Monday, April 28, 2008

Thielicke and Post-Liberal Theology

I have always considered myself a Conservative Christian but have never agreed fully with a lot of the doctrine or other beliefs of the more conservative traditions, and I have never considered myself much of a liberal until fairly recently, either. So what am I? I live in an age where everything must have its proper label and since I could not agree on any one I made up one of my own and went with that for a while until I stumbled across Post-Liberal Theology. I theology that runs in and out of liberalism and conservatism: a middle ground between the two. Post-Liberal Theology (PLT) argues conservatives look behind the biblical text, searching the historical facts for the meaning and liberals search for truths found symbolically within the text. PLT argues that the meaning is neither this or that. The meaning is in the text itself and that it can stand alone. Lately, Christians have gotten into the habit of taking the surroundings that they live in and transplanting that onto their reading of the Scriptural text. This, according the PLT views is not a good thing. Instead, we should be allowing the text, specifically the stories to shape and influence our world. Stop looking back into what the original words meant or what may have really happened at the Red Sea or how exactly a person dies from crucifixion and listen to the story. Let it speak. How does this affect missions? To focus something other than the text for meaning takes there Scriptures away from the common-man, the person that did not go to a Christian school or who is not familiar with Greek or Hebrew or the history of the Ancient Near East. Focusing back on the text brings the Scriptures back to a place where the common person can understand them, because otherwise, we are slowly moving towards those actions of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, but instead of being required to know Latin in order to read the Scriptures we must know Greek, Hebrew, Ancient Near Eastern cultural practices, and the entire history of the Roman Empire through the 1st century AD. Not to say that knowing those things is wrong, rather they can be very helpful tools and incredibly interesting at that, but the meaning of the text is not there. The meaning of the text is in the text. That is why God gave us the Scriptures as they are. Yes, context matters but it is not everything when readin the Scriptures.
What does Thielicke have to do with this? He believed that ministry should shape our theology. I could not agree more. And that it is irresponsible not to address people where they are. As conservatives, it is easy for us to go above the text in our factual knowledge of what is going on behind the text and in so doing we begin to sound arrogant and it is a short step to looking at a person who is less educated and thinking them stupid. Ministry should shape our theology. As Christians, we are charged with spreading God's Name to the ends of the earth. This should shape how we live, the outpouring of God's Word ot the earth. And to do this we need to be humble, and servant-hearted. This is not an excuse or reason to stop learning or to snear at higher learning in a Christian context. By all means, learn as much as you can, but understand that the knowledge you gain is still knowledge given and that does not add anything to the fact that the story of Jesus coming and dying on a Cross and being resurrected is true, is an historical event. That is what matters: the Christocentricism of all that we do. We must be centered on Jesus and humbly approach our learning because even in our knowledge is dependant upon faith and is full of mystery (G.C. Berkouwer).
Humbly approach the world. Do not become hauty and arrogant because as Christians we are the chosen and greater than those in the world. God came into the world, He created it. And we must learn to look at the world and see God, to look at the Church and see God, and understand that "whoever does she Jesus Christ does indeed see God and the world as one,m he can henceforth no longer see God without the world" (Bonhoeffer - "Ethics"). Humanity is why God came, and why we are here. We must look at our fellow Christians as Christ-bearers and at our neighbors who are not saved as still made in the image of God and not to be scoffed at because we should be other-centered in our outworked lives. HUmanity is key, and we cannot think ourselves above that humanity. God became human, and lowered Himself, and we ought to be able to do the same.

"God plus humanity is a greater idea than God by Himself."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

الحمد للة ساوسفر الى مصر!

Al Hamdu Lilla! Saoosefr ila Msr! Praise be to God! I will be going to Egypt! 

I have been blessed with the opportunity to live in Alexandria, Egypt this summer for an eight-week summer internship. I will be living in Alexandria, working with a family and their church. Among the tasks I will be doing are helping with English classes, guitar lessons, possibly leading worship along with a total of 96 hours of Arabic language classes along with other, cultural studies classes. 

