Archive for ‘Mission’

Alumni Spotlight- Nathan Pickard

0 Commentsby   |  12.14.17  |  ACU, Alumni, Church, Evangelism, Ministry, Mission, Professors, Students, Theology

Meet GST Alum, Nathan Pickard!

Nathan lives in Newmarket, Ontario with his wife Katie and two boys, Caleb and Eli. He enjoys spending his time playing hockey with the kids. He also has a love for the outdoors, especially hunting and fishing. He received a Master of Divinity and a Doctorate of Ministry from ACU. Most recently, he wrote a small book called Praying for the Neighborhood and also contributed a chapter to the book called Along the Way which was edited by Ron Bruner and Dana Pemberton. He also writes for our GST Blog.


1) Where are you currently working & what is your role?

I am the minister at Newmarket Church of Christ (a small city 40 minutes north of Toronto). I have been serving this congregation for just over 13 years. 

2) Do you feel like the GST prepared you for your current role? If so, how?

GST prepared me by asking ecclesiological and missiological questions that no one asked me to answer before. They also helped develop my theology of church and mission. This training has allowed me to serve a congregation that is multi-cultural and also on the cutting edge of living within a very a post-Christendom culture.

Interacting with faculty on a regular basis also helped me develop a love for communities of faith. Seeing my professors love the church (when its easy to grow dissatisfied) has helped me become a minister who cares deeply about longevity with a congregation. GST also prepared me by being a place where I could develop friendships; friendships that help sustain my theological interests and work.

I remember eating breakfast with Dr. James Thompson one morning and asking him why there isn’t a lot of “text” classes. Thompson responded with words similar to, “It’s important to teach you how to read Scripture rather than specifically teach you certain texts. If you can learn how to read Scripture you can read the texts with your community of faith.” What Thompson said can easily be translated to other areas of study. GST helped me learn what it means to be a student of theology, ethnography, eccelesiology, etc., and because of this, GST has given me the tools to think deeply about the life of the church.

3) What is something you are currently most excited about in your ministry?

I’m excited about our work in the neighborhood. We have a community garden, summer camp, neighborhood meals, street BBQ’s. We’ve recently partnered with the Town so that a bike trail and a neighborhood parkette could be built as part of the Town’s development. I’m also really excited about conversations where we as a community of faith are exploring the development of a hospitality house where we will invite individuals to live inside the neighborhood and help connect church and neighborhood in deeper ways, while also building upon the work we’ve been engaged in over the years. This conversation is one of the most significant conversations we have undertaken. I look forward to continuing this conversation. (See Nathan’s blog about working in his neighborhood here

4) Tell us about a GST professor or two that inspired you. Feel free to use a story, or just explain why and how they impacted your life.

There were two professors that inspired me. First was Dr. Tim Sensing. I was Tim’s Graduate Assistant and so had to spend a lot of time with him. His stories of church and family, his quiet demeanor, steadfastness and friendship helped shaped me into who I am today. The second was Dr. Mark Love. It was Mark’s class on evangelism that helped me see the kingdom of God in new ways. It was also Mark who introduced me to the missio Dei and as a result, has shaped my eccelesiology and way of ministry.

(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.

Broom Colloquium

by   |  10.08.15  |  Announcements, GST Events, Mission

‘Jamie, The Very Worst Missionary’ to speak

Posted October 07, 2015 Former missionary and popular blogger Jamie Wright will speak at this year’s Broom Colloquium on Oct. 28 and 29, hosted by ACU’s Halbert Institute for Missions.

Wright is perhaps best known for her blog, “Jamie, The Very Worst Missionary,” which she describes as a collection of “inappropriate remarks, embarrassing antics, and generally lame observations from an American missionary.” Through her blog and speaking engagements, she uses humor to honestly describe her life as a missionary and mother, and to discuss Christian culture.

Wright’s topic for the colloquium will be “Missions, Justice and Social Media: Can Twitter, Instagram and Facebook Really Change the World?” She will discuss how students can channel their compassion and social responsibility in the world of social media.

Sessions are scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 28 in Moody Coliseum and 7 p.m. Oct. 29 in Hart Auditorium. Both sessions are open to the public.

