Welcome to the essay section of the Consuming Jesus blog. This part of the blog is intended to be a space for posting and discussing essays addressing the issues of race, class, and consumerism in the church. Essays posted in this section approach issues raised by Consuming Jesus through the unique lenses of individuals and their own interests and experiences. The essays are meant to be formal presentations of specific issues facing particular Christian communities and impacting the larger body of Christ as a whole. In the various essays, authors have attempted to identify areas of concern to them personally and to the church corporately, seeking to mark a path forward through a biblical and Trinitarian framework of engagement. We welcome critical thinking, interaction, and dialogue with these papers. Readers are encouraged to engage these issues and comment on the essays. We hope that the individual authors will choose to take part in this ongoing dialogue as well. We plan to continue to expand the number of essays, and the breadth of subject matter they address, over the coming weeks. Thoughtful and compelling essay submissions from the wider community are very welcome. Those interested in submitting essays for consideration may do so by sending them to: firstname.lastname@example.org. They will be evaluated based on the goals and criteria stated above and, if selected for publication, may be edited for content/readability prior to being posted.
Cross-posted on New Wine.
This article by Dr. Paul Louis Metzger was published through Fathers and Families Coalition of America, Inc. and will later be published by Great Commission News. It serves well as an introduction to the themes that were addressed at The Table: a forum on fatherlessness on November 22 in San Francisco.
This month Christianity Today launched a project called “This Is Our City”. The first city they profiled was Portland. Dr. Paul Louis Metzger was asked to write an article for the project website about the gospel and Portland. You can read the article here.
Here’s the latest post from Paul Louis Metzger on matters of race. We welcome your comments and interaction on over at new-wineskins.org where this is cross-posted .
Did Lincoln Die in Vain?
by Paul Louis Metzger
A recent TIME Magazine article, “The Civil War, 150 Years Later,” claims that we’re still fighting the Civil War. The sub-heading of the article includes these lines, “North and South shared the burden of slavery, and after the war, they shared in forgetting about it.” The front cover bears a picture of Lincoln shedding a tear and includes the words: “The endless battle over the war’s true cause would make Lincoln weep.” Did Lincoln die in vain?
Slavery was the fundamental reason why the North and South went to war, but according to the TIME article, you wouldn’t know it based on how history and Hollywood have often portrayed the conflict and its origins. No one likes to admit guilt, unless perhaps it is someone else’s. But Lincoln viewed things differently. He believed the entire country was to blame for the war (a point often lost on us Northerners). Lincoln no doubt knew what the TIME article claims: “Slavery was not incidental to America’s origins; it was central” (p. 48).
This TIME article got me thinking further about the matter. I reviewed three of Lincoln’s most famous speeches: his first inaugural address, the Gettysburg address, and his second inaugural. I came across a “This American Life” documentary on the second inaugural. The following statement from the program puts the matter well: “In his second inaugural address, Lincoln wondered aloud why God saw fit to send the slaughter of the Civil War to the United States. His conclusion: that slavery was a kind of original sin for the United States, for both North and South, and all Americans had to do penance for it.” Assuming that this is correct, if the Lincoln of the second inaugural were here today, I wonder if he would claim that those who died in the Civil War to do penance for the nation’s “original sin” died in vain based on the North’s and South’s ongoing denial of the war’s true cause.
So often, we function with pragmatic and collective amnesia for the sake of pursuing progress. Like Teddy Roosevelt who according to the article became the champion of reconciliation and the prophet of progress, we grew up as a nation post-Civil War receiving “a master tutorial in leaving certain things unsaid in the pursuit of harmony” (TIME, p. 48). But there can never really be progress where there is no ownership and repentance of personal and corporate sins. As 1 John 1:9 declares, “If we confess our sins, he (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” No confession, no forgiveness, no cleansing, no true progress. This is not simply an individual matter. What some of us take to be true personally for our spiritual condition and relationship with God must be taken to be true corporately as a church and as a nation.
Lincoln did not view slavery as the sin of the South for which the North brought judgment during the war. As stated above, Lincoln saw the war and its carnage as the judgment of God on the North and the South. Lincoln’s words taken from the second inaugural come to us from the grave:
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (link).
