Written by Phil Monroe Friday, 06 September 2013 00:00

Consider this scenario:

Cheryl, a wife of one of your deacons comes to you with a story of woe. Though they are seen as pillars of the church, she reports that her husband is emotional abusive. He regularly belittles her at home, calling her names in front of the children. He demands sex on a regular basis, whether his wife is interested or not. He refuses to help with chores around the home. He regularly accuses her of wasting money and demands receipts for all expenditures. He is deaf to her requests for emotional support as she navigates a difficult employer. This experience is not new for her as she reports he has been this way since the beginning of their marriage 15 years ago. As her pastor, you are a bit shocked. You’ve been in their home on numerous occasions. You have had conversations alone with this woman. Nothing in her demeanor would have suggested that she was being harmed. Yet here she is in your office alleging that her husband is a domestic abuser.

And yet you are not so shocked. Your own experiences with the deacon tell you that he has been unempathic to those seeking financial help from the church. He tends to be suspicious of the motives of others on the board. He is argumentative. He uses sarcasm and “friendly” put-downs as a way of relating to others. As you consider Cheryl’s story, you realize you will need to respond. She is looking for more than sympathy. She wants support either to force her husband into counseling (he refused to go at her request) or to ask him to move out.

What advice do you give to Cheryl? What are the issues that come to the forefront of your mind? What goals to you wish to pursue first?

Do you want her to keep trying to please her husband? Do you want her to deal with her portion of the marital problems? Do you want to confront the deacon? Do you want her to go away? Do you want to refer her to a counselor? Do you want to steer clear of the abuse word and just focus on the sin of selfishness?

The issues, concerns, and goals that rise to the surface for you will likely influence the advice and direction you give to Cheryl. Notice the land mines waiting for you? To wade in will cause disruptions to ministry. To wade in will make enemies and potentially divide families and even congregations.

Sadly, pastors and church leaders have not always dealt well with victims of domestic abuse. One of the reasons for this is that when victims get the courage to speak up, they are often frazzled, emotional, confused, and no longer able to be flexible. In contrast, the offenders are often self-righteous, well defended, logical, and armed with scripture to point out the sin of their victim spouses. As a result, many victims of spousal abuse (male or female) are told one of these things:

  1. Go get counseling for yourself, deal with your own log first
  2. Don’t keep a record of wrongs, keep loving your spouse, allow the Spirit to work
  3. God is against divorce

One New Resource to Give You Guidance

Most of us want to do better than the above advice. But, these he said, she said scenarios are difficult to tease apart and the water gets murky really fast. But there are some resources out there that can guide a pastor, counselor or a victim in dealing with domestic abuse. In about 2 weeks, Leslie Vernick will publish her next book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage (Waterbrook Press). Having previewed a copy, I highly recommend it. Here are some of the reasons:

  1. You cannot possibly read this and not get a glimpse of what it is like to be on the receiving end of physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse
  2. The book sets out 3 necessary ingredients of a thriving relationship and 5 patterns that destroy
  3. She gives ample attention to what God thinks about abuse and why some of the theology of “never give up, never divorce” is unbiblical
  4. She differentiates between trying harder (which is damaging) and building the CORE
  5. She explains how to prepare for a confrontation seeking repentance and then how to walk away if the spouse doesn’t respond
  6. Finally, she lists the top 5 mistakes that helpers commonly make

If you plan on serving in the church, you will confront the problem of emotional and physical abuse. There are other resources but I know of none other that are as clear, direct, and helpful.

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program and the Global Trauma Recovery Instituteat Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates and blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.


Written by Phil Monroe Friday, 06 September 2013 00:00

In 21st century United States, does spiritual abuse really happen? Can’t we all just choose churches where we feel safe? No one makes us (adults) go to church so shouldn’t spiritual abuse be nonexistent in this day—or at least happen only once (e.g., fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…)?

Sadly, spiritual abuse happens in all sorts of churches and for all sorts of reasons.

What is spiritual abuse?

Spiritual abuse is the use of faith, belief, and/or religious practices to coerce, control, or damage another for a purpose beyond the victim’s well-being (i.e., church discipline for the purpose of love of the offender need not be abuse).

