Archive for ‘Gospel’

Reading Scripture in the Context of a Neighborhood

1 Commentby   |  01.11.18  |  Christianity, Evangelism, Gospel, Mission

Reading Scripture in the Context of a Neighborhood

Part 2 of 3

A few years ago, I was sitting with Anna Carter Florence when the question was posed concerning how we read Scripture. I do not remember fully what Florence said, except that she was wondering if the location of reading Scripture mattered. Does the location by which Scripture is read and proclaimed matter? Do we hear the words of Scripture differently depending upon the location? Hearing God speak on the mountain versus hearing God speak in the wilderness—does location matter?

Ever since I sat with Florence that afternoon and listened to her theologically wonder about the location of reading Scripture, I’ve been paying attention to the location in which the community of faith is hearing Scripture.


We live in a “sea of words,” writes Richard Lischer (1). There are many words competing for our attention. We could also describe our lives as busy, conflicting, and overburdened. And yet, we intentionally set time aside to gather as a community in worship so that we can hear the Word of God. We carve out time in our lives to respond to the One who calls us deeper into the life of God. In worship we hear the living Word of God proclaimed. In a “sea of words”, we intentionally tune our ears to hear God speak through the words of Scripture. More »

Knowing Your Neighborhood

by   |  12.15.17  |  ACU, Alumni, Christianity, Church, Gospel, Hospitality, Ministry, Mission of God, Worship

Knowing Your Neighborhood

Part 1 of 3

One Sunday morning, years ago, a refugee family showed up at church and they kept coming back. I walked out of the office one afternoon, made my way up the street, and knocked on the front door of where the refugees were living. The door opened and the gift of hospitality was extended. Over coffee, I learned of their story. I also learned this family was deeply committed to the life of Christ.

Over the next several months I would continue to unexpectedly drop in. One day the matriarch of the family said something similar to the following:

Seeing you at our front door reminds me of our church back home. Back home the preacher was the priest who made daily visits to the neighbors. The neighborhood knew the priest and the priest knew the neighborhood. But it seems, in North America, the neighborhood doesn’t know the priest and the priest doesn’t know the neighborhood.

Ethnography of the Neighborhood More »

Why Christians Love the Bible (part 2)

by   |  03.29.12  |  Bible, Gospel

This is a continuation of a prior post on the Bible and what it does and does not say.  The series will continue next time as well.

To respond to the claim that the Bible is immoral, a claim often made in our current world,  it makes sense to try to unravel several distinct charges that can be made against the Bible on moral grounds:

  1. The authors claim that God favors some people over others, while also arguing that “God is no respecter of persons”;
  2. They attribute to God behaviors, attitudes, and values that in a human being would be considered highly unworthy or immoral;
  3. They advocate, or at least defend, violence against vulnerable people, most notably the Canaanites, but also others; and
  4. They turn a blind eye toward slavery and the mistreatment of women.

All of these would be serious charges if true.  A demonstration of them would reduce the Bible to a heap of nationalistic texts more worthy of Fox News than of a great religion.  The fact that some Christians attempt to defend imperialism, warfare, racial or economic discrimination, and other horrendous practices in the name of the Bible certainly makes the task of defending it harder.  Still, I will try to understand it, in part by rescuing it from some of its self-appointed defenders and in part by showing that many of the charges against have little or no basis in fact.

To take the first charge first, it is very important to understand what the Bible actually says about the election of Israel.  Hate-groups on both the left and right of the political spectrum have often used the biblical notion of election to brand Jews as arrogant or dishonest.  At many historical points, the attack on election has linked directly to persecution.  It is thus highly surprising that some enlightened secular critics of Christianity on the political left should employ such simplistic understandings of biblical teaching.  In the Bible, election does not imply some sort of special treatment.  It implies higher standards of justice and peace.  Nor is election an end in itself, for as the single most important text on the subject, Genesis 12 puts it, “in you shall all the nations of the world be blessed.”  Judaism’s contribution to human civilization has been almost incalculable, especially given the small number of Jews who have lived at any given time.

Nor does the Christian understanding of the Church’s election as a grafting onto Israel (see Romans 9-11) imply special treatment, since the Church understood itself as people redeemed from sin, not as people who have merited a relationship with an ever-benevolent God.  When critics charge Jews and Christians, and thus the Bible, with self-promotion in pursuing a doctrine of election, they simply do not understand what we are saying.  In fairness, we often do not understand well ourselves.  But the problem lies much less with the Bible or the religious doctrines of the two faiths than with our failure to live out the implications of our own beliefs.

The second objection is more serious, and it has occupied biblical interpreters since at least the first century BC.  The great Jewish biblical interpreter Philo, roughly a contemporary of Jesus, already addressed this question in a series of commentaries on the Pentateuch.  His answer, which has often been followed in one way or another, was to interpret the biblical texts about God’s emotions and actions metaphorically, even allegorically.  In such a construal, God does not really express anger or joy, sorrow or frustration.  Such attributions of character or behavior are simply the closest human equivalents for untutored minds. More »

Does the Gospel Sell Itself? (part 4)

by   |  05.04.10  |  Bible, Change, Christian, Church, Gospel, Hospitality, Identity, Ministry, Society, Theology

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Does the Gospel sell itself?  That’s how I began this series of posts, and that’s how I’ll end it.  If we are on a road alongside of which are exits to narcissism, self-indulgence, and self-promotion, and the Heavenly City seems further away in our rearview mirrors, then how do we change directions?  (I’ll drop the metaphor there, if you don’t mind!)  I’ve tried to set out some of the interpersonal and intellectual challenges because to reflect theologically and to act on the basis of that reflection, we need to consider several factors.

But here’s the final one, and the decisive one.  What does God want?  Now, I know that this question is tricky and easily hijacked by various sides of any given debate.  If you want change, you point to the God of renewal, and if you don’t want change, you mention the old paths.  Both sets of languages — both descriptions of the nature of God — have biblical warrant.  Which one applies at a given moment depends on several factors, not all of which everyone will agree upon.  Moreover, Christians have a wide range of views of just how specific God intends to be.  Neo-Calvinists assume that the sovereignty of God implies a very high degree of planning of human lives, while most other Christians are content to think of God painting in the cosmic picture in broader, more impressionistic strokes.  I do not say any of this to be cynical, but simply to note that I am aware of the hazards.

Still, as a Christian, I must always ask myself what God wants.  It is not legitimate to try to escape the question, if you want to think in Christian ways.  Here are some things (not everything!) that Scripture, which I believe to be the best indication of God’s will that we have, seems to think God wants from us:

1. Let’s be passionate about the search for God.  Christians should pray a lot and with passion.  If we spent more time on our knees, we might spend less time wringing our hands or shouting.  As Paul said to the Athenians, God has given us evidence of nearness by raising Jesus from the dead.  The search is not an idle quest for an elusive goal, but the pursuit of one lover for another seeking rest together.

2.  Let’s care about the stranger.  I have long been struck by Exodus’s story of the redemption of Israel and the legal conclusions that the text draws from that experience: “you shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).  Perhaps Christians are so hostile to immigrants and other vulnerable people because we have concluded that this land really is our land, not simply a place on loan from God while we move toward our final home.  Have we forgotten that we too are strangers, that we too are redeemed people?

3. Let’s remember that we are in this together.  It is distressing to watch churches split over issues that can only be classified as trivial.  I have always found that praying for those with whom I disagree (which is quite a few people, as it happens!) or whom I found narrow and annoying and petty (also a fairly large group) changes things.  Very few Christians are so alienated from their own calling that we cannot find in them something to cherish. More »