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God Is With Us

  
  
  

This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Michele Miner.

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matt 1:23)

god with usThe entire Bible – every book, every chapter, every story, and life itself – is about connection. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Heaven and earth; created together and connected. Then sin entered the world, shattering that perfect harmony. The new behaviors of covering, hiding and asking the first recorded question revealed the chasm that had formed between Creator and creation.

For a time, God spoke through the prophets and made His presence known through signs and wonders, yet for most people He was remote and impersonal, accessible only by the high priest and then only once a year.

Then came that moment when the plan of salvation was put into action as the divine right Hand reached down from heaven to save humankind. One cannot help but wonder about the reaction of the angels as Jesus put on a coat of skin for His ultimate rescue mission. Did they cheer Him on? Did they grab onto each other and hold their breath in shock and awe while they watched the fullness of God go down and condense into a single cell?

We know what they did nine months later—they celebrated! They proclaimed the good news of great joy for all the world. At long last, Savior was born. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Emmanuel arrived; God was with us up close and in person.

The first instance of the word “with” in the Bible is in Genesis when, on the third day of the creation story, God created vegetation and trees that bear fruit with the seed in it. Later, when the One who would rise on the third day told the parable of the sower, He explained that the seed was the Word of God. He commanded us to bear much fruit by imprinting His Word in our hearts and minds. Through sowing Scripture, we connect with God, knowing Him and becoming like Him.

In the very last verses of the Bible, Jesus said He is coming soon. John recorded His promise to come back to take us with Him to be with Him forever. On that day there will be no more questions; we will know as we are fully known, united once again, reconciled for all eternity. And until that day, His grace will be with all the saints, because God sends His Holy Spirit to dwell within every believer.

At Christmas, we celebrate the time when Almighty God literally reached down to touch us. Now, nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. While this season can be painful for those who have lost loved ones, the fact is that we will never be alone again, because God is with us, now and forevermore. Amen.

Michele Miner, M.A. '10 lives in Liverpool, N.Y. where she writes, see ImprintTheWord.com and her book The Word Of God: Unleashing The Power Of Scripture Memorization, and serves as guest speaker.


Anticipation

  
  
  

This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Will Barham.

Everyone knows something about anticipation. We have all experienced it on one level or another. It comes in many different kinds of flavors: a baby about to be born, a phone call from a job interview, the answer from the woman of your dreams whom you just asked to marry you. Each of these has their own level of anxiety.

iStock santa advent alumni blogI remember well when I was a little child during Christmas time, listening to the radio as I sat on our unheated porch in the middle of winter. Reports of “Santa sightings” echoed from the broadcaster’s lips, and with each sighting my heart leapt, and beat faster and faster as I looked to the sky to perhaps catch a glimpse. What was worse was a calendar we had which counted down the days until Christmas had finally arrived. Add to this the radio announcements, and I was whipped into a frenzy!

As the time grew near, so did my anxiety, wonder, and excitement. Santa was coming! His name was proclaimed from the television specials to the Norelco commercials (I am dating myself I know). With his coming meant joy and happiness for every good little girl and boy all over the world.

Mind you, I still love Christmas for similar reasons. Those of you who have children cannot tell me you are not buying your kids toys for yourselves! I am sure I am not the only one. However, these days during Christmas I look up for different reasons. Actually, only one reason in particular. 

A man by the name of Simeon illustrates. In Luke’s gospel, chapter 2, Luke records for us the short story of Simeon. Luke tells us Simeon was “righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel” (Luke 2:25 NLT). Simeon was promised by God that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Finally the day came! Being led by the Holy Spirit to the temple, he took in his arms an infant. And looking into the infant’s eyes he said, “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation…” Simeon on that day experienced both peace and salvation.

This then is what Christmas means to me. I have exchanged one joy for another. As a matter of fact, I anticipate Christmas all the more as it reminds me of all that God has done for me in Christ. Like Simeon God has through Christ Jesus brought me both peace and salvation. Joy is the fringe benefit of a life set free by the gospel of Christ.

So as I walk through Walmart and see the Christmas decorations out next to the Halloween candy and costumes I am not offended—I am elated! Why? Because the Holy Spirit uses it as an opportunity to draw my heart back to my savior, the one I love; the one who has brought me peace and salvation; the one who has taught my heart to sing, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25).

