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Written by Susan Disston Sunday, 04 August 2013 00:00

There’s a new book from Jim Wallis called On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good. Jim makes the case that it’s long past the time for Christians “to reclaim the neglected common good and to learn how faith might help, instead of hurt, in that important task" (p. 5).  He says that religious traditions need to align themselves on God’s side rather than seeking special blessing for their own enterprises, however worthy they might be. “Trying to be on God’s side requires much more humility and grace …. It means seeing God’s purposes ahead of our own or our group’s self-interest. It means loving our neighbors, even when they are in a group different from ours, and even when they are our enemies” (p. 9).

Here at the Seminary we resonate with Jim’s message because what he is describing is missional living. Missional living is purposeful living as a Christian who embraces loving neighbor as oneself (Matt. 22:36-40). We resonate with Jim’s plea for the faith community to “move from our ideological analysis of problems to practical solutions that would promote the values of both personal and social ethics" (p. 169).  I encourage you to watch Jim’s moving YouTube Video recorded at the Lincoln Memorial:

From time to time in the coming year I will use this blog to highlight some ways that people I know are working for the common good. This first post is from Katharine Oswald who works at the Christian Legal Clinics of Philadelphia.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Christian Legal Clinics of Philadelphia is on the cutting edge of legal aid in some of the city’s most under-served neighborhoods. Legal aid services are prominent in Center City, but few organizations position themselves close to individuals who need pro bono or low-cost services most. In cooperation with four churches and community centers in North, West, and South Philadelphia, CLCP operates bi-weekly “clinics” – three-hour slots of time where individuals can meet with a qualified attorney for up to one hour at no cost. Family, housing, and criminal matters are among the legal issues our attorneys see most.  In a non-intimidating, community setting, individuals are offered the best advice, given quality, low-cost referrals, and connected to other community services they may need.  The prayer and ministry offered during each session place individuals' legal issues within a greater spiritual context, affirming that God cares for them and hears their cries for help. People come weighed down with difficult issues, and CLCP aims to send them away not only with legal help, but with the Hope of the Gospel, the Gospel of a God who carries their burdens with them. Two client stories help readers to see what hope meant to real people. 

Here is Kathryn’s story: 

Feeling alone, exhausted, and traumatized, Kathryn did everything in her power to seek justice. She e-mailed the founder of the low-income housing assistance program to which she belonged. Eventually, she walked through the doors of a legal assistance organization for the first time, knowing they existed to help people like herself who were in dire straits. She provided clear documentation of her predicament, yet, after a brief interview she was simply told, “We have a conflict of interest; we can’t help you.” Her story is called “NOWHERE LEFT TO TURN”

Here is Miguel’s story:

Up to this point, Miguel’s experiences with lawyers had all been negative. After a run-in four years ago that ended in his good friend being stabbed, Miguel found himself in court, under the representation of a seemingly apathetic attorney. “The lawyer did not even meet me once. He pretty much didn’t want to fight my case. I felt hopeless!” His story is called “A SECOND CHANCE”

For more information on how you can make a difference through this ministry:

  • Visit clcphila.org
  • Schedule a visit to their main office at 4455 N. 6th Street, Suite 100, Philadelphia, PA 19149.*
  • Volunteer as a clinic attorney.
  • Accept referrals of clinic clients.
  • Become a donor

Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy - Psalm 82:3 KJV

*This is the same building where Biblical Seminary leases classrooms for its Urban LEAD MDiv program on Tuesday nights and one Saturday per month.


Dr. Susan
Disstonis assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary and teaches in the doctor of ministry program.

 

Written by Dr. Phil Monroe Thursday, 01 August 2013 09:07

Did you know that there is a form of Christian cancer? You may know it better by the more common name of…gossip. It shows up in prayer meetings, board meetings, side bar conversations, “processing” with a friend, and yes, therapy sessions. It is found in Christian institutions where we discuss who has the best vision, most accurate theology, or best ministry method. Like cancer, it spreads quickly from the heart over the tongue, and in just a few minutes, it can be around the country. Spreading happens quickest in cases of juicy moral failings of church leaders. Side effects include increased cynicism, egotism, the freedom to sin against a really bad sinner without penalty, justification of our own flaws.

I confess I am prone to have a case of it. As a counselor I hear all sorts of pain and brokenness in Christian circles. One pastor lacks integrity, another leader is a megalomaniac, another provides dangerous, superficial counseling, and yet another has a farce of a marriage. How will I handle it? Will I tell a trusted friend? Will I “process” with my wife? Where is the line between needed debriefing and gossip? I fear I’m far too willing to cross it at work, church, and the neighborhood.

