Written by Todd Mangum Monday, 29 July 2013 00:00

OK, full disclosure: writing two blogs is the last thing I’m doing before loading the car to go on my vacation.  So, what does a theology professor think about before going on vacation? . . . The role of rest and recreation to refresh the body, mind, and soul is what I’m thinking about.

These two blogs will compare two instances in Jesus’ ministry when falling asleep out of exhaustion became controversial.

I look at Jesus, and see that He, too, needed rest. Matthew 8, Mark 4, and Luke 8 all record the incident in which Jesus fell asleep in the boat when a storm came up. They all mention some aspect of the series of events that transpired before the disciples and Jesus set sail that day; He’d taught under challenge by the Pharisees; His own family seemed to question His judgment and ministry and even His legitimacy.  He’d healed a bunch of people, a ministry that seemed to proliferate somewhat to His frustration even — people seemed to treat Him like an ATM for discomfort relief.  He was exhausted.

They pushed off from shore and Jesus caught a nap. And then the storm came. The disciples awakened Him — but hardly with a gentle touch. “Don’t you care that we’re dying here!!!???”  Anybody ever get that kind of a wake up call?

He rubbed His eyes, looked around and sized up the situation.  He solved the problem with a word (yeah, I’m not going to be able to match His effectiveness there, I’m afraid).  And turned to the disciples and provided a teaching moment.  “What are you so afraid of? . . .”

If the ministry of God, the Kingdom of Christ, the crises of the world, could go on fine with Jesus asleep . . . I’m thinking the world will survive if I take some time off, too.  My obsession with “having to do it or it won’t get done” gets rebuked right along with the disciples.

I also notice that no matter how tired or how exhausted Jesus got, He never lost His cool. And He always seemed to have time among the clamoring masses of needy people to do “just one more” without giving the next one the proverbial slam of door in the face or even an understandably harsh word. 

“What are you so afraid of?” is as pointed as He gets.  It’s a pointed enough question — that does kind of haunt you.  At least it does me.  How about it workaholic pastor, anxious laborer in the field, stressed out student.  What are you so afraid of?  Water coming in over the sides of the boat, you couldn’t be safer . . . if you’ve got Jesus asleep in the stern.  And if He can handle it with a snooze, maybe we don’t have so much to be so worked up about either.

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 Steve Taylor Friday, 26 July 2013 00:00

On July 13ththe jury in the Martin/Zimmerman case acquitted Zimmerman of all charges. The African American community and many others responded with anger and dismay. The decision was so quick, so antiseptic, so narrowly defined. No brokenness was healed and no wrongs righted. Six days later President Obama addressed the case with heartfelt reflection:

[W]hen you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.

The President then made brief reference to his experience as a young African American male in this culture and linked that all-too-representative experience to the more general African American acquaintance with “a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.” And the President concluded: “And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.” This was a plea for understanding, for space and time to heal, for empathy.

A Natural and Common Response

Unfortunately, in many quarters the President’s plea has met with anything but empathy. Even among evangelical Christians, the response has often been characterized more by suspicion than understanding: “Don’t African American appreciate trial by jury? Don’t they get the importance of the standard of proof in murder cases? Isn’t Obama simply attacking our American rule of law in yet another way?”  As religion scholar, Curtis J. Evans, has shown, these kinds of responses are, unfortunately, simply the latest manifestation of a very checkered record of the evangelical church with respect to the issues of race and discrimination ("White Evangelical Protestant Responses to the Civil Rights Movement," Harvard Theological Review 102 [2009]: 245-73). The sad fact is that, in spite of some wonderful exceptions, the white evangelical church largely has contributed to that “set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.”

I would like to suggest that whatever the actual facts of the Martin/Zimmerman case and however the world chooses to respond to the President and to the distress of the African American community, the community of Jesus ought to embrace Obama’s plea and go one better.

A Supernatural and Uncommon Response

The story related in Acts 6:1-8 is usually remembered as inspired instruction about church government: the original Apostles, realizing the overriding importance preaching and prayer, appointed a diaconate to take care of more mundane matters. Churches today should therefore also be led by two such offices.

