missional curriculum

Institutions as well as individuals will have to respond, with integrity, to the dividing walls that are all too often common in many of our Christian institutions. Racism, ethnocentrism, classism, sexism, and in some parts of the world, tribalism—are real and are often more hidden than overt. An urban missional curriculum must recognize its role in preparing men and women to wrestle with these issues by adjusting and re-establishing curriculum to biblically deal with ills of society.

How can we reach the nations in this global world without intentionally becoming aware of how it has affected our lives and institutions?

There will need to be honest searching, asking what truly is in our hearts in matters of race, ethnic, class, and gender relations. How can a missional curriculum take an honest and intentional approach with these issues that continue to plague our country and Christian institutions? Do we even see the need to confront the injustice that these issues bring up? How do we go about addressing these issues? What do we need to do to promote reconciliation?

When we think about curriculum we often think about what books we read and the flow of the content through lectures or dialogue. All that is important, but curriculum is more than that. Curriculum is also about who the instructor is and how the environment influences the learning process. Syllabi need to be constantly evaluated to ensure that a variety of perspectives are included—African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Anglo. Approved instructors need to be selected who represent the various ethnic traditions. These instructors need to not only teach on the subject of reconciliation but also live a life devoted to reconciliation and breaking down the dividing walls. The environment is not just the physical environment (although it is vital to have an urban program taught in an urban setting), but it is also who the students are with whom we share learning.

We need to rub shoulders with those who are different from us. That means recruitment needs to reach the nations.

If we are honest with ourselves, we must realize that we all fall short in this area, that we all struggle with people who are different from us in one way or another, that we are all cultural beings who believe we were taught the right way to do things. There must be repentance that has not been intellectualized but has come down to concrete forms that move us towards wholeness and reconciliation. What steps must we take to see this become a reality?

Reconstruction of the Past

We must correct the past in the present. We must tell the story truthfully. While we are celebrating Black History Month, we are reminded of the need to understand black history as well as the history of other groups if we are going to move toward reconciliation. We do our best to say what’s in the past is just that—in the past—but that is a cop out. The sins of oppression and injustice of the past have ramifications in our present time. We want to side-step the issue of reconciliation and focus on evangelization and relief. However, honesty, a truth-disclosure of what we have done and will not continue to do by the grace of God, must be revealed. This is what we refer to as repentance.

The call to repentance is not a matter of feeling sorrow, but rather of having a change of direction. We must identify with the words of 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” God is calling us to a biblical demonstration of repentance, and that must be reflected in an urban missional curriculum.

Reconstruction of the Present for the Future

There are three signs indicating reconstruction of the present. First, there needs to be reconstruction of personal and institutional involvement. Why are we getting involved with others? Our motivation is important. If it is for personal or institutional ambition, we must repent. If our participation in an urban missional program does not enhance the kingdom of God and justice, we again must evaluate our motives for involvement. From the standpoint of a seminary, if the administration has a wrong motivation, or if individual instructors have a wrong motivation, then repentance is a necessity.

Second, there needs to be missiological reconstruction. We must consider it a missiological imperative to serve together with other groups that are culturally different in both foreign and domestic challenges. This sign of the kingdom is appealing because it is fundamentally biblical. We need each other. It is not a one-way street. Missiological reconstruction needs to find its place in biblical authority rather than in pragmatism.

Third, we should look at celebration reconstruction. For example, we cannot quickly celebrate the freedom from apartheid in South Africa, if we do not move to liquidate the sin of racism in our churches and seminaries. If there is injustice anywhere, it is a threat to justice everywhere. No one is free until all are free. It is much easier to see the problems “over there” than to have to admit that the root of those same problems are here.

Reconstruction of our Reconciliation Boundaries

We must extend the boundaries of reconciliation. Isms occur when one group decides to prevent another group from the necessities of life: success, prestige, and power, and they do this on the basis of who they are. We have all been touched with this dreadful sickness, and all must seek reconciliation through repentance. This, too, can be laid out in steps. First, we need serious evaluation of our commitment to reconciliation as it relates to other groups. We have not considered that exclusivism exists in our own backyard. Where do we contribute to building divides rather than tearing them down?

Second, we must take action to develop a strategy for solidarity among other groups. For example, we have not learned how to be ethnic without being ethnocentric. We need a network that will help African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, etc. form a means of working in mission together, of sharing information and resources as needs arise. We need to grow past cultural norms that treat women as lesser beings. Culture is not an excuse. Mission strategy must have men and women working together in solidarity.

Third, we have to look toward building meaningful relationships. We have so much to learn from each other and with each other, and that is the beauty of an urban missional training program. We know very little about each other, and as long as we do not know, we do not grow in our perspective of who this multilingual God is.

In closing, let us all ask ourselves, what must I do to grow in repentance and reconciliation, to be closer to Christ’s own example of healing and justice among the nations?

About the Authors

Manuel Ortiz and Susan Baker

Manuel Ortiz and Susan Baker

Prior to coming to Biblical, Manuel Ortiz taught for 23 years at Westminster Theological Seminary where he now holds emeritus standing as Professor Emeritus of Ministry and Urban Mission. In addition to teaching, “Manny” is also the pastor of Spirit and Truth Fellowship church in North Philadelphia and is co-director of the CRC Philadelphia Church Planting Initiative. Susan Baker has taught at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, City Seminary of New York, the Center for Urban Studies, and Westminster Theological Seminary where she combined teaching with administrative responsibilities for seventeen years before joining Biblical Seminary. Both Manny and Susan have been instrumental in building our Urban Programs at our Philadelphia campus.

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