Archive for the ‘missio dei’ Category

A sermon preached at Wethersfield Evangelical Free Church

14 November 2022

Video of the service to which this sermon contributed here.

Psalm 67

What does your life point towards? What’s the horizon you’re walking towards? 

Here’s another way to ask the same question, although it may sound like a completely different question: What do you love?

Pastor Scott has recommended to some of us a book by James K.A. Smith called On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts. Right now I’m reading a different book by the same author. It’s title is Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.

In this book, Smith presses home the point that we are not thinking creatures first and foremost. We are not even credal or believing creatures, first and foremost. Smith believes we are loving creatures long before we get around to the important work of thinking and believing. It’s only in the process of walking towards—or pursuing—what we love that we come to think and build understanding and even doctrine around it.

Smith is a Christian, so he is sure we are this way because that’s how God made us.

James K.A. Smith believes, with Augustine and many of the greatest voices in Christian history, that we inevitably walk toward what we love. What we love becomes our destination. It shapes us and draws us and pulls us toward it.

In fact, we actually become more and more like the thing we love.

I think Smith is right, which is why I float a twin version of that single question this morning: What is your life pointed at? What do you love?

* * * * *

Let’s hear Psalm 67 again:

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah

that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.

God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

Psalm 67 (ESV)

Last Sunday morning, after ten riveting days back in Colombia where Karen and I serve as missionaries, I sat alone in a Medellín airport lounge as I waited to board my flight back to Miami. Although the lounge had not officially opened yet, the attendant offered that it would be OK if I went in and made myself comfortable. She even offered to have breakfast brought to me if I was hungry.

Things like that happen in Colombia….

I sat there alone in that lounge, processing ten intense days with people whom I love in a country my heart has grown to love, up to my armpits in work I love. I knew that two flights later, I’d be landing in another place I love where I live among people I love, beside a wife whom I love, up to my eyeballs in a different kind of work that I love.

I honestly feared I would break down in sobs from the sheer beautiful weight of it all.

When I told Karen about the intensity of those thirty minutes, she asked why it was such an emotional experience for me. I had to think about my answer. I think it’s because, since I was a junior in high school, God has told my own little story in a way that points me at the beautiful horizon that is all peoples, reconciled in Christ and worshiping their Maker as one family. 

Over the years, it’s become what I love.

On the rare occasion that I ask myself if I’m making this all up, I console myself with the reality that it’s the vision the apostle Paul loved also. I figure the dude makes for pretty good company.

It’s why I cannot wait to have some of you meet our church and my students and our seminary community and our adoptive city in Colombia next April.

I’m a missionary. That’s no better or worse than any other calling. It’s just mine and you have yours. But for almost fifty years, it has kept my life pointed at the vision of this sixty-seventh psalm. In the company of Karen and a few people whom God has placed into my life so that we can walk together, I love this future more than anything else I know.

I want to invite you into that same love … into that same directionality … this morning. I want to ask you to point your lives at God’s dream … his vision … his sovereign longing … his project … his mission. His triumph.

I want to be clear that I’m not inviting you to be more like me. That’s not where my heart is and I’m a very broken vessel in any case. But God has in fact fixed my direction on the future that this psalm celebrates. It’s what I love. I hope you will walk towards it and love it, too.


Sometimes here at Wethersfield Evangelical Free Church, we recite together the Apostle’s Creed. I love it when we do that. It typically moistens my eyes and the emotion of it usually keeps me from getting all the words of the creed out to where my lips can speak them.

I think that strong response comes to me because in that moment we are taking up for ourselves in our time and place a declaration that was important to the Lord’s people many centuries ago. It still speaks to us. It still forms us, even though our time and place are so different than those in which the Apostle’s Creed was first spoken.

Something similar happens in this Psalm.

Psalm 67 takes up the great blessing that was entrusted to Aaron and Israel’s priests centuries before this psalm was written, long before any gathered community of Israelites had lifted it in song. This priestly blessing is preserved for us in the sixth chapter of the Book of Numbers. As I read the Aaronic blessing, some of youwill recognize it instantly. All of us will hear in it the lines that now reverberate in Psalm 67:

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.’ 

Numbers 6:22-27 (ESV)

Can you appreciate that this blessing is spoken by the priests of Israel for the people of Israel? We might say that it is Israel-centric. The priest speaks the blessing over ‘the people of Israel’—the text says exactly that—and the Lord promises that when this blessing is spoken over Israel, ‘I will bless them.’

