Archive for the ‘Consuming: Section by Section’ Category

A Missional Twisst

May 27th, 2009 by Kelsi Johns

New Wine, New Wineskins’ Spring conference on Faith and the Arts, Created to Create, provided space for the Christian community to broaden its scope as to how the arts are so powerful and necessary for Christ’s kingdom purposes. One of the ways in which this theme was powerfully explored was by Richard Twiss, a member of the Sicangu Band of the Rosebud Lakota/Sioux tribe and co-founder of Wiconi International. This ministry is devoted “to live and walk among the people ‘in a good way’ by following the ways of Jesus– affirming, respecting and embracing the God-given cultural realities of Native/Indigenous people, not rejecting or demonizing them.” Twiss gave a powerful perspective on how the arts intersect with his faith, and how the arts are expressed through his Native American Christian heritage. 

 

Twiss shared with us some of his tribe’s artistic and beautiful ways of praying and worshipping. The tribe’s approach is fluid and rhythmic, vastly different from the Western Evangelical traditional (stoic) approach.  Along the way, Twiss explored the ways in which the dominant Western Christian culture tends to address Native Christian peoples: many dominant culture Christians wash Native Christians’ feet at prayer rallies and build houses on reservations before returning home to their lives of affluence.  These dominant culture Christians never truly enter into solidarity or mutuality with the indigenous community, while also ignoring its rich heritage of Native artistic expression and culture. The failure on the part of the dominant Western culture is twofold: we often fail to sense the beauty in the Native people’s ways of life and how they can enrich our own, and we fail to see that our attempts at connection–washing feet at prayer rallies or building homes on reservations–do not address core structural problems. 

 

The structural disconnect between the dominant Western Christian culture and indigenous peoples ties in with the ways in which the mainstream Evangelical community generally tends to bypass structural evil. In chapter two of Consuming Jesus, mention is made of Dr. John M. Perkins’ baseball game analogy, which is used to illustrate the dominant culture’s blindness to structural problems. Two teams are playing a game of baseball–a white team and a black team.  After seven innings, it is discovered that the white team has been cheating the whole game. The score is 20 to 0, and the cheating team apologizes. The white team then wants to move forward and finish the game. However, there is still a major problem: the score hasn’t changed; it is still 20-0. This story illustrates Twiss’ own frustration with dominant culture Christians’ washing Native people’s feet at reconciliation events and then retreating back to their “big houses” in affluent communities. I remember clearly his frustration as he lamented this state of affairs: “meanwhile, we are stuck here on our reservation with clean feet.” Just as in Perkins’ analogy, the cheating team apologizes and then mistakenly functions as if everyone is now functioning on a level playing field. These overarching, complex, societal and structural ills are often being addressed with a quick-fix, charity mentality, but nothing more. 

 

I am convinced that until we learn to need one another–existing in true community and solidarity as Christ’s body across racial and class divides, we are simply a nuisance to one another. We are only getting in one another’s way, if we don’t understand our mutuality as children of God. I believe that our Western individualism, affluence and lifestyles of privilege fuel partial ministry attempts to “reach out,” making Native people’s feet clean for a night, while never addressing the heart of the matter: seeking after our own hearts and hands’ cleansing for a lifetime. This is where a challenge to the dominant culture church arises: we must change this state of affairs by truly bearing witness to the trans-cultural gospel we profess by holistically and urgently addressing these complex social ills. But it takes time–a long time, and it takes not only acknowledging the long history of disadvantage and racialization, but will also require a slow journey ahead of entering into indigenous people’s lives and cultures, whereby there is mutual learning, respecting, and valuing of one another’s lives and cultures. Only then can we truly move forward–together.

 

I came away from Twiss’s talk at New Wine’s conference with a more missional twist on missions: the dominant Western Christian culture of which I am part has so much to learn about ministry among Native peoples–repenting of the past that impoverishes Native peoples in the present, as well as being enriched by the worship experience of our Native brothers and sisters. Lord, wash my dominant Christian culture’s feet, our hearts, and our hands so that we can be beautiful instruments of peace for your Gospel.

