Category Archives: Theology

Why We Still Need the Church

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“Whoever seeks Christ must first find the church. Now the church is not wood and stone but the group of people who believe in Christ. Whoever seeks the church should join himself to them and observe what they teach, pray, and believe. For they certainly have Christ among them.”

~Martin Luther

There is a popular trend in the social media sphere that has really been picking up steam in recent years. No, I’m not talking about Snapchat or Dubsmash. I’m talking about the tendency by many to attack and criticize the church. And while, in some ways, criticizing the church is nothing new, what surprises me about this trend is that the ones leading the way this time around are Christians.

In fact, it is a rare week that I don’t see some article or blog post about the ways in which the church is failing to reach the young, the old, the hipsters, etc. Likewise there are countless “Things the Church Should Stop Doing” posts and top ten lists. I know because I’ve heard the gripe-fests, read the blog posts, and even tweeted and re-tweeted a fair number of them.

But I would argue that while the church is imperfect, that is also the very reason we need the church.

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The Problem With Being A Good Person

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For several years I worked in college ministry in the city of Chicago. Every year we would host various outreach events which were aimed at answering peoples’ questions about the Christian faith and introducing them to Jesus.

During one of these meetings I was approached by a young man who had a very good question.

I don’t know why Jesus is necessary. I mean…you guys keep saying that we need to believe in Jesus in order to be saved, but I just don’t know why. Why isn’t it enough to just be a good person?

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Worship as Re-Formation

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When we talk about worship, what do we usually mean? Oftentimes I think we mean…well…what we do on Sundays.  Worship is about music and sermons, robes and hymnals, praise bands and ProPresenter slides. But this is not how the Bible understands worship. Worship is far deeper and more encompassing than what happens on a Sunday morning. In fact, Christian theologians throughout the centuries have argued that worship is, in fact, an inescapable reality of human experience.

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Who is Doctrine For?: Theology in the Life of the Church

DISCLAIMER:  The following post is rated “Looooong” and may not be appropriate for people with short attention spans :p

This past quarter I took a course in Systematic Theology.  Honestly, it has been one of my favorite classes.  The readings have been great, the lectures engaging, and the assignments thought provoking.  We’ve addressed topics like Christian ethics, the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life, the sacraments, death, and resurrection.  For an egghead like me, this kind of stuff gets me excited.  I have been on cloud nine all quarter because I am in nerd central and I love it.

However, the other night Jenny and I were talking and she said something that really struck me:  “I feel like you are immersed in this subculture and you’re starting to speak a language that I just don’t understand.”  Her words really hit me.  I had to slow down and ask myself the question:  “Who is all this for anyway?!”  If I’m spending all this time (and money) learning theology, but it is not translating, then why am I doing it?

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Toward a Lutheran Legacy

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Logo of Reformation500 at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis

The Crisis of Our Present Time

In 2017 we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. As I have been reflecting on my time at Concordia Seminary I am acutely aware of the fact that I will be ordained 500 years after the young Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Cathedral in Wittenberg. With this single act, Luther began a spiritual, social, and intellectual revolution that single-handedly reshaped Western history and the nature of the Christian Church, the effects of which we are all heirs.

As such, the question that I have to ask myself is, “What will our legacy, as the religious descendants of Luther, be in the next 500 years of the Reformation?” This is a pressing question for us in the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod. While the Lutheran Church, like many churches, is growing rapidly in the Majority World, in the West we are in a state of decline. Fully 2/3rds of our congregations worship 125 people or less on a Sunday morning, and are not even able to financially support a full-time pastor. And if these trends continue then it means that this generation of seminarians will most likely minister over the death of at least one congregation over the life of their ministries.

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Product Review: Gospel Transformation Bible*

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And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

~Luke 24:27 (ESV)

While at a conference a couple of weeks back I had the privilege of meeting with a representative from Crossway publishers and was given an advance copy of The Gospel Transformation Bible.  Now that it has hit the shelves I wanted to write a quick product review with some of my impressions.

