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Remember What You Saw

[Partially adapted from Chapter 7 in Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things]

In the spring of 1963, civil rights protestors in Birmingham, Alabama, sought to end Jim Crow laws by participating in mass sit-ins and marches. The government’s response included tear gas, arresting children still in high school, and—captured in iconic imagery that is now part of our nation’s psyche—deploying dogs and water cannons against peaceful demonstrators. Opinion among formerly disinterested members of the public, in the South and across the nation, began to shift as newspapers and televisions showed images of men, women, and even children being attacked unjustly.

Neutrality or ambivalence is harder to sustain in the face of such evocative images of suffering. When our empathy is engaged, our empathy can move us toward justice.

Empathy is a part of the Imago Dei in us, the Image of God in which we were created and which all humans possess. Experiencing empathy is a characteristic of the God who created us and allows us to be social, relational, and caring human beings. The gift of empathy is the capacity that allows us to be in relationships that include the physical but also move into the spaces of emotion and spirit. The ability to empathize is what makes it possible for us to truly love one another. If God had not designed us to understand the felt reality of others, it would be impossible to live justly on behalf of others. Without entering into another’s story, we are left to help from the outside, relying on our best intentions, which is often a recipe for doing more harm than good.

In Romans, Paul talked about God’s Spirit living within us, and how the Spirit understands, feels, and knows our struggles and pain even better than we do. That’s a concise definition of empathy: to enter into and share another’s feelings.

The word empathy has roots in the Greek word empatheia (passion, state of emotion), which comes from en (in) and pathos (feeling). Whenever we enter into another’s feelings, something important happens: we value that person more. The converse is true: if we cannot participate in the unique feelings and life experiences of another person, we tend to devalue that individual, viewing him or her dispassionately or as an object.

When we slow down, engage, and are able to enter into the pain and suffering of other people, justice can follow. That often occurs when our empathy is kindled.

Certain images are so iconic, so emotive, that they kindle deep empathy and move us outside ourselves. Eighteenth-century abolitionists made effective use of empathy. A small, emblematic image of a kneeling and shackled slave was created in 1787, ringed by the now-famous question, “Am I not a man and a brother?” This powerful combination of image and text was stamped into pottery, jewelry, and medallions. The logo was designed to help people make the connection between goods they consumed, such as sugar, and the unjust system that produced those goods. As this logo and other empathetic propaganda from the abolitionist movement became more widespread, collectively they began to move public sentiment in favor of the abolitionists’ cause.

Empathy was what carried such people out of the sphere of their own concerns and into an engaged concern for their fellow humans.

Empathy enables us to enter into and share another person’s grief and sorrows, and ultimately stand with the sufferer in his or her need—just as God shares our grief and sorrows. Isaiah 53:4 prophesied of Jesus, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering.”

Having placed the capacity for empathy in humanity as a part of His image, God calls on His people to activate it. We see it often in the Old Testament, especially when God commanded the Israelites to look after the foreigner or the alien—what we might call the immigrant. When God asks His people to care for the foreigner or the alien, He often gives a specific reason such as in these verses:

Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the
cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves
in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That
is why I command you to do this. (Deuteronomy 24:17–18)

God knows that remembrance of Israel’s own past will provide a way to empathize with vulnerable people in their own land. God legislated rules for the nation of Israel to ensure that such vulnerable and dislocated people were treated fairly and had their needs met, based on Israel’s own empathetic understanding of what it is like to live on the margins of a society.

The repeated theme of remembrance was vital.

There is a great deal of empathy in the world. Some have characterized this generation as a “social justice generation,” and in many ways it is easier than ever before to empathize with the victims of injustice in the world.

We need to be cautious of a potential downside, however: empathy can be something we settle for. Empathy is not the goal; it simply carries us into actions that are just. Empathy, when used well, leads to unity and partnership while merely feeling another’s pain can result in paternalistic pity. When that feeling motivates us to extend a hand in friendship, rather than extending handouts, empathy is acting as a means toward the proper end of justice and shalom.

The danger is that we view empathy as the end of our engagement with injustice, rather than the entry point. We can believe that simply feeling another’s pain is the extent of our call.

The connection between empathy and ongoing action is clear in the life of Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Prize–winning author Elie Wiesel. Wiesel has spent his life fighting for justice, writing more than fifty books, speaking, and conducting leadership camps for students designed to break down the ethnic or national barriers that exist between them.