Will Barham, M.Div. ’13, preaches at Palmyra Reformed Church and works for the Village of Webster, N.Y.

Magnificat: Meditation on The Annunciation (Luke 1:26-55)

  
  
  

This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Suzanne Pearson.

For God so loved us that he humbled himself, emptied himself, and took the form of an embryo, fetus, and infant, becoming dependent on a woman’s “Yes” to be conceived, carried, and birthed, and humanity with him, into new life.

Virgin Mary prayingThis woman risked everything she had to bear this child, including her comfort, her security, her relationship, and even her life.  Reason told her she’d be abandoned by her betrothed, stoned, and left to die for her choice, yet her faith, greater than her fear, in her God’s promise, encouraged her and she rejoiced.

God knew her better than she knew herself.  Troubled at first, he’d surprised her by entrusting her with this gift of new life and she was as close as his own heart.  In a moment of profound vulnerability and intimacy she responded, “Let it happen to me as you have said.”  First born in her heart, her consent to conceive, bear, and mother the child who would grow to bear the world became flesh.

Worldly curse gave way to divine blessing and she rejoiced that God had “looked upon her humiliation” and yes, all generations since have called her “Blessed.”  It was her faith that opened the way to make us whole.

Mary, our mother in faith, first shared her good news with her aging cousin, Elizabeth and found her also blessed, as had been promised.  Elizabeth’s child leapt for joy within her in recognition of the One who was to come and his mother affirmed for Mary the song in her heart, “Blessed is she who believed the promise made by her Lord would be fulfilled.”  And Mary sang her song out loud. The Church, throughout the ages, rejoices as Elizabeth did, in the coming of Mary, the Mother of our Lord and Mary’s song has become our canticle.

Faithful women, centuries later, still called and entrusted with the birthing of God’s kingdom in adverse circumstances, continue to rejoice in the faithful love of the Almighty for us and in the power of His mighty arm which has routed the arrogant of heart, pulled down princes from their thrones, and raised high the lowly.

Woman knows and trusts her God’s promise because of one woman’s yes to bear a Child.  Continuing to believe, she waits for history to catch up.  A joyful yes still echos in the hearts and bodies of women everywhere, blessed forever with divine inheritance.

Suzanne Pearson, M.A. ‘09 serves as a prayer guide for the 19th Annotation Retreat of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius at the Mercy Prayer Center, as a faith sharing group facilitator at Northeastern Seminary, and in liturgical ministry and adult faith formation at The Cathedral Community.

Contented Godliness

  
  
  

This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Edward Jenkins.

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content, whatever the consequences (Phil 4:11, N.I.V)

This summer, I led 16 people on a week-long missionary trip to Haiti arriving Saturday, August 24 in Port Au Prince, en route to our destination in Jacmel, about three hours away. We went to help feed 475 children, and lay the foundation for a house, as well as to teach at a leader’s seminar. It was like a culture shock as we drove through the city of Port Au Prince. I am sure each of us was wondering as I was, “What did I get myself into?” as we saw evidence of deep poverty all around.

14883378 african orphan girls istockWe arrived in Jacmel before nightfall, checked into our hotel which was quite nice, then went for dinner about 2 miles away at “Restoration House,” where quite a number of children, as well as teenagers, lived together along with adults who were supervisors/counselors. The Church was a couple buildings away on a dusty path and served as the place where the children were fed each day.

On Sunday August 25, I preached at both services in English while someone translated in Creole. It was a beautiful experience and the sanctuary was packed to capacity with mostly teenagers. These young people really worshipped! The praise and worship session alone was for one hour and a half!  Although the songs were in Creole, the earnestness in their faces was evident and real. They stood for the entire duration! I preached afterward and indicated how moved we were by their ability to look beyond the circumstances around them and focus on God.

The attitude of the Haitians was commendable and made me wonder how in the United States there is so much at our disposal and yet there is so much waste. The people of Haiti on the other hand, including the children, were truly thankful for the little they have. No one seemed to be allowing their circumstances to overwhelm them. Some of these children walked well over 5 miles one way each day just to eat and for most of the days it was simply rice with some gravy on it. Only one of those days (Thursday) would they get some chicken along with their meal.  For some of them, it was the only meal that they had for the day, yet the children were smiling, orderly, playful, and mannerly. All of us were deeply impacted by this experience in Haiti. We left with a renewed sense of appreciation for what we have, and a determination not to be worried about that which we didn’t have.