 But the story’s primary purpose is much deeper and integral to Luke’s theological purpose: it is one of a series of vignettes narrated by Luke in his effort to explain to Theophilus what it meant that the nascent Christ-movement was a community inhabited and impelled by the Spirit of the Messiah (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2, 2:33). In keeping with his purpose, Luke wastes a lot of expensive ink and papyrus stressing that the seven men chosen to be the original “deacons” were all Spirit-filled men, men who turn out, in at least a couple of cases, to be more perceptive and in tune with the mission and commission of Jesus than the original Twelve (Stephen delivers a sermon that is theologically and hermeneutically years ahead of his time and pays with his life (Acts 7), and Phillip becomes the point man for the spread of the gospel beyond Judea, into Samaria and Ethiopia (Acts 8). As they “walked with the Spirit,” these “waiters on tables” turned out to be more effective evangelists and pastors than the “preachers” in those early days.

But the story contains an even more challenging and relevant revelation of the kind of community produced by the Spirit. We are told that these seven deacons were appointed because, “the Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1b). While still geographically situated around Jerusalem and still very much a sect within Judaism, the early church already comprised two disparate cultural-linguistic groups: a majority composed of folk native to Palestine and its way of life and who spoke Aramaic as their mother-tongue and a vocal minority of Jews who had only recently immigrated back to the homeland but who still reflected the language and culture of the broader Greco-Roman world. Naturally, the top leadership (the Apostles) reflected the language, values, and practices of the hometown, “Hebrew-speaking” group. So inevitably there were misunderstanding and slights which overtime reach a boiling point of complaint.

How this potentially explosive and divisive situation was resolved is the lesson for today’s North American church.  The “Hebrew-speaking” leadership allowed the community as a whole (with the demographic described above) to choose seven men who would provide the practical care for the entire community. And the community, led as it was by the Spirit, chose seven men, all from the minority, hurting segment of the community! (We can be almost certain of this from the Greek names of the men and from the pieces of biographical data provided in vv.  5  and 9.) Moreover, Luke narrates this without ever clearly asserting that all the initial complaints were justified. In this brief, shining moment, the Church of Jesus Christ did not seek to establish the facts and correct the perceptions of the offended; nor did it seek to work out a plan for equitable representation or to insure justice; rather it acted swiftly to heal the hurt and reassure the disenfranchised. Too often this has not been the Church’s first response in subsequent years.

What Now?

Towards the end of his speech, President Obama moved beyond retrospective to posing questions about the future and how such tragedies and heartaches can be avoided:

“Am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.”

These questions are indeed an appropriate diagnostic for the President to recommend to the nation. But, as I claimed at the top, the Church needs to go one better. Living by the Spirit and expressing the Spirit’s fruit (Gal 5:22-6:2), the church needs precisely to cultivate a holy bias, a spiritual sensitivity to our African American brothers and sisters who, with real justification, cannot help but respond to the tragic mess of the Martin/Zimmerman affair “through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.”

Stephen Taylor is Associate Professor of New Testament. He is a missionary kid fascinated with the question of the relationship between culture and understanding the Bible. Steve is married to Terri who is also intimately involved in global issues; and together they have five kids. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/stephen-taylor.


Written by Frank James Thursday, 25 July 2013 00:00

No one knows the challenges that face theological education better than Association of Theological Schools (ATS) Executive Director, Dan Aleshire. He made what I consider an obvious but remarkable statement, namely that theological education needs to be “reinvented.” It is obvious because we all know that our world is changing rapidly and seminaries need to be able to minister to this changing world. It is remarkable, because traditional agencies like ATS are usually the last to admit the obvious.

In a very real sense, the current challenges have provided a window of “opportunity” for seminaries to re-imagine theological education for the twenty-first century. It is an opportunity to be creative and to think outside the box. I must say that the accomplishments of the BTS board and Dave Dunbar are nothing short of astonishing - not to mention courageous. The groundwork has ready been laid and BTS is in position to tackle the challenges.

Theological institutions must recognize and understand the cultural shifts and engage them - not merely to perpetuate the survival of an organization, but because seminaries are called by God to further His kingdom.

Since the middle ages, most seminaries tend to have a rather narrow self-identity with an inward focus - typically a particular denominational or theological tradition which they are trying to perpetuate. BTS is different. We affirm that “God’s church does not have a mission in the world; rather, God’s mission has a church in the world.”  This outward focus resonates deeply with me. 

Reinvented theological education is not dis-engaged from the outside world, but is a caring presence and a blessing to that community. We need to ask: Who is the seminary within the wider community? Part of a missional approach to theological education is that it seeks to prepare ministers not only by rigorous intellectual study but also by engaging the wider community. In the past, seminaries have tended to be almost monastic, isolated and inward looking.  In more recent times, some seminaries have produced graduates who tend to live in their heads - a kind of mental monasticism even as they minister to their flocks. But that approach is no longer viable in a post-modern world. Ministers must be culturally engaged and relationally present in their communities.

