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What Do We Mean by “Evangelism?”

Word Made Flesh presently ministers in nine countries where we live among the poor and long to communicate the Good News of King Jesus and His coming Kingdom. Typically, the term we ascribe to this activity is “evangelism.” But as we minister among the poor, we wrestle with the limitations and follies of our traditional understanding of the concept.

The word “evangelism” often conjures in the contemporary mind images of televangelists, traveling preachers or zealous proselytizers. When we define evangelism, we usually talk about “getting people saved” or “making sure you know where you are going when you die.” Although we do long for people to come to know God and to have eternal security, this view is a narrow and truncated form of biblical evangelism. Such a view creates a gospel that is mere word, void of content. It secularizes and domesticates the gospel, which constrains it to the private realm and withdraws from social and political sin. It turns the gospel into a consumer product by aiming to satisfy the individual’s needs while lacking the commitment to transform humanity. This gross individualism has mutilated our concept of evangelism and fed the atomization of humanity and society.

This faulty understanding, propagated by many American evangelicals, has been successfully exported to evangelical churches around the world. Consequently, when telling our fellow Christians that we evangelize, some think we’re only talking about biblical paper dolls moving across flannel boards or PowerPoint presentations. Worse yet are the unsatisfied frowns we often see when explaining that we do not simply evangelize through our words. Therefore, we want to take this opportunity to reflect on the meaning of biblical evangelism so that our concept and practice of mission may be radicalized.

We must ask ourselves what biblical evangelism is, and how the tradition of the church can correct our currently deviated understanding. The word “evangelism” is derived from the Greek euangelion, “good news, gospel, evangel.” Likewise, “evangelization” means “to announce the good news.” However, since the early 19th century, church and mission circles have changed and increasingly distorted the meaning of the verb “evangelize” and its derivatives (David Bosch, Transforming Mission). In this article, we will attempt to outline an understanding of evangelism as differentiated from contemporary definitions and in line with its original meaning.

Evangelism is often described as the proclamation, presence, persuasion and prevenience of the gospel. Let us outline each of these aspects of evangelism, then look at their implications.

Evangelism is Proclamation

Evangelism is proclamation, but it is not synonymous with verbiage. It is helpful to distinguish between euangelion (gospel) and kerygma, the Greek word that refers to preaching or proclaiming that which is fundamental and all-embracing in the New Testament. Kerygma was the event of being addressed by the word. Some have suggested that there was a particular kerygmatic formula about Jesus—that is, the “language of the facts,” and the facts being that God came in Jesus Christ, was crucified, resurrected and ascended. But evangelism cannot be reduced to verbalizing the Good News. Proclamation from the pulpit or mass-media tends to be a monologue, detached from relationship. Evangelism that is reduced to only proclamation is extremely individualistic. It often leads people to an interior repentance that is merely felt or pondered in thought without becoming real repentance (See Jon Sobrino, Christology at the Crossroads).

Biblical evangelism is personal. The Word was made flesh. The gospel was embodied in the person of Jesus. That is why the expression “gospel” is used in the New Testament to refer both to the apostolic proclamation of Christ and to the history of Christ. The gospel is the message; the gospel is also the life of Jesus. In Christ, the message and the messenger are indivisibly one. Jesus desires to disclose Himself; He is the Evangelist in that He continually is communicating and drawing humanity into dialogue with God. He communicates personally to persons, and He commissioned persons to continue communicating personally.

To evangelize is to communicate this joy; it is to transmit, individually and as a community, the good news of God’s love that has transformed our lives (Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation).

Therefore, the proclamation must be made in relationship and in the power of the Spirit. Paul says, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5).

Evangelism is not just proclaiming otherworldliness. Either to justify the status quo or to anaesthetize our inability to change it, we often preach about the “pie in the sky.” Of course, we do believe and proclaim the wonderful day when God will consummate His creation, when justice and righteousness reign, and when God’s people dwell forever in His presence. But God wants us to experience abundant life even now. He wants us to experience the in-breaking of His presence and to participate in the anticipatory celebration. Jesus invites us to pray: “Let Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). An overemphasis on otherworldliness causes us to detach ourselves from creation and from history. Consequently, evangelism does not speak about the promises for creation, that God will make all things new, nor does it seriously confront historical sins. That is why it is important to remember that we do not emancipate ourselves from history altogether, but we take the past promises of God up into our hopes of the future consummation as disclosed by the gospel (Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit).

The other side of otherworldliness is this-worldliness. But evangelism is not synonymous with the gospel of progress or any other socio-political movement. The martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero pointed out,

The danger of reductionism as far as evangelization is concerned can take two forms. Either it can stress only the transcendent elements of spirituality and human destiny, or it can go to the other extreme, selecting only those immanent elements of a kingdom of God that ought to be already beginning on this earth (Voice of the Voiceless).

Unfortunately, human projects have identified themselves as the coming Kingdom of God. Much of modern mission has piggybacked on the colonization of the world by Western powers. The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ was adulterated with the promises of Western culture, which assumed itself to be better and more advanced. Often in the name of civilizing, the church transplanted a foreign god and a foreign religion that not only failed to keep its promises but also actually led to cultural regress (See Jonathan J. Bonk, Missions and Money). The gospel cannot be identified with any cultural, social or political movement. In fact, it must confront and challenge them (Mortimer Arias, Announcing the Reign of God; Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society). True evangelism is Good News. It rings true in an indigenous environment because the people exist through the Word (John 1:3) and because the Spirit has already been there preparing the hearts of the people (Rom. 2:15).

Evangelism is Presence.

Evangelism is presence but needs explication. The gospel is not only declaratory; it is performatory. It can be the first because it is the second (Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society). The presence of the gospel is of particular importance today as we are flooded with words, yet often experience the powerlessness of language. We know that our “actions speak louder than words,” that our lifestyles “speak for themselves,” and that a message is validated by its medium. The people of God embody, explain and are the living interpreters of the gospel. A Romanian Orthodox missiologist, Ion Bria, said, “[Evangelism] is not only oral proclamation of the gospel but also martyrdom (martyria), the following in the steps of the crucified Christ” (The Liturgy after the Liturgy). Martyria means “witness.” First we witness through our lives and deeds, then we explain what happened. For example, Jesus’ witness to the Kingdom provoked those around Him to ask questions. Who is He that even forgives sins? Who is this Jew that receives a drink from a Samaritan? Who is this Prophet that dines with sinners? The gospel, then, is an answer to the question that a person or a people is asking (Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society). Jesus’ example shows that evangelism does not only mean that we “go and tell”; it also means that we witness through the work and lifestyle of the Christian community, provoking questions to which the Good News of Jesus Christ is the answer (Myers, Walking With the Poor).

In our affirmation of evangelizing through presence we must also recognize that this aspect has received current favor by many because we have lost confidence in the Truth—which if it is true, compels us to proclaim it. The Good News is entrusted to us. If we fail to proclaim it, we are unfaithful stewards. The gospel must be explicit. Though we often like to quote St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the gospel and use words when necessary,” we must also realize that he did use words and many heard the Good News and many came to the Lord. In fact, he preached to a Muslim sultan, who invited him because he had heard of St. Francis’ lifestyle. Peter exhorts us to live such a lifestyle:

Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Pet. 2:12).

Evangelism is Persuasion

Evangelism is persuasion, but not peddling or proselytizing. Persuasion is convincing people of the gospel through apologetics2. Paul said, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). But evangelism is not selling or enticing people to buy a marketable product. Paul said, “For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 2:17). The Indian theologian Vinay Samuel is fond of saying that evangelism is a commitment to sharing, not an announcement of expected outcomes (Myers, Walking With the Poor).

