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New MA in Innovation & Leadership at Kilns College

We have an exciting new Master of Arts program set to launch September 2015 (pending final state approval)! The Master of Arts in Innovation and Leadership is a unique one-year masters that will have broad relevance to teachers, pastors, non-profit workers and entrepreneurs.

I’ll just say it: THIS ONE IS EXCITING!!!

Check out the overview sheet below and make sure to reach out to Melissa McCreery at Kilns College if you’re interested in either on-site or distance options.

Worship

Photo Credit: Lawrence OP, Creative Commons

A good friend once sent me this quote from J.I. Packer on Worship:

“If worship services are so fixed that what’s being offered fits the expectations, the hopes, even the prejudices, of any one of these groups as opposed to the others, I don’t believe the worship style glorifies God.”

I really like it. It’s been a while since I’ve found myself in the theological debates about What is worship? Should we use music to worship? What style of praise and music is most worshipful? etc. etc.

When I was in grad school with a bunch of other single guys who had nothing better to do than read Nietzsche, debate Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology and circle back endlessly to conversations on the modern church — we talked about worship stuff all the time.

With Antioch growing up from a tiny church plant of 30 folks to a pretty well established church, however, I find these questions and conversations coming back up in my mind more and more.

“When does a progressive church plant need to step back and look at what silly things it is doing that need to be re-envisioned?”

“Do we do the same things other churches did that we reacted to when we dreamed of Antioch in the beginning?”

“Does our use of music and the arts really keep God at the center — does it aim at the glory of God and the reconciliation of us to Him?”

That is why I love Packer’s quote above — if our prejudices… if our fixed routines… it we fit lazy expectations… if we favor one… then our style probably isn’t broad enough or rich enough to be God’s style of worship.

Thinking about worship isn’t about solving a problem like a math equation — it is much more like making an adjustment as in steering. The value is in the repetition. The value is in asking the question. The value is in recalibrating.

The Sound of Silence: White Christians & Race in America

Guest Post by Troy Jackson

One of the most provocative songs of the 1960s is Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence.” The haunting lyrics, which marginalize “the words of the prophets” to “subway walls and tenement halls” are poignant when it comes to white Christian engagement in the pains and struggles of African Americans. When it comes to bold prophetic leadership for racial justice, those looking for white Christian voices have, more often than not, been met with the Sound of Silence.

The need for white Christian engagement in racial justice is greater today than at any time since the 1960s, when Paul Simon’s tune hit the charts. Why do I say this? Well, as a pastor with a doctorate in US history coupled with several years working for racial and economic justice, I have arrived at a startling conclusion: The circumstances facing young people of color in the United States are the worst they have been since the age of Jim Crow.

Before you stop reading, let me share what I do not mean by this analysis:

  1. I am not saying that all white people and white Christians are racists. Many white Christians care deeply about racial justice and reconciliation. The intentionality around race within the white church continues to grow.
  2.  I am not suggesting that overt prejudice and racism are equivalent to what they were in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. By and large, we are far less likely to participate in racist behaviors, language, and practices than we were in the 1950s. Racial epitaphs are taboo in the public arena. And legal segregation is a thing of the past.
  3. I also recognize that opportunities for advancement for some people of color are greater than at any time in US History. This is most obvious in the realm of politics, where we have had an African American Attorney General, Secretary of State, and President within the last decade.

So what do I mean? Well, when it comes to outcomes and opportunities for African Americans, things are getting worse.

Gun violence continues to plague many urban neighborhoods, and the funerals of young children and teens are common-place in many neighborhoods where work and jobs have disappeared. When added to the deaths of unarmed African Americans like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and John Crawford III, many young people of color are wondering if black and brown lives even matter to our nation, and to our faith communities.

The staggering impact of mass incarceration adds to this sense of despair. As Michelle Alexander chronicles in The New Jim Crow, a racialized execution of the War on Drugs has in fact been a war on people of color, incarcerating African Americans at unprecedented rates: over 2 million people in the USA are in prison, roughly 7 times the number behind bars in 1980. And today, there are more African Americans under correctional control than were enslaved in 1850.

Almost any statistical indicator adds to the story of increased despair by people of color in this country. The unemployment rate for African Americans remains at least 2X that of whites. Increased efforts to restrict voting through voter ID bills and limiting early voting opportunities have disproportionately affected people of color. And we could go on and on with these disparities.

So how might we respond? Let me suggest four ways white Christians should engage the growing despair and pain of young people of color.

  1. Listen: We must build relationships with people of color, and honestly care about their experiences and perspectives. The goal should not be to seek approval or validation by people of color, or that we are somehow forgiven or absolved from our racialized history and participation in what is all too often a racist nation. We listen to understand.
  2. Learn: We need to become students of our history and care about the voices of people of color both now and in the past. I recently co-authored a book called Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith that explores the historic sins of the American Church, and includes a chapter on sins against African Americans. But don’t stop there. Read The New Jim Crow, Race Matters, by Cornel West and The Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone. Taking time to learn demonstrates care and concern.
  3. Solidarity: Even if we do not fully understand or even agree with the perspectives and views of young people of color, we can stand with them as they struggle. We are called to mourn with those who mourn. Right now, young people of color are mourning. And we should take our mourning public, standing with them as they grieve and protest and work for justice.
  4. Justice: Sooner or later, we need to start deconstructing evil systems that conspire against people of color in this nation. We need to continue to respond to injustice with charity and development, and couple this with hard work to take on financial systems, justice systems, corporate systems, and political systems that benefit from injustice and work against people of color.

