Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Endangered Gospel (John Nugent) -- A Review

ENDANGERED GOSPEL: How Fixing the World Is Killing the Church. By John C. Nugent. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016. X + 220 pages.

                Surveys have suggested that people are turned off to Christianity because churches and church people are too political. At the same time churches are criticized for being too concerned about themselves and not about their communities. There is also that growing trend of people, even within Christian circles, of people distancing themselves from the church. Many say they are "spiritual but not religious," while others continue to claim the Christian mantle but don’t seem to believe that the church is necessary to the task of planting and expanding God’s realm. These are not easy days for those of us in the church business!

                 There are, of course, counter arguments that seek to claim a space for the church. Indeed, there are numerous voices suggesting that God has chosen the church to be the vanguard of God’s kingdom work. Thus, outside the church there is no salvation! Among those voices is that of John Nugent, professor of Old Testament at Great Lakes Christian College in Lansing Michigan. Nugent has become an important interpreter of the works of John Howard Yoder, and in this book he follows a path that seems rather counterintuitive. He argues in this book against the missional vision that suggests that God is already at work in the world and the church should get on board. In contrast to that vision, which is quite popular today, John argues that God is creating in the church an alternative community that is called to exhibit God’s vision of a better place. He affirms the principle espoused by missional folks that people are seeking a better place, he just doesn’t believe that there is any hope of making this world a better place. Only God can do that, so in the meantime the church is a beacon. It’s primary message to the world isn’t a social justice one, it is an evangelistic one.  By trying to make this world a better place those who embrace a “world-centered” vision of the kingdom are killing the church.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Where Do I Sit? - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 15A

Luke 14:1-2, 7-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

14 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

                Proverbs 25 offers a brief but pointed piece of wisdom: “Don’t exalt yourself in the presence of the king, or stand in the place of important people” (Prov.25:6-7).  In a hierarchical society where the king was viewed as being close to divine if not divine, this is definitely a word of wisdom.  Even in a modern democracy such as the United States, a person doesn’t just go up and start talking to the President.  If the President, or a member of the staff, invites you to join in conversation with the President, well that’s a different story, but you can’t just jump into the front of the line and expect to be well-treated by the President, staff, or the folks around you.  It is wise to know one’s place!         

Monday, August 22, 2016

Kingdom Ethics (2nd edition) - David Gushee and Glen Stassen - A Review

KINGDOM ETHICS: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Second Edition). By David P. Gushee and Glen H. Stassen. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2016. Xxiii + 526 pages.

                According to one dictionary definition, ethics is a system of moral principles. It has to do with how we conduct ourselves. There are many approaches to ethics, as any textbook will reveal. Many religions, including Christianity concern themselves with moral principles and behavior, and thus offer a system of ethics. Christianity, as a religion, is rather diverse and so there isn’t just one way of approaching the topic. Many theologians have contributed major works on ethics, as they have sought to make a connection between their vision of God and contemporary life. Some theologians have devoted their careers to ethics, among them are David Gushee and the late Glen Stassen, authors of Kingdom Ethics.

                In recent years I have come to highly regard the work of David Gushee. We were fortunate to host him last fall at my church, as he spoke on the question of LGBT inclusion, the subject of his book Changing Our Mind, (Read the Spirit Books).  I also had the opportunity to meet Glen Stassen several years back, prior to his death. Gushee and Stassen have Baptist roots. Both are evangelicals. Both are committed to the way of Jesus. That is the focus of this rather lengthy ethics textbook.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Go and Do the Same: Make Room - A Sermon

Luke 14:1, 7-14

When I was a child, my mother tried to teach me proper etiquette. She taught me to wait before I began eating until everyone was not only seated at the table but served. She also told me to chew with my mouth closed and not talk with my mouth full. I know there were other rules, but these will suffice for now.  

Where you sit at the Table also can be a matter of proper etiquette. The host sits at the head of the table, and the guest of honor sits at the host’s right hand. The rest of the seating chart is defined by social status. The higher your status the closer you’re seated to the host and the guest of honor. So, if you go to a dinner party, and you think you’re someone special, you’ll want to be seated as close to the host as possible. But it’s not up to you! So you might as well wait to be seated before choosing a seat. You don’t want to make the mistake of choosing the wrong seat, and suffer the humiliation of being moved to the back of the room. So wait for the host to seat you.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Millstone of Student Loans

My son is a recent graduate of a private Christian college. Like most college students, except perhaps those able to get into a few elite schools with huge endowments, he had to take out student loans. He has amassed a significant debt (as is true of most recent graduates) and now must pay off the loan. Not only that, but he's already accrued significant interest debt.