Uncommon God, Common Good
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Paul Louis Metzger

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary at Multnomah University.

Posted 7/8/14 at 5:12 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Morality and Profit

Central to Confucianism is the conflict involving morality and profit. In The Analects, Confucius states, “The gentleman is versed in what is moral. The small man is versed in what is profitable.” (IV.16; D. C. Lau translation, Simon & Brown 2012 edition) Morality—regard for the well-being of others in society—should serve as the guide for one’s various pursuits. Profit through labor is not bad, but the means through which one gains profit and the aim of such profit is of the utmost importance.

What bearing might Confucius’ teaching have today on our market society? As Michael J. Sandel has argued in What Money Can’t Buy? The Moral Limits of Markets, we have moved from having a market economy to being a market society, where everything (or nearly everything) is for sale. Profit all too often dictates what is viewed as valuable. But should we place a price tag on morals? Is there anything money can’t buy? FULL POST

Posted 7/8/14 at 2:51 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

The Gentrified Church—Paved with Good Intentions?

Perhaps you have studied gentrification. For those who are not aware of the term, it entails developing lower income urban areas into places where the middle class and wealthier people (gentry) live. The north side of Portland, Oregon (known as North Portland) is experiencing a lot of gentrification. New buildings, including condos, bistros and shops, are going up. Young white entrepreneurs are moving in, including church planters. Should we call this progress? The answer to this question depends on one’s background, experience, and perspective.

To many, gentrification means urban renewal, which for them spells progress. To others, it signifies cultural regress. According to one urban studies professor in the city, urban renewal spells Negro removal in the minds of many African Americans. This is not a fiction; it is fact, as reflected in this Oregonian article: “Fifty years later, Legacy Emanuel Medical Center attempts to make amends for razing neighborhood.” New buildings going up often spell higher property value and taxes, among other things. Higher costs often force people of lower economic means out. My multi-ethnic church in North Portland has coped with the pain of these eruptions in our community, as have other churches. It can be quite overwhelming. FULL POST

Posted 7/1/14 at 5:46 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Share Jesus' Prayer

John 17 gives us an up close and personal disclosure of Jesus one on one with his Father, where he shares his heart with God. It is the longest of Jesus' recorded prayers in the New Testament gospels. One might be tempted to say that we are flies on the wall or on a tree in the garden. Better than that, we are participants in Jesus' prayer. Jesus includes us in his prayer. We are here this morning because of it. What a privilege! Jesus shares his prayer for us with us. Let's share it with Jesus and one another.

There are all kinds of things Jesus could be praying for, but he prays this prayer. The prayer Jesus prays is quite telling given that Jesus is about to go into the greatest battle of his life. The hour of glory—the cross and resurrection—has arrived. In a very short while, Judas will come and betray him with a kiss and his enemies will take him away for his trial and execution. Usually people share what matters most to them just before they face death. With this in mind, I recall a captain in the Marine Corps stationed in Iraq during the Second telling me that he was responsible for conveying to his troops' families their last written words. Those words were "Tell _____ I love them." Their last written words were not "Don't forget to take out the ground beef from the freezer" or "Don't forget to turn off the lights." No, they wrote about what really mattered to them—relationships. FULL POST

Posted 7/1/14 at 5:41 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Crash

Crash is one of my favorite movies. It addresses the themes of objectification and fragmentation surrounding racial tensions in Los Angeles. The movie opens with a car crash involving two police detectives. One of the L.A. detectives (played by Don Cheadle) sits in a stationery car and reflects out loud upon how people in L.A. are always living behind glass and metal. As a result, they miss the touch of others; and so, they crash into one another so as to feel a sense of connection.

At least in the movie version of L.A., people of diverse ethnicities crash into one another. In other places real or make-believe, the racial tensions often appear far more subtle. Tim Wise talks about “Minnesota Nice.” In Portland, where I spend most of my time, we find what my friend Emily Rice calls “Portland Cool.” We prize our racial and spiritual tolerance, but tolerance can often function simply as a cover for indifference.

I am so thankful that John 3:16 does not say “For God so tolerated the world that he chose not to send his Son.” God so loved the world that he sent his Son to die for it and free it from bondage to self-love. Jesus died for a world that does not love God, but that hates God. Love is far greater and more powerful than hate and tolerance. Unlike hate, love is proactive and redemptive, not reactive and retributive. Unlike tolerance, love is tenacious, not complacent or distant. Love breaks through divisions bound up with the objectification of others that so readily fragment our society. FULL POST

Posted 7/1/14 at 5:20 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

HIV/AIDS and the Health of Our Souls

People have diseases, but they are not diseases. How we respond to those with diseases like HIV/AIDS might reveal to us the diseased state or health of our own souls.

Years ago friends of mine adopted a small child from another country who was later discovered to be HIV positive. The authorities said that the child could be returned, which the parents declined to do. He may be carrying a disease bearing a global stigma, but he is not the disease; he is a person who bears God's image and their child whom they dearly love. The parents did not commodify the child, as if he is damaged goods that can be exchanged.

That little boy is now a young man, whose life is filled with God's grace, power, and mystery. He is such a thoughtful and gifted soul, whose story defies a system that cheapens people based on such sicknesses as HIV/AIDS. Of course, there is a cost to bear, but he and his family reflect the gospel in such precious ways. The hardships they have experienced do not compare with the relational riches they have gained through their shared journey. Those who know them realize one cannot put a price tag on a cure for HIV/AIDS, nor the people who bear this burden. FULL POST

Posted 7/1/14 at 5:14 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Did Lincoln Die in Vain?