The call of Micah is not to simply reflect upon justice, but to do justice. This demands risk and true prophetic ministry. Jesus’ amazing love, grace, and justice demand an end to the days when the white church’s response to racial injustice amounts to “The Sound of Silence.”

Welcome Pete Kelley!

The Table Series Part I :: Jesus Eats with Sinners from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

Ben Lowe on Doing Good Without Giving Up

Ben Lowe is on staff with the Evangelical Environmental Network and serves as the national spokesperson for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. Ben was raised a missionary kid in Southeast Asia and now lives in community in a refugee and immigrant neighborhood outside Chicago, where he ran for US Congress in 2010. He is a graduate of Wheaton College (IL) and the author of Doing Good Without Giving Up: Sustaining Social Action in a World That’s Hard to Change and Green Revolution: Coming Together to Care for Creation.

KW: What are some positive cultural trends you are seeing with regard to justice and justice work?

BL: It’s been exciting over the last decade to witness biblical justice become a much more mainstream and integral priority across many churches and campuses. In some hopeful ways and places, justice concerns are even transcending partisan politics and overcoming entrenched conservative/progressive stereotypes. Numerous books and resources are available to help ground and sustain this growth, along with important gatherings like the Justice Conference and groups such as the Christian Community Development Association. This is all tremendously encouraging.

KW: How do you think we’ve created an idol out of doing justice?

BL: There’s a whole chapter in the book about idolatry in our activism and advocacy. It takes on many different forms—I write about how we idolize ourselves, others, or even the cause—but whenever we set anything apart from or put anything ahead of God in our justice work, we know we’re off track. Jesus belongs at the center of all we are and do and our overriding goal is always to be faithful to him. Faithfulness is how we define success as followers of Christ, and out of faithfulness comes fruitfulness (see John 15:5).

KW: What are some of the practices you discuss for helping sustain Christ-centered justice?

BL: Each chapter in the second half of the book focuses on a particular practice or theme that has been an essential part of faithful activism and advocacy for me and others through the years. Topics include loving sacrificially, being prophetic, practicing contemplation, remembering the Sabbath, dealing with opposition, investing in community, and more. These aren’t quick tips or tricks, but rather are spiritual disciplines for all of us to intentionally cultivate over time.

KW: Can you illustrate how one of those practices has been helpful for you?

BL: In the book I share about an intense burnout experience and how my path to recovery included working with mentors and advisors to develop boundaries and start taking the Sabbath, contemplation, and community much more seriously. While these practices have all been instrumental in protecting me from further burnout, having a safety net of mentors and advisors to help catch me in the downward spiral was critical. We don’t run this race alone. Seeking out mentors who can help guide us in the work God is calling us to do, and the people God is calling us to become, is essential, life-giving, and often neglected.

KW: What is your role at EEN? What message would you like to give the church about creation care and justice?

BL: I help spearhead Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECAction.org) and am also involved in our growing collaborations with mission agencies, relief and development organizations, and other creation care groups. Caring for creation is an integral issue of biblical justice, a matter of life and health, and a joyful calling for all followers of Christ.

I pray in particular that God will give us the wisdom and courage to face up to the urgent moral, environmental, and humanitarian challenge of climate change. We have a prophetic opportunity here to live out the love of Christ by 1) helping communities prepare for what are now unavoidable impacts, and 2) building a moral movement that will accelerate the transformation from further climate pollution to a clean economy and environment. There are much better ways forward here and I believe God is calling us to bear witness to a better world, and to do our part to bring it about. To inspire hope against fear, speak truth to power, and pursue love against injustice.

KW: As a Christian, what is your encouragement to the church?

BL: It won’t always be like this. One day there will be no more need for activism and advocacy. Shalom will be restored, all things will be renewed, and God’s kingdom will be fully established among us. But until that day comes, let us not give up on doing and sharing God’s good work, for we know it’s not in vain. We may not be able to overcome sin on our own, but Christ has done that for us. And with the Holy Spirit’s help we can overcome the effects of sin—including injustice, suffering, and degradation—wherever it rears its ugly head. Greater is the one who indwells and leads us, than the one who wrecks havoc and despair in the world.

KW: What is your hope for those that read this book?

BL: To be encouraged and empowered to persevere in following God faithfully in all areas of life and mission—particularly in being salt and light together in this good but groaning world.

Did You Know?

