Category: UMC


 

Protecting God’s Creation.

Embracing Gospel Justice.

Nurturing Spiritual Fulfillment.


During Lent, our church has been participating in a wonderfully challenging program, Lent 4.5.  The  program is aimed at cultivating hearts and lifestyles of Christian simplicity.   Over the course of the Sundays in Lent, we have (and will) explore topics such as simplicity, consumption, food, water, energy, transportation, and giving and generosity.

We’re asking questions such as: How do we faithfully live in God’s creation?  How do we view and use our limited resources?  Are we being consumed by marketers and advertisers?

The congregation’s response have been beautifully mixed.  Some folks are really digging all the ways we’ve explored caring for creation.  Others aren’t quite on board…yet.  But God is moving in powerful ways…challenging the skeptics and motivating the passionate!

Over the next few days I’ll share some of the videos I’ve made that highlight the weekly themes.

Lent 4.5 is produced by the Passionist Earth and Spirit Center in Louisville, KY.

I admit it.  I am guilty of worship snobbery.  I am a selective worshiper.  A worship elitist.  A liturgical snob.  Give me a well-put together service; a theologically sound, intellectually challenging, and enlightening sermon; and a choir second only to the heavenly chorus.  I am a worshiper who dines on what fancies me the most, often leaving the remainder of the worship palate untouched.

Each week I examine the Duke Divinity School worship schedule to see who is preaching, what choir is singing, and what worship tradition is being celebrated at each service.

My favorite professor is preaching on Tuesday, I notice.  I will be sure to be there.

Oh, the contemporary praise and worship team is leading the Wednesday service.  I’ll plan to watch “Glee” on Tuesday night, and skip worship on Wednesday to catch up on reading.

It’s an Anglican service on Thursday.  I don’t have the time to spare.  But I’ve always wanted to hear the preacher.  Perhaps I can eavesdrop when the preacher steps into the pulpit.

I fear that I am not alone.  When I go into different churches the demographics and homogeneity of various worship services are predictable (if not also stereotypical).    Young people congregate with other young folks at “contemporary” praise-and-worships services.  Those who have always worshipped in a traditional manner gather to worship “traditionally.”  Different styles of worship and worshipers rarely mix, even worshipping in separate buildings simultaneously.

In the name of being “selective” or “efficient” we prioritize one worship style over another.  We believe one preacher (the popular one we like) is more likely to speak God’s Word than the less well-known preacher we’re not willing to give a chance.  We cling to old hymns and dismiss the new choruses because surely goodness comes with age.

Why do we do this?

Of course, we have our preferences for worship, but why do we prioritize?  Or is that the right word?  Do we prioritize or idolize?  Idolization might be more accurate.  It seems we lift up one style of worship above the One who is to be worshipped.  We enter into churches, sanctuaries, chapels, or other holy places seeking something that pleases us.  We use worship as a means to satisfy our own desires.

When this happens worship becomes a commodity no different than the millions of other products we consume throughout our lives.  We shop for a worship service that is comfortable and accommodating to our preferences like we hunt down a pair of blue jeans that fits just right.  We profess allegiance to a worship style the same way we commit ourselves to a certain auto manufacturer.  We say, “I am contemporary worshipper” as easily, confidently, and trivially as we say, “I’m a Ford or Chevy person.”

When our allegiance to a particular worship style overshadows our allegiance to the One worshipped we’ve missed the point.  Worship becomes our idol; we bow down to the performance and presentation of the mortal over the immortal.  Our emotional and psychological needs – and not our need to praise and glorify God- take center stage.

Jesus’ urging to Mary and Martha may help.  Jesus said, “Only one thing is needed (Luke 10:38-42).  That one thing says the Psalmist: “To dwell in the house of the Lord…to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4).  We don’t need worship to be many selfish and pleasing things; only one thing is needed.  Worship is not bowing down to our own preferences and losing ourselves in our own worshipful delights.  Rather, true worship is getting lost in wonder, love and praise of the God whom calls and invites us to enter God’s holy and mysterious presence always, everywhere, and in any manner.

Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor makes many important contributions to the contemporary study of evangelism.  Jones is unapologetically Wesleyan, but at the same theologically charitable and ecumenical.  His desire and ability to connect doctrinal beliefs about God and scripture with the lived theology and practice of evangelism is welcomed.  His evangelistic strategies flow from scripture and tradition, not from the latest business marketing strategies or committee meeting schemes.

Jones’s passion for scripture, evangelism, and the church is clearly evident. As he puts it, the church’s ministry of sharing the gospel is a necessary and important corollary to the gospel message itself.  He gives us pause to reconsider, “What is the gospel?”  “How is it best shared?”  For Jones, the gospel is good news of God’s love for all creation, news Christians are called to participate in with others.   The evangelistic sharing of the gospel of love best comes through “that set of loving, intentional activities governed by the goal of initiating persons into Christian discipleship in response to the reign of God.”

Jones’s emphasis on the discipleship aims of evangelism over the salvific component of evangelism is insightful.  The distinction helps us to see that evangelism is rooted in building relationships (with God and neighbor) that encourage persons towards great disciplined love of God and neighbor.  Evangelism is not geared solely to immediately winning others to Christ or packing more people into the pews on Sunday mornings.

Surprisingly, one aspect Jones’s definitions and suggestions lack is an adequate role for the Spirit in evangelism.  Jones writes of “loving activities” and human response through discipleship, but he rarely allows for the Spirit to guide these processes.  All of the actions and responses seem to be primarily performed by humans, as if we can muster enough faith or energy to bring about the desired results.

In one instance Jones references the Parable of the Sower, and points out that evangelism is like spreading the seed.  When we scatter the seed who knows how the seeds will take to the ground – results may vary.  But in this interpretation we, Christians, are responsible for scattering and watering the seeds.  Perhaps a more faithful evangelistic interpretation of the parable places greater emphasis on God as the sower.   If so, then the issue is not, “where do we Christians sow seed?  I hope it works!”  The question becomes, “where is God sowing the seeds and how may we participate in that mission?”

In all, Jones’s work is a faithful and fruitful look at evangelism in the church today.  He reminds us that God’s love for us is our impetus for sharing that love with others.  In love, we invite others to be disciples who live obediently to God’s will and participate in God’s redeeming mission in the world.  Jones captures the church’s evangelistic heart best with the poetic words of John Wesley:

Freely to all ourselves we give,

constrained by Jesu’s love to live

the servants of mankind. (2 Cor. 4.5; 5.14)

This is the final review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Evangelism and persons from other religions

In chapter seven Jones discusses the centuries old question: How do Christians relate to people of other religions?  Jewish Christians struggled with the “religion” of the Gentiles.  First century Christians confronted the paganism of the Roman Empire.  As Christianity spread across the world from Europe it encountered different traditions in the Americans, Asia, and Africa. Jones argues that the question of how Christians interact with other religions is more acute today than ever.  As he puts it, globalization has brought world and its cultures closer together, and religious pluralism in he West is on the rise.

Jones outlines three traditional stances Christians have held towards non-Christian religions.  Jones describes the exclusivist position as one that maintains that the Christian church is the sole religious community in the world with a legitimate missionary mandate.  Alternatively, the inclusivist approach emphasizes the continuity rather than the discontinuity between Christianity and other religions.  Inclusivists identify the redeeming gifts and graces of God that may be operative in non-Christian religions.  Finally, the pluralist approach articulates a less ecclesiocentric and more threocentric Christian perspective.  Pluralists focus on the relativity of all human knowledge, the mutual sharing of religious experience, and the value of dialogical exploration in multi-religious contexts.

Jones contends that he (along with John Wesley!) believes the most faithful position is at the intersection of the exclusivist and inclusivist positions.  Love of God, neighbor and the Church is the motivation for an exclusivist’s stance, but that love also includes respect for others’ beliefs and practices (163).  “Truly loving means knowing them [non-Christians] and understanding who they are and why they live the way they do” (163).  Loving means respecting the human and civil rights of others, objectively learning as much about the other religions and people as possible.  This loving and tolerant attitude, however, is buffeted by an understanding of God’s universal prevenient grace.  That is to say, God’s love is universal for all creation.  God’s undergirding motivation to save the whole world is rooted in God’s love and the grace God gives to all people.

