1.) Become more of a movement than an institution.
2.) Become multi-ethnic.
3.) Proclaim and practice a deeply biblically-rooted strategy for compassion, mercy, and justice.
4.) Have a high priority and passion for evangelism.
5.) Involve large churches as a resource, but don’t lift them up alone as the highest model of a healthy and missional church.
6.) Affirm and train up men and women for the offices of Apostle, Evangelist, and Prophet based on biblical principles.
7.) Increase the number of women in pastoral leadership.
8.) Become students of how the Kingdom of God is being advanced in Africa, Central America, and South America.
9.) Expand the missional church conversation to include experts within the African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic, and Native American Church.
10.) Develop strategic Kingdom partnerships beyond your particular denomination.
As I was on a plane last night heading home to Northern California, I happened to be reading yet another book on the Missional Church. This time I was reading Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal. Over the last year, I have read books by McNeal, Alan Hirsch, Alan Roxburgh, Darrell Guder, and many others. These book could read without knowing the authors and you might come to believe that they were written by the same person at times. On one hand, I have enjoyed reading these books and on the other these books have created much frustration in my heart and mind.
I have enjoyed reading these books because I’m very passionate about the church being missional. With the Church in the United States of America being so influenced by a corporate church model that tends to build its outcomes based on growth at the expense many times of depth and more holistic transformation, the missional conversation is one that is very needed. The frustration I have is that the missional church conversation is mainly a European-American conversation and to this degree is presented as if the European-American Church is the pioneer of missional ministry in the United States of America. I also have an issue with the lack of focus on issues of justice and racial righteousness that is avoided in much of the missional conversation. But, what is really troubling, is that the Black Church and the Urban Church in the United States of America is ignored as the true pioneering and Christ-centered forces behind a historic and present model of the Missional Church. Ignoring these church models makes it seem as if an emerging generation of European-American evangelicals discovered a missional approach to ministry through theologians such as Bishop Leslie Newbigin.
One of the reasons it may be difficult for the European-American Church to recognize both the Black and Urban Church is because it would then have to deal with how it historically played a role in the development of some of the injustices that plague Black and Urban communities today. One example is the issue of the White Flight from urban communities in the 1960′s and 1970′s when Black families began to integrate these predominately White communities at the time. White Flight assists in the creation of middle class and upper middle class suburbs, which in turn lay the foundation for the development of well-resourced suburban European-American mega churches. Evangelicals have to be willing to deal with this history. It was the conservative Christians that fled to escape integration while in many cases more liberal mainline churches stayed in the city and began to develop ministries of compassion, mercy, and justice.
Now, please understand that I’m in no way against large churches. And theologically, I am very evangelical. I do have an issue with large evangelical churches that help to sustain the segregated church in the United States of America by not understanding the roots of their existence. Some large churches in the suburbs are successful off of the flight and abandonment of the inner city years ago.
The Black Church has been missional since its beginning. It had not choice. The Black Church is created and evolves in the midst of a mission field, which soil produced slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and inner-city ghettoes. The Black Church was simultaneously the developer of new missionaries and the object of the White missionary, who was sometimes also the slave owner. The Black Church is forced within this mission field to not only be a worship center, but also a center of leadership development, community development, healthcare, education, and economic empowerment. These initiatives were rooted in Scriptures such as the Book of Exodus, Matthew 25, and Luke 4. The Black Church is still one of the most visible signs of the Missional Church in cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston just to name a few.
It’s time to have a broader and more ethnically diverse conversation about the Missional Church. Are you ready? Then start by reading the following Missional Church writers that can broaden your theology beyond just the European-American Church perspective-
* Soong-Chan Rah
* Brenda Salter-McNeil
* John Teter
* John Perkins
* Martin Luther King Jr.
* Howard Thurman
This is just a start.
This past June, we as the Evangelical Covenant Church, approved a Resource Paper on Compassion, Mercy, and Justice at our Annual Meeting. This act further guides our denomination into being a Kingdom advancing movement. If one surveys the Gospels, you see Jesus proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Not only does He proclaim this truth, He also performs the mighty wonders of this new community.