First and foremost, this is not your typical study Bible.  It does not have much in the way of cultural or historical notes, imbedded images, diagrams, or maps, nor does it include additional articles on theology, biblical interpretation, and so forth.  So if that is what you are looking for I would direct you to the ESV Study Bible or the NIV Study Bible.

BUT, what it does do is help you, the reader, see the truth that all of Scripture does indeed point to Christ.  As such, it most certainly lives up to its name and promise.  What I like about this resource is that it is kind of like reading through Scripture and having a skilled Bible expositor sitting alongside you, showing how each passage of Scripture highlights the Gospel story.  The footnotes are more of an exposition on Scripture than a series of technical notes.  As such, I have really appreciated using this resource for devotional purposes and it has encouraged me to see Christ in all of Scripture as well as understand the implications of the Gospel message for everyday life.  Contributors to this resource include respected preachers and commentators like Bryan Chapell, Dan Doriani, Michael Horton, and so forth.

That being said, a couple of disclaimers are necessary.  First, a good reader must recognize that the comments in the footnotes, as good as they are, are the perspective of one contributor.  So any good study into the text should involve doing your own careful study as well as consulting other resources.  Hopefully what you read in the footnotes simply whets your appetite and encourages you to dig deeper.  Second, the perspectives in the footnotes are predominantly from the Reformed tradition within American evangelicalism.  As such, those looking for insights from other theological traditions or from the non-Western church will need to look to other resources.

Overall, though, this is a great resource for devotional reading and for helping seekers understand how the Gospel story is woven throughout the whole of Scripture.  Crossway has once again delivered an excellent product for the building up of the Church.  I have found it personally enriching and encouraging and would strongly recommend it as a devotional aid.

My Rating: 8.5 out of 10

*DISCLAIMER:  I am not being paid by Crossway for this review.  The comments are purely my own.

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Marriage: What’s the Point?

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This post is one half of two posts that Jenny and I are writing on the nature of marriage. You can read the other half by visiting Jenny’s blog: http://morethansuburban.blogspot.com

“The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.”
~Genesis 2:18

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
~Genesis 1:27

Recently Jenny and I were blessed and privileged to attend the wedding of two of our friends.  As we sat there watching them make their vows to God and one another we couldn’t help but think back on our own wedding and the five years of marriage that we have enjoyed since.  But what stood out to both of us, more than anything, was how incredibly God-centered their ceremony was.

Over the past five years Jenny and I have attended more weddings than we can count.  However, very few of them were so focused on the Gospel as this one was.  Sure, they cited Scriptures like Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 13 in order to highlight the commitment that they were making to one another.  But even then, these passages were drawn upon to highlight the couple and their vows.  Not so for our friends.  In their ceremony it was clear that marriage wasn’t really about the two them.  It was about God.  And everything from their Scripture readings to the songs they chose to the prayers they prayed was focused on the story of salvation and how a Christian marriage is meant to highlight and celebrate the gift of grace that we have through Christ.

It was a beautiful and powerful ceremony.  And it got us thinking:  How do we define marriage?  Is it a promise of faithfulness between two lovers?  Is it a lifetime commitment; a covenant?  Is it a social contract, complete with benefits and obligations?  Is it a right?  A privilege?  What does it mean to be married?  In recent years these are questions and positions that people in our society have debated and fought over.  And while a marriage may be a promise, a commitment, a social contract, for the Christian marriage is something far more.  A marriage is ultimately meant to bring glory to God.  But what does that mean?  That is what this post is about.

Marriage in Creation

You see, in the beginning, when God first created humanity, He said that it was not good for man to be alone.  And so he created woman.  Scripture tells us that, when the man saw the woman, he said:

“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man.”  That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

(Genesis 2:23-24)

And so man and woman were created for relationship with each other.  But that is not all.  For Scripture tells us something else.  It says that:

God created making in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

(Genesis 1:27)

What we see in these two verses is something truly profound.  What Scripture tells us is that, in marriage, God brings these two halves of the human race, male and female, into a dynamic relationship which reflects His image in a way that neither of them could have done apart.  They move from being two individuals into one.  And in this dynamic union they reflect the image of God; the one being who is simultaneously a unity and a community.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existing eternally as one.  The same and yet distinct – different and yet one – a Christian marriage between a man and woman points us to the character and nature of the Triune God.  Christian marriage was meant to reflect this beautiful and loving relationship within the God-head and so bring Him glory.  This is why it tells us that, in the beginning:

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

(Genesis 2:25)

Safe and affirming, beautiful and loving, marriage was a gift given by a loving God to the creatures made in His image.  And when a man and a woman live out this calling to harmonious and dynamic unity, they give glory to the God in whose image they are made.

