The Prophetic – Speaking Truth to Power

This one aspect of the prophetic ministry to the church takes a turn from the upbuilding of the church. One could see this as the prophetic witness of the church to speak to those in places of power. Speaking truth to power has it roots in the OT prophets in the varied calls to embrace justice and care for the poor and marginalized. This is the simultaneous call for the people of God to reflect the alternative community of theKingdomofGodand to address those institutions in the world system that would hinder the cause of justice and compassion.

We can’t expect the world system to reflect the justice of God. However, we can call the powers that be into account when justice is not worked out and the people on the margins are neglected. This is often viewed as meddlesome by some Christians who think our only task as the church is to save lost souls. Saving lost souls is only the beginning of God’s purposes in the earth. Salvations is not only about individuals but also communities and the transformation of God’s creation. The church is an expression of the new creation which is (or least should be) a glaring contrast to the system of the world.

One way to speak of this new reality is through the arts. Keith Giles wrote a blog post regarding the role of the prophetic in the arts.  This may provide a way for those creative types in the Body of Christ to speak prophetically and speak truth to power. In addition, this can provide a way of envisioning the alternative community that the world needs to see. Creativity in the church should not be limited to the sugar coating of some pop culture expression but express that deep and burning longing found in the very heart of God for humanity that bears His image. So what would such art look like?  Ultimately, such artwork will challenge and inspire the church and the world. For the church, it would be a reminder to rise to her calling. For the world, a reminder that all is not okay and transformation is needed. For those in power, a reminder that the power they have is fleeting and is subject to the power of God in the cross of Christ.

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The Gift of the Evangelist

The evangel is the announcement of good news.  For the Christian, the evangel is Jesus Christ. Some will say the gospel is justification by faith through grace. Others will say it is certain verses from the book of Romans. Another will say it is the 4 spiritual laws. More will say it is repentance, belief and saying  a certain prayer. These things are good but the reality of the person of Jesus Christ eclipses them all. The problem is these things make the gospel a something and not the person of Jesus Christ.

Mass evangelism – Many an evangelical is familiar with this. Fill a stadium, theater or church building, bring in a great preacher and have a time of decision. The problem is getting people to the event.

Salesman evangelism – This is the method for sharing the things of the gospel in a manner much like a (used car) salesman. The trick is to make the sale by getting the decision. Atheists, agnostics and other religious practitioners are the hard sale, i.e. brush up on your apologetics. The problem is the reduction of Jesus to a commodity.

Rude evangelism – This is similar to above but ignores the qualities of love expressed in 1 Cor. 13, e.g. patient, kind, not boasting, not rude and so on. This is similar to the cold call and we know how we love telemarketers. Why anyone thought this as an effective way to share Christ is beyond me even though I was guilty of this in my younger days. The greater problem is you ignore the love of God. The lesser problem is you look like a jerk. That often causes problems for the rest of us.

Alternatives:

Bar/coffee shop evangelism – Show up regularly to a bar or coffee shop, develop relationships, share your life (which is rooted in God’s life) with others. This takes the love of God into account by showing up and loving others. You don’t force the door open for the gospel but present the gospel in the midst of your life.

Relational/friendship evangelism – Develop friendships with those outside of the flock and provide a safe place to discuss the problems of life. We can express the love of God in friendship by being there and saying, ‘I enjoy the time we spend together and you are important to me.’ Making time for others gets the focus off ourselves, which is something all us Christians need.

Servant evangelism – Serving the poor or those in need with no other motivation than to love the least of these. You come along side of them in their time of need and share in their suffering. This reflects the quote, ‘Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words.’

The future of evangelism will take seriously the notion of going into the world. This reflects Bonhoeffer’s view for the future of Christianity: Pray and help those with the problems of this age and enter into their suffering. Can you think of other examples that reflect such an approach to sharing the gospel? How can we share the good news of Christ in the midst of a postmodern culture?

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Going Underground

A few years ago I wrote the following as an introduction to my final paper for a graduate seminar on Metaphor in/and Theology. I was trying to paint a picture of “religionless Christianity” as Bonhoeffer put it. I’m now putting my money where my mouth is. I’m going to spend this summer in an organic house church environment. What happens after the summer is anyone’s guess.

Imagine a world in which the church buildings, cathedrals, mega-churches and other structures used for Christian gatherings are no longer, or at least less often, the places they once were.  Now these buildings are museums, community centers, homeless shelters, theaters and so on.  The people that once filled these buildings gather there much less frequently if at all.  What now occurs are smaller gatherings in homes, coffee shops and bars that are unique expressions of the Body of Christ in each particular city, culture and nation; expressions of faith that seek to express and work out what it means to follow Jesus in their specific contexts.  Large numbers of Christians have left the traditional practices and structures of going to church for the option of being the church, taking seriously the metaphors of being salt and light.   Large portions of the Christian community have intentionally gone underground, not because of persecution, but for the purpose of pursuing and modeling Jesus Christ through a cruciform life.  This cross-shaped life calls for a discipline unrivaled by some mystics but also a giving of oneself in love to share in the suffering of others.  This desire to commune with God leads to a love of the world on all levels.  An ever-expanding network of simple, flexible, mobile fellowships, with no central headquarters, that seeks to be the parable of Jesus Christ for others in the world.