Like child abuse, spiritual abuse comes in many forms. It can take the form of neglect or intentional harm of another. It can take the form of naïve manipulation or predatory “feeding on the sheep.” Consider some of these examples:

  1. Refusing to provide pastoral care to women on the basis of gender alone
  2. Coercing reconciliation of victim to offender
  3. Dictating basic decisions (marriage, home ownership, jobs, giving practices, etc.)
  4. Binding conscience on matters that are in the realm of Christian freedom
  5. Using threats to maintain control of another
  6. Using deceptive language to coerce into sexual activity
  7. Denying the right to divorce despite having grounds to do so

For a short review, consider Mary DeMuth’s 2011 post on spotting spiritual abuse.

Why it is so harmful

If someone demands your wallet, you may give it but you do not think they have a right to it. You have no doubt that an injustice has occurred. You have been robbed! When someone abuses, it is a robbery but often wrapped up in a deceptive package to make the victim feel as if the robbery was actually a gift. Spiritual abuse almost always is couched in several layers of deception. Here’s a few of those layers:

  1. Speaking falsely for God. Spiritual leaders or shepherds abuse most frequently by presenting their words as if they were the words of God himself. They may not say “Thus sayeth the Lord” in so many ways but they speak with authority. When leaders fail to communicate God’s words and attitudes, they are called false teachers and prophets. Some of these false words include squelching dissent and concern in the name of “unity.”
  2. Over-emphasizing one doctrinal point while minimizing another. Consider the example of Paul, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). In three other places in the NT, Paul says similar phrases. The application is that our leaders are to exemplify the character of Christ. Sadly, it is easy to turn this into, “do what I want you to do.” Paul does not say to imitate him. He says to imitate him when he imitates Christ. There are other examples as well: forcing forgiveness, demanding victims of abuse to confront their abusers in private so that they will meet the letter of Matthew 18.
  3. Good ends justifying means. It is a sad fact that many victims of other kinds of abuse have been asked to be silent for the sake of community comfort. Indeed, community comfort is important. But forcing a victim of abuse to be silent and to forego seeking justice is a form of spiritual abuse.
  4. Pretending to provide pastoral care. I have talked with several pastors who crossed into sexual behavior with those they have been charged to counsel. All too commonly, the pastor deceived self and other into thinking that the special attention given to the parishioner was love and compassion. In fact, their actions were always self-serving. However, the layer of deception made it feel (to both parties) like love in the beginning stages.

The reason why spiritual abuse hurts so much is that it always fosters confusion, self-doubt, and shame. This recipe encourages isolation, self-hatred, and questioning of God. When shepherds abuse, the sheep are scattered and confused. They no longer discern the voice of the true Shepherd.

This is exactly why the Old Testament and New Testament speak in such harsh terms against abusive and neglectful Shepherd: Ezekiel 34:2; Jeremiah 50:6; John 10:9. Words like, “woe to you…” and “you blind guides…” reveal that spiritual abuse for any reason is destructive and is not of God. And it gets no harsher than, “Better than a millstone be tied to your neck and thrown into the sea” to illustrate the depth of evil in harming vulnerable people.

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He also directs Biblical’s new trauma recovery project. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.


Written by Todd Mangum Thursday, 05 September 2013 00:00

In a recent issue of TIME, culture analyst James Poniewozik issued a blistering protest to ABC’s decision to add Jenny McCarthy as a co-host to the morning talk show, The View. Poniewozik is not bothered by McCarthy’s being a former Playboy model, nor does he disagree with the observations of many other TV critics that she is winsome, telegenic, funny, and outspoken, who will bring . . . intelligence as well as warmth and humor” to the roundtable discussions.

What bothers him is that McCarthy is all those things, but has used her photogenic charisma to campaign against childhood vaccinations, forwarding the assertion — thoroughly discredited by the medical community — that childhood vaccinations cause autism and other maladies. For this, Poniewozik says, “Putting Jenny McCarthy on The View is media malpractice” (“Bad Medicine,” TIME, July 29, 2013, p. 55).  

It’s a thoughtful piece, in a stream of blogs and articles representing an outcry against this choice of co-host (see http://www.efabula.com/story.php?m=6157440). I do see the danger of lending media credibility to misinformation that could undermine public safety (though I’m not that kind of doctor, so I can’t weigh in on the vaccine debate at all authoritatively).