Wiesel has been instrumental in galvanizing the message of genocide prevention around the act of remembering. He believes that some things that happened cannot be allowed to happen again; we cannot stand by and watch. “My goal is always the same,” he has said: “to invoke the past as a shield for the future.”

This is made explicit in a striking piece of art embedded in the stone exterior of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The bold text implores,

Think about what you saw
(While smaller lines of text spell out our responsibility to remember.)
The next time you witness hatred
The next time you see injustice
The next time you hear about genocide . . .
Think about what you saw

Wiesel understands the importance of empathy as we address injustices in all their forms. There is no finish line where we can stop thinking about others, stop empathizing with others.

Empathy is an engine that powers justice. It is ingrained in us because God placed it there, and it is designed to help carry justice forward.

Jesus at the Center

Justice is About Reality

Guest Post by Sam Adams

Reality. Justice is about reality: on the ground, gritty, bloody, tear-stained reality. The work of justice is determined by the concrete realness of bodies and violence; it is determined by the reality of social structures, communities, governments, and institutions. Theology, on the other hand, can be abstract, spiritual, theoretical, and intellectual; theological work tends to be determined by the abstraction of ideas constrained only by the theologian’s familiarity with arguments contained in two millennia worth of books. But theology, too, is about reality.

How might these two realities converge?

This is the challenge that I forced myself to confront this past fall as I offered a course for the Kilns College graduate program titled “Systematic Theology for Social Justice.” How do you teach theology and social justice together?

My attempt to do this was grounded in one core rejection: The relationship between the two, theology and justice, is not analogous to the relationship between principles and their application. Theology does not give us abstract principles that need to be applied in concrete situations.

The positive articulation of this is grounded in the faithful affirmation of classical orthodox Christology: God reveals himself to us in the person of Jesus, fully human, fully divine. Theology, in this view, is not the abstraction of principles and propositions from the biblical source, but rather the thoughtful articulation of the reality that confronts us in the event of God revealing himself to us as Jesus of Nazareth.

One theologian who articulates this with profound gravity precisely because he was a theologian for whom the reality of theology was inseparable from the concrete demand for social justice, is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In the final years of his life, while he was actively working for the the resistance movement in Germany during the height of World War II, he wrote what would become his last book, a collection of manuscripts he simply called, Ethics. It is a work grounded in the reality of the incarnation.

Bonhoeffer writes: “What matters is participating in the reality of God and the world in Jesus Christ today, and doing so in such a way that I never experience the reality of God without the reality of the world, nor the reality of the world without the reality of God.” [1]

What is at stake in Bonhoeffer’s Ethics is reality. Both the reality of the world and the reality of God are disclosed in the singular reality of the incarnation, where God becomes human without ceasing to be God.

With respect to our concern for justice, we might say that theology without justice is not a realistic theology. And, conversely, justice without theology misses the essential point that reality has been disclosed in Jesus Christ. Reality is not revealed in a theory, an ideology, or a set of principles. Rather, reality is revealed in a person who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Theology and social justice are not to be held apart but brought together, united, as they actually are, in the reality of the One who calls us to follow him. Theology and social justice, therefore, look like discipleship. Teaching them together, therefore, must always begin with the question, again from Bonhoeffer, addressed to Jesus, “Who are you?” [2] The answer will be found wherever he answers, in the classroom, in the world.


[1] Bonhoeffer, “Lectures on Christology” in Berlin: 1932-1933, DBW Vol. 12 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 302.
[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics. Transl. by Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W. Stott. Edited by Clifford J. Green, Vol. 6 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 55.

Dorothy Sayers on Literature (and the Church?)

Check out what Dorothy Sayers, a contemporary of C.S. Lewis, writes about the diminishing appreciation for literature in her time.

I couldn’t help thinking that the same line of reasoning could be applied to the decline of appreciation for “church” within the Christian community in our time.  It is amazing how we ride the tides of fashion.

What do you think?

Now, when a whole department of literature is thus unanimously and, as it were, automatically condemned for the mere crime of being itself, and excluded from serious critical attention, it is pretty safe to say that we have simply forgotten how to judge it.  It is extremely improbable, to say the least of it, that a genre that, in the past, produced such acknowledged masterpieces as The Divine ComedyThe Faerie Queene, and The Pilgrim’s Progress, is altogether worthless.  Neither is it probable that a genre that enjoyed so many hundreds of years of popularity corresponds to no fundamental need in human nature.  It is much more likely that we have fallen out of touch with it, so that we no longer remember how this particular literary game should be played—what its intention is or what its rules are—and thus are in no position to tell whether it is well or badly done, or what it is all about.  We are in the same situation as an American, who, not knowing the first thing about a cricket, is planked down in the pavilion at the Lord’s to watch a test match.  The only impression he is likely to carry away is that this is a slow and formal game, and not in the least like baseball.  He will have only a vague notion of what everybody is so earnestly trying to do, and the finer points of the play will escape him altogether.

