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When James Cone wrote A Black Theology of Liberation in the late 1960s, he was attempting to provide a theological framework for understanding and guiding the feelings and actions of African-American protestors. He wrote in the wake of a deadly riot in Detroit. He felt a burden, a heavy weight to say something meaningful as a Christian. He felt, as many had before him, that if Christianity had no answer for Black people caught in the roiling cauldron of Jim Crow segregation and state-sponsored terrorism then Christianity had no credibility whatsoever.
I wish the evangelical church felt the same way that Cone felt. Though I find Cone’s answers unbiblical and untenable, he at least raised and grappled with legitimate questions of justice from the vantage point of the oppressed. And until evangelicalism finds the courage and the love to enter those questions with empathy for that vantage point on a quest for better answers than Cone’s, then evangelicalism as we know it is dead.
I’m not talking about the “evangelicalism” of progressive Christians who seem to rarely preach and emphasize the biblical gospel while championing every cause, the “evangelicalism” that has no evangel. I’m talking about the “evangelicalism” of “Bible-believing Christians,” of “gospel-centered people,” of “conservative” movements that pride themselves on not being “those liberals.” I’m not talking about your local church or my local church as much as I’m talking about the movement as a whole, at its highest levels. I’m talking about the “movement evangelicalism” that I run in. That evangelicalism is dead.
Or, to …
When my wife and I announced we would be moving back to the States to plant a church in Southeast DC, we met three reactions. People who loved us over these past eight years and appreciated our ministry expressed their love and sadness that we were leaving Cayman. Those same people and many others then quickly sent us tremendous amounts of encouragement, prayer and practical help. Then there were those who had a question. They asked, “Are you afraid?” or “Do you have any fears?”
My elders in Cayman asked that question. The elders here at CHBC asked that question. A few individuals asked that question. And some people have worn their concern on their faces.
When asked the question, I’d usually pause. Not because I didn’t have an answer, but because some fears feel too real when you give them words. So I’d pause. Then I’d say two things: “Truthfully, the Lord has kept us from any fears that we can discern about planting the church or living in Southeast. If I have a fear it would be one thing: bringing my son Titus to the United States. He’s so tender and innocent and the States can be very hard on Black boys.”
That’s my one fear. This country destroying my boy. Ferguson is my fear. I could be the black dad approaching a white sheet stained with his son’s blood. I could be the husband holding his wife, rocking in anguish, terrorized by the ‘what happeneds’ and the ‘how could theys,’ …
My wife and I were taking the long way to an errand the other day. The long way to an errand is, in the language of frustrated wives, a husband who is lost. In the language of navigator husbands it simply means “I missed my turn” or “Your directions weren’t clear.” Or it could mean, “DC streets make no sense at all. You can see where you want to go but there’s literally no road that gets you there.” You see, husbands are never lost.
At any rate, on the way back from the errand we talked a little bit about how the kids were adjusting to the move. We’re both overwhelmed at God’s rich grace to us in the move back to the States. Aside from a lost passport and a shipping container that seems to be powered by men with oars, we’ve seen nothing but blessing from God and His people. And we’re having a great time seeing the country through the eyes of our children.
The girls commented the other day that “everybody sounds alike.” We hadn’t noticed, so Kristie asked what they meant. They meant everybody sounds alike. To them, everyone has the same accent.
The last eight years in Cayman has meant interacting with people from all over the world. The Cayman Islands is easily the most diverse, multi-ethnic community we’ve ever lived in. At 22 x 7 miles and 55,000 residents, this island nation is home to over 110 nationalities! And because it’s a small island, it …
“In the twentieth century the church has tried to see how little it could say and still get converts. The assumption has been that a minimal message will conserve our forces, spread the Gospel farther, and, of course, preserve a unity among evangelicals. It has succeeded in spreading the truth so thinly that the world cannot see it. Four facts droned over and over have bored sinners around us and weakened the church as well.”
 Walter J. Chantry, Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1970), p. 45-46.
Mrs. Bea was my mother’s best friend. The two of them used to laugh together as if they were the only two in the universe. They spent a lot of their free time together, which was easy since they lived half a block apart.
Mr. Fred was Mrs. Bea’s husband. Everybody in the neighborhood called him “neighbor” because he greeted everyone with the same question: “How’s my neighbor?” He was the kind of man who would interrogate strangers who happened on your property and didn’t look as if they belonged. He would repair a door or mow a yard without being asked. He was a neighbor.
