Recovery? Healing? Restoration? What words do you like to use when describing the process of getting better after a traumatic experience? The words I just used convey information as well as movement. They evoke feelings about what happens after a crisis.
For those of you continue to contend with a troubled past, ponder this: How do you communicate that you are better but not so much better that you have no more bad memories; that you have no more nightmares; that you are not triggered into panic when you see someone who abused you?
What words do you shy away from?
Let's consider healing first.
I was and am being healed?
Some hear healing language as a completed task. "I have been healed." Past tense. I was in a wheelchair but now I walk...I have been healed. However, would I also say I have been healed if I walk with a limp or need a walker to get around? Do you ever hear someone say, "I was healed, in part." Would it be better to say I am being healed? Compared to Greek verb tenses, our English language doesn't communicate well the ongoing state of something. In Greek, we can communicate a present perfect tense such as, "I was and am currently being healed" all in one verb form. But in English, we cannot communicate such an ongoing process without more words. Thus, when we use the shortcut, "I am healed," it sounds like a finished job even when we don’t mean it that way.
What about recovery? (or other “r” words such as restoration, renewal, or recovery?) Recovery words are popular among former addicts. For them it connotes that they are no longer using but making the daily choice for sobriety. However, they recognize the danger exists of falling back into drunkenness and so they communicate that they are in a lifelong process. For others, however, recovery sounds like a failure—failure to find victory and failure to accept a new identity. The truth is few people outside of AA or community mental health use the word recovery in every day speech. The other "r" words are more likely used in Christian circles but not so much in discussion of life after trauma.
Can you integrate trauma?
In Wounded I am More Awake: Finding Meaning after Terror (by Julia Lieblich and Esad Boskailo, Vanderbilt University Press), Julia helps tell Esad's (a Bosnian doctor) experience of being held in 6 different concentration camps. He faced much brutality during those months in concentration camps and was not in good physical or psychological shape when he came to the U.S. He is now a psychiatrist in the US and works with trauma victims. I commend the book to those who want a basic understanding of trauma and of this thing we are trying to call healing and recovery. Listen to these quotes from Boskailo the psychiatrist,
I can't take away what happened [said to another survivor]. But I can help you imagine a better future.
You are fifty, not twenty-five. You will never be the person you were twenty-five years ago. Even if you didn't have trauma, you would not be the same.
What Boskailo is arguing for is integrating trauma into one's present life. One cannot go back and recover what was lost. A trauma survivor is never going to be free from losses suffered. To do so would be to deny truth. Integration means allowing the reality of trauma and its losses while finding meaning and value to live in the present with hope and even joy. Integration requires acceptance and willingness to look for meaning and purpose.
I like the connotations of integration. But, I am not sure I like the word integration since it also doesn't connote some level of arrival at a good enough place or a significant change.
What word would you use?
As Christians we talk about being free from sin, being made new, having changed lives. Indeed, these things happen to us when we become disciples of Christ. And yet, we are not completely free from sin. In fact, we sin quite a bit. We find our old selves showing up most days. Yet, we say without a hint of lying or deception, we ARE changed. We ARE free. The struggle remains but we fight it on a different level. We fight sin from the vantage point of having already been declared the winner in light of the cross of Jesus Christ.
So, when you talk about your traumatic past, try talking about it as one who has already won the big battle and has the power and grace to deal with the ongoing skirmishes.
I don’t always cry at sad movies, but sometimes I do. I almost always cry when I’ve watched one particular movie, though — and this one less than 30 seconds long. I’m talking about the infamous “Zapruder film” that inadvertently recorded the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
I was alive at the time, but just a baby; thus too young “to remember where I was” when I heard the news — though I understand that some sociological studies have confirmed the phenomenon that people who were old enough commonly really did remember exactly where they were when they got the news that the President of the United States had been shot. It’s testimony to the entire U.S. populace that day experiencing something like large-scale PTSD.