Marriage Torn Apart

Sadly, this was not to last.  We read that, in an effort to live their own way and define their own lives, men and women both have rebelled against God.  They put themselves on the pedestal of their lives and, in so doing, broke not only their relationship with God, but their relationships with each other (see Genesis 3). And since that time marriages have been marked by strife and division.  What was once meant to reflect the loving nature of our God is now marked by infidelity, jealousy, mistrust, heartache, and unmet expectations.  We see it everyday.  I doubt there is any one of us who has not, in some way, been touched by a marriage torn asunder.  Whether we saw it in our parents, witnessed it in the lives of our friends, or experienced it personally in our own relationships, divorce is an all too common occurrence.

But even in marriages that have not ended in divorce, the strife and pain of Sin are all too present.  There have been countless times in our five short years of marriage that Jenny and I have found ourselves angry with one another and at odds because of selfishness, stubbornness, and petty frustrations.  Marriage is not easy.  It is hard and, at times, painful.  I think it is safe to say that marriage is no longer what God intended it to be.

Marriage and Salvation

So can marriage, broken and marred as it is, still glorify God?  By the grace of God, yes, it can and it does.  One of the things that I find interesting in the writings of the New Testament is how marriage is talked about and where marriage imagery comes up.  It is worth noting that Jesus uses marriage and the wedding feast to talk about the kingdom of God (see Matthew 22, Matthew 25, Luke 12:35-37).  But what is even more striking is how, in foretelling the return of Christ, the Bible speaks of it in marriage terms.  It reads:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look!  God’s dwelling is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

(Revelation 21:1-5)

What we see in these passages is that God’s redemption of mankind is likened to a marriage ceremony, one in which He is seeking out his wayward bride and lovingly restoring the relationship that has been broken (see Hosea 2:14-23).  The final picture of redemption is the wedding feast, a celebration of the reunion between Creator and created, between God and His beloved people.

And the apostle Paul tells us that it is this seeking and reconciling work of God that is now to be reflected in human marriages as well.  In writing to the church at Ephesus, he talks about marriage in the following terms:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body.  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.  However, each one of you also much love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

(Ephesians 5:25-33)

Paul tells us that Christian marriages are ultimately intended to point to the saving work and immeasurable grace of God in Jesus Christ.  That these marriages, even in their shortcomings, are to be places of repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration.  In doing so, they bear witness to the grace of God in Christ.

Again, I can’t help but reflect on the past five years of marriage with Jenny.  For all of our shortcomings and struggles, there has always been grace and love extended.  Though we may fight and snipe at each other, we also know when to say we are sorry and ask for forgiveness.  Likewise we learn to extend grace and bear with one another in love.  We do this not because we have a stronger marriage than others, but because we know, each and every day, that we are sinners saved by grace; cherished by God even when we are at our most unloveable.  And we pray that our marriage, more and more, reflects the power of the saving work that Christ has done in our lives.  Furthermore, it gives us hope and points us forward to that day when the wedding will be consummated and the kingdom brought into its fullness at the great wedding feast of Christ.

In the meantime, Christian marriage stands as a testimony to the ongoing work of God in the world as he pursues his beloved bride.  Just as it was intended to bring God glory by bearing His image perfectly in the beginning, so it now glorifies God as Savior and Redeemer in a broken world.  Whether in good times or bad, marriage is meant to give God praise.  That is the purpose of Christian marriage.

And so, we say congratulations to our friends, we pray for the marriages in our lives, and we long for and look forward to the day when we will see the Bridegroom face-to-face at His wedding table.  Praise be to God for the gift of marriage.  Amen.

