comfortable with universalism either. I do think in the end we make a choice for Christ or against Christ when we see him face-to-face, and there is a real possibility that some will choose against him. I see no future for them without God but non-being. And yet I don’t know we can sure how people will respond to Christ’s face: ‘not everyone who says Lord, Lord…’ Perhaps some Christians will abhor him; perhaps some outside the Church will love him and recognise in him the fulfillment of all they have loved and desired. How can we know? It is God who judges. All I do know is that without Christ, life is robbed of its deepest healing, its wildest desire, its broadest love, its redeeming power, its most entrancing beauty, and its sharpest and most rewarding challenge. That’s surely worth evangelizing for!

  14. Jake Belder September 19, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    Very interesting conversation. I’ve been reading James K.A. Smith’s recent interaction with Charles Taylor, How (Not) to be Secular, and I think a lot of that feeds into this discussion. It certainly seems that in an age of increasing secularism, fewer and fewer people would be willing to ever self-identify as ‘lost’, partly because, as Taylor and Smith suggest, they’ve created and inhabit these sort of self-constructed frameworks of meaning, and these are all they need to find meaning and make sense of reality. So, there’s no sense that there is anything outside of this framework that they don’t have or need, even subconsciously. If as Christians we then tell them they’re ‘lost’, that means nothing to them, nor do they respond when we tell them there is something ‘beyond’ that they’ve got this longing for if they would just stop and recognize it. They’ve created a framework that helps make sense of life and creates meaning, and they don’t need anything else. But Smith and Taylor do go on to talk about ‘cross-pressures’ on these frameworks that point to something else, and so I suppose the challenge is tapping into those ‘cross-pressures’. What that looks like, though, I have no idea!

  15. Dave September 19, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    Thinking back many many years to when Jesus ‘found’ me (the other side of the coin to being ‘lost’ – no puns intended). I had no idea I was lost. I had no idea what repentance was, don’t remember hearing about it even. I experienced God loving me and that was that.

    The background was months of going to a church youth club and avoiding the God slot successfully. I still think the good news spreads through friendships easiest. Sure its good to develop our theology but a real walk with God is imperative.

  16. John Grayston September 19, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    It is hard to read the NT without coming to the conclusion that there is a distinction and ultimately a divide between those who have found a new relationship with God through Christ and those who have not. This is described in many ways; lost/found, dead/alive, enemies/friends, sinners/righteous, far off/near, in Christ/without Christ. At least some of these are best seen as metaphors, including lost/found. If this is right then we can conclude that metaphors work well in some situations and less well in others. Perhaps our task is to find the metaphor that works best in the context in which we find ourselves. One which seems to work in many today is around identity, with people wondering who they are and where they fit in a confused and confusing world.

    Having said that there is,I suggest, another dimension to this dilemma. We understandably want to avoid giving offence and desire to make the good news as attractive as possible. There is, however, an element in both Jesus and Paul that recognises that there is an offence – the message of Christ crucified is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks.A message of scandalous and outrageous grace will inevitably offend some. And if people are not in some sense ‘lost’, why the need for outrageous grace? Or is grace also an outmoded concept?

    • Ian Paul October 1, 2014 at 8:39 pm #

      Thanks, John. Sage as ever!

  17. Etienne September 21, 2014 at 2:12 am #

    To take offense at the word “lost”, I think you have to be lost yourself: lost in the certainty of your position, which of course a true Atheist can never really be. For us everything is based on probabilities rather than absolutes, therefore if someone accuses us of being lost, we have to admit there’s a statistical probability, however slim, that we might be. It’s hard to take offense at something that could be true, no matter how unlikely it may be.

    So I’m not offended by the word “lost”. Just bemused. It’s another example of absolutist Christian thinking. You can only be lost in relation to something absolute, whereas I believe that Christianity is just another theory, and one for which little or no corroborating evidence exists. So God is about as absolute to me as little green men: sure, they might exist, but until we have convincing proof they do, they’re just characters in a story.

    When Christians tell me I’m lost, my response is “only in relation to your unproven theory, so I’m not lost at all, I’m just keeping an open mind.”

    • Bill Jarvis December 24, 2014 at 5:59 am #

      I often dream there is a great wave in suspension that will come tumbling down on to drown me and all those about me.

      It isn’t what I believe but what I feel. I do not want an absolute, I want a firm ground upon which to stand. I would like to feel that I mattered – but I am only me.

      There is no firm ground upon which I can stand.

  18. roger September 22, 2014 at 7:54 am #

    Isn’t it the case that the Bible is mostly about communication rather than doctrine and that the ‘lost’ idea is a communicative one. Wherever anyone is saying ‘Who am I?’ or, a bit nearer the issue, ‘Where am I?’ we are saying ‘I’m lost’. The first question God asks in the Bible is ‘Where are you?’. a very similar idea is ‘I was blind but now I see’; a blind person is grasping, groping… not necessarily lost but its the same picture. The thing about being lost is that probably everyone has been lost at some point and knows how horrid it is, so it is a very good point of contact. I live in Australia and children here can get lost in the bush 100 yards from home and never be found because everything looks the same. We had a heart warming story recently of a little boy who went missing; mum in particular was frantic, but the little lad had the family dog with him and was quite comfortable, didn’t know he was lost and eventually they found him fast asleep on the sofa of an absent neighbour with the TV on!

    • Ian Paul October 1, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

      Thanks Roger—great story!

      I am not sure, though, I would want to draw such a hard line between ‘communication’ and ‘doctrine’, at least in the sense of declaring truth about who God is and who we are. Having said that, I am not convinced that ‘doctrine’ is what we should be aiming for—so perhaps we are not so far apart!

  19. Steve Pownall September 29, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    Saw you on Jon Kuhrt’s blog the other day … and while I was there looked at his 2009 appreciation of Newbigin’s theology (on the Fulcrum web-site). In particular he quoted from ‘The Open Secret’ saying that the NT notion of the follower of Jesus being ‘elect’ points us not to speculation over whether others are or are not also ‘elect’ but to the imperative of mission. Abraham is chosen … to be a blessing for others. God intends our election to be for the good of others – not as something to bash them with.

    He concludes with the thought that Jesus often surprises with his assertions of who will be ‘in’ and who ‘out’.

    And from the comments it’s obvious how different ‘I was lost and now am found’ sounds cf ‘you’re lost and you’d better become like me’.

    • Ian Paul October 1, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

      Thanks Steve. Love your last comment—quite right. Perspective is everything.

  20. Fane Conant October 3, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    Just to add a few words to the wise offerings of many, it is the gospel, summarized so clearly by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, that is the power of God for salvation. With whatever words we preach that “Christ died for our sins” it is in our faithful adherence to this truth that God is honoured and people are saved. It is God’s power and we are to trust him to work through his word. In doing so we speak graciously for we do believe in a gospel of grace.

    So, we rely on God not our clever words which we may think are more culturally relevant.

    Fane

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