Evangelism means persuading people, but it does not mean proselytizing them (See Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble). Evangelism does not mean making converts—though that is a desired result—or adding members to our club. Many times, we find ourselves struggling with feelings of guilt because there seems to be no tangible “fruit” from our ministry. At other times we find ourselves tempted to tell other Christians what they want to hear: “… we just saw another one come to the Lord,” “… he has been coming to church on his own accord for a few months now,” or “… she is starting to pray at mealtimes.” These remarks may bring a few pats on the back, but only serve to propagate the misconception about “successful” evangelism.

When we place exclusive emphasis on the winning of individuals to conversion, baptism and church membership, numerical growth of the church becomes the central goal of mission. Then seeking justice and peace are separated and relegated to the margins of the church’s mission. Over the last century, much of the church has defined its failures and successes by numbers. If the church was growing numerically, it was successful; if not, it was failing. Though a growing church may be a sign of God’s life and work, this predisposes us to value the size more than the persons. Just as the ideology of the Industrial Revolution turned humanity into a cog in the machinery of society or an item on the assembly line of productivity, so the ideology of modern church success has turned humanity into a donor resource and community into church membership. This is not simply evangelism misconstrued; it is anti-evangelism because at its core it dehumanizes.

If Jesus is the model Evangelist, then we must let the cross be the critique of evangelistic success. At the cross, those persuaded by Jesus’ ministry either betrayed Him or went into fearful hiding. At the cross, there were no supportive crowds, no grandiose church buildings and no tally of the day’s converts. “Successful” evangelism is faithfully testifying to the crucified God, who died to preach the Good News to a lost and confused world; the attestation of successful evangelism is the Resurrection. This understanding puts the indication of success not in the response of the evangelized but in the obedience of the evangelist.

Evangelism is not an activity for non-believers only, because Christians never cease to need evangelism. Avery Dulles reminds us that evangelism is not complete with the first proclamation of the gospel: “It is a lifelong process of letting the gospel permeate and transform all our ideas and attitudes” (Cited in Bryant Myers, Walking With the Poor). This creates space for our worship, discipleship and spirituality to be evangelistic. This also frees us from our “savior complex” and releases conversion and salvation to God. As the song joyfully affirms: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:10).

Evangelism is the Prevenience of the Spirit

Evangelism is the prevenience of the Spirit, not simply the activity of the Christian missionary. It is not enough to speak of the proclamation, presence and persuasion of the gospel; we must also recognize the prevenience or the previousness of the Spirit (Lesslie Newbigin. The Open Secret). That is to say that long before the Christian arrives with the Good News, the Spirit of God has been moving, preparing and wooing humanity to Himself. Evangelism participates in and flows from God’s previous activity.

Implications for Life and Ministry

This brief analysis of evangelism as proclamation, presence, persuasion and the Spirit’s prevenience has many implications for our lives and ministries. We learn that evangelism is holistic, not fragmented. Holistic ministry is an approach to mission that considers the whole of humanity without compartmentalizing it, the whole of society without atomizing it, and the whole of the cosmos without categorizing it. Each day the WMF community welcomes hundreds of children in our lives and homes around the world. This welcoming includes shelter, advocacy, education, the sharing of meals and discipleship. We minister to the whole child—mind, soul and body. We also minister to the families of these children. We do not isolate them from their society or from their world but try to bring transformation within it.

In his book Good News and Good Works, Ron Sider attempts to work out an understanding of doing evangelism and doing social action without confusing the two tasks. Sider defines evangelism as leading a person to become a personal disciple of Christ while arguing for social action as transforming social and political structures. He tries to preserve the integrity of evangelism by not confusing it with social action and vice-versa. Although Sider does affirm that the separate activities are inseparable, Vinay Samuel criticizes him for being dualistic. Samuel argues that we cannot be “dualistic evangelicals who think it is possible to come to Christ and not be engaged in social justice” (Chris Sugden, Seeking the Asian Face of Jesus). Because the evangelism is holistic, we cannot divide its parts. When Jesus brings the child, the outcast and the weak into the center of society, justice is done and the Good News is proclaimed. When, in the name of Jesus, street children learn to read and write, eat healthy meals and are protected from police brutality, the Good News is proclaimed.

Evangelism is transformational. Christ’s announcement of the coming Kingdom of God included community building, confrontation and intentional conflict, liberation, hope, repentance and the forgiveness of sins, persecution, healing, miracles and discipleship. Biblically, we are not called merely to supply a different interpretation of the world, of history and of human nature, but to transform them in expectation of a divine transformation (Jürgan Moltmann, A Theology of Hope).

Evangelism, for Christ, was transformation. This transformation influenced the whole of society and the whole of humanity. It demanded a response, either total acceptance or total rejection.

Biblical evangelism finds its basis in a proper Kingdom-of-God understanding. This Kingdom understanding requires total submission to the all-encompassing nature of this Kingdom. Such submission touches on every aspect of living, being and doing.

Evangelism is an announcement. The New Testament theologian N.T. Wright searches biblical history to learn what evangelism meant for Jesus and the apostles. He states, “The gospel is for Paul, at its very heart, an announcement about the true God as opposed to false gods” (What Saint Paul Really Said). Whether it is to the god of money, the god of sex, or the god of power, the gospel of the Kingdom announces the end to false gods, and their reordering and consummation into a new Kingdom. Wright likens evangelism to Caesar’s herald, who proclaims the royal announcement. The herald would not say, “If you would like to try to have an experience of living under an emperor, you might care to try Nero.” Rather, the herald’s proclamation is an “authoritative summons to obedience—the obedience of faith.” The Gospel of God is not an alternative to other gods, but it is the heralding of the Kingdom by which all others will be judged. The Apostle Paul writes, “The gospel is the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16). Wright comments, “The gospel is not just about God’s power saving people. It is God’s power at work to save people.” Evangelism, therefore, is the announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord.

This New Testament understanding of evangelism has deep implications on our practical ministry. We can no longer understand evangelism as mere words. We can no longer hold evangelism in one hand and social justice in the other while claiming that we are faithful to biblical evangelism. We can no longer democratize evangelism by submitting it to public opinion for its acceptance. Instead, we must acknowledge the totality of biblical evangelism: Jesus is Master of all, will be all in all, and is turning the kingdoms of this world on their heads.

Correspondingly, evangelism is a denouncement. When we announce the totality of Jesus’ lordship, we simultaneously denounce any opposition to His reign. Gustavo Gutierrez says that the church must make the prophetic denunciation of every dehumanizing situation, which is contrary to fellowship, justice and liberty. The truth of the gospel, it has been said, is a truth which must be done” (A Theology of Liberation).

Walter Wink says that “evangelism is always a form of social action. It is an indispensable component of any new ‘world’” (Naming the Powers). That is to say that the Good News engages and challenges persons, societies, structures and the cosmos. We fully realize that only persons can repent and receive Christ, but persons are social beings within social structures, and the gospel announces the lordship of Christ over the whole cosmos, including its society, structures and systems. Wink goes further to affirm that “social action is always evangelism, if carried out in full awareness of Christ’s sovereignty over the Powers.” Although there needs to be more than a simple awareness of Christ’s lordship for this statement to be true, it certainly shows our need for a paradigmatic change in our understanding of evangelism. “Jesus did not just forgive sinners, He gave them a new world” (Wink). If this is true, then we rule out the idea that evangelism and social action are two separate segments or components of mission.

David Bosch explains that evangelism is mission, but mission is not merely evangelism. Thus, these terms should not be equated. Bosch, in a very detailed examination of evangelization and mission, shows that evangelism must be placed in the context of mission. Each context demands that the gospel addresses its particular predicaments: injustice, corruption, abortion, murder, greed, gluttony, drug abuse, etc.