For some thoughts on Christian discipleship and marriage, check out the other half of this reflection by visiting Jenny’s blog:  morethansuburban.blogspot.com

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Jesus’ Other Role

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The following post is a re-post of my latest column piece for RELEVANT.  You can view the original article HERE.

When I was in high school the most common word that I heard associated with Jesus was “Savior,” as in, “Jesus is my Savior.” It was a prominent youth group emphasis: Jesus was always shown in the “rescuer” role, as the one who pulled us all out of our sin and expresses God’s grace and love. So we sang things like, “I am a friend of God,” and, “Jesus’ blood never fails me,” and it slowly shaped our faith.

All of this, of course, is true. But in our emphasis on Jesus as Savior, I wonder if we have developed a blind spot for His other—and equally important—role. 

In recent years, evangelical thinkers from Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost to Francis Chan and David Platt have begun to focus on another name for Jesus. “Jesus is Lord,” has become the battle cry for a generation of young evangelicals who are tired of the cushy, safe, anesthetized versions of Jesus that have been far too prevalent in our American Christian subculture. We are experiencing a renewed emphasis on radical discipleship, in which we take the commands and the red letters of Lord Jesus more seriously with greater authenticity and real devotion. “Jesus is Lord,” the earliest of Christian creeds, is making a comeback.

Perhaps this renewed emphasis on the Lordship of Jesus is a helpful corrective. I’ve seen the frustration of church leaders as they have wrestled with the lack of discipleship in their communities. Why is it, they ask, that so many people call Jesus their Savior and yet continue to live self-centered, morally compromised lives? Why is it that people can praise Jesus on Sundays and then curse out their neighbors and family members on Monday? Why is it that people will give millions of dollars for bigger church buildings and louder sound systems, and not take up the causes of social justice and world missions?

Perhaps contributing to this is the fact that we’ve only glimpsed a part of the fullness of who Jesus is. We’ve emphasized “Jesus as Savior” over and against “Jesus as Lord.” But in doing so, we have told people a half-truth. We’ve told them that God loves them, but forgotten that God has also commissioned them. We’ve told them that they are forgiven, but failed to remind them that they are now temples for the Holy Spirit. We have not remembered Paul’s words: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19). We’ve allowed ourselves to get comfortable with Jesus saving us while forgetting that He bought us for a purpose.

“Jesus is Lord” is a helpful counterweight to the overly comfortable, seeker-sensitive, consumer-oriented evangelicalism that has characterized too many American churches. It reminds us that there’s no room in His call for self-centered living. He came to bring us from death to life and invites us to be a part of the kingdom He is building.

But it must remain just that—a counterweight—rather than a new emphasis to swing us out of balance once again to the opposite extreme.

Because the new emphasis on radical obedience to Lord Jesus runs the risk of becoming the new legalism. Too many times I’ve seen my own generation gravitate toward a new kind of super disciples. In an effort to shake their fellow Christians out of the malaise of comfortable Christianity, they begin to heap expectation and guilt down upon their brothers and sisters. We begin to hear phrases like, “Who is really a disciple of Jesus?”

The result is that the Christian faith becomes a new list of to-do’s. When Jesus becomes Lord to the exclusion of Savior, we risk making Jesus into nothing more than an angry taskmaster: Someone who is sitting on His throne waiting for the apocalypse, all the while hurling down commands for His people to get into shape. I’ve seen too many Christians crushed by this new Pharisaism, thinking that they have somehow disappointed their Lord unless they are perfectly living out the Sermon on the Mount.

So how do we strike the right balance?

I think we begin by looking to the cross. When Jesus was crucified, the Roman soldiers nailed a sign above his head: “This is the King of the Jews.” Who is Jesus? He is the crucified King, the suffering Lord. In Jesus, we see the Lord of Time, the pre-incarnate Word, the one who holds the universe in his hands, living in our midst. We see the Lord who becomes our Savior.

What we must remember is that, yes, Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Yes, He tells us to go and make disciples of all nations. He certainly lays out commands for us to follow and obey. But He is also the Lord who tells us that He is always with us, to the very end of the age. Jesus is the Lord who gets down in the dirt with us to lift us up when we fall.

