Culture



This month Matthew Soerens taught our church staff about Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Matt works with churches on immigration issues through World Relief. He also co-authored the book Welcoming the Stranger (IVP).  Matt has a humble yet insightful view of this issue. I will spend a few post on immigration – inspired by his talks.

Why should Christians engage in Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

While a growing number of White Evangelicals support comprehensive immigration reform, others remain indifferent on the issue, and others oppose the concept.  I believe that people of faith should take part in reforming our national immigration policy because it strikes at the core of Christianity.

It is a Bible Issue – The  Scriptures explicitly teach on how the people of God, including on a government level, are to treat the foreigners in their land. There are several other texts that speak about general principles of love, mercy, compassion, justice and hospitality which must inform our approach to immigration.

It is a Jesus Issue – Jesus was an immigrant. That experience surely had an impact on him. The teaching of Jesus should influence our approach to immigration.  Jesus summarized and prioritized the teachings of the scriptures as “love your neighbor.” He clarified that “neighbor” includes people who are not like us.

It is a Church Issue – The Church of Jesus Christ goes beyond our local congregations. The Church includes all believers. Non-white congregations are the fastest growing segment of  the Church in America. Many of these ethnic churches suffer under our broken immigration system. We are to care for our brothers and sisters in the church.

It is a Mission Issue – Christians are called to make disciples of “all nations,” which means “all people groups.” The reality is that all people groups are coming to America. Their ability to hear and receptivity to the message of Jesus are, at some level, influenced by our national immigration policies and by the Church’s response to  immigration issues.

Next Post –  Immigration in America: Past and Present.

Matt’s Soeren’s Book:

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Our pastoral staff had lunch with N.T. Wright (Yes, I like my job!).

Scott Arbeiter asked the Bishop of Durham what blind spots he observes in the American Evangelical Church.

As a good historian, Bishop Wright responded to the question by naming two periods of American history: The 1770s and 1860s.

The 1770s

Americans not only revolted against the British government,  they also rejected the Anglican Bishop’s authority over the Church. This may seem natural to Americans, but Wright noted two unhealthy trends in American Evangelicalism which he traces back, at least in part, to those events.

1.   Isolation of Our Faith from the Global and Historic Church. Wright believes that church unity must transcend place and time. He sees much of American Evangelicalism indifferent to the church outside of itself.

2.   Isolation of Our Faith from Our Public Life. Wright notes the tremendous influence of the Enlightenment upon the founding of America. This philosophy drives the idea that we can separate religion from institutions.

The 1860s

The Civil War has left a profound divide in American culture, and the Evangelical Church is not immune. Wright sees the Mason-Dixon divide as one of the roots of the culture war in modern America. He identifies two ways that this has harmed the American Church.

1.   Limitation of Our Church Unity. Wright believes that Church unity is a centerpiece of the scriptures. However, the American church is almost as divided as the rest of the nation in our ongoing culture wars.

2.   Limitation of Our Practice, Proclamation, and Discernment of Truth. Many Americans are so entrenched in their side in the culture war that they are not able to identify reality. Christians on the Left and Right often place a higher value on their team’s position than the teachings of scripture.

I have spent some time prayerfully thinking about this friendly critique and it’s implications for me, our congregation and the movement. It seems profound and urgent to me.

What do you think?

Where is this an accurate description of American Evangelicalism, and the American Church in general?

What can we do to (W)right the ship?

Here are some significant books I am reading. I recommend any of them!

The Divine Commodity -Skye Jethani

I have finished this book, but it was good enough to mention. Skye skillfully looks at various trends in our consumer-driven culture, and exposes their dangers. Then he explains how the modern American church has conformed to these cultural trends, and the disastrous consequences that followed. Finally Skye makes suggestions of how we can recover what have lost. Even if you do not agree with all of Skye’s critiques of the modern American Church, the stakes are high enough that you need to give this book serious consideration.

The Hole in Our Gospel – Richard Stearns

I finally opened this book today, and it is already good enough to put on the list. Stearns is the president of World Vision U.S.. In this book he weaves together scripture, stories of extreme poverty, theology, and his personal experience to call us to a more full picture of what it means to follow Jesus in the world today. He calls us out of a privatized other-worldly faith, and into a faith that is actually good news for the world. He gives a very clear call for us to return to the Gospel that Jesus Taught – the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Knowing Christ Today – Dallas Willard

Willard is one of my favorite authors. As a philosophy professor at USC, the brother flows deep. I limit myself to reading his books when I am caffeinated and able to fully engage. In this book Willard argues that Christianity is to be a religion rooted in the knowledge of reality. He calls us beyond mere belief, commitment, and profession – showing the dangers of limiting faith to those areas. He shows that living out of knowledge of what is real is the way to a life-giving faith. It is the way that God intends for us to live.