Evangelism that separates people from their context views the world not as a challenge but as a hindrance, devalues history, and has eyes only for the “nonmaterial aspects of life” … What criterion decides that racism and structural injustice are social issues but pornography and abortion personal? Why is politics shunned and declared to fall outside of the competence of the evangelist, except when it favors the position of the privileged society? (Bosch, Transforming Mission).

Could it be that we have re-defined evangelism to suit our own lifestyles and forfeited biblical evangelism because it is too radical? Biblical evangelism is Jesus’ Good News to the poor, imprisoned, crippled, deaf and blind; biblical evangelism is Jesus’ invitation to follow Him and to become His disciples; biblical evangelism is Jesus’ call to service in the reign of God; biblical evangelism is a call to mission.

Paul exhorts us in 2 Timothy 4:5 “to do the work of the evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” From the aspects discussed in this article, it is easy to see how our ministry will reflect our understanding of the meaning of evangelism. We must unlock the shackles of our contemporary definitions and seek to know God’s intention for evangelism. He is calling us to announce the Good News through proclamation, presence, persuasion and the promised prevenience of the Spirit. This means we must denounce anything that opposes the gospel; we must be holistic and transformational in our evangelism; and we must do evangelism in the context of mission.

Our hope is that we lay our ideas and misconceptions before Jesus, where they can be transformed and radicalized. Jesus is the Gospel made flesh. He is the embodiment of the Good News. He is the point where the evangel and the evangelist are one. Our prayer is that by His Spirit, we may be Christ’s heralds, announcing the coming of the new heaven and the new earth, and that the Good News of the Father would truly be Good News to the world.

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Ce înţelegem prin „evanghelizare”?

Dintr-un articol scris de mine în 2000:

„Cuvântul Întrupat” (Word Made Flesh) slujeşte în prezent în nouă ţări unde lucrătorii misiunii noastre trăiesc în mijlocul săracilor şi unde încearcă să propovăduiască Vestea Bună a Regelui Isus şi a venirii Împărăţiei Lui. Termenul pe care îl atribuim acestei activităţi este „evanghelizare”. Dar, pe măsură ce slujim în mijlocul săracilor ne lovim de limitările şi absurditatea înţelegerii noastre tradiţionale a acestui concept.

Cuvântul „evanghelizare” evocă de cele mai multe ori în minţile contemporane imagini ale tele-evangheliştilor, ale predicatorilor care călătoresc sau ale zeloşilor prozelitişti. Atunci când definim termenul „evanghelizare” vorbim de cele mai multe ori despre „a-i salva pe oameni” sau despre „a fi sigur de locul unde mergi după moarte”. Cu toate că dorim ca oamenii să ajungă să-L cunoască pe Dumnezeu şi să aibă siguranţa mântuirii, acest punct de vedere este îngust şi trunchiat faţă de forma evanghelizării biblice. Este rezultatul culturii noastre post iluministe care L-a privatizat pe Dumnezeu şi care a expediat Evanghelia bisericilor geto-uri, doar ca pe un cuvânt lipsit de conţinut. Aceasta secularizează şi îmblânzeşte Evanghelia, lucru care o constrânge doar la domeniul personal şi care se retrage de la angajarea socială şi păcatul politic. Aceasta transformă Evanghelia într-un produs de consumat care are ca scop satisfacerea nevoilor individuale fără luarea angajamentului de a transforma umanitatea. Acest individualism brut a mutilat conceptul nostru de evanghelizare şi a hrănit atomizarea umanităţii şi a societăţii. Această înţelegere greşită, propagată de mulţi evanghelişti din Vest a fost exportată cu succes bisericilor evanghelice din lume. Ca urmare, atunci când spunem prietenilor noştri creştini că evanghelizăm, mulţi cred că ne referim la personajele biblice de hârtie de pe flanelografe sau la prezentările PowerPoint. Mai expresive sunt încruntările pe care le vedem când explicăm faptul că noi nu evangelizăm numai prin cuvinte. De aceea, vrem să folosim ocazia aceasta de a reflecta la înţelesul evanghelizării biblice astfel încât conceptul şi practica misiunii să fie radicalizate.

Trebuie să ne întrebăm ce este evanghelizarea biblică şi cum tradiţia bisericii ne poate corecta înţelesul deviat. După episcopul Mortimer Arias, termenul de „evanghelizare” vine din grecescul „euangelion” care înseamnă „vestea bună”, „evanghelie”, „evangel” şi din „euangelizomai” care înseamnă „a anunţa vestea bună”. Dar aşa cum subliniază misiologistul David Bosch, de la începutul secolului al XIX-lea, verbul „a evangheliza” şi derivatele lui au fost reabilitate în biserici şi în cercurile de misiune. Lucrarea de faţă va încerca să contureze o înţelegere a termenului de evanghelizare ca diferenţiat de definiţiile contemporane şi convergent spre înţelesurile lui originare.

Evanghelizarea este proclamare

Evanghelizarea este proclamare dar nu este sinonim cu verbiaj. Este de ajutor să facem diferenţa între euangelion (evanghelie) şi kerygma, cuvântul grecesc care se referă la predicare sau proclamare a Evangheliei ceea ce este fundamental şi atotcuprinzător în Noul Testament. Kerygma era evenimentul de a fi adresat prin cuvânt. Unii spun că exista o formulă „kergymatică” despre Isus, care reprezintă „limba faptelor” şi faptele în desfăşurare, Dumnezeu venit în persoana lui Isus Christos, crucificat, înviat şi înălţat. Dar evanghelizarea nu poate fi redusă la verbalizarea Veştii Bune. Proclamarea de la amvon sau prin mass media tinde să devină un monolog detaşat de relaţia cu oamenii. Evanghelizarea care este redusă doar la proclamare are un criteriu arbitrar pentru o viaţă creştină autentică şi este foarte individualistă cu consecinţe ale unei pocăinţe interioare (metanoia) care este percepută doar la nivelul simţurilor sau al meditaţiei fără a deveni realitate. Evanghelizarea biblică este personală. Cuvântul a fost făcut trup. Evanghelia a fost întrupată în persoana lui Isus. Acesta este motivul pentru care expresia „Evanghelie” este folosită în Noul Testament pentru a face referire şi la proclamarea apostolică a lui Christos şi la istoria lui Christos.

Evanghelia este mesajul dar în acelaşi timp, Evanghelia este viaţa lui Isus. În Christos, mesajul şi mesagerul sunt în mod inseparabil una. Isus doreşte să se reveleze pe Sine, El este Evanghelistul prin faptul că El, în mod continuu, comunică şi atrage umanitatea spre un dialog cu Dumnezeu. El comunică cu persoanele în mod personal şi împuterniceşte (termen militar) persoanele să continue să comunice la modul personal.

„A evangheliza înseamnă a comunica această bucurie, înseamnă a transmite, individual şi ca o comunitate, vestea bună a iubirii lui Dumnezeu, iubire care ne-a transformat vieţile”  Prin urmare, proclamarea trebuie făcută în relaţie şi în puterea Duhului Sfânt. De aceea, Pavel spune: „Evanghelia noastră v-a fost propovăduită nu numai cu vorbe, ci cu putere, cu Duhul Sfânt şi cu mare îndrăzneală” (1 Tesaloniceni 1:5) „Prin proclamarea Evangheliei, înţelegem, prin urmare, toate expresiile bisericii şi ale creştinilor, expresii făcute prin limbă care au drept conţinut istoria lui Christos şi libertatea omului pentru Împărăţia pe care o deschide acea istorie.”

