Archive for ‘Ministry’

GST Faculty Update 2017

0 Commentsby   |  10.11.17  |  ACU, Church, Ministry

I am continually amazed how our GST faculty engage in local church ministry. Of course, there are the obvious activities that everyone sees including church consultations and seminars, interim ministries, Elderlink, writing curriculum, and publishing articles and books that serve the life of the church. Yet, there are also those week-to-week engagements with local churches working as elders, Bible class teachers, and ministry leaders. For example, Fred Aquino can be found most Sunday mornings preaching at the Avenue B Church of Christ in Ballinger. Chris Flanders is often found these days preaching at the Maryneal Church of Christ. Mindi Thompson is a frequent Bible adult class teacher at the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene. And the list continues.

For the past four years, Jeff and Linda Childers were High School Huddle leaders for the Highland Church of Christ. Jeff recently told me, “Having the same batch of teenagers into our home every week during their high school years has been a highlight. From the silly to the sublime and the very serious, my wife Linda and I have been privileged to walk alongside an extraordinary group of youngsters on their journey into young adulthood.”

Mark Hamilton talked with me about his work as an elder at University Church of Christ. While being an elder at a church has many demands, he shared with me one part of the work he found especially joyful.  “Samjung and I have served with the campus ministry at UCC, spending a lot of time with students, mentoring some, teaching as needed, and trying to encourage our various campus ministers. We met with those students every Sunday evening for over five years. Last year was a transitional year for us as we stepped back from campus ministry (though we ran a small group chapel on campus on Thursdays for about a dozen UCC students and their friends).  We transitioned to the 20-somethings group, which Bradley Steele [GST alum] is leading.”

I appreciate working with world-class scholars. Spending time with them on a weekly basis for twenty years has shaped my thinking about God and the church in profound ways. More importantly, I am blessed to watch how they integrate the life of the mind with their daily walk with God and the church. I hear them pray and watch them pastor others. I am a witness to how my fellow GST faculty commit themselves to academic pursuits and the vocation of scholarship as a service to the church. How much more so is that service blessed as they also serve the church with their hearts and hands.

Peace,

Tim Sensing

GST Author Highlight

0 Commentsby   |  10.09.17  |  ACU, Alumni, Bible, Church, College of Biblical Studies, Ministry, Professors, Theology

The Graduate School of Theology has many gifted authors who are using their talents to minister to the church & the world. Below are four books that have recently been published by either GST faculty or alumni. We hope they will be an inspiration to you.

 

Meditations for the Lone Traveler written by Mark Hamilton

“In writing this book, I wanted to speak to those who feel alone in their faith. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Faith is not purely intellectual, but comprehensive in its impact on life. In the pursuit of faith, we are not alone.”

These twenty-two meditations on the songs, prayers, and stories of the Bible invite readers to imagine themselves as part of a world in which human beings may fully live into their sufferings and joys as part of a vibrant while still critically searching faith in God. Here we see prophets and  poets, as well as ordinary men and women, embrace the realities of life without apology or fear. For more information, click here.

 

The Oxford Handbook of the Epistemology of Theology edited by Fred Aquino

This volume brings together leading scholars in the fields of theology and epistemology to examine and articulate what can be categorized as appropriate epistemic evaluation in theology. Part one focuses on some of the epistemic concepts that have been traditionally employed in theology, such as  knowledge of God, revelation and scripture, reason and faith,

experience, and tradition. Part two concentrates on concepts that have received significant attention in contemporary epistemology and can be related to theology, such as understanding, wisdom, testimony, virtue, evidence, foundationalism, realism/antirealism, scepticism, and disagreement. Part three offers examples from key figures in the Christian tradition and investigates the relevant epistemological issues and insights in these writers, as well as recognizing the challenges of connecting insights from contemporary epistemology with the subject of theology proper, namely, God. Part four centers on five emerging areas that warrant further epistemological consideration: Liberation Theology, Continental Philosophy, modern Orthodox writers, Feminism, and Pentecostalism. Learn more here.

 

Among the Early Evangelicals written by James Gorman 

Among the Early Evangelicals charts a new path showing convincingly that the earliest leaders of this Movement cannot be understood apart from a robust evangelical and missionary culture that traces its roots back to the eighteenth century. Leaders, including such luminaries as Thomas and Alexander Campbell, borrowed freely from the outlook, strategies, and methodologies of this transatlantic culture. More than simple Christians with a unique message shaped by frontier democratization, the adherents in the Stone-Campbell Movement were active participants in a broadly networked, uniquely evangelical enterprise. Find more information here.

 

Pray Like You Breathe: Exploring the Practice of Breath Prayer written by Houston Heflin

Pray Like You Breathe: Exploring the Practice of Breath Prayer chronicles the history and practice of this unique spiritual discipline focusing primarily on the Psalms as a reservoir of language for prayer. The book can be used as a 28-day experience of prayer for individuals or it can also be used as curriculum for small groups and Bible classes. Purchase your own copy on Amazon here

Summit Review 2017

by   |  10.06.17  |  ACU, Bible, Church, Ministry, Theology

ACU Summit 2017, “Ancient Scripture, Future Church: The Choices We Make and the God We Serve,”  focused on Deuteronomy, the ways this ancient text informs the future of the church and the choices we make as we strive to serve God. Approximately twenty eight GST faculty, staff, current students, and alumni spoke at this year’s Summit lecture series! People traveled from all over the world to attend the lectures and to a partake in many valuable conversations. Below are four all day tracks where GST faculty, staff, students or alumni spoke about throughout the week.

 

Ancient- Future Bible:

The Word of God is living and active, and it has been so for millennia. The rich heritage we have from our predecessors in the faith, from manuscripts to art and from reflection to action, can be a profound source of spiritual strength today. This track, hosted by Curt Niccum, empowers Christians to engage God and his creation in new ways by going back to the future. Those who spoke on this topic were Wendell Willis, Jeff Childers, Glenn Pemberton, David Kneip and Curt Niccum. Our speakers shed light on topic such as recovering the Words of Jesus, interpreting the text about Jonah and the war over women in the Word.

Congregational Leadership:

With today’s complexities of congregational leadership, church leaders must seek wisdom as they navigate the winds of change. This track, hosted by Eric Gentry, will explore healthy leadership practices, pastoral ministry, spiritual discernment, and future

imagination for congregational leaders. Speakers included Colin & Barry Packer, Kasey McCollum, Jovan Barrington and Chess Cavitt. Topics explored included congregational grief and loss, what the church’s purpose is in this new era and leadership models for God’s Mission.

Ministering in the Small Church:

Although there is no official number that makes a congregation “small” or “large,” there are definite and noticeable differences between the two.  Most books, lectures, conversations, etc. are geared toward larger congregations. This track, hosted by Shawn D. Johnson, is intended to provide encouragement, guidance, and lessons specifically for small (but equally important) churches and those who minister to them. Tim Sensing, Shawn D. Johnson, Wes Horn and Trent Tanaro spoke wisdom about this topic throughout the week. These speakers explored conversations about size and location in relations to Churches of Christ, ministry in small towns and finding treasure in the big but also small things.

Business and Mission:

Sometimes, the mission field looks like a foreign country. Other times, it looks like the world of business. Tuesday of Summit, Dodd Roberts will host an all-day track examining “Business and Mission,” a track that will hopefully provide inspiration for potential Christian business-owners and employees as well as encouragement for those already operating as Christians in the world of business. A variety of speakers came to speak about Business and Mission in our world, which included Walter Cunningham, Chi-Ming Chien, Jarrod Brown, Gary Ginter, Lauren McAfree, Jan Martinez, Julie Sullivan, Don Simmons, Jason Fisher, Bill Job, Courtney MIlls, Matthew Rohrs and Mats Tunehag. Topics these guests spoke on included things such as “Business and Missions Abroad”, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the Marketplace” and “From Non-Profit to For Profit.”

Download MP3 files of all the lectures for free on itunes! www.acu.edu/itunessummit

(D)evangelism & Healing after the Rwandan Genocide

by   |  09.26.17  |  ACU, Bible, Ministry, Mission

missionary familyMy name is Caleb Beck. I, along with my wife and two children, live in Kigali, Rwanda. My son Adin is ten, and my daughter Caris is seven. We moved to Rwanda in 2007 as missionaries hoping to work with those struggling to heal the wounds of genocide, and to be a part of the rediscovery of Christianity after its failure in the form of a thin Christendom version of faith in 1994.

We are a part of a team of missionaries and Rwandans who founded a Non-profit organization that works with a number of different holistic ministries with the vision of seeing “Kingdom communities of obedient disciples transforming and redeeming Rwanda”.

We live just outside of the capital city in a small rural community called Gahanga. Jenny home schools our children because we live just far enough outside of the capital that the commute through urban African traffic isn’t realistic. Our community is a mix of animism and cultural Christianity, of survivors of the genocide living next to perpetrators of the genocide, and of a modern city set right next to an ancient village. We are living in the midst of the tensions of village and urban, rich and poor, wounded but healing. However, God is becoming even more alive to us as we grow closer with this community.

Rwanda scenery

A couple of years ago, I found myself sitting amidst 5000 or so Rwandans singing hymns in cohesion without a songbook to be seen. It was not at a church Christmas vigil, but rather at a government sanctioned memorial of genocide remembrance.