Jesus performs these mighty wonders through the forgiving of sins, the raising of the dead, giving sight to the blind, casting out demons, and the empowerment of women. In Matthew 25, he speaks to Kingdom advancement including feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, caring for the sick, being hospitable to the stranger, and visiting the incarcerated. The advancement of the Kingdom of God is done at the intersection of evangelism and justice.
The evangelism part of this advancement is the new covenant brought and bought by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The justice part is a continuation of the Covenant established by God as he brought the Hebrew people out of bondage and oppression.
In these days of economic crisis, broken families, addiction, ethnic and political divisions, war, and lost souls, the church must increase its urgency around Kingdom advancement. The Evangelical Covenant Church and all denominations that desire to be biblically rooted and culturally relevant must become catalytic and prophetic resourcing ministries. We must do this by equipping the church and developing leaders to be Spirit-led and missional in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality.
Right after I posted, “The Art of Discipline”, I began to think about being disciplined verses being driven. My thoughts were based on my reading about Gideon in the book of Judges within the Old Testament. Even though he was used by God to bring great victory in war on behalf of the nation of Israel, his victory soon turned into idolatry.
I would think that it took great discipline and submission to follow God in only taking 300 warriors into battle against thousands and come out victorious. The discipline comes in terms of putting yourself in position daily to hear from God and then the discipline to follow all instructions when all odds seem to be against you. Then there’s the discipline of being a trained and ready warrior as well as providing leadership by example to those following you into battle.
When your in the position of leadership discipline can soon turn to a state of being driven. This is when the purpose and plan moves from being about God, to being about you. After deliverance and victory brought about by God, Gideon was driven to receive the credit and to be rewarded. Instead of worshipping the One who brought victory, he became self wanting.
Where being driven can become self-centered is when we seek to gain power for ourselves instead of living a life of discipline, empowered by God. Leaders who are driven must be cautious of the power-seeking nature of wanting to be in the driver’s seat. Be careful that in being driven, you desire to drive life by your own power. This driven life is about wanting power and control verses being empowered by God and under the control of the Holy Spirit for a larger purpose. I desire that my life be bigger than me, but I fight the temptation daily to be driven to make life all about me.
Gideon in making victories brought on by God about himself, took riches and built what would become an idolatrous shrine. Within the next generation of his family there was murder in the form of one of his sons killing all of the rest of his sons except one. This murderous son was driven by the desire of rulership over the family and the nation. This murderous son lost sight of the disciplined life of being led by and empowered by God. Instead he was driven by seeking power in his own might.
May we seek the life of discipline over the life of the driven.
I’m a huge Minnesota Vikings football fan. This usually causes me to become sad year after year with the disappointment of another year without a Super Bowl win. Those who know Super Bowl history know that the Vikings have lost four Super Bowls and have not been to a Super Bowl since the 1970′s. We have lost 3 NFC Championship games over the last 20 years as well, with the 1998 and 2010 games being the most painful (At least for me). I provide this introduction because the Vikings released a Pro-Bowl offensive lineman last week for being overweight. He reported to training camp at about 400 pounds. This has made me wonder about discipline. Wasn’t making millions of dollars a year enough to keep him in shape? The answer is no. The next question becomes then, “What drives one to be disciplined?”
I began running about a year ago. I now run about 4 days a week. I never thought I would like running. To be honest there are days when I don’t. What causes me to get up and run? Discipline. I don’t say this to brag because all of my attempts at discipline are not successful. Some of the enemies of discipline are procrastination, distraction, discomfort, and challenge. You can pursue something that takes discipline and the moment it gets hard, give up. I have many examples of this in my life. The question now becomes, “What fuels discipline?”
Discipline is ultimately fueled by something beyond ourselves. For me that is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit provides an empowerment and equipping beyond what I can manufacture on my own. The Holy Spirit is a counselor (John 14). As a counselor, the Holy Spirit reminds me of the true character and values for living life more abundantly. The Holy Spirit reminds me that you can’t separate discipline from discipleship.