 

By Kelsi Johns with Paul Louis Metzger 

 

 

Jesus– Changing the World One Heart, One Structure at a Time

April 5th, 2009 by Kelsi Johns

In Chapter 2 of Consuming Jesus, Metzger explores the reality that evangelicals are often blind to social structures that reinforce racialization (race’s impact on everything–from healthcare to education to occupation, etc). Evangelicals emphasize personal conversion and individual responsibility, and many believe that identifying social structures only serves as an obstacle to preaching the gospel and getting individuals saved. While Metzger highlights the vital need for personal conversion, he also claims that such emphasis on personal conversion must be coupled with thoughtful consideration of the societal structures that shape us. Personal conversion is necessary, but is not in and of itself sufficient to solve the world’s ills. They reach far beyond the individual.  Jesus changes the world one person at a time, but in cooperation with this, he also changes the world one structure at a time. It is my desire that Christ’s concern for both the individual conversion and the structural conversion be integrated more thoughtfully into the American evangelical ethos.

 

Emerson and Smith (referenced in Consuming Jesus) address this tendency of emphasizing the individual transformation over/against the structural transformation. They refer to it in part as the “miracle motif”: Get people converted and social-structural problems (i.e., racialization) will then disappear. These same authors claim that, “This antistructural orientation reveals a lack of proper awareness–the absence of a key tool or tools for remedying racialization in America, especially within the Christian church” (Emerson-Smith, Divided By Faith, pp. 76, 78; quoted in Consuming Jesus, p. 58). This is why I appreciated David Swanson’s concrete suggestions (presented as a follow-up comment to his latest entry on this blog titled “Reflections on the Inauguration”) on how to work with intentionality toward building diverse ethnic and class unity in the context of our churches.  Intentional engagement of church structures is essential; the church is Christ’s witness to the world. It is our opportunity and responsibility to transform the church to be the powerful voice of a liberating and transforming Christ. 

 

I’ve been reading Chris Rice’s “Grace Matters”, and it has been rocking my world. It is his story about working and living in a multi-ethnic community in Jackson, Mississippi, and his audacity, strength, and suffering in being put through the fires of racial reconciliation. It has been striking me to the core to realize that speaking about these things in theory is one thing, but to intentionally do something about them, to throw oneself in there and be willing to die to self, suffer and be humiliated in order to learn deep truths and gain deep, healing relationships is what makes being a Christian so meaningful. It is how we experience the profundity of Christ’s love. As I read Chris’s story, I see how it contextualizes Metzger’s challenge to us as believers to consider the bigger picture. Rice’s story gives a perfect example of how gospel work does not stop, and is not limited to individual conversion. Structural engagement is a necessary component of healing longstanding racial wounds and changing existing structures. 

 

Jesus challenged and overturned the structures of his time, as in the event of overturning the tables in the temple (where people groups were being divided). If people are dying in their spirits and hearts because of racial oppression, injustice and division, who are we to say that addressing these ills is getting in the way of the gospel? That is the gospel incarnated. When I hear: “We don’t want that to stand in the way of the gospel”, I hear the voice of a passive (or aggressive) oppressor. Jesus is about freedom, liberation and empowerment (in Him). Passively perpetuating a church body that segregates and a faith that oppresses is not perpetuating the heart and call of Jesus Christ. I am convinced that the more we live in diverse, sacrificial community and serve the marginalized and oppressed as Chris Rice and others have done, we are then able to identify and value our own inter-connectedness and integral responsibility of social structures. As the saying goes, if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. 

 

I’d love to hear your responses to these questions:

 

Do you see as problematic the belief that race problems automatically disappear once people get converted?

 

How important is conversion to the healing of race problems?

 

How important to race reconciliation is the addressing of structural problems?

 

Have you witnessed people in communities who are balancing rightful concern for personal conversion with conversion of social structures in addressing race problems?

 

Do you see things in your own life that are at odds with promoting reconciliation and sacrificial love of “the other”? 

 

In the power of Christ’s transforming love, what steps can you take both inside and outside the church, to overturn structures that reinforce race and class divisions? 

Is Racism Over Now That a Black Man is President of the United States?