This was in a section of Rwanda that had no electricity or running water, but where everyone knew the lyrics of “Come Thou Fount” in Kinyarwanda.

Rwanda was welcomed into the Christendom club last century; and they came willingly. The statistics say that 88% of Rwanda was “Christian” before the genocide of ’94.

Unfortunately, Rwanda’s evangelistic ‘success’ was also its failure.

Evangelism, as it was done, utterly failed Rwanda. It ungraciously exposed our misunderstanding and malpractice of what we thought our mission was.

To be clear, the modern English word ‘evangelism’ does not occur in the Bible and I believe that Jesus did not send his disciples out to do ‘evangelism’ as we understand it.

A disclaimer before we continue. I do believe in evangelism. The word gospel is ‘evangelion’.  I believe we have a new narrative to announce to the world which is GOOD. However, I don’t believe in (d)evangelism, the kind that campaigns and crusades for converts. The kind that idolizes “personal salvation transactions” belittling said narrative above. From here on out we will differentiate accordingly.

Jesus could be considered the worst (d)evangelist in history. In the gospels, instead of just laying it straight, he frequently chose to tell stories that required decoding. Of all the questions he was asked, he gave a straight forward answer for only two of the questions, often responding in parable or with another question.

Evidently, the practice of giving information about a particular doctrine or set of beliefs to others with the intention of converting them to the Christian faith wasn’t very high up on Jesus’ list.

Jesus did not practice (d)evangelism as we know it and did not make converts. Jesus made disciples and sent his followers to do likewise.

(d)evangelism as we know it is wrought with problems:

1.)  (d)evangelism can be done in the absence of relationship, discipleship absolutely cannot.

2.)  (d)evangelism is about converting ‘believers’, discipleship is about becoming followers.

3.)  (d)evangelism is about transaction where as discipleship is about transformation.

4.)  (d)evangelism makes “faith” about the head, discipleship makes it about the heart and body.

5.)  (d)evangelism leads to separateness, discipleship leads to union. It rejects the idea that our faith is about the transmission of correct ideas or doctrines rather than authentic life and love.

6.)  (d)evangelism distorts our gospel into a commodity.  It makes our gospel competitive instead of cosmic, something that can be sold and bought instead of a story to be lived into; making our gospel small.

7.)  (d)evangelism over emphasizes the spiritual as separate and above, discipleship integrates the spiritual and physical.

8.) and ultimately (d)evangelism has confused our soteriology (beliefs about salvation) and our mission (missiology).

(d)evangelism is not our mission, however discipleship is.

…and that starts with us, because what happened in Rwanda is not just an embarrassment for Rwanda, it is also a reflection of the inadequate conversion of the western mind, too.

It is a failure of our “references”, a failure of our “metrics”, and in some ways a failure of our “missiology”.

And, it is an invitation to once again think about these things. And maybe, if we are lucky, rediscover them for the first time.

 

About the Author: Caleb Beck is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Global Service through Abilene Christian University’s Graduate School of Theology. Beck & his family are living in Rwanda & serve as missionaries through Africa Transformation Network.

Small Churches by Kester Smith

by   |  08.06.15  |  Church, Ministry

Ninety percent of churches in the world have fewer than 200 people. Eighty percent have fewer than 100. Of the two billion Christians in the world, half of them attend small churches. Yet, the vast majority of blogs, books, conferences, and websites made available as ministerial resources are designed for doing ministry in a big church context.

Which is why Christianity Today is introducing “Pivot,” a new blog by Karl Vaters, dedicated to equipping and inspiring ministers in small churches. GST faculty’s hope is that it will be a challenge and encouragement to any and all of you working in ministry, and especially those who serve in a small church context.

The Church according to Paul

by   |  06.02.15  |  Church, Ministry

thompson-bookJames Thompson continues his excellent series with The Church according to Paul. On May 26, 2015 it received the 2015 Book of the Year Award from the Academy of Parish Clergy. Read more here.

All three books are significant contributions to the field of ministerial and ecclesial formation. Dr. Thompson has always excelled in combining rigorous academic research and ministerial sensitivities. His love for the church is most evident in this latest work.

The other books in the series are Pastoral Ministry according to Paul and Moral Formation according to Paul. 

Questions that Matter Most by Matt Hale

by   |  04.21.15  |  Church, Ministry, Uncategorized

HaleThere is a genre of stories told among Church of Christ ministers (and occasionally graduate students) that goes something like this:

“I was teaching a class/preaching a sermon/leading a devo, and the subject was controversial topic x. While everyone was milling about afterwards, an old person came up to me and asked why I said A about x when the Bible clearly says B. I tried to explain to her what the Bible really says about x, but you know how it is.”

The conventional audience response is an empathetic eye-roll, a shaking of the head, and another story about how those old-school folks can really get us down. The unspoken upshot of these conversations is that “one glad morning” when their “life is o’er”, we’ll “fly away” from their irrational, conservative restrictions and sing praise hymns accompanied by an acoustic guitar and a fog machine, and preach about whatever we like behind a very small, transparent lectern. We will have to endure these trials for a time, and then the church will be ours.

Having worked mostly in small-town, rural, conservative churches, I have had some experiences like these, more than a few. They can be very frustrating. Recently, however, I have begun to wonder if the attitude of dismissiveness is the only possible option. And I have wondered if I have misplaced blame for these experiences. I would like to blame their close-mindedness, or their lack of access to the kind of theological education I have received. But when I am honest, I admit the blame must lie with me, because I would rather be dismissive than take on the loving, patient, and careful work of explaining my position to them in a way they can accept, or at least understand.

If I want to console myself a bit, I can remember that it is very tempting to dismiss those with whom we disagree, particularly when they are naïve, ignorant, and inarticulate. Why take the time to truly engage with them, to give ear to their questions and answer them properly, when I can call them “uneducated”, “conservative”, “patriarchal”, “heternormative”, “reactionary’, “nationalistic”, or “old-school”? Of course, this is even easier and more tempting if all I am really good at is deconstructing a position, but have never done the hard work of constructing something better.

This temptation, however, must be resisted. I am beginning to wonder whether, paradoxically, it is not the “progressive” young-folk who are asking the most subversive and important questions, but rather the old lady who wonders why the communion table has been moved to the back of the church? Or perhaps it is the octogenarian who wants to know if the preacher really think scripture is inspired, a question he is not ready to answer even though he should be. Maybe it is the grumpy old man who says he doesn’t like instrumental music because of the Bible, but it is really because it makes him feel left out of the worship because he can’t hear his own voice over the practiced praise-team and drums. Though their questions can reflect some unsophisticated assumptions, they are questions that demand answers. And maybe this frustrates me because it isn’t their lack of reflection that is revealed when they ask these questions. Maybe it is mine, my unpreparedness and inability to directly answer their concerns, carefully leading them through the morass to deeper spiritual nourishment like a good teacher must.

Soon, these “old-school” folks will be gone, and while we will lose their “literalism” and “legalism”, we will also lose their invaluable questions. But we will lose more than that. We will also lose their love of scripture, their unhesitating generosity, their commitment to truth, and their faith. When I have lost my most irritating interlocutor, who will drive a dozen hungry neighborhood kids to church twice a week in a wood-paneled van? When inane scripture wars finally end, who will take potato salad and casseroles to the bereaved, and the Lord’s Supper to the shut-ins? When they are gone, these will be the troubling questions posed to us, their final subversive inquisition. Once again, they will have unmasked us, and rightly so.

I encourage you, then, to cherish these questions, questions that catch us off guard, and do not dismiss them simply because they are based on conservative assumptions you’ve left behind. For perhaps it is not their limitations that are being revealed, but yours.

Matt Hale is a third year Theology M.A. student and preacher at Cottonwood Church of Christ in Cottonwood, TX.

Bridging the Gap in Distance Education

by   |  05.16.14  |  ACU, Announcements, Ministry, Students

The Graduate School of Theology has a long history of educating students while they serve in local congregations.  Whether it’s a youth minister across town, a preacher in the Metroplex, or an intern working part-time for a rural congregation, we’ve always tried to provide flexible class options.  We have one-week intensive courses in August, January, and May.  We offer two-weekend short courses in the fall and spring semesters.  We even schedule our full-semester classes as three-hour blocks once a week so students who commute to campus can take classes on their day off.

This year, class options for our non-residential students got a lot more flexible.  Our accrediting agency – the Association of Theological Schools – approved our petition to offer up to 75% of the Master of Arts in Christian Ministry (MACM) in an online format.  For this 48-hour degree, that means only 12 credits – the remaining 25% – must be taken in a face-to-face setting.  That’s just four classes.  Students can take residential intensive classes when it best fits in their schedule while the majority of their coursework is completed online.  They don’t have to wait for required courses to be offered on the right day or in an intensive format.  They don’t have to spend so much time away from their families – or their ministries – taking classes on campus.  Students can serve congregations at a greater distance from Abilene, whether that’s across the country or around the world.  And all the while they’re still getting a world-class theological education from full-time GST faculty.  How’s that for the best of both worlds?  Serving students, serving the church – that’s what we’ve always done.

For more information about the MACM or our other degree options for non-residential students, contact Dr. Melinda (Mindi) Thompson, Director of Distance Education:  mlt11a@acu.edu, (325) 674-3706.