I did my doctoral studies in Dallas, TX, and, when we lived there, we often made Dealy Plaza and the school book depository museum there one of the regular stops we made with family and friends who came to visit and wanted to tour Dallas. “Was there really just one shooter?” was a question that intrigued me for a while; the Oliver Stone film that promoted a wider conspiracy theory (with multiple shooters) came out when we lived in Dallas. Since then, though, I’ve come to believe that the Warren Commission’s investigation concluded correctly — that truth can be stranger than fiction; and in this case, one ex-marine, trained as a marksman, named Lee Harvey Oswald, got off three shots from his sniper’s perch in the school book depository; and that one shot went through the President’s neck and hit Governor Connelly seated in front of him, and one shot (the last shot) was a devastating fatal shot that struck the President in the head. (Click here for one of the best summaries of forensic analysis of this— which analyzes the Zapruder film particularly.
I’ve also come to believe that some of what fuels greater conspiracy theories — besides the prima facie unlikelihood of two bullets doing what they apparently did — is what Robert Dallek (author of An Unfinished Life) observes: “It is very difficult for [people] to accept the idea that someone as inconsequential as Oswald could have killed someone as consequential as Kennedy.” This point is also what fills the events of November 22, 1963 with such grave tragedy.
Reflecting on these events today prompts several musings and observations:
Look at the faces of the President and First Lady and the crowds earlier that day. No one foresaw such tragedy looming just moments away. Nor do we know what a day may hold — one reason why God’s word instructs us not to boast about tomorrow. . . .
President Kennedy (and his brother, Robert) are now memorialized vividly in not only U.S. history but in the national psyche. This is understandable, even appropriate to a degree, even if the memories preserved smooth out some of the rough edges or make them larger than life. The gruesome public death of such persons of such ideals is not just tragic, it’s a reminder of how fragile are our ideals — our very lives really — in this life.
What adds to the tragic irony of the Kennedy assassination is that he was the youngest president, at age 43, ever to be voted into office. That such youth and vitality, such promise such hope, could be so abruptly dashed is still hard to take. Even 50 years later. And yet, here surfaces a point that both Ecclesiastes and Jesus makes: if you merely dream about what might have been, you are engaging an exercise in futility. Both John and Robert Kennedy encouraged dreaming big, but recognized this point, too, that dreaming is not enough (especially when they engaged the civil rights challenge).
Finally, the tragic, violent death of youthful men of such noble ideals cannot help but inspire some unrealistic messianic dimensions around them. Let us remember these men well and fondly; let us hold up the best of their ideals and further them.
But let us also not forget that there is only one Messiah. John and Robert Kennedy themselves would concur with this. Messiah Jesus is the One in whom to invest our hopes and dreams ultimately, and only Him. And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
I am a blessed man. That’s the truth. I have received from the Lord’s hand far more kindness and protection, more prosperity and success than I deserve. This I know. And to this I testify without qualification.
I also work in a field in which arrogance is common.
It’s true that we train ministers at Biblical Seminary, and missional ones at that; so that the emphasis on taking up one’s cross to follow Jesus (INTO the world no less) provides subject matter that calls for sacrifice, service, and humility.
It’s also true that a seminary is a graduate level academic institution. It’s in the academic arena where arrogance seems naturally to arise. This is the place where highly intelligent, highly accomplished people form carefully crafted critical assessments and forward sharply honed arguments. One of my mentors, a true scholar and founding faculty member at Biblical, once warned me matter-of-factly, “Arrogance is an occupational hazard of this business.”
Recently, I’ve been studying and preaching and teaching in the prophets — with one clear point of the prophets being: God hates pride. Seeking to scrupulously avoid any suggestion of, “Humility and How I’ve Achieved It,” here are five biblical “methods” to overcoming pride that I find Scripture offers.
Method 1: Experience devastating public humiliation.
This is the method God used on Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26 and on Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 — and is probably what is behind the famous proverb, “Pride goes before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Medieval pietists had a saying, “No humility without humiliation.” That may be overstated — maybe. But one thing’s for sure: there’s nothing quite like public humiliation to take someone down a notch or two. And, God is capable of humiliating; and He’s quite good at it, actually.
Method 2: Have the quality or achievement you’re so proud of utterly destroyed.
This is what was behind the destruction of the temple (in both Old and New Testament actually — recall Jesus’ response to the disciples’ being so impressed with the ornate construction of the temple of their day, Matt. 24:2, Mark 13:2). It was also behind the destruction of whole cities when God brought judgment on both the enemies of Israel, and on Israel, His own people, themselves.