Organizational Spotlight: The SOLD Project

Photo Credit: The SOLD Project

Sex Trafficking has become commonplace language in society. We all believe in being modern day abolitionists, drawing attention to the evils of slavery and drawing red X’s on our hands to bring awareness, but how do we really get underneath sexual exploitation? How do we intervene in the life of children before they are pulled into the sex industry at twelve or thirteen? How do we help villages and poor families protect their kids rather than require them to sell themselves in order to feed their families? How do we address the gender inequalities and deficient views of human dignity that many girls grow up with?

One of the primary answers to the above questions is: prevention.

Prevention is the long, slow, hard to measure aspect of fighting sex slavery. It is educating, equipping and loving girls and communities to prevent the sexual exploitation from happening in the first place. It is shooting the water at the base of the fire of this problem rather than just fighting the flames. While brothel raids and aftercare for victims are essential, we have to begin thinking more deeply about the roots of sex crime and exploitation and how to prevent it.

It is along these lines that the work being done by The SOLD Project in Thailand is essential for both the girls in northern Thailand as well as the justice community that is learning to go deep, love long and build the relationships necessary to truly make a lasting difference. I’m honored to sit on the board for this great organization and had the joy of seeing their work first hand in January. I’d encourage you to learn more about their work: here’s a recent interview I did with their President, Rachel Goble, and below is one of the videos highlighting their work in Thailand.

Travel With Us :: A Short Visual Poem from The SOLD Project on Vimeo.

Incarnational Justice in Honduras

Guest Post by Rick Gerhardt

During a recent long weekend, Ken and I had the privilege of being introduced to a wonderful ministry working hard and successfully on behalf of justice in the beautiful but imperiled country of Honduras. I am still processing what we saw, but thought it would be good to shine a bit of a spotlight on this amazing but little-known work.

We flew into the hill-encircled single airstrip of Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital and largest city. We came at the invitation of the Association for a More Just Society (AJS) for an intimate time of learning and sharing. We listened to Honduran and American staff members, each of whom provided us with different perspectives on the variety of social injustices AJS is addressing in this community and nation. We also had the honor of meeting some of the many men, women, and children whose lives have been transformed by the systemic changes already wrought by AJS and the diverse organizations and people they have mobilized for the common good of the Honduran people.

For example, we sat in the very modest home of a woman who for the first time in her long life has an official title proclaiming that home—and the land on which it sits—as her rightful property. Her resulting security, and that of many others like her, is the result of years of advocacy, legislation, education, relationship-building, and just plain hard work on the part of committed followers of Christ who have felt His call to live justly.

We learned how AJS has spearheaded a campaign to address systemic corruption in the national education system, an effort so successful that other countries are now seeking to emulate it. We heard about widespread corruption in the national system for distributing pharmaceuticals and how it, too, is being rooted out by people united in their unwillingness to continue to tolerate such injustice.

Most powerful, however, was the story of the barrio that five years ago had one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In a difficult process of hiring good policemen and honest lawyers and then overcoming years of distrust between them and those citizens who might be induced to serve as witnesses to these horrible crimes, that neighborhood has seen a drastic decrease in the homicide rate.

And this success came from the decision—on the part of AJS’s American founders (and our hosts, Kurt Ver Beek and Jo Ann Van Engen)—to follow Jesus’ incarnational example. Kurt and Jo Ann chose to live in this most dangerous of barrios to build relationships and better empathize with the people whose suffering and injustices they were determined to help alleviate.

Another highlight of the weekend was the opportunity to spend time with Nicholas Walterstorff. He was along to offer us daily teaching on the theological basis for justice (while his wife, Claire, led us each morning in devotional readings). The conversation was rich and deep, and friendships developed quickly.