 

Master of Arts in Global Service

by   |  05.14.14  |  Announcements, Ministry, Mission

ACU’s new Master of Arts in Global Service offers a unique combination of features among distance education and ATS accredited degrees.  Students learn in the context of their choice with a group of peers and skilled mentors. They deepen their spiritual rhythms and missional discernment to serve and lead among a global mosaic of peoples.

The MAGS aims to equip students for service and leadership across a wide range of settings. It is an ideal degree for anyone who desires to increase their competence to work beyond their own cultural context. It can serve well anyone who wishes to:

  • Engage in emerging types of Christian ministry (simple church, house church, emerging church, neo-monastic communities)
  • Lead in social justice work, development, or peace-making work in a different culture
  • Work in a missionary setting: whether to North America or anywhere in the world
  • Bring a Christian perspective into an existing business or organization in cross-cultural contexts
  • Grow intercultural and theological capacities to bring into a church, parachurch, or marketplace
  • Work with a non-governmental organization

 

The overall goal of the MAGS is to provide three specific competencies:

Theologically Formed: 
Students integrate the biblical, historical and theological perspectives foundational for contemporary Christian practice, learning the heart of Christian theology in order to be able to integrate it into their work and translate its importance into other cultural settings.

Missiologically Aware: 
Students demonstrate an understanding of the mission of God and their place within it as individuals and members of the global Church, learning to discern God’s call and to act on that discernment in concrete ways. 

Interculturally Competent: 
Students learn to live, work and communicate appropriately in a variety of cultural contexts, utilizing the disciplines of communication theory, anthropology, and sociology, to understand both cultural Others and communicate effectively in intercultural contexts.

The MAGS curriculum addresses the actions of the mind, heart, and hands. Our approach brings together the highest academic excellence with supervised ministry mentoring and deep spiritual formation. It is a degree that addresses relevant challenges, combining learning and being formed in context. Our hybrid approach that combines online course work with focused face-to-face learning creates an incredibly flexible educational experience.

One unique feature of the MAGS is what we call the “Learn-While-Doing” 1-Year Global Service Residency. We believe that excellent equipping for service occurs when action, academic study, active reflection and guided mentoring take place simultaneously. This involves a 1-year period of cohort learning, classes, and guided supervision. This experience consists a year of synchronized

  • Scheduled classes (combination of face-to-face and online)
  • Focused assignments that connect with active ministry and service
  • Guided mentoring
  • Reflection in a dynamic online learning cohort

There are two tracks for learning-in-context residency locations.

▪   TRACK 1-GO: The first option places students in partnership with one of our 7 MAGS supervised service sites. These are:

▪   New York

▪   Chicago

▪   Dallas

▪   Chiang Mai

▪   Austin

▪   Mexico City

▪   Abilene

In these contexts students will learn from one of our approved site supervisors as they mentor students while they study online, learning together in a cohort with other MAGS students who have elected to serve in one of our partner sites.

TRACK 2-STAY: This second option allows students to engage in a local ministry or service opportunity, and join an online cohort of learners who are each pursuing the year while remaining in their current location. This cohort receives expert supervision from one of ACU’s professors.

Students, in consultation with the MAGS advisor, determine the choice for TRACK 1 or TRACK 2. Both track options provide MAGS students with rich, holistic, guided apprenticeships that engage learning-while-doing.

For more information contact us here.

 

Congratulations to Carson Reed

by   |  02.12.14  |  ACU, Announcements, Ministry, Uncategorized

For thousands of years religious communities have depended on scholars to read, interpret, and analyze faith and the scriptures it is based on. The field of theology is highly academic, but it also influences peoples’ lives on a deep, spiritual level, and the most respected theological scholars can have profound effects on the many faithful people that read their work. The idea of participating in theological research and scholarship is appealing for many seminary students. Becoming a professor and teaching the next generation of theological scholars is an attractive career choice both from a spiritual and an intellectual point of view. However, it is not necessarily an easy path. Any theology student considering becoming a teacher or professor should look to those who have come before them for guidance and inspiration.

The professors and scholars mentioned here have not only contributed to the body of theological knowledge with their research, but they have also contributed to the preparation of a new generation of theologians. Each of these individuals can serve as a remarkable role model for current theology students who aim to become educators. These are listed in no specific order, and are categorized by the general region of the most recent institution they taught at. This list focuses on theological scholars who work and teach in the United States, though many of them are known and respected internationally.

100 Remarkable Professors

 

Carson E. Reed

Carson E. Reed

Carson E. Reed is the Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and Director of the Ministry Program at Abilene Christian University. He often looks at congregations, spiritual music, ministerial callings, as well as theology and practice.

  • Teaches At: Abilene Christian University Graduate School of Theology

A Brief History of Practical Theology

by   |  07.24.13  |  Ministry, Theology

 
Many historians ironically look to Fredrick Schleiermacher (1768–1834) as the father of modern practical theology and also the initiator of its demise as a discipline. Schleiermacher’s proposal is often summarized by the metaphor of a tree. The roots of the tree represent philosophical theology; the trunk, historical theology; and the crown, practical theology.
     Practical theology served the clergy as a means by which the faith community might preserve its integrity and supply normative rules for carrying out the tasks of Christian ministry. Additionally, practical theology assessed the activities, procedures, and operations of the church’s ministry. Finally, practical theology provided the theory related to the praxis of the church’s leadership and conducive to the health of the faith community. Schleiermacher understood practical theology to be the theoretical undertaking of the tasks involved more so than the specific actions necessary to carry out those functions. He wanted to increase theological formation more than skills. For Schleiermacher, practical theology is not a cluster of proficiency courses or whatever is trendy in the churches, but an analysis of theological activity in the church in order to increase Christian faithfulness. His call was for greater accountability, not to skills, but to a theology of faithfulness of practice.
     Yet, in the immediate years following Schleiermacher’s proposal, a split occurred between theory and practice yet again. Theology became a science that moved towards specialization of the discrete parts. Practical theology became the outworking rather than the source of theological understanding of practice. Much of the dissension was due to practical theology being too narrowly defined by the church of his day delimiting the subject to preaching the word and administering the sacraments. Through continued evolution, practical theology became divorced from the new movements of systematics and biblical studies.
     The fault of the division does not rest in one camp or the other. Both share culpability. Practical theology did not develop into its own domain. It turned to the domains of social science for a source of knowledge. Practical theology allowed the social sciences to form rather than inform theology, thus increasing the study and acquisition of techniques. Homiletics turned to communication theory; Poimenics to psychology; catechetics to education theory, and so forth. The resulting split occurred between the domain of the professor and the domain of the clergy. Over time, the separation between theory and practice hardened because the huge increase in knowledge related to skills increased exponentially and no one person could claim expertise.
     As the nineteenth century unfolded, a single core identity that connected church practice with Christianity (as defined by Schleiermacher) no longer provided unity for practical theology as a field of study. The ascertaining of how the nature of Christianity itself sets forth requirements, principles, and rules that preside over the church’s activities was lost. Practical theology broke apart into subdisciplines representing the discrete tasks of ministry.
Practical Theology = Five Traditional Subdisciplines
  1. Catechetics
  2. Homiletics
  3. Liturgics
  4. Poimenics (pastoral care and counseling)
  5. Jurisprudence (leadership)
+ Four Additional Fields
  1. Halieutics (missions and evangelism)
  2. Mystical Theology (spiritual formation and spirituality)
  3. Congregational Studies
  4. Works of Charity (ministries of justice and mercy or social ethics).
     And at various times and in diverse ways, each of these subdisciplines lost their way in their reliance upon assorted and related social sciences. In the most recent past, practical theology became a synonym for pastoral theology or more precisely, pastoral care and counseling. The only choice for a doctoral student was to pursue a degree in one of the discrete subdisciplines. But even then, seminaries would often hire as professors to teach in these fields someone with a correlative degree in the social sciences. If a doctoral student wanted to concentrate on a holistic understanding of practical theology, the only degree possible was pastoral care. While some schools advertised leadership as the key component in their curriculum, the control of the social sciences in leadership studies exemplified [in my opinion] the worst-case scenario.
     However, in the past few decades, the recovery of a holistic understanding of practical theology has returned to the seminary, literature, and by extension, the church.  Practical theology is now a term that defines the aggregate of separate disciplines, each one with its specialists and auxiliary sciences. Currently, practical theology is informed by the social sciences but resists being formed by those disciplines. The organizing principles needed for integration among the collective subdisciplines revolve around theological core identity and method. While diverse interpretations and proposals are prevalent and healthy, it behooves faculties, students, and ministers to seek clear and concise articulations of their specific theological methods and core identities.
–For a more detailed account, see Tim Sensing, “Introduction,” in The Effective Practice of Ministry: Essays in Honor of Charles Siburt, ACU Press, 2013.

Teaching Preaching

by   |  06.25.13  |  Ministry, Preaching

I love preaching. I preached my first sermon when I was 13 years old. The congregation allowed me to preach any Sunday night I wanted as long as our preacher read every sermon before I preached it. One deacon drove me to nearby towns so I could preach.  Others in the congregation affirmed and encouraged me. And because of my home church, I heard my calling. My home church birthed and fostered my love of preaching.