The American church is often so rootless. While you and I may not have not committed any act to reinforce the evolving structures that slavery and its post-Civil War legacy generated, are we doing something—anything—to overturn those structures the previous generations put in place and nurtured? If not, we are still reinforcing those evil structures, for failing to act righteously is just as bad as acting in an unrighteous manner. Both forms of sin flow from a hardened heart and both forms of sin harden fallen structures. We must understand that history is with us. It lives into the present. Lincoln saw the connection between the nation’s past and its present trial at the time of the Civil War. The connection was and is organic. As such, we are not talking about fatalism. Fatalism involves a sense of helplessness, being bound to impersonal cause and effect forces beyond our control. Corporate guilt passed down from generation to generation is not a problem we are powerless to challenge. We can bring an end to it by owning it and restructuring our individual and corporate existence, beginning with acknowledging the real cause of the War and repenting of our nation’s ongoing disengagement from our racialized story.
By not seeing that North and South alike were to blame for the Civil War (TIME, p. 51) and by not advocating for racial equality and unity in our day, the people who according to Lincoln died to do penance, from his perspective, may have actually died in vain. The same might be true for Lincoln. If only we could talk to him now.
I believe we listen more to General George McClellan today than we do President Lincoln. McClellan had been Lincoln’s chief general at the outset of the war and later Lincoln defeated McClellan on the way to his short-lived second term in office as President of the United States. McClellan viewed the race question as “incidental and subsidiary” to unity (TIME, p. 42). But what kind of unity is it when there is no reconciliation? McClellan “did not perceive…that the Union and slavery had become irreconcilable” (TIME, p. 46). The same held true during the Civil Rights era, but Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his movement sought to show us that separate but supposedly equal is no real equality and cannot sustain a nation—or a church.
Things still have not changed all that much as a country and as the church in this country (See the consumingjesus.org post by Daniel Fan titled “Is Racism Over Now That a Black Man is President of the United States?”. See also the link to The Oregonian “Opinion” piece by Clifford Chappell titled “Is Racism Gone for Good?” along with the ensuing interview at consumingjesus.org with Rev. Chappell). In all too many quarters, we are still separate and nothing more than supposedly equal. As Black Theologian James Cone said in a 2006 interview, in some ways the situation is actually worse in terms of such things as health care, education, employment, and the prison system. In the interview, Cone exhorts white theologians to speak out forthrightly about the unrighteous situation in which we find ourselves, claiming that the white Christian establishment is complicit. As a white theologian, I believe we should listen to Lincoln and Cone, among others, and speak out and live forthrightly. Otherwise, I fear that not only Lincoln’s death but also Jesus’ death may be robbed of its redemptive, catalytic power in our lives (See 1 Corinthians 1:17 where Paul talks about the possibility of emptying Christ’s cross of its power in his ministry if he were to preach the gospel with words of human wisdom). Sins of omission (righteous acts we have failed to do) are just as evil as sins of commission (evils we have committed). Jesus died for both. May we live to please him in every way, making sure we contend against sins of commission and omission.
What does speaking out and living forthrightly look like—especially in the church? For starters, we need to denounce the McClellan version of the church growth principle that claims that the race question is incidental and subsidiary to Christian unity. What kind of unity are we talking about when we claim that we are separate but equal in our ecclesial experience (separate churches for whites and blacks and others)? The McClellan church growth principle is pragmatic, though not practical if we mean missional. Christendom’s collapse in our country is bound up with the Civil War: Christianity came to be viewed as captive to cultural trends—the North and South had the same red, white and black letter Bible but read and preached it differently on matters black and white. Christian America took a further hit during the Civil Rights era, as many Christian conservatives stood in opposition to King’s biblical mandate. The Evangelical church will take another hit shortly if white Evangelicalism doesn’t make far greater space for unity along ethnic lines in its worship centers across the land, for America is becoming increasingly brown, decreasingly white.
However, our concern is not political correctness, opportunism and penance, but biblical justice and repentance. Again, 1 John 1:9 puts it well: “If we confess our sins, he (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (This is not simply an individual, personal matter. The prophets of old identified with their people’s sin and confessed on their behalf; see Daniel 9:1-19). No confession, no forgiveness, no cleansing, no true progress. What kind of unity and progress are we talking about when we are talking about unity and progress based on non-confessed sins of commission and omission? There is no prophetic power and progress in such unity.