March 3rd, 2009 by Daniel Fan

January 20th 2009 provoked many questions for the people of this country. But to me, there were not any questions more frustrating than this one: “Is racism over now that we have a black man as President?” The fact that we are asking ourselves this question means we have not seriously considered the nature of racism and its long-standing influence on the history of this country and its occupants. Furthermore, the answer to this question may not be easily grasped by anyone who has never been the subject of systematic racism. For those who have not experienced direct or indirect empowered prejudice based on skin color and physical features, it would be both convenient and easy to believe that a black man being President fixes it all. Such a belief would be naïve, and if you’re a Christ follower, possibly even sinful. Barack Obama was elected neither Dictator nor Messiah, and certainly his election can’t mean the end of racism as we know it, as many have hoped. It is important that we appreciate the achievement of electing an African American to the office of the Presidency, but it is equally important to keep such an achievement in proper relational and historical perspective.Let’s first acknowledge that racism can be and often is interpersonal. It may be conscious or subconscious but racism acts out in relations between two or more people. Unfortunately, Barack Obama’s relationship to most people is political, not personal, and there we find the crux of our problem. Yes, a majority of Americans may have voted for him as President. But what about as a friend? Would they also have voted for him to be a brother-in-law? Step-dad? Son-in-law? A majority vote for Obama isn’t necessarily a vote for closer relations with the minorities of America. Penciling a personally unknown man into (albeit an important) office, far away and buffered with checks and balances, is very different from inviting him into your home or maybe even into your family? The choice to put away racism is a choice that people make, or don’t make, via interactions with their neighbors, not with their ballot sheets or a President 1200 miles away. Such a vote for better relations with “those people” is a vote that has to be cast, not once every four years, but every day until “those people” become “my people.” I would hope that someone couldn’t vote for Obama one day and the next day think some racial epithet or look in fear on a minority, but I’m just not that optimistic.Let us also acknowledge that racism is systemic. Barack Obama’s Presidency has so far done very little to address directly the myriad problems that plague minority America. The perceived value of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue might have appreciated due to the popularity of its current residents, but find me one other zip code where a black family moved into a previously all-white tract on or after January 20th, 2009, and real estate values went up. First black man moves into the White House? People of all colors pack the front lawn as far as the eye can see. First black man moves into some other all-white affluent neighborhood? White people might start passing out the Red Bull (“because Red Bull gives you wings”). Roger that Houston, we are a “go” for White Flight. I can’t think of any agency or company that has changed their hiring practices as a result of the Presidential election. I can’t think of any INS procedure that has gotten easier since Obama took office. I can’t think of any police department that has changed its policies on racial profiling now that a black guy is riding in the big armored limo instead of driving it. Sit down and create a list. Column A: things that have changed for minorities because an African American has become President. Column B: things that have not changed for minorities since an African American has become President. I think you’ll find column B runs off the bottom of your page, while Column A is significantly shorter. Racism has been evolving and metastasizing in this nation before we ever had a constitution, a government, or for that matter, a President. To expect that this loathsome and gargantuan barnacle could be suddenly evicted from our ship-of-state overnight simply by changing a light in the pilot house is unrealistic.Speaking of the pilot-house, let us examine the office of the Presidency in isolation. Again the premise is that Barack Obama’s occupation of the White House suddenly removes racism from the country, or in this case, the office of President. Immediately, many believed that there was equality for all, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream had finally become a reality. Those minds fail to consider this one thing: The math is off. Waaaaaay, waaaaay off. You see: such a premise is based on the equation 43 = 1. Barack Obama is of course the 44th President of the United States, but also the nation’s first minority President. Yeah, you knew that. But what most people haven’t considered in contrast is this: since George Washington first took the oath of office on April 30, 1789, the Presidency has been passed from the hands of one white man to the next in a chain uninterrupted for 220 years. For all of that time a white person has exercised the powers of the Presidency, primarily to the benefit of…well until 1965, white people. Minorities didn’t get equal voting rights until 1965, so how could any President before that time claim to represent the will of those who had made no meaningful contribution to his election? Even if Barack Obama serves out all four years of his term and gets re-elected, he will be hard pressed to make up for so many decades of white-for-whites decision making—decisions which continue to pay benefits for whites today. Some examples might be useful here: Andrew Jackson’s explicit and willful failure to perform his Constitutional duties in upholding the edict of the Supreme Court and due to his inaction, the subsequent unlawful eviction of the Cherokee Indians from their treaty-guaranteed native lands; the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 signed by Chester A. Arthur; the forced internment of Japanese Americans by Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066; the list goes on. Each of these events required at least presidential consent if not direct action. Each resulted in negative consequences for minorities that can still be felt. Certainly not all decisions made by white Presidents served only white people, but a preponderance of evidence remains, leading us to correct our math: 43 ≠ 1.

