Written by Todd Mangum Friday, 11 May 2012 00:00

At the time of this writing, the Trayvon Martin shooting is all over the news, with more details about what happened coming out seemingly on a daily basis. And, the country is polarized — largely along racial lines — over what justice demands. The case made national news when President Obama referenced the incident and sent his condolences to the Martin family with the observation, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” (http://www.suntimes.com/news/nation/ 11484426-418/story.html).

There are many things that are unclear in this ongoing investigation, but a few things are clear: Trayvon Martin was unarmed; Trayvon Martin is dead by gunshot; Christians are called upon by Scripture to be a voice of sympathy and solace to the mourning (Rom. 12:15; Jas. 1:27). In this politically charged environment, I’d propose three things for white evangelicals (especially) to say.

1. This is a tragedy. An unarmed teenage boy was shot dead, a young life snuffed out before it had a chance to reach its prime.  That, in itself, is a tragedy.  That he was shot in his own neighborhood with nothing but a bag of Skittles in his pocket adds to the tragedy. The first and predominant sense that anyone should have about this situation is that it is tragic. 

  1. We grieve for and with the Trayvon Martin family. I have a 15-year-old son myself. I cannot imagine the pain of losing him under any circumstance, much less one so abrupt, violent, and seemingly senseless. Our first and most prominent sympathies should be with the Martin family.
  2. We call for justice to be done. If you can say no more than that, then just so that — without presuming to know the facts of the situation, or trying to make judgments from afar about an ongoing investigation.  Nevertheless, an unarmed boy was shot walking home from the candy shop — that, in itself, is an injustice.  SOMETHING is wrong about how that happened. It is OK to note that and raise our voices in support of the cause of justice. 

With a few notable, positive exceptions (including John Piper: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/marchweb-only/john-piper-racism-reconciliation.html; also seehttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-richard-cizik/evangelical-voice-for-trayvon-martin_b_1383205.html), white evangelicals have been mostly quiet, which is a shame.  But more of a shame: evangelicals who joined the bandwagon of voices musing about whether the victim might have done something to warrant the shooting, or urge slowness of comment given the potential for evidence against the victim coming out. That some of these people now urging “restraint of judgment” were the very people who were quite willing just a few months ago to rush to judgment about whether the (self-described Christian) president might actually be a closet Muslim or that his birth certificate was faked, etc., only confirms the impression that a thinly veiled racism is coming into play in these assessments and comments (or lack of comment).

I don’t know what all happened that night in Florida.  I do know that a young man is dead, shot while unarmed, walking home from the candy store.  That’s enough for me to lift my voice and cry out in grief, and to cry out in sympathy for the family, and to cry out for justice — for God’s will to be done including in this situation on earth, as it is in heaven.  This is enough for me to cry, “What a shame!”

Is it not the least we can do to offer condolences to this family in their grief? To recognize the shame of it?  Much less to not add to the shame.

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.


Written by Dr. Phil Monroe Friday, 04 May 2012 00:00

We humans have powerful tendencies to label and categorize. It may even be something that Adam passed on to us. Genesis tells us that Adam got to name the animals as he saw fit. Does part of being in the image of God mean that we have an innate drive to name things as they are?

But what happens when things don’t fit our categories? We either have to expand our definitions or shove square pegs into round holes.

The color line comes to mind. Those who are biracial face the repeated question, “What are you?” You may recall that when Tiger Woods came on the national golf scene, he faced pressure to identify himself by race. When he chose not to, he faced criticism from both minority and majority communities.

How about those who don’t fit gender stereotypes? I’ve heard the pain of many who were accused of being gay because they didn’t fit the image of a man or a woman. These labels were so powerful that they caused confusion. “If being a man means [fill in the blank], then I must not be one. Maybe I’m gay.”

We pastors and counselors carry tremendous power when we label. We label right and wrong, righteous and unrighteous. We label idols of the heart. We give names for disorders. When the label is right, it can invite healing.

Beyond Wrong Labels

But, HOW and WHEN and WHY we label are just as important as whether or not our labels are correct. Years ago, my wife and sought the expertise of a top infertility doctor in the city. We were excited to get the best mind working on our problem. Within a few minutes of looking at our records and data, she said in a final and abrupt tone, “Well, it is clear you won’t be having biological children.”