The Holy Spirit is also the place where we find communion with God. This is where we experience God’s great love for us. This makes discipline not something we pursue because of law, but because of love. Discipline is not a checklist, but an art. Discipline is a dance whose rhythm comes out of intimacy. It’s connected to a Covenant with a loving God. When I dance with my wife, I experience the art of our Covenant together. I’m reminded of our love and commitment. We must be willing to dance with our God daily. Discipline is part of this glorious dance.
Post-Black Theology is rooted in the thesis that there are theologies and best-practice models that have come out of the Black Church in America and Africa that are meant from God to be a gift to the whole church. You can’t present Post-Black Theology though without first dealing with Black Theology.
Black theology is a theology for Black people. Black theology is about a biblical understanding that God, thru Jesus, identifies with the historical suffering and current social disparities facing Black people. Theologian James Cone and Religious and African-American Studies Scholar, Cornell West are the pioneers of Black Liberation Theology. Black Liberation Theology has connections to Liberation Theology coming out of Latin America. Black Liberation Theology has not been fully received within evangelicalism because one, it’s focused on God identifying with the conditions facing Black people and two, it has elements which seem more rooted in marxism and humanism than Scripture. South African theologian Allan Boesak has offered a version of Black Liberation Theology that is more palatable for evangelical tastes.
Post-Black Theology, though not labeled that, begins with African-American theologians and organic scholars such as Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Tom Skinner, and John Perkins. Thru these leaders we find the foundation of Reconciliation Theology. Reconciliation Theology is about the redemption, liberation, and reconciliation of both the oppressed and the oppressor. Black Liberation theology is primarily about the oppressed, with little or no focus on the transformation of the oppressor.
Post-Black theology also includes a more authentic missional ecclesiology. The Black Church has been a missional church since its inception. The Civil Rights Movement is both a missional and emergent movement before European-American pastors and theologians began the discussion. Hip Hop culture today is both a Post-Black movement and the most visible sign of post-modernism. Because it is a movement of urban African-American, Asian, and Hispanic youth, it is marginalized by the dominant culture. If the church in the United States is truly going to be missional it must learn to advance the Kingdom of God in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, urban, global, technological, and hip hop reality.
The Black Church is missional because it has also been engaging culture for justice and transformation as well as being a development center for the empowerment of African-Americans to become Post-Black leaders. If not for the Black Church influence on some level, there would be no Post-Black leaders such as President Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, or Tony Dungy. Whether in their generation, their parents, or grandparents, the Black Church had influence.
I will spend time in future posts breaking down further Post-Black Theology. Stay tuned and I would love your thoughts.
The picture above is of one of my fraternity brothers (Kappa Alpha Psi) reading to a group of children at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Oakland, California. Our local chapter (Berkeley Alumni) volunteered for a health and literacy fair at the school. After the event, I reflected on these problems impacting urban public school education today-
MY TOP TEN PROBLEMS WITH URBAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS:
10.) The Lack of Greater Family Involvement
9.) That Both Political Parties Have Made Politics of Urban Education
8.) That Urban Children Get Caught In Between Unions and Activists
7.) The Some Teachers Bring Personal Agendas Into The Classroom That Have Little To Do With Education
6.) Unrealistic Expectations That Some People Have Of What A School Should Provide For Children
5.) Families With The Resources (Like Mine) Who Move To The Suburbs Or Choose Private Schools (Thought I Would Spread The Blame Around)
4.) Constant Turnover Of School Principles
3.) People With No Credentials Or Experience In Education Thinking They Can Educate Children Better Than The Urban Public Schools.
2.) Lack Of Sufficient Funding And Volunteer Support
1.) The Lack Of Innovative Collaboration With The Local Faith Community And Other Long-Standing Organizations.