This is Israel’s blessing … spoken by Israel’s priests … at the conclusion of Israel’s worship … for the sake of Israel’s future.

Yet, brothers and sisters, in the economy of God, the blessing that God’s people experience in any moment is impossible to grasp in closed hands. It always wants to trampoline … to boomerang … to crescendo off of the people into blessing for others. 

There is a centrifugal force at the core of all of God’s blessing. It longs to propel itself outwards beyond its point of first landing. There is a hard-wired generosity in the interaction between God and his people. For those of you who know Scripture well, there is always an Abrahamic energy in God’s particular blessings. They always have ‘many nations’ in view, just as Abraham was promised that the blessing the Lord laid upon his shoulders in Genesis chapter 12 would cause the blessing of many nations.

So we shouldn’t be surprised to find this Aaronic blessing taken up as it has been centuries after the fact in Psalm 67, our text for today.

In a spirit of worship, Psalm 67—centuries later—picks up the words and the cadence of that ancient blessing and sings it out. Now, though, these worshipping voices declare that what Israel has discovered and understood and lived must become the experience of all peoples.

Verses 1-3 capture the gist of the psalm and declare the restlessly expansive nature of God’s blessing to Israel. 

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon usSelah

that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

Psalm 67:1-3 (ESV)

Make us an example of salvation/grace!

Use us! Allow us, Lord, to receive all that you have done for us and to pay it forward!

This is very far from self-protectiveness, from grubby self-interest, from ‘God is on our side!’ This is on the other side of the world from religious nationalism.

It is the ancient prayer, even the most ancient prayer of Israel. It speaks of an inherited, learned, disciplined seeking of God’s face. But this blessing is not merely for us. God’s blessing lands among us, Israel declares, so that we might become an instrument in God’s hands, so that he could through us fulfill his redeeming plans for all nations.

Now we are not, you and I, we are not ancient Israel. But we are New Israel: old Israel now caught up and re-forged in a New Covenant with the very same Lord of Israel. So it makes sense for us to find ourselves in this ancient prayer of Israel. It makes sense for us to long for God’s smile, as the daughters and sons and fathers and mothers of ancient Israel did every time they heard the priest pronounce these words over them.

It makes sense for us to find our lives pointed towards a future where all the peoples rejoice in our God. It makes sense for us to love that future … as we love almost nothing else.

Can you see that? Is that getting into your heart, or perhaps fanning the flame of something that’s already there?

Now here’s a second point that builds on the first…


Why would the development that is prayed for here be a source of joy for the nations? Why would Israel’s hope land among all peoples as good news

The reason given in Psalm 67 may not be the only reason for all the peoples to praise Israel’s God after they have learned that he is also their God. But the fact that it’s the only reason given in this psalm means that it’s probably the main reason?

What is this reason, what explains the psalmist’s desire to see the nations praise him? In the text, it’s expressed like this: God will judge with equity … and guide the nations upon the earth.

In particular, that first declaration—God will judge with equity—is an expectation that shows its face throughout Scripture. The very same expression occurs multiple times in the Old Testament psalms and prophets, and it’s intended to signal a major change in the reality you and I have experienced. Scripture is often reluctant to tell us how and when or at what velocity this judgement with equity will occur, but it assures us that it’s a key component of the Lord’s project in his world.

What we babbling, anxious nations cannot fix by ourselves, the Lord will one day repair. Our most unsolvable conflicts will in fact become sorted out as he judges … as he restores to order what has become hopelessly twisted. The outcome is that ‘the nations’ will be re-oriented towards peace and filled with joy. They will beat their swords, as one version of this thing has it, into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. The instruments of war will be converted into the tools of planting and harvest.

Now I know that this anticipated future clashes with at least two sets of mind that we bring into worship together this morning. 

On the one hand, we are skeptical and even cynical realists. We know how merciless and unyielding our world’s battles are. This all sounds too good to be true. It sounds too utopian for people like us, who will not be fooled … who will not let our hopes spin out of control.

And it is too good to be true. Unless, that is, it is where the Sovereign Lord intends to take history. Then all our dumbed-down expectations are too miserable to be true.

The second assumption is going to obligate me to use a little bit of technical language, so bear with me.