Aceasta înseamnă că evanghelizarea nu este doar proclamarea despre o altă lume. Ori pentru a justifica „status quo”, ori pentru a anestezia inabilitatea noastră de a schimba acest „status quo”, predicăm de multe ori despre „plăcinta din ceruri”. Sigur că noi credem şi proclamăm ziua minunată când va domni dreptatea şi neprihănirea, când poporul lui Dumnezeu va locui pentru totdeauna în prezenţa Lui. Dar Dumnezeu vrea să experimentăm viaţa din abundenţă acum. Vrea să experimentăm manifestările prezenţei Lui şi să participăm la celebrarea anticipată. Isus ne invită să ne rugăm: „Vie Împărăţia Ta precum în Ceruri aşa şi pe pământ” O subliniere prea mare a „celeilalte lumi” ne face să ne detaşăm de creaţie şi de istorie. Rezultatul ar fi că evanghelizarea noastră nu ar vorbi despre promisiunile lui Dumnezeu pentru creaţia Sa, nici despre faptul că Dumnezeu va face toate lucrurile noi şi nici nu ar confrunta în mod serios păcatul istoric. De aceea, este important să ne amintim că nu ne eliberăm de istorie ci că luăm promisiunile lui Dumnezeu din trecut în speranţele noastre despre ceea ce se va întâmpla în viitor, aşa după cum o arată Biblia.

Cealaltă extremă a „celeilalte lumi” este „această lume”. Dar evanghelizarea nu este sinonimă cu Evanghelia progresului nici cu orice altă mişcare social politică. Episcopul Oscar Romero, care a fost martirizat, spunea: „pericolul reducţionismului, în ceea ce priveşte evanghelizarea, poate lua două forme: ori subliniază elementele transcedentale spiritualităţii şi destinului uman, ori poate merge la cealaltă extremă, selectând doare acele elemente imanente ale Împărăţiei lui Dumnezeu care îşi au începutul aici pe pământ.” Din păcate, proiectele umane s-au numit singure venirea lui Dumnezeu. Mult din misiunea modernă a mers pe spatele colonialismului lumii prin puterile vestice. Mesajul Evangheliei lui Isus Christos a fost pervertit cu promisiuni ale culturii vestice, care s-a presupus a fi mai bună şi mai avansată. De mult ori, în numele civilizaţiei, Biserica a transplantat un Dumnezeu străin şu o religie străină care nu numai că nu şi-au ţinut promisiunile ci au dus chiar la regres cultural. Evanghelia nu poate fi identificată cu nici o mişcare culturală, socială sau politică. De fapt, ea trebuie să le confrunte şi să le provoace pe acestea. Evanghelizarea adevărată este Vestea Bună. Şi asta sună a adevăr într-un mediu primitiv pentru că oamenii există prin Cuvânt (Ioan 1:3) şi pentru că Duhul a început deja să pregătească inimile oamenilor (Romani 2:15)

Evanghelizarea este prezenţă

Evanghelizarea este prezenţă dar nevoie de explicaţii. Evanghelia nu are doar caracter declarator ci este şi dusă la îndeplinire. Poate acoperi prima trăsătură pentru că o are pe cea de-a doua. Prezenţa Evangheliei este de o importanţă particulară astăzi, când suntem invadaţi de cuvinte şi când experimentăm sărăcia limbajului. Ştim că faptele noastre vorbesc mai tare decât cuvintele, că felul cum trăim vorbeşte de la sine şi că mesajul este validat de mediul lui. De aceea, Leslie Newbigin, misionar în India a spus: „Biserica este hermeneutica Evangheliei” Oamenii lui Dumnezeu întrupează, explică şi sunt interpretarea vie a Evangheliei. Ion Bria (misiologist român ortodox) spune că e vorba nu numai de „proclamarea orală ci şi de martyria” Termenul martyria înseamnă martor. Bryant Meyers spune: „pentru creştini, a fi martor este integral pentru ceea ce suntem şi pentru ceea ce credem.” Evanghelizarea ca spunere a Evangheliei este de obicei actul al doilea. În primul rând, mărturisim prin viaţa şi faptele noastre, apoi explicăm ce se întâmplă. De exemplu, mărturisirea lui Isus despre Împărăţia lui Dumnezeu i-a provocat pe cei din jurul lui să pună întrebări. Cine este acesta care poate să ierte şi păcatele? Cine este acest evreu care bea apă de la o femeie, care mai este şi samariteancă? Cine este acest profet care mănâncă cu păcătoşii? Evanghelia este răspunsul la întrebările unui om sau ale unei naţiuni. Aceasta înseamnă că evanghelizarea nu înseamnă numai „du-te şi spune!”, înseamnă a mărturisi prin lucrul şi stilul de viaţă al unei comunităţi creştine, comunitate care să provoace întrebări la care răspunsul să fie vestea bună a lui Isus Cristos.

În afirmaţia noastră de evanghelizare prin prezenţă, trebuie, de asemenea, să recunoaştem că acest aspect a primit o oarecare favoare din vreme ce am pierdut încrederea în Adevăr – lucru care, dacă e adevărat, ne convinge să proclamăm. Vestea bună ne este încredinţată. Dacă nu o proclamăm, suntem administratori necredincioşi. Evanghelia trebuie să fie explicită. Chiar dacă ne place să-l cităm pe Sf. Francisc de Assisi, care a spus: „predicaţi Evanghelia, dar folosiţi cuvintele doar atunci când trebuie”, este important să realizăm că el a folosit cuvintele şi mulţi au auzit Vestea Bună venind la Dumnezeu. De fapt. El a predicat unui sultan musulman care l-a invitat să-i vorbească pentru că auzise de stilul de viaţă al Sf. Francisc. Petru ne îndeamnă să trăim astfel de vieţi: „să aveţi o purtare bună în mijlocul Neamurilor, pentru ca în ceea ce vă vorbesc de rău ca pe nişte făcători de rele, prin faptele voastre bune pe care le văd să slăvească pe Dumnezeu în ziua cercetării.” (1 Petru 2:12)

Evanghelizarea este persuasiune

Evanghelizarea înseamnă persuasiune (convingere) dar nu prozelitism şi nu este vânzare prin amăgire. Persuasiunea înseamnă convingerea oamenilor de adevărurile Evangheliei prin apologetică. Pavel spune: „ca unii care cunoaştem frica de Domnul, pe oameni căutăm să-i încredinţăm” (2 Corinteni 5:11). Evanghelizarea este o invitaţie care ţinteşte spre un răspuns. Scopul este de a face ucenici şi de a forma comunitatea creştină. Evanghelizarea este o petiţie: „Vă rugăm fierbinte, în Numele lui Hristos: Împăcaţi-vă cu Dumnezeu!” (2 Corinteni 5:20). Ambasadorii lui Hristos nu au nici o autoritate decât autoritatea de petiţie; noi suntem cerşetori pentru Hristos. De aceea, evanghelizarea nu înseamnă a vinde sau a amăgi oamenii să cumpere un produs de piaţă. „Căci noi nu stricăm Cuvântul lui Dumnezeu, cum fac cei mai mulţi; ci vorbim cu inimă curată, din partea lui Dumnezeu, înaintea lui Dumnezeu, în Christos” (2 Corinteni 2:17). Noi suntem cerşetori care spun altora unde pot găsi pâine. Teologul indian, Vinay Samuel, spune că evanghelizarea este angajamentul de a împărtăşi, nu un anunţ al rezultatelor aşteptate.

Evanghelizarea înseamnă convingerea oamenilor dar nu înseamnă prozelitism. Evanghelizarea nu înseamnă a obţine convertiţi, deşi acesta este un rezultat dorit, nu înseamnă adăugarea la numărul membrilor în clubul nostru. De multe ori ne găsim luptând cu sentimente de vinovăţie pentru că nu par a fi rezultate tangibile în misiunea noastră. Alte ori, suntem tentaţi să spunem altor creştini ceea ce vor să audă…”tocmai am văzut un altul întorcându-se la Dumnezeu…vine la biserică din proprie iniţiativă de câteva luni…a început să se roage la masă”… Astfel de remarci ar putea aduce câteva bătăi de încurajare pe umăr dar servesc numai la propagarea concepţiei greşite despre evanghelizarea de succes.