Did you know that Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve) is the same day as Reformation Day? On that day in 1517 Martin Luther posted his famous 95 Theses (or issues) against the church of his day. That’s because on the next day, All Saints’ Day, a large collection of relics was going to be presented for the sale of indulgences that would go to help fund the building of St. Peter’s Basilica–it was exactly this system of indulgences that Martin Luther critiqued and rejected. So as an interesting twist in history, when we celebrate Halloween, we do it on a day that was one of the biggest turning points in church history.

What Are the Most Important Spiritual Practices for Westerners?

Thank You, Paul Crouse

Paul Crouse is a former Antioch intern by way of Moody Bible institute who is a good friend and has done a lot of art for The Justice Conference and Antioch over the last few years. He just blessed me with this new art (think Aslan) which is probably the coolest piece of art anyone has ever made me–except, of course, for the various drawings by my four girls on the side of my fridge! Thanks, Paul Crouse.

Peter Harris on Christ and Creation

Our friends Peter and Miranda Harris stopped by at Antioch this past Sunday and delivered what I thought was the best message given at Antioch in eight years.

Peter and Miranda co-founded A Rocha some three decades ago and it is now the largest international Christian Conservation group in the world operating in twenty countries.

Please take the time to watch the below, not only because Peter has a wonderful British accent, but because it is one of the most coherent and biblically reasoned talks on Creation you are likely to hear.

Peter Harris :: All Things Reconciled – Christ and Creation from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

Sabbath as Resistance: An Interview with Walter Brueggemann

One of the more unique prophetic voices for many pastors and leaders I know today is Old Testament professor Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann has a profound and simple way of highlighting narrative threads in the Old Testament as well as a poetic ability to make the message of the prophets come alive today.

Walter Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister and the author of dozens of books and hundreds of articles.

(Not only that, but he’s one of the more interesting people you’ll ever meet!)

KW: In The Prophetic Imagination, you bridged the witness of the Old Testament prophets into a passionate critique of today’s dominant culture. How does Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now both continue and focus this program?

WB: My book Sabbath as Resistance continues the contemporary critique of Prophetic Imagination. I root Sabbath in Moses and the Decalogue both as resistance and as alternative to Pharaoh who allowed no Sabbath from production quotas. The refusal to define life by productive work is a mighty act of resistance against consumer culture and its commoditization.

KW: In your writings you talk of Empire in strong spiritual language. How do you explain modern empire to listeners so the theological and cultural significance of your message is clear?

WB: I think “empire” should be expressed and is experienced as a “totalism” that monopolizes the political economy, all technology, and all imagination via control of the media. Empire allows nothing outside its domain as is evident in control of the news. Among us empire is not a nation state (not even the USA), but is the market ideology that controls everything. The NFL is the liturgic performance of that empire that ends, predictably, in violence.

KW: Often, modern listeners think of the Old Testament purely in terms of law or archaic thinking. How do you counter this so as to awaken imagination and draw out contemporary relevance in your writings?

WB: All of my writings work at showing the contemporary relevance the biblical text. To overcome such a caricature of the Old Testament, all one has to do is to read the text, most especially the poetry of the prophets and the Psalms. Prophetic poetry in Hosea, Jeremiah, and II Isaiah focuses on the pathos of God.  I think the caricature is based on a misreading of Paul in Romans and Galatians.

KW: What is your favorite Old Testament passage in terms of direct prophetic relevance to modern culture and why?

WB: The best summary text I know on the prophets is Jeremiah 9:23-24; it offers two competing triads, “wealth, might, and wisdom” or “steadfast love, justice, and righteousness.”  The choice between these two triads is the burden of the prophets and the freedom of the gospel.

KW: The subtitle of Sabbath as Resistance is “saying no to the culture of now.” What do you feel are the unique dangers of our globalized and technological world and how does Sabbath provide a counter-narrative or corrective?

WB: The danger of globalized technology is to reduce everything and everyone to a commodity that can be used, administered, and given a price tag. Sabbath is an insistence that we and all others are neighbors, not commodities.

KW: How would you sum up or describe the underlying aim or goal of your extensive writing to the church?

WB: My continuing insistence in my work is that life is possible outside the domain of Pharaoh when it is lived according to the gospel of neighborly covenant. But that requires not simply personal resolve; it also requires a radically altered economic and political practice so that social relationships of another kind become normative.

KW: What charge would you give to next generation leaders passionate about rethinking and reimagining the world through theological lenses?

WB: My charge would be to develop a well-informed critical capacity in order to see that what we regard as “given” in our society is in fact a construct. When recognized as a construct, alternatives become imaginable and possible.

Searching for a Prophet


Photo Credit: Adam Csider Photography

“Christianity did not come in order to develop the heroic virtues in the individual but rather to remove the selfishness. It is not a matter of improving yourself up to a certain maximum. Why, this can so easily be nothing but selfishness and pride.” Soren Kierkegaard

One of the struggles I have with writing is that it is a better tool for communicating self, thoughts, feelings, struggles and desires than it is of removing self. It is hard to be truly self-negating with a pen in one’s hand.

Writing is, in many respects, a mechanism by which we assert ourselves no matter how meek the tone.

