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Written by Dr. David Lamb Wednesday, 16 May 2012 00:00

On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered to the Allies, ending the war in Europe, but another serious problem remained.  Due to the ravages of war, roughly 100 million European civilians faced imminent starvation.  It was described by the New York Times as “the most stupendous feeding problem in history.”

Democrat Harry Truman said, “I knew what I had to do and I knew just the man I wanted to help me.”  Who could help Truman avert this humanitarian crisis?  None other than the ex-president who had been vilified by Truman’s popular predecessor, FDR, as the primary cause of the Great Depression. 

Republican Herbert Hoover

Hoover was uniquely prepared for this challenge.  At the end of WWI, Hoover served as Woodrow Wilson’s food czar, saving millions from starvation.  (I’m not attempting to put Hoover in a positive light simply because we share a unique bond—growing up in Iowa and attending Stanford.)  Together Truman and Hoover, despite ideological differences, worked together in 1945 and 1946 to ship five and half million tons of grain to Europe and thus a humanitarian disaster was averted.  Their partnership also served to resist the spread of communism on the continent.  

While both men had been extremely unpopular and both took flak from their own parties for the partnership, in a 1951 Gallup list of Most Admired Men Truman and Hoover ranked #3 and #5.  People appreciated what these two men had accomplished together. 

This and other stories of presidents and ex-presidents working together appears in The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy (2012).  In today’s world of partisan politics, it’s hard to imagine overcoming enormous ideological obstacles.  We have a lot to learn from the surprising friendships and partnerships between these Republicans and Democrats who once hated each other.

There may be another realm more divisive than politics.  Theology.  Whereas in the US we only have two main political parties, we have hundreds of denominations.  New ones appear every year and most denominations are deeply suspicious of all the others.  Somehow I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind right before his crucifixion when he prayed that his followers would be one (John 17:20-23). 

Part of what it means to be missional here at Biblical is that we are willing and even eager to partner with people and organizations that we may not agree with, in order to advance God’s mission.  We cannot forget that God’s mission is more important than our theological differences.  While Truman and Hoover weren’t focused specifically on God’s mission (although feeding the hungry is certainly part of it), their attitude of working across ideological differences provides an example of what it’s like to be missional.  

On Saturday April 29, I had the privilege to spend the day with two organizations that have formed missional partnerships across denominational barriers to serve and minister. 

Urban-Priesthood-Alliance

I ate breakfast in Philadelphia with the Urban Priesthood Alliance, a group of urban pastors who graduated from Biblical in 2011.  (Their website is still a work in progress). They come from a diverse range of churches: Baptist, Church of God in Christ, Brethren Assembly, African Methodist Episcopal, as well as non-denominational churches.  As a result of their training here at Biblical, they felt that God was calling them to partnership in order to advance God’s mission together not only in Philadelphia but also the world.  The focus of the morning was to help support the ministry of Brother Peter Odanga in Kenya.  I was proud that this group of pastors graduated from my seminary. 

In the evening, I spoke on topics related to God Behaving Badly at a meeting of the Netzer Network, a group of ministers from Brethren, Baptist and non-denominational churches in the Pottstown area of Pennsylvania (members include Biblical alumni and a current student).  We talked about how to use the problematic passages of the Old Testament to engage atheists, agnostics and seekers with the gospel.  At the end, I shared how difficult it was for me spiritually to spend so much time focused on troubling aspects of God’s character.  Afterward, they gathered around me to pray for me and bless my ministry. 

It’s always a blessing to work together to advance God’s mission. 

What examples of missional partnerships have you seen? 

David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.

 

Written by Dr. Derek Cooper Monday, 14 May 2012 00:00

Today marks the sixty-fourth anniversary of the state of Israel. Despite its humble beginnings on May 14, 1948, the country has the distinction of maintaining one of the highest life expectancies in the world as well as boasting the highest standard of living in the Middle East. The country also features one of the most impressive military bodies in the world.

But for many Christians, the allure of the state of Israel lies neither in its good living conditions nor in its state-of-the-art medical care. Instead, it has to do with its elevated status in biblical history as well as its predicted role in the future of biblical prophecy. Indeed, many Christians – particularly American evangelicals – believe that the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 was not just a humane response among the United Nations to the Jewish people after the horrors of the Holocaust; it was a veritable act of God in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

This mindset finds expression in the Proclamation of the Third International Christian Zionist Congress held in Jerusalem in 1996. “The Land of Israel,” the Christian Zionist body decreed, “has been given to the Jewish People by God as an everlasting possession by an eternal covenant. The Jewish People have the absolute right to possess and dwell in the Land, including Judea, Samaria, Gaza and the Golan.”[1]

The assumption of this proclamation, of course, is that the land of Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and the Golan – an area that has historically been called Palestine – does not belong to those who have inhabited it for the past thousands of years. 

So whose land is it: the Israeli’s or the Palestinian’s? 

Despite the great importance of this question – which deserves careful and diligent consideration from people and groups who know much more about this situation than I do – I would like reflect on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from a different perspective, namely, from a Christian pragmatic one.

