Uncommon God, Common Good

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

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

Posted 6/5/14 at 1:26 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

The Crucified God Confronts Gendercide

In The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Global Violence Against Women and Girls (IVP Academic, 2014), Elizabeth Gerhardt offers probing theological reflections that flow from Luther’s theology of the cross and that aptly address the growing, global evil of gendercide. The crucified God confronts gendercide.

Two themes that stand out to me from this important work are Luther’s emphasis on the ascent of faith coupled with the descent of love (which Luther refers to as Jacob's ladder) and his dialectic of God hidden in revelation and revealed in hiddenness.

The gospel according to Luther teaches that God is for us (pro nobis). The doctrine of justification by faith bound up with this good news that God is for us is no empty academic doctrine. The theology of the cross that gives rise to this doctrine of justification by faith removes the idols of self-justification/works righteousness. As we ascend to Christ in faith because of the outpouring of God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5), we are free to descend to our neighbor in love (See Luther’s early Reformation treatise, “Freedom of a Christian”). There is no need for self-concern. Like God who is for us, we are now free to exist for others, especially those who are marginalized. It follows from God’s glorious revelation hidden in Christ’s humble and marginalized human state that we will find God revealed especially in the margins among the oppressed. FULL POST

Posted 6/5/14 at 1:04 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Only He Who Cries Out For The Victims Of Pornography May Sing Gregorian Chants

The human race is an endangered species, or at least women and girls are.

In The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Global Violence Against Women and Girls (IVP Academic, 2014), Elizabeth Gerhardt provides a timely and important response to this problem that is grounded in Luther’s theology of the cross and Bonhoeffer’s cruciform witness. I hope to write several blog posts on the subject that the book addresses. In what follows, I will take to heart Gerhardt’s emphasis on identification with those who suffer oppression as identification with Christ.

I value Gerhardt’s attention to Bonhoeffer’s witness. She writes, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer equated life in Christ with identification with the victims of violence and oppression because he maintained that the ‘other’ is Christ in the world. This strong incarnational life in Christ is the mark of authentic Christianity” (30). Bonhoeffer once put the matter this way: “Only he who cries out for the Jews may sing Gregorian chants" (See Michael R. Marrus, ed., The Nazi Holocaust, Part 8: Bystanders to the Holocaust, Volume 3, De Gruyter, 1401). In other words, the Christian life and worship involve preferential treatment for those facing oppression and victimization, such as the Jewish people at the time of Hitler’s reign of terror. Just as our Lord became the victimized other, we must identify with the victim as well. FULL POST

Posted 6/4/14 at 8:00 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Messiah Complexes: Who Will Save the World from You and Me?

Have you ever met people with messiah complexes? Such individuals are scary. They often end up making a mess of things as they throw their good will around.

Unfortunately, I am often tempted to cultivate such a complex. I have to catch myself trying to help people who appear to be weaker and who seem to possess less resources than I, but yet who have not asked for my help. I am often blind to the fact that they are often relationally richer than I am and could help me in significant ways. Instead of trying to solve their problems for them, I need to share life with them, if they will take me.

No doubt you have heard stories of charitable endeavors where projects were started overseas but to no or negative effect. An African friend, Michael Badriaki, shared with me a story of how a European country provided genetically modified seed for African communities to use, even though they were told by the Africans that the seed would not grow, and it did not. Michael also shared with me how Westerners have built latrines in African communities, even though they were told the latrines would not be used because of uncertainties and fears regarding where the human waste would end up. The latrines have since gone to waste. The Westerners should have listened to the tribal peoples to see what they themselves claimed that they needed. FULL POST

Posted 5/22/14 at 12:46 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Manifest Destiny and the Kingdom of God: How Do You Discern the Spirit of the Age from the Spirit of Jesus on Mission?

How manifest was Jesus’ destiny as King of God’s kingdom? Not very. Unlike America’s destiny which was proclaimed or made manifest to the nations as exceptional and second to none, Jesus’ kingdom was not very visible or exceptional by human standards. After all, John the Baptist only knows Jesus is the Messiah because of the Spirit’s descent as a dove upon Jesus at his baptism of repentance in the wilderness (See John 1:33).