Atunci când punem un accent exclusiv pe câştigarea oamenilor spre convertire, botez şi membralitate, scopul central al misiunii devine creşterea numerică a bisericii. Astfel, căutarea dreptăţii şi a păcii sunt separate şi demise spre marginile misiunii bisericii. În secolul trecut, multe biserici şi-au definit eşecurile sau succesele pe baza numerelor. Exista succes dacă biserica creştea numeric şi eşua dacă nu se întâmpla asta. Deşi o biserică în creştere poate fi un semn al lucrării lui Dumnezeu, aceste lucruri ne fac să dăm mai multă valoare mărimii decât persoanelor.

Aşa cum ideologia Revoluţiei Industriale a transformat umanitatea într-o rotiţă din maşina societăţii sau într-un produs fabricat în serie, şi ideologia succesului bisericii moderne a transformat umanitatea într-o resursă de donat şi comunitatea în membralitate în biserică. Iar aceasta nu înseamnă doar evanghelizare greşită ci anti-evanghelizare pentru că în adâncul ei dezumanizează.

Dacă Isus este modelul Evanghelistului, atunci trebuie să lăsăm crucea să fie criticul succesului evanghelizării. La cruce nu sunt mulţimi care aclamă, nici biserici somptuoase, şi nici înregistrările cu convertiţii zilei. Evanghelizarea de „succes” este mărturisirea cu credinţă a lui Dumnezeu crucificat, care a murit ca să predice Vestea Bună unei lumi pierdute şi confuze. Atestarea unei evanghelizări de succes stă în Înviere. Această înţelegere pune indicatorul succesului nu pe cei evanghelizaţi ci pe felul cum răspunde evanghelistul la chemare.

Evanghelizarea nu este doar o activitate pentru necredincioşi pentru că şi creştinii sunt într-o permanentă nevoie de evanghelizare. Avery Dulles ne reaminteşte că evanghelizarea nu este completă cu numai prima proclamare: „este un proces de o viaţă în care lăsăm Evanghelia să intre şi să ne transforme toate ideile şi atitudinile” Aceasta creează spaţiu pentru închinare, ucenicizare şi spiritualitate pentru a fi evanghelişti şi de asemenea ne eliberează de „complexul de salvatori” lăsând convertirea şi salvarea în mâinile lui Dumnezeu. Aşa cum afirmă cu bucurie cântecul: „mântuirea este a Dumnezeului nostru care şade pe tronul de domnie şi a şi Mielului:” (Apocalipsa 7:10).

Evanghelizarea este prevenienta Duhului

Evanghelizarea este preveniența Duhului şi nu doar simpla activitate a misionarului creştin. Nu este suficient doar să vorbeşti despre proclamare, prezenţă şi persuasiune, trebuie şi să recunoaştem preveniența sau precedenţa Duhului. Aceasta înseamnă Duhul lui Dumnezeu lucrează, pregăteşte şi caută să câştige umanitatea pentru Sine cu mult mai înainte de a ajunge misionarul cu Vestea Bună. Aceasta înseamnă că evanghelizarea participă la şi curge prin activităţile anterioare ale lui Dumnezeu.

Implicaţii asupra vieţii şi misiunii

Analiza aceasta sumară a evanghelizării ca proclamare, prezenţă, persuasiune şi anticipare a Duhului are multe implicaţii asupra vieţii şi misiunii noastre. Învăţăm că evanghelizarea este holistică(totală) şi nu fragmentată. Misiunea holistică este aceea care ia în considerare umanitatea în întregime fără a o compartimenta, societatea în întregime fără a o atomiza, universul în întregime fără a-l categoriza. În fiecare zi, în comunitatea Cuvântul Întrupat (Word Made Flesh) primim sute de copii în vieţile şi în casele noastre în toată lumea. Această primire implică un adăpost, consiliere, educaţie, părtăşie la masă şi ucenicizare. Misiunea noastră se adresează copilului în întregime – minte, suflet şi trup. Ne adresăm, de asemenea şi familiilor copiilor. Nu încercăm să-i izolăm de societatea sau de lumea lor ci să aducem transformare în interiorul acestora.

În cartea sa, Good News and Good Works ( Vestea Bună şi faptele bune), Ron Sider încearcă să formuleze o înţelegere a ceea ce înseamnă evanghelizare şi acţiune socială fără a le confunda pe acestea. Sider defineşte evanghelizarea ca fiind conducerea unei persoane spre a deveni ucenic personal al lui Isus Christos iar acţiunea socială ca fiind transformarea structurilor sociale şi politice. El încearcă să păstreze integritatea evanghelizării neconfundând conceptul cu cel de acţiune socială şi nici invers. Sider afirmă deci că cele două aspecte separate sunt inseparabile dar Vinay Samuel îl critică considerându-l dualist. Samuel spune că nu putem fi „evanghelici dualişti care să credem că este posibil să venim la Christos fără a ne angaja în dreptatea socială.”  Pentru că evanghelizarea este holistică nu îi putem divide părţile. „Expresii de tipul Cuvântul lui Dumnezeu, predicare, proclamare, prezentare sau tradiţie doar reproduc aspecte parţiale. Ele nu cuprind tot conţinutul sau toată aura Evangheliei sau practicile acesteia, cum ar fi evanghelizarea – ceea ce înseamnă eliberarea lumii în viitorul lui Dumnezeu.”

Atunci când Isus aduce în centrul societăţii pe copil, pe lepros şi pe cel slab se face dreptate şi este proclamată Vestea Bună. Atunci când copiii străzii învaţă să citească, atunci când mănâncă sănătos şi când sunt protejaţi de abuzurile poliţiei, este proclamată Vestea Bună.

Evanghelizarea este transformaţională. Vestirea Împărăţiei lui Dumnezeu pe care o face Christos include construirea comunităţii, confruntare şi conflict intenţional, eliberare, speranţă, căinţă şi iertarea păcatelor, persecuţie, vindecare, miracole şi ucenicizare. Din punct de vedere biblic, noi „nu suntem chemaţi doar să furnizăm o interpretare diferită asupra lumii, istoriei şi naturii umane ci să le transformăm pe acestea în aşteptarea unei transformări divine.”3 Evanghelizarea a însemnat transformare pentru Christos. Transformarea a avut impact asupra întregii societăţi şi asupra întregii umanităţi. A impus un răspuns: ori acceptare totală ori respingere totală.

Evanghelizarea înseamnă vestire. Teologul N.T.Wright specializat pe Noul Testament a căutat ce a însemnat evanghelizarea pentru Isus şi pentru ucenici. El spune: „Evanghelia este pentru Pavel o vestire a Dumnezeului adevărat faţă de dumnezeii falşi.” Fie că e vorba de dumnezeul banilor, al sexului sau al puterii, Evanghelia Împărăţiei anunţă sfârşitul lor şi re-orânduirea acestora în Noua Împărăţie. Autorul aseamănă evanghelizarea cu solul lui Cezar care proclamă un anunţ împărătesc. Solul nu spune: „dacă aţi vrea să încercaţi experienţa de a trăi sub un împărat, aţi putea să încercaţi cu Nero” Dimpotrivă, proclamarea solului este „o chemare autoritară la ascultare – ascultarea credinţei” Evanghelia lui Dumnezeu nu este o alternativă la alţi dumnezei ci o solie a Împărăţiei de care vor fi judecate toate celelalte. Pavel spune: „Evanghelia este puterea lui Dumnezeu pentru mântuirea fiecăruia care crede.” (Romani 1: 16). Wright comentează: „Evanghelia nu este doar despre puterea lui Dumnezeu care salvează oameni, ci puterea lui Dumnezeu la lucru salvând oamenii”. Evanghelizarea este, prin urmare, vestirea că Isus cel crucificat şi înviat este Domnul.