Especially around this time of Advent, Paul’s statement to the Philippians noted above, becomes both crucial and applicable. May God keep us all content, thankful and humble, not only at thanksgiving and Advent, but throughout every day of our lives.


Rev. Edward L Jenkins, M.Div. ‘12, is pastor at Ebenezer Wesleyan Methodist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Ordered Steps

  
  
  

This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Yulanda McKinney.

As we enter this season of prayer and fasting in the name of our Lord, Matthew 1:18-23 allows us to reflect on the importance of order in every Christian’s life, and the reason why we set aside this special time of the year to celebrate not only the birth of Jesus Christ, but the coming of our blessed Savior.

591858 27862286“The way” in which Jesus Christ was born had everything to do with what would follow his planned coming. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit before Mary and Joseph came together, and was not born until after they married. Joseph considered hiding Mary away until after the birth, but before Joseph could follow through, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.

The angel not only established the order of Jesus’ life and work, but he told how, why, and its relevance to humanity then, and the body of Christ now. Emmanuel, being interpreted “God with us”, was not happenstance, but the fulfillment of a divine plan, a prophecy.

 As we find ourselves considering the gifts and way of our Lord this Advent season, let us remember that our steps, like Jesus’, have been ordered by the FATHER. Let us remember that while the ways of the FATHER may exceed our comprehension, GOD’s love and compassion for us are undeniable, as reflected through HIS gift, HIS Son. Let us also consider Jesus’ firm reply to our brother Thomas’ question which resounds through the ages ever so clearly, and bless the holy name of Jesus for HIS coming—“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him” (John 14.5-7).

To God be all glory.

Yulanda McKinney

 

Yulanda McKinney, M.A. ‘04, founding and senior pastor of Abiding Faith Christian Fellowship Church also serves as professor of English at Monroe Community College, both in Rochester, N.Y.

The Changing Face of Higher Education ... Seminary Included!

  
  
  

A guest post by Dr. Douglas R. Cullum, vice president and dean at Northeastern Seminary

The buzz is everywhere. It’s virtually impossible these days to attend an academic conference in the field of higher education without finding someone talking about it. Whether the topic is technology, online learning, distance education, or MOOCs (‘massive open online courses’), the changing landscape of higher education cannot be escaped. One only has to peruse the section headings and blog titles of the Chronicle of Higher Education to get a sense of the mega-shift. There you’ll see headings like “The Digital Campus,” “ProfHacker,” “Wired Campus,” and “Technology.”

The upshot is clear: The way we access information and learn in our culture is changing. And, except for the most curmudgeon-like, most of us in the world of higher education are beginning to realize that the change is not all bad. In fact, intermingled among the challenges are a host of very exciting opportunities that promise to make high quality educational programs available to persons who otherwise might never have had the chance.

graphics lab 2

Theological education is no exception. Seminaries and divinity schools—those educational institutions that prepare people for Christian ministry and other theological, ministry-related vocations—are increasingly finding new ways to re-tool themselves so that they can meet the needs of people in the 21st century. Moreover, these changes defy the old boundaries of conservative or liberal, progressive or evangelical, Protestant or Catholic. Whether reading The Christian Century or Christianity Today, one will find the challenges and opportunities facing theological education to be regular features. Recent articles, for example, include “Face-to-Screen Learning” (Lawrence Wood, in The Christian Century, February 2013) and “Higher Education at a Crossroad” (Mark Galli, in Christianity Today, May 2013).

At stake is not whether theological education is needed in the 21st century, but how it will be delivered in order to meet the needs of today’s world. Seminaries across the country are increasingly beginning to augment their curricula with online course offerings and other forms of distance learning. And, for the first time in its history, the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools now allows seminaries to offer a fully approved graduate degree through distance education—the Master of Arts degree.

In addition, the changing face of the Christianity in North America is demanding creative responses. Christendom no longer holds sway in contemporary culture as it once did in 19th and 20th centuries. Grassroots organizations like Missio Alliance are challenging the theoretical, managerial, and professional models of Christendom and calling for ministry preparation that is praxiological, mobilizational, and spiritual. That is, ministry education must be effective in training spiritual healthy, reflective practitioners who are truly committed to rolling up their sleeves and working for the good of the people in their communities.