Could this be a possible future for the church in America? in other parts of the world? Is the era of the mega-church over? I’m interested in your thoughts.

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The Christian Label

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way “Christian” became an overused adjective. I’m sure the creation of a Christian sub-culture in America helped in this respect with a wide variety of Christian products to serve up. We have Christian variations of television, radio, music, movies, singles websites, social media and on and on. It seems with the advent of any new type of trendy cultural contrivance the sub-culture seems to need to devise a Christian version of said device. This need to subvert culture in such an impetuous way seems a betrayal of the way of Jesus.

This reactionary recklessness is evident in the recent destruction of Serrano’s controversial artwork. Keith Giles offers an insightful response in Christians Unclear on the Concept. The need for a Christian sub-culture will only produce artistic works that are sub-par. This encourages the retreat to a Christian ghetto mentality. The need for clean, safe and holy artwork neglects a great deal of our human situation. The challenge for Christians in any sort of culture creation is the need to move beyond safe sub-culture to fully engage culture. The perpetuation of a Christian sub-culture is nothing short of cowardice. We are called to go into the world so why create things that are labeled “Christian?”

The people are Christian not the stuff. Going to the book of Acts, the followers of Jesus were commonly called followers of the Way or disciples. They are first called Christians in Antioch. Also, take into account how Paul spoke of the believers in the churches he raised up. He called them, saints. Also, brothers and sisters. Off the top of my head, I don’t believe he ever called them, “Christians.” So as disciples and followers of Christ, let’s drop “Christian” as an unnecessary adjective to describe what we do. Instead, let Christian be what we are.

grace and peace,

JWR

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Sheep, Goats and Osama bin Laden

Over this past week, I have had time to reflect on the various responses to the death of Osama bin Laden. From the joyous chanting to the somber expression, his death has evoked a wide-ranging spectrum. Two posts really got me thinking about radical Christian responses. The first from Tripp Fuller at Homebrewed Christianity. The second from Kurt Willem at The Pangea Blog. If you have a few minutes check them out. Both of these posts really shook me out of a nice tidy reading of the life of Christ (and what it means to follow him) that many Americans want to embrace.

As a Christian, whether you rejoiced or mourned Osama’s death, did you pray for him? If for some weird reason, he showed up at your church service, how would you respond? Would you love him? If he was hungry would you feed him? Thirsty? In need of shelter? Naked? In Prison? Sick? I think you can see where this is going. If you or I had the opportunity to do it, would we? Are we sheep or goats? Read Matthew 25:31-46 again.

I’ll admit, this might be stretching the limits of that parable then again maybe not. It seems that is what parables are meant to do. To stretch us beyond our comfort zone and show us the possibility for the Kingdom of God in our life. Are we willing to embrace this radical grace that has been extended to us to embody this divine reality? I am sure there will be protests to this, but before you do, recognize that you too, at one point in your life, were an enemy of God…

Grace and peace,

JWR

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Space for Questions

Within Christianity is a need for an open place for those with doubts, those with questions or those curious about Christian faith. The question is now, whether such a place should be opened in the Body of Christ or somewhere else? Some churches approach this as a missional opportunity. Some use the Alpha course. Some do a theology on tap or pub theology. Others may have a place in a coffee shop or a restaurant.Or some may have concurrent prayer meetings and question sessions at the church house.

Regardless of where it takes place, the space must be open, respectful and fearless. For some Christians, the thought of questioning matters of faith evokes fear and leads to a closing of the mind. This is a troublesome place to be since one of the great commandments is to love the Lord with your mind. Many places in scripture speak of the mind and need for turning, renewing and transforming (closing doesn’t seem to be an option). The open space to discuss big questions regarding faith can lead to spiritual transformation and a strengthening of faith. [The converse is true as well, some may leave the church and Christianity which might be the root of the fear.]

An open space like this can also provide an opportunity for those curious about Christian faith or maybe even hostile to Christianity. This is not necessarily a platform for Christian apologetics but a place for discussion of what one believes within Christianity and how it is worked out in one’s life. Rhetoric, incivility and vitriol should not find a place of prominence here but civility and open dialog and calm reflection. Disagreements are bound to occur but let respect reign supreme.

The key point in all this would be the emphasis on developing relationships and friendships. This is not for the sake of opening an opportunity to share the gospel, but rather for the relationship itself. This is more about being the gospel as opposed to presenting the gospel as something to be sold. The gospel is free yet costs us our life. We should be giving this gift away in and through our lives. The gospel is Christ, not a set of propositions, a series of scripture passages or the repetition of a certain type of prayer. Seems Jesus was open to questions so why can’t we?

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