The truth is that Jesus is both our Savior and our Lord. When we reduce Him to one or the other, we minimize the power of His message. And when we begin to see Jesus in the fullness of who He is, as crucified Savior and as reigning Lord, we are moved to worship Him more fully ourselves.

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Christmas Reflection: What Obedience Really Costs Us

*What follows is a re-print of an article that I wrote for RELEVANT Magazine‘s website in honor of Christmas.  I encourage you to read the post there and LIKE it on Facebook as well as contribute your own Christmas reflections in the comments below.

(c) Jyoti Sahi; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

I wasn’t raised in a religious household. In fact, my family didn’t start attending church until I was a freshman in high school. As a result, my exposure to the Christmas story was limited to what I saw in paintings, statues and holiday stamps. I’d seen many pictures of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child, but these images always struck me as a bit odd and otherworldly. Here was Mary, this mature, peaceful woman in immaculate robes, holding a very adult-looking Jesus with a tiny, restrained half-smile on her lips—like the Mona Lisa dressed in religious garb. These pictures shaped my view of Mary as someone wholly unrelateable and distant, an obscure figure only revered in Catholic circles with very little relevance to me, a young, evangelical Protestant.

But then, several years ago, I encountered a very different kind of painting. It was an image created by the Indian artist Jyoti Sahi entitled Dalit Madonna. In it, Sahi depicts the Virgin Mary as a dalit, cradling the baby Jesus, with deep love and affection in her eyes as she looks down upon her infant child. Her hands and feet are dirty and calloused. And yet, the love this mother shows for her baby envelops her and the child in warm light. I was immediately taken by the beauty of this painting and the touching intimacy it depicts.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term dalit, it referes to a group of people in India more commonly known as “untouchables.” Some Westerners have mistakenly called the dalits the lowest caste in Hinduism. However, this is an inaccurate assessment, for the dalits have traditionally been viewed as living outside the proper caste system. They serve in labor industries deemed too defiled or unclean to be attended to by proper Hindus.

Fortunately, there have been many movements within India to eradicate this discrimination, including efforts by the late Mahatma Gandhi, who was a great friend and advocate of many untouchables. However, dalits are still looked down upon in more rural settings, and social stigma continues to be attached to the term.

As I reflected more on Sahi’s painting, I could not help but think what it would have been like for the historical Mary, giving birth to her son in first-century Judea. In the Bible, we read that Mary was approached by the angel Gabriel before her official marriage to Joseph and told she would bear a son who would be called “the Son of the Most High.” What’s more, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33).

On the one hand, this was the most exciting news Mary could have heard. After all, the Messiah was believed to be the heir to the throne of David, the greatest king in the history of the Israel. Many of the Israelites in Mary’s day, living under Roman occupation, hoped the Messiah would come and free them from the political oppression of foreign rulers and usher in an era of prosperity and peace. No doubt, Mary believed much the same thing and desired to see a day of freedom for her people.

However, Mary also knew that to accept the angel’s message was to accept a social stigma. You see, she was already betrothed to Joseph. This meant that they were legally husband and wife with the exception of sexual relations. We know from Matthew’s account that Joseph was well aware the child to be born was not his (see Matthew 1:18-19). As such, Mary would have been labeled an adulterer. As some people are labeled dalits in certain parts of the world, so Mary would have been labeled sotah, the ancient Hebrew word for “adulteress.”

In his book The Real Mary, Scot McKnight writes about the dangers Mary would have faced as a woman with an illegitimate child. He reminds us that, if she were openly accused of adultery by Joseph, Mary would have faced death by stoning. Yet even if Joseph did not bring charges against her, she would have been stripped half-naked and forced to stand in the center of her village to endure the verbal ridicule and scorn of her neighbors and former friends. Likewise, Mary would have known what would be at stake for her child.

McKnight highlights the realities Mary would have faced:

“She knew villagers would taunt and ostracize her son. He’d hear the accusation that he was an illegitimate child and he would be prohibited from special assemblies (Deut. 23:2). She knew as well that Joseph’s reputation as an observant Jew would have been called into question … She knew that he was legally required to divorce her. And one more connection for Mary was that he could leave her stranded with the Messiah-to-be without a father.”