All of us who are evangelical Christians—if that’s not you, please be patient while I talk a little inside baseball—have been born and raised during a period of history when a ‘stingy eschatology’ rather than a ‘generous eschatology’ has been the Majority Report. It’s how we’ve understood, how we’ve been taught, eschatology, which is another word for where God is taking his world.

What does that mean? Well, at the risk of caricature, a ‘stingy eschatology’ understands God’s purpose to be to save a few people and maybe a handful of peoples while the rest are lost. 

A ’generous eschatology’—clearly, my language stacks the deck in favor of my own point of view—reads Scripture to promise the redemption of a population that it insistently calls ‘all the peoples’. 

Over years of studying this stuff, I have arrived at some convictions around a ‘generous eschatology’. I think that the fact that we’re a mostly Gentile church, comprised of non-Jewish nations, of ‘all the peoples’, shows that God has been active on this front quite triumphantly for about twenty centuries now. And it looks to me as though he’s just getting started.

You see, as Jesus and the apostle Paul both teach us never to forget, each in his own way, salvation is of the Jews …. And for the nations.

Our Psalm 67 beautifully expresses this conviction. Its writer and those who worship by singing its song consider that this is a gorgeous reality, one worthy of pointing our lives towards … one worthy of loving as we love few other things. I think so, too. I invite you to join the chorus.

Even if you’re not yet singing this song, let me point out that it’s the very thing I’m describing that explains why we at WEFC continue to do this quaint thing of ‘sending missionaries’.

It’s because we believe the Bible. And we love its generous Author.

So we can never keep his blessings for ourselves. Or even want to.


Do you find Fall in New England profoundly satisfying to your soul, perhaps in words you can’t express? The golden leaves … The ‘football weather’, as my late father loved to call it.

Did you bow your head in thanks over breakfast this morning?

Did your car start right up today? Were you able to squeak out the mortgage payment last month? Did your wife call you ‘honey’ again? Were you able to leave the house unlocked while you walked the dog? Did you walk into that school in peace on Tuesday and vote for the candidates of your choice? Do they know your name at church? Has your son’s sobriety reached all the way to six months?

These are fragments of Providence. 

There is more than one way to translate verses 6 and 7. The tense and mood of the Hebrew verbs are tricky. But let’s just take the ESV as it stands, because it’s at least as good a presentation as any of the alternatives:

The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.

God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

Psalm 67:6-7 (ESV)

The words look back on a recent harvest that will put bread and milk on the table for some Israelite family:

The earth has yielded its increase.

The locust or a dry spell at the same time could have made it a different kind of winter.

God’s providence builds the pray-er’s confidence that God, our God, will continue to bless us:

God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us.

But do you see what happens next. Even in this moment of deep gratitude for what God has done for us, the psalmist looks out at all the rest of humanity and almost wills upon it a relationship with God, a knowledge of God, the salvation of God. No matter how different those people are than me, how different their skin color, how crazy their language, how impenetrable their customs, the Israelite who prays this psalm longs for them to know the LORD:

…let all the ends of the earth fear him!

The psalmist’s life is pointed at something. It is expressing the thing it most loves: the idea that God’s redemption should finally reach the ends of the earth.

This is the promise to Abraham, that ancient father of many nations.

This is the Great Commission.

This is lives pointed to a horizon where all peoples will song God’s praise.

This is, among other things, what we call missions … a core feature of our live together in Christ that we remember this month with particular clarity.

It’s not a technique. It’s a posture. 

It’s not a method. It’s a deep, abiding love.

Last night I sat in a different airport, this time in a departure lounge of O’Hare Airport, putting the final touches on this message. I reviewed Pastor Scott’s design of this Missions Emphasis Month at our beloved church.

THEME: “I (the Lord) Do It . . . We Do It”

  • For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it.” Isaiah 48:11
  • God does missions for his own sake . . . so, should we.

I’m not sure that I know any truer words.

The Lord will have his triumph in history according to his calendar and in his way. History will not end in ashes, but rather in glory. 

Will it become your love? Will it become the thing you walk towards, the horizon to which our lives are pointed?

Our moment will distract us with pathetic little lies like these:

  • As long as you have your health, that’s the most important thing.
  • Family is everything.
  • He who dies with the most toys wins.
  • If it feels this good, it must be right.
  • Everything hinges on the next election.
  • I need to have this.
  • It’s all about you.