She spoke the truth. She spoke a painful truth, one we had not heard before and were not prepared to hear. Her lack of “bedside manner” made the truth a crushing blow. How we speak matters almost as much as what we speak.

But the how is not the only matter to consider. The temptation for counselors is to label too quickly, before the counselee is ready. If that happens, the counselee may passively receive the label—making the counselor’s label is just one more among a chorus of opinionated acquaintances. Pastors and counselors love others well as they use good probing questions and invitations to prepare a person to hear something that might be difficult to receive.

Another question for us to consider is why we want to give a label. What do we hope to accomplish with our label? Prove our rightness? Hurt? Invite into dialogue?

Take a look at how Jesus interacts with sinners and self-proclaimed holy men. Who is he more likely to label? Who does he engage with deep questions? What are his means for helping others see themselves? Notice how the Pharisees were quick to label what was authentically Jewish and what was not. Notice that the Lord seems less interested in labeling “Jewish” and more interested in connecting others to God. He was not neutral about sin. However, he engaged others in novel ways to show them the righteous path and their need for salvation.

The late Paulo Freire, a liberation theologian from Brazil describes how unthinking, impoverished, people become empowered to name things as they are. They do not, he says (in Cultural Action for Freedom), learn by being filled up with words and labels by dominant culture individuals. If this were the case, then counseling would only be a matter of memorizing the right words and phrases. Even novice counselors recognize that progress happens when the counselee is an active, creative subject in the process of change.

Are we in the habit of helping our ministry targets or counselees have the right labels for what is happening in their lives?

Phil Monroe is professor of counseling & psychology and directs the Masters of Arts in Counseling program. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. You can follow his counseling blog here or read his faculty bio here.


Written by Dr. Phil Monroe Wednesday, 02 May 2012 00:00

Public disagreements are quite common these days—especially those taking place on blogs and even newspaper articles on the Internet. Read the comments that follow most e-articles and you will find a wide range of responses, from thoughtful to ridiculous.

Whether you wish to disagree in person or on a website, consider these five reminders as ways to keep the first and second greatest commandments:

1.  Listen first. Give the benefit of the doubt. Validate.

Unless a person clearly states that they are giving a full-orbed defense of an idea, recognize that what they say or write is only a portion of their beliefs or ideas. When we make a point, we usually do so to highlight something that we think has been neglected or needs emphasis. Just because we emphasize this one thing, doesn’t mean we think the point we just made is the ONLY point to make. Example:

Speaker: Psychiatric medicines can be very helpful.

Response A:  Drug companies push meds and everybody thinks they need them.

Or, a better response?

Response B: True, many are helped by meds. How do we address the problem of over-prescribing?

Notice in this simplistic example, the B response validates the speaker’s response and extends the conversation into new areas. If you really want to engage in dialogue, go even further: discuss what seems to be important to this other person. Find out why they defend their point of view. What assumptions, values, or concerns lead shape their ideas.

2.  Be able to summarize your opponent’s point as they would.

Can you articulate the other’s position in such a way that they would agree, “Yes, that is my opinion”? If you cannot, you have not listened well enough. Go back to step one.

3.  Raise concerns without using the slippery slope technique.

Disagreeing is a good thing—when done well and for the right purpose. Start raising your concerns and bolster, where possible, with some kind of data. However, work hard to avoid anecdotal “evidence”, the slippery slope argument, or taking their points to the extreme conclusions to illustrate the problems of the point. Further, engage the person to help you understand how they might handle a concern you raise.

4.  Put forth an alternative idea.

Put forth your alternative position in a way that still treats the other as kingdom citizens or guests. Do this especially if YOU are a guest on their turf (website or in person). It is not wrong to tell another their beliefs do not appear to jive with your understanding of the bible but be sure to back up your viewpoints with real data. Avoid all slanderous, libelous labels. They do not help promote understanding.

5.  Recognize when to bow out with grace.

Not every comment, belief, position, or question is an invitation to a conversation. We need to know when the other person is not interested in dialogue or listening (or when we really aren't open to it either) and gracefully back out. That said, there are many times when emotions are high because of prior wounds or battles. You might try to find out where the emotional energy is coming from. It may be someone with your position or title hurt them in the past. If so, you may be able to validate those hurts and re-engage the conversation at a later time. There are other times when you cannot move forward and so then find your exit.