All of this is affirmed by the biblical text. Christ, at one point, is mocked as “the son of Mary” (Mark 6:3), a clear reference to His lack of a legitimate father.

Mary was faced with a difficult decision. Like the dalits of India, she would become an outcast, an untouchable, one whom people would regard as disobedient to God and a traitor to the acceptable standards of behavior set out in “proper” society. However, not to receive this message would have been to turn away an invitation from God to participate in His plans for the world. What would she choose?

“‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me according to your word'” (Luke 1:38).

Mary chose to obey God. In the face of certain rejection and a difficult life ahead for her and her child, Mary knew God and knew He would provide for them. Furthermore, she was faithful because of what was at stake. Though she could not anticipate just what kind of life Jesus would lead, she knew the Messiah would bring the salvation promised by God. She desired, more than anything, to see this salvation brought into the world and was full of faith that God would act through Him to that end.

As we approach the Christmas holiday, let us not forget the faithfulness of Mary and what she was willing to risk. In her story, we are reminded that following Christ often leads to persecution and rejection by the world. Sometimes the price we pay for obedience is rejection. We must ask ourselves, What are we willing to surrender to God? Are we willing to be used for His purposes in the world? Are we willing to trust Him to provide for us when the rest of the world may turn its back? Mary models for us what obedience in the face of rejection looks like.

I also see in this story an invitation to re-examine how we approach the untouchables in our midst. The truth of Mary’s story is that God often works through the outcasts and the marginalized. And yet, as Christians, we often miss this.

Whether we face rejection for following Christ or are seeking to care for the outcast and unseen in our midst, it is important to remember Mary’s story: the story of her faithfulness, the story of God’s untouchable servant.

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Thinking Theologically About Interfaith Work (Part 3)

Well friends, it has been way too long since I have posted here.  Sorry, but I have been busy writing for RELEVANT Magazine‘s website on the intersection of interfaith work and evangelism, which is why things have been quiet here on the home front.  I’ve also been transitioning into a new position at my church, so that has also kept me quite busy.

That being said, I wanted to finish this series by re-posting my latest contribution to RELEVANT‘s website, which I think ties together well my concluding thoughts on interfaith work from an evangelical perspective.  I also want to say a big thank you to the editor of the “God” section of RELEVANT, Stephanie, for her hard work in editing and offering feedback on these pieces.  You can read the post HERE or see it re-posted below.

After this, I will start posting regularly again, primarily with reflections on pastoral ministry, leadership, and missional living.  That being said, here is the third and final installment of my section on “Thinking Theologically About Interfaith Work”.

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“BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS”
(originally posted on RELEVANT Magazine’s website on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012)

Over the past couple of months I have been privileged to write on the topic of interfaith cooperation from an evangelical perspective. During that time we have seen many examples and reasons why this topic is of the utmost importance in our increasingly interconnected world, especially in light of religious violence both here and abroad. It has been both a challenge and a privilege to address this topic.

For my last post in this series, I wanted to take some time to talk about the future of interfaith cooperation and list some of my hopes for this movement and, specifically, for the evangelical Christians who will take part in it.

Too often religion has been used as a weapon against those who are different. Interfaith work provides a corrective to this.

Interfaith as Peacemaking

This past month we saw the outbreak of violent protests around the world after an anti-Islamic video went viral on YouTube. Shortly afterward, the familiar chorus was heard: “Islam is a violent religion,” “This is why religion is dangerous. It’s irrational,” and so forth. There was plenty of blame to go around.

Now, let’s be real: The attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya was a heinous crime and should be condemned. The violent demonstrations around the world are inexcusable and should be repudiated. And that is not the only story there is to tell.

The truth is that there is another side to the story that was not readily reported on. That story is the story of the countless Muslim leaders who condemned the violence, of the citizens of Benghazi who mourned the U.S. ambassador’s death and the scores of Libyans who protested against violence in their own country. The truth is that religious communities can serve the cause of peacemaking as well as violence. But too often we focus only on the latter.

In his Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). In a world characterized by the “clash of civilizations,” religious conflict seems to be a disturbingly common occurrence.