I admire good preaching. I spend more time thinking about preaching than any other subject. And I am thankful that ACU gives me the opportunity to teach preachers how to preach; to be able to help students grow in their professional and personal identity.

While I teach in a school, preaching cannot remain in a laboratory. Preaching is not a “solo performance” or a “spectator sport.” Preaching is a communal activity. One voice cannot be the only voice that reverberates for the whole community. Preaching involves listening to the many voices that make up the Body of Christ. Listening does not lead to fragmentation or a discordant cacophony, but through communal discernment, pastoral care, and context awareness, preaching becomes a living witness to God’s activities among the congregation. In dialog with Scripture, Church, and Community, a new and living word is possible. Otherwise, preaching is mere talk about the same old things in the same old ways.

And preachers develop different styles and voices. My primary objective is not to force preachers to preach like me but to find their own homiletical voice. Even I do not preach with the same style to a congregation of 2000 as I do to a congregation of 20. A Metroplex preacher will sound differently than someone from the east coast. Someone with a teaching voice may exemplify one way of doing the task while someone else uses a testimonial voice. Preachers come in all different shapes and sizes. And the church needs them all. While I might compare and contrast those styles so that my perspective is clarified, I’m not seeking to dilute or deform anyone’s gift or cast suspicion on another’s faith. My primary gift to teaching preaching is my ability to hear the what and how of the homiletical moment. I might even critique a famous preacher like Craddock or Willimon, but only for the pedagogical objective of letting the student’s own homiletical wings take flight. I might through hyperbole swing the pendulum one way, but only so the student can intentionally choose the arc their own style will swing.

So, how do people learn to preach? The short answer is: “They just do.” However, people do not “just do it.” They have to “figure it out,” to “get the feel” of preaching for themselves. William Willimon compares the teaching of preaching to the teaching of woodcarving and the making of biscuits.
So there’s a sense of which I still don’t know a lot about teaching preaching. I mean, I realize that seeds are planted – were planted in me – which didn’t bear fruit until years later. I realize that it’s more like learning how to carve wood than it is a technique of first you do this, second you do that. You’ve got to get the feel of it. You have to – it’s more like learning to make biscuits than it is how to write an essay on something. (personal correspondence with the author)

Learning “how-to” is more easily and safely negotiated if it is not undertaken alone. Let’s take biscuits for example. Studying a cookbook or watching an infomercial does not miraculously produce master chefs. Total recall of principles and propositions that follow the recipe line-by-line will not necessarily produce melt in your mouth biscuits. Somehow, the “knack” is missing. But when Grandma stands over your shoulder, another experience all together occurs.

Good preaching pays attention to the rubrics governing exegesis, interpretation, and communication. But knowledge of exegesis, hermeneutics, and rhetoric do not themselves produce good preaching. Some unschooled people (like the apostles) seem to “know in their bones” what preaching involves, while some educated people seem never to learn and are a pain to endure.

As students mature in Christ, they become authentic persons who have passion, conviction, and character. This is not done overnight nor through a set of classes arranged in the curriculum. It begins with the parents in the home and in collaboration with the Christian community, the church. Students develop spiritual disciplines that mold them into people of character. And throughout the process, models and mentors play a vital function. In this sense, the church gives birth to preachers. The teacher functions merely as a midwife for what the church has conceived. And the student preacher, will be given back to the church for service and continued growth.

Preacher education does not stop with a diploma. Continuing education, exploration, innovation within a changing culture, continued growth in actual experience in the life of the church, needs to be cultivated. Older ministers will function as mentors, wise elders will shepherd, and gracious congregants will patiently draw forth the best. The life-long journey of becoming a preacher is always an unfinished work that requires continued construction.

I love preaching because I love preachers and I love the church.

–Tim

The Effective Practice of Ministry

by   |  06.19.13  |  Contextual Theology, Ministry

Effective PracticeRecently, the Christian Scholars Conference hosted a luncheon to honor the memory of Charles Siburt. The new release by ACU Press, The Effective Practice of Ministry: Essays in Memory of Charles Siburt was presented to Charles’s family, Judy, John, and Ben.
     The conviction that theory and practice are divided has some ardent supporters. Sometimes it is all about who you footnote to support a hypothesis. And when you can footnote Aristotle as an advocate, you tread cautiously when you disagree. The theory practice divide is in our bones. The theory practice divide is part of our DNA. In many times, in various places, and in multiple ways, the theory practice divide is assumed. And that which is assumed, is taken for granted, unarticulated, and unquestioned. Amnesia leads to silence. That which is assumed is forgotten.
     Then along comes a man like Charles Siburt. He saw the harmony between theory and practice. He did not see the “either/or” side of the polarities but the “both/and” landscape that resides within congregations. Theology is not merely the pursuit of an intellectual vision but a compelling account of a way of life in God. Beliefs and practices are intertwining functions. Miroslav Volf talks about all this in terms of “belief-shaped practices” and “practice-shaping beliefs.” To separate the two, if possible at all, is to do a disservice to both. Theology is to be known, lived, and experienced by a particular community. For Charles, his academic career was profoundly interconnected in the local life of the church. To know Charles in the academy, was to know Charles in the Church.
     And this is how Charles Siburt saw the effective practice of ministry. Ministry is not just a set of skills but a way of seeing the world and a way of being in the world. Charles was a bricoleur, an artisan, or a kind of professional do-it-yourself person who used tools and skills from multiple sources to produce a bricolage, that is, a pieced-together, close-knit set of practices that provide solutions to a problem in a concrete situation. The bricolage changes and takes new forms as different tools, methods, and techniques are added to the puzzle. He was like a general contractor who refurbishes older homes. There is no telling what one will find when you look between the studs, above the ceiling, or under the floorboards. Yet the general contractor will be able to diagnose and prescribe a beautiful and workable remodeled home. Charles was often called the “Church Doctor.” He drew upon a vast array of specialties in order to cure, prevent, and promote health within a particular congregation. He was like a virtuous Gregory House of Fox TV fame that specialized as a virtuoso diagnostician. While Charles saw more ugliness in the church than one should, he loved the church. When others were tempted to give up, Charles saw the church as a glorious place of God’s activity partnering with saints. As an academic in the seminary, Charles applied theory to practice everyday for the sake of the church. He refused to treat congregations as places to be reduced to a template or stereotype. He declined to talk about theology in the classroom without a case study, example, best practice, or lived experience.
     The contextual nature of theology saturates the pages of The Effective Practice of Ministry that defines not only the chapters, but also the life and ministry of Charles who affected each of the authors in powerful ways. And it is with great pleasure that all the contributors of the volume dedicate this book to Charles Siburt the contributors to this volume esteem Charles as their trusted friend, mentor, and teacher.

Faith Community Research Project

by   |  06.05.13  |  Ministry

Recently I was asked to speak to a gathering of Elders in Dallas on the topic, “What are young people looking for in a church?” It’s a good question. I understand why they are asking the question. They look around their Sunday assemblies and they see less and less twenty somethings in attendance. And the question is not all about—”How can we be more attractive? How can we be the cool church in town?” No, no, —I believe the question from these Elders comes from a deep desire to serve, a conviction that the future of the church is dependent on raising the next faithful generation.

  • Their question is similar to John Westerhoff’s question, “Will our children have faith?” Or, as it is sometimes rendered, “Will our faith have children?” It is a good question. “How can our church be more attentive to the faith of the next generation?” “When the next generation looks to the church, will they come to faith?”
  • To answer the question, I decided to conduct my own original research. I sent out a survey via the web (see the link below). My primary question is, “Why do you or do you not participate in a faith community?” I plan to answer the Elders in Dallas by giving voice to the twenty-somethings. In their own words, this is what they want Elders to hear. And it is only after we have listened, will we know how to respond. Now, like most researchers, whether they confess it or not, I have a bias. My bias is optimistic. I am hopeful. And I believe the word that comes back to these Elders in Dallas will edify them. [2 weeks; 250 responses; and my bias so far is holding steady].

The question remains for all of us no matter your age, “What are you looking for when you come to this place on any given Sunday? What do you hope to See? Hear? What do you expect?

The link for the survey is here.

Eventually, the results will be presented at the November 2013 ElderLink. Additionally, I intend to publish the results in various venues.

I welcome your participation. Forward the link to your friends and family. Post the link on Facebook. Tweet the link to the world. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, I hope the question builds momentum.

Peace, Tim Sensing

BMIS 680 Urban Missions

by   |  03.09.11  |  Announcements, Contextual Theology, Contexual Education, Ministry, Mission, Mission of God, Society, Students

A one-week intensive course in New York City

May 28- June 4, 2011

Dr. Jared Looney – Bronx Fellowship, Adjunct Professor

Why? At the beginning of the 21st century, more than half of the globe is now urban, and in North America 83% of the population is distributed in 475 major metropolitan areas.  Urban worldviews and lifestyles touch virtually every corner of our society – whether central city, edge city, suburb, or exurb.  Urban demographics are constantly shifting.  Urban life touches the church as arts, business, education, politics, and nearly every aspect of societal discourse emerges from within cities.  Urbanism – both as place and as worldview – matters to the whole church from the suburb to the central city.   