I am nevertheless struck by a tremendous irony in this uproar. How clearly TIME sees the danger of putting forth attractive people to promulgate viewpoints that lure people into ideas and habits that could undermine physical health. And yet, such media (not just TIME but media outlets across the board) are often the primary agents of legitimizing, popularizing, and sometimes heroizing celebrities advancing the most toxic viewpoints and lifestyles most lethal to the soul.

Supreme Court rulings early on in U.S. history recognized that toxicity is not just physical; protection of morality (of Christianity in particular) was originally thought to be a worthy and necessary defense against moral degradation; erosion of society’s moral fiber was recognized as a threat to public safety and to the health and well-being of the citizenry every bit as dangerous as smallpox or polio.  My, how times have changed.

I am not pining for the days when the State enforced matters of religious conviction. I am aware of the well-documented historical lessons that warn against that. Still, I can’t help but wonder if we are now learning, and are destined to learn the hard way, the lessons of not only allowing, but fully empowering, unbridled expression of ideas, lifestyles, and viewpoints both reckless and dangerous — for this life and the next.

But our culture watchers are upset about Jenny McCarthy being on The View?  How ironic. Is it just me?

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and co-author (with Dr. Paul Pettit of the Howard Hendricks Leadership Center in Dallas, TX) of the just-released book, Blessed are the Balanced: Following Jesus into the Academy (Kregel), and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum


Written by Todd Mangum Wednesday, 04 September 2013 00:00

“In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” — Proverbs 14:23

I get what Proverbs is saying. Talking about what needs to be done doesn’t get it done. (There’s a point for preachers — and to preachers — in that wisdom!)

I confess even still that sometimes I wonder if it’s true that “in all labor there is profit.” There are times when I can wonder if labor for the Lord is at all “profitable,” when results seem slow in coming if they ever come at all. I know there are easier ways to make a living.  Anyone who follows a call into ministry better know that up front.  But, did you ever look up from the mass of responsibilities you’re carrying and, in a moment of lucidity (or perhaps more accurately: a moment of thoughtful doubt?) just say to yourself, “What on earth am I doing this for?”  

I believe the Lord gave me a parable in the last couple of weeks to help add perspective.  I’ll call it “Jesse and the Nutsedge.”

Jesse is my youngest son. And nutsedge is a grassy weed that grows in our yard. Now, to people like me, nutsedge just looks like grass; but to people like my wife, it’s a different green, a weed that grows taller than the “good grass,” and for the yard to look good, it needs to go.

Anyway, Jesse’s chores include mowing the lawn and doing the weed whacking in the summer. One day a couple of weeks ago, we told him we’d give him a little more than his normal allowance if, as part of the lawn care that week, he pulled up the nutsedge, too.

Now, keep in mind that this is taking place in the dog days of August, mid-90 degrees. And I won’t say this boy of mine is incapable of complaint, but on this day he went out without a grumble and pulled up the nutsedge for two solid hours.  After which, he came in and told me matter-of-factly that he didn’t think he’d be able get it all done in one day.  I went out to take a look.

Now, I knew he’d been out there for two hours in the hot sun. The back yard where he was working is right outside the window of my office. But, when I went out to check more closely the results of his labor . . . truth is, if I didn’t know better, I would never even have known he’d been out there at all. Two hours of hard labor had not put so much as a dent in the still-flourishing-and-taking-over-the-yard nutsedge.

He had been sent on an utterly futile mission . . . by me. He’d labored hard in the field. He was covered in sweat and dirt. But as far as the task assigned was concerned, it was doomed for failure from the start, and that through no fault of his own.

I felt a tinge of embarrassment. But I was extremely proud of him. He’d worked hard without complaint and did so just because I’d asked him to — obviously not at all out of any pride gained from a task accomplished. Given his persistency in such conditions and the utter absence of any immediate rewards, I took a deep breath and said, “OK, son, you can stop.  We’ll have some professionals come and spray it with some strong stuff; you’ve obviously done all you can and it’s just impossible. No problem. Oh — and on your allowance sheet for this week, put ‘+$50 for nutsedge job, per Dad’” [that’s a lot of money in our house].  (Big smile.)

By the way, here’s what our yard looks like now that we’ve had it sprayed (which cost me another $50):

That’s got to be the most expensive bare spot of dirt in the history of lawn care.