Beyond these broad themes, some of the specifics of Isaiah and Jeremiah can be downright spine-chilling. You’re proud of your looks? That can be taken away. (Covering the face with pimples and body with boils is mentioned in Isaiah. . . . ) Proud of your youth? Proud of your strength? You can be crippled. Or forced to plunge your strength into futility or into work that prospers people you don’t even like. Proud of your possessions? They can be evaporated. And quickly.
God has an uncanny knack for discerning what it is that is making a person so proud or arrogant or confident . . . and zeroing in on that very thing to remove it. It’s a very effective method for downgrading pride.
Method 3: Have what you’re so confident in be exposed as being utterly impotent or unimpressive.
This is often what is behind the destruction of armies when kings or generals considered themselves invincible. 2 Kings 19 is a potent example. Sennacherib had been foolish enough to actually put in writing a boast that his gods, the gods that allegedly had raised up his powerful army that by then had conquered over ½ of the known world, were clearly more powerful than the God of puny Judah. Hezekiah took the matter to the Lord. He laid out Sennacherib’s letter right out before the Lord in the temple, and prayed, “Do you see what this man is saying Lord?” That night, 185,000 of Sennacherib’s troops woke up dead. Sennacherib slinked back to Nineveh, where he was cut to ribbons with swords by his own sons, while he was in the process of worshiping those supposedly glorious gods.
Great pride in something followed by slinking away, tail between the legs, is a common Old Testament plotline. Even beyond the Old Testament narratives, we dare not miss the greater point. Confidence in (other) gods and confidence in armies is something the true God commonly destroys. So is confidence in money, confidence in prosperity, confidence in one’s abilities and skills.
When gratitude to God for enablement degenerates into being impressed with oneself or impressed with what one has achieved, God gets offended. And He’s quite effective at exposing just how unimpressive those powers, abilities, and achievements really are (without Him).
Now . . . in case you hadn’t noticed, the above three methods are all methods carried out by God. And none of these “methods” are very pleasant for the one having the technique used on them. Is there any other way to overcome pride, that is maybe less painful?
Try these last two:
Method 4: Beat God to the punch.
God tells the Corinthians that, though they’ve been oblivious, He has been disciplining them (in this case, because of their rancor and strife, evident even at the Lord’s Supper). “This is why some of you are sick, and why some in your number even have died.” (1 Cor. 11:30). It’s a fearsome statement of God’s willingness to judge/discipline His people. But then, Paul says, “if you judged yourselves well, you will not be judged [by the Lord].”
That’s a principle that’s illustrated elsewhere — it’s illustrated by what happens when the king and people of Nineveh repent at the announcement of judgment in Jonah. It’s stated prophetically in Jeremiah 18 — you may be deserving and destined for judgment, but you can avoid it if you repent and confess first. Even wicked King Ahab gets a reprieve from the well-deserved judgment planned for him by repenting first (1 Kings 21:29)!
Are you prideful and deserving of judgment? Recognize it, repent, confess, turn from the prideful thoughts, attitudes, and actions. “Beat God to the punch” in a sense, is the principle. And this seems to be a principle that applies to both unbeliever and believer alike; perhaps at a different “level,” but nevertheless alike.
Yeah, OK: recognize our pride of heart that manifests itself in self-interested actions or self-forwarding, self-promoting words and deeds, and confess it, repent, and turn from these thoughts, attitudes, and actions. Sounds clear enough, but for most of us, it’s not going to be so easy to actually come to this spontaneously on our own. That’s why we sometimes get methods 1-3, above, and why we also need method 5, below. . . .
Method 5: Make rebuke your friend.
The “disciplinary mechanism” of Matthew 18:15f. (implicit in Matt. 5:23-25, as well) surfaces this principle: we often need other people to expose us to our blind spots, to make us aware of sinful penchants we may not have even known we had.