Accordingly, I find myself drawn these days to quiet leaders. There is so much noise, so many ever-present voices, leaders and writers that the solitary figure going about their business in quiet captures my imagination.

These days, I’m not looking to hear one more opinion or read one more post.  Rather, I am looking for the one who has gone to the wilderness and has the authority to cut through the noise and say something that will have relevance for twenty years.

I don’t know about you, but my eyes are searching for a prophet.

But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” 1 Kings 22:7

Antioch Turns 8

This past Sunday, Antioch celebrated our 8th birthday! We asked everyone to submit some of their favorite memories from their time in the community and this Sunday several of our long-time members read aloud the highlights below:

My favorite memory is…

Family communion night. Vulnerable speakers.

Watching the church body celebrate with me when I got baptized.

My second Sunday in Bend over 4 years ago when I sat in an Antioch service. I was so much in need of friends and a community and I knew I had found it in Antioch.

Watching kids, then adults play greased watermelon football at Crescent Lake church camp this year!

Antioch means changed lives–the many testimonies recently of people who have been impacted by our church.

Meeting my husband at the first Justice Conference! We were both volunteers.

The morning Ken said, “Care enough about truth to go deep with it” close to five years ago.

The announcement that Antioch has contributed over $400,000 to Bend schools.

Any time Micah grabs the mic…good times right there.

Our family’s favorite tradition of Christmas Eve Services at the Tower Theatre.

Bonfires at kinship.

Art Sundays.

Worship with Justin Lavik and Grace.

Hosting an intern for the summer and the lasting friendship it has brought our family.

Aaron Wells telling stories on stage and for the kids.

Randy Jacobs’s testimony about the birth of the mobile medical van ministry in Central Oregon.

The launch of The Justice Conference.

The closeness of our home group and how we support each other.

Seeing Linda’s smile and energy each week as we bring our children to Antioch Kids.

Having my life changed in a Kilns College class.

Watching my 10 year old daughter be baptized in the Deschutes.

Breaking bread with fellow Antioch members in home group: fellowship, food, fun!

Settlers of Catan late at night, Risk, and making some really good friends.

Richard Twiss visiting July 2012 – perspective matters! What an incredible human.

Walking into the movie theater eight years ago. I knew then it was the place for my family.

From the staff: Getting to welcome 170 interns into our family from over 40 colleges and universities; watching our online Redux videos travel all over the world, garnering over 1.5 million views; and baptizing 150 people in the Deschutes River.

It was really cool to see a lot of the corollaries to the original Antioch Dream that we wrote before the church was planted in 2006. 

Antioch at Eight Years from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

Joshua Ryan Butler on The Skeletons in God’s Closet

Joshua Ryan Butler serves as pastor of local and global Outreach at Imago Dei Community, a church in the heart of Portland, Oregon, where he enjoys helping people who wrestle with some of the tough topics of the Christian faith. Joshua oversees the church’s city ministries in areas like foster care, human trafficking and homelessness and develops international partnerships in areas like clean water, HIV-support and church planting. He is the author of The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War. You can connect with him on Twitter @butlerjosh and online at www.joshuaryanbutler.com.

KW: You call the tough topics of the Christian faith “the skeletons in God’s closet”—can you explain what you mean by this?

JB: Totally. I’ve found many of us fear God is hiding “skeletons in the closet,” tough topics like hell, judgment and holy war that, if we opened the closet doors (our bibles) and looked more closely, we’re afraid we’d find that God is not truly good or worthy of our trust.

But we often feel this way, I’ve come to believe, because we have a caricature of what the gospel actually says. Popular caricatures in our culture—and in our churches—make God look like a sadistic torturer, a cold-hearted judge or a genocidal maniac . . . rather than a good and loving God.

I’ve wrestled with these topics over the years, and talked with countless others who struggle with them too. So I wanted to help folks grappling with them by “throwing open the closet doors,” so to speak, to pull these bones out into the open and exchange the popular caricatures for the beauty and power of the real thing.

When we do, I believe we discover these were never really skeletons at all . . . but proclamations of a God who is good “in his very bones,” not just in what he does, but in who he is.

So my biggest hope is to help us reclaim a confidence in the goodness of God—not in spite of these topics, but actually through them.

KW: You mention wrestling with these topics personally. What did that look like in your own life?

JB: Back in college, I had a radical encounter with Jesus that turned my life upside-down (or perhaps better yet, right-side up). I remember sharing this experience with a friend in the dorms, and his immediate response was, “So do you think I’m going to hell now?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. I hadn’t brought up hell. I wasn’t even thinking about it. I wasn’t looking for the questions, but they found me.

Shortly after, I worked on the Navajo reservation supporting a traditional community of indigenous shepherds in a land-rights case against a multi-billion dollar international mining company. I began learning more about the many injustices my country had perpetuated against native peoples: the unending string of broken treaties, the massacres and forced migrations, the manipulation and coercion used to get what we wanted for as little as possible in return.