El continuă: „imediat ce înţelegem aceste lucruri distrugem dintr-o suflare dihotomia dezastruoasă între ‚predicarea Evangheliei’ şi ceea ce a fost numit cu prea mare uşurinţă ‚acţiune socială’ sau ‚dreptate socială’.  Această înţelegere nou-testamentală a evanghelizării are implicaţii adânci asupra misiunii noastre practice. Nu mai putem înţelege evanghelizarea ca fiind doar cuvinte şi doar atât. Nu mai putem ţine evanghelizarea într-o mână şi dreptatea socială în cealaltă şi să susţinem că suntem credincioşi evanghelizării biblice. Nu mai putem democratiza evanghelizarea supunând-o opiniei publice pentru acceptare. Dimpotrivă, trebuie să acceptăm totalitatea evanghelizării biblice: Isus este Stăpânul a toate, va fi totul în toate şi acum răstoarnă împărăţiile acestei lumi cu sus-ul în jos.

Evanghelizarea este denunţare. Atunci când anunţăm totalitatea domniei lui Isus, denunţăm în mod simultan orice opoziţie a lui. Gustavo Gutierrez spune că biserica trebuie să: „facă denunţarea profetică a oricărei situaţii care dezumanizează, care  este contrară părtăşiei, dreptăţii şi libertăţii. Adevărul Evangheliei, s-a spus, este un adevăr care trebuie făcut. Autorul clarifică mai departe: „denunţarea se obţine prin confruntarea unei situaţii date cu realitatea care este anunţată: dragostea Tatălui care cheamă pe toţi la Christos şi prin acţiunea Duhului pentru a uni cu El pe toţi în comuniune.”3

Walter Wink contribuie la acest punct de vedere spunând: „evanghelizarea este întotdeauna o formă de acţiune socială. Este o componentă indispensabilă a oricărei lumi noi.”3 Aceasta înseamnă că Vestea Bună angajează şi provoacă toate persoanele, societăţile, structurile şi cosmosul. „Oricând se produce evanghelizarea în deplină cunoştinţă a Puterilor, fie în confruntarea celor aflaţi în poziţia de putere sau eliberând pe cei zdrobiţi de putere, proclamarea suveranităţii lui Christos este prin sine o critică la nedreptate, idolatrie…rezultă deci că schimbarea structurală nu este de ajuns; inima şi sufletul trebuie de asemenea eliberate, iertate, energizate şi reunite cu Sursa lor.” Înţelegem deplin că numai persoanele se pot căi şi Îl pot primi pe Christos dar persoanele sunt fiinţe sociale iar Evanghelia anunţă domnia lui Christos peste întregul cosmos incluzând aici societăţile lui, structurile şi sistemele. Wink continuă: „ acţiunea socială este întotdeauna evanghelizare dacă se produce în deplină cunoştinţă de suveranitatea lui Cristos asupra Puterilor.” E adevărat că pentru a fi adevărată această afirmaţie, este nevoie de mai mult decât de o simplă conştienţă a domniei lui Christos, arată totuşi nevoia de o schimbare paradigmatică în înţelegerea evanghelizării. „Isus nu a iertat doar pe păcătoşi ci le-a dat o lume nouă”, dacă această afirmaţie este adevărată, atunci putem elimina ideea că evanghelizarea şi acţiunea socială sunt două segmente sau componente ale misiunii.

David Bosch explică faptul că evanghelizarea este misiune dar că misiunea nu este doar evanghelizarea. De aceea, aceşti termeni nu trebuie egalaţi. Bosch arată că evanghelizarea trebuie plasată în contextul misiunii. Fiecare context cere ca Evanghelia să-i adreseze situaţiile specifice, cum ar fi: injustiţie, corupţie, avort, crimă, lăcomie, îmbuibare, droguri etc. „Evanghelizarea care separă oamenii de contextul lor vede lumea nu ca pe o provocare ci ca pe o piedică, nu dă valoare istoriei şi are ochi numai pentru aspectele non materiale ale vieţii.”

Bosch întreabă: „Care criteriu decide că rasismul şi injustiţia structurală sunt aspecte sociale dar pornografia şi avortul ar fi personale? De ce este evitată politica şi împinsă în afara competenţei evanghelistului cu excepţia momentelor când favorizează poziţia în societatea privilegiată? Se poate să ne fi re-definit noi evanghelizarea astfel încât să se potrivească stilului nostru de viaţă, se poate să fi pierdut noi evanghelizarea biblică pentru că este prea radicală? Evanghelizarea biblică este vestea bună a lui Isus pentru săraci, pentru cei închişi, şchiopi, surzi şi muţi; evanghelizarea biblică este invitaţia lui Isus de a-L urma şi de a deveni ucenici ai Lui; evanghelizarea biblică este chemarea lui Isus de a sluji în Împărăţia lui Dumnezeu; evanghelizarea biblică este chemarea la misiune.

Pavel ne îndeamnă în 2 Timotei 4:5 „fă lucrul unui evanghelist şi împlineşte-ţi bine slujba”. Din aspectele discutate în acest articol, este uşor de văzut cum misiunea noastră reflectă înţelegerea noastră asupra evanghelizării. Trebuie să descuiem cătuşele definiţiilor contemporane şi să căutăm să cunoaştem intenţia lui Dumnezeu pentru evanghelizare. El ne cheamă să anunţăm Vestea Bună prin proclamare, prezenţă, persuasiune şi anticiparea promisă a Duhului. Aceasta înseamnă că trebuie să denunţăm orice se opune Evangheliei; trebuie să fim holistici şi transformaţionali în evanghelizarea noastră; trebuie să facem evanghelizare în contextul misiunii.

Speranţa noastră stă în faptul că ne aşezăm ideile şi concepţiile greşite în faţa lui Isus pentru a fi transformate şi radicalizate. Isus este Evanghelia întrupată. El este întruparea Veştii Bune. El este punctul unde evanghelistul şi „evangel” sunt una. Rugăciunea noastră este ca prin Duhul Lui, să fim solii lui Christos anunţând venirea unui cer şi unui pământ nou, şi că Vestea Bună a Tatălui să fie într-adevăr Vestea Bună pentru lume.

Building The New City: St. Basil’s Social Vision « In Communion

Building The New City: St. Basil’s Social Vision « In Communion.

Faith By Receiving A Child

We have just concluded the Advent Fast. On the Eastern Orthodox calendar that we follow in Romania, it is 40 days of anticipation, austere eating and waiting that culminate in the joy, feasting and receiving at the Messiah’s nativity. As we progress liturgically through Christmastide and Epiphany, the theme of receptivity remains before us. Shepherds and Magi stand in contrast to innkeepers and Herod. Joseph struggles. Mary consents. Simeon and Anna rejoice. Yet, the common response to Jesus was not reception but rather rejection. “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:11-12).

What does receptivity look like for us? It is a profound grace that we, mere creatures, are given the possibility to show hospitality to our Creator. Yet, the distractions and confusions easily inhibit our “well-coming” Him. Even when we manage to move beyond the gift exchanges, seasonal feasts and sparkling decor to contemplate God’s coming in flesh to creation, we can still domesticate receptivity. It may look like an imaginative act of cuddling the newborn baby or the inviting of the Christ Child into our hearts. While there may be value in these meditations and prayers, they tend to reduce “receiving Jesus” to “believing in Jesus” – and by “believing” we mean placing our faith in God. Unfortunately, “faith” for us usually means believing the right things in the right way or giving intellectual assent to that which cannot be proven. While these aspects might need to be integrated into faith, they do not do justice to the biblical picture of faith. There is something more, something richer.