The most striking thing about the various aspects of AJS’s ministries to which we were exposed was this… AJS is not satisfied with acts of benevolence toward the victims of injustice (as loving and important as such benevolence is). Instead, the founders and staff of AJS feel themselves to be called by Christ to address the root causes of injustice in Honduras, even if those responsible for the injustice and corruption are powerful leaders of either the government or organized crime. In this regard, I like the adjective that precedes the word “Christian” in the mission statement of AJS’s U.S. arm:

Association for a More Just Society is a Christian, nonprofit organization founded in 2000, striving to be brave Christians dedicated to making Honduras’ system of laws and government work properly to do justice for the poor; and inspiring North American Christians to follow God’s call to do justice.

I wholeheartedly commend this ministry and the outstanding work it is doing; I hope you’ll check it out and pray about how you might support it or learn more about it.

Velvet on the Inside

Lately, I’ve been noticing that most of the things that God created for believers are pretty unattractive on the outside.

Think about it. Baptism is really really awkward. Reading the Bible never seems that important or fun. Church often feels stale or sticky. Solitude is always down on our list. Fasting, by definition, is the opposite of what we want. Choosing to build community with imperfect people and their messy lives is a call to suffer.

On the face of it, the things God commands us to do have very little that appeals to the eye. These disciplines don’t speak readily to our desires – our need for comfort, pleasure, affirmation, meaning, significance or sense of fashion.

The irony, however, is that the velvet is on the inside. The awkward baptism is followed by the most amazing smile of satisfaction. The boring routine of scripture reading ignites our minds and becomes a channel by which God speaks to our hearts. Church, as uncool as it is, is what we were made for. Those that invest themselves in the body of Christ quickly learn that they are more themselves when committed to a ministry than when they are not. Solitude teaches us to slow down, listen and enjoy the basics of life. I have found few people who end up regretting spending time alone with God in nature. Fasting is one of the few things that creates humility and reliance on God. And, lastly, however messy people are, we can’t grow, be healed or mature in isolation from other people. We require community.

The blessing follows the commitment.

The rewards are for those who obey.

With faith, things might look unattractive on the outside, but the velvet is on the inside.

Poverty is Not a Project: An Interview with Leroy Barber

Leroy Barber is Global Executive Director of Word Made Flesh, an international organization that works among the most vulnerable of the world’s poor.  Rev. Barber is on the boards of Mission Year and the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). He is the author of New Neighbor: An Invitation to Join Beloved Community, and Everyday Missions: How Ordinary People Can Change the World and was also chosen as a contributor to Tending to Eden, and the groundbreaking book UnChristian: What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters.  His third book, Red, Yellow, Black and White: Who’s More Precious In His Sight?, will be published soon.  Leroy is married to Donna and together they have five children.

KW: Tell us about your new role as Executive Director with Word Made Flesh (WMF)? What is the mission and vision and what are the most rewarding and challenging aspects?

LB: WMF is a Global community called to live and serve among the most vulnerable of the world’s poor. I believe everyone is valuable and should be celebrated, as God’s creation. The problem is that there are billions of vulnerable people in our world who don’t get treated with dignity and respect. My role is to be a voice for those whose voices are not always heard. That’s done in many ways, speaking, writing, being a good neighbor, advocating, raising funds, and proclaiming the love of Jesus. The role is busy and complex but worth it in so many ways.

KW: How would you define poverty and in what ways is it broader than just an economic distinction?

LB: I have a hard time with defining poverty because in one sense it can be seen as economic. There are so many people that lack basic things like food, water, and decent clothing. On the other hand, some people who lack these things are rich in relationships, family, and faith. Poverty is a bit deceptive in this way. We live in a world where because a person doesn’t have money they are assumed to be less. We have a flawed sense of things when we give people platform only because they have money. Having money doesn’t qualify you to lead or teach.

KW: How does the call and response traditions in the African American church and the deep tradition of music relate to an understanding and theology of the human condition and suffering?

LB: These traditions always invite participation. It was brought from Africa and continues to be a wonderful part of AA tradition. To me it invites celebration and gives voice to pain. I am not a musician, but Gospel, jazz, the blues, R&B, and hip hop are all ways for people whose voices are limited to creatively speak and to celebrate. For hundreds of years, I believe it has helped a race of people to contextualize their theology, lament, and to create space and access into culture.

KW: What is the American church missing in their conversations of and response to poverty in America?

LB: That’s easy, relationships. We don’t know each other because of hundreds of years of segregation. We are not neighbors and therefore poverty consistently keeps its grip. If you don’t know a so-called ”poor” person your responsibility will only go so far.

KW: Why do you think some Americans still struggle to grasp the importance of diversity in our culture and churches?

