Archive for September, 2008

A “members only” gospel?

September 25th, 2008 by Kelsi Johns

“…the rejection of the gospel’s implications for combating race and class divisions nurtures social niches and fosters a ‘social-club’ gospel.” Consuming Jesus, p. 26.




This leads me to think of a late night of channel surfing at a friend’s house. We came across a billowy yellow-haired TV evangelist in typical gaudy fashion, and his similarly adorned female cohort. My friend isn’t a Christian, and I could only wonder how much of an influence these (in my opinion, blasphemous) programs had on her perception of Christians as a whole. We were disturbed by their “us vs. the big bad world out there of which we are not a part” message, and so my friend changed the channel; but this only led us further down the rabbit hole of TV evangelism.


In Chapter 1, at the end of the section, “Rapture and Retreat: Tendencies of Premillennial Eschatology,” Metzger explains that “the reaction against the social gospel movement was most likely the chief cause for the virtual disappearance of concern for social justice among fundamentalists” (p. 23). While Metzger does not espouse the social gospel (here defined as a gospel that is concerned only for material and social well-being to the neglect of spiritual well-being), he has stated elsewhere that he sees the “gospel as social” (Jesus is vitally concerned for the body and soul–the embodied soul).  The only other option would be what he calls an “anti-social gospel,” which can easily lead to the “social club gospel” noted above (“members only”–my kind of people). And in some cases, that is what we find.  Metzger doesn’t talk much about TV evangelists in his book, but I see them as the extreme fringe of this general movement.  This is where we stand today–a place in which televangelists warn against the horrors of this world: financial despair, economic unrest and global tension, all the while adorned in gold and heavy make-up in the safety of their TV studios. No mention of entering into the struggle, no urge to be the hands and feet of Christ to love others. Only an invitation to buy their books. That’s real hard and spiritual, right?


While there is no logical connection between the rapture doctrine and social retreat, there is a historical-cultural connection between the two.  Many fundamentalists who held to the rapture doctrine also retreated to the cultural fringe, waiting for the great removal.  If God is going to remove the church from tribulation, why bother caring for the world?  It’s all going to burn anyway, right?  So the thinking in some circles goes.


This can lead to the mistaken view that salvation is a privilege for certain souls–members only. Or for those who are actually interested in those outside the camp, it can lead to a quick-fix mentality: just get people “saved,” and all will be well. But all is not well. It’s not easy or comfortable for us consumers to reach out and enmesh our lives with others, and to understand that how we live drastically affects the ways others live, both locally and across the world.  For us to understand, it would take great intentionality to enter into their situation and patience to stay the course, just like Jesus.  After all, he lived on earth–in the midst of the people’s pain and suffereing–for thirty plus years.  And he longs to live in the same world today through his hands and his feet–his body, the church.


Instead, we often see churches sprouting where the money is abundant at the expense of isolating and excluding minorities. We find affluence and power in direct association with the spreading of “white man’s Christianity” (which not only includes white people, but also minorities with “white man’s” syndrome–the “power at all cost” mentality). Meanwhile, those whom Christ is calling to himself outside these privileged gates–whites and minorities alike–are dying, because they are not easy to engage with; their lifestyles are not attractive and appealing. This lack of concern for the lost, the last, and the least is–to put it mildlynot biblical. Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. He touched lepers. Like his father, he cared for orphans and widows in their distress.  I believe that our great challenge is to re-visit and inhabit the picture the gospel paints. Such revisiting and inhabiting must occur in small but intentional actions–actions leading to big-time change (and such momentous change may take decades to come to fruition). But what a picture our community will eventually be! It is worth it, because Christ’s kingdom is not built in a hurried moment before the ship sinks, with only the fastest swimmers on board and the ablest bodies manning the lifeboats. That’s not how Christ works, thank God. He calls us to live now in light of what will be, and to stop settling for so little when God calls us to so much more, as Metzger often says.  With this in mind, Metzger has also said to me that we need to raise the following question: “How then shall we live–as escapists and elitists, or as cultural engagers?”


Do you see Christianity as predominantly calling for separation from culture (rather than desiring to transform it from the inside-out)?  Do you see some relation between this division in the body of Christ and the espousal of a gospel “for the privileged few”? What small steps do you think we could take in our respective communities to bring reconciliation to the body of Christ, where we become the church that engages everyone meaningfully, and where we break down divisions based on race and class?  We all need one another to move forward together. Please share your thoughts with me.


God, a friend of ignorance?

September 9th, 2008 by Kelsi Johns

“To invoke God as a blanket explanation of the unexplained is to make God the friend of ignorance. If God is to be found, it must surely be through what we discover about the world, not what we fail to discover.”  –Paul Davies, British-Australian astrophysicist

Whether or not you fully agree with this statement, I think it is a relevant response to the issues that Metzger examines in one of his sections, The Seminary as Cemetery: Anti-Intellectualism, in Chapter 1. I will deal with race and class issues in light of consumerism below, but for now I want to explore how head and heart knowledge are wrongly viewed as competing factors, which I think is shaped by our desire for simple solutions and comfy answers.

The other day as I was driving home, I listened to an interesting report on the radio. It was about a camp for kids–but not a religious one. Camp Inquiry is a “brain spa” for young skeptics, an alternative to a “God camp”. It is not a camp to produce little atheists, a camp counselor explained, but rather, “little thinkers”. But the message sent was clear: if you are to subscribe to a particular faith, then you are, in result, detaching from thinking logically. Faith and reason were communicated as being incompatible.

