Saturday, December 24, 2011

Rethinking Christian Witness – Part One

Our relief team in New Orleans
In the past seven years I have been challenged in my thinking about evangelism—sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. My thinking has been reshaped by several things. First, in 2005 my church became involved in relief work shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. For the first time I experienced the combined witness of relief work and sharing the gospel. The witness came naturally as we worked to rebuild neighborhoods house by house. Through this I saw the value of walking alongside and serving people whether or not they were interested in the gospel message. What I found was that they became more interested. Second, my doctoral work in the history of Christianity reaffirmed that the church’s witness has come often by practicing Jesus’ teachings, not simply proclaiming the evangel. The lifestyle and actions of Christians opened doors for the verbal message. Christianity grew exponentially in the Roman Empire because Christians lived out Jesus’ teachings which gave credibility (ethos) to their message (logos). In new American evangelicalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a focus on the verbal proclamation of the gospel, in many cases, eclipsed Christian charity and social action.  In my dissertation research, I discovered that D. L. Moody’s early ministry in Chicago among immigrants involved considerable relief work but this was dropped almost entirely in his later ministry for a strategy of mass evangelism—an exclusive emphasis on “rescuing souls.” According to historian George Marsden, new American evangelicalism followed this trajectory of Moody’s later ministry.  Third, my teaching at the university level has increasingly exposed me to a population that is critical of Christians who are merely about “saving souls.” Such Christians are viewed as exclusive, judgmental, and irrelevant to contemporary society. One group was disappointed that Harold Camping’s prediction of the rapture didn’t happen, “hoping that the world would be rid of these Christians.”  The question to ask is: Is this a reaction to the gospel itself or to a form of out-of-balance Christianity? It appears that society has read correctly that “some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Missional Creed

As I have studied missional theology I have often wondered what a missional creed might include and what difference such a creed would make if read on a regular basis, like the Nicene and Apostles' creeds.  Here's is what I suggest for a missional creed:

We believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, who sent his Son into the world, and who now sends us to reflect His heavenly kingdom on earth.

We believe in Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, who was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and became man, the Light of Light who entered our darkened world to proclaim Good News to the poor, to heal the sick, and to set the oppressed free. For us and for our salvation He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. On the third day he rose as Victor from the dead. He ascended into heaven where he is head of his body, the church, and will come again in glory and judgment, and reign in his triumphal kingdom.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, who leads us, the people of God on the mission of God, to further the kingdom of God. In this, we are called as Christ’s holy and apostolic church to bear witness to God’s love, mercy and justice, to proclaim Good News in word and deed, to make disciples of all peoples, for the redemption of all creation, to the glory of God’s holy name. Amen.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mapping the Missional Conversation by Craig Van Gelder

Craig Van Gelder's book Mapping the Missional Conversation provides a map of the missional church conversation in light of foundational ideas set forth in The Missional Church edited by Darrell Guder. It is most helpful in offering various categories of voices in print and on the web in the missional church conversation. While I found the categories heuristic, the rubrics of discovering, utilizing, engaging, and extending were not helpful. Perhaps more descriptive titles would be: adopting missional language, deepening the missional conversation, engaging in missional praxis, and broadening the missional conversation. For someone wanting to understand the wider missional church movement, however, this book provides a map of the robust, nuanced, and theologically imaginative missional conversation.