How? In a one-week intensive, students will engage in theological and missiological reflection while embedded in a diverse urban context.  The class will benefit from interactions with the city as well as with practitioners serving in the city.  Ranging from youth culture to community development to church planting to congregational ministry, missional practice will be emphasized.  Students will focus on theological principles, cultural context, and practical ministry.

Course Fee = $185
The course fee includes lodging at Refuge House (Bronx, NY) for seven nights; most meals; and Metro Card for transportation about the city.
Students are responsible for their own travel to/from NYC.

For more information contact Dr. Stephen Johnson, Director of Contextual Education.

Mercy Project

by   |  12.17.10  |  ACU, Change, Christianity, Contextual Theology, Contexual Education, Hope, Jesus, Justice, Learning, Ministry, Mission of God, Students, Theology, Video

At ACU Graduate School of Theology, we are convinced that deep learning requires real-world engagement. Contextual education–the phrase we use to describe this approach–reimagines the “classroom,” and “study;” and it means that we get to watch students partner with God in truly amazing ways. Working on behalf of enslaved children in Ghana, West Africa, Chris Field (Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, Executive Director of Mercy Project) is one such student. These are his words:

His name is Tomas, and he is about nine years old. He sits perfectly still in the middle of a small wooden fishing boat and watches my every move closely. I reach my hand out to him, and he slowly reaches back. As his small, dark hand embraces mine, these incredulous words form in my mind: “I am holding the hand of a slave.” Tomas lives in Ghana, Africa where he fishes on a boat fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. Tomas was probably sold by a desperate mother, for about $20, to a man she hoped would be able to send Tomas to school and feed him three times each day. Instead, his life is miserable, full of dangerous work and only enough food to keep him alive.

Unfortunately, Tomas is just one of an estimated 7,000 children working as slaves in the fishing industry of Ghana. These are the children we are working to help. These children are the reason we started Mercy Project. Our initial focus was to raise as much money as we could to help the children in slavery. But it didn’t take us very long to realize that the scope and depth of the problem would require more of us. Long-term solutions to the issue of child slavery in Ghana would have to include economic development- economic development that attacked the poverty and lack of economic opportunity that “forced” men to buy children like Tomas in the first place. This is why we are working to transform Ghana’s economy by creating new industry and businesses that are not dependant on child slavery. This economic development and opportunity gives viable alternatives to the country’s current economic choices. We believe this transformation is what will help us save Tomas and the other children working as slaves in Ghana.

This Christmas season, in the midst of all the celebration, I keep catching myself thinking about Tomas. I am sad that–on the outside–he has little reason to celebrate. But I am grateful for the chance to work on his behalf, and I am hopeful that his next Christmas will be full of joy. We invite you to join us in praying for Tomas and all of the hurting people in our world. Could there be a more fitting way for us to celebrate the humble birth of our Lord Jesus?

The Gospel of God for the World of God

by   |  11.22.10  |  Ministry, Preaching

Tim Sensing, DMin, PhD, Professor of Ministry and Homiletics, Director of Academic Services for the GST

The following sketch concludes my series of sermons: The Gospel of God for the World of God
Acts 17:16-34
1. Some cities evoke particular ideas and images. Just down the road, Nashville is known for Country Music. Nashville is also known as the Athens of the South. Athens-culture, architecture, education—as a city, Athens is a museum of grandeur of Greek culture and philosophy. Paul notes two such philosophical groups:

  • Epicureans: 300 BC, and for them sense perception was the only basis for knowledge. What you could see, handle, taste, smell, and hear.
  • The Stoics emphasized moral conduct. An immoral life comes from the lack of judgment and discernment. The only way to control life was to control passion and emotions. The way you controlled your emotions was through logic and unbiased thinking.

2. Yet, Paul is able to describe in six verses (16-21) the culture around him.

  • Paul’s situation in Athens was negative. The city was full of idols and philosophies and Paul’s spirit was provoked/stirred (v. 16). He was agitated.
  • And yet, notice how positive Paul sounds when he takes the opportunity to talk. He commends the Athenians as “very religious” (vs. 22-28). Paul compliments their literature by citing their own poets. “We are God’s offspring.” From that truth, Paul connects the Gospel to you and me.
  • God created in our hearts three universal needs that all humans have that can only be met by the Gospel of God.
    • Significance—we all want to be needed. We want our lives to count.
    • Community—we were created to live in community.
    • Transcendence/immanence—we all want to know that there is something out there bigger than us. And this is the place that Paul connects to the Athenians. “We are God’s offspring.” Therefore, we know that there is a Divine Force out there that calls us into relationship.
  • For God intended that through our co-participation in the rhythm of creation, work and rest, the beauty of creation would flourish. From Genesis to Revelation, the one true God who created all humankind from one person is now reuniting all throughout the earth in one people of God. God is working to unite all people in Christ, crossing national and language boundaries, social and economic barriers, political ideologies, and ethnic distinctions.

3. And Paul proclaims that God offers you significance, transcendence, and community. God is creator, God is independent, God is the source of all, God is close yet far off, God is our father. Paul begins with the Athenian’s understandings and longings for transcendence in order to introduce them to the God of Jesus Christ. Because creation shows God’s fingerprints, humans seek God. As their own poets said, “we are God’s offspring.”

  • In creation, God is not inert but dynamic, vibrant, and full of promise. God created beauty, delight, goodness, and truth that are full of potential. Although sin has marred creation, God’s image is still imprinted and the possibility of goodness is vibrant.
  • Gives us a model for evangelism…The Gospel of God preaches even in a secular culture. God’s Gospel proclaims that the Creator seeks relationship with the creation.

4. Paul’s Conclusion in Acts 17 (29-34): This is the Gospel of God!

  • Since humans are God’s offspring, then God is not of human making. God is God, and you or anything you make is not.
  • God calls all people to repentance.
  • Judgment with justice will come by the one God appointed.
  • God gave proof of this by raising Jesus from the dead.

God desires to be relationship with you. God provides you significance, community, and transcendence.

The Gospel of God for the People of God

by   |  11.16.10  |  Ministry, Preaching

Tim Sensing, PhD—Director of Academic Services, Professor of Ministry, Graduate School of Theology

Below are sermon notes from the Gospel Meeting I preached in TN this summer, the fourth of five that I will post: The Gospel of God for the People of God
Acts 13:13-52

In this series on the Gospel of God, I’ve been talking about the power of story. Stories work. [Student who in my class tells a story unrelated to the text. When questioned why he told the story, he responds, “I don’t know, but it works.” What the student failed to understand is that the story worked.] We do not need human stories to carry the weight of the Gospel. Stories do work. Often times those stories work against The Story.

Personal stories: Story enables us to get to know folk. Your sitting in a hospital waiting room and you strike up a conversation with woman sitting next to you. Where do you work? How many children do you have? You come from that hometown, do you know so and so? —We are asking questions about their story.

God has a story too. And in our text today (Vs 13-16 the Gospel of God for the People of God) a portion of God’s story is told. Without retelling the whole, Paul uses the power of allusion to rehearse the powerful stories of God. Expanding on Paul’s basic outline, hear again the story…

↓ Eternity/Fellowship–From fellowship to fellowship. In God’s being existed community. Trinity. God’s Self living as one in perfect community.
↓ Creation. Like marriage, where two who are one flesh and desire to multiply as a family, God too, out of love desired for community to become larger. God created because God desired to expand God’s love to even a larger family.

Broken Fellowship–Redemption is a means to an end. Redemption leads to Fellowship.

Therefore: Restoration
↓ Patriarchs
↓ Exile & Return
↓ Torah
↓ Judges & Kings & Prophets
↓ Exile & Return
And they wait for the promise messiah of God
↓ Incarnation
↓ Message of Jesus
↓ Ministry of Jesus
↓ Vs. 26: the people of Jerusalem and the leaders did not recognize Jesus
→ DEATH & RESURRECTION—THE CENTRAL EVENT—VS. 30: And God story reaches its zenith→Jesus. The climax of the story is found in the middle.
↑ Ascension
Between The Times—This is where we find ourselves. Jesus is still reigning at the right hand of God. And we wait “until he comes”
↑ Return
↑ Eternity/Fellowship. At this end of eternity, community is restored.

***And we are witnesses. Paul’s own story changes because he beholds the story of God and chooses to participate in it.

As reported in Aristotle’s Poetics, most stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Plots begin with conflict. The plot thickens through complication. The tension rises to a peak in the climax. And then the resolution comes. God’s story has a different shape. The climax of the story is in the middle. All that comes before anticipates the middle. All that comes after remembers the middle.

God’s Gospel Story culminating in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the culmination, the conclusion, the climax, the telos, the pinnacle of God’s Story.

  1. And it was well received (13:42-43). Those who heard God’s story wanted to continue in the story.
  2. However: God’s Gospel Story culminating in the resurrection of Jesus Christ does not always capture the imagination. The next week (13:44-48), those who heard God’s story rejected it. Israel is not replaced; Israel is divided between those who continue in God’s story and those who don’t.

Listen to the conclusion again—vs 38. It makes all the difference in the world.

Is God’s story, our story? Here in this place is God’s story our story? We can be included in God’s story or we can try to write our own script. But our own script will not get published. God’s story of redeeming fellowship from eternity to eternity can be your story too.