Metzger explains that fundamentalist evangelicals tend to perpetuate this view, rather than resist it. On p. 17, he explains the view of many in his camp today: if one attends seminary, it is feared that they will open up Pandora’s box to their own theological demise, and soon all the theories, philosophies, theological stances will overwhelm them and compete for their rudimentary God-loving heart. The “‘head knowledge’ will cancel out ‘heart knowledge'” (p. 17). Too much theological debate, it is argued, leads to a dead orthodoxy and paralyzed heart. 

As I listened to the report about Camp Inquiry, I felt misunderstood. This is not what I signed up for. So I’m one of those “non-thinkers”, one of those fools who throws reason out the window to embrace blind faith? Does a soft heart necessitate a soft head? I’m not afraid to ask questions, because I believe that if something is discovered to be true, then God is found in– not apart from– that. God created us to be “little thinkers”, he gave us inquiring minds, allows for doubts, and most importantly, a hunger to understand. I think that is beautiful. As I study the Bible, as dire questions are raised in my mind, and as my confusion waxes and wanes, I find God in that.

I do agree that too much academia can threaten a simple, child-like faith in Christ, but it doesn’t have to. A humble, broken heart before God must accompany my quest for knowledge. In the midst of learning, I must embrace the wonder and marvel that, no matter how hard I try, I will never understand it all. But my heart and mind can rest in a loving God who does.

I’m beginning to believe that ignorance is not bliss; rather, ignorance is oppression that keeps us from discovering enlightenment in Christ. I’m not afraid to discover new truths, but I am afraid my understanding of God will be so boxed in and guarded that it will suffocate. I respect the fear many people have of modernist theology that Metzger discusses on p. 18. But I also believe that if I am not asking questions due to fear that I might discover too much and so implode my faith, then I need to ask what is the basis on which my faith stands. God comprises the unknown and the known, and I believe he invites us to investigate these mysteries so as to know him better. 

I think this is a driving factor in facing race and class issues. I, like anyone, want the easy way out. The short answer. The one that makes me feel warm and fuzzy, but doesn’t really challenge my life of comfort or fear of the things I don’t understand. Why would I want to go there? But I believe this is what Jesus asks us to do: wrestle with the tough questions and issues of homogeneity, division and oppression while resting in him and allowing him to bear this burden along with us. This then leads us forward to affect real, lasting change. He will see us through it (not see us on the other side, once we’ve wrestled through the hard part). But the message of consumerism is, if the going gets rough, then we are not consuming the right product or answer: the right answer is the easy answer. That is not the message of the gospel. I believe that, like Camp Inquiry, we are to inquire, so as to respond to these complex issues with solid, meaningful and life-giving answers and solutions, whenever possible.

What do you think? Do you think that along with increasing knowledge, your faith is strengthened or weakened, or both? Do you agree that, as Christians, we tend to gravitate towards solving the “easy” problems, while neglecting the complicated ones? If so, what message do you think this communicates? 


Compassion Connect

September 3rd, 2008 by Milan Homola

Is it possible to be consumed without knowing it or acknowledging it?….I think YES.  God has proven to be a God who upholds promises even when I was unaware that I was part of the promise.  The promise was that I would sacrifice my deep selfish desires of BEing somebody in order to SERVE somebody else, and in so doing be a part of sharing God’s love with people face to face in many different ways.  I’m not someone who is specially called in a way that others are not…I’m just listening and seeing what God is doing.

God has taken a hold of me as opposed to me taking ahold of God.  In 2005 I moved to Portland and I’ve seen some amazing times of service in the name of Christ, which has brought some horrible times of pride, selfishness, etc. Nevertheless, I press onward in the knowledge that I’m serving God and working through the ugliness.  I’m a pastor for Clear Creek Community Church.  This small church has made an incredible advancement in God’s kingdom because it understand the principles of selflessness and serving Christ/Community.  In 2006 a couple of us got together because we had a vision….What would happen if churches united to provide free health care to our neighbors who can’t afford it?  Compassion Rockwood, a free medical/dental/vision etc event, was born and has since grown to include dozens of churches and serve hundreds of people.  One doctor was so moved by what he saw he quit his practice and started a full time “patch adams” clinic in Rockwood.  This event has served nearly 1,000 people and has now spread all over the city of Portland.  More importantly it has revealed the Kingdom of God to civic leaders and social service leaders.

It is because of this revelation that Clear Creek Community Church has been contacted by many different leaders from city, school, newspaper when help is needed.  One significant call came from the assistant DA who asked if the church could do anything about the worst corner in the city of Portland, in regard to crime rate.  It also happens that God placed my wife and I in an apartment on that exact corner 1 year prior.  We decided we would go out on the corner every friday night to LISTEN.  We put up signs: “free hot chocolate”, “free chili”, “Tell us Your Story”  We have been there friday nights since Oct. 07.

On that corner I understand the principles of being consumed by the love of Jesus…I have to drop my ego, I have to reach out to the broken hearted, and I have to go beyond the “comfort zone.”  The people know we are there and they can rely on us to listen to them all the while “speaking” the love of Jesus into their hearts.

This is a small speck of what God is doing in the lives of those who give of themselves as a lifestyle….and I know if you are reading this you are probably in the same boat.  This means our responsibility is to call others out of the wilderness and into the promised land…some may call it the “trenches” others may call it “home” either way Jesus invites us there.  If you are interested in uniting churches to serve their community please join me on my journey.

Your Brother in Christ,
Milan Homola