Furthermore, the very expectations for Obama’s Presidency differ from that laid on any President before him. No one knows this better than Barack Obama. In reference to his inauguration address Obama quoted one of his children (and then responds to that quote himself): “And then Malia says, ‘First African American president—it better be good.’ So I just want you to know the pressures I’m under here from my children.” Such differing expectations did not end with Obama’s first speech as President, nor are those judging him limited only to his children. Can anyone find me a record of anyone attending George Washington’s inauguration and saying “I sure hope George does a good job ‘cuz if he doesn’t no white person will have a chance at the Presidency for at least the next 20 years!” Both Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush left office with disastrous approval ratings. Despite this no one has yet stood up and shouted “Dangnabbit! That’s the last white guy I’ll ever vote for.” So if JC or GWB aren’t held as representative of all white people who have or will potentially hold the office of President of the United States, why is Obama expected to be an indicator of the future for any and all African Americans who might sit in the Oval Office? Sadly the truth is that depending on how Barack Obama completes his Presidency, it could be harder for the next African American, or any minority in that case, to become President. The fact that expectations, and the consequences of failing to meet those expectations, are different for a black President than a white President demonstrates the very inequality that King preached against when he emphasized the content of character over the color of skin.

Finally, let us acknowledge that racism is complex. Equating the ascendancy of an African American to the office of President with the solution to the overarching racial divide in America is to perceive wrongly and naively racism as purely a conflict of black vs. white. I think we’ve established that getting a black man or woman into the Oval Office isn’t the magic bullet to kill racism against African Americans. So if an African American President doesn’t solve the problem of racism against African Americans, how can it solve the problem of racism against minorities who aren’t even black? People who are prejudiced against blacks are not more likely to drop their prejudices against black people just because one of those black people is President. The same people are even less likely to drop prejudiced beliefs against non-black minority groups. In exclusive terms of the Presidency itself, for African Americans it’s “1 down, 43 to go;” but for other minorities the score is even more daunting than that.Some may ask: “So are you saying it doesn’t matter one bit that we have an African American as President?” Not at all. The ascendancy of an African American to the Presidency is an event to be celebrated. However, banishing racism from the national conscience will not take place via the Presidency, nor legislation from Congress, nor any political act or occupation of office whatsoever. Personally, I’m not willing to wait till there’s been 43 white Presidents, 43 black Presidents, 43 Latino Presidents, etc. To lay the burden on Barack Obama for ending racism is not only unfair to him and morally irresponsible for the rest of us; it is also an abdication of the calling we who call ourselves Christians have to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and our neighbors as ourselves. I believe racism has to be fought not by the person we elect, but by the people we choose to be. Only when we individually and collectively make an intentional, daily decision to treat others with equality and reject mechanisms which systematically subjugate peoples based on the color of their skin will we have achieved something akin to Dr. King’s dream of the Promised Land.   

Reflections on the Inauguration

February 5th, 2009 by David Swanson

Here is a guest post from David Swanson, Pastor of Community Life at New Community Covenant Church in Chicago, IL.

Sometime this fall my wife and I were asked by some close friends whether we’d join them for the upcoming presidential inauguration in Washington DC. The invitation was contingent on one thing: Barak Obama’s election. These friends had been involved with the Obama campaign since the beginning, lending their support to the man who lives just a few blocks away in their Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago. It was an easy invitation to accept.