These are all lies, some of them more well-intentioned than others, several more plausible than the others.

But wouldn’t you rather live in this?:

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah

that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

May it be so.


Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.


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What follows is my story. If you believe that learning the biblical languages should be quick or easy—and especially if you’re looking for tea and sympathy—read no further.


I had the good fortune to learn Hebrew under less than optimal conditions.

In truth, I did not come to the task with much passion. I considered myself a ‘New Testament guy’ and managed to pull off an M.Div. in ways that made it something of a bulked-up M.A. in New Testament. It was John and Paul who lit me up, not Moses and Jeremiah. I had learned Greek in university and nothing was going to get between me and the texts.

But Hebrew was a requirement of the M.Div. and I was not opposed. It had never occurred to me that I might do advanced studies in Bible in the future. I did not take Hebrew so that I could subsequently be admitted to a Ph.D. I simply wanted to know the Bible from as close in as I could and then to teach it as an outflow of that intimate connection. Anything else would have felt like a travesty, like walking past a cave full of diamonds and not poking your head in to see whether any of them lay on the surface for the taking.

My wife and I had just had a baby boy and another was on the way. She worked days at Hewlett Packard and I worked nights loading trucks at UPS in a questionable effort to avoid educational debt that might delay our intended missionary service. It was a grueling job for my twenty-something body, arguably as physically demanding as state-championship-level basketball had been for my teenage body a decade earlier. For two years, I loaded and for another two years I supervised loaders, which meant that I now layered organizational responsibility to the business of loading the trucks of guys who were too sick or drunk or depressed or uncommitted to punch in at 3:00 a.m. It was nobody’s only job. We were all at the end of the rope.

For me it was exhausting and necessary in equal measure, a way to get through seminary without starving.

On weekends, my wife and I refreshed ourselves by serving as youth pastors at our church. But that’s another story.

My aging Ford Pinto didn’t have heat and we were too poor to find out why and get it fixed. Often in the New England winter my 35-minute drive to work would take place behind the wheel of a car where the temperature was a single digit, Fahrenheit. I would often yell at the top of my lungs as I charged down the dark highway in order to stay awake, my whole body shaking from the cold.

After work, stinking from a night shift’s perspiration, I would drive to the day-care center on days when I didn’t have morning classes in order to pick up our infant son Christopher, whom my wife had dropped off two hours before on her way to work. Our cars would pass on Route 128, she heading west, me heading east. I would study all day while looking after Christopher. Once I woke up with the impress of the carpet on my face, having fallen asleep on the floor while crawling after my diapered-up boy.

Because my alarm clock went off at 1:30 a.m., I would regularly tell visiting friends at about 9:00 p.m., ‘You may stay as long as you want. But please turn off the lights when you’ve finished.’

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays after the night’s work, I would drive past our apartment into the rising sun and continue on the additional half hour to the seminary. My car would shake almost uncontrollably at 58 mph, so I’d keep it steady at 57. Arriving at the seminary fifteen to twenty minutes after Hebrew class had begun, I’d throw a sweatshirt on to protect the other students from my sweaty stench. I’d stop by the cafeteria to snag two donuts and two cups of coffee in a sometimes failed effort to wake myself up and stay awake for the duration of Hebrew class, gulp it all down, and head down the hall to the last classroom on the left.

I’d let myself sheepishly into the classroom where class was already in session, find an empty seat, and begin to pay attention to the prof’s explanations of things that were by their vary nature alien and new. Our textbook was Thomas Lambdin’s classic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, the work of the famed Harvard linguist who had written grammars of several ancient Semitic languages. Neither Lambdin’s book nor our prof—who had been Lambdin’s student—suffered fools. Terms like ‘compensatory lengthening’ and ‘inalterably long vowels’ were explained patiently but just once. After that you were expected to understand or figure it out at home.

I clearly remember boiling with rage in class one morning as I struggled to penetrate the logic of dagesh forte, dagesh lene, and whether a freakin’ syllable was open or closed. I felt as if I were being tortured for the satisfaction of Thomas Lambdin, of our prof, or of some unseen, malevolent curriculum writer. It was humiliating. I had graduated summa cum laude in university and this was just seminary.

It took everything I had in me and more not to fold my cards and go home. At times I wanted nothing else. But I wanted to read and teach the Bible more. So I stayed.

