Is racial reconciliation part of the church's mission or a distraction?
The summer issue of Leadership features an interview with Mark Dever and Jim Wallis about the role justice ought to have in our gospel ministry. Over the coming weeks we'll be posting video segments of the interview hosted by Leadership's managing editor, Skye Jethani. In part 1, Dever and Wallis focus on whether or not tackling racism is part of the church's call or a distraction from its core mission.
We want to hear your reaction. Which perspective do you believe aligns best with Scripture and the church's mission? Stay tuned for more video from the interview in the days ahead.
Mark Driscoll's rant against Avatar reveals how blind we remain toward oppressed peoples.
by Paul Louis Metzger
Last week Dr. Metzger wrote on Ur about the novelty of multi-ethnic efforts in the church today. He asked whether justice was really taking root in our hearts, or is it just a trend. In this follow-up post he exposes our general blindness to injustice by referencing Mark Driscoll's comments about the film Avatar. If you recall, earlier this year Driscoll called the James Cameron film "the most satanic movie I've ever seen." A video with his full rant against the film can be viewed below.
Some friends drew my attention to the YouTube post of Pastor Mark Driscoll’s sermon where he critiques the movie Avatar. I don’t know Pastor Driscoll, but I have watched the movie. There were two things that struck me about his remarks: his rightful concern for orthodoxy coupled with his desire for Christians to think critically about the worldviews that films present such as pagan spirituality; and his conviction that the movie attacks cultural progress.
Whether or not the director, James Cameron, intended to promote a pantheistic perspective (everything is God), I do concur with Driscoll that a pantheistic or monistic view of reality proves problematic for consideration of sin and evil—if we are one with the divine in our creaturely state, how can we be sinners? It also proves problematic for consideration of the need for a Savior—if we are ultimately one with God, why do we need a Savior to remove the separation? From a pantheistic or monistic perspective, separation is not moral or ontological; it is basically mental. According to this model, our sinful state is one of illusion. We fail to see things as they truly are, and we must cease living the lie and get in touch with our true selves which is not beyond us, but rather within us (what Driscoll refers to as the spark of divinity). I should also add that it is ultimately impossible to differentiate good from evil in a pantheistic or monistic framework: good and evil proceed from one ultimate reality, which is beyond good and evil.
So, I commend Pastor Driscoll for his biblical and theological convictions regarding pantheism. And yet I don’t find his brief statements on Avatar orthodox enough. Here I have in mind Pastor Driscoll’s statement that the movie attacks cultural progress.
This excerpt is taken from "Always Personal, Never Private" in the Summer issue of Leadership.
"When the status quo benefits you, your theology doesn't normally include changing the status quo. For most white, middle-class Christians, the world is working fine. So religion that includes social change doesn't matter. They want to leave things pretty much as they are."
Jim Wallis is the founder and editor of Sojourners, a magazine and community focused on the biblical call to social justice. To read the rest of the interview with Mark Dever and Jim Wallis in context, pick up the Summer 2010 issue of Leadership journal or subscribe by clicking on the cover in the left column.
Are consumer Christians engaging justice and racial reconciliation because they're trendy?
by Dr. Paul Louis Metzger
You can learn a lot about Evangelical Christianity by going into a typical Christian bookstore in a shopping mall. You’ll find scores of how-to, self-help, and church growth books. I doubt you will find many books on reconciliation.
While the church definitely needs good, practical literature on helping individuals and churches grow, we must guard against replacing the gospel of reconciliation with a gospel primarily or exclusively focused on quantitative church growth. In fact, Dr. John M. Perkins prophetically confronted the Evangelical church as far back as 1982, saying that “We have substituted a gospel of church growth for a gospel of reconciliation” (See Perkins, With Justice for All, pp. 107-108). Perkins was speaking primarily of the need for churches to break down racial barriers between people of different ethnicities. With this in mind, it is a welcome sight to find churches like Willow Creek being intentional about welcoming diverse ethnicities (See “Can Megachurches Bridge the Racial Divide?” Time, January 11, 2010). There are vital signs of hope.