LB: Unfortunately so much of this is based in race, and we still have a pretty big race problem in America. We are a country filled with enormous, radicalized institutions of which, I believe, the church is one.

KW: What advice would you give to young men and women wanting to involve themselves in justice work or ministry to the poor or marginalized?

LB: This is not project based it is about people and relationships and relationships take time. If you are not willing to put in the time and sacrifice you may be disappointed at some point.

People have stories, names, and families, you should get to know those before doing some “work.”

Everywhere I go there seems to be some issue around race. It is more prevalent in some places but it seems to be there. Don’t ignore these. Listen, learn and lament.

This is Gods work. The moment you think you are bigger than the work, is the beginning of trouble. Many have fallen because they get bigger than any person should be. Don’t become a sad story.

Any Fool

Any fool can criticize,
condemn and complain -
and most fools do.

Benjamin Franklin

Pursuing Justice Class at Western Seminary

Does the biblical picture of Justice intrigue you? Ready to dig in and get it figured out so you can live it? Gerry Breshears and I will be teaching Pursuing Justice, a one week intensive course at Western Seminary in Portland, OR this summer in the week of July 7-11. You will work through the biblical foundations, the theological dimensions, and the life characterized by righteousness and justice. Contact Gerry at GBreshears@westernseminary.edu or an enrollment counselor.

Truth

Christians love to talk about truth. It’s one of the ways in which we defend our dogmatism, our focus on doctrine and how we are right while others are wrong.

I love truth too. I believe sound doctrine is important and I also believe bad ideas should suffer and better ideas should win.

Truth, however, is more than a weapon in our hands and it’s more than the cold “truths” we write into essays and doctrinal statements.

Much of truth isn’t so much in what is externally real, but to what degree we live or embody truth… how we incarnate truth in our lives.

This is something Kierkegaard reminds us. For Kierkegaard, truths we hold are only really true if we do more than say we believe them, but incarnate them, live them out and breath them as well.

What I believe is more than what I say, it’s also what shows up in my life.

Truth is certainly in propositions and logical theorems, but it is also in how authentically I relate to God and others. Truth is certainly objective, but it is also in how I manifest it in my everyday life – the subjectivity of my life. Truth is certainly about tangible things in front of me and holding correct beliefs, but it is also about my hopes, fears and desires.

Truth isn’t confined to a box.

Truth is reality.

Truth is objective and subjective.

Truth is logical and relational.

Truth is now and truth is later.

Truth is a big word.

“The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about, nor seen but, if one will, are to be lived.” - Søren Kierkegaard

Knowing God: Static Art and Dynamic Art

[Partially adapted from Chapter 2 in Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things]

At a gut level, many of us want to know God. We want to know who He is, what His plan is, and what He wants of us. We weary ourselves with countless activities in pursuit of Him: Sunday school, worship services, Bible studies, prayer meetings, evangelism, personal purity . . . and the list goes on.

I remember reading J. I. Packer’s classic Knowing God back in college. This amazing work taught me much of what I know about God, but as good as it is, Packer would never want me to substitute his book for a life lived in relationship with God. Just as we would never claim to know someone personally after reading his or her biography, we must not mistakenly assume we know God because we learn about Him in church or from books. To truly know someone, we need to spend time with that person, participating in his or her world.

God is among the vulnerable, seeking their good. When we join Him in this, we begin to know Him better because we are in relationship with Him and His children. As Bonhoeffer pointed out, there’s a connection between justice and our ability to know God.

The distinction between static and dynamic art is a helpful way to see the difference between knowing about someone and knowledge that comes from being in relationship. A painting is static. It can tell us many things about the painter, but we can never claim to completely know the painter in a personal way simply from viewing the art. However, when we participate with an artist in the creation of the art, we come much closer to a personal relationship.

For example, imagine a choir, an orchestra, and a conductor—this type of art changes, develops, and grows in response to relationship. As individuals contribute to dynamic art, the art takes on collaborative life. Beethoven’s famous Fifth Symphony had really only begun when he finished inking the score, for then it was ready to be brought to life. Even now, more than two hundred years later, we are still enraptured by Beethoven’s musical magic as his artistic vision is brought into being by those who participate in it.

The musician who carefully follows the score and pays close attention to the direction of the conductor will be in closer communication with the original artist. Participation with the artist and knowledge of the artist are somehow connected—and this is true of God as well.

God’s creation involves both static art and dynamic art. Part of His static art is reflected in the skies and in nature. We are familiar with verses that speak of how we know God through such art.