The capital region is privileged to benefit from this creativity in theological education. The Capital Region Theological Center offers extraordinary courses and programs for theological education at various levels. St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry offers classes at the Pastoral Center of the Diocese of Albany. Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary has a campus in Schenectady. And, in January 2014, Northeastern Seminary will begin offering fully accredited programs for the benefit of those in the capital region.

It’s certainly true that higher education is changing and that theological education is no exception. The good news is that the Albany region is well on its way to becoming a wonderfully rich place to study theology and prepare for Christian ministry.

___________

Northeastern will host an Information Meeting, at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, December 5, 2013, at the Bulmer Telecommunications Center on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College, 80 Vandenburgh Ave., Troy, NY 12180. Everyone is invited! 

Register Here

IMG 0303. ret jpg.VP photo

 

 

Douglas R. Cullum, Ph.D., is Vice President and Dean at Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College. 

4 Pastorates, One Congregation: Learnings of a Long-tenured Pastor

  
  
  

A guest post by Rev. Harry Heintz, special assistant to the dean at Northeastern Seminary

 

A year ago I completed a 38-year pastorate.  That’s not the longest one on record, but it is far longer than the average one.  People often congratulate me for staying such a long course. Then they ask me: “How did you do it?” 

iStock city church

My first response is that I didn’t do it by some grand design. Entering as solo pastor of Brunswick Church (Presbyterian Church, U. S. A.) right out of seminary, I knew that I wanted to stay long enough to learn a lot and to give a lot. I had resolved to stay beyond the five-year mark even though the first pastorate commonly lasted three to five years.

At about the seven-year mark I experienced some restlessness. This led me to write and circulate a new resume. Some interviews came, and went well, but they effectively served to confirm my calling to Brunswick. And as time passed I began to realize that I was moving through multiple, roughly-defined pastorates within a single pastorate.

The first pastorate culminated in the addition of a second Sunday morning worship gathering and a modest building project, both in the five to seven year period. These energized me and used some of my gifts that were otherwise underutilized. 

As that pastorate ended the second one was marked by the development of staff colleagues, both as associate pastors and niche ministry leaders (music, children’s nurture, youth, office, business, etc.). We added these one by one, often without funding in hand. A second building project added needed Christian education and community space, and toward the end of this pastorate we added a third worship gathering.

My third pastorate was marked by studying for a Doctor of Ministry degree. The class work, spread over half a decade, along with writing a dissertation on an aspect of preaching, sharpened my pastoring skills and affirmed my sense of the kind of pastor I had been and intended to continue being.

The final decade featured growing global outreach, our largest—and by far most challenging—building addition, and the planning for my retirement and a healthy transition for the church and for me. The administrative load had grown considerably and, frankly, tired me at times. I had to work to keep my visionary posture clear and prominent; I didn’t always succeed. In this fourth pastorate I found myself returning to some aspects of pastoral care that had dropped off in my second and third pastorate, and returning with greater joy than I had previously known in them.

A casual observer likely wouldn’t have noticed these pastorates, but those closest to me, chiefly my wife and my associate pastors, could see changes in me and in my work—four pastorates emerged, each lasting seven to 10 years, all while staying with one congregation that was also changing and experiencing different seasons.

In each pastorate, continuing education events, major conferences, and opportunities to serve beyond the parish enriched me and kept me fresh.  With thanks to the Lord of the Church, my long pastorate was filled with great joy and satisfaction and, for the most part, I think stayed fresh and vital.

How long have you been in ministry and have you seen pastorates like this emerge?

Harry Heintz Times Union article

 

Rev. Harry Heintz, retired pastor of the Brunswick Church in Troy, N.Y., serves as special assistant to the dean at Northeastern Seminary. 

Re-orienting Prayer

  
  
  

A guest post by Jonathan Bratt, a presenter at the New Creation conference

 

The 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey reveals a great majority of Americans pray. Among some Christian groups, the percentage is over 90 percent, many self-reporting at least once a day. [1]   Yet, when we peel back the thin veneer of prayer, we discover a more complex reality.  There is a great range in how we approach and practice prayer.

seminary students prayingThe substance of much prayer is an expression of personal desire and willfulness. Many prayers reflect blatant self-interest. Good health, money, and good things commonly dominate our requests.[2] True prayer, however, forms us. Christian prayer purposes not simply to facilitate conversation between God and his people, but to orient us or reorient us toward God’s intention for our lives. 