How about you? In a discussion of church vision, do you criticize the pastor/elders by bringing up unrelated evidence of weakness? In a driveway conversation, do you discuss the neighbor’s recent arrest? In an office discussion, do you discuss a colleague or board member’s mis-steps? Should you?


Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the MA in Counseling program. He also directs the newly formed Global Trauma Recovery Institute. You can read more of his musings here.

   

Written by Phil Monroe Wednesday, 31 July 2013 00:00

We all experience loss and grief in our lives. But few experience it on the level of those who survived the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Consider a few of these tragedies:

  • 41 family members killed
  • 69 family members killed
  • Experiencing an entire group killed in your presence and yet your surviving
  • Watching your spouse and children be hacked to death
  • Being forced to kill family members or neighbors in order to survive
  • Hiding in the marshes for over a month, surviving only by eating roots

You might wonder how such people cope. How do they get up and get dressed, go to work, even speak to another—especially when some of those doing the killing live in the same neighborhood? You might wonder whether nor not the question “WHY?” is ever answered. You might wonder if healing is possible.

These are some of the stories we were told in our recent training trip to Rwanda. It has been 19 years since the genocide and equally destructive aftermath. The capital city of Kigali has been transformed into a modern city with all the beauty, amenities, and economic development you might wish for. The many NGOs located around the country are moving beyond direct relief and infrastructure building to sustainable community development. From all accounts, everything is booming.

But do not think for a moment that the genocide is all behind this wonderful, beautiful country. During our 3 day conference focusing training counselors to deal with domestic violence and abuse of children, we continued to hear of the pain and heartache experienced each year during the memorial period—not only by those who survived the genocide but also by those born afterwards.

Realistic Redemption

One of the most precious experiences in Rwanda is hearing these stories of pain and yet also stories of redemption. We heard of those who survived being macheted, thrown off cliffs, rescued by an angel who walked with the person through the forest at night for many kilometers only to disappear at daybreak. In addition, we heard of how God met these survivors and empowered them to let go of anger and embrace forgiveness even when it cost them friends. These precious saints were now working to provide healing and restoration for victims and perpetrators of violence.

You may be wondering why I call this realistic redemption. I do because it is clear that their pain is still fresh, the questions still present and unanswered. Equally clear is their calling and God’s continual provision. Evidence of God’s protection does not remove the pain of the loss. Redemption in this life does not usually include release from painful memories. Redemption in this life is all about rescue and grace in the midst of continued suffering. Our Rwandan friends understand this far better than we do in the United States where we tend to conflate rescue with removal of pain.
 

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 Tuesday, 30 July 2013 00:00

Last blog, we looked at an instance of Jesus falling asleep in “a controversial circumstance.”  The disciples had a controversial instance of falling asleep at what seemed like an inappropriate time — only in their case, it was in the middle of the night.  I could be tempted to look at what happened and say, “Can you blame them?” . . .

The whole thing is recorded in Matthew 26:20-47. They’d all had a long day. And, in fairness to them, they really did have no idea the kind of events that were about to transpire. Jesus told them that someone in the group was going to betray Him — and they all insisted that they’d never do such a thing; Peter was particularly adamant about it. As if to add foreshadowing or further warning, at least one of the parables Jesus had told earlier in the day featured a bridal party that had trouble staying awake when the bride and groom needed them (Matthew 25:5).  No matter.  The disciples — even Peter, James, and John given added honor by Jesus selecting them to keep watch and pray with Him — just couldn’t stay awake.

Jesus was both agitated and hurt by this it seems. “You couldn’t stick with Me and pray for Me and with Me for even an hour?” he asks plaintively? . . .

I can relate to the disciples truthfully.  There is a time to be vigilant. And sometimes it comes at an inconvenient time; or when I’m just too danged tired. I can wonder if I could hear Jesus’ voice, “Can’t you suck it up and do it for an hour?” . . .

I also recognize that vacation time may be a time not to take a break from praying — but a time to catch up with Jesus, and catch up on some praying, eh?

Alright, over and out.  If you want to pray for my refreshment while I’m on vacation, I’ll take it.  I’m looking forward to some quality time walking the beach with Jesus.  With my wife, too.  


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 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 Monday, 29 July 2013 00:00

OK, full disclosure: writing two blogs is the last thing I’m doing before loading the car to go on my vacation.  So, what does a theology professor think about before going on vacation? . . . The role of rest and recreation to refresh the body, mind, and soul is what I’m thinking about.

These two blogs will compare two instances in Jesus’ ministry when falling asleep out of exhaustion became controversial.