Now that I have read Dr. John MacArthur’s latest book, Slave, I can now provide more thoughts on the main thesis within it. His main purpose in the book is to show us that as controversial and counter-cultural as it may be, we must accept that the primary way we find identity in Christ is as a slave to God. He begins by providing information on an “English translation conspiracy” that has taken the word for slave in the Greek and changed it to mean servant. So throughout the New Testament the servant has really replaced the word slave. We are then to look at all the texts in the New Testament around servant (which there are many) and see the revelation of the Christian life being the life of the slave.
My thought on this point is simply this. If we are to believe that there is an English translation conspiracy that has caused us to miss the mark on the true role of the Christian in relationship to God, why are we not so sure that there are no Greek translation conspiracies? How many times in the New Testament is the Greek translation taking Hebrew words out of context? In the book, A Prayer to Our Father: Hebrew Origins of the LORD’s Prayer, authors Keith Johnson and Nehemia Gordon actually make this case. They show through the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, ways in which the Greek translation has taken some Hebrew words out of its original context and meaning. Conspiracy?
The point here is, Dr. MacArthur may be creating another conspiracy in trying to uncover one. Or another way of putting it would be, he’s continuing the conspiracy of a Euro-centric captivity on biblical interpretation.
The next thing MacArthur does in the book is move to the Old Testament. His point here is to present the Exodus story as God bringing the Israelites out of slavery to Egypt in order to bring them into slavery under Him. This provides a very limited view of the Old Testament story. His foundation is in the interpretation of the Hebrew word “eded” which means slave and servant. What he doesn’t bring up is that this Hebrew word is rooted in another Hebrew word, “abad” which means slave, servant, husbandman, worshipper, and worker. I have two takes on this point in the book.
One, in MacArthur’s drive to make slaves out of all Christians, he leaves out another picture of the New Testament story. What about the picture of a God who frees a people from slavery, makes a Covenant with them, and then calls them to extend his love and justice to the poor, widow, orphan, and immigrant? MacArthur is so focused on “slave texts” that he seems to not care about what the Old Testament has to say about freedom, justice, and Covenant. The question becomes then, does Covenant equate Captivity? MacArthur seem to believe so. The second point is if the Hebrew word “abad” means slave, servant, husbandman, and worshipper, why is the focus of the book only on the slave portion of the meaning of the word?
The rest of the book is spent on looking at how Jesus and the authors of the Epistles in the New Testament mainly describe the Christian life as the life of an obedient slave to a Master, which is God. One, I cannot argue that there aren’t a number of biblical texts that describe the Christian as servant and slave. The issue is that this isn’t the only way the Christian life is described in the New Testament. In MacArthur’s focus on God as Master, he ignores the number of places where God is described as Father. I would argue that Jesus spends more time talking about God as His Father than as His Master. The disciple John spends a lot of time describing the Christian as a “beloved child.” MacArthur seems to believe that the only way to get obedience out of a Christian it to make him or her a slave. I respectfully disagree. The more we focus on God as Father and Liberator, the more space we have to describe the Christian as the liberated, transformed, and beloved child, who ought to live in obedience to a loving and all-powerful God of justice.
Finally, I’m saddened by how MacArthur hardly shows any sensitivity to the history and impact of slavery upon African-Americans. He doesn’t acknowledge that he isn’t the first European-American to use an interpretation of slavery in the bible to develop a theology and influence the masses. This is how slavery was justified many years ago in the United States of America.
In recent years I’ve heard some notable Christian leaders say things like this regarding the current political landscape in the United States-
“The conservatives have lost their hearts and the liberals have lost their minds.”
“One political side represents Socialism and the other, Empire.”
Regardless of if these quotes are true of the current political state in the U.S. of not, I have great concerns that political ideology has many Christians held captive. I’ve talked to Christians who religiously listen to political commentators who aren’t even Christians themselves. If someone critiques one of these commentators or disagrees with them, it’s as if they disagreed with Paul in the Scriptures or maybe even Jesus. I’m saddened by Christians that are set on fire by political shock jocks getting wealthy on the extreme edges of conservatism and liberalism. These same Christians don’t seem to be set on fire in the same manner by the Savior who proclaims that, “the Kingdom of God is now at hand.”