Lincoln was seen as a rabble rouser in his day. That’s why he got shot in the head. King was seen as a rabble rouser in his day. That’s why he got shot in the head. Jesus was seen as a rabble rouser in his day. That’s one key reason why he was hung on a cross. Each one died to bring unity and create one people out of the ashes of disparity. While as a Protestant, I do not believe in doing penance, I do believe that we are responsible for our sins of commission and omission. When we don’t own the sins of our past and present disunity whereby we fail to love our brothers and sisters of diverse ethnicity in concrete forms of ecclesial and civic engagement, it is almost as if we are saying with our lives that Lincoln, King, and the Lord Jesus died in vain. Did they?
Please comment on cross-posted article on new-wineskins.org .
I had breakfast the other day in Chicago with a young white pastor. He had recently planted a church in an African American community in Chicago’s inner city. I was so refreshed by his sharing of personal pain, weakness and his sense of isolation in ministry—not because I want him to suffer—but because he is leaning into Christ in a profound way. God is driving him to depend on the Spirit of Jesus in a personally vulnerable ministry setting. Although he is a very secure Christian, he is in a ministry context that is beyond his comfort zone where he can minister from strength. I am confident that God will use him mightily, for God’s grace is always made manifest through our weakness and dependence on Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). This is true in any ministry context, but it is all the more true in a multi-ethnic and diverse economic setting where we so often treat those different from us as “the other(s)” who need our help with no sense of our needing theirs. I would go so far as to say that one cannot minister effectively in a multi-ethnic and economically challenged context apart from a deepening sense of personal weakness and need. In what follows, I will seek to unpack this point.
One of the main reasons I believe we find it difficult to move beyond prejudice and objectification toward reconciliation with “the other” is our fear of vulnerability. The fear of losing control and of being vulnerable leads us to conceive of people who look different from us as always “them.” White Christian leaders like me often like to minister from a position of strength. No doubt, those of other complexions do as well. Flesh (as in carnality)—no matter the color of one’s skin—enjoys boasting in oneself. But what usually differentiates us is that many of us white Christian leaders have a long history of ministering from a position of supposed strength, especially when engaging those of diverse ethnicities. We often have no idea of how much power and privilege we have until they are challenged or taken away from us. Ministry undertaken from seeming strength fails to perceive one’s relational need. As a result, we fail to sense our need to lean into God, and so we minister from the flesh. The only ones we can connect with in such settings are those belonging to our homogeneous demographic groupings of whatever kind—those we naturally like and those like us.
In contrast, Jesus brought people together who previously were opposed to one another through his weakness on the cross. As a result of his crucifixion and resurrection and our participation in him, there is no longer any division between male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free (Galatians 3:28). Jesus’ greatest hour of power—the hour of glory of cross and resurrection recorded in John’s Gospel—was when he was most dependent, hanging on a cross and depending on the Father to raise him from the dead. Following from this, when Paul was weak in Christ, God’s power was manifest most profoundly through him (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul’s very conversion experience and early Christian life involved incredible dependence on others: Saul was led as a blind man to Ananias who laid his hands on him so that his sight could be restored; and he was given the right hand of fellowship by the Christian community through Barnabas (Acts 9:8, 17-18, 26-28). Saul experienced great suffering in ministry—beginning with dependence on others, especially dependence on the Christian community, whom he had once persecuted. How humbling that must have been for Saul who became Paul!
Without experiencing vulnerability in ministry whereby we sense our need for those who are different from us (those we would often think are in need of our help without a sense of our being in need of theirs), we will never experience the breaking down of divisions between those of diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds. Instead, we will reinforce barriers by ministering out of privilege. In fact, it is not enough to minister to others whereby we use our power for their good. We must sense our need for them and receive from them as well. Only when there is give and take, where people are interdependent, is there intimacy in relations and reconciliation. Paul could never have been the Apostle to the Gentiles had he not become so dependent on Jesus and the church whom he once had persecuted. He was enslaved to Jesus’ vulnerable love that breaks down divisions between people.
White Christian leaders like me often treat African Americans, legal and illegal immigrants from Mexico, Arabs, Jews, Muslims, and the homeless as “them” or as “those people” who need us. When this is our posture and perspective, we violate these people. What is required is that we experience vulnerability, which would involve encountering these people face to face, eye to eye, and heart to heart. While this is a common problem for the majority culture in any given society, it should not be common among God’s shepherds of his people. It is only as we experience vulnerability and spiritual vertigo whereby we find ourselves secure in the Good Shepherd’s embrace that we will be in a position to move beyond the marginalization of others toward mutuality and partnership in ministry.