We often speak as if the missional model is something new and I suppose it is to some extent. But as an historian, I know that few things are really new. I would argue that the early church was missional at its very core. In a world entirely lacking in social services, early Christians became their brother’s keepers. By the fourth century, Christians had become especially well known for their compassion for the poor - both Christian and pagan. The Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate (361-363) even complained about “those impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well.”The Christian Gospel always has been identified with compassion for the sick, poor and disenfranchised, as well as for its opposition to injustice.  More recently, whether it was William Wilberforce’s opposition to the slave trade or Amy Carmichael rescuing little girls dedicated to the Hindu gods and forced into prostitution, history demonstrates that followers of Jesus have long understood that the Gospel must be manifested in both word and deed.

Considering the vast scope of history, re-invention may not be the most accurate descriptor of what BTS is doing in seminary education. Perhaps it would be better to say that we are seeking to re-capture the original missional vision. 

Can I get an Amen?

Frank A. James III is the President of Biblical Seminary. He formerly served as Provost and Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has two doctorates, a D.Phil. in History from Oxford University and a Ph.D. in Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary/Pennsylvania. He is one of the founding members of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (with InterVarsity Press) and has authored and edited nine books. His latest book, Church History: From Pre-Reformation to the Present (Zondervan), has just been published.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/frank-a-james


Written by Frank James Wednesday, 24 July 2013 00:00

Well the new guy has arrived in all his glory.  The staff and faculty have warmly received this Texan who wears jeans in the president’s office. I have managed to locate the men’s room and the soft drink machine.  Most importantly, I have found a really good Mexican restaurant—Alabado sea el Señor! My dear friend and predecessor, David Dunbar has retired and purchased a motorcycle. That is a perfectly logical thing to do after 27 years at the helm of one of the most innovative seminaries in the world.  It would not at all surprise me to see Dave Dunbar motor up to the seminary one afternoon with tattoos and a pony tail.

I am not at the motorcycle stage of life yet but I suspect all retired presidents get there eventually.  Ever since my first day on the job I have been counting my blessings that the Lord has brought me to Biblical Seminary. I still remember the first time I stepped foot in a seminary classroom 30 years ago. I was a serious Christian who was working toward a PhD in Philosophy. A friend casually invited me to sit in on a seminary class and I took him up on his offer. Before the class ended, I knew in my bones that was where I belonged. The students were studying and discussing the things that really mattered.  The philosophers I was reading were interesting and occasionally insightful, but most often they did not see God at the root of all reality. They did not understand what Abraham Kuyper understood so very well: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

Little did I realize that day I sat in on a seminary class that I was facing a life sentence.  I eventually abandoned my studies in Philosophy and entered the hallowed halls of theological education.  Ever since that first day, I have been a seminary student, a seminary professor or seminary administrator. I even married a seminary graduate (the lovely and brilliant Carolyn Custis James) with whom I have had theological discussions nearly every day for the last 30 years. I have not yet enjoyed the glories of heaven, but I think my life with Carolyn has been a foretaste of things to come.

At the end of my first interview with the BTS presidential search committee, I felt that same spiritual sensation that had overwhelmed me all those years ago when I first set foot in a seminary. I discovered a seminary where the missional outlook was part of the DNA. It was not just a buzz-word; it was the very soul of the institution. This was manifestly evident when I visited the students at our urban extension in north Philadelphia. I was scheduled to spend 30 minutes in a meet- and-greet. Two hours later, I found myself immersed in a loud and passionate conversation with 50+ mostly minority students about how the missional approach had not only changed their ministries but changed their lives.  They may have come to BTS to get a credential, but in the process they had been transformed and energized. Before I left that evening, several of them assured me that if I became the president, they were willing to help me raise money! In all my years in seminary never have students volunteered to do fund-raising.

Something was very different about this seminary and I knew this was where I belonged. Fortunately, the trustees felt the same way. So here I am and glad to be here.

By the way, if you want to help me raise funds for this extraordinary seminary, you know where to reach me.