The lessons from all this are proving invaluable, though. I’m still ruminating on them. I think I got a glimpse of some of what God may be up to in sending us on such a mission impossible as “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel,” “Make disciples of every nation,” and “Go out as sheep among wolves.”…

Glamorous sermon illustrations aside, when there’s little to no response from a post-Christian or anti-Christian culture, these are just not fun tasks. Often there’s little to show by way of accomplishment.

But the Father looks down and sees His children laboring in the field, covered in sweat and dirt, stabbing at hard clay, weeds every inch and a half, passers-by jeering and ridiculing besides.

It can be all-too-understandable to look up and say, “What the heck am I doing this for?”

But look all the way up. The Father is watching. And what a reward there must be when He gets His chance to express His pride at how you did it even when the results were painfully slow in coming or absent altogether.

But for now . . . back to work. And remember that fields freshly furrowed always look at first like nothing more than row after row of dirt. The bountiful harvest is a season away.

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, co-author of Blessed are the Balanced, and author of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.


Written by Frank James Friday, 30 August 2013 00:00

For many contemporary Americans the term “evangelicalism” leaves a bad taste in their mouths. David Kinneman’s encounter with an unnamed detractor makes this point all too clear.  The unnamed detractor described an evangelical as someone who is:

“…very conservative, entrenched in their thinking, antigay, anti-choice, angry, …illogical, empire builders, they want to convert everyone and they generally cannot live peacefully with anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of evangelicals.

I must confess that the antics some of self-described evangelicals have made me ashamed. I don’t like admitting this, but we all know it is true. The meanings of words do change over time, and in recent decades the term evangelical has acquired some regrettable baggage.  However, when the urge hits to abandon the label, I find it difficult to walk away. There is something about this word evangelical that I find irresistible.   

It is hard to ditch the “euangelium” which is the New Testament word for the “good news” of the coming of Jesus Christ, the salvation he brings, and the inauguration of his kingdom. Historically, an evangelical is one who embraces the euangelium. In the broadest sense, evangelicalism has been the vital pulse in Christianity from its first century origins. It also was deeply influenced by the theological eruptions from the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. The followers of Martin Luther and of other Protestant reformers identified themselves as evangelicals, even before such labels as Lutheran or Reformed came into use. The first Protestants appropriated the term because they were convinced they had recovered the euangelium which they believed had been obscured by the post-Constantinian church. History has seen many other permutations of evangelicalism, but by the nineteenth century it had become closely identified with American Christianity. For good or ill, this remains so. 

Even with all the distasteful associations that sometimes accompany the word evangelicalism, how can I walk away from one of the most theologically rich and missionally potent words in the Bible?  In the final analysis I can’t.  But neither can I allow the term to be co-opted by consumerist superficialities that seem to rule American evangelicalism. Instead, I would propose we send evangelicalism to rehab. 

In a very real sense that is what my colleagues and I at Biblical Seminary are trying to do—rehabilitate evangelicalism. We recognize that American evangelicalism has problems both in substance and in perception, but we are committed to recapturing the richness and the power of the euangelium. We want to embody what it means to be truly evangelical—to be good news for a world that desperately needs to hear, see and experience how good the Good News really is.  

Frank A. James III is the President of Biblical Seminary. He formerly served as Provost and Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has two doctorates, a D.Phil. in History from Oxford University and a Ph.D. in Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary/Pennsylvania. He is one of the founding members of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (with InterVarsity Press) and has authored and edited nine books. His latest book, Church History: From Pre-Reformation to the Present (Zondervan), has just been published. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/frank-a-james


Written by Frank James Wednesday, 28 August 2013 00:00

In recent years Christianity has been the object of considerable ridicule.  The New Atheists—Dawkins, Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens—have made a nice living by declaring that religion in general and Christianity in particular “Poisons Everything.” Of course this is nothing new. Karl Marx demeaned Christianity as the “opiate of the masses”. The British philosopher, Bertrand Russell defiantly asserted “the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of the moral progress in the world.”