We woke up very early on the Sunday before the inauguration, loaded up our rental car, and drove from our apartment on Chicago’s north side to pick up our friends. From there it was a twelve-hour drive through the snow to our nation’s capitol. Along the way we talked, napped and listened to a few of Dr Martin Luther King’s early speeches. The anticipation built as we reached our hotel in Baltimore, but it wasn’t until we sat down for an upscale soul food dinner at Georgia Brown’s, just blocks from the National Mall, that the celebratory mood really kicked in. The restaurant was packed with glad people who had traveled from around the country to be in Washington for this event.

After a good night’s sleep we drove to Howard University to explore one of the premier Historically Black Colleges, known to many as “the Black Harvard.” Once again we encountered a thrilled atmosphere. Despite the chilly temperatures the campus was filled with alumni and prospective students. While warming up in a nearby Starbucks our friends bumped into a friend from Chicago who had also made the trek for the inauguration. The weekend was beginning to feel like a family reunion.

This sense of camaraderie and joyful expectation was only amplified on Inauguration Day. We were regularly asked where we had come from and people were happy to share their own stories that had brought them to the capitol. The ethnic diversity of the day was something to behold. While each of us had our distinct reasons for making this trip, there was a genuine sense of goodwill that I have rarely experienced.

“Hopefully nonpartisan” is the best way I can describe the demeanor of those in the massive crowds. While this was certainly a political event, and while the new president now steps into a very political role, there was very little political language that we encountered. The hope expressed by so many simply by their presence on that cold Tuesday was beyond political. While the speculation by some that Dr King’s dream has been fulfilled in President Obama is clearly preposterous, the significance of this election cannot be underestimated. Surely there is still a long way to go; there is much about Dr King’s dream that needs to be articulated in our day. But for one long, cold weekend many of us caught a glimpse of the road ahead and found plenty of reasons to be hopeful.

Entitled to Rags

January 28th, 2009 by Kelsi Johns

I remember the moment Christ revealed to me that my life isn’t about me. I was praying on my floor and unexpectedly had this deep conviction that my life is about Christ, and that my entire existence and all my striving is to serve him and allow him to live in and through me. It was deeply exhilarating, but also deeply humbling. He showed me his centrality in all things, and that everything I do is to further his kingdom, not mine. If I succeed, then by the grace of God he has purposed it to further reveal the love and power of Christ. Yet my motivations are not always Christ-honoring, but are blasphemous and futile, leading to a self-collapsing empire of pride. All too often, my heart gravitates in this direction. I want recognition. I want my name to be dropped at social functions and a life that is admired by followers. I want success that points to me, not Christ.

 

At our recent New Wine, New Wineskins retreat, Dr. Metzger discussed the theme of entitlement in light of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. In King’s 1968 “Drum Major Instinct” speech, he speaks of our inherent desire to be “drum major(s)”. All of us desire to “lead the parade”, he says, to feel superior. The profound thing about his life though, is that he subverted this desire to lead the parade in the name of love, truth and justice. He submitted it to the Father’s- not his- will. As he says, our innate desire to lead and for recognition is not in and of itself evil. What is evil is when we fail to understand why and how we are to lead, in whose name we are to lead, and for whose kingdom. 

 

King references Mark 10:35, where James and John requested to sit on Jesus’ right and left side, once he is King of Israel. They wanted recognition. They felt entitled to share in his wealth. His response? To be great, give your life as a servant. And this is Jesus, a man who, as discussed further in MLK’s speech, never added up to anything in the world’s eyes.  No possessions, never traveled anywhere impressive, had no college education, no published work, no awards, no family. I can only imagine what a dinner conversation would be like with him sitting amongst a host of doctors, professors and lawyers. He was killed out of mockery and deep unpopularity. Upon his last breath, onlookers only gambled for his clothes, and he was buried in a borrowed tomb.

 

I am deeply humbled when I think about our Lord’s life. And I have the audacity to compare myself to others. To want more. But this is not the way our Lord lived. He humbled himself to the lowest ranks possible, and never did he say, “I may look shabby now, but you just wait. One day, I will conquer the world and you will be sorry.” Jesus’ response was and is a message of patience, of love, of grace, a message that always points to his Father. To the world, he was as significant as the man we pass on the street corner. Forgettable. Laughable. And this was and is our Lord who breaks down barriers of hate with love, and who in Him alone we are purified and reconciled to the Father for eternity. 