These familiar New Testament mechanisms are actually rooted in principles revealed in the Old Testament, Proverbs especially. A wise person recognizes that criticism, confrontation, and rebuke provide an opportunity for growth, maturation, and betterment of character that otherwise would not be possible. Here are a couple of poignant proverbs on this principle:
Do not reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you. Reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser. Teach a righteous man, and he will increase his learning. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years of life will be added to you. If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, and if you scoff, you alone will bear it. - Proverbs 9:8-12
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel. - Proverbs 12:15
A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is arrogant and careless. - Proverbs 14:16
A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool. - Proverbs 17:10
Now, for me (and maybe for most of us), hearing rebuke does not come easily, especially if it’s not framed really diplomatically or gently or winsomely. But, no matter. Scan those proverbs again, and add to them the dimension of “turning a sinner from his way” saves that “sinner” a heaping helping of trouble (Gal. 6:1-5; Jas. 5:19-20).
So, even if you’re rebuked harshly, a wise person recognizes that rebuke from another person is a lot less severe potentially than getting the discipline of the Lord. That rebuke could be the opportunity you need to repent (even if not to the “degree” your “critic” would desire). Painful critique — which none of us likes or naturally appreciates — could be a blessing in disguise.
Here’s the major point: the old adage that has come down to us from the centuries is true: Be humble. Or be humbled.
None of us wants the latter.
Now, with all humility (), I am eager to hear additional points on YOUR list of methods for overcoming pride. I, for one, know I need such methods, and more regularly than I’d like to admit. . . .
This I see, but this can also scare me. Because pride is a bigger problem than we think, methinks.
Five observations that can send a little chill up my spine (how about you?) . . . :
1. God despises not just overtly proud actions but pride of heart.
Look at Proverbs 16:5, for example: “The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.” (Cf. Prov. 16:18.) So, I guess that means the Lord is allowed to make even the private thoughts one may have to oneself fair game for discipline? . . . Eesh. (By the way, Jesus doesn’t lighten up on this point one bit; if anything, He screws the point even tighter — see Luke 12:1-5.)
Even “a haughty look” (you know the posture, that facial expression) is something God notes with extreme displeasure. (See Proverbs 6:17, Isaiah 2:11.)
2. Much of the Divine judgment recorded in Scripture is rained down on pride, is prompted by God’s displeasure and anger at pride, and is designed to eliminate pride.
There’s a sense in which the fall and curse all originate in a prideful action. But even all that aside, just look at Isaiah 2-4, Isaiah 13, 16, 23, 25, 28; Jeremiah 13; Ezekiel 7, 24, 30; Hosea 5, 7; Habakkuk 2; and just the number of lead-ins and narratival asides and prophetic explanations that go something like this: “I [the LORD] will punish you seven times more for your sins, to break down your pride” (Lev. 26:18-19); “O Judge of the earth, render recompense to the proud” (Ps. 94:2).
The rationale for why the Canaanites needed to be eliminated entirely and why idolatry just in general had to be dealt with so severely was because God didn’t want anybody around left to boast or credit the wrong source for why positive things have eventuated in their lives (see Deut. 29:17-18). It ticks God off to have blessings credited to the wrong source — one’s own abilities, or the power of another (false) God. This is one reason why “boasting about tomorrow” is sinful — it presumes one has more control or power than you do, which is inherently prideful (see Prov. 27:1; Jas. 4:13-16; cf. Matt. 6:31-34).
3. Good people can go bad because of pride.
Besides some of the more high profile cases (Solomon, even David to an extent), Amaziah (2 Chron. 25), Uzziah (2 Chron. 26), Hezekiah (2 Chron. 32), all provide cautionary tales of how people who start out well, and are even described as people whose “heart was devoted to the Lord,” can suffer a great fall because of pride.
Talk about scary. One can be truly blessed of God, with things going really well. But maybe even BECAUSE of that blessing, BECAUSE of the success brought by God, you let it go to your head . . . Bam! Downfall!! . . . That’s scary to me.
And when I think about people I have known, good ministries I have known, that were destroyed by arrogance, the conflicts generated by clashes of egos. . . and I’ve known too many. Tougher still is the recognition that I’ve been sucked in myself and participated in some clashes motivated in part by my own pride, protecting my ego, or responding with harshness out of wounded ego. Yeah; I’ve seen it, and I’ve done it. And that’s not even counting the number of ministries that COULD be healthier than they are if only pride and ego didn’t get in the way.