The colloquium, held annually since 2007, is a campus conversation that encourages the ACU community to relate global issues to God’s mission in the world. It is named in honor of the legacy of Wendell and Betty Broom. Wendell Broom was a longtime missions professor and one of the first Church of Christ missionaries to receive advanced academic training in missiology.

See Wright’s blog:

Master of Arts in Global Service

by   |  05.31.14  |  ACU, Announcements, Contexual Education, Mission

MA web banner

The Mission Alive team is excited to announce a partnership between Abilene Christian University and Storyline Christian Community – a Dallas, Texas church planting in the Mission Alive community.

See original website here.

Storyline will serve as one of seven global “missional partner sites” for the Master of Arts in Global Service (MAGS) degree. The 48-hour MAGS degree is a cutting edge approach to education that combines online coursework, focused face-to-face learning within a cohort of peers, and mentoring in a particular ministry context.


Charles Kiser, Mission Alive Director of Training and Storyline Missionary, will mentor students as the Dallas MAGS Site Supervisor. MAGS students in Dallas will have many learning opportunities in mission and discipleship:


  • Experiencing the life of an extended family on mission (missional community) in a particular neighborhood or relational network
  • Equipping for the way of Jesus in a discipleship huddle
  • Identifying, befriending, and sharing faith with those who are searching for God
  • Leading a discipleship huddle for others
  • Seeing searchers take steps toward Jesus through the Alpha Course in missional community
  • Working for justice among the downtrodden in Dallas
  • Deepening prayer and spiritual discernment
  • Helping to start new missional communities
  • Participating in Mission Alive’s Mission Training for discipleship and mission
  • Receiving coaching and mentoring from practitioners in the trenches of mission

For more information, visit or call Charles Kiser at 214.471.5722.


July 1, 2014 is the registration deadline for the Fall 2014 cohort.


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.


Things Worth Clapping For: The Psalms in Our Worship 38

by   |  10.03.11  |  Bible, Mission, Prayer, Uncategorized

Applause is such a strange social phenomenon.  We clap for bone-crunching tackles, masterful gymnastics routines, six year-olds at their piano recitals and famous virtuosos at theirs, baptisms and bar mitzvahs, speeches (including sermons nowadays), and a range of other activities.  We signify our approval of sterling performance, a fact that assumes (1) that we have in our heads a set of standards about what constitutes excellence in a given field and (2) that the type of endeavor is secondary (so we applaud the open-field crushing of a receiver and a baptism of a young person, often on the same day — whoever said we humans were logical beings plainly didn’t know us!).  Yet surely what we applaud determines what sorts of people we are.

Psalm 47 invites Gentiles to join Israel in its applause of the Almighty, signaling the universal scope of the rule of providence.  Why should they applaud?  Because Yhwh has redeemed Israel, thus keeping age-old promises and insuring that peace and holiness have a chance in the world.  The psalm runs to the old image of God as king (and thus as guarantor of justice and human wholeness) by singing “Yhwh Most High is awesome, a great king over all the land” (v. 2; Hebrew 3) and “for Elohim is king over all the earth…. Elohim reigns o’er the nations; Elohim sits on his holy throne” (vv. 7-8; Hebrew 8-9).  The enthroned ruler is the one who brings about life-giving order.  A few observations:

  • The setting of the song is unclear.  Is it a celebration of a particular national victory, or a song sung in the midst of a festival (Tabernacles?) about a long-standing or recurring history of redemption?  The answer might matter for how we interpret the psalm, but there is no way of knowing for sure.  As it stands, the poem has gotten separated from its original setting and thus functions as a celebration of the world’s very structure as a place under the sovereign care of God.
  • The phrase in v. 9, “Elohim who sits on his holy throne,” evokes a very old theme, seen also in Egyptian theology, of a God who is in charge of the cosmos and keeps all threats to peace and justice at bay.  However difficult such a metaphor might be for us in our democratic age, the idea of God as the perfect ruler operates throughout the Bible and is a basic assumption of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the religions that sprung from Israel.

Why is God’s kingship, brought to bear in history, worth celebrating?  If you assume that the infinite being cares perfectly for human beings and is incapable of corruption, ignorance, self-interest, inattentiveness, or any of the other frailties that mar human rule, then God’s rule sounds like very good news.  Surely for its beneficiaries this would be so.  Obedience to the dictates of such a ruler would be easy since they so obviously reflect a profound commitment to human well-being.  Obedience would not be experienced as obedience at all, but simply as the movement of the soul in response to virtue (Aristotle’s ideal).

