Tag Archive: Christianity


Sharing the eyes of God

I have always puzzled over Jesus’ high command to the lawyer in Luke 10.  Jesus instructs him,”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”  What does it look like to love God with our heart?  How does the soul love?  With what strength – biceps and triceps(?) – are we to love God?  What happens in the mind when it loves?

Of course, part of  the significance of Jesus’ answer to the lawyer  is it’s capturing of the essence of the 10 Commandments, to love God and love neighbor.  Jesus is also quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, a command that would have been familiar to the lawyer and other Jews of the day.  (Isn’t it strange how we often think of Jesus as purely original, as if he was the first to say such profound, true, and meaningful things?)

I wonder if Jesus meant – in a frank, down-home, charming way – we’re to “love God with all we got?”  With whatever energy we can muster. With whatever sensibilities we can direct to God and neighbor.  With all the thoughts and passions we can cultivate in glory to God.  We’re to love God with any gift God has given, at any time we can, and in any place we can.

So…what about the gift of our body…or our senses…

Seeing as God sees

The story of Samuel’s search for a king is telling of God’s vision.  God has grown weary of Saul as king, and sends Samuel to Jesse’s house in search of a new king (1 Sam. 16:1-13).  As Jesse’s sons trot out before the search committee, Samuel is sure he will be able to spot the new king.  He assumes the new king will be tall, good-looking, and commanding.

But as the first son approaches, the words of the Lord come to Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature.”  Several more sons pass before Samuel, but they are not chosen either.  The Lord’s instruction to Samuel remains steadfast: “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on outward appearances, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

“For the Lord sees not at man sees.”  How amazing.  How wonderful.  How much better is God’s vision than our vision.  While God’s eyes penetrate beyond the surface, our purview captures only fleeting glances of other persons.  Part of our vision problem is time.  We are hurried; we are busy.  We catch only a glimpse or snapshot of someone and believe we’ve seen the whole picture.  We fail to plumb the depths of persons’ hearts and convictions, joys and concerns.

God’s vision seems so grand compared to our pithy eyesight.  God’s scan of the world captures all, bringing all people into God’s line of sight.  When Jesus entered one synagogue he saw a woman who had been bent over for 18 years.  How long had she been coming to the synagogue seeking help, longing for someone to notice her?  While the others’ eyes passed over her (for what seems like quite a long time), Jesus noticed her, laid his hands on her, and sent her away standing upright.

Jesus has, how shall we say it, universal vision.  The eyes of God, of Jesus, see all.  Jesus’ vision captures those who go unnoticed, those on the margins.  Jesus sees the invisible people in a crowded world.

I remember several years ago my church celebrated a Hanging of the Greens service.  During the service, children processed into the sanctuary with chrismons, stars, ivy, and poinsettias.   Many children participated in the service, cutely prancing down the aisle to the front of the sanctuary.   Despite all the kids, however, I waited to see just one, my cousin.  I had eyes for her only.  While all the children beautifully participated in the service my eyes were locked in to see only one person.  I was concerned with laying my eyes upon my cousin, delighting in how precious and cute she was in her role.

We have, how shall we say it, selective vision.  We have tunnel vision.  Our eyes see those things that we choose to see, those persons that are convenient and attractive to us.  God’s vision is much grander, much more encompassing, much broader.  Unlike our eyes, the wide scope of God’s vision captures all, looking not upon outward appearances.

Those who have eyes let them see.

Lent 4.5 – Transportation

How did God’s people travel?  On their feet?  By boats?  On top of donkeys and camels?

How do we get around town today?  What are the costs associated with us buzzing from place to place?

Lent 4.5 – Energy

How are we using our limited energy resources?  How can we use them more efficiently?

How are we using our personal energy?  Our church energy?  For what purpose?

Are we ultimately following, Christ, the light of the world?

Lent 4.5 – Water

How do we use God’s gift of water more faithfully?

How do we take serious Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 41:17?

Did Jesus really mean what he said in Matthew 10:42?

“The poor and needy search for water,
but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the LORD will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.”

– Isaiah 41:17

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

– Matthew 10:42

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

Tennent’s work could be summed up in this way: Talk to one another…Listen to each other…Learn from others.  In his systematic study of world Christianity Tennent examines Christianity’s major theological claims in light of non-Western thinking.  For example, he explores Christology in Africa, pneumatology in Latin America, and eschatology in China.            Tennent does this in order to demonstrate how these “growing edges” of Christianity may inform our Western religious thought.