IMG_1663Just as the Father gave the Son to be received, so Jesus tells us to receive a child (Matthew 18). Receiving a child doesn’t mean putting our faith in the child. It means recognizing, welcoming, protecting, and raising the child. Jesus says that we must do this if we want to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 18:2-5). This doesn’t mean that when we receive a child, we have a ticket to heaven. While the kingdom of God is much more than an eternal destination, it definitely does involve salvation (healthy life, peace, restoration, etc.). Connecting the receiving of a child with salvation may cause an allergic reaction in good Protestants, who pride themselves in grace alone and faith alone. But this is where we are invited to go deeper. Receiving the child that Jesus places in our midst is nothing less than a call to faith.

We have satisfied ourselves with cheap, fickle and superficial faith. Faith can be intellectual or emotional, but unless it is active, it is not faith. Faith cannot be separated from faithfulness. This is illuminated in a parallel text in Mathew 19. There a rich young man comes to Jesus, wanting to be assured of eternal life. The young man tells Jesus that he has kept the Torah. Jesus tells him that the one thing he must still do is to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. The rich young man couldn’t do this, so he walked away sad. Jesus invited him to faith, and this faith included eternal life. While we probably would have asked the young man to raise his hand, come to the altar, or to say a prayer, Jesus calls him to a faith-filled action: sell everything and provide for the poor. Thankfully for us, Jesus no longer talks like this. Or does He? We are inclined to stay safe in our self-made homes of faith and to convince ourselves that there we offer hospitality to Jesus. But if we risk being confronted by the God who says “Receive Me” and “When you receive this child, you receive Me,” then we will walk out into the daring and dangerous space of God where receiving means giving, life means dying, and salvation means caring for vulnerable. Faith in the kingdom of God means faithfulness. Without faithful actions, there is no faith.

To make sure that we get the message, Jesus also shows us the other side of the coin. When we don’t receive the child, when we despise or impede the child, we will suffer harsh judgment (Matthew 18:6-10). The consequences of our faithfulness are normally suffered by the vulnerable, little children. But God sees and God will act justly. In just a short section of the Gospel, it is all there: kingdom of God, salvation, judgment and the invitation to faith and discipleship.

This past summer we met Silvia. She lives in a crumbling house on the same street as our Community Center. Like many children in our neighborhood, Silvia is severely neglected. Both of her parents suffer from alcoholism. Her father is abusive. She has been raised more by her brother and sister than her parents. Silvia suffers from under-nutrition and a speech impediment. More than these physical detriments are the spiritual and emotional ones: her face, reveals fear, hurt and confusion.

In our community we are daily confronted by children like Silvia. We recognize her as “a child placed in our midst.” Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5). Just as with Jesus in the manger, so also with the pericopes of Jesus’ interaction with children: it is too easy for us to be moved by sentimentalism or romanticism. We think that we just need to get down on a knee and give the child a hug. But a hug for Silvia is at best insufficient and at worst inappropriate. What then does it mean to welcome such a child in Jesus’ name? 863653

It means being-with Silvia. It means directing our attention to her. It means creating safe space for her. As we get to know Silvia, we are looking at helping her physical needs through doctors and dentists. We are supporting her schooling and exploring speech therapy. More delicately, we are relationships with her parents and siblings and asking ourselves what kind of community support we can help develop for their family to move in a healthier direction. We pray that our receiving is done well and done responsibly and that it affirms faith in Jesus.

Jesus places a child in our midst and invites us to faith in Him. Faith is faithfulness: receiving the child, loving sacrificially, giving everything away to care for the poor, taking up our cross, and following. Mysteriously, when we are attending to the salvation of the little ones, we are being saved. When we are receiving the child in the name of Jesus, we are being received as children of God. That is saving faith.

 

Vulnerability, Children and the Image of God – part 2

In part 1 of the post “Vulnerability, Children and the Image of God,” I outlined humanity’s imaging God through vulnerability and difference rather than through power. I follow Jensen’s book Graced Vulnerability. What I am attracted to in Jensen’s depiction of vulnerability as expression of image of God is that it speaks of a status rather than of an activity like rationality, dominion, etc. But this line of thought may be accused of begging the question unless we describe how humanity, as imago Dei, is distinguished from the rest of creation which also is marked by vulnerability and difference.

I don’t have a fully-worked-out answer to this. At the moment, this is where I am at: When thinking of human beings in the image of God, we usually have an individualistic framework. We can justify our individualism with Genesis 1 – God created humankind in God’s own image – and then finding in Genesis 2 a solitary man. But individualistic readings are subverted by the same text: So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). The image of God is a collective identity, not individualistic. If image of God is a collective, speaking of humanity rather than a solitary human being, then humanity’s representation of God is not the life of solitary individuals. This provides space for the exercise of rationale, stewarding, and multiplication without denying the image of God in those without abilities to rationalize, steward or multiply. What is more, is that understanding imago Dei as vulnerability means that rationale, stewardship and multiplication are directed towards and used on behalf of those that are most vulnerable.

So, along those lines, I’m thinking about image of God as an ontological designation. God designs/designates humanity as God’s image. It is who humanity is, not what humanity does. This would be compatible with some Orthodox theology that states that humanity participates in the material (animal) world and in the spiritual (angelic) world. That seems to me to be an ontology that is all-inclusive, especially of those so vulnerable that they do not have capacities to perceive or act on their own behalf. Yet, while the participation of humankind in the material and spiritual spheres differentiates humanity from the rest of creation, we are still placing too much weight on humanity’s distinction from the rest of creation. Rather, humanity as image of God must be based on correspondence to God. The correspondence is rooted in God’s designation of humanity as God’s image. The designation of humanity at Creation then leads us to Incarnation. God as human being affirms the divine correspondence with humanity (without dissolving divinity into humanity). And the glimpses of the revelation of God in the womb and of God on the cross affirm the ideas of image of God as vulnerability and difference. In Jesus we have the invitation to be fully human, imaging God through vulnerability, which is received more than achieved, as described in Philippians 2:5-11 – “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” – without succumbing to the serpent’s and Babel’s grandiose temptations of power “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). 

This is an attractive notion of image of God in which humanity affirms and accepts this correspondence to God as a grace, designation and invitation. It also removes any ideas being gods in the world – ideas that have deluded the powerful throughout history and delude us today – and actually dehumanize and mar the image of God. Against the power-brokers: we image God by simply being, and we let God be God. 

Vulnerability, Children and the Image of God – part 1

For the past 17 years, we have been building relationships with children living on the streets, children abandoned with HIV, children with disabilities, and children at risk of being trafficked. Our hope and prayer is that these vulnerable children will have a better future. But often, it is the children that inspire our hope and teach us to pray – and that by simply being vulnerable children.

When we speak about vulnerability, we think of the word’s Latin roots: the ability to be wounded. For children, vulnerability is the combination of present dangers and difficulties that they must face and cope with. Most often, we understand vulnerability as a challenge to be overcome or solved. While it is true that we need to protect children and reduce the threat of exploitation, we also need to understand vulnerability as a gift.

In actuality, this gift is one endowed by God to every child at creation. We are familiar with the text from Genesis:

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-27).

Although the concept of “image of God” is debated, there is general consensus around the idea that humanity in the image of God translates to humanity as God’s representative on earth. (That is why we are forbidden to make graven images because the image is already created and set in creation by God.) The question is: how does humanity represent God?