Frank A. James III is the President of Biblical Seminary. He formerly served as Provost and Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has two doctorates, a D.Phil. in History from Oxford University and a Ph.D. in Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary/Pennsylvania. He is one of the founding members of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (with InterVarsity Press) and has authored and edited nine books. His latest book, Church History: From Pre-Reformation to the Present (Zondervan), has just been published.  See also  http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/frank-a-james


Written by Drew Hart Tuesday, 23 July 2013 00:00

I have been asked to explain why the black community is so frustrated by the verdict in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial. On one hand, from my vantage point, the frustration ought to be obvious to anyone who is familiar with the black experience in America. However, I also know that we still live in a deeply racially segregated society which has especially fragmented knowledge and awareness of the lived experience of African American communities within the consciousness of dominant culture. This lack of rubbing shoulders in meaningful ways, along with the forgetfulness and inability to contextualize the present time with the long ongoing realities that brought us up to this point, results in nothing more than a disorienting confusion for some around why people have responded so profoundly to Trayvon Martin’s killing.

Therefore, what seems obvious to those within the black community, and to many people around the world who have watched this case with curiosity, still remains blurry for many who are a part of the dominant culture and have the privilege of not needing to understand the deep ongoing pains and concerns of the only people group in America to be brought to this land not seeking freedom but rather bound by the dehumanizing chains of American chattel slavery. To not know or care about the actual frustrations of African Americans, and to choose to make straw men arguments rather than to be disciplined in actually hearing the voice of those that cry out, leads us to our current question: ‘Why are black people responding now with such frustration?’

It was 1981, in Mobile, Alabama, when Michael Donald (an African American) was walking home and was randomly chosen and abducted by two white men. He was terribly beaten. Eventually, they fulfilled their purpose in being there for the night by tying a noose around his neck and lynching him. This is generally considered the last recorded lynching of a black man in the United States.

But we must remember that, even after slavery ended at the end of the 19th century and we moved into the 20th century, a long sustained violence against black life erupted into the fabric of American society. Black people needed to know their place and to realize that black life was dispensable, so lynching became the perfect symbolic tool of terror. After slavery, there were over 5,000 recorded lynchings in America; young black men of course endured the brunt of that senseless violence, usually without any legal protection or pursuit of conviction by the authorities.

On top of that, let us remember Rosewood, Tulsa, Omaha, Atlanta, and Chicago. Each place had massive riots or massacres in the early 20th century in which white citizens attacked black communities, often resulting in many deaths. During all of the violence and terror, rarely were white people held accountable for their actions. Michael Donald’s lynching ended a long and painful era of unashamed overt white terrorism and violence against black people in mass, but the memory of this phase of our history is still fresh in our consciousness.

In 1955, some white men grabbed 14 year old Emmitt Till from his uncle’s house where he was visiting. They were angry because he whistled at a white woman, so they took and tortured this child, gouging out one of his eyes and beating him until his face was unrecognizable. After the torture was complete, they shot him and tied a heavy cotton gin around his neck and dropped him in the river. When the details of the crime were released, the black community was outraged. It’s not that things like this hadn’t happened before, because lynchings were commonplace in the early 20th century. It is just that people had had enough. This moment is considered to be an important part in re-galvanizing the Southern Freedom movement.

Why were people angry and frustrated? It was about the 350 years of having their lives be deemed as worthless and invaluable. It was the 350 years of having no justice in the courts. It was the 350 years of having their cries and pains be dismissed. And yes, even back in the 50s and 60s, most white people responded to polls believing that race wasn’t a serious problem. This currently seems ridiculous, but people do not realize that those same societal blinders often remain today in those that deny that race impacts American life profoundly.

When Zimmerman was not found guilty (of anything) in the courts, it was in many ways just one more slap in the face. We are a peculiar people. We were slaves in the ‘Land of the Free’. So now, Trayvon represents all those black bodies that have been violated over the past 400 years. Trayvon represents the way in which black men now are always seen with a gaze of suspicion and criminality. In my own lifetime, Trayvon represents James Byrd, Rodney King, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Troy Davis, Amadou Diallo, and many others who suffered for their unforgivable crime of merely being black in America.

Trayvon represents those who are currently being humiliated under the Stop-And-Frisk policies that statistics have proven are almost exclusively harassing (often over and over again) innocent black and Latino youth who ultimately have no weapons or drugs on them when searched. And Trayvon represents what Michelle Alexander has exposed as The New Jim Crow, for its proven discriminatory track record of locking up thousands of young black men for nonviolent drug possession and handing down harsher sentences for black and brown youth. This is so, even though serious research points to, despite our stereotypes, an equal percentage of usage and selling of drugs within the white community as that of the black community.