Tennent’s Theology is a wonderful study on Christianity in non-Christian places.  It serves as a primer for Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other world religions.  The work sufficiently highlights many important questions for our time.  What do other religions believe about sacred texts?  How do they understand God?  Do all Christians share in the same mission?

The answers to such questions break through in Tennent’s systematic and accessible writing style.  His philosophical, historical, theological work is articulated carefully and faithfully.  The book requires the reader to take time to digest and appreciate its scope and thought.  Yet a careful reading of Tennent’s work, even if one may not agree with all of his conclusions, will yield a better understanding of the world’s cultural systems, and help us enter into conversations with those whom we may have been hesitant to engage.

How does Tennent help us Western Christians seeking a better understanding of mission and evangelism?  He calls into question our assumption that we in the West have all the answers.  He invites us to open our hearts and minds to God’s work around the globe.  We can’t study Christianity in isolation from the new contexts in which God is moving.  We must allow others teach, renew, and revitalize our theological thinking and faith.

For all the helpfulness of Tennent’s work, I question one of his driving assumptions.  He writes repeatedly of a dying Western Protestantism or fading glory days of Christianity.  Tennent seems to think the West is lost, spiraling to an irreversible end.  In contrast, the global South now possesses the only form of true, authentic faith.  He writes, “Southern Christianity is an evangelistic and reproducible faith.  While Western churches are looking increasingly like entertainment centers or politically correct corporations” (105).  While there is some truth to these claims, Tennent’s depiction of the trajectory of Western and Southern Christianity appears overly stated and hyperbolic.

In the end, however, Tennent opens the readers’ eyes to a wide array of faithful Christian expressions and theologies around the world.  Our ability to engage these thoughts and ideas will determine our fruitfulness and effective in Christians mission and evangelism.  As Tennent puts it, a “truly vibrant theology cannot exist in some hermetically sealed vacuum, blissfully ignorant of the real and different cultural and contextual challenges of our world” (193).

This is the final review in an eleven-part series looking at Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the context of World Christianity.

Anticipating Church & Baseball

In the past week I have experienced two unbelievable baseball games.  Last Saturday night Miranda, my brother, his girlfriend, and I watched a back-and-forth battle between the Durham Bulls and Rochester.  The game was filled with excitement and many interesting twists.  In the end, the visiting Rochester team pulled out the victory in 13 innings.  Similarly, last night’s Major League All-Star game provided its own drama.  Lasting until 2 a.m., the All-Star game finally ended after 15 innings.  Again, like the Durham game, the All-Star game featured clutch performances, spectacular plays, and great entertainment.  As I sat in the stands in Durham, and on my couch last night, I thought to myself, “This is why we watch sports.  We want to be entertained, amazed, and impressed.”  There’s something special about getting caught up in the moments of sports.  Yes, the games may be trivial, but our emotions are usually genuine.  At times, baseball games may be dull and boring; but it is also possible that we might witness something spectacular.  And it is this anticipation–our hope to see something unique–that keeps us going to sporting events.

Last night, while watching the intense baseball game, my mind shifted to church.  I wondered, “Why do we go to church?  Why do we get up early on Sunday mornings?”  I believe the answer is similar to that of baseball: Anticipation.

We go to sporting events with the anticipation that we will be amazed.  Likewise, we go to church anticipating an experience with God.  We go to church not knowing exactly what to expect, but confident that we will encounter God’s presence and holiness.  We go to church anticipating what God has in store for us.  We sit in the pews seeking an amazing, powerful, and moving experience.    We sing.  We pray.  We fellowship.  We read God’s Word.  We go to church to offer praise, to worship, to experience God, and to be inspired.  God’s presence, God’s power, and God’s grace draws us in hopeful anticipation to church every Sunday morning.  The anticipation of encountering our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer….this is why we get up early on Sundays to go to church.

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for this week:

Genesis 22:1-14

Psalm 13

Romans 6:12-23

Matthew 10:40-42

The Scripture texts for the week:

Genesis 21:8-21;

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 or Psalm 17;

Romans 6:1b-11;

Matthew 10:24-39.

I invite you to take a look at these texts. Meditate on them. Pray about them. You and I, along with the universal church, can look at, reflect upon, and be transformed by these texts.

Note in the texts the dynamic of threat and promise. Despite the threats posed (Ishmael, poor/needs/trouble, death) God’s intervention always proves to be more powerful. That is, though God’s people experience threatening situations God’s people should always carry with them the assurance of God’s presence.

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