And like a black eye in the middle of it all was Manifest Destiny, an ideology of the 18th century that drew upon imagery from Old Testament holy war to justify mistreatment of native peoples, as if we were a new Israel conquering a new Canaan.

I was angry at this picture. It’s bad enough to say, “We knocked you down”; even worse to say, “God gave us the punch.” Talk about adding insult to injury: America’s historic declaration that God was driving the train that ran over native peoples.

And I began to wonder: what was going on with holy war in the Old Testament? Why did God tell Israel to take out Canaan? Did I want to follow a God who commanded his people to destroy the indigenous inhabitants of the land?

My gut was telling me I’d rather side with the Navajo.

KW: So how did you start to find resolution?

JB: As I began reading the bible with these questions in mind, I found something strange happening: it didn’t freak me out. It didn’t talk about these topics the same way many people, including church people, talked about them.

Perhaps most surprisingly, it actually inspired me. Whereas the popular caricatures brought confusion, Jesus brought conviction; they inspired hubris, Jesus inspired hope. The bible talked about holy war in a way that didn’t justify my country’s treatment of native peoples; it systematically critiqued and confronted it.

I think the concept of a caricature is helpful, because they do contain features of the original. But they’re often blown up or way out of proportion: President Obama’s ears are way too big, Aunt Cindy’s grin is way too wide, Marilyn Monroe’s . . . well, you get the picture.

But a caricature would never pass for a photograph. If you were to take your driver’s license and replace the photo with a caricature, the police officer pulling you over would either laugh . . . or arrest you.

Placed next to a photograph, a caricature looks like a humorous, or even hideous, distortion of the real thing.

Similarly, caricatures of these tough topics do contain features of the original. One doesn’t have to look too far in the biblical story to find that hell has flames, holy war has fighting, judgment brings us face-to-face with God.

But all we have to do is start asking questions: Where do the flames come from, and what are they doing? Who is doing the fighting, and how are they winning? Why does God judge the world, and what basis does he use for judgment?

Questions like these quickly reveal that our popular caricatures are like cartoons: good for us to laugh at, but not to live by.

KW: These topics often seem abstract or distant to us. When you say “live by,” do you find them practical for life today?

JB: Yes, we often think of these matters as more relevant to a fairy-tale world of dragons and monsters, kings and magic trees, fiery furnaces and epic battles. Fairy tales are fun but for another world, right?

In the book, however, I try and demonstrate how these topics are much more at home in our everyday world than we might think. Our world is torn apart by the destructive power of hell today, breaking at the seams and longing for God’s redemption. Our empires rage upon the earth, seeking to rule without God, and people around the world are crying out for God’s kingdom to come, longing for worship rather than autonomy, justice rather than rebellion, communion rather than independence.

In the book, we relate these topics to issues as wide-ranging as sex trafficking and genocide, American democracy and Third World dictatorships, modern suburbs and social media. We travel to places as diverse as Nigeria, China, and my hometown of Portland, Oregon; from Boston high-rises and the heights of the global economy to Brazilian cardboard shanties and displaced slums in the developing world.

We explore the cultural longings embodied in our fairy tales and the historical longings embodied in our war stories. We have respectful conversations with Buddhism, Islam, and atheism. We visit history from World War II to the European colonization of the Southern Hemisphere to the ancient Roman Empire.

And on the way, we deal with pedophile priests, cancer surgeries, pub rockers, home makeovers, and unruly wedding crashers.

Buckle your seatbelt; we’re in for a ride.

KW: What is your biggest hope for those who read this book?

JB: That we can reclaim together a greater confidence in the goodness of God.

The central theme and driving message of the book is that God is good. Not just a little bit good. Not just partially good. Not just sometimes good and sometimes not. But extravagantly, mercifully, gloriously, better-than-we-can-ask-or-imagine good.

There is a refrain one can often hear in churches that proclaims loudly and boldly, “God is good—all the time!” That is the refrain of the book.

Even in the tough topics—perhaps especially in the tough topics—all the time, God is good.

You can check out the book trailer here.

Before the Revolution

I love this quote by the late theologian Richard Niebuhr.

“Institutions can never conserve without betraying the movements from which they proceed. The institution is static, whereas its parent movement has been dynamic; it confines men within its limits, while the movement had liberated them from the bondage of institutions; it looks to the past, [although] the movement had pointed forward. Though in content the institution resembles the dynamic epoch whence it proceeded, in spirit it is like the [state] before the revolution. So the Christian church, after the early period, often seemed more closely related in attitude to the Jewish synagogue and the Roman state than to the age of Christ and his apostles; its creed was often more like a system of philosophy than like the living gospel.” H. Richard Niebuhr

One of the constant struggles I have with Antioch and Kilns College is the tension between creating an effective and efficient structure on the business side and keeping the raw energy and loose vibe of the movement side.

If these endeavors ever stall out and settle into only institutional frameworks, I don’t want to be involved.

If the Spirit of God is moving and people are being changed and influenced there has to be an element of spontaneity, randomness, big thinking and huge risks. The movement leads to passionate people giving their lives and time away as volunteers simply because they see God’s hand at work.

