The Mexican Prayer

“Give us, Señor
Give us, Señor, a little sun, a little happiness, and some work.
Give us a heart to comfort those in pain.
Give us the ability to be good, strong, wise and free,
So that we may be as generous with others as we are with ourselves.
Finally, Señor, let us all live as your own one family. Amen.”
— A prayer painted on a church wall in Mexico,

(United Methodist Book of Worship #465)

Look at this prayer closely. The context speaks out of the prayer clearly.  Some of us believe theology would always be contextual. It’s an issue of incarnation. Additionally, all historical theological was written due to context, a fact we should remember when we utilize it in our different context. Pauls’ theology was written at and into a particular context. This is old news to Asians, Africans and Latin Americans doing theology, but seems lost on the USA crowd.

One Nepali Christian writes “…we need NCT (Nepal Christian Theology) because the western theology is inadequate to address the existential concerns of the Nepali context. The reason for this inadequacy is because western theology comprises of thought patterns, and the existential concerns of its own context. Thirdly, we need NCT because it’s interaction with other religions. It is imperative for Nepali church, to present the Christian faith in a comprehensible manner to other religions. This requires Nepali theologians to articulate Christian faith in its multi-religious context.”  (Towards Nepal Christian Theology: A Proposal  by Yeshwanth B. V  at  http://yeshwanthbv.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/towards-nepal-christian-theology-a-proposal/)

One of my old missiology professors from seminary, Donald Leroy Stults, wrote “ “Young Asian theologians often turn to the West for mentors, only to discover that the questions that occupy Western theologians do not always relate to the problems facing the church in Asia” (Developing an Asian Evangelical Theology (OMF: 1990).

Another worthy resource is Eastern University theologian Eric Flett’s “Dingolayin’: Theological Notes for a Contextual Caribbean Theology.” Book chapter in A Kairos Moment for Caribbean Theology: Ecumenical Voices in Dialogue, edited by J. Richard Middleton and Garnett Roper. Pickwick Publications, 2013.

When we use Paul’s theology we need to keep in mind that it was written in a context wildly different than ours, and work it accordingly. This might save us a lot of triumphant verse-quoting trying to prove something with Paul which Paul wasn’t even talking about at the time.

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John Wesley: the world will not be destroyed

The Left Behind version of Christianity claims God will destroy the world. (As if John 3: 16 read “For God so hated the world he sent his only Son into it to snatch a relatively few people out of it and then burn it to a cinder… not to save it through him!”). Here are John Wesley’s comments on Romans 8, and the whole Creation longing with eager expectation to be set free, liberated, when the sons of God come into their own, from the bondage to death and decay. As in our day, many people in Wesley’s time thought the world itself will end. In contrast to that, Wesley understood the great biblical expectation of God mending Creation, what Jesus and his generation called ‘the renewal of all things’ (Mt. 19:28) in the age to come. Wesley argues that a woman in labor doesn’t long to be destroyed, she longs to give birth to new life! And whatever is destroyed isn’t delivered at all – so it’s not the Creation itself that will be destroyed, but rather delivered from sin, death and decay.

“For the earnest expectation – The word denotes a lively hope of something drawing near, and a vehement longing after it. Of the creation – Of all visible creatures… each kind, according as it is capable. All these have been sufferers through sin; and to all these (the finally impenitent excepted) shall refreshment redound from the glory of the children of God. Upright heathens are by no means to be excluded from this earnest expectation: nay, perhaps something of it may at some times be found even in the vainest of men….

The creation itself shall be delivered – Destruction is not deliverance: therefore whatsoever is destroyed, or ceases to be, is not delivered at all. Will, then, any part of the creation be destroyed?     Into the glorious liberty – The excellent state wherein they were created.

22. For the whole creation groaneth together – With joint groans, as it were with one voice. And travaileth – Literally, is in the pains of childbirth, to be delivered of the burden of the curse. Until now – To this very hour; and so on till the time of deliverance.”

–       Founder of the Methodists, John Wesley (1703-1791) Commentary on Romans 8

 

George MacDonald: God does not “oppress us with His will”

“God does not, by the instant gift of his Spirit, make us always feel right, desire good, love purity, aspire after him and his will. Therefore either he will not, or he cannot. …. The truth is this: He wants to make us in his own image, choosing the good, refusing the evil. How should he effect this if he were always moving us from within, as he does at divine intervals, towards the beauty of holiness? God gives us room to be; does not oppress us with his will; “stands away from us,” that we may act from ourselves, that we may exercise the pure will for good. Do not, therefore, imagine me to mean that we can do anything of ourselves without God. If we choose the right at last, it is all God’s doing, and only the more his that it is ours, only in a far more marvellous way his than if he had kept us filled with all holy impulses precluding the need of choice. For up to this very point, for this very point, he has been educating us, leading us, pushing us, driving us, enticing us, that we may choose him and his will, and so be tenfold more his children, of his own best making, in the freedom of the will…”

 –       Scottish pastor/poet/novelist/mystic George MacDonald  (1824-1905) Unspoken Sermons, Vol. I “The Eloi”

Emerging Churches believe the modern church’s evangelistic success is declining

Over a decade ago, a new kind of church began appearing that was, in many respects, very different than other churches on the landscape. As a catch-all term, I will use the word ’emerging’ to describe them, since they often identified with that term for several years.