Does the psalm assume that the nations somehow benefit from God’s salvation of Israel?  Certainly the text does not spell out how this would be so, but it is not necessary to assume that the poet was a naive xenophobe who imagined that others would enjoy his happiness, whatever their own condition.  If the non-violent, harmonious world imagined in the Psalms and prophets were to emerge, then surely everyone would benefit.  After all, the ravages of war fall on everyone in their path, not just one group.  So it does not seem too far-fetched to imagine that in the back of the psalmist’s mind — and in the minds of the congregations singing the psalm either in ancient Israel or subsequently — the prospect of divine settlement of wrongs would be an inviting idea.

Of course, the psalm is not engaging in political theorizing.  It is trying to get people to sing and enjoy the prospects of a new world.  In many ways, that option seems even more humanly inviting.  If we celebrated the possibilities of peace and justice, and celebrated the reality of such when we saw it, how would our lives and our world be different?  This week, I think I’ll try it.  Stay tuned for results!

Reputations and Memories: The Psalms in Our Worship 35

by   |  08.01.11  |  Bible, God with us, Mission, Psalms, Theology

After a bit of a break, this post marks a return to the Psalms.  Welcome back!

Reputation.  The legend is that at his trial for cheating in baseball, Shoeless Joe Jackson was accosted by a young fan who said, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!  Say it ain’t so.”  Legend or not, the saying has stuck because  we all want to believe the best about our heroes, and we never want them to disappoint us.  Their failures are our failures at some level, if for no other reason than that we believed in them.

Psalm 44 is a “say it ain’t so” kind of psalm.  It opens with an address to God speaking of how the ancestors had spoken of the deity’s mighty saving deeds in the past (notably the exodus and the settlement in the land.  The opening address also claims that Israel has been faithful, a fact that should motivate God to be faithful to them.

Then comes the big shift.  In verse 9 (Hebrew v. 10), the accusations begin.  God, says, the psalmist has abandoned Israel to its enemies, making them like “a flock for devouring” and “people sold for no price.” Israel’s fate has become the stuff of foreign proverbs (v. 14 [Hebrew 15]).  The psalmist summarizes the horror and confusing nature of the people’s fate by saying, “All this has befallen us, yet we have not abandoned you, nor have we betrayed your covenant” (v. 17 [18 Hebrew]).  Such a fate would be understandable if the people had abandoned God, yet they have not.  Say it ain’t so!

What do we make of such a psalm?  It is not unique in its frank criticism of the Almighty (see, for example, Ps 89).  The refusal to admit guilt or to pretend away the horrors of the present are at once intimidating and refreshing.  Intimidating because the sort of gall — if it is — required to say such a thing seems unusual, and refreshing for the same reason.  Few of us ever rise to such a level of honesty in our expressions of outrage, pain, and confusion.

Now, for those who believe that we must always spin our feelings when bringing them to God, such a psalm seems to present a serious problem.  For some readers, it seems arrogant or downright disrespectful.  Yet here it is in the Bible, a book not known for valuing such qualities.  So perhaps we should reconsider what we think proper speech to God is.  The claim of the psalm is that Israel has not deserved its fate, and that the suffering it experiences constitutes a violation of the covenant with Yahweh.  God, says the Psalmist, has not kept His side of the bargain.  A serious charge, if true.

Still, it is important to note how the psalm ends.  It does not end with a repudiation of the covenant or a denial of God.  Rather, it invites God to “arise and save us, and rescue us for the sake of your steadfast love.”   Be who your reputation says you are, in other words.  Save because you are the savior.  The psalmist’s lack of confidence in God gives way to a higher confidence borne of waiting and wrestling.  Yet the new confidence comes from a relationship with God that includes the sort of absolute candor that the psalm displays.

The story is that Shoeless Joe answered the boy, “Yeah, kid, I’m afraid it is.”  And so a hero drifted away.  The psalmist gives his or her hero one more chance.  Sometimes we need to as well, for God’s sake and our own.


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.