The Gospel of God Enacted (Sermon Notes)

by   |  11.12.10  |  Ministry, Preaching

Tim Sensing, PhD—Director of Academic Services, Professor of Ministry, Graduate School of Theology

Below are sermon notes from that Gospel Meeting, the third of five that I will post: The Gospel of God Enacted

Isa 56:1-8; Acts 10:23b-43
Recall the story of a 4th Grade election. I was the only one in my class who lost—rejection, left out in the cold, excluded, humiliated. There are incidents when all of us can recall feeling excluded. A simple Google search reveals multiple experiences of exclusion:

  • everyone is asked to lunch but you
  • you are not copied on the email sent to all your colleagues
  • you are not recognized for your service
  • your child is not invited to any outside of class functions
  • Some are not included because of their social situation like being single, being unemployed, having a disability, or a thousand other possibilities.

    Throughout my life, I have been a member of 10 congregations and associated with many more. From my perspective, all of them have practiced an open door policy, hospitality, and inclusivity. That perspective comes from an insider and my not being aware of how outsiders feel. I grew up in a middle class family. My parents were highly involved in various leadership roles. I’m Caucasian. I’m male. I attended men’s business meetings. For 5 of those congregations, I was the pulpit preacher. Being on the inside creates a feeling of warmth and acceptance. When I look down the pew, I assume everyone else feels as I do. When I look across the aisle, I believe we all feel accepted.

    But for others, attending church can be the loneliest hour of their week. It is not that they are being excluded, but they are not being included. They do not believe they belong. Insiders do not intend to overlook them; they are simply unaware or assume that others are doing just fine. The bigger the church; the greater to problem. Here is a letter posted in a Christian blog:

    There was an appreciation program this past Friday at our church banquet. When the nursing home ministry volunteers were honored, the pastor named off everyone that was involved with that, even mentioning some of those that weren’t there that night. But didn’t mention me being involved with that ministry. Nobody mentioned me when they brought up cleaning the building either, even though everyone on the staff knows that I help with that. It’s not that I want recognition or attention for anything that I do, but I feel so unappreciated by not being recognized in all that I do at my church. It makes you not want to do things if you feel unappreciated.

    Are we an inclusive community; a place where no one is excluded? Do we set boundaries, or are we extending the borders so that everyone is welcomed, honored, and loved?

    1. Isaiah 56 presents God’s vision for an open and hospitable community. “Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.”

    • For all who do justice and righteousness and hold fast to the divine covenant are God’s servants. Whether you are inside or outside, highbrow or outcast, politically acceptable or socially taboo, God casts arms wide open. God’s vision for an open and inclusive community calls God’s people saying, Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and deliverance revealed (56:1).

    2. However, It was not always so in Israel. Israel has a long history of excluding others.

    • The outcast within community…
    • The outcast outside of community…
    • God’s openness expressed in Isa 56 was rarely seen in Israel.

    3. But just because that is the way it was always done in Israel, does not mean that is the way it always will be among God’s people. Judah returned to Jerusalem after a long and dreary night in exile.

    • God’s covenant redefines boundaries. [56:2-3].
      • But now, Isaiah tells us that a person’s heart is the new criteria for protecting the purity of the whole community.
      • But now God gives all those who are undocumented in the land an assured place in the meeting house of God because they bind themselves to God and worship him.
      • But the question remained for them—Would they be the people that prided themselves in being God’s chosen people while engaging in idolatrous practices, while neglecting the needs of widows and fatherless, while fostering a legal and economic system that disadvantaged the poor, while following a corrupt religious and political leadership? Or would they be true children of Abraham who would become a blessing to the nations and light unto the Gentiles?
    • Judah returned to the land, but now they would be defined differently. Now, God’s covenant community will be defined by a person’s faith commitment and not according to their pedigree, genetics, official papers, or portfolio. God’s vision of justice called them to live as God intended.

    Peter addressed Isaiah’s concern in his sermon addressed to Cornelius’ house. The same story could be told about any sin… This story is about hate.

    • World Cup report on HDNet’s “Dan Rather Reports” addressed racism in European soccer. Such hatred is socially ingrained, deeply rooted, woven into the fiber of their being. And many of these groups claim Christianity as their faith. But for them, racism is greater than baptism. A similar report on the tribalism in Africa reviewed the causes of the genocide in Rwanda. The waters of baptism did not overcome hate. In Rwanda back then, politics and tribalism are greater than baptism
    • So too in Israel … the hatred for the Gentile was known. These hatreds have carried forward into the Middle East today. And the 12 are not immune. Jesus’ interactions with Gentiles in the Gospels do not paint the 12 in a good light. …
    • Yet, Peter proclaims the central points of our faith at the house of Cornelius. “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ” (vs 36). This is God’s sermon to the world. It is upon these historical realities that all human hopes are founded and all human needs are met.
      • The Identity of Jesus (One Anointed) (vs 38a); The Ministry of Jesus (vs 38b-39a); The Cross—Central Event of God’s Peace Plan (vs 39b); The Resurrection (the death of death) (vs 40)
      • God appointed Jesus as judge of the living and the dead (v. 42);
      • And everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (v. 43). It truly is good news. The one who will judge us is also the one who saves us.
      • And that is the GOSPEL: What God does on your behalf that you cannot do for yourself that brings about a hopeful and redemptive future.
    • Here is a story about the sin of hatred, favoritism, and racism. And this story is real; it is a common story, your story, and my story. The Gospel of God gives us a new story to tell. The Gospel of God makes a difference in our relationship with the two greatest force we face as humans: sin.
      • Whether the sin is hate or something else, the gospel of God is greater. There is no sin more powerful than the blood of Jesus. Hatred, racism, and favoritism… the list is longer: adultery, greed, consumerism, etc. The gospel of God in Jesus Christ provides you freedom and grace to forgive you of your sin.
      • Tell me the story of your life… As a Christian, you tell that story differently, don’t you? That is the Gospel of God Enacted. The Gospel of God changes lives.

    To interact more with my musings about homiletics see http://blogs.acu.edu/sensingt/

    The Gospel of God Proclaimed (Sermon Notes)

    by   |  10.25.10  |  Ministry

    Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services<br /> Associate, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

    Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

    Below are sermon notes from that Gospel Meeting, the second of five that I will post: “The Gospel of God Proclaimed (Acts 2:14-47)?”

    Beginning at the end. Spoiler Alert! How does the book of Acts end? He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance (28:30-31). It is the fulfillment of Israel’s hope. The Gospel is Unleashed! The Gospel is Unhindered!

    Let’s go to the beginning where it all started.

    • The Jews believed that the Messiah would come and establish his unshakable kingdom freeing them from Roman oppression. Josephus states that there were four political groups: 1) Pharisees, 2) Sadducees, 3) Essenes, 4) Those in the north. This last group would be a band of guerrilla war fighters, insurgents, located in Galilee the home of 11 of the disciples. This was a well-organized group of trained fighters. They were expecting and waiting ——
    • These northern Galileans are the descendants of the Maccabbees’ who overthrew Greek dominion and ruled Palestine until the Romans. Many thought this would be the time of the Messiah and God’s eternal Kingdom prophesied in Daniel. But it did not happen then. When would God bring his kingdom?
    • 63 people claiming to be Messiah went to the desert who try to bring about uprising. Gamaliel refers to two: Judas and Theudus.
    • Those in the north country ate and slept with apocalyptic. They breathed revolution. In hush whispers in back rooms they talked Messiah talk. It is within this context that Jesus came to earth to be Messiah. This is why so many misunderstood Jesus as Messiah and Jesus’ understanding of Kingdom.
    The Feeding of the 5000, a miracle that occurs in all four Gospels—the 12 return from the limited commission with an army of all males; a Messianic uprising. A coordinated coming together to a place where they were familiar, green grass, the spring of the year, Passover. They were a group without a leader. An army without a general. A nation without a national leader. So, Jesus taught them many things — Jesus had to explain to the mob why he could not comply with their wishes.
    • They sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Similar to the temptation in the desert enticing him to be King. And when Jesus realizes they were going to force him to be King, he dismisses the crowds and sends his disciples away and goes to prayer. He had resisted the attempt to make him into a political and military Messiah.
    • From now on Jesus’ popularity faltered. Unable to trust the crowds, Jesus concentrates on the disciples. This story is a turning point in all 4 Gospels. Jesus refused to allow the crowd to make him the Messiah of their choosing.
    • And out of Galilee, Peter grew up expecting, waiting, and hungering for Messiah. When Jesus said, “Come, follow me,” it is no mystery why this fisherman dropped his net. Messiah. He lived the next three years with Messiah. Jesus taught him discipleship. We read in the gospels about his struggles and his victories as he followed Messiah. Sometimes he tried to thwart Messiah only to be rebuked, “Get behind me Satan.” Then Peter’s tragic denial, “I do not know the man,” reminds us all of the times we too have thwarted the will of God in our lives. Now, in our text, Peter stands in Jerusalem boldly proclaiming “Messiah.” What made the difference? What transformed Peter from denier to defender? It happened Sunday 50 days earlier-Resurrection!

    Imagine you are in the crowd…[Read Acts 2:22-36]. God has acted! God is the subject of every sentence. This is the message that was preached on that first Sunday, and every Sunday afterwards.