The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all peoples see his glory. (Psalm 97:6)

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge. (Psalm 19:1–2)

The heavens—the sun, the moon, and the stars—literally communicate something about God. They display knowledge. The heavenly bodies are visible, tangible evidence of who God is. We know God through His created order that exists in the skies and shows in the sunrise, sunset, and colors of the rainbow.

However, God’s static art only tells us part of who God is. We tend to understand the role Scripture reading plays in learning about and knowing God, and many of us understand the connection between prayer and solitude in knowing God, or the connection between purity and an understanding of God’s holiness.

Fewer Christians, however, make the connection between our ethical action toward others—our justice or lack of it—and our knowledge of God. If we gain knowledge of God through His static creation, how much more do we gain through God’s dynamic creation of His people and the symphony of justice He desires to play in and through them?

Just as Psalm 19 shows how we know God through creation, Psalm 9:16 shows how we know God through justice: “The Lord is known by his acts of justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.”

We know people through their actions, whether just or unjust. As philosopher Paul Moser has written, “[the apostle] John regards a filial attitude of loving obedience toward God as necessary and sufficient for properly knowing God.” Static art helps us know by seeing; dynamic art helps us know by seeing and participating.

When God asks us to know Him in this dynamic sense, He is, in effect, saying, Know Me by knowing how I bring justice and shalom together in a beautiful, just society. Understand your unique, individual, and active part in restoring what I intended.

God’s dynamic art is the part of creation that includes people, God’s purposes, and the future—in other words, things not yet fully realized. Dynamic art is the part that involves us in collaboration and relationship. The grand plan, the great orchestration God wants to achieve through his dynamic art, is peace, unity, goodness, and relationship—all to His glory.

Justice, goodness, unity, and grace are all words that describe the harmony God desires—shalom . They are His musical notes, melody, rests, and crescendos—the music He has written for His creation. We are meant to participate in concert, dynamically, with God’s plan. Jesus is giving us the same work to do that He did. We can count on it.

My Light and My Salvation

An Interview with N.T. Wright: Paul, Discipleship, Love & Justice

Tom Wright is one of today’s best known and respected New Testament scholars. Born in 1948, he studied for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and was ordained as Junior Research Fellow and Junior Chaplain at Merton College, Oxford. From 1978 to 1981 he was Fellow and Chaplain at Downing College, Cambridge, and then moved to Montreal as Assistant Professor of New Testament Studies at McGill University. He returned in 1986 to Oxford as University Lecturer in New Testament, and Fellow and Chaplain of Worcester College, Oxford. He became Dean of Lichfield in 1994, and Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey in 2000. Tom has written over thirty books, both at the scholarly level and for a popular audience.

KW: The Washington Post just listed your new book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, as one of the 10 most intriguing religious books of 2013. What intrigued you with the figure of Paul and what about the subject, do you believe, is drawing renewed interest from the public?

NTW: I came to Paul at quite an early age, having already studied Plato and Aristotle; and I found Paul easily their intellectual equal, though he was handling these amazing questions about God, Jesus, Israel, faith and so on. He continues to be an amazingly stimulating thinker, especially when we try to understand the flow of thought in letter after letter rather than just combing him for a few verses on ‘our favourite topics’, which, sadly, some Christian teachers do just as some journalists and broadcasters do! As a witness to this, note the way in which today many who are interested primarily in politics and/or philosophy are turning to Paul as a source of help and insight. I think they often misrepresent him, too, but it shows just how much personal, intellectual and spiritual power and insight is packed into his quite short writings.

KW: What is it that drew you to Paul as a focus area for your research and writing?

NTW: From my student days I found him a compelling and fascinating, though often puzzling, figure. It’s a lifelong fascination now and I don’t expect that to stop! His vision of God, God’s faithfulness, God’s purposes and so on is so much bigger and richer than almost any subsequent Christian thinker has ever managed. In addition, I have always loved ancient history, especially the history of the early Roman empire, and of course Paul fits right into that.

KW: What is one of your favorite things you learned through writing this recent work?