So, I hope it is understood that this had everything to do with Trayvon as our symbolic son and the pain that has touched every black family over and over again in every generation, for almost four hundred years. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. So Trayvon, like Emmitt Till did over 50 years ago, has sparked a people to mourn and to stand up for truth and justice in a land that has claimed those ideals but refused to practice them. That is why so many are frustrated and have had enough. And the black community is now looking to see how self professed Christians will respond to a people that are struggling, hurting, and continually violated. Will it be a response of solidarity with those on the margins like Jesus exhibited or will it be apathy?

Consider reading the post I wrote two days after the verdict which explicitly engages how my faith in Jesus offers hope despite a painful verdict. You can find it at http://drewgihart.com/2013/07/15/pain-medicine-trayvon-simon-of-cyrene-and-jesus/.

Drew Hart studied Biblical Studies at Messiah College for his B.A. and is a MDiv graduate from Biblical Seminary. He is currently a PhD student at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. He is also an associate pastor at Montco Bible Fellowship, in Lansdale, PA. He blogs at www.drewgihart.comand his twitter handle is @DruHart.


Written by Malcolm Walls Monday, 22 July 2013 00:00

In 1856, Dred Scott petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for his freedom and they ruled against him stating that the Bill of Rights did not apply to African-Americans.

In 1955, Emmett Louis Till, an African-American young man, was murdered in Mississippi at the age of 14 for reportedly flirting with a white woman. The jury found the men involved in the murder “Not Guilty”.

In 1963, Medgar Evers, was killed by Byron De La Beckwith who was convicted thirty years later after the crime.

In 1991 Rodney King was brutally beaten by police officers. Though the beating was video recorded, three of the four officers involved were initially acquitted of the charges.

Later in 1991, Latasha Harlins, a 15 year old African-American, was murdered by Soon Ja Du over a bottle of orange juice at a store. She was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and it was recommended that she serve a 16 year prison sentence but in the end she was sentenced to probation.

In 2013, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman who was also found “Not Guilty”.

As an African American male, when I think of the aforementioned, it is obvious that there are systemic racial issues that rest at the core of this great nation. After reading comments and blogs it has become clear that those who are not African-American, though they sympathize with African-Americans, will never truly understand why the “Not Guilty” verdict of George Zimmerman makes us so upset.

The frustration that is felt is not just from this trial but it is from the previous trials and unjust experiences that we as a race have had to endure. This verdict is a reminder that the playing field is not even. It reminds me that the judicial system has racism flowing through its veins. It reminds me that people still view African-American men as thugs. It reminds me that as an African-American father, even if I raise my son to honor God, achieve academic excellence, to be respectful, and he does all of that, he is still prone to be profiled as a criminal or thug based solely upon his clothing and the color of his skin.

It reminds me of every time I was followed in a store and wrongly accused of shoplifting. It reminds me of the times, growing up in the south, when I was called every derogatory word an African-American man can be called, and then being told to accept it because that is what I am. It reminds me of the times I have been stopped by police for “Driving While Black”. It reminds me that neither Justin Beiber nor Mark Zuckerberg has been classified as a hoodlum when wearing a hoodie. It reminds me that Michael Vick got two years in prison for killing a dog and Zimmerman was found “Not Guilty” for killing an African-American young man. It reminds me that most of the men in the prison system are African-American.

Those who are not African-American were not faced with these reminders as the verdict was read because they have not lived this life nor been treated in such a demeaning fashion. To understand why this verdict has caused such an uproar amongst African-Americans, everyone who is not African-American must walk in our shoes and experience all of the hate, mistreatment, and injustice that many if not all of us have had to endure. Then and only then will they begin to understand the pain of this verdict.

This country has had a long history of racism within a judicial system where African-Americans get the short end of the stick. This is the beginning of the conversation of why many are upset. The emotions are deeply rooted and just when we think there will be justice, the proverbial rug is once again pulled from underneath us.

But why should a seminary address this issue? Jesus said in Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free”. Within the gospel of Jesus Christ there is a mandate for justice and to see those oppressed experience freedom. This freedom includes the freedom to walk with skittles and Arizona Iced Tea, without fear of being stereotyped or even murdered. As those sent by Jesus, it should compel us to begin to address systematic issues of injustice.