Too often religion has been used as a weapon against those who are different.  Interfaith work provides a corrective to this.  With its emphasis on growing in relationships with people of other faith traditions, sharing stories and working together for the common good, interfaith work provides an alternative story to that put forth by religious extremists and builds relationships across faith lines that can serve as avenues of trust and dialogue when inter-religious conflict rears its head.

As people called to be peacemakers in a violent world, evangelical Christians should be on the front lines of this movement.  I am inspired by the religious leaders who have already begun building movements to serve the cause of peace—people like John Moreland of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy and the leaders of Peace Catalyst International.

Building relationships and working together for peace does not mean we have to sacrifice our religious convictions.  As such, our posture in interfaith work should be one of building bridges and advocating for peace where there is religious conflict.  In doing so, we are able to stay true to our own religious beliefs while also living out this beatitude in regard to our neighbors of other faith backgrounds.

Furthermore, my hope is governments and international peacekeeping organizations would increasingly employ and partner with religious leaders to bring peaceful resolutions to world conflicts, seeing faith as an opportunity and rather than a barrier.

Interfaith in Seminaries

As a seminarian, I am deeply saddened by overwhelming ignorance that my fellow seminary students have in regard to the beliefs and traditions of other faith communities. Too often we study other religions simply to pick apart their theological truth claims and establish a basis for our own. The result is that the average seminarian can graduate with a Masters degree in theology and still never have met, much less had a meaningful relationship with, a person of another faith tradition. World events have shown us just how dangerous it is to live in ignorance of one another.

Seminaries have been charged with forming and training Christian leaders for today’s increasingly interconnected and interrelated world. As such, they should be on the front lines of equipping Christian leaders to meaningfully and deeply engage with communities that are different from their own. Yes, for the sake of spreading the Gospel, but also for the sake of modeling what it means to be an ambassador for Christ in a world that seems to encourage inter-religious conflict. In doing so, they live out Paul’s exhortation in Romans: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

In order to do this, though, they must be trained in far more than apologetics and evangelism. They must be given an accurate picture of other faith communities in order to understand them and see connections between our religious traditions. Again, I am inspired by evangelical thinkers like Gerald McDermott, who is pioneering a way forward in this area.

Interfaith in Higher Education

I remember well my undergraduate years at the University of Illinois, sitting in class and hearing professors address topics of faith and religion. Yet the response I often heard from my classmates, both Christian and those from other faith backgrounds, was, “Wow … they totally missed the mark. That is not at all what I believe!”

Again, too often the secular university treats the study of religion as merely an academic exercise, rather than seeing religion as a vital part of many students’ identity.  If colleges are truly going to prepare students to engage with our diverse world, they need to recognize this gap and evangelicals need to work together with universities to build spaces of dialogue and cooperation that serve both the campus and the surrounding communities.

I think of organizations like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which hosted a interfaith panel discussion in order to encourage greater dialogue among the student body around issues of religious identity.  Or, I think of young leaders like Greg Damhorst, who has worked with the faculty and administration of the University of Illinois to host campus-wide days of interfaith service, often bringing together professors in the Religious Studies department, faith leaders from the surrounding community, and students to serve the common good in Urbana-Champaign.

Interfaith as “Culture Making”

In conclusion, my hope is that evangelical Christians would becoming “culture makers” rather than “culture warriors,” and I see interfaith cooperation as one way in which this can happen. As an evangelical, I see a lot of hope in the interfaith movement because it provides a space where people can be fully faithful to their religious traditions while also working together for the common good.

By engaging in interfaith dialogue and cooperation, I believe I am living out Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Peace comes when we actually spend time developing meaningful relationships with those with whom we disagree. In doing so we begin to understand what it means to live side by side in our diverse world.

I believe this is why Jesus said that the second great commandment is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). Increasingly our neighbors are people of other faith traditions and worldviews. Interfaith work provides us with an opportunity to learn how to live this commandment out in practical ways. Interfaith work invites us to be faithful to God and loving to others. May we, as evangelicals, enter into this conversation and come to be known as true ambassadors for Christ. Amen.

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