Without commenting on the theological basis for or against Israel’s existence as a state, the consequences of its presence in the Middle East have resulted in one apparent fact: There is now a substantially lower percentage of Christians living in this land than there was a half-century ago. Stated more directly, the Christian population in this, ironically, highly visibly part of the world is being extinguished right in front of our eyes.

(Again, ironically, to make up for the hemorrhaging of the Christian populace in the Middle East, the international church is sending more foreign missionaries there than perhaps ever before rather than supporting indigenous Palestinian Christians.)

Here are some statistics: As late as 1947, a year before the formation of the state of Israel, Christians accounted for 20% of the population in the Holy Land.[2] Following the declaration of Israel as a Jewish state in 1948, many Christians were pushed out by Jewish armies or settlers and/or fled. Some were killed. Archbishop Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian whom I was honored to meet on a recent trip to Israel and the Occupied Territories with students in the LEAD MDiv program at Biblical Seminary, chronicles the destruction of his entire village in the late 1940s in his book Blood Brothers.[3]

On our trip, we experienced the difficulties of life as a Palestinian Christian firsthand during a visit to a farm in the Bethlehem area – the owners of which, by the way, have been Christians for generations. Because the Israeli government wants to take control of this land and use it to make more (illegal) Jewish settlements, they have cut off the owner’s water and electricity. After touring the farm for about two hours and learning about the injustices the family has experienced, a group of us returned on foot to our bus, which had to park far away due to the barricade the Israeli government had erected two decades before. To our surprise, we were met by four Israeli soldiers. Although as American tourists we had nothing to be afraid of, the locals in the area had much to fear. As a local Christian later remarked to me about this incident, “This is just another day in the life of a Palestinian. We are punished for no other reason than being alive.”

Due to these types of tactics, the Christian population in Palestine and the Occupied Territories has shrunk to a little more than 1%.[4] In fact, about 600,000 Palestinian Christians alone have left their homeland to live in Chile, while others are scattered throughout many other countries.[5]

As for the state of Israel, the Christian population has also diminished over the years. There are actually more Christians from Jerusalem living in Sydney, Australia than there are living in Jerusalem, Israel.[6] What’s more, the Christian population in Israel has shrunk each decade since Israel was formed as a country. In 1948, for instance, Christians made up about 7% of the population there (but represented 20% of the total population in the vicinity). Today it is a little more than 1%.[7] And Haifa, the third largest city in Israel, has seen an 85% reduction of Christians since the formation of Israel.[8]

So, what are we as Christians to do with the apparent fact that the Christian population continues to die out in the land where Christianity was birthed?

Some claim the reason for this en masse fleeing on the part of indigenous Christians is due to conflicts with Muslims.[9] The statistics I have seen, however, reveal nothing of the sort. Actually, a recent survey conducted by the Palestinian Centre for research and Cultural Dialogue discovered that “78 per cent of Christians who live in Bethlehem say the emigration is because of Israeli blockade.”[10]

These statistics align with anecdotes I have heard personally from Palestinian Christians in the Bethlehem area. “The conflict has nothing to do,” one Palestinian Christian woman said to me, “with Christians versus Muslims. It is about Israeli’s taking our land, erecting a giant wall, humiliating us at check points, and forcing us to flee our homeland.”

Perhaps worst of all, one Christian and Islamist scholar asserts that the Christian population in this part of the world contains “no sign of reversal.”[11]

Now let’s get things straight: I am neither for nor against the nation of Israel. If anything, I have discovered the people of Israel to be kind and gracious. (Of course, I have been the recipient of this kindness as an American tourist.) At the same time, I am decidedly in support of Christians everywhere in the world, the Holy Land included. Can I, as a Christian, act any differently?

But regardless of my personal opinions about whether one should or should not support the state of Israel, the fact remains: The indigenous church in Palestine is perilously close to extinction. As fellow believers, what is our role in this situation?

In the preamble to the Third International Christian Zionist Congress I cited above, one of the primary motivations of the congress was “to demonstrate Christian concern for Israel and the Jewish People.”

Granted.

But who will demonstrate “Christian concern” for Palestine and the local Christian people living there?


Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical, where he directs the LEAD MDiv program and co-directs the DMin program. His most recent book is entitled Thomas Manton: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Puritan Pastor: http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Manton-Thought-Puritan-Publishing/dp/1596382139/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1. See his faculty page at: http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/derek-cooper.


[1] http://christianactionforisrael.org/congress.html.

[2] http://wearewideawake.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2101&Itemid=247.

[3] Elias Chacour, Blood Brothers (Grand Rapids: Chosen, 2003).

[4] Heather Sharkey, “Middle Eastern and North African Christianity,” in Introducing World Christian History, ed. Charles Farhadian (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 14.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_Christians.

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_Christians.

[7] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Society_&_Culture/christpop.html.

[8] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/04/201242517713418510.html.

[9] http://wearewideawake.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2101&Itemid=247.

[10] OpenBethelehem.org.

[11] David Thomas, “Arab Christianity,” in The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity, ed. Ken Parry (Oxford: Wiley-Blacwell, 2010), 21.

   

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

   

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