To choose not to pray consigns us to be formed by our own desires and current cultural norms.  Both, of course, have been corrupted by the fall (Gen. 3:1-24; 6:5-6 NRSV). Christians praying without direction are no better off.  As followers of Jesus, in process, our will and wants are often in conflict with the will of God. We cannot trust our natural inclinations.

Over against these influences, Jesus defines the purposes, attitudes, and content of prayer that orients us toward God’s kingdom and transforms us in thought and action.  In Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), Jesus guides his followers toward God’s original intention for human life on earth. 

In his prayer, Jesus models true prayer for those choosing to live under God’s rule in contrast to those who pray with other motives. In Jesus’ teaching, not all prayer is equal. “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites” (Matt. 6:5). “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentile do” (Matt. 6:7).  He critiques the prayer of the hypocrites as false because it misses, manipulates, or uses prayer for improper purposes or unrighteous motives; namely, to draw attention to self. Jesus critiques the prayer of the Gentiles as false because it reveals an inadequate view of God and a desire to obtain God’s power to achieve selfish ends.  When Jesus says, “Pray then in this way” (Matt. 6:9), he is saying that in contrast to false beliefs, motives and practices of prayer, there is a way that is distinctively Christian. True prayer reflects an accurate belief in God, a right motivation of the heart, and a particular content that orients us to God’s intention for humanity and a hope for the new creation. To pray in Jesus’ way conforms our longings and desires to the will of God for all he has created.

 

bratt jonathan

 

Jonathan Bratt serves as Chaplain at Roberts Wesleyan College and is a D.Min. student at Northeastern Seminary. He presented a scholarly paper on this topic at the New Creation: Scripture, Theology and Praxis Symposium hosted by Northeastern Seminary, October 2013. He blogs at http://jonathanbratt.wordpress.com/.



[1]U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Affiliation: Diverse and Dynamic, (Washington: Pew Research Center, February 2008), 177.

[2]Szegedy-Maszak and Hsu, passim

Eschatology and Ecofeminist Theology: The Challenge of Preaching the "New Creation" in a Time of Environmental Crisis

  
  
  

A guest post by Leah D. Schade, a presenter at the New Creation conference

 

For preachers, eschatological themes are anticipated with nearly as much enthusiasm as dental check-ups. “The end of the world . . . again,” quipped one pastor at a pericope study I once attended as we tackled once more the images of the end-times that proliferate in the last Sundays of Pentecost and the first Sundays of Advent. This sarcasm perhaps masks a deeper unease about the real fears alluded to in passages such as Revelation 21:1-5 whose warnings of impending cosmic upheavals ricochet sharply off contemporary headlines about war, natural disasters, and strange “signs” that warn of dire days ahead. 

Add to this the disconcerting news about species extinctions, the climate crisis, football-field-lengths of forests disappearing by the hour, and extreme forms of energy extraction, and the task of preaching “good news” in the face of seemingly immanent ecological doom can feel overwhelming to pastor and congregation alike. Especially for the preacher, the dual temptations to either legalistically preach about “saving the earth” or to irresponsibly encourage waiting passively for a messianic solution can lead to an “apocalyptic either/or logic—if we can’t save the world, then to hell with it. Either salvation or damnation,” as Catherine Keller observes.[1] 

sunlit treesConsider this: one possible approach to eschatological preaching that is sensitive to ecological issues is to preach passages that promise “a new heaven and earth” and “a new creation” through Keller’s ecofeminist theological lens. Her “third way” for understanding beginnings, endings, and the apocalyptic revealing of Christ’s redemption for all Creation may provide an antidote for counteracting eco-eschatological gloom-and-doom. Keller’s tehomic theology yields insights and heuristic possibilities for ecologically-oriented proclamation that engenders hope and invites deep and joyful engagement with God’s New Creation. 

With the Lutheran ecotheology of preaching as a base we can compare and contrast the approaches to eschatology offered by H. Paul Santmire and Rosemary Radford Ruether. Moreover, in the spirit of contextualizing our preaching, one can attend to the secular voices of environmentalists and their views on the future of our planet. This allows us to explore Keller’s work as a method for preaching an eco-eschatological sermon. And, keeping an eye toward practical theology, suggestions for how preachers may craft ecologically-oriented eschatological sermons begin to emerge.