I did not ask the prof to tutor me privately. If I missed a quiz, I did not ask the prof to extend the available time because I had failed to read the syllabus and did not realize we had a quiz today. I felt I was the poorest student in the classroom because on any given day all the other students were at least fifteen minutes and one or two topics ahead of me. I did not blame the curriculum or suggest that the prof had enjoyed more privileges than me or that Hebrew is more difficult for students who come from rural Pennsylvania Dutch contexts. I did not ask whether we could use a different textbook with fewer irritating details in it. I did not ask ‘how many hours of study are expected of me?’

In time, I found a toe-hold in the language. Barely. Then I got the other foot up onto the cliff. Eventually, I found that I could read the Hebrew Bible. I still learn something new in its pages nearly every day.

The Hebrew Bible still regularly slaps me around and calls me ‘Boy!’. When people ask—as they do—‘How long did it take you to learn Hebrew?’, my only honest answer is ‘I don’t know yet’.

But I live with this book now. It’s God-haunted. It’s inexhaustibly rich and alternately reassuring and deconstructing in the way of a very wise and somewhat recalcitrant uncle whom you can’t live with and can’t live without. It defies creeds and confessions and insists that I think again, that I look more closely, that I consider the unthinkable. If you ask me about a passage from the Old Testament and tell me I can’t look at the text, all I’ll be able to do for you is stare, glassy-eyed. It’s inside of me now. It’s taken nearly forty years and it’s still not finished with me.

If Providence brings us together as student and professor with biblical Hebrew standing formidably astride the landscape before us, and if you feel that your conditions are not optimal for working as hard as our subject is going to ask us to work, be careful what you say.

I had the good fortune to learn Hebrew, under less than optimal conditions. I hope you have the same good fortune.

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41EjOxKJC8LBecause my wife and I work as cross-cultural missional servants in Colombia, I was immediately responsive when a dear reading friend recommended this novel, set as it is in our adoptive South American country. It felt a little bit like the reading version of a blind date.

Yet, truth be told, ‘missionary fiction’ is not a genre that guarantees to quicken the pulse. Often it is wooden, moralistic, and—at times—condescending.

Against such modest expectations, I’m pleasantly surprised by this worthy read. I found Flying Blind to be something of a page-turner. (more…)

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Chinua Achebe’s terse, unromantic narrative of one man, one-and-a-half clans, and two 61spl57YceL._SS300_moments (precolonial and incipient colonial), set in an African village, scrupulously avoids moralistic evaluation. Instead, the strong but flawed gait of a too proud man carries the reader along though the ambiguities of tribal life and the arrival of a Western-led Christian church.

The reader surmises quite early that hope hangs on an unlikely scenario where reconciliation of the protagonist with himself, with his clan, and with the newcomers could somehow take place in the alternately shadowed and sunlit landscape that gathers all of these into an unsought encounter.

In the end, hope itself hangs, too sadly, too finally, too inexplicably for this reader’s heart to re-settle as quickly as it would like.


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418wR785imLPaul House’s passionately written exploration of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s practice and aspirations for the training of pastors under the gathering cloud of Nazi terror makes for refreshing reading in this era of technology-will-solve-all-our-(seminary)-problems pablum.

House finds in the German martyr’s writings and his experience—the latter as reported by Bonhoeffer’s colleagues and students—a model for the same kind of intensive, life-on-life training of Christian pastors today. Without doubt, Bonhoeffer modeled all this and more. House has done us the service of explaining just how.

I come to this book as a lifelong seminarian who has known from within various roles the joy, enrichment, and occasional terror that the seminary is wont to offer up: as student, professor, dean, and president. So  I cannot but thrill to the promise that resides in such life together, all of which House is committed to teasing out of Bonhoeffer’s experience and laying before us.

Nevertheless, it appears to this appreciative reader that the author has chosen not to address a fundamental question about access.

Let me shape my concern as a somewhat cumbersome question: If I am fulfilling my vocation as a seminary educator and mentor to emerging pastors in, say, Mexico City, I am likely to have the privilege of nourishing a small number of lives into what one hopes will be greater rather than diminished capacity as servant leaders, even as shepherds of Christ’s people. For the sake of the argument, but also because I have yet to be convinced otherwise, I will agree with House that the very best preparation of pastoral leaders occurs in this kind of intensive, daily, full-contact, and dynamic environment.