    • On Sunday, be assured that the one who was crucified, God made both Lord and Messiah.
    • On Sunday, as we gather around the table, we not only recall the facts of the gospel, we rejoice and give thanks and participate.
    • On Sunday, we can be affirmed that our faith is not in vain.
    • On Sunday, we can go forth with confidence that Jesus is alive.

    Here we are on Sunday. Like every Sunday now for 2000 years, we hear the arousing crescendo of God’s mighty act of raising Jesus from the dead. He is risen; He is risen indeed. Sunday is resurrection day!

    But then Monday comes. And we were back to our jobs and mundane routines. We gather around tables throughout the week …conference tables, dinner tables, game tables…Does Sunday’s table make a difference in how we gather around those other tables?

    1.     What happens on the Monday after Sunday? We have all returned to the Monday through Saturday grind of everyday living. Bills still need to be paid. There is laundry to do; meals to cook; yards to mow; kids to bathe; more laundry; doctor’s appointments; dishes to wash; jobs; hobbies; chores; and more and more laundry. Hours after our celebration of resurrection on Sunday, we find ourselves drowning in the mundane on Monday. We live lives that contradict the abundant life Jesus died to give us; where Monday contradicts Sunday.

    2.     Yet, Peter declares, you crucified and killed [him] by the hands of those outside the law.

    • A Jesus entered into the holy city, he was greeted with cheers, palm branches, and shouts of ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ Yet, this same city cried, ‘Let him be crucified.’ Peter reminds this city, you crucified and killed [him] by the hands of those outside the law.
    • Yet, 3000 that day were convicted, they repented, and were baptized into the name of Jesus so that their sins would be forgiven and to receive the Holy Spirit. What made the difference? What caused these 3000, seven and a half weeks after Good Friday, to repent? What brought these 3000 together in community as devotees to the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer? Devoted to one another’s needs and meeting together daily.
    • What made the difference in their lives? Resurrection. What made the difference in the life of Peter? Resurrection. But also, conversion—our response to resurrection. We must not only believe in Messiah, we must submit to him as Lord. You crucified him; But God raised him to be Messiah and Lord.

    3.     We all want a Messiah. We all want a Savior. We want freedom from our captivity, relief from our oppression, forgiveness from our sins. We want a Great Physician to rescue us from heart problems. And God responded. God raised him up and made him Messiah. And we like that part. Therefore, let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah! We don’t like that “Lord” part nearly as much as we like that “Messiah” part.

    And it makes a difference …

    • At your meeting on Monday @ 3, If your boss makes out of line demands on your time…live out your baptism.
    • The ballgame on Tuesday evening, when others are yelling at the coach, the umpire, and their own kids…live out your baptism—words of encouragement
    • Around the dinner table Wednesday—listen to one another with genuine interest and live out your baptism.
    • If someone runs a red light and smashes your fender on Thursday—live out your baptism.
    • If someone at church gossips about your kids on Friday…live out your baptism.
    • At the doctor’s office on Saturday—you are confident, whatever the report, you are secure in God’s loving arms and you live out your baptism.

    4.     Imagine you are in the crowd… The promise is for you and for all our God will call. Will you accept the work of God on your behalf? Will you submit to the Lordship of God’s Son in your life?

    • God is doing all the work … God is the one forgiving sins. God is the one who giving the Holy Spirit to dwell in your heart. God is the one who puts the old self to death. God is the one who raises the new self to new life. All because, God is the one who has made Jesus both Lord and Christ. And your baptism makes a difference.
    • And when you respond to God’s Son as Messiah, the Christ, you accept him as Lord. You are called to live out your baptism. For Sunday makes a difference on Monday.

    What is the Gospel of God? (Sermon Notes)

    by   |  10.18.10  |  Ministry

    Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services<br /> Associate, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

    Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

    Below are sermon notes from that Gospel Meeting, the first of five that I will post. First, “What is the Gospel of God (Isaiah 40:1-11)?”

    A research project conducted in Italy asked residents in one city to share their life stories. As the stories were collected and analyzed, it became apparent that many residents were silent about one particular week in the town’s history. There were gaps in their story…
    • And the GAPS in our lives not only baffle us; they discourage, bewilder, and demoralize us in so many ways.
    • It’s life in the Gaps, the silences and slippages in our stories that tear up our days. Painful memories that deaden our capacity to live. So, we are restless, holding on to old habits, old customs, old memories, and old photographs.

    Sometimes in the Bible, there are chronological gaps between two verses. Years can go by, and the biblical record does not describe what happened between those two verses. One such gap exists between Isa 39 & Isa 40. What happened in the gap? We need not speculate here. If you remember Isa 39 (retell). And we know what happened in the gaps:

    • Destruction of Jerusalem, Destruction of the Temple, Deportation of the citizens. They lost the pillars of their faith foundation: Temple, Land, and King.
    • Jeremiah and Lamentations both occur between Isa 39 and 40.

    • E.g., Lamentations begins: “no resting place” (1:3), “no pasture” (1:6), “no one to help” (1:7), “none to comfort” (1:9, 16, 17, 21; 2:13), “no rest” (2:18).
    • Lamentations ends: 5:20, 22 –a question Israel does not know the answer, a question about being “forgotten” and “abandoned” by God.

    • Loss, suffering, & dismay. And the people of Israel conclude, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God?” (Isa 40:27)

    What about life after the gap? 40:1-11: With devastation surrounding us on every side, God offers us a new world based on memory and guaranteed by promise. God comes. Not to fight or to destroy, but to comfort and protect. Suffering reverses into well-being and health. The valleys will be raised and the mountains lowered so that Israel’s return to Jerusalem will be smooth, like an Interstate Highway. … And God’s glory will be revealed.

    And a new word appears here that has not been recorded in the pages of Scripture before. Did you hear it? In the midst of the gaps, during exile, when life is nothing but despair, God calls for a new word. And that word is “Gospel.” And the Gospel of God calls all to hear to see God anew. This is who God is and this is what God is doing.
    Behold Your God—He comes to make a path for your return.
    Behold Your God —His Word stands forever.
    Behold Your God —Who comes with good news of power.
    Behold Your God —Who embraces you as a Shepherd, feeding you and leading you to green pastures and still waters.
    40:9 Good News (first time used in scripture). God is about to do a new thing →52:7. The change in verdict, “God reigns,” is a change in narratives, and is a change in their reality.

    Behold Your God—40:28-31: Your God Created the Heavens; Your God does not grow tired; Your God in his strength gives strength to others. God has the power to rewrite your story, to re-imagine the gaps in your life.
    ➢ I received a phone call from a woman with 3 little boys. Alcoholic and other destructive addictive behaviors. A husband who fueled her addictions to cover his own immorality and who eventually left her. She called—she had not heard from her husband in 12 years. What had her life been like in the gap?
    ➢ I received a package from a woman who had lost two sons. Car accident/drowning. What had her life been like in the gap?
    ➢ I do not know the gaps in your life, but I know that God is…

    1. God is a God of resurrection. God raised Judah from exile. He made a highway in the desert, leveling all ruts, smoothing all mountains, straightening all the curves. Imagine with me God’s triumphal procession home on this newly paved interstate—God’s victorious parade marching home after he has defeated the gods of Babylon. The remnant returned to the land, to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple.
    2. The God who raised Jesus from the dead, who raises sinners from the waters of baptism, can also raise churches from the depths of despair; resurrect families where parents and children have been divided; resurrect marriages where divorce seemed the only option; give new life where only death reigned.
    3. I don’t know where death reigns in your life right now. I do not know about the gaps, the silences, the places in your soul that are all but dead. But when your experience denies hope and discounts the future, God ACTS. God creates something new. God’s promise surprises us. God’s promises seem unbelievable. We may not be able to see it, handle it, or smell it—but promise fills us with the hope of tomorrow/a new day breaking in around us. When Isaiah asks you to hear the gospel, Isaiah proclaims, “BEHOLD YOUR GOD! For God is a God of resurrection.”

    GOSPEL MEETINGS

    by   |  10.11.10  |  Ministry

    Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services<br /> Associate, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

    Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

    This summer I was asked to preach a Gospel Meeting in Tennessee. Upon further inquiry, the elders clarified that they desired a good-ole-fashion revival. I soon realized that the primary audience also included folks from area congregations who attended various meetings throughout the summer.

    My memories of Gospel Meetings are limited. Thirty-five years or more have past since I last attended one. I remember sitting in the amen corner with my grandfather as Bro. Neal Penny preached for 2.5 hours on the book of Hebrews. I took notes. I took 14 pages of notes. He began with Hebrews 1:1 and concluded his running commentary with 13:25. When he was done, I knew the preaching in Tennessee was different than where I grew up.

    It would have been easy to adapt their request for a Gospel Meeting to something more familiar. I toyed with the idea of a seminar on Philippians or Colossians. I considered relevant themes to contemporary contexts. But instead, I chose to address their expectations as the primary hearers of the sermons: A Gospel Meeting.

