June 29, 2007
Before trying to engage globally start practicing justice locally.
Nike has gotten a lot of marketing mileage from its straightforward motto, "Just Do It." In part two of David Fitch's post on social justice his message for church leaders is equally simple - just do it. Fitch argues that instead of focusing on national or global justice causes we must begin by acting locally. To accomplish this requires pastors to teach justice as a practice, something we actively do, rather than simply a concept we agree with.
If we are to avoid making justice into another program in the church we must resist the urge to make justice primarily about national politics, and only secondarily about local politics. For inevitably we get caught up in national politics believing that finally we are doing something. This then becomes an easy program to establish in our churches, and the work of local justice becomes an after-thought because political activism is always easier than living as a presence with the poor. It may be admirable and glamorous to help Jars of Clay fight Aids in Africa or Bono fight for Third World Debt Relief, but in the end I would ask us how much is accomplished if we cannot witness to a way of life that compels justice in our own back yard.
The main culprit here is that we pastors teach justice as a concept instead of a practice. For instance, we often make justice about the concept of individual rights or equal opportunity. It's an easy default move when we don't have visible justice going on in the local body itself. Yet defining justice in this way, as a concept born out of democracy and capitalism, individual rights or equal opportunity, too easily enables us to forget about doing justice in our local church by deflecting attention to national arguments. If we wish to see justice take shape in our midst we must go beyond rights to seek the simple righteousness of God fulfilled in our immediate locale.
Continue reading Justice, Do It...
June 26, 2007
Preventing social justice from becoming just another program in the church.
Recently we discussed Scot McKnight's belief that the gospel typically preached by evangelicals is too individualistic, and how it actually makes the church an unnecessary part of following Christ. David Fitch, pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community in Long Grove, Illinois and a professor at Northern Seminary, shares McKnight's perspective, and in this post he reflects on how an individualistic gospel makes our attempts at social justice a peripheral program of the church rather than an integrated part of our faith.
When we pastors think about leading God's justice in the church, our first inclination is to organize a ministry. It could be a soup kitchen or an outreach event to the poor "down in the city". Sometimes we will find ways to become active in policy making on the local or national governmental level. We are tempted to make justice into another program of the church.
If we are to avoid turning justice into merely a church program we must first resist the urge to make salvation "about me." Evangelicals (of which I am one) often describe salvation as a personal relationship with God. It is intensely individual. In Christ I am justified before God as an individual. And then, after being justified through faith in Christ, I pursue a personal daily relationship with God as well as personal holiness and then of course (if we get to it) social justice. It is an add-on. In this way we split personal salvation and social justice.
Continue reading Justice-ified by Faith...
June 21, 2007
Reading God's Word with no artificial additives.
Previously, John Dunham from the International Bible Society wrote about the unintended impact of having scripture divided by chapters and verses. It's led to what he calls "verse jacking," taking scripture out of context and using it for a purpose it was never intended. In this follow up post Dunham responds to some of your comments, and introduces an alternative way to read the Bible.
Commenting on my previous post, Glenn Krobel wrote:
There are too many Christians in ministry today who thrive off attacking our heritage without offering a solutions to problems they address.
Thanks for bringing that up, Glenn. I agree. And despite many people thinking the current system is too ingrained to move away from, I think it's worth a try. On August 1, International Bible Society will release The Books of The Bible. Chapter and verse numbers? Gone. Topical section headers? Gone. Extra columns? Gone. On the page helps? Gone. Footnotes? Moved to the back of each book. What you are left with is a no-additives edition of the Bible.
Not only have we taken out the dubiously beneficial additives, but we have also humbly attempted to bring a more faithful structure to today's Bible. There is no doubt the Holy Spirit has worked powerfully throughout the centuries through God's word in the Messiah's church, no matter what form his word has taken. But form does matter as we display the beauty of God's word.
Continue reading The Organic Bible...
June 19, 2007
Brian McLaren on the future of Christians in politics.
Brian McLaren believes the Religious Right movement has lost credibility, but what will replace it? In part 1 of our interview McLaren called for a more mature Chrisitian engagement with politics, and warned about linking political ideology with our identity as followers of Christ.
In part two, he discusses the various models of Christian political engagement that have been attempted, and why a more imaginative model is needed.
You travel internationally quite a bit. Do you see a place where Christians are having that kind of positive impact on the government outside the United States?
Let me first say the same kind of religious right rhetoric happening here is being exported through religious broadcasting all over the world. I've been in countries where abortion is illegal and the church is constantly talking about it, even though it's already illegal, because they think this is what Christians are supposed to do because they hear it from the US. So it's strange. But to answer your question, yes, I do see it working out in powerful ways but most often in very local ways. In terms of national affairs I think it's a little harder to find, but that's also harder to do.
Continue reading Faith & Politics After the Religious Right (Part 2)...
June 14, 2007
Brian McLaren on the future of Christians in politics.