Yet spread across this city of some 25 million souls are thousands of pastors, largely without the kinds of training to which I can lean my shoulder in my fictitious seminary context. These are bivocational pastors, holding down day jobs, tending their God-given sheep, most with some level of internet access and some limited margin in their saturated lives for occasional study-centered gatherings.

Farther afield in the Mexican state to which the capital and metropolis belong lie many thousands more, most of them faithful servants with limited or nonexistent coaching and no opportunity to reflect in the company of peers and a mentor upon Scripture, theology, their own context, and the Great Tradition of Christian presence and practice.

One wonders whether Bonhoeffer, were he availed of the tools we have today, would have insisted that only life-on-life training is valid because other forms of pastoral preparation do not fully measure up to what can be offered in such an intensive context. That is, does the existence of a ‘gold standard’ eliminate the urgency of thinking about ‘silver’ and ‘bronze’ options merely because they do not sparkle like gold? Must we leave unserved those who cannot have what we consider best?

We cannot know whether the adventurous Bonhoeffer would have chosen not to serve a wider constituency of the kind I am imagining in these lines. House, it seems to me, comes perilously close to doing so.

Yet this admittedly dubious stance I have sketched for myself does not eliminate my sincere appreciation for the counter-cultural defense of a seminary that is shaped by something other than the fickle, if hurricane-strength, winds that blow against the seminary today. She makes—this venerable, limping institution of ours—a decidedly soft target. I, for one, welcome all credible defenders.

Paul House has (re-)captured in words some of the magic that happens within her walls—I use the description advisedly and in deference to House’s preferred residential model—when a learning community like Bonhoeffer’s Finkenwalde, House’s Beeson Divinity School, or any one of a thousand lean-and-mean seminaries across the globe gets it right. House finds Bonhoeffer worthy of study, in part because even in the least promising conditions he ‘believed the German church’s future rested in the quality and commitments of its pastors’. House abbreviates Bonhoeffer’s vision for the seminary as ‘a community of faith’ that ‘live(s) for Christ and for one another’, ‘offer(s) encouragement to former students who have entered the sometimes-harsh world of church ministry’, and calls without apology upon the courage of ‘teacher-pastors in seminary education’ to engage their task with ‘sacrificial’ service, ‘given the inherently personal, incarnational, and visible nature of ministerial preparation’.

To this vision—Bonhoeffer’s and House’s—this reader can only offer his ‘Amen!’ and ‘Hear, hear!’, even as he hopes that the eminent blessing that adheres in our most privileged forms does not dull our energy for widening the tent pegs to shelter others who will for reasons missional and mundane never tarry for long in the holy city itself.

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519W8+BwhcL._SS300_As one of the evangelical movement’s most interesting and fruitful popularizers, Richard Mouw can almost be imagined rolling out of bed and dashing off an intriguing treatment of Isaiah’s sixtieth chapter, then placing it the next day in his readers’ hands. Such is the effervescent ease of his prose. Yet surely a book like this discloses instead years of reflection about what the Christian gospel has to say about God’s final purpose(s) with his world and how that ought to shape human conduct meanwhile.

As a signal of his (and this world’s) destination, Mouw writes early on that …

Isaiah 60 records a vision of a magnificent city. In it the prophet is speaking to the city, calling attention to various aspects of its appearance. His tone is joyful, his mood excited. This city is not like any other that he has seen among the products of human efforts at urbanization; it is a city built by God. Sometimes Isaiah addresses the city in the present tense; at other points he employs the language of future fulfillment. Though the city has not yet been established, he is certain that it will someday arrive. It is clearly a transformed city. Many of the people and objects from Isaiah’s own day appear within its walls, but they have assumed different roles, they perform new functions.

Transformation of what God has made and what has fallen from its intended purpose is a core feature of Mouw’s vision of history’s destiny. His argument broadens out beyond exposition of one chapter of an Old Testament book’s sixty-six to offer a richly traced counterproposal to skinny Christian views of human fulfillment as ‘dying and going to heaven’.

Mouw wants to know—as apparently did the Isaianic tradition—what will become of all of this, not just of me and of people who believe things like the ones I believe.

The result, in this reader’s assessment, is a stirring vision in which all nations bring their best stuff—their cultural, religious and existential product—to the perfecting of a city that is resplendent in both beauty and justice.