Emerging churches observe that the church in the modern era, while it accomplished many wonderful things, has gradually become less and less effective at drawing people in our changing culture to life-changing experiences with Jesus.

Postmodern Christians realize that the cultural matrix that modern churches developed in – has changed dramatically.They believe that, in order to communicate the gospel effectively to a culture that no longer knows it by heart, we need to apply the insights learned by missionaries in other cultures about contextualization. They also believe that failure to do so is one of the chief reasons behind why the modern church’s evangelistic success has been waning.

Dan Kimball says it like this in his excellent book The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations “While many of us have been preparing sermons and keeping busy with the internal affairs of our churches, something alarming has been happening on the outside. What was once a Christian nation with a Judeo-Christian worldview is quickly becoming a post-Christian, unchurched, unreached nation…. the fifth largest mission field in the world.” (The Emerging Church, 13-14).

A member of a super-modern church said to me “People who visit church already know what we’re about and what we believe.” I contend nothing could be further from accurate.  Emerging churches realize that the people in our culture do not already know the Bible’s characters nor themes. Doubt it? Remember The Tonight Show’s clips on the streets of New York asking basic bible questions like “Who was bigger, David or Goliath” or “Name one of the 12 disciples”. Or, consider the much-told story of the two young women at a jewelry counter. Do you know that story? They are looking at cross necklaces. One girl says to the other “Are you going to get a cross with the little man on it, or one without the little man?” The other girl responds “What’s with the little man? Why would someone want a little man on their cross?” Emerging churches understand that postmodern people may think ‘Trinity’ refers to Neo’s girlfriend in The Matrix. 

Kimball has said “We start in the middle of a story that they don’t know or that they know very little about mainly through negative experiences. We offer them escape from a peril they don’t know they face, and we use words that either aren’t part of their vocabulary or that they don’t correctly understand.” (Kimball, The Emerging Church, 172).

I start with this point, because it informs so much of what has created the raison d’etre    for emerging churches. Members of emerging churches want the message of Jesus effectively getting to our culture. I stand squarely in the middle of historic and evangelical Christianity in affirming them in this desire.

So, modern church, what’s all that mean? It means this: It’s time we apply missionary science 101 in postmodern culture.

What’s good about this? What’s wonderful about knowing the church is not doing so great in evangelism? Simply this: waking up and smelling the reality is essential to dealing with reality. The first step in addressing an issue, is knowing there is one. Remember the men of the tribe of Issachar:  “…who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”   (1 Chronicles 12: 32).

 

Wendell Berry

In our increasingly ecologically-aware age, more and more people are asking themselves How can we live well, and sustainably, on this planet in the long haul? How can we feed billions of people and maintain the health of our planet’s ecosystem, our own well-being societally and physiologically, and the fertility and usability of our farmlands? These kinds of questions are dovetailed into many things, including our increasing awareness that the health of our bodies is directly impacted by the healthiness of our foods, which are in turn directly impacted by the health of the soil in which they are grown – and our mental and emotional well-being is likewise impacted by the health of our bodies, the health of our society and world all around us.

Growing numbers of Christians are coming to believe these questions are an express interest of Christian theology as well. Since the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, and mankind’s first and explicit vocation in the story of Scripture is to tend the natural world and be its steward, more and more of us are talking about the state and health of our world – and what we do to impact and shape that – as a high importance Christian concern.

For people like that, Wendell Berry is a rich, vibrant resource. Berry is a Christian, a poet (Kentucky’s laureate), a prolific author, an agrarian philosopher, and a farmer. He has farmed the same 200 acres in Kentucky for the last 50 years. As a social commentator reflecting on the natural world he reminds me at times of John Burroughs, Annie Dillard, Henry Beston, Muir, Thoreau, and others of America’s great nature writers. For people thinking about health, food, how we produce food, and the world’s future, Berry’s agrarian essays are a must read. They are profound, full of wit and humor and an artist’s sense of pacing, tone and detail.

And we need to think about them. Berry contends that approaching the natural/biological world of farming and food with the industrial, mechanical mindset of the Industrial Revolution has created industrial-scale agri-business that is increasingly and alarmingly less and less healthy for the soil itself, the land, the nutritional value of our food, the ecosystems of our planet, and the wholeness and health of our own bodies and communities. Yes, we have produced more quantities of food. But the long-term effects on our soil, communities, farmers, ecosystems and bodies are, he contends, not worth it. He is calling for a re-think and re-set in the way we farm and live. And he believes we can farm in ways that are healthy, diverse, enriching the land, soil, people – and even good for the farmers themselves – and the multitude of businesses which we have lost in uber-scale food production. I highly recommend his book Bringing It To The Table: On Farming and Food. It is only one of many, but he pulls a lot of things together there.