So far, I have been able to work with Muslims in an American and a European context. This will give me the opportunity to learn what missions will be like to Muslims in an Arab context, directly in the heart of Islam. Please be praying that my heart will be prepared and that God will work in my heart during this experience. And also, that the funding for the trip will come in time for me to leave. 

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Missions Apology

Christian missions is a difficult thing for many people, even Christians to understand. Churches have begun pulling money and other resources from mission fields because they see no rewards, no fruits from the money they are pumping into missions. They would rather keep the money for the new youth-center, basketball-gym, or community center. These things are not inherently bad by any means. The point I am trying to make is that, as Christians we are all called to missions and to neglect missions is to neglect an important aspect of God.
God walked among His creation in the beginning until creation rebelled and the prefect relationship was severed. His elect moved in and out of rebellion and praise for thousands of years until God walked among His creation, once again. This time as a man. Jesus made it possible, through His death resurrection, to have communion with God, and ushered in the Kingdom of God on earth. 
This event is, in a matter of speaking, God's greatest missionary journey to earth. But this is not the first outreach He had. In fact, the entire Old Testament stands as a witness to the missionary efforts of God. Christian missions is the process of spreading the Name of God throughout the nations. This is what YHWH was doing in the Ancient Near East through His elect (Israel) and through prophets, judges, monarchs, and even pagan nations. Every story, in some way centers on the fact that God's name was, in some way being made known to the nations. Be it by Israel being victorious over those nations and thus being occupied by the people of God or by those nations conquering Israel and bringing them into their own nations and thus living among those who worship the Name of God. It is important that I begin in the Old Testament because the events are often overlooked as wrathful, angry reactions by God to His people and the nations surrounding Israel. But in reality, as I have briefly described here, the Old Testament bears witness to the large-scale, long-term mission trip of God. 
Many understand and see obviously the importance of missions in the New Testament. Jesus' coming was a mission to this world. Most of the New Testament was written by Paul the Apostle who is the world's greatest missionary. He calls and beckons believers to go out and to live among those who do not know God and to boldly live deliberately for God. Briefly reading through one of Paul's letters or the last few chapters of any of the four Gospels will show the evident and forceful call to missions.
Missions must also be done out of urgency. As Christians, we believe that the only way to Heaven and eternal life is by Jesus Christ. He is the narrow path, the door, the good Shepherd etc . . . And those who do not know Him and proclaim Him as Savior will perish. This should give us an urgency and a fire for spreading the Gospel unlike any other passion. Lives are hanging in eternal peril. But how do we do this? As Americans, we know only one language fluently, we are often bubbled off and painfully unfamiliar with other cultures and often dislike knowing or experiencing cultures that are different from the one we were raised in. 
Missions is something that cannot be done on a short-term level. Short-term, as defined by most mission agencies is two years or less. In our modern world, Islam is Christianity's largest, religious threat. This stands as such for many reasons but the Christian response has been wrong in so many places. We have often allowed our Christianity to be that of our political or national identity. We have become American Christians and are thus responding as such; with hatred, and violence and in so doing have aligned ourselves with everything we accuse them of. Our response as Christians should not be that of our country but of our Leader: Jesus Christ. He commanded us to love and care for our enemies. This is not a sort of religious, or political tolerance but obedience to God. We should be running toward the Islamic community where ever it may be. Where they sow hate, we ought to sow love; where they give death, we ought to point to life in abundance; where they say fear and uncertainty, we ought to proclaim hope, joy and assured deliverance; Where they say Allah, we say Jehovah. 
Missions is an inescapable calling for anyone who calls himself a Christian. It is to be centered on Jesus and His work on earth, which is in direct correlation to the work of God the Father since the beginning of time. Our mission is that of Paul the Apostle, which is that of Jesus the Son of God which is that of God the Father.