May the church today be less “like a system of philosophy than like the living gospel.”

What It Feels Like When You’re Drowning (A Message on Psalm 27)

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting malicious accusations.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

What It Feels Like When You’re Drowning (A Message on Psalm 27) from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

Reggie Williams on Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus

Reggie Williams is an Assistant Professor of Christianity at McCormick Theological Seminary, in Chicago, Illinois. His research consists of analysis of the intermingling of race and religion from the modern colonial period to the Harlem Renaissance. Particularly, Christology within the Harlem Renaissance literary movement yields evidence of a prophetic Christianity that can guide peaceful resistance of oppression. Williams’ book Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic, recently published by Baylor University Press, examines Bonhoeffer’s exposure to Christianity in the Harlem Renaissance, and it’s effect on Bonhoeffer’s Nazi resistance. He and his wife Stacy Williams are the parents of a son, Darion (15yrs), and a daughter, Simone (13yrs).

KW: How did your interest in this topic first develop?

RW: I first became interested in this topic while I was a PhD student of Glen Stassen’s. Glen argued that Christianity in America suffers from a problem of reducing the way of Jesus to thin principles (like personal responsibility, modesty, humility, etc…), which can be inserted into any ideology and turn Jesus into divine support for harmful ideologies. Glen saw that the slave trade in America did exactly that with Jesus, and whole traditions of Christianity in America continue to suffer from the effects of thinning Jesus down in order to see American race-based slavery as a legitimate Christian practice. That is an American injustice that we’ve not yet recovered from. But, there are other American traditions of Jesus that have not suffered from the need to make Jesus accommodate practices of domination. African American traditions of Jesus were born in the heat of domination, and tend to center on Jesus with more attention to concrete commandments (rather than abstract ideals) and social expectations. For Glen, Bonhoeffer’s experience in Harlem demonstrates the power of that historical reality; Jesus appropriated for domination and authoritarianism in Germany meeting Jesus identified with the marginalized and oppressed in Harlem, resulting in a transformative effect upon Bonhoeffer’s Christian identity. Glen introduced the story to me, and I took it from there.

KW: Can you compare/contrast Bonhoeffer’s beliefs and practice before and after his experience with black Christianity and the Harlem Renaissance?

RW: Years after his return from his time in Harlem, Bonhoeffer claimed that during his student years, (which scholars interpret as ending upon his return from New York in the summer of 1931) he wasn’t really a Christian, yet. In his words, he was arrogant, uninterested in the Bible, or in prayer. He didn’t attend church much, but in New York, he became a lay leader at Abyssinian Baptist Church. Upon his return to Germany, he continued to take church attendance very seriously, and he was now making use of the Bible, interpreting scripture as relevant for daily Christian living. Upon his return to Germany, Bonhoeffer began talking about racism, and “ethnic pride” as sin. Bonhoeffer recognized the Nazi race language as the German equivalent of American white supremacy after Harlem where he learned that white supremacy is a Christian problem.

KW: Can you briefly summarize how you think this affected Bonhoeffer’s work against the Nazi regime in Germany?

RW: After New York, Bonhoeffer was familiar with an African American tradition of Jesus that associated Jesus with suffering humanity, rather than with the powerful and the elite. Within an African American Christian worldview, Christian faithfulness was re-calibrated for Bonhoeffer, from the perspective of the marginalized, in whom he came to recognize Jesus hidden in the world in suffering and shame. By positioning himself as a white German man, next to black Christians in America, Bonhoeffer was enabled to interrogate Christian identity and Christian faithfulness in a way that called into question his formation as a white man, and consequently in Germany, he was equipped to do the same self reflection as a German Aryan Christian in relationship to Jewish people.

KW: Why do you think this aspect of Bonhoeffer’s experience hasn’t been explored significantly before? 

RW: Well, first, I think matters like Harlem, race, black theology and church life have been an enigma for many white theologians. The theological implications of race are legion and they are perplexing. Second, only in recent years have Bonhoeffer scholars, in America and in Germany begun to give Bonhoeffer’s study time in Harlem any serious attention. Many years ago, one Bonhoeffer scholar by the name of Ruth Zerner wrote an article that claimed Harlem was influential for Bonhoeffer’s theological development. Bonhoeffer wrote to his best friend Eberhardt Bethge after he was imprisoned by the Nazis that he hadn’t changed much in his life except under the influence of his father’s personality, and after his first trip abroad. Zerner made a convincing case that he was referring to his trip to America as a post-doctoral student in 1930-31 when he mentioned his first trip abroad. Other scholars have begun to follow Zerner’s interpretive lead about Bonhoeffer’s transformative trip abroad, but they had to swim against the tide of opinion that was still arguing that Bonhoeffer was referring to an earlier trip to Rome and Africa that he took with an older brother. In all of this debate stands the difficulty of interpreting the impact of theology on our Christian identity, and Christian social interaction. Race is a complicating source of that interaction, and it has been missed precisely because it has not been respected or understood. Yet, we cannot really discern all that was going on with Bonhoeffer’s advocacy for the Jews in Germany without attention to the theological implications of race.