NTW: I was and am very excited about Paul’s view of the Holy Spirit. When he talks about the Spirit ‘leading us’ to our ‘inheritance’, he is evoking the picture of the children of Israel being led by God himself, in the pillar of cloud and fire, to their promised land. This means that Paul has a very, very ‘high’ vision of the Spirit – as Israel’s God himself, in person, guiding his people. I am also very excited by the way in which we can see Paul wrestling not only with his Jewish world and its scriptures but also, by clear implication, with philosophical and political issues that were ‘out there’ at the time. The thing is that for Paul this is all part of the same larger, whole vision of God and God’s purposes. Watching how everything comes together is an intellectual treat of the first order – as well as a spiritual and practical challenge to me personally and to the church…

KW: Did Paul have a vision of social justice?

NTW: Depends what you mean by ‘social justice’ of course. Certainly Paul shares the view of the Old Testament prophets that God will one day flood the world with justice and joy – and that this has begun to be fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s vision, though, is starting small, with actual communities in which reconciliation and justice has to be practiced – like the rich/poor distinction in the Corinthian church, for instance, or the projected reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus. But he clearly believes (Ephesians 3) that communities like this send a signal to the wider world that Jesus is Lord – which is aimed at then the whole world coming into line.

KW: In what ways do Paul’s view of righteousness and justice inform his views of poverty and compassion?

NTW: For Paul ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice’ are the same word, as they were in Hebrew. Paul clearly believes that helping the poor is a central and ongoing part of Christian commitment, precisely because in Jesus Christ God has unveiled and launched his plan for the rescue, redemption and renewal of the whole creation. Justification and justice go very closely together.

KW: How strongly does the Sermon on the Mount critique our contemporary Christian understanding of social ethics? What’s an example from the Sermon on the Mount that we should we hear afresh or in the prophetic manner Jesus intended?

NTW: This is a huge question about which I have written hundreds of pages! Again and again the Sermon on the Mount calls and challenges us to a life of radical discipleship. Note: when Jesus says ‘Blessed are the . . . . merciful, peacmakers’, and so on, he doesn’t just mean that they themselves are blessed. He means that the blessing of God’s kingdom works precisely through those people into the wider world. That is how God’s kingdom comes. That’s one thing to hear afresh. Another is to note that Jesus himself, as the gospel story goes on to its dramatic conclusion, lives out the same message of the Sermon on the Mount: he is the light of the world, he is the salt of the earth, he loves his enemies and gives his life for them, he is lifted up on a hill so that the world can see.

KW: Does the bible envision love of God and love of neighbor as two separate actions or as informing each other? Explain?

NTW: Again, a huge question. If you read 1 John you’ll see that love of God and neighbour are very closely tied together. Partly this is because all humans are made in God’s image, so that when you love another human you are loving someone who is reflecting God himself. Of course there is a distinction but the minute you try to drive a wedge between the two things start to fall apart.

On Matters of Religion Today, Is Everyone from Missouri?

Guest Post by Paul Louis Metzger

No matter where one lives today, it seems like everyone’s from Missouri—the “Show-Me” state. Missourians are often characterized as non-credulous: they are not easily convinced; sufficient evidence is required. When it comes to matters of religion today, many people are increasingly suspicious of religious claims, unless they are backed up by actions. One has to back up words with deeds.

Perhaps the author of James in the New Testament was from Missouri, too. Notice how he talks about the need to show faith backed up by works; otherwise, faith is useless:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (James 2:18-20)

I am especially struck by James’ words in 2:19: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” What’s the difference between the church and the demons in this case? Both believe in God. So, what’s the difference? The demons go so far as to shudder over the truth. In contrast, the church to whom James writes does not shudder over how useless their faith in God’s unity is apart from actions (James 2:18-20). The church then and now needs to unite faith and actions.

In a world where more and more people are from the state of mind called Missouri—the “Show me” state, it is important that Christians not only take to heart Josh McDowell’s apologetic claim that there is evidence that demands the verdict that Jesus is Lord (Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, rev. ed. {Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992}). As I have argued elsewhere, Christians also need to take to heart that the verdict “Jesus is Lord” demands evidence in our lives that he is Lord. (See “How Is Christ’s Church God’s Apologetic?” chapter 5 in Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths {Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012}). In this light, our faith must be backed up by works that demonstrate care for the poor (James 2:1-7) and the orphan and widow in their distress (James 1:27).

The unity of which I write here does not only entail integrity between faith and social action. Such unity entails integrity involving one’s personal life and social action. James writes, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:26-27). Unity of faith that involves caring for orphans and widows in their distress and caring for the purity of our words and personal lives is increasingly important today in the state of mind called Missouri—“Show-Me.” Not only is it important to those increasingly cynical of religion, but also it is always important to the God of justice before whom we stand continually. Perhaps God is from Missouri, too.