Following these steps should help us disagree with and love others at the same time. They won’t remove all strife or attack. I had an experience once where I was talking to a very large crowd about some theological concerns I had with a particular counseling-type model. In the audience were both supporters and detractors of the model. I did my level best to represent the ministry in a way that was faithful to what they did and said about themselves prior to my critique. I found places where I affirmed their ideas. While I did have a couple of supporters of that ministry thank me for my care during the talk, many more were vicious in their attack, one even threatening. Some desired further dialogue. Some only wanted to destroy. Ironically, some who agreed with me attacked me in print for being too nice to heretics.

Sometimes, when you exhibit Christian character in dialogue you get shot at from both sides. These steps won’t avoid attack, but I believe you will sleep easier knowing that you listened, loved, and spoke in a manner that honors God.

Phil Monroe is professor of counseling & psychology and directs the Masters of Arts in Counseling program. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. You can follow his counseling blog here or read his faculty bio here.


Written by Dr. Todd Mangum Thursday, 26 April 2012 00:00

Recently, I was sent a provocative picture by someone who is an evangelical Christian who has been forming friendships and having some substantive conversations (including spiritual things) with gay and lesbian people in their neighborhood.  The picture (of a gay man, underwear clad, hugging some Christians along the street of the gay-pride parade route) appears under the headline, “A Christian group shows up to a Chicago Gay Pride parade holding apologetic signs including "I'm sorry for how the church treated you".

 This person had posted the picture and web-article on their Facebook page – and had received some positive response to it, especially from their gay/lesbian friends. And then, one of this person’s mentors from their church, wrote them a private email, telling them how shocked and puzzled they were that this appeared on their Facebook page. It was a thoughtful, non-hostile but clearly-concerned, communication of questions and apprehensions about it.

The person asked what I thought about all this.  Here is what I said:

First of all, kudos for being on the front lines in such matters; things are confusing and messy in the actual engagement of issues and with real people. 

I thought the note from [your mentor] was also good – thoughtful, respectful, and fair – and I agree with [them] that “the message” of the facebook posting (with picture) is confusing.  Because issues regarding gay and lesbian orientation have become so politicized, any statement on it requires nuance and explication. “Bumper sticker” statements are simply insufficient – and provoke, rather than proclaim. 

I’d affirm the following points – which are at some tension with one another: 

1.  “The church” has been right to identify same-sex sexual behavior as sinful.

2.  Nevertheless, in addition to rightly identifying same-sex sexual behavior as sinful, “the church” has delivered wounds to gays and lesbians by stigmatizing their penchants to sinfulness in a way not done to other sinful penchants, adding to the pain of their struggle, failing to recognize the pain, complexity, and difficulties inherently encountered by a person with same-sex attractions, etc.

3.  “The church” has been slow to recognize that same-sex attractions are not simply “choices” that one makes voluntarily.

4.  Many people with same-sex attractions have now formed an identity around same-sex attraction and behavior such that seeks to normalize and normativize them, and in the process heap scorn on churches still identifying same-sex sexual behavior as sinful. 

It is difficult to enter into this complex cauldron of tensions to make any statement that will not be subject to misunderstanding, mis-characterization or outright ridicule. 

You are also correct in your response to your friend that, when level-headed Christians are paralyzed by the intractable tensions in the current situation and say nothing, that leaves only the Fred Phelps of the world willing to rashly and pervertedly [!] proclaim what is then perceived as the ONLY message from “the church” on the issue.  Adamant statements to the contrary (even if they are not, on their own, “balanced”) can be appropriate in such a context.   

I am not sure it was a  mistake to post the picture.  I am ambivalent about that, to be honest.  Did it spark the conversations worth having, or did it spark conversations you think are a waste of time, a distraction, that you wish you weren’t having?  That is probably the diagnostic test. . . . ? 

Those are my thoughts.  Wish I could be more helpful. 

And those were my thoughts – and I really do wish I could have been more helpful.  What are your thoughts?  Can you be more helpful? 

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.


Written by Dr. Todd Mangum Wednesday, 25 April 2012 00:00

The church where I am a member and erstwhile elder is fundamentalist in background. About ten years ago, when Biblical Seminary took “the missional turn,” our church did, too.