4. God’s judgment of pride is severe. (You can call it “discipline” if you prefer, but I warn you that distinction isn’t going to help much. . . . )
Just read some of the passages cited above and in the last blog on this. You and I might shrug and say, “Well, you know, we all have pride (chuckle, chuckle).” But God doesn’t take it near so lightly, nor regard pride’s presence in a person with near such flippancy. People are killed, or struck with debilitating disease, loss of property and livelihood, even ripped from their home and carried into slavery, at times after having been forced to see their loved ones slaughtered, all to eliminate arrogance and pride.
Put it this way: I don’t want to get God’s attention — nor do I want God to have to get MY attention — over pride. . . . Neither do you.
5. Pride creeps in to our mindset more subtly than we realize.
Thomas Aquinas and the medieval theologians in general, in their exploration of “the seven deadly sins,” counted pride as the worst of the lot and the most insidious, because pride (“self-concern”) underpins all other sins at root. They may well be right.
As Proverbs warns, and as Scripture in general testifies, pride can creep up even in otherwise godly people. Pride can creep in unawares, too; and be a blind spot in people believing their motives are nothing but good. (Saul, Amaziah, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Simon all found this out the hard way.)
Pride serves as a huge problem in redemptive history and God devotes much of His gospel energy to addressing it and eliminating it. And yet, I look at our culture, I look at our churches, I look our leaders, I look at my own heart, and recognize . . . pride is a bigger issue and a bigger deal even still, even now, than we think.
In a number of ways, the Lord has been confronting me recently with the problem of pride. Probably any Christian seeking to love God and who knows themselves will eventually confront the unpleasant recognition of pride lurking in the corners of their own heart. Lately, I’ve run across pointed rebukes of pride in my devotional scriptural reading, it’s surfaced in some of the teaching and preaching I’ve been preparing; and then some personal life circumstances have forced me to peer into the matter more closely and more seriously than I expected or wanted.
I’ve come to believe that pride is at the center of the gospel. And by that I mean: overcoming pride and its toxic fruit is not just one of the things addressed by the gospel. It’s at the center of why there is a gospel at all.
Not once but twice, Paul presents the rationale of the gospel a being “so that no one can boast.”
In the first instance, this “anti-boasting” rationale is presented in Paul’s explanation of how election works! Beginning in 1 Corinthians 1:26, Paul says, “Consider your own calling, brethren. Not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble . . .”. It’s almost like Paul is saying, “Look around, people. Do you see what kind of people God reaches out to and brings to Himself? Not exactly the cream of the crop here.” Because (v. 27) “God has chosen the not-so-bright to shame the highly intelligent, He’s chosen the weak to shame the strong, God has chosen the base and the despised, raising up the things that are not to shame what is.” We might say, “He’s chosen the “have-nots” to shame the “haves.” And why does He do it this way? “So that no one should boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:29).
Thinking through this passage has changed the way I talk about “unconditional election.” I still think the heart of the Reformed doctrine on this point is right: God doesn’t choose His “elect” based on some perceived quality in them that pleases Him more than others (such as would lead to a claim to superiority of being by those “chosen by grace” to come to faith). But it’s not purely arbitrary either. God has a design in His electing purposes, part of which He reveals here: He chooses the unlikely and despised; He chooses the “naturally unimpressive” to eliminate boasting and . . . pride.
And then, in Ephesians 2:8-9, we’re told in an all-too-familiar passage that we are saved by grace through faith (not by moral, ritualistic, or nationalistic accomplishment), “in order that no one can boast.”
The ORIGINAL “justified through faith” passage is put forth as an antidote to pride.
The whole Protestant Reformation was kicked off by Martin Luther’s engagement with Romans 1:17, “But the righteous will live by faith.” Contemplation of this passage led to his theologically deconstructing the entire system of justification advocated by the church at that time as something reached by accumulation of merit. Well and good.
There is even more to this passage that served as the cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation, though, than what Luther saw. Look more closely at where that passage comes from, not in Romans but in Habakkuk, the passage Paul is quoting from in Romans.