The young white pastor friend to whom I referred at the outset of this piece shared with me that his spiritual director is an African American woman. I couldn’t believe it when he told me. Not that this is scandalous, but because it would often be viewed as scandalous to many white male leaders, I believe. I was so impressed, and hope that other white male pastors—and white theologians like myself—will avail ourselves of similar opportunities. My young pastor friend informed me that he recently told his spiritual director how isolated and weak he feels in ministry. He was wondering if God was no longer working in and through him. His spiritual director responded by saying something to the effect of “Don’t pull back. You are truly experiencing the fruit of the Spirit in your ministry.” And again, “Now you know how I feel every day as an African American woman.”
Now my young pastor friend is really beginning to connect with his congregation, bearing much fruit. Instead of modeling professional distance, my friend models pastoral intimacy with his ministry team at the church. His ministry team made up of people of diverse ethnicities encourages him to keep pressing on and into Christ’s vulnerable love with them.
I hold out great hope for this young pastor in the inner city of Chicago in terms of breaking down ethnic barriers. Instead of approaching people of other ethnicities from a position of presumed strength, he is approaching them from an authentic form of weakness. He senses his relational need for them, thereby moving beyond charity toward the poor and condescension toward non-whites. He is pressing into community where the Spirit’s charitable fruit breaks down divisions. The poor is no longer them. The poor is me. The poor is each one of us. You are no longer “the other.” I am in you and you are in me.
In this essay, Darcy McGuffin reflects on the connection between consumerism and drug addiction. In the face of a culture addicted to the illusion of “happily ever after,” the church needs to return to its roots and acknowledge that suffering is a part of life in a fallen world. She righlty claims that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can follow Christ’s example in the midst of it.
Justice flows from God’s heart and character. As true and good, God seeks to make the object of his holy love whole. This is what motivates God throughout the Old and New Testaments in his judgments on sin and injustice. These judgments are both individual and corporate in scope.
At 10:45 on Tuesday mornings, Paul Louis Metzger shrugs on his jacket, grabs a stack of papers, leaves the quiet of his book-lined office and heads down the stairs to his classroom.
Often there’s work to do before students begin filing in. The chairs and tables, filling the narrow room in double rows, need to be rearranged. As latecomers arrive, Metzger takes his chair, in the hot seat, where the circle of theology students comes together.
“Let’s begin with a word of prayer,” he says. Eighteen students from Portland’s Multnomah Biblical Seminary bow their heads. “Lord,” Metzger begins, “you call us to engage the world as Christ engaged the world. Please help us to do that. Amen.”
That prayer, which sounds so simple, is a challenge for Metzger, despite his doctoral degree with a focus on Christ and culture from a London university, despite his book on the theology of Karl Barth and despite five years of teaching at Multnomah…
Click here to read the rest of this article by Nancy Haught of the Oregonian (Mind-set/Beliefs: Divinity and Diversity), which gives an overview of some of the efforts Dr. Metzger has been involved in to bring issues of diversity to the center of Evangelical discussion.
In this essay, Kelsi Johns writes with her usual simple profundity and keen eye to the blood, sweat, and tears of true discipleship. She reflects on her own experiences to draw out what it means to live the gospel rather than simply preach the gospel from a safe distance. To love is to risk, and as Kelsi explains, the church is called to show the same “messy, generous, limitless love” that God has shown to us in Christ. Community development, Kelsi asserts, must begin with developing relationships, with truly loving our neighbors and serving with and among them, rather than just to them.
In this essay, Alex Mutagubya laments a troubling trend he sees in the Ugandan church: the appropriation of consumeristic tendencies from the Western church. He addresses the divisions that this trend has caused, builds a biblical and theological basis for correcting this trend, and then offers practical solutions, all within the historical and cultural context of Uganda. His hope is for the Ugandan church “to see the beauty that God intended for it in having all these tribes and people live and worship together,” as we all will soon enough with Christ’s return.
Is the much maligned (and praised) philosopher Jacques Derrida, father of deconstruction, a misunderstood liberator in need of a little liberation himself? In this essay, Braxton Alsop gives a sympathetic ear to Jacques Derrida as a liberation theologian in his own right, analyzing how well Derrida addresses human suffering caused by structural evil. Braxton then sets forth his own views on God, salvation, and the church, explaining how a Trinitarian perspective better addresses the shared concern for structural evil.