As a church, we’ve been working at what it means to recognize, understand, and, perhaps most importantly, live out the missional character of God. One ministry we’ve taken up over the last five years is a ministry to the homeless; as part of this ministry, we have now joined “the Interfaith Hospitality Network” (see http://www.homelessfamilies.org/).

Now, this would have been impossible for our church 20 years ago. We were a “separatist” church, meaning we could not fellowship in any way, much less partner in ministry together, with another church that differed from us so significantly in doctrinal convictions. Four years ago, we started our homeless ministry by serving as a “buddy church” with a neighbor church less than a mile from us.

That church was a “United Church of Christ” church. One of their pastors is a woman (our church does not ordain women), and it’s part of a denomination that has a well-known reputation for “liberalism” – faulty doctrine and less-than-solid stances on social issues, too, from a conservative evangelical perspective.

Let me just clarify here: I still think our church’s doctrinal commitments are superior to this church’s. I would not, to this day, want to trade our church’s doctrinal convictions for theirs – and being missional does not require such a “trade,” either! “Missional ecumenism” is different (better) than the “old ecumenism” on this point, for which I am glad.

But here’s the thing: our church just got started on this ministry to the homeless four years ago. That “liberal” church, with which we were partnering as “junior learner church,” had by then already been doing this ministry for more than a decade. Speaking just for myself, I frankly did not know before participating in this ministry that there were enough homeless people in the Souderton-Telford area (where I live) to even justify such a ministry; much less that there were so many as to strain the resources of a dozen or more churches in our area joining together to try to meet the need!

I don’t have to think about that long before I’m forced to contemplate once again how our focuses, time and energy align with what is most important to God. I have searched in vain for anything that suggests that, on Judgment Day, the number one concern God will have is doctrinal correctness. I have yet to find even a single judgment described in Scripture that has a doctrinal test as the criterion.

Matthew 25:31-46 is very clear, though, in what will distinguish a sheep from a goat in the judgment described there. And, it has nothing to do with doctrinal adherence – in fact, the people involved, as described there, are not even cognizant of the significance of their action (or inaction). The criteria in that passage consist of things like, did you feed the hungry? did you take care of the stranger, did you house the homeless, shelter the indigent, give clothes to the poor? What about those in prison – did you ever even visit them? 

What if things like that turn out to be what is most important to God?  I can’t help but think that, if Matthew 25 criteria turn out to be the standard of judgment on judgment day, will “liberal Christians” (and I can say, “despite their liberalism,” rather than “because of their liberalism,” but still: will they) end up faring better than “fundamentalist Christians” on Judgment Day?  Merging Matthew 25 with Matthew 23, will Jesus end up saying to fundamentalists and recovering fundamentalists (like me), “Good that you tithed your doctrinal mint and cumin, but you really should have tended first and foremost to these weightier matters – and it’s not that you had to neglect the other, either, to do so”? . . .

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum


Written by Dr. David Dunbar Monday, 23 April 2012 00:00

Well, I suppose that’s an overstatement.  But something big is obviously afoot when the Lausanne Movement gives an unconditionally positive endorsement not only to the missional terminology—by my count the specific word “missional” shows up 26 times-- but also to many of the basic theological affirmations of the missional church.

The Lausanne Movement began with the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin in 1966.  The First Lausanne Congress was held in July 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland and was attended by 2700 representatives from over 150 countries.  A major result of this conference was the Lausanne Covenant authored largely by the Evangelical statesman John Stott. This was a ringing call “to pray, to plan and to work together for the evangelization of the whole world.”

Lausanne II met in Manila, Philippines, in 1989.  This gathering produced the Manila Manifesto which deepened and broadened the movement’s understanding of evangelism and the nature of the gospel. That document concludes with the statement that “the whole church is called to take the whole gospel to the whole world, proclaiming Christ until he comes, with all necessary urgency, unity and sacrifice.”

The Third Lausanne Congress met in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2010.  It was attended by 4000 leaders from 198 countries.  Many more people connected to the conference through media links world-wide. Another major document was issued in connection with this Congress—The Cape Town Commitment.  The primary architect of this statement was Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright whose previous contributions to a biblical theology of mission [e.g., The Mission of God (2006) and The Mission of God’s People (2010)] are echoed throughout the document. 