A 2011 TIME Magazine article, “The Civil War, 150 Years Later,” claims that we’re still fighting the Civil War. The sub-heading of the article includes these lines, “North and South shared the burden of slavery, and after the war, they shared in forgetting about it.” The front cover bears a picture of Lincoln shedding a tear and includes the words: “The endless battle over the war’s true cause would make Lincoln weep.” Did Lincoln die in vain?

While the causes of the Civil War were complex, slavery (and not simply factors pertaining to such matters as states' rights) was central to the North and South's rationale for going to war. However, according to the TIME article, you wouldn’t know how central slavery was based on how history and Hollywood have often portrayed the conflict and its origins. No one likes to admit guilt, unless perhaps it is someone else’s. But Lincoln viewed things differently. He believed the entire country was to blame for the war (a point often lost on us Northerners). Lincoln no doubt knew what the TIME article claims: “Slavery was not incidental to America’s origins; it was central” (p. 48). FULL POST

Posted 7/1/14 at 4:42 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

"Good Will Hunting" & Hunting for Fathers

A friend once said to me that he was drawn to Jesus, but did not know what to make of Jesus' Father. I can appreciate his sentiment in view of how many people today struggle with the painful memories of difficult and traumatic childhood experiences. Many individuals have found their own fathers abusive and/or absent. So often, we spend our lives running from painful memories involving fathers or hunting for father figures who will care for us.

If the Gospel of John had been written in our day, an Americanized Philip troubled by painful father memories might have been tempted to say to Jesus, “Don't show us the Father. You are enough for us.” What a far cry from what Philip said to Jesus as recorded in John 14: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us” (John 14:8; ESV). Unlike those who struggle today to see that the Father is good like Jesus, Jesus' earliest disciples struggled to see that Jesus was good, that is, from above—from the Father. These disciples were tempted to see that Jesus was from below, just like everyone else. Against this backdrop, the Gospel of John goes to great lengths to show us that Jesus is from the Father (See for example John 14:1-11; cf. John 3:31). FULL POST

Posted 7/1/14 at 4:25 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Whose Side Is God On?

All too often, religious folk like me tend to think God is on our side. The question is not, “Is God on our side?” The question is, “Are we on God’s side?” Even that question is difficult to answer. How do we know if we are on God’s side? Presumption and hubris so often set in, as we maintain we can do no wrong because God has blessed our plans. A great deal of wrong is often done based upon such over-confidence.

People in the North and South during the Civil War claimed that God was with their troops in battle against the opposing forces and that their cause was just. Preachers across the land proclaimed biblical support for the rightness of their respective sides’ war efforts to devastating effect on the battlefield.

Recently, I visited Gettysburg with a group from Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. The aim of the visit was to think through the implications of Gettysburg (just a few hours away) and the Civil War for a course in missional theology that I was teaching. One of the takeaways was that a Christian understanding of history unraveled in the post-Civil War period in the hearts and imaginations of scores of Americans. FULL POST

Posted 7/1/14 at 4:13 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Religious Freedoms and the Golden Rule

By Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead*

Introduction

Over the course of recent weeks three high profile events have taken place with serious ramifications for freedoms of speech and religion. They provide Evangelicals and other Christian groups with opportunities for reflection on citizenship and discipleship in a multi-faith world. We will summarize each of the events and then proceed to reflect on what Evangelicals can take away from them.

Three Events

Municipal Prayers in New York

The first event was the Supreme Court of the United States’ (SCOTUS) ruling on a case in Greece, New York. The case brought by two women, an atheist and a Jew, argued that opening prayers in that town had a distinctly Christian orientation; in the history of the municipality’s meetings, minority religions had very little opportunity to participate in the invocations. In the majority opinion, SCOTUS determined that such “ceremonial prayers” were not unconstitutional and did not show evidence of Christian bias. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy stated that, “So long as the town maintains a policy of nondiscrimination, the Constitution does not require it to search beyond its borders for non-Christian prayer givers in an effort to achieve religious balancing.” FULL POST

Posted 6/5/14 at 1:50 PM | Paul Louis Metzger |

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How Can the Church Guard against a Fortress Mentality?

How can the church guard against a fortress mentality that closes the door to the surrounding community? It’s not so easy to be missional. It’s much easier to close ourselves off from the world, where the church ends up looking like Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of the Church at Auvers.

Why do I refer to Van Gogh’s art piece in this context? If you take a look at the painting of the church, you’ll find that there’s no door showing. The peasant woman walking toward the church is straddling the far edge of the path. The windows are darkened. It’s not a very inviting place.

I wonder how inviting Jesus’ synagogue in Nazareth was to Gentiles. In Luke 4, we find Jesus returning to the synagogue of his youth after his temptation in the wilderness followed by the beginning of his public ministry (Luke 4:1-15). At first, his townspeople in the synagogue marvel at his words, just as people do in the other synagogues in the region (Luke 4:22; cf. Luke 4:15). However, his townspeople quickly take issue with Jesus, who takes issue with them. Jesus challenges his fellow synagogue-goers because they stumble over his being Joseph’s son (Luke 4:22). Jesus tells them that no prophet is accepted in his hometown (Luke 4:24). As a result of their doubts, Jesus suggests that he will not perform miracles in their midst. Rather, Jesus implies that he will perform wonders among the Gentiles, just like Elijah and Elisha did (Luke 4:25-27). Jesus’ fellow synagogue-goers respond in rage and take him outside and try to throw him off a cliff; however, Jesus miraculously walks away (Luke 4:28-30). Their hostility is the result of Jesus’ claim that Gentiles will be the beneficiaries of his prophetic, Spirit-filled work, not God’s chosen people. FULL POST

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