Last month the politically polarizing founder of the Moral Majority, Rev. Jerry Falwell, died. Falwell has been credited with mobilizing millions of evangelicals to engage the political process. The religious right, as the movement came to be called, has been a dominant political force ever since.
With the passing of Rev. Falwell, and with the 2008 presidential campaign gaining speed, some are wondering if the religious right will continue to hold its political power. Or, is a new form of Christian political engagement on the horizon. We sat down with Brian McLaren to discuss the political scene and how he believes the church should engage.
What encourages you, and discourages you, about the church and its involvement in the political realm?
My sense is that the religious right has hit its high tide. I think on a whole lot of levels it has been somewhat discredited. But I think the true believers in the religious right will go down with the ship, and I don’t think they’ll be willing to change their thinking no matter what happens. It’s become a sort of ideology that has been absolutized and equated with gospel in their minds. I meet a number of people like this, and I like them but I can’t imagine them changing. No amount of evidence will change them.
My big concern is that with the collapse of the religious right there isn’t a mature and responsible Christian response that will fill the gap in a constructive way.
Continue reading Faith & Politics after the Religious Right...
June 12, 2007
A few weeks ago Scot McKnight shared how the gospel we preach is having an adverse impact on the church. Last week at the Spiritual Formation Forum he spoke in greater detail about this problem. He called the standard evangelical gospel, outlined below, "right, but not right enough." Essentially, we've watered down the good news in a way that has marginalized the church in God's plan of redemption.
This fact was driven home recently by a friend of mine who teaches at a Christian college. He said a hand in the class went up in the middle of his lecture about the church and culture. The student, in all sincerity, asked, "Do we really need the church?" My friend was struck by the question, and by the fact that the classroom was filled with future church leaders. Something is amiss when even Christian leaders are questioning the necessity of the church. That something, according to McKnight, is the gospel we've been preaching.
Continue reading Is Your Gospel Robust?...
June 7, 2007
Having a "successful ministry" can keep pastors from the hard work of character transformation.
This week I am attending the Midwest Regional Spiritual Formation Forum at Elmbrook Church near Milwaukee. The conference theme is "spiritual formation and the mission of the church." Most interpret "mission" to mean a measurable impact in the world. Are people coming to Christ? Is the church making a difference? But the first plenary speaker, Dave Johnson - pastor of Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, Minnesota - says our desire for external impact should take a back seat to internal transformation.
Johnson spoke about the pressure that comes from being anointed for ministry. When God empowers us with the skills to powerfully carry out his purposes it is like a weight being put upon us, and it takes real interior strength to carry it for any amount of time. This interior strength is a character formed in the image of Christ.
Drawing from the life and downfall of Samson, he went on to tell the stories of men and women who were used powerfully by God to accomplish even miraculous things, but who eventually collapsed because their characters simply could not carry the weight of their anointing. These leaders had not made the transformation of their characters the first priority in their life and ministry.
The reason many of us ignore the formation of our character, says Johnson, is because it will slow us down. Many ministry leaders want success, a big church, or a crowd. But how many of us want a real life? How many of us want a life in God? We can have that, Johnson believes. We can have a character that produces love, peace, patience, kindness?but it will slow us down. It might mean the church won't grow as big as quickly. It might mean the crowd will get smaller.
Continue reading Success Covers a Multitude of Sins...
June 5, 2007
Is verse-by-verse bible teaching nutritious?
There are many dangers in ministry. Jesus warned about the yeast of the Pharisees. Paul warned about engaging foolish controversies. But what about enumerated chapters and verses in the Bible-are those numbers added by editors a threat to sound teaching? John Dunham from the International Bible Society addresses their unexpected impact.
What was the last thing you ate? If it came from a package, you could probably scan down the list of ingredients and find high fructose corn syrup. What is that stuff anyway? Suffice it to say, it's a readily available, cheap substance that makes food taste good. A manufacturer's dream. But is it good for you? Does it harm you? Think for a moment how ubiquitous this stuff is. We take for granted that our food will have high fructose corn syrup, so we eat it without a second thought.
You know what else is like that? The chapters and verses in the Bible. What was the last Scripture passage you read? While you were reading, you probably encountered various numbers strewn throughout. If you had seen those numbers in any other book, it would have seemed odd. But chapter and verse numbers have become part of the fabric of the Bible over the last few centuries. Are these numbers good for you? Will they harm your Bible reading? Chapter and verse markings have become ubiquitous, and people rarely stop to question the ramifications of their inclusion in the sacred text.
Continue reading High Fructose Scripture...
June 1, 2007
"In most evangelical environments, including mine, we have been overwhelmed with models and programs that are designed for local churches to grow bigger. Unfortunately, most really don't work...Many have also come to define Christianity by a set of beliefs. Churches are concerned that people know a set amount of doctrinal truth, and there is nothing wrong with that. But that set of knowledge is not Christianity."
-Mike Breen serves at Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Arizona. Taken from the Spring 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.