What is Jones’s conclusion of how Christians should interact with non-Christians?  Jones suggests that Christians “offer them an explicitly faithful relationship to Christ” (171).  Christians offer to non-Christians “the purest gospel in the most authentic way possible, knowing and trusting that God may work through our work.”  And Christians do this “because Christianity offers the grace of God in ways that Christians should understand to be more true, more complete, and more helpful than the ways grace is made available in any other religion” (172-73).

Jones deals with the evangelization of Jews in a specific and direct manner.  He writes that when Jews receive Christian baptism they are “welcomed them into the Body of Christ, but they are maintaining their lifelong relationship with same God.”  Any other motivation for evangelizing Jews fails to deal with the complexities of Romans 9-11 and the Judeo-Christian history.   Thus, “any organized evangelistic effort to target Jews as a group in the present situation is unchristian” (175).  On the other hand, however, Jones states, “any attempt to claim that Jews should never become Christians is not faithful to Christian discipleship” (177).  He points out that everyone needs to grow in understanding of the truth, which is Jesus – the way, the truth, and the life.

Finally, Jones provides a few thoughts on the idea of “dialogue as evangelism.”  Today it is chic to distill or promote evangelism as simply conversing or dialoguing with others.  Jones presents a few guidelines for such conversation.  First, dialogue partners must see that Christians who proclaim a God of love are in fact exhibiting that love through respect and tolerance in conversation.  Second, dialogue partners must be committed to hearing the Christian witness abut God in depth.  Likewise, the evangelist must believe in the truth of the gospel.  Thus, dialogue partners must state their beliefs and commitments at the outset, agreeing to remain open that engagement with others may enhance their own understandings.

Jones ends his discussion of Christian and non-Christian evangelistic interaction with a call for love and sensitivity in all situations.  When conversations open a door for faith-sharing, Christians are called to faithfully walk through it.

One piece of inter-religious dialogue that seems missing from Jones’ analysis is confession and repentance.  Nowhere does Jones suggest that confession of wrongs may open the door for evangelistic conversation with others.  I wonder how Christians may be received by other religious tradition if we started our conversations from a place of humility and confession, admitting that we (the Church) have been wrong at times.  What if we confessed that our love has been misguided or wrongly directed?  Would owning the inglorious parts of Christian history (Crusades, Inquisition, Conquistadors, Christian participation in the slave trade, etc.) open the doors to more honest conversation and action among religious traditions?  Just as we pray a prayer of confession becoming to the Eucharist table to commune with other, perhaps we should approach conversation with others with confession and humility written upon our hearts.

This is the seventh review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Francesco Trevisani (1723)

Why parachurch evangelistic ministries?

In chapter six Jones examines the link between evangelism and the church.  Predictably and rightfully, he says, “persons carrying on the ministry of evangelism must have a close relationship to the church.”  Conversely, any faithful church must be intimately committed to the ministry of evangelism, refusing to become clubs that exist only to serve its members.  In fact, Jones argues that the rise and necessity of mission societies, crusade and revival ministries, denominational boards, and other evangelistic parachurch organizations stems from the failure of local churches to be evangelistic (140).  “To be a Christian disciple is to participate in a Christian congregation” (142).  Jones goes even further to state, “those who call themselves Christian and are able to participate in a congregation but do not, call into question their Christian identity” (142).

Who then is a Christian?  Jones refers back to the seven aspects of Christian discipleship he named earlier (baptism, cognitive commitment, worship, spiritual disciplines, witness, spiritual gifts, and faith-sharing).  These characteristics and practices, Jones argues, build towards spiritual maturity.

What elements do not define a Christian?  Jones first points out that self-identification as a Christian is not sufficient.  Recall the words of Jesus in Matthew 7.21: “”Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  Jones also claims that one’s Christian identity is not solidified by one’s sacramental history (has he or she been baptized?), church membership (is his or her name on a church membership roll?), or ethnicity (does he or she simply belong to an ethnic group or does he or she practice the traditions of the group?).