 

What about MLK Jr.’s motivation? Power? Recognition? A killer eulogy? An impressive epitaph? His passion and imagination did not stop with him. He didn’t want recognition to sleep better at night. Ironically, his recognition served to do the opposite: put his life and family in danger. He wanted freedom for all people and to ultimately do God’s will–regardless of whether or not he reaped any of the benefits. This is what Jesus was explaining to his disciples. Do not do it for what you gain; do it because love is more powerful than status. It’s sobering to realize that in so many ways I long for center stage and my own victory, and I allow this desire to shape my voice as a believer. I am humbled to realize that it is only Christ in me who can reconcile, who can love, and who can transform hearts and structures. I pray that the church can learn from King’s life, and re-new her vow to serve the world in Christ’s humility and further his kingdom, not her own. 

 

 

A fundamental change

November 17th, 2008 by Kelsi Johns

“Fundamentalism is wondering just how is it that a world-changing message narrowed its scope to the changing of isolated individuals.” –Carl F. H. Henry (“The Fundamentalist Fallout Revisited: From a World-Changing to a World Resistant and Worldly Gospel” Section from Chapter 1 of Consuming Jesus)
That’s what I want to know. I have spent much time thinking and dialoguing with others in order to understand what role politics should play in and throughout the Christian community. It becomes further complicated when I am a citizen with an allegiance that is ultimately to Christ, not my nation. In light of this, I’m trying to understand why it is that evangelicals have achieved the reputation of being those that, as Metzger quotes James Montgomery Boice in Chapter One, “fix their gaze on gaining the kingdom of the world and ‘have made politics and money our weapons of choice for grasping it'” (p. 28).

Metzger quotes Carl F. H. Henry saying, “Whereas once the redemptive gospel was a world-changing message, now it was narrowed to a world-resistant message” (p.26).  So rather than voting and living out of a sense of concern for justice that is truly social, evangelicals are driven by concern for the individual. And this influences our voting patterns.  It is Christian to vote pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and lower taxes. The Religious Right “gives scant attention to issues such as universal health care, concern for the environment, and the rights of minorities” (p. 27).

I am not undermining rightful concern for the human unborn or seeking to legalize same-sex marriage, but I am deeply concerned that evangelicals have an earned a reputation for being concerned about personal and nuclear familial issues at the expense of other social issues. As if they must choose one or the other, and larger social structural issues (such as those mentioned in the Boice quote above) are exempt from their sphere of concern.

Does this bother you?

Considering the fact that issues such as health care, minority rights, and the environment in which we live affects everyone–especially the poor and minorities–how do you think this value structure among evangelicals affects solidarity among all of us–rich, poor, black, white?

Personally, I think it suggests a message that we evangelicals would rather have “success, wonderful marriages and nice children,” (p. 28) as Boice laments. I have heard Christian pastors essentially say that those who are Christians cannot vote in favor of these social issues. Yet when I read the gospels, Jesus’ primary concern was loving his neighbor, helping the poor, and connecting with those that were worlds apart from him ethnically, religiously, and socially. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Jesus seemed to place more emphasis on larger social issues (love of neighbor, including one’s enemy) than on issues pertaining to one’s own nuclear family, affinity group, and class. Why such a disconnect?

I know there are many evangelicals out there who must be able to offer a differing view, considering that I am not the dominant voice. I want to hear your thoughts. Dr. Metzger and civil rights leader Dr. John M. Perkins will be engaging related issues in their upcoming “Drum Majors for Truth, Love and Justice” conference this coming Thursday and Friday, November 20th and 21st. Join them as they encourage and equip church leaders to live out a holistic and redemptive gospel. Visit http://consumingjesus.org/wp-content/drum-majors-event-details.pdf for more details.

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? 

 

Consuming Jesus Study Guide Now Available!

July 2nd, 2008 by Bryan Dormaier

 There is now a free Consuming Jesus study guide available for download.  It is a great resource for those going through the book, or who would like to go through the book with a small group.  The study guide includes questions for sparking group discussion, and possible ways to apply the ideas of each chapter.  To access the study guide, click the link below or on the column to the right.