I am excited that The Justice Conference Portland will be hosted by New Wine @ Multnomah U. This event is a great opportunity to engage justice themes such as those I’ve raised here. I hope you’ll join us on February 21+22 for The Justice Conference Portland. Here is a short video addressing themes set forth in this blog post and their relation to the conference.

*This post originally appeared on Patheos

Unique Opportunity with Lifelines to Healing

The Lifelines to Healing Campaign is a national effort of the PICO National Network that aims to address the root causes of violence in cities. My friend Pastor Michael McBride is the leader of the campaign and will also be leading a pre-conference session at this The Justice Conference in LA next Friday.

In addition to the pre-conference session, there is also a unique opportunity for a deeper discussion with Pastor Mike and Father Greg Boyle at a dinner on Friday evening at Homeboy Industries. Father Greg Boyle is the Executive Director at Homeboy Industries in LA. Homeboy Industries helps formerly gang involved and the previously incarcerated, by offering hope, training and job skills. Their goal is to help former gang members redirect their lives and become contributing members of their families and our community. It is the largest gang intervention program in the nation and has become a model for other organizations and cities.

The dinner will be a great way to learn more about Lifelines to Healing, Homeboy Industries and how you and your church can respond in practical ways to the issues of mass incarceration and urban violence. Find out more and register here.

*NEW* Kilns College Website

In case you haven’t been there in a while, click on the image below to see the New Kilns College Website.

Dr. John Perkins… on Heresy?

Guest Post by Sam Adams

We had the privilege of hosting Dr. John Perkins at Kilns College this past week. Dr. Perkins is a follower of Jesus whose life has been given in service of justice for the poor, the outsiders, and the abused: those who have been deemed unimportant by our world of comfort and privilege. He shared with us his story and his faith, and he rejoiced in our willingness to engage with and learn from those people who are different from us. We came away from our time with him moved by the sweetness of a life lived in faithful discipleship.

Since his visit last week I have taken the opportunity, together with my students here at Kilns, to explore further some of the issues Dr. Perkins raised and bring them into conversation with material we are discussing and learning in class. Just a couple of days later we were having class at a local restaurant, Jackson’s Corner, discussing Bonhoeffer’s ethics, when the conversation somehow turned to back to Perkins. I’m not sure what the connection was, but, as we often do in that class, we let our discussion veer off in this new direction. Here are some thoughts I had about Perkins’s visit thanks to that conversation.

After dinner on Monday night, one of our graduate students asked Perkins to predict what we would see, twenty years from now, to be the obvious justice issue of our day, an issue we were now missing. His response repeated something he said earlier in his lecture that morning: we ought to be speaking out more against heresy. Heresy? My first thought was, “Huh?!”

I confess, I’m tired of heresy hunters. For many in the church, the work of the gospel is about purifying the ranks of the orthodox and securing our borders against encroaching error, shaming outsiders until they sheepishly join the ranks of the elect. I have a hard time seeing how this has anything to do with the proclamation of good news.

Of course, Perkins’ heresies weren’t the usual heresies. At the top of his list was the prosperity gospel, the idea that the rich are the rich because of the favor of God; or, conversely, the idea that if you are faithful to God he will make you rich. Okay, sure…that’s a heresy. He also mentioned the stupidity (his word) of having to convince Christians that they ought to value the poor and work for reconciliation.

In short, his list of heresies weren’t the usual culprits. We at Kilns can get behind him quite easily on these points. But that still leaves open the question of heresy. How do we determine what is heretical? Who gets to determine orthodoxy and condemn heresy? What authority is in place to make these distinctions? Protestants turn to the Bible, but that raises the question of interpretation: “whose interpretation is the correct interpretation?”

At this point I have two thoughts.

First, we need people who can think graciously along with the gospel and communicate its truths in such a way that right belief is something we bear witness to but never possess. In fact, it is in our being dispossessed that we discover a truth worth living for. To flesh this out I suppose you’ll have to come take one of my classes.

Second, I trust Perkins more than most to tell me what heresy is because of his location with the poor. Why? Because that’s where Jesus says he is: in solidarity with the least of these. This might be an odd argument, but it’s an ‘orthodoxy’ grounded in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. If there’s a ‘position’ that allows us to make strong orthodox claims, it’s a position outside the gates, in the streets, behind bars, and with the broken.

If this is where we learn ‘orthodoxy’ then I agree with Perkins.

*Dr. Perkins comments used with permission

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