The Cape Town Commitment seems to be off the radar screen for most evangelicals, but it should not be.  This is a carefully and winsomely written theological statement appropriately described by its subtitle: “A Confession of Faith and a Call to Action.” It overflows with pithy, thought-provoking expressions that communicate deep truths in attractive form.  For example:  “The gospel is not a concept that needs fresh ideas, but a story that needs fresh telling;”  “We confess that we easily claim to love the Bible without loving the life it teaches;” “The answer to leadership failure is not just more leadership training but better discipleship training;”and “A divided Church has no message for a divided world.”

Love is the Focus

There is a fresh, warm, evangelical wind that blows through the pages of the Commitment.  Part I, the confession of faith is entitled “For the Lord we love.” Then follow professions of love for the living God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--and love for God’s Word, God’s world, the gospel of God, the people of God, and the mission of God.

The emphasis on love is the driving theme.  It leads to what we could call “generous orthodoxy” or perhaps “generous Evangelicalism.” Doug Birdsall, Executive Chairman for Cape Town, speaks of Lausanne’s principle of “breadth within boundaries.”  This is perhaps the most significant “missional” emphasis coming from the Commitment: guided by a broad affirmation of Trinitarian orthodoxy, and focused on the redeeming action of God in Jesus, comprehensive love for God, one another, and the world, must bind us together. “Love for one another in the family of God is not merely a desirable option but an inescapable command. Such love is the first evidence of obedience to the gospel, the necessary expression of submission to Christ’s Lordship, and a potent engine of world mission.”

Is it possible that the lack of attention given to this document by American evangelicals stems from our preference for a harder, polemical edge in dealing with diversity among churches and believers?

As I mentioned above, the Commitment is pointedly missional. Here are a couple obvious examples:

1.  Word and Deed Gospel

The missional church movement realizes that the world is cynical about Christian witness divorced from incarnational expression. Cape Town speaks to this issue in advocating for “integral mission” linking social involvement with evangelistic proclamation:  “Our calling is to live and serve among people of other faiths in a way that is so saturated with the fragrance of God’s grace that they smell Christ, that they come to see that God is good.  By such embodied love, we are to make the gospel attractive in every cultural and religious setting.  When Christians love people of other faiths through lives of love and acts of service, they embody the transforming grace of God.”

Elsewhere the document calls on Evangelicals to “renew our commitment to go to those who have not yet heard the gospel, to engage deeply with their language and culture, to live the gospel among them with incarnational love and sacrificial service, to communicate the light and truth of the Lord Jesus Christ in word and deed . . . .”

I suspect that here we find another reason that Cape Town has not received wide discussion and support:  evangelicals are still nervous about any strong linkage between word and deed or faith and works.  What do you think?

 2.  A Cosmic Gospel

Scot McKnight and other NT scholars have been helping evangelicals to see that the gospel is the story of Jesus as the completion of the story of Israel and that means that it is a story about the coming of the kingdom of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  For too long, evangelicals have presented the gospel primarily as a private transaction between “me and Jesus.”  We need a bigger story!

The Cape Town Commitment recognizes this larger context:  “We urge church leaders, pastors and evangelists to preach and teach the fullness of the biblical gospel as Paul did, in all its cosmic scope and truth. We must present the gospel not merely as offering individual salvation, or a better solution to needs than other gods can provide, but as God’s plan for the whole universe in Christ.”

The document does not deny that individuals are saved through the gospel, but it does point out that a narrow focus on individual salvation is a distortion of the Bible’s message—a distortion which ultimately short-changes the mission of God. 

In light of the broader vision of God’s in-breaking kingdom, Cape Town advocates a commitment to biblical peace-making in ethnic conflicts; a better stewardship of “the rich abundance of God’s good creation;” care for the poor, the disabled, and the suffering;  the pursuit of justice for the oppressed; and a deeper expression of love for people of other faiths. 

This is all the stuff of a tough discipleship culture.  Are evangelical churches ready to embrace this rather than the privatized version of faith that currently rules the day?

Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary.  He has been married to Sharon for 42 years.  They have four grown children, six grand children, and no pets.