    I began brainstorming. The following list emerged:

    • The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15)
    • The Four Gospels
    • Gospel preacher
    • Gospel light
    • The Gospel Advocate
    • Gospel music

    Assigned Seating

    by   |  05.20.10  |  Church, Hospitality, Ministry, Mission of God, Society, Worship

    The other day I was reading the Didascalia Apostolorum (DA), like people do on a bright May morning. Chapter 12.4 has an instruction for bishops in the worship service:

    If, after you are seated, some other man or woman should arrive who is honored in the world, whether from the same region or another congregation, you should not leave off your ministry of the word—whether you are speaking it or hearing it or reading it—in order to show them to a place. Instead, remain as you are and do not interrupt the word.

    For those who may not know, DA is an anonymous manual of church order, written largely in the 3rd century. Originally composed in Greek, it survives today mainly in Syriac. Though not especially well studied yet, DA gives us fascinating glimpses into early church life before Constantine’s time.

    In this passage, DA counsels church leaders not to do what would come naturally. In the ancient world, when people of worldly dignity show up, it would be normal to drop what you are doing and receive them amidst the pomp and circumstance that fits their status. Not to do so would be rude and politically unwise, since surviving and thriving in that society depended so much on playing long-established games of patronage and preferment. From a worldly perspective, one would expect that the ranking “dignitary” of the congregation, the bishop, would be quick to court the favor of local luminaries and visiting VIPs by privileging their position in the church assembly. In public gatherings, the seating chart was a primary way of making and reinforcing a person’s significance in society. But here DA encourages the bishop to recognize that attending to the word is more important than attending to worldly status—and that in the eyes of God a minister of the Gospel outranks those whom society would privilege on account of wealth and power. Like it or not, any bigwig who walked in expecting special treatment would get hit squarely with a different set of values than he or she was accustomed to outside the church.

    Later in the chapter (12.6), DA gives bishops further advice about seating arrangements:

    But if a poor man or woman should arrive, whether from the same region or another congregation, especially if they are elderly, and if they have no place, then you, bishop, should act for them from your heart, even if it means sitting on the ground yourself. There should be no respect of persons with you, but you should please God through your ministry.

    The arrangements are deliciously ironic: When big-shots show up, yanking the minister’s chain to receive attention and trying to impose their privileged status on the congregation, ignore them. But when someone arrives whom the world would naturally place last, someone poor or feeble and insignificant, quickly move to find them a place—even the place of highest honor, the bishop’s own seat! By subverting the toxic norms of a sick society, the minister’s seating chart becomes a pointer to the Kingdom.

    Not everything in DA would naturally be to the liking of the contemporary minister, but here we have a worthy teacher. Following Jesus’ lead in Luke 14:7–11, DA instructs ministers to embody the gospel in ways that will foster the world of God’s new creation.

    Is there a need to rearrange some of the seating charts in your context?

    Dr. Jeff Childers
    Carmichael-Walling Chair of NT and Early Christianity
    ACU Graduate School of Theology
    Abilene, TX 79699

    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.

    4. Let’s remember that change can be both good and necessary.  Some folks I know are worried about “change agents.”  I’ve even read journals that argue that all change is to be resisted.  Of course, this is absurd.  Sometimes change is apostasy, true, and that is to be resisted.  But sometimes change is repentance, as when churches quit making one race sit in the balcony while another sat on the pews on the floor.  Sometimes change is simply maturation as when we recognize that our group does not have a monopoly on Christian commitment or understanding.  And sometimes it’s just change, relatively benign and neutral in meaning.  To fear change is to fear life.  The key is to make change rather than suffer it, and to make it with the highest Christian ideals in mind.

    5. Finally, let’s remember that to be church is the greatest calling in the world.  We cannot cherish Christ without also cherishing his bride.  The church often needs correction — we are always reforming — but we also need to be loved and to love the magnificent calling we have received to be harbingers of God’s Kingdom, in which no one suffers hunger, no one is alone, no one is disrespected, and all find a place of dignity and honor at the bountiful table of the Lord.

    May it always be so!  I’ll start a new series in a few days, after the Pepperdine lectures.  I hope to see you there!

    The Gift of Hope

    by   |  04.28.10  |  Church, Hope, Ministry, Ministry Assessment, Students

    Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services
Associate, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

    Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology


    Profiles of Ministry is an assessment given to all first year students who are enrolled in one of ACU Graduate School of Theology’s formation degrees (MDiv, MACM, MAMI). The assessment asks the participants to read several case scenarios and to respond according to how they think they would act in a particular situation. Afterwards, the participants are asked a series of questions orally that give them a chance to nuance their answers. For example, a case scenario might ask about a particular issue common in ministry. The students choose one of the items listed. It might not be the exact description of their preferred ministerial action, but it is the best one available. The audio interview allows the participants to elaborate about various areas of ministry through open-ended questions.

    Over 40 areas are covered in the assessment measuring the students’ perceptions of ministry. For example, one of the indicators measures how balanced the students’ perspectives are regarding “world mission.” The item is measuring how likely the students are to choose between teaching the gospel and trying to meet a particular social or economic need. In other words, will they give a cup of water to quench someone’s thirst or are they more likely to open the Bible and share the gospel? ACU GST students consistently score “very likely” to be balanced. They are just as inclined to give a cup of cold water, as they are to “preach the gospel.” They discern on a case-by-case basis the best approach in each situation.

    After listening to students answer questions and examining the results of the written reports for over 11 years, my hope for the future of the church grows. Let me offer two illustrations. One of the indicators measures “denominational collegiality.” Most of the GST students score “likely.” This is good news. If they scored, “very likely,” then we would wonder how realistic they are. They would need to remove the proverbial rose-colored glasses and realize that institutions are flawed and we all struggle to be what God has designed. Alternatively, if they were to score lower than “likely,” then we would question why they are considering ministry in the first place. Our students both love and are committed to the church. They are not looking to go elsewhere. They are not disenchanted or cynical. Other questions confirm this finding. Students are encouraged to be part of God’s family and consider the church as a healthy place for them to serve. Good news indeed.

    The second example is similar. The last question of the interview asks about their perceptions of the future. Students express confidence in the people of God acting in ways that will serve others and honor God in significant ways. More importantly, they trust that God not only protects the church but also is active in achieving God’s will and purposes in the present and in the future.

    I have the great joy of listening to future ministers’ perceptions of ministry and the church. These students bless me with the gift of hope.

    Does the Gospel Sell Itself? (part 3)

    by   |  04.22.10  |  Bible, Church, Ministry, Mission, 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

    Ours is a time in which all the old truths have seemed questionable, all the old habits indefensible, and all the old passions unthinkable.  Since Christianity is no longer a new religion and since Christians are often leaders in the power systems of the world and therefore often implicated in its evils, many men and women ask us whether Christianity, and thus the Gospel, makes any sense.  They ask, to put things very bluntly, if Christianity is good for you.  Does following the way of Jesus make you a better person?  Does the church help people live in community in better ways?  If there is a God, is this God good?  Critics of Christianity such as Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens tell us that God is not great, and that religion (at least they don’t just try to finger us!) is the source of all the evil in the world.

    Now a lot of their rhetoric is nonsense.  Let’s be clear about that.  Many of the critiques are ill informed about all sorts of things.  They set up straw people to knock down.  They pit the most ignorant Christians and against the best informed non-Christians.  So there is much of the noise we can safely ignore as the last rantings of a publicity-seeking, sensationalistic media and public.

    But is that all there is to the brouhaha?  Surely it is fair to say that many of us Christians (and other religious people) are confused about what our faith really teaches.  We adjust to a series of compromises with worldly structures and react out of fear when we should act out of hope.  The critics have a point there.  To provide a real answer to the intellectual challenges facing us, then, Christians have to be clear about a few things that our faith actually teaches.  Here are some:

    1. There really is only one God, and we are not it!  The great Christian confessions such as the Nicene Creed or the Apostle’s Creed, to say nothing of the Bible, are organized around the confession of the supremacy, transcendent goodness, and honor of God.  The center of the faith is not the faith itself, much less any laws, practices, ideas, doctrines, etc. deriving from the faith.  God is God, and we are all seekers in need of redemption.

    2. The human approach to God comes through radical submission to the way of love.  Christians vigorously pursue nonviolence in all we do.  We join in the criticism of the relentless pursuit of money and power.  We strongly question any human system that turns people into commodities.  We disdain privilege in all its forms.  We believe that God calls us to love all our neighbors as ourselves.

    3. We also believe that all human systems are flawed, some very deeply.  Some Christians call this original sin, and of course we debate just how deeply flawed humans are.  Surely the evidence is complex.  But it is also incontrovertible.  When St. Paul said that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, he was simply stating the obvious.  It follows from this fact that no human system can command our final, unquestioning loyalty (not a nation, not an economic system, not even a way of doing family).

    4. We Christians think that vigorous pursuit of truth is a worthwhile goal, and that we have nothing to fear from honest inquiry.  We think that our congregations should be places in which such inquiry occurs.

    5. Our faith is deeply intertwined with hope.  Our critics misunderstand what we mean by hope, and frankly many Christians do too.  We seem to see heaven as an escape from this world, as a kind of ace up God’s sleeve to make everything right.  But that’s not what Scripture says.  It talks instead about living lives that participate in God’s work of redeeming humanity.  It talks about a God who can balance mercy and justice just right so as to bring about the final elimination of evil (something we can just barely conceive of).  That’s a different view than the one attributed to us, and it’s different than the one we sometimes hear in church.

    This is a long blog post.  Thanks for sticking with it.  More next time!