If we fail to do this and remain silent, then we too become part of the problem.

Pastor Malcolm C. Walls, Jr., is Director of Urban Recruitment and Student Services at Biblical Seminary.


Written by Kyuboem Lee Friday, 19 July 2013 00:00

Often, I find myself preaching to the choir with regard to urban mission--these folks don’t need convincing that urban mission is an important and urgent agenda item for the Church and we need to do all we can to learn about urban mission if the Church is to be faithful to God’s mission.

But others will need more convincing. “I won’t be moving into the city to live and minister there; my role is a pastor in a suburban church or a small town context. Why should I care about urban mission? My plate is overflowing as it is.” I will try to speak to them through this series of blog posts. If you are the choir, perhaps you will be find these posts useful as points of apologetics for urban mission. (You can find the first post here, and the second post here.)

Micah’s well-known charge that sums up the duty of the faithful lists three commands: “To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) This charge corresponds to the two greatest commands--to love God and to love neighbor. Loving neighbor, then, is not mere sentimentality nor random acts of kindness. Rather, love for neighbor specifically translates to the doing of justice and the practicing of mercy. In other words, justice and mercy is essential to Christian discipleship, not peripheral.

Urban mission has traditionally led the way for the Church in the area of justice and mercy. We can think of William Booth and his Salvation Army, which found its reason for being in the great social needs and sufferings found in the British cities during the Industrial Revolution. We can think of John Calvin’s ministry in the city of Geneva to lead relief efforts for the masses of wartime refugees and Thomas Chalmer’s leadership of diaconal ministry in the city of Glasgow. We can think of Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta and John Perkins in Mendenhall and Jackson, Mississippi. We could go on. The point is, ministry in the city has often pioneered justice and mercy efforts to love neighbor in tangible and strategic ways, and the field of urban mission has therefore much to teach the Church in this regard.

There is much to say as a follow-up, but for the sake of this post, I will briefly mention three thoughts:

One, the density of the city brings God’s people into much closer and more direct contact with human suffering and structures of injustice. Pastors in suburban and exurban communities regularly express how people who are struggling with poverty and lack of basic needs are often very hard to find in their communities. This does not mean poverty does not exist in the suburbs; it is however often invisible there to those in more privileged circumstances.

This closer contact with communities of need is a necessity for Christian spirituality. It keeps the faith real. These urban communities are where the Church needs to be at, not primarily for the sake of those the Church is serving but for the Church’s own spiritual vitality. Mercy and justice need to be an ongoing Christian practice, not merely something you do elsewhere during a mission trip. Remember, to do justice and to love mercy is not optional or an add-on to Christian discipleship; these are a daily lived reality in the kingdom of God.

Two, there is a surging interest in and activism surrounding social justice among young evangelicals, as evidenced at the recent Justice Conference. This is a welcome development in many ways; however, are the young activists drawing from and building on the experience and theology of older saints who have spent much time practicing and reflecting on justice? Sadly, the answer is often no. Evangelical churches who purport to be committed to the authority of Scripture have often withdrawn from the arenas of social justice. Without a thoroughgoing Christian tradition and theology of justice readily on hand, younger evangelicals may turn to what is more familiar in our culture--humanistic traditions of social justice that is devoid of a God-centered soul. This situation presents a challenge and an opportunity for Christian leaders to disciple a new generation in the faith; however, are they up to the task? Learning from urban mission’s rich trove of practical experience and theological reflection on justice and mercy, it seems to me, is a priority for everyone concerned about Christian discipleship in the 21st century.

Three, cities are where the cultural structures of economic, religious, and political institutions and networks are concentrated. These structures, or “powers,” can do much to foster a just and righteous society. But they are fallen, just as each individual human person is. Therefore they perpetuate grave injustices that rob the human community of life as God had intended for it. The field of urban mission is concerned with how the Church may engage these urban structures or powers for the sake of faithful witness to the coming kingdom of righteousness ruled by the just King. The question of how the Church ought to be salt and light in this urban world--how it will realize its world-formative vocation--is a vital and urgent one.

The call to do justice and love mercy requires a faithful theological reflection and thoughtful practice. The field of urban mission is an invaluable resource for the Church today.

(This is probably a good place for a commercial: I will be teaching an online course, “Justice & Mercy,” in the fall term. If you are interested in taking the class, please contact us. We will be exploring above themes and much more.)

Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as a lecturer of Urban Mission at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission (http://jofum.com).



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