I look at Jesus, and see that He, too, needed rest. Matthew 8, Mark 4, and Luke 8 all record the incident in which Jesus fell asleep in the boat when a storm came up. They all mention some aspect of the series of events that transpired before the disciples and Jesus set sail that day; He’d taught under challenge by the Pharisees; His own family seemed to question His judgment and ministry and even His legitimacy.  He’d healed a bunch of people, a ministry that seemed to proliferate somewhat to His frustration even — people seemed to treat Him like an ATM for discomfort relief.  He was exhausted.

They pushed off from shore and Jesus caught a nap. And then the storm came. The disciples awakened Him — but hardly with a gentle touch. “Don’t you care that we’re dying here!!!???”  Anybody ever get that kind of a wake up call?

He rubbed His eyes, looked around and sized up the situation.  He solved the problem with a word (yeah, I’m not going to be able to match His effectiveness there, I’m afraid).  And turned to the disciples and provided a teaching moment.  “What are you so afraid of? . . .”

If the ministry of God, the Kingdom of Christ, the crises of the world, could go on fine with Jesus asleep . . . I’m thinking the world will survive if I take some time off, too.  My obsession with “having to do it or it won’t get done” gets rebuked right along with the disciples.

I also notice that no matter how tired or how exhausted Jesus got, He never lost His cool. And He always seemed to have time among the clamoring masses of needy people to do “just one more” without giving the next one the proverbial slam of door in the face or even an understandably harsh word. 

“What are you so afraid of?” is as pointed as He gets.  It’s a pointed enough question — that does kind of haunt you.  At least it does me.  How about it workaholic pastor, anxious laborer in the field, stressed out student.  What are you so afraid of?  Water coming in over the sides of the boat, you couldn’t be safer . . . if you’ve got Jesus asleep in the stern.  And if He can handle it with a snooze, maybe we don’t have so much to be so worked up about either.


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 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 Steve Taylor Friday, 26 July 2013 00:00

On July 13ththe jury in the Martin/Zimmerman case acquitted Zimmerman of all charges. The African American community and many others responded with anger and dismay. The decision was so quick, so antiseptic, so narrowly defined. No brokenness was healed and no wrongs righted. Six days later President Obama addressed the case with heartfelt reflection:

[W]hen you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.

The President then made brief reference to his experience as a young African American male in this culture and linked that all-too-representative experience to the more general African American acquaintance with “a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.” And the President concluded: “And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.” This was a plea for understanding, for space and time to heal, for empathy.

A Natural and Common Response

Unfortunately, in many quarters the President’s plea has met with anything but empathy. Even among evangelical Christians, the response has often been characterized more by suspicion than understanding: “Don’t African American appreciate trial by jury? Don’t they get the importance of the standard of proof in murder cases? Isn’t Obama simply attacking our American rule of law in yet another way?”  As religion scholar, Curtis J. Evans, has shown, these kinds of responses are, unfortunately, simply the latest manifestation of a very checkered record of the evangelical church with respect to the issues of race and discrimination ("White Evangelical Protestant Responses to the Civil Rights Movement," Harvard Theological Review 102 [2009]: 245-73). The sad fact is that, in spite of some wonderful exceptions, the white evangelical church largely has contributed to that “set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.”

I would like to suggest that whatever the actual facts of the Martin/Zimmerman case and however the world chooses to respond to the President and to the distress of the African American community, the community of Jesus ought to embrace Obama’s plea and go one better.

A Supernatural and Uncommon Response

The story related in Acts 6:1-8 is usually remembered as inspired instruction about church government: the original Apostles, realizing the overriding importance preaching and prayer, appointed a diaconate to take care of more mundane matters. Churches today should therefore also be led by two such offices.

 But the story’s primary purpose is much deeper and integral to Luke’s theological purpose: it is one of a series of vignettes narrated by Luke in his effort to explain to Theophilus what it meant that the nascent Christ-movement was a community inhabited and impelled by the Spirit of the Messiah (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2, 2:33). In keeping with his purpose, Luke wastes a lot of expensive ink and papyrus stressing that the seven men chosen to be the original “deacons” were all Spirit-filled men, men who turn out, in at least a couple of cases, to be more perceptive and in tune with the mission and commission of Jesus than the original Twelve (Stephen delivers a sermon that is theologically and hermeneutically years ahead of his time and pays with his life (Acts 7), and Phillip becomes the point man for the spread of the gospel beyond Judea, into Samaria and Ethiopia (Acts 8). As they “walked with the Spirit,” these “waiters on tables” turned out to be more effective evangelists and pastors than the “preachers” in those early days.

But the story contains an even more challenging and relevant revelation of the kind of community produced by the Spirit. We are told that these seven deacons were appointed because, “the Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1b). While still geographically situated around Jerusalem and still very much a sect within Judaism, the early church already comprised two disparate cultural-linguistic groups: a majority composed of folk native to Palestine and its way of life and who spoke Aramaic as their mother-tongue and a vocal minority of Jews who had only recently immigrated back to the homeland but who still reflected the language and culture of the broader Greco-Roman world. Naturally, the top leadership (the Apostles) reflected the language, values, and practices of the hometown, “Hebrew-speaking” group. So inevitably there were misunderstanding and slights which overtime reach a boiling point of complaint.