Consuming Jesus Study Guide

The Great Divide

June 26th, 2008 by Kelsi Johns

Recently, 11 of us New Wine interns and students at both the college and seminary at Multnomah made a week long trip down to Jackson, Mississippi to work with the John M. Perkins Foundation and learn from those who have both lived through the Civil Rights movement and who are now key players in community development and reconciliation. The core of racism runs deep, and it wasn’t until I was in Jackson, hearing these people’s stories of discrimination and oppression that I began to understand what they not only wrestle with on a daily basis but also the challenges we all face today in addressing this race and class oppression.

After reading Dr. Perkins’ book Let Justice Roll Down, meeting with him personally in Jackson, and hearing his daughter among others speak about her experiences with racism, I was overwhelmed. It’s amazing how much more powerful a story it is when one hears it firsthand–when one hears their voices fluctuate and their muscles tighten and their body language transform. It was heavy hearing it, and it certainly was heavy for them to share. I felt a mix of guilt for feeling so detached and disconnected from these real issues, helplessness for really not even knowing where to start, and conviction–oppression and poverty in many ways demand redemptive action from us all.

One night it hit me in a personal way. About the 3rd night in Jackson, we had just finished watching Mississippi Burning, the true story about the disappearance of civil rights workers in the ’60s. My heart was heavy and I was overwhelmed as I laid down on my bottom bunk and stared up at the old wooden beams, feeling completely spent. These people here with the faces, the stories, the pains, the memories, the reality, are still affected by and still facing much of the same evil I had just witnessed in that movie. You may be thinking, “They need to get over it.” But how can they get over it, when it is still happening to them?

I should call my parents, I thought. Fill them in, share with them what I’m learning and the heaviness of this deep issue–the segregation and bigotry that is still a challenge to overcome in 2008. So I called. They eagerly put me on speaker phone, and started buzzing me with questions. But their interest seemed to quickly wane. I was so weary from the processing, from the stories of individuals who experienced the Civil Rights movement, and from my own experience with us coming from Portland trying to “help,” that I didn’t even know how to articulate what I wanted to say. “Racism is deep. Black people are still being oppressed. The education here is lacking. Jobs are scant. Opportunities are rare. It is no mystery why the poor areas are also the black areas. This isn’t right. And it’s amazing what the Perkins Foundation has committed to do.” I wanted to say something to that affect. But instead I sounded like a drone, and I felt so disconnected. I could tell they didn’t really want to hear it. At least not right at that moment.

“So, what do you mean by racism?” I am asked. “Are you calling it racism just because there are a lot of black people–and no whites–in the poor community?” Innocent questions–but still frustrating–after I have been speaking with individuals for whom racism is more a part of their lives than anything. This is the painful reality: to the majority of us white folk, we don’t even “get” racism. What does it look like now? Does it even have a face anymore?

Going to Mississippi, racism and the related issues became real to me. Yes, there was desegregation back in the 60’s. But today, Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation. It’s also about 80% black. There is need for change there. It’s not a quick fix. There is literally a black and white divide across the railroad tracks in Jackson. They are still deeply separated. What struck me most is that reconciliation and development for blacks takes intention and resources. Without the conviction that yes, there is something to be done, nothing will happen. As Bob Lupton, an Atlanta community developer, says in an article by Michael Barkey on Dr. John M. Perkins, “It’s not hard to create a ghetto. Just remove the capable neighbors. To produce a substandard school system, withdraw the students of achieving parents. To create a culture of chronically dependent people, merely extract the upwardly mobile role models from the community. That’s what happened to thousands of communities across the United States.” And this is exactly what I witnessed in Jackson. But the invigorating reality is that change is possible; it just takes awareness and solidarity among various groups. This need is not confined to Jackson; the need can be found even in Portland, OR, the whitest major city in America. Whether it knows it or not, Portland is begging for reconciliation and opportunity for all individuals, not simply for the privileged and white. As followers of a liberating Christ, I believe it is our call to respond to these challenges. I welcome your thoughts.