The Me I Want to Be – John Ortberg

I am not crazy about the name, but the book is quite good. It is like a refreshing glass of water. Ortberg has a unique ability to take deep concepts, things written by Willard, and communicate them to a broader audience. In this book he begins with the freeing idea that God wants us to redeem us not replace us. There is a true self that God wants to restore through the Holy Spirit. Ortberg explores what this flourishing of the true self looks like in four areas of life: Mind, Time, Relationships, and Experience.

In early 2010 there was a major announcement in the world of archeology that we should all take note of.

A small Hebrew writing has been found on an ancient piece of pottery. It is dated from the 10th Century BCE (BC), about 4 Centuries earlier than any other writing that we have.

The text has now been deciphered. In English, it reads (by numbered line):

1′ you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2′ Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3′ [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4′ the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5′ Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

While this is not necessarily a direct quote of our scriptures, it is certainly consistent with a number of biblical texts.

This discovery gives us an insight into the faith of people living at the time of King David. They saw a connection between worshiping the Lord God and seeking justice for the poor and the marginalized. This is a major theme in the scriptures, and it was recognized by the ancient Hebrews.

May we also make that connection in our faith and life.

( Other posts on this text: Shank, McKnight, LiveScience )

Martin Luther King Jr. saw the pictures of the world in the scriptures.

Martin Luther King Jr. saw a world around him that did not line up with the pictures in the scriptures.

He did not resign himself to the presupposition, “That is just the way the world is.”

Like prophets before him, Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, a vision, an imagination of a world that looked more like the picture of the world in the scriptures.

He spoke that vision.

He worked for the vision, in ways that were consistent with the vision.

May you and I have the grace and strength to dream, speak and work toward a biblical imagination of this world.

Yesterday, I read a blog post about the increased conflict over the proper role of social justice within the Evangelical movement. So-called “Younger Evangelicals” (among others) are placing a high emphasis upon justice issues. There are some evangelical leaders who fear that this is, or will lead to, theological liberalism.

Here is a question in the post and my response.

“Are you feeling the tremors in your church of a conflict over the scope of the gospel and the proper role of social justice? And where are you turning for informed theological reflection on this subject?”

For me it has honestly been studying the scriptures.  My study of the scriptures in has been from an evangelical (Historical/ Cultural/ Grammatical) approach to the biblical text.

From this approach, I see that social justice and  mercy for the poor and oppressed are major themes of what God calls His people to in the scriptures.

With that understanding, I can not claim to be a “Bible believing Christian” without making the biblical call to social justice a priority in my life. Social Justice is a priority for me because it is a priority for God, as faithfully revealed in the scriptures. I would be forsaking the scriptures, and the God of the Scriptures, if I did not prioritize care for the poor.

When I decide to follow that call of God to work for justice – I am being a disciple of Jesus.

When I am actually being a disciple of Jesus – I am in a much better position to follow Jesus’ call for me to make other disciples of Jesus. Jesus defined that as: bringing people into faith in Jesus & teaching them to obey all of his commands – including care for the poor.

The scriptures do not force us to choose evangelism OR justice. In fact, I do not think that the Scriptures allow us to choose only one of those two (Do we have to choose sexual morality OR evangelism?!).

God made people pretty complex. We can do more than one thing at a time!

(A lot more on this latter!)

Another Christmas Season has passed.

Once again, some Christians found it meaningful, others found it dreadful, still others found it stale.

Here are some suggestions to my fellow Christians on how they can have a better Christmas next year.

1. Stop complaining about how non-believers celebrate the holidays.

Many American Christians are furious about how “the culture” is treating Christmas.  They believe that there is a “war on Christmas.” And they are ready to fight!

That response is way off.  If people do not believe the incredible claims of Christmas, then they should not celebrate Christmas they way that believers celebrate Christmas.  Our anger will not lead anyone to believe in the incarnation.

We would do better to evaluate ourselves on how we respond to Christmas than to critique those outside the faith.

2. Dive into the wonder of the Incarnation.

Many churches act like it is not enough to talk about the birth of Jesus. They mention the birth, and then fast forward 33 years to the death of Jesus. Their assumption is that the cross is the real story and the manger is just background.

I certainly affirm importance of the death (and resurrection!) of Jesus. However, the incarnation is also a marvelous and crucial part of the story.The fact that we do not see it’s value reveals our shallow theological understanding.

We dare not gloss over the birth of Jesus, or we will miss the  riches of Christmas for life.

3. Live out the story of the Incarnation.

While remembering the pregnancy and birth narratives,  keep in mind that memorizing data is not the point. We are called into this story. We can live our lives in light of Christmas.

The story of the incarnation brings out some wonderful new realities for us to take part in: God with Us, Peace on Earth, Giving of Self, Giving to the Needy, Joy for All, Glory to God … (Do I need to continue!).

Our Christmas experience will be richer as we align our lives with these truths.

Resources

To learn more about joining the Christmas story check out the Advent Conspiracy.

Byron Borger lists several resources on faithful Christmas living at Hearts and Mind Books.

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