The gospel of reconciliation calls us out from affinity groupings based on cliques that intentionally or unintentionally exclude those who are different from us according to race, class, gender, generation, etc. Unfortunately, people don’t just shop in bookstores. Many people inside and outside the church in North America view the church as “a vendor of religious services and goods” (Hunsberger, in Missional Church, p. 84); they look for churches that will “sell” them the religious goods and services that they as individuals and as individual nuclear families want, not what they ultimately need relationally as citizens of God’s communal (and not commodity-) kingdom. We need to be expanded relationally, moved beyond hanging out simply with our “own kind of people,” moving toward being enriched by Jesus’ people from diverse backgrounds, and moving into the realization of God’s kingdom.
One of the advantages of being Catholic is that, whether you agree or not, at least you know who speaks for you. When a controversial subject needs to be discussed, there are vehicles and forums to help it get a hearing with the right people around the table.
Who coordinates the discussion for evangelicals? When we have difficult issues to ponder, who makes sure they get talked about by the right voices, with conviction and civility?
I think it was Mark Noll who wrote that at one time you could pretty much define a person’s relationship to evangelicalism by how they would respond to the name Billy Graham. There was a pretty clear sense—not just of what evangelicalism stood for—but that its core leaders and organizations were tied together by a thick strand of overlapping relationships. The leaders often had gone to school together, done ministry together, or served on boards with one another. The evangelical community had large deposits of what Robert Putnam would call social capital—relational interconnectedness.
This didn’t mean that every issue got consensus—or even politeness. We have always had a fair number of cranky characters. But there was generally a sense that the main players around the table at least knew and understood each other.
It’s not clear that the players know each other so well today.
The benefits of focusing on what you've got, not what you lack.
It’s true confession time. I struggle to be thankful.
I’ve been reading a lot in the Old Testament recently (for a class; I’m not so holy.). One of the themes that has jumped out at me again and again throughout the Pentateuch and Historical Books is how often the Israelites respond poorly to God’s grace and generosity. Before the class I would have summarized Israel’s attitude as “rebellious” or “stiff-necked” or “ornery.” Now I think I would say their primary sin was thanklessness. I think that’s probably my primary sin, too.
God’s first major act of redemption for Israel as a nation was the miraculous Exodus from Egypt. Under God’s leadership, the entire community—which had been enslaved for 400 years or so—is snatched out of the oppressor’s hand with no loss of life. The Bible tells us not even a dog barked at the people as they left (Exodus 11:7). If that’s not enough, God parts the Red Sea, the Israelites cross through on dry ground, and the most powerful army on the planet at the time is swept away in the current. Three days later, the Israelites start grumbling against Moses because they are thirsty. Again God provides miraculously—a stick turns bitter water sweet. Shortly thereafter the people give up completely. Hungry and tired, they say, “If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (16:3).
I suspect the narrative is designed to make the Israelites look ridiculous. And it would be funny, if only I were not so much like them.
Does the church have a responsibility to care for the outcasts in society?
This excerpt is taken from "Always Personal, Never Private" in the Summer issue of Leadership.
"We have a special responsibility to make sure our brothers and sisters in Christ are cared for. Beyond that it is appropriate to care for the poor outside the church, but that is something for all humans made in the image of God to do, and Christians can certainly help. But the church isn't called to solve social ills."
Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. To read the rest of the interview with Mark Dever and Jim Wallis in context, pick up the Summer 2010 issue of Leadership journal or subscribe by clicking on the cover in the left column.
A call for boundaries and the danger of rooting our identity in our ministry.
by Bob Hyatt
If there’s one issue that all pastors must wrestle with, beyond how the Gospel applies to their own lives and ministry, it’s the issue of rest and Sabbath.
Wait—scratch that. Those are actually the same issue.
There was a time a few years back when I was working in a support staff role doing media design for a local church. It also happened to be the first year of my marriage, and as far as first-year-of-marriage jobs go, I couldn’t have asked for a better one. I came in the morning, did my work, went home and didn’t think about it again until the next day. The computers I worked on were there at the church office—I couldn’t take work home with me, and I was very, very okay with that. When I was off, I was off.