KW: Having studied Bonhoeffer so deeply, what do you think he would say about his rising popularity and exposure in America today?

RW: I’m sure Bonhoeffer would be shocked by his popularity. When the Nazi government arrested him in 1943, he was not a very popular person in Germany. The Confessing Church movement that had been his outlet of theological resistance to the Nazis was no longer in existence by the time of his arrest. Large numbers of the confessing church membership succumbed to Nazi demands that they show loyalty to the Nazi government by swearing allegiance to the Führer.  In that process Bonhoeffer was pushed out and to the margins of the community of his colleagues, nearly alone in his Christian opposition. Today many regard him as a hero, but in his day, he was just a young radical professor/pastor, struggling to encourage faithfulness to Christ among his colleagues. I’m sure he’d want the same faithfulness for Christians, today. I’m also sure that he’d be surprised by the many different interpretations of his radical Christian claims, and his international acclaim.

Bonhoeffer was not one who sought the limelight. He was instead one who preferred humble solidarity with other Christians within community. The urge to follow a charismatic leader was not one that he respected. Life within Christian community as the practice of submission to the will of God who is present in Christ, was Christianity for Bonhoeffer.

KW: What is your hope for those who read this book? Is there a practical application for everyday Christians?

RW: I read Bonhoeffer as one who helps us to ask important questions about Christian identity and identity formation. Our understanding of what it means to be human is tethered to notions of ideal humanity, religion and ideal community. These themes of ideal humanity and ideal community have calibrated Christianity to correspond with harmful ideologies that inform our collective understanding of race. Bonhoeffer helps us to interrogate the harmful connection between ideal humanity and ideal community as people who seek to live in the real world, in faithfulness to the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. We really cannot do theological education, or Christianity, well in America without paying attention to the formation of our identity as human and Christian. I hope that readers will see the kind of work that Bonhoeffer had to engage in order to advocate for people pushed to the margins of society by the dream of an ideal community.

Disciplemaking 101: Two Words

Guest Post by Ed Underwood

This is Part 2 of a 2 Part Series

In the last post I wrote about four truths you need to know before you start disciplemaking–four truths I wish I’d know before I started, myself! In this post, I’d like to share two words that should guide your discipleship activity.

1. Relationship. Jesus’ invitation to discipleship is an invitation to relationship with him and his people. He invited his disciples to follow him by simply being with him. That’s the simple but dramatic scene of Mark 3:13-14: “Now Jesus went up the mountain and called for those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve (whom he named apostles), so that they could be with him and he could send them….”

Without relationship discipleship seems like teaching cold truths about a warm Savior. Truths about the Christian life, about Christ, about God, about the Bible. But what is Christianity about? What is the Bible about? What is eternal life about? Eternal life is receiving the life of God and sharing that life with Him and his people forever. It’s all about relationship. After all, Christianity is indeed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Relationship integrates biblical truth. Every doctrine, every story, every truth is designed to draw us into a closer relationship with Christ and others. So each lesson moves the students that way—closer to Christ and others.

2. Grace. Consider what discipleship involves! When Paul defended his ministry before King Agrippa he recounts exactly what Jesus told him to do in Acts 26:15-20. Here’s my paraphrase: On the basis who I am and what I have called you to do, I will protect and empower you as I use you to open the eyes of those who believe in Me so that they are delivered form darkness, rescued from the power of Satan, receive forgiveness and an inheritance as they follow Me.

The goal is remarkable—to draw your friends into a closer relationship with the Lord Jesus. More than remarkable, your goal is supernatural! You cannot do this on your own.  The only way you will reach your goal is the same way you received eternal life and grew in your Christian life—by grace. Only God’s Spirit can move a heart closer to Christ.

Grace stimulates Christian growth. Every sin forsaken, every step of obedience, every truth grasped, every attitude changed, every hurt healed is the result of God’s grace. So each move closer to Christ has to happen in this way—by grace, through faith. Spiritual growth requires an atmosphere of grace.

Discipleship isn’t easy or hard … it’s impossible if the Holy Spirit isn’t empowering it. So it’s all about grace …from beginning to end … and the “end” is the moment we meet Jesus.

FOCUS ON RELATIONSHIP; EMPHASIZE GRACE.

You’re going to make a lot of mistakes as a discipler, I know, I’ve made them all.

But if you’ll keep those two words in mind—relationship and grace—you’ll never lose your way.

Global Ebola Crisis: A Praying Global Church

Guest Post by Michael Badriaki

I recently visited Nelson Mandela—Madiba’s—prison cell on Robben Island where he was held during apartheid in South Africa. What a place for anyone to learn about human pain and suffering. I am reminded of Bob Schieffer’s recent interview on “Face of the Nation” with former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. Albright summed up our current condition by saying “the world is a mess.” Madam Secretary is right. Her interview focused on the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and the Gaza and Israel conflict, but the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic in West Africa kept coming to my mind.