Habakkuk is a tough prophetic book. With Isaiah and Jeremiah, Habakkuk gives divinely prompted (and inspired) perspective on why God’s people are suffering the way they are. The Babylonians are overrunning Judah, plundering, pillaging, raping, enslaving, and starving out the Judeans with a brutal siege. All as Divine punishment for God’s people — catch that? God’s people! — responding to His blessing with selfishness, self-indulgence debauchery, idolatry, arrogance, and . . . pride.
In the context of Habakkuk’s lament at God’s judgment, questioning at times how God can be so hard on His people when the people He’s raising up to punish them are at least as sinful as they, this is what he says: “Look, a person who is prideful is deformed in their very soul, but a righteous person will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
Faith in God is an antidote to pride that puts the soul and all the priorities of one’s whole walk of life in proper sync.
Add to that the number of times the Bible talks about eliminating boasting, with the line, “If you want to boast about something, boast in God” or “your walk with God.” (See Psalm 34:2; 2 Chron. 17:6; Jer. 9;23-24; 1 Cor. 1:31; 2 Cor. 10:17; Gal. 6:14.)
The longer I live, the deeper I study these themes of Scripture, the more I am convinced that pride elimination is at the heart of the gospel. The gospel call is a call to humility; humbling oneself before God is an entrance requirement of the Kingdom.
I have found that missional engagement with the world requires a biblical prophetic imagination that enables us to see the world anew. The prophetic imagination doesn’t, however, simply descend out of a transcendent, idealized realm when we open the Scriptures in our secluded, ivory tower studies. It is forged out of a dynamic discourse between our messy context and the text of God; an ongoing wrestling between our lived, concrete situations and the ancient words that reveal the God who created and rules over our world here and now.
Take Genesis 1, for instance. It is the account of a Creator who methodically takes on chaos and desolation in the course of 6 days and utterly triumphs over them. The first 3 days, God orders what was a big, huge mess into separated, differentiated spaces or realms. The next 3 days, God populates each of those spaces with living beings. The end result is the complete defeat of chaos and emptiness, and a world that is beautifully and triumphantly ordered and teeming with joyous life. Humankind is created on the last day in God’s image and placed in this world, as a sign of his victory and life-giving rule over creation, and the whole thing is declared to be “very good.”
How do we read this account in the context of inner city Philadelphia?
I live and minister in the Germantown neighborhood, where since 10 years ago I have been a part of a church-planting effort. Germantown used to be populated by children of German immigrants, but like so many urban neighborhoods in America, experienced white flight and the resulting economic collapse in the latter part of the 20th century. There are rumors of neighborhood renewal, but Germantown’s historic high school was recently shut down, a victim of the troubled Philadelphia School District’s deep financial hole. Many blocks have long been made up of Section 8 (government-subsidized) rental properties and abandoned structures, and many of their residents have lived for generations under the national poverty line.
For many years, I helped to run a summer street camp for the neighborhood kids. Along the way, I realized that most Bible curriculums didn’t speak to our inner city context—they usually assumed a middle-class, suburban audience. So a friend who also ran his own camp in North Philly and I collaborated to produce our own Bible curriculums that had our neighborhood children in mind. The first Bible book we worked on was Genesis. For the lessons covering creation and fall, I produced two illustrations—one for the very good creation that God had always intended for his image-bearers, and another for the alienation that have corrupted every dimension of life and kind of relationships that we experience.
“The Fall” portrays chaos and desolation. Before God's work of creation, and after the fall, the place is like a warzone, with crumbling, burned up shells of houses; trash and debris spilling out and filling up all the spaces; graffiti and vandalism everywhere; the church is shut up tight like a fortress; the corner store is abandoned; the only economic activity going on is a corner drug deal; a man is a shell of himself; a police helicopter is flying overhead—the place is a police state, where fear rules. The kids could identify with this because they've seen it and lived it in our neighborhood.
But they could also identify with the other picture that portrayed shalom, the state of the world when God is done with his work of creation, his good design for the world. The houses are in good condition for people to live in; people live in safety and in harmony with each other; there is no fear when they interact with each other, only friendliness; kids are playing on the streets and thriving; the streets are clean and bright; the church is open to the community and there is neighboring (missional engagement!) going on right on its doorsteps; the corner store is open for business and employment. Kids see this picture and they resonate with it too because they know what a good community looks like. They've lived through this too, and their heart instinctively longs for shalom.