Now, I know that these Christians would passionately disagree with me, but that is because they see political conservatism and evangelical theological conservatism as the same thing. Others believe that biblical kingdom justice and political progressive ideology are the same thing.
We cannot allow fallen political ideologies and structures to limit the possibilities of true Kingdom advancement in the United States and beyond. The Kingdom of God as proclaimed in Scripture is supreme over and against any earthly government, including the one I like best. This means that though I believe democracy as worked out historically and currently in the United States is a better government model than others around the world, it doesn’t compare on any level to the truth, justice, compassion, transformation, reconciliation, and unity that comes forth from the Kingdom of God. And even though I believe what I do about democracy, I also believe that our government structure in the United States is currently broken, because every man-made structure in our world is fallen. Since all humans have fallen short, so are the ideologies and structures that we’ve created.
The Christian church is the vehicle which God has chosen to express the values, power, and outcomes of God’s Kingdom. The values of this Kingdom where communicated by our Savior Jesus Christ within Scripture. The church from this foundation ought to be presenting a Kingdom alternative and transforming solutions to the challenges we face today within the family, education, economics, community, health, and even tougher issues such as immigration.
But, because the church in many cases is being held hostage by extreme political ideologies from the edges, many outside the church don’t know the difference between God’s Kingdom and empire or God’s Kingdom and socialism. Now here is the challenging truth though; there are parts of the value system of God’s Kingdom that sound socialist on first listen and there are parts on first listen that sound like empire. But, when you look at all that is the Kingdom of God now and into eternity it is so much more than any earthly government could ever accomplish. Within the Kingdom of God value system there is the individual responsibility found within the necessity of new birth and the communal call to care for the poor. One must take ownership of their own spiritual development and be willing to share the first fruits of their resources to help the hurting thru the mission strategy of a local church.
No matter if you believe in big or small government, you can’t deny a big God who desires to love the lost, heal the broken, and bring justice to the oppressed thru the church.
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statues which I am commanding you today for your good?”
“He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 10:12-13 and 18-19 (NASB)
These words written by Moses connect something very important for God’s chosen people. Throughout this book, God called the people to remember Him as their one and only God. This remembrance is rooted in the deliverance out of oppression and slavery in Egypt. From here, they are to know God, love God, and follow his commandments. One important element of these commandments is the execution of justice.
What God seems to be saying here thru Moses is, “I saw you when you were the marginalized and the oppressed. I delivered you out of this condition. Now out of remembrance, worship, and love, live for Me by caring for the marginalized and oppressed around you now. If you are not sure who those people are, let me be very clear; the orphan, the widow, and the alien.” In other places in Scripture the poor are also mentioned. In Matthew 25, Jesus extends this in a very clear way to the sick and incarcerated as well. This should lead us to understand the connection between Deliverance, Remembrance, and Justice. Let me take this a little further.
Jesus is our deliverance out of sin. We should not disconnect our understanding of this from the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Just as the people of Israel were called to remember this, we Christians are to participate in the Sacrament of Communion as a remembrance. The Old Testament remembrance ought inform the New Testament remembrance. The New Testament remembrance should not remove the Old Testament remembrance. It is the combination of the two that fueled the movement against slavery and Jim Crow segregation in the United States of America. These movements were another great awakening in our country, which provided a new lens of understanding Kingdom justice.
Today, the church should still be about the evangelistic work of deliverance, the communal act of remembrance, and the missional work of Kingdom justice. As a product of the African-American church, I’ve never understood the historic divide in the European-American church between evangelism and the social gospel. I realize that the term social justice has taken on a bad name in evangelicalism and in many ways I understand why. Justice has been kidnapped to a large degree by humanism. This was the undoing of the Civil Rights Movement in a lot of ways. It went from being a church-based movement, to a secularized and political one. But the church should never stop connecting Evangelism and Kingdom Justice. God is a God of love, deliverance, and justice. We should always remember that.