Why does Jones stress the important of distinguishing between Christians and non-Christians?  He seeks to establish the difference between evangelism and proselytism.  Oftentimes, he claims, these two words are incorrectly used synonymously.  Proselytism, he believes, aims to convince a Christian disciple to switch membership from one church to another.  Evangelism, on the other hand, seeks to initiate non-Christians into the Christian community.  Any proselytism in the name of evangelism represents fragmentary competition among Christians and damages Christian unity.

Jones’s thoughts about the intimate relationship of the church, Christians, and evangelism are instructive.  However, at times he holds too dearly to his seven characteristics of discipleship, making them a litmus test for true faithfulness.  There is no need to make these seven aspects doctrinal or dogmatic.  We must allow for contextualization and prayerful discernment and sensitivity when gauging the authenticity of others’ faithfulness and discipleship.  We also cannot assume that evangelism is limited only to non-Christians currently outside the church.  There are many who fill the pews now in need of revitalization and evangelizing.  With Christians and non-Christians and insiders and outsiders, “we need to do two things simultaneously: be clear what the Christian life is all about.  Invite others to join that life” (150).

This is the sixth review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Offering a countercultural narrative

Many people would agree that context matters in most situations.  Whether we are talking about a politician’s statement or a family’s socioeconomic status, the context of the situation often plays a significant role in the discussion.  In chapter five Jones argues that the relationship between context and Christianity is no different.  Christianity has always relied upon the importance of context and culture in the transmission of the gospel.  Jones roots his view of the enculturated gospel in the Incarnation – the Second person of Trinity “became flesh and lived among us” (Jn. 1.14).  As a result, the “gospel can be put into other languages and cultural forms” (124).

Not only is the gospel all-compassing, God’s love is universal.  God seeks to love and to save all people; the gospel stretches into all parts of the world/cultures.  Consequently, Christians are required to love non-Christians’ cultures as well as non-Christians themselves (125).  Jones does point to a caveat, however.  Loving others and their cultures requires careful negotiation.  Christianity obviously cannot accept some cultural practices that are judged to be incompatible with Christian discipleship (i.e. ritual mutilation in Africa).

For Jones, understanding others’ contexts is vital to faithful evangelism.  Knowing as much about others as possible (language, assumptions, values, political and economic issues, tastes, employment) enables evangelizing Christians to form better relationships with others.  Also, exploring the person’s education and language patterns sheds light on how the gospel can be effectively presented.  Jones rhetorically asks, “If we want to love others well, shouldn’t we be better informed of those we seek to embrace?”

However, Christians are not to assume that learning of others’ cultures is for the sole benefit of “Christianizing” those cultures.  Learning about others begins with looking for ways in which God is already moving in others’ lives and cultures.

The deeply relational aspect of evangelism intensifies the focus on context and culture.  As Jones points out, different contexts necessitate different evangelistic approaches.  While door-to-door visitation may work in one place, it may not be adequate in another.  Similarly, a church website may connect non-Christians with a church in one area, but may not be effective in areas where technology is not prevalent.  Regardless of the different contexts, Jones notes that all forms of evangelism begin with an invitation by someone who loves God enough to love another person so that there is a genuine invitation to the other to love God also (132).

While Jones’s word about the enculturated gospel and the Church’s need to participate in a similar translatability are helpful, I wonder if he cedes too much to the prevailing cultures.  While it is true that the Christian faith survived by learning and moving into new places and cultures, that translation was accompanied by a critique and re-evaluation of the culture.  Christianity offered a counter to the prevailing culture.  Perhaps that is where the church (and evangelism) is failing today.  We fail to tell of the countercultural movement of Jesus.  We fail to profess in word and deed that Christ calls us to a life of discipleship that may be far different from the life we are expected or told to live by the prevailing culture.

Imagine a middle-class congregation with young families who love to spend their Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the soccer field.  According to one of Jones’s anecdotes, the pastor’s role is to attend the games, to love what the people love.