Contextual Immersion in New York

by   |  11.23.10  |  Contextual Theology, Contexual Education, Mission, Mission of God, Students, Video

Carol Mendoza and Penny Peng, GST Students

In January, ACU GST students Carol Mendoza and Penny Peng will arrive in New York City for a seven month Contextual Immersion experience. During their time there, Carol and Penny will work closely with Jared Looney (Bronx Fellowship) who will serve as their Contextual Supervisor. They will be engaged in the life of the city and God’s mission in the world. Though not exclusively, Carol will move in relationship to the Hispanic Diaspora in New York and Penny the Chinese community. During the seven months, they both will earn nine hours toward their degree programs.

Sounds cool. What does this mean?

Contextual Education is at the heart of how we are forming students for ministry and mission in the Graduate School of Theology. This means we want our students’ learning and formation to be connected to the life and mission of God in the world in its particular expressions (contexts, if you will). From their first semesters in the GST, students are not only thinking about this notion, but actually participating in a particular context as “situated learners” (see Jean Lave & Etienne Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation).  Students’ participation in a particular context stretches across the span of their degree program and deepens as they move through through it.  At the center of this deepening relationship is Contextual Immersion – something like the seven month immersion experience that for Carol and Penny will take place in New York.

While we who teach and administer in the GST have been conceiving of a “new curriculum” for some years now, it is students like Carol and Penny who are helping us bring the potential of it to fruition.  Penny and Carol have created a video that tells a bit more about them. 

Also, they are raising funds to make this experience possible.  If you are able to help them, you can make a contribution online here.

Dr. Stephen Johnson
Director of Contextual Education
Associate Professor of Ministry
ACU Graduate School of Theology
Abilene, TX 79699
General Editor, Academy 

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!

Does the Gospel Sell Itself (part 2)

by   |  04.15.10  |  Bible, Church, Ministry, Mission, Theology

How do we get off the road?  How do we join the earliest disciples in their journey, for which a single change of clothes and the greatest possible trust in God was enough?  How do we do this together, so that we don’t play generations or theological stances or ways of doing church off against each other, adding to the divisions of Christendom?  Let’s try some basic ideas.

First, let’s get some clarity on mission. The Bible talks about the church in many different ways: herald of good tidings, a people sent, an attacking army (remember that line “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”?), the cosmic body of Christ, God’s household, and other things.  The church is not a dispenser of goods and services, but a body of praying and serving people.  We don’t point to ourselves, but to God living in us.   Selling the church as such is almost the worst thing we can do.  We “sell” the story of God’s redemptive work in us and beyond us.

Second, let’s shift from an idea of the church member as consumer to the member as seeker of God. All of us are seekers, and all of us are trying to grow in our love of God, our faith in God’s promises, and our hope for a better life for everyone.  A lot of my friends want us to get rid of the idea of church membership altogether, because they think it’s unbiblical (which, technically, it is) and, more seriously, unhelpful.  It reinforces divisions (insiders and outsiders) that don’t quite make sense.  I’m not sure I think we have to get rid of the language altogether, but my friends have a point.

Third, let’s think small. Now, I’m not criticizing big churches.  That’s not the point.  Healthy big churches work hard on building relationships in small groups, and they use their size to accomplish things that small churches usually can’t pull off.  The problem is not size as such, but anonymity.  Let me give an analogy.  When I was a little kid, I used to love to go to my grandpa’s service station.  It had two gas pumps and a garage for a mechanic.  And it was a gathering place where people had relationships.  If you couldn’t pay for your gas this week, Grandpa Sullivan would put your name in his little book so you could pay next week.  Contrast that with the chains I buy gas at now.  They’re quicker, more efficient, probably more environmentally responsible, and they sell more of the junk food we like on long trips.  But relationships?  Not really.  In our increasingly fragmented world of people bowling alone, churches have to think pretty carefully about community.

Fourth, to tie all this up, let’s talk about stakeholding. In other words, are there people in our churches whose absence we would not miss, whose opinions we do not consult, whose faith we do not consider, and whose wisdom we don’t draw on?  My guess is that the answer is yes.  Think about the incredible waste of that situation.  How do we give more people more of a stake in what happens in our congregations?  This especially applies to the young and the old, but it applies to all of us.

These are some thoughts.  I’d welcome your comments.  Next time, I’ll try to talk about the intellectual/theological issues we face today.

Dr. Mark W. Hamilton
Associate Professor of Old Testament and
Associate Dean
ACU Graduate School of Theology
Abilene, TX 79699
Editor, The Transforming Word