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Archive for the ‘Church and Ministry’ Category

A Brazilian seminary student and I traveled to Boston and New York for a series of meetings with Christian leaders in the Spring of 2008.  We saw and heard something of the transformation that is taking place in American cities, changes on an order not felt since the Great Society legislation of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Many of “the Projects” are being bulldozed and the urban poor dispersed.Some among the working poor, who can afford it, are moving to suburban counties (often to apartments or trailer parks) to take advantage of comparatively lower rents and better public schools.  Some among the working poor find housing in larger cities that require new developments and renovations to provide a percentage of “affordable housing units.”  Sadly, in our contracting and shifting economy, many others are falling into joblessness and homelessness.  While properties have been bought in many depressed urban areas, development plans have now slowed considerably due to the bust in the housing market.  

Urban blight and pockets of severe poverty still exist, especially in cities like St Louis and New Orleans that have yet to solve intractable problems in their public schools. Political infighting between city, regional, state and union interests are exacerbated often by shrinking state and local revenues.

Immigrant populations that mushroomed in the 1990s are starting to shrink as post 9/11 restrictions tighten the renewal of visas and other necessary documents like Driver’s Licenses, and as the US Dollar has declined in value against foreign currencies. One area of modest influx has been among the refugee populations from the Balkan conflict of the 90s and the ongoing challenges on the African continent. Noticeably absent, refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 2010 Census will only confirm what we already know, retiring Baby Boomers will pressure entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare to cut benefits and expand tax brackets.  Greater attention will have to be given to the aging segment of our populace.  The old WASP majority will disappear by 2050 as American culture diversifies ethnically, due in part to the rapid rise of the Hispanic voting block.

This social stirring presents unprecedented opportunties for the church to bridge and broker relationships of grace.  As the acceleration of social fragmentation, family breakdown and economic contraction augments social pain, people and their leaders will be looking for help.  Will we, God’s people in local churches, add value to our communities?  It will be costly.  Love always is.

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A clear articulation of and belief in the Gospel of God’s Grace in Jesus Christ is vital BOTH for personal forgiveness AND for the reconciliation of all things to our Creator. The simple question, “What is the Gospel?” has been getting a lot of attention lately.  Starting last year with N.T. Wright’s publication of Surprised By Hope, some leading evangelical voices like Pastor Mark Dever of Capital Hill Baptist Church spoke out in defense of the importance of personal repentance and faith (You can hear his talk titled, “Improving the Gospel” at the Together for the Gospel Conference here). Of course this is a crucial aspect of “how the gospel is good news to me” (Dever), but Bishop Wright was addressing an imbalance, an overemphasis on the personal at the expense of the public (Read his interview with Trevin Wax here).  Indeed, the Gospel is “the Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14), that is the good news about the reign of God and Lordship of Jesus (Matt 28:18), over all things.  Recently, Pastor Dever has restated his views, acknowledging this more public aspect of the gospel message, though maintaining his emphasis on a personal response (See and hear his contribution to The Gospel Coalition here).

The Gospel is the biblical account of historical events about the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth (see the canonical gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John or Paul’s summaries in Romans 1:1-6 or 1 Corinthians 15). The Gospel is public testimony about the victory of Israel’s God over all rivals (Isa 45:22-23; 52:7-10) through Israel’s Messiah, Jesus. Those rivals are put on notice through the publication of the Gospel by Jesus’ witnesses, a publication imbued with the power of God’s Spirit to form a new society that operates under the Messiah’s Rule.  The Gospel is both an announcement of victory and a summons to repent, to switch allegiences, in order to worship and serve the true king.  The irony of Pilate’s public notice should not be lost on gospel readers, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”!  (John 19:19.

ישוע הנצרי ומלך היהודים
Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ Bασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων
IESVS·NAZARENVS·REX·IVDÆORVM

As the promised Messianic Son of David, Jesus is “the one who rises to rule the nations” as Paul notes in Romans 15:12 by quoting the Greek version of Isaiah 11:10.  As Paul warns the Corinthian Christians, who were participating in the Roman patronage system that honored Caesar as Lord, a personal faith in Christ requires new public arrangements.  No longer could they attend symposia meals in the sacred precincts of Corinth’s temples, which offered meals with those gods and after dinner sexual play (1 Cor 8, 10).  No, they were called to a different sort of public feast, a meal that recognized the supreme Lord Jesus and their common need, whether rich or poor, slave or free, male or female, of his forgiveness and sustenance (1 Cor 10:14-22; 11:17-34).  

The Gospel liberates people from bondage to personal and interpersonal sin patterns, but it also announces to oppressive leaders and regimes that their rule is not ultimate, indeed it is coming to nothing because the true Lord is bringing all things under his rule (1 Cor 15:20-28).  Christ has commissioned his witnesses to publish this “good news” in BOTH its personal AND its public aspects.

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the next chapter

Spring provides a wonderful opportunity to start a new endeavor, to cooperate with God’s good creation, to turn the page on a new chapter. On January 30th of this year I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation. To those of you who have been praying long and hard for that day to arrive, “thank you!”

What joy to have my wife, our children, and my parents in attendance as I presented my ideas and engaged questions with PhD students and the Biblical Studies faculty at Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. Writing a dissertation is a solitary enterprise that is funded by the contributions and sacrifices of so many. After breathing the atmosphere of Luke-Acts and its commentators for so long, I remain ever grateful for Luke’s gift to the church which bound together scattered, struggling congregations with a larger sense of their identity as the people of God.

But, Luke’s narrative of the advance of God’s Word and Spirit “from Jerusalem . . . to the end of the earth” has led me into a deeper understanding of the importance and power of reforming discourse in general and of intertextuality in particular. All of us, in the various roles we play as family members and citizens, use the texts that form the tissue of our cultures and identities both to conserve and transform our sense of who we are, to understand and enact our place and purpose in God’s story and world.

On these pages, I intend to engage that intertextual interplay both professionally in terms of biblical studies, theology, and the church’s mission and, more casually, as a family man, church member and citizen of both the U. S. and the world.

As the nameplate on my blog indicates, this corner of the blogosphere is committed to “plotting hope.” A double entendre is intended. In the first place, I believe our lives are caught up in God’s larger story of covenantal faithfulness to all He has made. We are actors in and conveyors of that story, the story that reached its climactic turning point in Jesus Christ the Lord and which is moving toward the shalom (peace) of the new heavens and the new earth under His just and wise reign. In the second place, “plotting” refers not only to the story’s plot but also to our responsibility as citizens of God’s world and disciples of Jesus to strategize, “plot” and work for the peace of Christ. Christians have not only been adopted into God’s family by God’s Spirit, they have been enlisted in and gifted for God’s family project to disciple the nations. It is in no way passive, but requires every ounce of our energy, time, money, relationships . . . our lives. I hope to interact with you here and in your corners of the world and blogosphere to “plot” together for hope.

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