While I agree to an extent, I wonder if “loving what they love” is always appropriate?  Can we embrace the cultural norms too much?  Can we allow the culture to shape our personal, pastoral, and Christian priorities?  Is there a danger if the church and pastor become too enculturated, or if the gospel is co-opted by the culture?  What if our presentation of the gospel offers no counter-cultural claim upon the lives of the community?  Did not Jesus ask the fishermen to put down their nets (their way of living) and follow him?

This is the fifth review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Evangelism as initiation into Christian discipleship

Jones begins chapter four by making a distinction between mission and evangelism, a distinction he believes is often muddled in theological conversation.  Mission, he claims, is a wider ministry than evangelism. Mission includes all that God expects the church to do.  Evangelism, the sharing of love and the gospel, is only a part of that mission.  This distinction produces the clichéd turn of phrase: All evangelism is mission, but not all mission is evangelism.

Jones then explores whether evangelism, in word and deed, is a process the Church participates in or a product the Church wishes to produce.  Jones defines the “process” of evangelism as an on-going set of activities that foster discipleship.  Jones depicts the “product” model of evangelism as one that attempts to immediately win followers of Christ.  Jones argues for evangelism as process, and describes the problem with evangelizing for product as neglecting God’s sovereign freedom and the liberty of human beings.   Jones argues that evangelism must be conceived as a process that aims at a product.  Christians evangelize through a process of relationships such that persons are initiated and nurtured as Christian disciples.

Jones also examines several common links pastors and churches infer when discussing evangelism and mission in the parish setting.  First, he looks at the connection between evangelism and church growth.  He argues that too often churches associate effective evangelism with growth in church attendance.  The weakness of this attitude, Jones says, is that it causes evangelistic pastors and churches to become more concerned with conversion and less focused on sanctification and discipleship.  While getting people to come to church is great, what we do with them after they are there may be even more important.  Jones asks, “Do we confuse the welfare of the church with the welfare of the reign of God?” (109).

Jones also notes the common link Christians make between evangelism and proclamation.  Many view evangelism primarily as the proclamation or announcement of the Good News.  The shortfall of this outlook, however, is that is places too much emphasis on “proclamation as word” and de-emphasizes “proclamation as deed.”  To say that evangelism is proclamation carries explicit verbal connotations.  “Proclamation” does not cover all the various actions that may lead a person into Christian discipleship such as social action, denouncing injustice, or helping to feed the hungry at a shelter.

Jones concludes chapter four with his full definition of evangelism: “That set of loving, intentional activities governed by the goal of initiating persons into Christian discipleship in response to the reign of God”(114).

I wonder, however, where the Church is in Jones’s definition.  Is “Christian discipleship in response to the reign of God” a solo endeavor?  Are “loving intentional activities” most faithfully and fruitfully carried out by individuals or communities?  Jones’s statement lacks an appropriate emphasis on the Church as an evangelizing entity and the Church as the place into which initiation occurs.  Perhaps we might alter Jones’s statement to read: Evangelism is that set of loving, intentional activities performed by individuals and communities through the Spirit and governed by the goal of initiating persons into Christian discipleship within a community of believers in response to the reign of God.

This is the fourth review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Stained glass window at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church (Downers Grove, IL)

The logic of discipleship

In chapter three Jones argues that Christian discipleship is the core of any evangelistic outreach.  He believes that evangelism is the part of the church’s mission that seeks to help persons enter into Christian discipleship.  Jones contrasts his emphasis on discipleship with William Abraham’s focus on evangelism as initiation into the kingdom of God (The Logic of Evangelism, 1989).

Abraham claims that evangelism seeks to initiate persons into God’s saving work, the reign of God.  The Triune God first initiated this mission, and Christians are called to evangelize others into the mission.  Discipleship occurs after initiation into the kingdom.  Naturally, Abraham believes that the church plays an active role in the initiation process.