Mouw sees the walled but gates-flung-open city of Isaianic vision as something of a metaphor for this world when it has been duly refined, purged—again, transformed. It stands along more familiar descriptions of the same that travel under the title ‘new heavens and new earth’. The author avoids narrow definitions of ‘how things will be’ that fail to recognize the vivid power of imagistic description. Yet for all this Mouw never distances himself from the vision’s concreteness, whether in its beauty, its justice, its joyfulness, or its inclusion of surprising agents and elements.

This delightfully readable book has retained its value since its genesis in the early 1970s and its revision at the onset of a new century. It deserves strong recommendation still, particularly to potential readers who are interested in Old Testament prophetic vision, biblical theology, missional eschatology, or hope in a context of hopelessness.

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511492nmk9LWhen Australian New Testament scholar and educator David Seccombe writes about ‘Jesus’ revolutionary message’ (the subtitle of The Gospel of the Kingdom), it is almost inevitable that he should set out a two-part arrangement that puts one in mind of the apostle Paul: ‘What is the Gospel?’ and ‘Proclaiming the Gospel’.

This is so because Seccombe’s scholarly gifts have always been deployed in the interests of people and churches whom the author longs to see brought into redemptive, joyous, and invigorating relationship with Jesus Christ. A gospel minutely defined and delimited but not preached, lived, and taught would fall short of Seccombe’s ambition.

So in thirteen spritely chapters, in the course of which Seccombe wears his scholarship lightly but not without effect, we are asked to think again—or even for the first time—about the nature of the strange news that intruded into human discourse by means of Jesus’ life and teaching. (more…)

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Easter is becoming a rough time for Christians in lands where Islam is the dominant religion. It’s likely to become still rougher, as this preeminent Christian holy day packs the elements that most enrage Islamist sensitivities into one dense cluster of hours.

A poignant and stirring pair of paragraphs closes today’s Wall Street Journal coverage of the pain and anger that follow upon this weekend’s double massacre in Egypt. (more…)

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Langham Partnership Vision Weekend

March 2017

I’ve had the privilege for nearly fifteen years of being a ‘fellow traveler’ with the people and mission of the Langham Partnership.

I’ve sometimes felt like an adoptive member of the family, sometimes a bit like odd Uncle Harry who turns up at holidays and bellows his opinions too loudly from a corner of the living room, sometimes a strategic collaboration partner, sometimes Langham’s very own Serial Party Crasher, and quite often the recipient of that beautiful surprise we call friendship. Along the way, I’ve come to love and admire the people and the mission of Langham.

Now I have no official authorization to coin the phrase ‘The Langham Tripod’. But old friends usually tolerate the liberties that old friends take, or at least overlook certain foibles. So I’m going to do it. (more…)

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Henri Nouwen’s A Spirituality of Fundraising is a book I need to read again every year in order to keep my bearings.

415qui41ql-_ac_us436_ql65_My own battle with fundraising has seen some success and some notable failure. I was raised to believe that a decent person never asked anyone for money. Nouwen’s little book turns that idea upside down.

Or, better said, rightside up.

For Nouwen, asking people to become generous and even sacrificial stewards is offering those people the gift of conversion. He means this in the deepest, process-oriented, open sense of the word. Seen this way, it is a service rendered. Ministry extended. I need this.

Nouwen starts strong:

Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission. Fundraising is precisely the opposite of begging. When we seek to raise funds we are not saying, “Please, could you help us out because lately it’s been hard.” Rather, we are declaring, “We have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you—your energy, your prayers, and your money—in this work to which God has called us.” Our invitation is clear and confident because we trust that our vision and mission are like “trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither” (Ps. 1:3).

A winsome, God-fueled lightness of spirit pervades Nouwen’s reflection on fundraising, a light-heartedness that is seldom evidenced when this subject is on the table. We are freed, in the best rather than the self-serving sense of the phrase, to be free as we seek funding.

Indeed, Nouwen writes about such in connection with our ultimate security:

If our security is totally in God, then we are free to ask for money. Only when we are free from money can we ask freely for others to give it. This is the conversion to which fundraising as ministry call us.

So it is not only the person receiving our request, but we ourselves who encounter the opportunity of conversion as we go about this work.

I have grown weary of fundraising technique. My soul longs for a gospel-grounded understanding of this otherwise distasteful task.

Nouwen provides it in A Spirituality of Fundraising, this reviewer’s annual reading on the topic.

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