How this potentially explosive and divisive situation was resolved is the lesson for today’s North American church.  The “Hebrew-speaking” leadership allowed the community as a whole (with the demographic described above) to choose seven men who would provide the practical care for the entire community. And the community, led as it was by the Spirit, chose seven men, all from the minority, hurting segment of the community! (We can be almost certain of this from the Greek names of the men and from the pieces of biographical data provided in vv.  5  and 9.) Moreover, Luke narrates this without ever clearly asserting that all the initial complaints were justified. In this brief, shining moment, the Church of Jesus Christ did not seek to establish the facts and correct the perceptions of the offended; nor did it seek to work out a plan for equitable representation or to insure justice; rather it acted swiftly to heal the hurt and reassure the disenfranchised. Too often this has not been the Church’s first response in subsequent years.

What Now?

Towards the end of his speech, President Obama moved beyond retrospective to posing questions about the future and how such tragedies and heartaches can be avoided:

“Am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.”

These questions are indeed an appropriate diagnostic for the President to recommend to the nation. But, as I claimed at the top, the Church needs to go one better. Living by the Spirit and expressing the Spirit’s fruit (Gal 5:22-6:2), the church needs precisely to cultivate a holy bias, a spiritual sensitivity to our African American brothers and sisters who, with real justification, cannot help but respond to the tragic mess of the Martin/Zimmerman affair “through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.”


Stephen Taylor is Associate Professor of New Testament. He is a missionary kid fascinated with the question of the relationship between culture and understanding the Bible. Steve is married to Terri who is also intimately involved in global issues; and together they have five kids. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/stephen-taylor.

   

Written by Frank James Thursday, 25 July 2013 00:00

No one knows the challenges that face theological education better than Association of Theological Schools (ATS) Executive Director, Dan Aleshire. He made what I consider an obvious but remarkable statement, namely that theological education needs to be “reinvented.” It is obvious because we all know that our world is changing rapidly and seminaries need to be able to minister to this changing world. It is remarkable, because traditional agencies like ATS are usually the last to admit the obvious.

In a very real sense, the current challenges have provided a window of “opportunity” for seminaries to re-imagine theological education for the twenty-first century. It is an opportunity to be creative and to think outside the box. I must say that the accomplishments of the BTS board and Dave Dunbar are nothing short of astonishing - not to mention courageous. The groundwork has ready been laid and BTS is in position to tackle the challenges.

Theological institutions must recognize and understand the cultural shifts and engage them - not merely to perpetuate the survival of an organization, but because seminaries are called by God to further His kingdom.

Since the middle ages, most seminaries tend to have a rather narrow self-identity with an inward focus - typically a particular denominational or theological tradition which they are trying to perpetuate. BTS is different. We affirm that “God’s church does not have a mission in the world; rather, God’s mission has a church in the world.”  This outward focus resonates deeply with me. 

Reinvented theological education is not dis-engaged from the outside world, but is a caring presence and a blessing to that community. We need to ask: Who is the seminary within the wider community? Part of a missional approach to theological education is that it seeks to prepare ministers not only by rigorous intellectual study but also by engaging the wider community. In the past, seminaries have tended to be almost monastic, isolated and inward looking.  In more recent times, some seminaries have produced graduates who tend to live in their heads - a kind of mental monasticism even as they minister to their flocks. But that approach is no longer viable in a post-modern world. Ministers must be culturally engaged and relationally present in their communities.

We often speak as if the missional model is something new and I suppose it is to some extent. But as an historian, I know that few things are really new. I would argue that the early church was missional at its very core. In a world entirely lacking in social services, early Christians became their brother’s keepers. By the fourth century, Christians had become especially well known for their compassion for the poor - both Christian and pagan. The Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate (361-363) even complained about “those impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well.”The Christian Gospel always has been identified with compassion for the sick, poor and disenfranchised, as well as for its opposition to injustice.  More recently, whether it was William Wilberforce’s opposition to the slave trade or Amy Carmichael rescuing little girls dedicated to the Hindu gods and forced into prostitution, history demonstrates that followers of Jesus have long understood that the Gospel must be manifested in both word and deed.

Considering the vast scope of history, re-invention may not be the most accurate descriptor of what BTS is doing in seminary education. Perhaps it would be better to say that we are seeking to re-capture the original missional vision. 

Can I get an Amen?


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

   

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Written on 25 November 2014 - by R. Todd Mangum
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