I played with Bea and Fred’s five children. We did everything from ride our bikes together to play basketball or stickball in the neighborhood park to chase one another in frenetic games of tag or hide-n-seek. We children were neighbors, too.
I thought about Bea and Fred last week as I prepared to preach Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the so-called “good Samaritan.” I prefer to call it the parable of the godly neighbor since Jesus tells the story to a religious man who asked in a self-justifying moment, “who is my neighbor?” Here’s the parable:
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, ”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and …
In today’s Christianity, commanding people to “do good works” sounds rather weird to most and even dangerous to others. We’re allergic to anything with the word “works” in it. We’re living in an increasingly antinomian age, or at least an increasingly anti-imperative age. We don’t like being told what to do and we’re pretty sure anyone who tries must be “a legalist.”
We wouldn’t know how to handle a letter from the Apostle Paul. We also wouldn’t know how to lead the church in a Cretan context.
For Paul writes:
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful …
A little while back we began a brief look at the book of Titus as a window onto biblical strategies for ministering in a context similar to Crete (see here). As Paul describes the situation, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons’” (Titus 1:12). Titus has to plow the hard soil of unregenerate hearts in a culture of dishonesty and fleshly living. How do you labor in such a climate?
First, Paul commands Titus to appoint solid leaders.
Second, those leaders must rebuke people so that they’re sound in the faith. Paul writes:
For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, that they may be found in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. (Titus 1:10-14)
I wonder if we ever hear church plant strategists emphasize the ministry of personal rebuke as an effective strategy? I don’t think I have. But it’s part and parcel to ministry in a difficult context. How else will the corruptions of a fallen culture and fallen heart be addressed?
I suspect most of us are more inclined to finding what …
One of the ministries I appreciate a great deal is cru inner city. Men like John Sather and others like him around the country are seeking to take the gospel into the core of cities across the country. Here’s a 3-minute video describing their partnership initiative with local churches called “The Circle of Hope.” Check it out:
Check out the cru inner city/here’s life inner city website to learn more.
This past week has featured some good reading around the blogosphere. Listed below are some posts I enjoyed:
Charles M. Blow, “Thomas Speaks… Blindly about Race.” Loved this paragraph:
We must stop having these juvenile discussions of race and face down the big questions: How can we help people see a thing so vaporous? How can we help direct dialogue among individuals about things happening on a grand scale? How can we help avoid victim and guilt fatigue in addressing problems whose formation was glacial and whose undoing is likely to be so as well? And how can we encourage people to fight on two fronts at once: holding the culture responsible for allowing and even nurturing roadblock biases, while still encouraging individuals to make every effort to overcome those biases, identifying and eliminating self-destructive behaviors?
The Preaching of William Still
I received a real gift in a comment from Malcolm Duff, who read a post I’d written some time back on William Still’s book, The Work of the Pastor. Still was used of God to impact many better known men in the evangelical world today. He pastored Gilcomstom Church in Scotland for 52 years (1945-1997). He was committed to the exposition of God’s word, but I’d never heard him or knew his sermons were available. Then this gift called Tapes from Scotland which makes available some of Still’s preaching.
Kevin DeYoung shows us how to charitably but critically critique a book in his review of Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed …
“Race” is a perenniel problem. It seems inescapable and good thinking about “race,” racism, “post-race” and the like can be difficult to find. Even those who think about it professionally have difficulty managing the spiraling issues that “race” spawns. Because of that, we might be tempted to think we need less thinking, writing and discussion of “race,” not more.
But the reality is that unless we apply ourselves to thinking biblically, carefully and hopefully about these things we won’t make progress. We can’t acquire a new mindset or escape the quagmire of “race” and racism by osmosis. We’re going to have to do some hard work.
That’s why I’m glad to highlight two new sites dedicated to the cause.
The first is a site called “The Gospel and Race“. It’s a new joint venture between Soong Chan-Rah and Anthony Bradley.
The second is Eraçe Ourselves. It’s a new blog dedicated to imagining and pursuing a world where “race” as a construct no longer defines the way we think of ourselves and others. I plan to post there about once a week or so. I’d love it if you would join me there and, more importantly, join me in the project of fostering a biblical view of humanity’s unity and a celebration of God-given diversity rightly understood.