“The best theology begins and ends in silence. It begins in silence as we stop our idle chattering and listen to what God has to say. We start by listening for the quiet, strong, deep voice of God speaking to us through the pages of Scripture, through the words of those who have come to know him best through the centuries. It also ends in silence, as when we begin to glimpse the greatness, the mercy, the wisdom of God, there is not much we can say in return, apart from to wonder and worship. In between there may be many words… There is conversation to be had, questions to ask and ideas to explore, but all the while expecting to be quietened by the presence of God before whom all voices fall silent.”
– Graham Tomlin, Looking Through the Cross
1. Phoenix ends chronic veteran homelessness
When Arizona makes national news, it’s not always for particularly happy reasons. But this time there’s some news worth celebrating. The city of Phoenix has announced it has now ended chronic homelessness among veterans—something that many considered impossible to accomplish, which no other city has managed to do. Kudos to Mayor Greg Stanton, who has led the charge, while continually giving credit to the many partners—from government, nonprofits, and businesses—who have worked together to achieve this. Eugene Scott reported on it for the Arizona Republic before national outlets like MSNBC and The Atlantic—not to mention the White House—picked it up.
2. Josh Garrels on NPR
Katie and I still have Love & War & The Sea In Between by Josh Garrels in our car CD changer, slot three, after a solid two and a half years (alongside the equally enduring self-titled masterpiece from Bon Iver in slot four). In any case, it was great to see NPR giving Garrels some love this week:
The music I make doesn’t tend to go there all that often, like, just in awe of God… More my music, I would say, is trying to peel back layers and find out where is God in the midst of this city that I live in, and this marriage I’m in, and these things that are going wrong and these things that are going right. Does that make sense?
3. 2013 Kantzer Lectures
Nicholas Wolterstorff gave three lectures at the Carl F.H. Henry Center. Video and brief summaries for each are available. Here they are: The God We Worship: A Liturgical Theology, God as Worthy of Worship, and God as One Who Listens and Speaks. Thanks to Jason Goroncy for sharing them on his blog.
4. The Blind Boys
Last week Religion & Ethics Newsweekly had a segment on the Blind Boys of Alabama and the spiritual dimensions of their latest album, which was produced by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Lead vocalist Jimmy Carter (not the 39th President) says, “We feel that we were called by God to do this work.”
[Image via an0nym0n0us]
A topic that I’ve considered here on a number of occasions is the sometimes tricky relationship between evangelism and social action in Christian life. It seems to me this is an important relationship to grapple with, especially as evangelicals—those who self-identify with the spreading of the gospel (the “evangel”) in evangelism—recapture their concern for justice. So I’ve drawn on the insights of René Padilla, Samuel Escobar, and John Stott, to name a few, in making the case that evangelism and social action are both necessary, and that connecting them doesn’t require reinventing the wheel—people wiser than us have already laid the groundwork for integral mission. And, incidentally, they’ve lived it too.
As Andy Crouch notes in Playing God: Redeeming The Gift of Power, despite the varying “emphases and preferences” of different traditions, few Christian groups today deny the importance of evangelism and justice, at least in principle. In other words, the divide between warring tribes—though by no means completely resolved—isn’t as gaping as it was through much of the twentieth century.
Crouch makes the case that what evangelism and doing justice have in common is that both are about restoring the marred image of God in his image bearers. Evangelism, he writes, is about “restoring the image bearers’ capacity for relationship and worship, where the true Creator God is named, known and blessed.” Doing justice, meanwhile, means “[restoring] the conditions that make image bearing possible.” As Gary Haugen has written elsewhere, when we act with compassion and courage on behalf of victims of oppression, it makes belief in a good God—one who loves justice and comes to the rescue—believable.
But Crouch puts his finger on a dilemma that may be unique to this generation of evangelicals: “Working for justice is cool. Proclaiming the gospel is not.” Indeed, it’s much more palatable to “join a movement” that even our unbelieving peers can get enthusiastic about, than to risk sounding arrogant or intolerant by articulating our belief that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. And while there are plenty of good reasons why we can and should join broad coalitions around causes that are just, we must always remember that these causes can only take us so far. In the end they stop short of the ultimate good—Christ himself, who is inaugurating a Kingdom of peace and justice.
None of this is to discourage Christians from pursuing justice, but with Crouch I agree that “the justice generation” of Christians would do well to reevaluate how the “Christian hope for a world made new” should inform and shape the pursuit:
You do not have to believe in the Creator God to want to alleviate suffering. But justice is about much more than relieving suffering—it is about a vision of human flourishing. And the audacious biblical claim is that even good things that seem to contribute to flourishing become idols when they become our ultimate ends. Even the laudable goals of economic development, political freedom and human rights are only ultimately good when they are put in the context of something more ultimate than themselves. When we try to establish justice apart from worship of the true God, at best we will, as Jayakumar reminded me, simply replace one set of god players with another. What will never be addressed by these thin, secular conceptions of justice is the heart of the biblical understanding of justice: the restoration of the human capacity to bear the image in all its fullness.
If “thin, secular conceptions of justice” fall short, where would “thick, biblical” conceptions lead us? How does the “Christian hope for a world made new” shape our vision for flourishing?
“Quite simply, there is no formation without repetition. There is no habituation without being immersed in a practice over and over again… So it is precisely our allergy to repetition in worship that has undercut the counterformative power of Christian worship—because all kinds of secular liturgies shamelessly affirm the good of repetition. We’ve let the devil, so to speak, have all the repetition. And we, as liturgical animals, are only too happy to find our rhythms in such repetition. Unless Christian worship eschews the cult of novelty and embraces the good of faithful repetition, we will constantly be ceding habituation to secular liturgies.”
– James K.A. Smith, Imagining The Kingdom: How Worship Works