The gospel of Jesus Christ tells our neighborhood kids that God has once again defeated the powers of chaos and death and brought in order and life because God’s own Son took on all the dark powers and utterly triumphed over them on the cross. One day, God’s people will have shalom, the “very good” creation which we lost but which we have regained in Christ. In the meantime, we can experience his victory as we see people, families, communities, and cities be transformed from places where chaos and desolation reigns to places of life and order. We can have glimpses—not the full thing, but real, substantial occurrences—of the kingdom of God that Jesus has secured for us. God’s good design for his creation will be realized fully one day; but we can taste it and see it today in our inner city community.
This kind of reading can, I believe, help us become a better missional community of Christ in our contexts. The gospel that has transformed us is also at work transforming this fallen world into a redeemed world. The church’s imagination will need to be captured by this biblical vision so that we might faithfully, courageously, and joyfully engage our hurting, chaotic, and desolate but also joyous, God’s-glory-reflecting, and groaning-for-redemption world.
The is the second installment on teaching at a missional seminary. A year ago Biblical’s faculty reflected on how we teach our missional curriculum. The impetus for the project was to give careful attention to the delivery of theological education and how it is shaped by theological commitments. Here are some more responses of the faculty to the question “How do your missional commitments shape your teaching?”
In Teaching Hebrew
For my Hebrew classes, I highlight the idea that learning a different language can be a missional endeavor. Languages have a way of giving us a window into the culture of its native speakers, which can help us to begin seeing things through their perspective. Hence, it helps us to be more incarnational. Learning an ancient language is not the same as learning a living language, as we can’t interact with native speakers (e.g., to ask for clarification, etc.). However, it does allow us get inside the culture a little bit, which is valuable for understanding scripture in its own context. And hopefully the exercise itself, along with the insights that come from it, transfers to incarnational ministry today. - Rick Houseknecht, ThM
In Teaching Theology
First, God’s being “a Trinitarian community of unity amidst diversity” in Himself impacts how I understand and teach the importance of the community of faith (the church) and the family (husband, wife, and kids). These communal entities are identified biblically as modeling the Trinitarian God. It is God expressing, conveying, and portraying His own harmonious character and being that accounts for biblical teaching regarding the image of God (imago Dei), interpersonal relationships in marriage, home, community of faith, neighbor/neighborhood, and restoring the interpersonal harmony that emblemizes God Himself that is the fundamental point of God’s mission of which we are a part.
In a similar vein, “generous orthodoxy” is included as a critical part of what we conceive God’s mission to be. We emphasize both “orthodoxy” (being concerned for truth) and “generosity” (being concerned with cooperating and living harmoniously with fellow believers) in accordance with what Jesus says in His final prayer to the Father is the mission (John 17). Included in this mission is “that they [we] may be one” even as Father and Son are “one.” For us, “generous orthodoxy” is not just a pragmatic concern for greater cooperation and ministerial effectiveness; generous orthodoxy is rooted in biblical teaching, portraying who God is qua God. - Todd Mangum, PhD
In Teaching the Old Testament
The mission is God’s and he invites us to get involved wherever we are. I emphasize in a variety of ways. One way I do this is by focusing on the many call narratives (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, etc.), as God invites his people to get involved in his mission. Many students are looking to hear from God about their future during their time in seminary. It’s good for them to realize that God is calling them to engage now in his mission, and not to simply wait until they graduate.
God’s mission emphasizes that Christians are blessed to be a blessing. This is huge theme in Genesis, but I emphasize it in other books as well. Christians are to be outward focused, looking for ways to bless the people around us. At the end of the Genesis course, students pray prayers of blessing upon their fellow classmates.
God’s mission involves a concern for the marginalized, the poor, the oppressed, the foreigner, the orphan, the widow, and the disabled. Evangelical Christians haven’t always done well in this regard. In my Isaiah course (where injustice is of course a major theme), students visit a justice ministry and get involved in practical service, and then they write up a summary of their experience.
God’s mission involves working together with all Christians, even ones we might not agree with theologically. Missional Christian movements will be characterized by diversity: ethnic, gender, theological, sociological. We model this in classes by listening to all participants and valuing their perspective, even when we disagree. - David Lamb, PhD