Fast forward a couple of years and to when we planted a church. Suddenly, that’s all I could think about. Early morning, late night—I was working on the website, writing posts on our forum, answering emails. I was always on.
What was the difference? I was working at a church in both situations. Both were “ministry.” The difference was that one was a job, and the other was my identity.
The Portuguese issue of Playboy showing Jesus Christ among topless models.
“We did not see or approve the cover and pictorial in the July issue of Playboy Portugal…. It is a shocking breach of our standards.” -Theresa Hennessy, Vice President of public relations at Playboy Enterprises
(Wait. Playboy has standards? –Url Scaramanga)
How iPhones are changing religion.
“The future is very bright, but we have yet to get our mind around a world where some [people get] their whole religious experience through a device.” -Dudley Rose, the associate dean for ministry studies at Harvard University’s Divinity School
(Does this mean Steve Jobs is the digital pope? –Url Scaramanga)
The growing disenchantment with church growth strategies.
“I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with the church growth principles we’ve developed . . . yet somehow they don’t seem to work.” - C. Peter Wagner, a leading spokesmen for the church-growth movement.
(Mr. Wagner, have you ever considered a career in politics? I also hear there are some vacancies at BP. –Url Scaramanga.)
But what about the rise of justice as an issue within the church? Can it be explained away by the visibility of stars like Bono, or is there something more going on? And what does it mean to move beyond emotion and guilt toward a biblical and theological foundation for our justice efforts? These topics and others are addressed in the summer issue of LJ. Some of the voices in the issue include:
John Ortberg on prophetic preaching
Bethany Hoang on the justice generation
Eugene Cho on the risks of getting personally involved in justice
Jim Wallis and Mark Dever debating the role of justice in the gospel
Mark Labberton on the cultural and theological roots of the trend
We'll be posting excerpts, quotes, and videos from the summer issue in the coming days. And if you haven't yet subscribed to get all the great content in each issue of Leadership, click on the cover on the left side of the screen for a special offer.
Eugene Peterson laments in For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts (Baker Books, 2010) that he has been “trying for fifty years now to be a pastor in a culture that doesn’t know the difference between a vocation and a job.” It was a bunch of artists that clued him in on the difference.
Definitions are in order. According to Peterson, a job is “an assignment to do work that can be quantified and evaluated.” Most jobs come with job descriptions, so it “is pretty easy to decide whether a job has been completed or not…whether a job is done well or badly.” This, Peterson argues, is the primary way Americans think of the pastor (and, presumably, that pastors think of themselves). Ministry is “a job that I get paid for, a job that is assigned to me by a denomination, a job that I am expected to do to the satisfaction of my congregation.”
A vocation is not like a job in these respects. The word vocation comes from the Latin word vocare, “to call.” Although the term today can refer to any career or occupation (according to Webster), the word (vocatio, I imagine) was coined to describe the priestly calling to service in the church. So vocation=calling. This is how Peterson is using the word, anyway. And the struggle for pastors today, he continues, is to “keep the immediacy and authority of God’s call in my ears when an entire culture, both secular and ecclesial, is giving me a job description.”
Is national patriotism inconsistent with Christianity?
by Bob Hyatt
I’ve been a part of numerous churches that celebrated American Independence Day with abandon: 80-foot flags hanging from the ceilings, singing the “Star Spangled Banner” and “I’m Proud to Be an American” and even— most disturbing to me as I reflect back—saying the Pledge of Allegiance during our corporate worship.
If some visitor had asked us on those Sunday just what we were worshiping, I think that might have been a very perceptive question.
For many, the Fourth is about gratitude for the blessings of freedom. And as far as that goes, I’m in complete agreement—though to see only the “blessings” of freedom and not also repent of all the many varied and creative ways we’ve abused it might be a bit short-sighted. Still, yes to gratitude.
For others, these celebrations go beyond merely the gratitude and obedience that Scripture commands, into something else, something entirely absent from the God’s Word: Patriotism.