 

Leah Schade twitter image

 

Leah D. Schade is pursuing a Ph.D. at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and presented a scholarly paper on this topic at the New Creation: Scripture, Theology and Praxis Symposium hosted by Northeastern Seminary, October 2013. She blogs at http://ecopreacher.blogspot.com/.



[1] Catherine Keller, Apocalypse Now and Then : A Feminist Guide to the End of the World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 14.

The Cosmos or the Kingdom—Can the Church Be a Bridge?

  
  
  

A guest post by David Ketter, presenter at the New Creation conference


In the 21st century, many take for granted the notion that Christian faith is at its most fundamental level a story. Whether we encountered it in Donald Miller, Michael Horton, or N. T. Wright, we are all enchanted with this idea that we are so naturally storytellers that we would need to be saved by a story. As Tolkien wrote, “Man the story-teller [is] redeemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by a moving story.”[1]

This is by no means a new idea, however. Christian theology is ripe with many plot structures and character profiles for this storied understanding of the Faith. Some popular tropes are the classic German heilsgeshichte of the critics, the covenantal narrative favored by our Presbyterian brethren (i.e., Williams’ Far as the Curse is Found), and the many-charted dispensational readings. All of these narratives do generally follow the same basic narrative, concisely articulated by Wolters: creation, fall, redemption, consummation.[2]

Of course, the Wolters plot, which I (unjustly) use to represent the traditional reformed narrative, is largely focused on the past. It rightly hinges on redemption: the once-for-all death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It draws us to consider that Jesus did not come to redeem mere souls or some disembodied consciousness, but a whole creation that has fallen and is groaning, as recounted in Romans 8. Even the final plot point, consummation, calls us to recognize that there is a cosmic scope to God’s redemptive work that spans from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.  The big picture really is a thing of beauty.

But friends of other Christian traditions, especially those who are rooted in the Radical Reformation, would be quick to remind us that the cosmos is not God’s only agenda. “What about the Kingdom of God?” After all, the Gospels are written to display the coming of the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.[3] Jesus heals, teaches, restores broken lives, and ultimately sacrifices himself on the cross and overcomes death to take all authority on heaven and earth. The heart of this Christian spirituality takes its cue from the Lord’s Prayer, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”[4] The reign of God perfectly accomplished in the midst of all his creatures is a portrait of harmony that appeals to our hunger for peace in troubled times.

mackinaw bridgeWhich story is right? Our intuitive sense is that we cannot deny either the cosmos or the Kingdom. Rather than redirect or reject that intuition, I believe that the Scriptures call us to affirm it. The Christian faith does not hinge ultimately on our story of cosmic redemption or Kingdom inauguration. Rather, it is sustained entirely by its “author and finisher,” Jesus Christ, who did not come in the flesh in order to end creation’s bondage to decay (Rom. 8:21) or to announce his unquestioned authority over all things (Mt. 28:18). Creation is redeemed and the Kingdom is inaugurated for a much larger purpose in the redemptive plan of God.

At some point, however, the honest pastor has to ask: so what? As long as we have a framework that helps read and understand the Scriptures, and as long as it depends on the death and resurrection of Jesus, is it not enough? The problem with any hermeneutic, any story through which we understand the faith, is that if it is only a story and only a lens, then we face the issue of having no pastoral purpose. Any Christian theology, if it truly has a burden for rightly dividing the Scriptures, properly serves those who hear the Word. And unless that story aligns with the realities men and women encounter every day, what hope can be offered and what sort of faith can be maintained in the face of such a disconnect?



[1] Tolkien, J.R.R. 2000. Ed. by Humphrey Carpenter. “Letter 88.” Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, p. 101.

[2] Wolters, A. M. 2005. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Co., p. 12.

[3] Mk. 1:14-15; Lk. 4:43.

[4] Mt. 6:10, ESV.

 

dave ketter

 

David Ketter is an M.Div. student at Trinity School for Ministry (www.tsm.edu) and presented a scholarly paper on this topic at the New Creation: Scripture, Theology and Praxis Symposium hosted by Northeastern Seminary, October 2013.

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