A dove? A baptism of repentance? In the wilderness? (See Luke 3:1-22) It is not how I would make my introduction if I were destined to be king. I would make sure my destiny was made manifest to all in very clear terms, kind of like Caesar who paraded the Pax Romana in triumphal procession or American General and later President Andrew Jackson, who championed American exceptionalism in his military exploits in the Floridas (See the discussion of Jackson in this article on manifest destiny). FULL POST

Posted 5/22/14 at 12:33 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Shrewd Serpents, Innocent Doves and Voice-Activated Copy Machines

Jesus exhorted his followers sent out on mission to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves in their missional activity. It was important that they combine the traits of both creatures in their witness given that they were being sent out as sheep among wolves. They would face severe danger and persecution for their witness to Christ: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16; ESV).

What do the images of shrewd serpents and innocent doves mean?

For starters, the word “innocent” does not mean gullible in this context in that the dove imagery is combined with that of the serpent. Being gullible entails being easily duped and deceived. We must be innocent, not gullible or stupid in our engagement of the world. Shrewdness or prudence serves as a good complement to innocence and keeps it from degenerating into gullibility. That’s why Jesus brings together the images of serpents and doves. In the ancient world, serpents were often conceived as symbols of prudence. Doves are often viewed as innocent. FULL POST

Posted 5/16/14 at 5:51 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

Drive-By Evangelism & the Incarnation

If you drive quickly through Luke 3, you might miss the significance of Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:21) and genealogy (Luke 3:23-38) for his identity and mission. Jesus undergoes John’s baptism of repentance (See Mark 1:4) and Luke’s gospel makes a point of tracing Jesus’ lineage all the way back to Adam (whereas Matthew, given the author’s Jewish emphasis, traces it back to Abraham; see Matthew 1:1-17).

The long and the short of it is that Jesus does not drop down to earth and do drive-by evangelism or hover above in a blimp and drop gospel tracks on our heads and call to us from a loudspeaker. He takes up residence and shares our existence. Jesus takes on our human condition with all its frailty and brokenness in order to heal and transform it. After all, as the ancient church declared, the unassumed is the unhealed (St. Gregory Nazianzen), or as the Apostle Paul wrote, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21; ESV). FULL POST

Posted 5/9/14 at 7:12 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

God Is Missional

Mission is not extraneous to the triune God’s being and activity. It is central. God is missional, for it is bound up with God's communal being. Take for example the word "love." 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love. Love is an active word. Love requires an object. I cannot be loving, if I have never loved another. It is not enough to love myself. The love of myself in isolation from another is not love, but a form of narcissism. Love of another requires that I go beyond myself. God always goes beyond himself, for God's communal being involves turning outward toward another.

The context for "God is love" in 1 John 4 is God's sacrificial love of us in Christ:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us (1 John 4:7-12; ESV). FULL POST

Posted 4/28/14 at 11:32 AM | Paul Louis Metzger

What Is the Church—A Faith-Based Emporium or Christ’s Kingdom Community?

Perhaps you have seen the Simpsons episode titled “She of Little Faith.” Homer is responsible for accidentally burning down the church that he and his family attend. The church community sells their collective soul to the nuclear power plant owner (who is the devil in disguise) to refinance and rebuild the sanctuary. The result is a “faith-based emporium” with comfortable theater seating for religious consumers, a pulpit bearing a screen for advertisements, and a money-changing booth.

The satirical account in the Simpsons episode draws attention to the problem we face today, as churches struggle to engage religious consumers who approach religion as a commodity or consumer product. Churches that cater to this mind-set and the related appetites hurt ecclesial communion and mission.

I was asked to speak to this matter several years ago for a Wall Street Journal article titled “The Mystery Worshipper” by Alexandra Alter. The article considers how some churches are following the example of department stores and restaurants that hire mystery shoppers and mystery diners to rate them. FULL POST

Posted 4/25/14 at 7:48 PM | Paul Louis Metzger

If the World Were to End Tomorrow, What Would You Do Today?

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If the world were to end tomorrow, what would you do today?

The last time our society pondered seriously questions like this was in late 2012. You might recall the discussions, fears and anxieties leading up to December 21st of that year. People were speculating and debating at length about a Nostradamus prediction and how the Mayan calendar ends that day.

My theology class started considering the question yesterday in view of the upcoming final exam slated for next week: So, if you knew the world were to end tomorrow, what would you do today?

Study for final exams slated for next week?

Spend time with loved ones?

Stockpile ammunition?

Throw a spectacular party?

Warn others about the world's end and our approaching judgment?

Feed the poor?

Hide all your money in a "safe" space?

Take part in a worship service?

Plant a tree?

A statement attributed to Martin Luther reads, "If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today!" Whether or not Luther actually made such a statement, it is worth pondering. Could you imagine planting a tree today if you knew the world were to end tomorrow? FULL POST

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