Jones counters Abraham on several key points.  First, Jones argues that while humans respond to the reign of God, it is not the reign of God into which they are initiated.  Rather,  humans are initiated into disciples after a faithful response to the reign of God.  Discipleship, not entry into the reign of God, is the aim of evangelism.  Second, Jones critiques Abraham’s stance on evangelism and initiation outside the church.  Jones believes that Abraham’s view establishes a position in which God only acts, or initiates, with the help of Christians in the Church.  Jones suggests that Abraham narrows the scope of God’s reign by limiting it to the church’s ministry.  The reign of God is wider than the ministry of the church.  Jones writes, Abraham “limits God’s sovereign action on earth to be no larger than the ministry of the church” (70).

Jones rearticulates the logic of evangelism as initiation into Christian discipleship in Wesleyan soteriological terms.  First, evangelistic outreach calls people to repentance, seeking ways in which God is already working to turn around others.  He writes, “In modern evangelism, one of the most crucial tasks of discernment is to discover the ways in which a non-Christians might be responding already to God’s grace” (79).  Additionally, justification comes as the point of entry into the Christian life where one’s relationship with God changes.  Jones highlights one’s baptism and cognitive commitment (intellectual acceptance of the gospel) as marks of justification.

Finally, Jones examines sanctification within evangelistic outreach.  He argues that from the moment of justification, sanctification begins through worship, spiritual disciplines, formation (conversion), witness, spiritual gifts, and faith-sharing.  Through a congregation – a gathered community of believers in which persons live the Christian life together – sanctifying grace works to perfect believers in love of God and neighbor.

Throughout Jones’s discussion of initiation and discipleship he could have devoted more time to baptism.  He quickly gives a nod to baptism’s role in discipleship, but his thought in this area appears short-changed.  It only seems appropriate to connect our baptismal vows with evangelism.  As baptized persons we are initiated into God’s family (Church Universal).  Also, through the water and the Spirit we are incorporated into God’s saving mission in the world.  To speak of our evangelistic motivation without tying that motivation to baptism seems to not fully portray our baptismal identity and calling.

This is the third review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Humanity’s evangelistic love of God and neighbor

After exploring the diversity of ways in which God’s grace and loved are offered to persons, Jones turns to examine humanity’s response to God’s gracious offerings.  Jones suggests that the appropriate human response to God’s love and grace is faith.  Faith, for Jones, is both a mental assent to know God and also a “radical trust and a commitment of one’s whole life to loving God and to loving all whom God loves” (49).  The “loving of those God loves” is the crucial point of discipleship. God loves the whole world enough to send the Son to save humanity.  Thus, loving God with everything one has and loving one’s neighbor as oneself has a priority and centrality to God’s will for humanity.  Jones beautifully claims, “the reign of God is the state when all of God’s creatures are fully loved” (47).

What does love look like?  At times, loving God and neighbor requires meeting felt human needs.  Naturally, Jones names feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, and clothing the naked as some of humanity’s felt needs (Mt. 25.31-46).  Loving others also involves repentance, forgiveness, and the righting of wrongs.  Zacchaeus models these actions when he redistributes the money back to those he wronged.  Regardless of the diverse and infinite ways Christians love, loving God and neighbor is always tied to entry into eternal life (52).

Individual Christians are not the only ones called to participate in God’s loving mission in the world.  God has also called the Church to participate in the mission.  Through worship, formation, and witness, Christians in and through the Church cooperate in God’s redeeming work.  Jones describes the work of the Church as “works of love.”  In worship, Christians love God.  During formation, Christians love themselves.  And in Christian witness Christians love others.

Jones discussion of human response to God’s love and participation in God’s mission is straightforward and clear.  His discussion of the “work of love” is adequate, but could be more fully unpacked.  How does spiritual formation disciplines cause Christians to grow in love of themselves?  Must we also acknowledge the duty of such practices?  Do we form ourselves only in order to love ourselves?  I wish Jones had connected the three “works” in a way that emphasizes the how the Spirit infuses worship such that we are formed to be witnesses.

I also wish Jones would have offered a word of hope about the state of the church.  He acutely (and rightly) points outs that the church often fails “when it becomes a club for the benefit of its own members.”  However, mustn’t we also offer the hope that God works in, through, and despite our brokenness?  How might we call the church to confession, repentance, and change?  Yes, the Church may be a broken vessel at times, but that should not diminish our hope for evangelism and the future.

This is the second review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

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