Ebola hits close to home, since I have personal experience with its harmful threat. In 2001, Ebola was confirmed in Uganda, which is my home country. I remember the grip of fear, uncertainty and embarrassment that surrounded the outbreak. There was talk of wearing gloves as protective gear during handshakes. I wondered what we could do as the church in Uganda. Was silent prayer enough? If not, then what manner of praying could we do? Was it prayer offered in faith, since prayer involves faith? But faith without works is dead.

During the current Ebola crisis, I have wondered why the global church’s voice has been so quiet, even with a death toll of more than 4,200 lives in West Africa. The global Church’s silence pales in comparison to the attention shown during the 9/11 attacks in New York City where over 3,000 people lost their lives. Why such disparities of response? Could it be another delayed response as it was during the wake of the global HIV/AIDS catastrophe?

Ebola is no stranger to students of history in Uganda. In fact, Uganda has been one of the hardest hit countries by more than one strain of Ebola. However, Ugandan’s health community resiliently determined to combat Ebola even with prayer. In fact, Uganda’s ministry of health proved its capacity and preparation to control and contain Ebola in Uganda.

Yet such hopeful news is lacking in the media’s coverage of the Ebola epidemic. Is it because bad news is profitable? Uganda’s fight against Ebola can provide expertise on how to contain the disease in Africa. Uganda is among the “poor” nations of the world, but this nation’s ability to fend off Ebola showcases why the so called “poor” can, and must, always be part of any leadership and improvement initiative on such matters.

The Christian church and its involvement in “missions” in African countries should consider investing in the care and actions demonstrated in Uganda. There is need to respond to disease crises when they happen, and some Christians have done so. But the global church should prayerfully seek to work with a preventative purpose. Church leaders and congregational members can be best served by a question such as: What are the precursory structural and sinful conditions that contribute to preventable pandemics?

Experts reveal that Ebola is caused by a virus and is a deadly illness that can occur in humans. According to World Health Organization (WHO), “Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids of infected animals. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. Patients are frequently dehydrated and require oral rehydration with solutions containing electrolytes or intravenous fluids.”

The current Ebola crisis is the “worst Ebola outbreak in history and is expected to continue till the end of the year.” It can be easy to compartmentalize the deadly stories told in the media about the Ebola outbreak or simply leave it to the experts to handle. But chronic infections are shaped by more than mere biology. They are also shaped by social forces well beyond the control of patients and their families.

Human suffering is not the problem of a few; it impacts all. We cannot afford an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. The global church cannot allow such deliberate apathy; otherwise the world-wide church continues to turn its back on patients and their families. And that is the antithesis of Jesus Christ who proclaimed, “… I was sick and you looked after me …” (Matt 25:36). The redeemer of the world desires compassion and action for those who are ill.

Local and global Christians can care for the sick through a prayerful approach to potential and actual epidemics. The global church has an opportunity to serve people who are sick and dying of Ebola. Yet, how does one pray and learn from this crisis?

Many people have heard about the American missionaries who were evacuated because they were infected with Ebola. But what about the people in the African countries who are impacted by Ebola? Has the noise from apathy hampered the attitude of empathy? Does God listen to the prayers of people afflicted by Ebola? What are the conditions of the little children and their families caught up in the storm? When will the epidemic’s storm end?

For the two American missionaries, the Ebola storm was defeated on its arrival into the United States. The fortunate missionaries were cared for at Emory University Hospital and Nebraska Medical Center. Based on the recovery of both American missionaries, people around the world, whether religious or not, now know that it is possible to contain Ebola. We learn that Ebola does not have to go on a bloody, uncontrolled rampage. Amazingly, prior to the recent missionary Ebola patients in America, according to Dr. Bruce Ribner, “… a patient with Ebola virus infection has never been cared for in an institution in the United States.”

Dr. Bruce Ribner, director of infectious diseases at Emory University Hospital says, “… the reason Emory was chosen is because it’s one of the four institutions in the United States capable of handling patients of this nature.” Dr. Ribner also provides non-clinical clues, namely, the presence of institutions that function with strong health systems. Effective leaders build effective institutions. The lack of such institutions and proper health systems in the countries impacted by the Ebola epidemic is part and parcel of the health crisis and structural violence. Other issues are lack of leadership, infrastructure, management, economic factors, conflict, and poor policies.

What part do structural conditions play in this crisis? Emory University Hospital, Nebraska Medical Center, and Uganda’s Ministry of Health provide some answers since these institutions have demonstrated a capacity to stop Ebola more than all the affected Western African countries combined. Structural problems including leadership issues are complex, but these are the places where attention needs to be given.

So what can the global church do? Prayer is a solid place to start, since it is an indispensable practice in the human experience. However, prayer cannot be the “sit down and do nothing” approach. Churches should offer prayers in faith, work to identify and establish mutual collaboration with credible leaders, and invest in viable ventures for medical centers around the world. These are just some of the ways the Church can engage this global crisis.

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