Usually, humanity’s likeness to God is understood as having rationality, the power to exert dominion, ethics, the capacity to love or – through Platonic influence – the having of an eternal soul. While all of these ideas may distinguish humanity from the rest of creation, they revolve around the abilities of human beings and, therefore, the most common understanding is power. Those that hold this opinion connect power with humanity’s ability to exert dominion over God’s creation. However, humanity’s representation of God through power has its problems. For example, from the creation narratives on through Genesis and the First Testament, we almost always find humanity’s power in negative terms. There is the fall and exile from Eden because they wanted to be like God; there is the construction of the temple-tower in Babel because they wanted to reach heaven; and there is the exploitation of other humans Egypt and later by the Israeli kings and temple. We also have before our eyes the real effects of human power today in the oppression of the power and ecological destruction through our consumer economies.

Rather than understanding humanity’s likeness to God through power or what humans can do, we are better to view likeness through vulnerability. God reveals God’s-self as vulnerable. God loves, which entails the risk of misunderstanding and rejection. The God of the cosmos enters into covenant with human beings, saying, “And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people’ (Lev 26:12). God acts on behalf of the vulnerable by rescuing the Israelite slaves from Egypt. God takes the place of a slave by carrying the shade (in the form of a cloud) and the torch (a pillar of fire). The culmination of God’s Self-revelation is the incarnation, when the Son is conceived in a mother’s womb, is born in a stable, lives on the margins, and critiques power. The Son touches the excluded like children, diseased and sinners. The Son goes the way of a cross and is seen as the most vulnerable: a little lamb that appears slain. All of this doesn’t just tell us what God does. With God, there is no difference between acting and being. In fact, we begin to understand God’s being through God’s action. So, the vulnerability that we see through God’s actions open us up who God is.

If God reveals God’s-self through vulnerability and if we represent God through our vulnerability, rather than through our power, we can then affirm the image of God in children. Interpretations based on power and ability usually do not consider children, and if they do, they view children as lives anticipating adulthood – as if only adults can image God. In this way, children are either seen as less than human or almost human and only in a process of becoming. Viewing children as images of God affirms their vulnerability and also empowers them to be who they are as children. Moreover, by affirming children as the image of God, we also critique adults who, sometimes unwittingly, try to make children after their own images.

Children as image of God is developed further by Jesus who makes the intrinsic link between children and God’s kingdom. We learn from Jesus’ interaction with children:

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs (Mark 10:13-14).

In our proclamation the kingdom of God, we are invited to see children as participants – not because they prayed a certain prayer, but simply because they are children.

In our community we have had many babies born in the last year or two. In their infancy, and precisely in their vulnerability, they image God. One of the children, Abel, has been my icon at our Sunday worship services – a window through which I see God. When Abel was still in the womb, the doctors identified a developmental problem and recommended that the mother have an abortion. After much prayer and many conflicts with the doctors, the parents gave birth to Abel. The first weeks were touch in go with head swelling and many seizures, but Abel survived. Although he has low-level brain activity and still has seizures, Abel continues to live and to receive love and to give love. He is dependent at every moment on others for his survival. Abel represents God’s image. Abel belongs to God’s kingdom.

Abel and other children are vulnerable in their dependence on others and in their openness to others. We can affirm their vulnerability by caring for them (especially in a world that rejects them).

Jesus gives us a mandate to protect children: ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!” (Matt. 18:6).

Along with protecting children, we can affirm their vulnerability by receiving them (by accepting their uniqueness). Through our hospitality towards vulnerable children, we also receive God. ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’ (Matt 18:5).

By recognizing the vulnerability of children, maybe we will more readily affirm our own vulnerability. And the gift of vulnerability that we see in children can become the gift of vulnerability that we are and that we offer by more faithfully imaging God in the world.

Again, the invitation of Jesus: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 18:3-4).

Does money have eternal life?

In a chapter entitled `The Jubilee : Time Ceilings for the Growth of Money’, Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz says:

We enjoy time, we are carried along in the flow of time, everything is embedded in its time, so the very idea of exploiting the flow of time to take interest on money lent seemed preposterous. It does so no more because the sacredeness of time has disappeared, even before the sacredness of the land vanished from the memories of our modern societies. Instead capitalist market economies have been elevated to global importance; they are enshrined with the qualities of omnipotence that border on idolatry. So the question arises: does it make sense to attribute to money qualities that no created thing can ever have, namely eternal growth? Every tree must die, every house must one day crumble, every human being must perish.Why should immaterial goods such as capital – and its counterpart, debts – not also have their time? The capital knows no natural barriers to its growth. There is no jubilee to put an end to its accumulative power. And so there is no jubilee to put an end to debts and slavery. Money that feeds on money, with no productive or social obligation, represents a vast flood that threatens even large national economies and drowns small countries…But at the heart of this reregulation is the undisputed concept of the eternal life of money.

Does money have eternal life?

What ideas do we have to embed our economy in time and to appropriate the Jubilee to our capitalist markets?

Pantocrator

Jesus-Christ-from-Hagia-SophiaThe word Pantocrator is of Greek origin meaning “ruler of all”. Christ Pantocrator is an icon of Christ represented full or half-length and full-faced. He holds the book of the Gospels in his left hand and blesses with his right hand.

The icon portrays Christ as the Righteous Judge and the Lover of Mankind, both at the same time. The Gospel is the book by which we are judged, and the blessing proclaims God’s loving kindness toward us, showing us that he is giving us his forgiveness.

Although ruler of all, Christ is not pictured with a crown or scepter as other kings of this world. The large open eyes look directly into the soul of the viewer. The high curved forehead shows wisdom. The long slender nose is a look of nobility, the small closed mouth, the silence of contemplation.

It is the tradition of the Church to depict “God is with us” by having the large Pantocrator icon inside of the central dome, or ceiling of the church.

Reinhold Niebuhr – Part I: Human Nature

I’m finally getting into the thought of Reinhold Niebuhr. I’ve read his brother’s, Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture. While Richard’s book still influences the discussions on the topic (for examples, see Culture Making by Andy Crouch and To Change the World by James Hunter), his impact on 20th century theology, especially ethics, fades in comparison to his brother’s, Reinhold.

I knew that Reinhold Niebuhr was influential in his day, especially in political thought. He was given the cover of Time Magazine in 1968. But it was interesting to hear his name continues to be used as a touchstone for the Bush, Jr. administration and, even more, for President Obama (see interview with David Brooks, “Obama, Gospel and Verse,” The New York Times, April 26, 2007).

So, I’ve been working my way through The Nature and Destiny of Man. It’s a mammoth of a book. I’ve just completed part one, which focuses on human nature. 

At the half way point of the book (300 pages), I can say that I am surprised at how conservative Niebuhr was. From the place he was writing and the audience he was writing for, I assumed he would be similar to other more liberal theologians of his day.

His central goal in his discussion on human nature is to emphasize the doctrine of sin. If I were to critique the often unquestioned support of democracy, of capitalism, of the virtues of the wealthy class, of justified war, inter alia, I would say that they all lack a doctrine of sin. So, Niebuhur’s argument, in this instance, is as relevant today as it was 60 years ago.

It was interesting that Niebuhr saw as one of the major motivations for sin as being anxiety. While we usually understand anxiety as something to be diagnosed and treated medically, he identifies it as a root for sin. When we do look at the causes of sin, we often point out those things that feed false identities or false programs for happiness, Niebuhr says that beneath these lies insecurity.

One major concept that is missing from Niebuhr’s treatment of human nature is human relationships. After being versed in Orthodox theology in recent years years (like John Zizioulas’ Being as Communion), it is easy to see Niebuhr’s anthropology as being overly individualistic. This certainly comes from his strong Reformed treatment of humanity and his engagement with the Enlightenment philosophies of individuality. Niebuhr talks about humanity’s relationship to herself and to God but not about human nature in relationship.

More to come after I manage to work through part II…

This week we’re beginning a book discussion on this:

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