Written by Justin Gohl Thursday, 19 April 2012 00:00

In this season when we reflect on the Passion of our Lord, we are once again confronted with the symbol of the Cross and the many claims it makes on us and on the world.

At risk of sounding trite, I am wondering if we have a tendency to forget the scandal of the Cross, in the context of missional theology. Certainly it is trite for most—which most definitely includes myself—in 21stcentury North America to speak of “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” when compared with the experience of, say, Christians over the first few centuries of the Church’s life or in many times and places throughout the world up to the present day.

So, what are we to do with this paradox? Christians are sent on a mission to a world which is fundamentally opposed to the message, to the God, which Christians proclaim—a recognition we see throughout the NT, perhaps most poignantly in 1 Cor 1-2 and John 14-16.

If the way of God’s mission is redemptive, participatory suffering in the world, is that at least part of what we mean when we talk about “missional theology”? If so, how does this calling to suffer and to scandalize fit into the discourse and practice of missional theology?

Again, apart from theological artifice, I admit I don’t quite know. But what I think this pushes us to is the question of “wisdom” and “fittingness”—of knowing how and when to speak, to suffer, to scandalize, etc. Or, in short, we are pushed towards self-criticism, towards constant (though not paranoid) self-evaluation in light of the paradigm of the Cross.

Here are some possible avenues for such:

From whom do we seek affirmation?

A Cross-shaped missional theology must continually ask this question, beginning with its own practitioners (ideally, all Christians). Within the Church and within academia, is there not a tendency to create structures of “recognition” that can subordinate Christ and him crucified as the source of our glory and worth?

Are we as Christians more interested in being accepted by or found palatable by a particular subculture than we are in maintaining our accountability to Christ and his Church? Even more, are we encouraged to “sacrifice” our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for this acceptance?

The various ways these questions can be heard within the contemporary Church itself once again pushes us towards the pursuit of wisdom and discernment, certainly part of which is humble listening.

Suffering is not an end unto itself.

St. Peter makes this point on no less than three occasions in his first letter (1 Pet 2.20; 3.17; 4.15-19). Christians can find themselves suffering for reasons that have nothing to do with the scandal of the Cross, indeed, for no laudatory purpose at all. And it takes wisdom to know the difference.

 If I can editorialize slightly, this is one reason I think it is important to guard against the tendency of turning the life of the Church into an “agenda” that requires “activism.” The Apostles of Christ’s Church have little room for such a model:

1 Peter 3:8-12   8Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  9Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called-- that you might inherit a blessing.  10For "Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit;  11let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it.  12For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil" (Ps 34.12-16).

1 Timothy 2:1-4  First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,  2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.  3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,  4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

This emerges not out of a so-called “status quo conservatism” but from a robust understanding of the nature of the Church’s life and calling—a calling that is centered not in “social change,” whatever its potential necessity or merit, but in the fruit of the Spirit, embodied in both personal and corporate Christian life.

Nor, to be sure, does this rule out valuable and urgent causes which Christians might take up—such as combating the evils of human trafficking, or defending against gov’t intrusion into the life of the Church. Which is again why we must seek wisdom to discern the appropriate times, reasons, and ends for Christian activities that might lead to agitation, to scandal, and to suffering. Certainly a paramount consideration is whether our agitation brings endangerment (of whatever sort) to ourselves or to others.

Proclamation is Spirit-generated, not self-generated

As we seek to participate in God’s mission, living in the tension between the scandalous nature of the gospel message (that is, “Jesus is Lord”) and the responsibility of Christians to suffer for the right reasons, we must also crucify our speech. Jesus promises the Apostles that, when they are maliciously interrogated, the “Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say” (Lk 12.12).

Competence in God’s mission is not a function of our own erudition or persuasiveness—even as we seek to follow the apostolic injunction to “be prepared to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3.15). Our competence comes from the Spirit who infuses and empowers the Church, enabling us to combine wise gospel deeds and gospel words with fitting times and places.

But perhaps you can help me out? How do we reckon with the “scandal of the Cross” within a commitment to missional theology?

Justin Gohl is an adjunct professor of theology at Biblical. He is married to Kate, his wife of 7 years, and is a full-time stay-at-home dad with two kids, Caleb (2) and Phoebe (1). He is ABD at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia where he is in the latter stages of writing his dissertation on the early church’s use of the Book of Proverbs.


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