So it was surprising to read an article from another atheist who took a rather different slant on Christianity. Matthew Parris, columnist for the Sunday Times of London, wrote a provocative online article titled:  “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God”. Returning to the Africa of his youth, Parris makes the startling observation:

It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God. Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa, Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

This is a refreshingly honest sentiment from a one who demurs from personal allegiance to Christianity. If we are honest, Christian history has its fair share of skeletons in its collective closet. This is hard to swallow and I wish it were not so. Despite the fact that Christians have not always behaved in ways that would please Christ, the many examples of Christian compassion down through the ages is nothing short of dazzling.

From the beginning, Christians have been known for their compassion for the disadvantaged. Perhaps one of the most astonishing examples is the opposition to infanticide in the early church. In the Greco-Roman world, female infants and males born with deformities were of no value and often deposited on the village dung heap to die of exposure or even more tragic—raised as temple prostitutes. In a chilling letter written one year before the birth of Christ, a Roman citizen named Hilarion directs his pregnant wife: “When you are delivered of a child—if it is a boy, keep it; if it is a girl, discard it.” The Stoic philosopher, Seneca is even more callous: “Monstrous [deformed] offspring we destroy; children too, if born feeble and ill-formed, we drown.”  This is the cruel world to which Christianity came with their counter-cultural message and over time, this Gospel changed the Roman Empire.

If the Christian Gospel has identified with compassion for the disadvantaged, it has also been noted for its opposition to injustice.  The institution of slavery has long been and remains an ugly part of human civilization.  Christian opposition to slavery found one of its most significant advocates for the abolition of slavery in William Wilberforce.

Slavery became a burning national issue in Britain when the case of the slave ship Zong riveted the public imagination in 1783. The Zong was a slave ship that had tragically veered off course putting the ship at serious risk.   With drinking water running short the captain made a fateful decision.  He reasoned that if the slaves died from thirst the financial loss would belong to the ship owner, but if the human cargo was thrown overboard for the “safety of the crew”, the loss would fall on the investors.  Desiring to please the ship owner, 133 slaves were thrown into the sea.

At about this time (1785), a young Member of Parliament, William Wilberforce, converted to Christ.  By 1787 he had taken up the cause to abolish the slave trade.  He stubbornly led the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for 26 years until slavery was finally abolished by the Slave Trade Act of 1807.  Wilberforce had an impact beyond his homeland.  The example of Great Britain shamed other European countries to abolish slavery within their dominions.

Wilberforce had no greater advocate than John Wesley. As he lay on his deathbed in 1791, Wesley wrote one of his final letters to Wilberforce.

O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it. Reading this morning a tract written by a poor African, I was particularly struck by the circumstance, that a man who has black skin, being wronged by a white man, can have no recourse, since it is a law in all our colonies that the testimony of a black man against a white man counts for nothing. What villainy is this?

Slavery has many forms. One of the most dehumanizing forms is sex slavery. All over the world, young girls are kidnapped, seduced or even sold by their own poverty stricken parents to the sex trade. Today's movement for the abolition of sexual trafficking is a rekindling of an earlier struggle. In the late nineteenth century, reformers such as Josephine Butler, Florence Soper Booth, Katharine Bushnell, and Amy Carmichael fought to protect "the down-trodden mass of degraded womanhood." They were the Wilberforces of their day. 

Josephine Butler took a bold and unusual stance. Instead of spewing out moral outrage against prostitutes, she reserved her wrath for those who tolerated (and sometimes enjoyed) prostitution. She insisted on the humanity of those caught up in the sex trade: "When you say that fallen women in the mass are irreclaimable, have lost all truthfulness, all nobleness, all delicacy of feeling, all clearness of intellect, and all tenderness of heart because they are unchaste, you are guilty of a blasphemy against human nature and against God." 

The Irish missionary Amy Carmichael was commissioned by the Church of England and sent to India to win souls.  However, she soon discovered that in Hindu temples young girls were dedicated to the gods and forced into prostitution to earn money for the priests. When she turned her attention to rescuing these girls, she encountered resistance from her missionary agency, yet she persisted and founded the Dohnavur Fellowship. It continues today and has become a sanctuary for thousands of young girls who would otherwise faced a grim future.

Christianity continues its long heritage of being salt and light a fallen world. Christians have founded some of the most important humanitarian organizations in today’s world:   Red Cross, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Prison Fellowship, World Vision and IJM. It is a powerful testimony to the watching world when Christians live out the Gospel amid tragedies such as in hurricane Katrina, the tsunami disaster, the Haitian earthquake or 9/11. Whatever the tragedy, when Christians show up, the good news of Jesus Christ is there for all to see.  Perhaps this is what Matthew Parris saw in Malawi.

Frank A. James III is the President of Biblical Seminary. He formerly served as Provost and Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has two doctorates, a D.Phil. in History from Oxford University and a Ph.D. in Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary/Pennsylvania. He is one of the founding members of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (with InterVarsity Press) and has authored and edited nine books. His latest book, Church History: From Pre-Reformation to the Present (Zondervan), has just been published. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/frank-a-james


Written by Kyuboem Lee Monday, 26 August 2013 00:00

Often, I find myself preaching to the choir with regard to urban mission--these folks don't need convincing that urban mission is an important and urgent agenda item for the Church and we need to do all we can to learn about urban mission if the Church is to be faithful to God’s mission.

But others will need more convincing. “I won't be moving into the city to live and minister there; my role is a pastor in a suburban church or a small town context. Why should I care about urban mission? My plate is overflowing as it is.” I will try to speak to them through this series of blog posts. If you are the choir, perhaps you will be find these posts useful as points of apologetics for urban mission. (Past posts in the series:

Chances are, if you are reading this particular blog, you are a believer in the missional nature of the Christian faith. You are convinced that the Church in the West needs to rediscover its identity as a part of God’s mission in the world, and that it needs to come out of its fortress Christendom mindset into a mode of being in which it winsomely engages the world with the good news of Jesus by word and deed. You don’t hesitate to brand yourself missional and your ministry the same. So you’re missional. Now what?

Could “Missional” become another buzzword bereft of substance? Conceivably, one can proclaim one is missional without working out the word’s deeper implications. The Western mindset can be a hard habit to break. Theological positions (missional or otherwise) are arrived at and affirmed after a great deal of effort and time--all without leaving the realm of your mind. Are we engaging the world more in deeper, missional ways now rather than before the labeling?

Perhaps Urban Mission might supply few of the answers to the question, “Now what?” In the missional paradigm, pastors and other Christians living in the West are for all intents and purposes missionaries, because they too are living in an unchristianized society, a mission field. No longer do we see an essential distinction between foreign missionaries and the rest of us. Therefore, it follows that in order to live out his missional purpose, Regular Joe Christian should become more and more versed in what missionaries have been getting trained in.

This is the premise of Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission, by Larry McCrary, Wade Stephens, Caleb Crider, and Rodney Calfee (Urban Loft Publishers, 2013). They would like to see the local churches in N. America benefit in their missional calling by becoming students of the knowledge and experience gained by culture-crossing missionaries. According to the authors, “The most underdeveloped basic Christian skills are those related to missionary thinking and practice.” (p. 24) There are certain skill sets that should be included in the missional tradecraft--such as understanding and exegeting culture, ethnography, urban studies, and contextualization, among others. Urban Mission has been giving these areas keen attention for some time now and stocking the missional tool chest. The missional church is invited to take and use.

Missional practice (informed by Urban Mission, among other disciplines) therefore makes concrete missional theology--it is missional theology not only in the abstract, but enfleshed and holistic, with hands and feet, living in concrete contexts and real people, today. Without the practice (or the tradecraft), theology becomes formless; it is unable to engage the world in the full-orbed way that missional believers envision their faith as capable of being.

But the practice in turn also needs the forming hand of a thoroughly biblical theology, or it will lose its soul. Missional practice will merely become another human-centered effort to make the world a better place according to our own understanding, which is in the end finite and even potentially more destructive than life-edifying. Missional practitioners live and act under the authority of God and his revealed word. So they bring their tradecraft daily under the examination of the Scriptures, and re-situate themselves in the larger work of the kingdom, the mission of God.

This sets off a dynamic of constant conversation between theology and practice. One refines and energizes the other, and vice versa. And so the Church matures as it treads this circular path between praxis and theology; action and reflection. We call this the hermeneutical spiral; the spiral leads us closer to Christ.

Again, you are invited: take up the tools developed by missionaries and Urban Mission over the years, learn to use them well, and join the task of mission in the world.

Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as Adjunct Faculty at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission (http://jofum.com).


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