Beyond Justice, parts 1 and 2 were written by R. York Moore and are the full, non-filmed manuscripts for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA and World Vision ACT:S campaign project, “Beyond Justice,” or “Get ACT:IVE” campaign.
The world is alive around her-charged air, pulsing ground, high hanging blue sky. The city with all its magic whirls around the couple walking hand in hand along the water’s edge. Strappy heals dangle from her hand as she walks barefoot, feeling the grass beneath her feet. A sweet smell fills the air as a summer breeze carries the hum of some unknown band. Cicada beetles and cardinals echo throughout the city streets as she brushes her fingers through the dense air of a hot July day. She tucks her head beneath his chin, imagining what could be. A life together of joy, of endless summer nights-peace, safety, security-most of all togetherness-she breaths out a wishful sigh. It is a place of magic, a dream that every once and a while we get to smell and taste and touch. Every now and then we lose ourselves, forgetting about the worries of this world, we let go and feel the grass beneath our feet and just dream. Joy, peace, contentment, safety, companionship-these are some of the things that we long for. True happiness, love, and freedom, this is the texture of a world just beyond our reach. It is the fabric of another place that we know exists in our hearts. There is a place our soul calls out for, another place that our soul remembers.
We are aware of another world peaking and poking into ours, tearing at the fabric of our souls and bringing both hope as well as dissatisfaction. We are aware of this other place not only during times of intense pleasure and joy but also during times of suffering and injustice. Exploitation, abuse and neglect, death and disease, destruction and displacement-there are many conditions we see and possibly experience ourselves in this world that cause us to dream of another one. For some, the suffering and injustice of this world causes them to lose faith, to doubt the existence of this other place, but for others it causes them to put their lives on the line, it inspires great acts of bravery and heroism, it drives some to give their all to reach for the dream. History is filled with the stories of millions upon millions who hoped against hope for another world and who risked their lives to establish justice in their pursuit of joy. There are lots of obstacles to this other world. Our world is broken in so many ways. Children die in countless numbers from diseases that are entirely treatable or preventable for lack of medicine that the wealthy can obtain at nearly every corner drugstore. Poverty and greed form a vicious cycle and often it is the children of the world’s poor that end up paying the ultimate price. More than 2,000 children under 5 die from malaria each day-that’s one child every 40 seconds. Malaria kills nearly one million people each year but 85% are children under 5. Each year an estimated 250 million people get infected with malaria. That’s equal to 83% of the U.S. population. But it’s the poorest of the poor that suffer most. Malaria is the fourth leading cause of child deaths worldwide and second leading cause of child deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa. Slavery, death from disease, displacement, hunger-we know that this is not the way things are supposed to be so we long inwardly for another place, a place of hope.
Detroit-A Place of Hope
For several decades in the city of Detroit where I live hope was all but lost but now there are many who dream again. There are corporations and government officials, teachers and civil servants, business leaders and scholars who know the secret of Detroit and the rich heritage that this city of hope has. Something always drives us back to hope. For countless slaves in the south, the dream of freedom once had a name and that name was Detroit. It’s hard to think of Detroit as a city of hope but for many slaves who had escaped from the Deep South, this city and the Detroit River was a dream that inspired them to risk their very lives to see. For scores of abolitionists and slaves alike, Detroit was the destination of hope. The trek along the Underground Railroad, a system of safe houses and safe people, led escaped slaves to Detroit-a year-long journey of over 1,000 miles. A trek fueled by the hope of freedom, opportunity, safety, but most of all, joy. The dream of joy is really at the center of the heart of every woman, of every man. Often it is the goal behind the goal, the greater dream of a thousand aspirations and for countless slaves, it fueled prayerful miles and expectant singing. Their dream may have started with the longing for freedom from the injustice and suffering of slavery, but there was something behind that dream. What do we do when justice and freedom have been obtained? We live the life we were meant to live-this is the dream that is beyond justice, the dream of joy. They would sing about the Jordan River, speaking figuratively of crossing the Detroit River into Windsor, Canada, finally being free of fear and the repercussions of their decision to pursue their dream. For many of my ancestors, slavery was all they knew. They were born into the slave system, often separated from their parents and shipped off to fields throughout the south. They never knew the dream of freedom.
The Source of Hope
What is it in the heart of a woman that dares to dream of a world she’s known nothing of, a world without rape or exploitation where she is free to choose her loved ones and run her hands through the hot July air? Where does the dream of a boy come from, a dream of a fantastical world of play, when all he’s known is the work slavery? I believe the quote of an unknown slave says it all: “All my life I been called a slave. They tell me I belongs to my master. That may be true about my body, but my soul remembers a time when I was free, so when I get a chance I will run.” Our soul remembers. I believe because we’ve been made in the image of God that our soul remembers. The world that pokes and peaks into our world of injustice and suffering connects powerfully with our soul because it was the world we were made for, a world of joy. A world where cicadas echo through streets of giggles and strappy heels dangle as bare feet walk through lush green grass. You see, there is something beyond justice that we all long for, a dream that we share with the rest of humanity. Millions have risked their lives and are risking their lives today so the dream can come to pass. A dream can change the world, literally. There are ways in which we use the concept of dream to refer to a wish, a desire, or a hope. Real change, however, comes through conviction, passion, power, and action. During the civil rights era that brought real and lasting change to millions of African-American’s, it was the dream of one man coupled with the real actions of Whites, Blacks, Asians, Latinos and others that brought that dream to pass. Dreaming is not incompatible with action; in fact a dream of substance, of real conviction and vision requires action. God’s dream is the same way. To say that God has a dream is an understatement. The culmination of all history is heading somewhere; it is heading to a place that is beyond justice, a place of joy.
The Dream of God
God’s vision and passion for another world are coupled with His power and will to accomplish His dream. God’s dreams come to pass and the exciting part is this; they include us, they include our action, our faith, our longings. Some wonder why God doesn’t just snap his fingers and bring about his dream right away. God invites us to join him in setting things right, of helping the world around us in both small and big ways begin to look the way it is supposed to be. In Revelation 21 (3b-5a NASB), God gives us a glimpse of the day he will bring his dream to pass. It says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” The dream of God is a dream to make all things new! God could, in fact, make the dream come alive instantly but as we will see, this wouldn’t be good for everyone. The dream of God is not only of another world of beauty, order and joy. It is also a world of severe consequences, particularly for those who have put their faith and trust in a world that is incompatible with God’s dream. God will make all things new and this is not good news for all. The first thing we need to realize, however, is that there is a dream behind our dream, a longing behind all our aspirations that we seldom can put our fingers on.
Our dream is a dream that is beyond justice-one that is rooted in another place. Our soul remembers this place because we’ve been made in the image of God. The dream of our heart is anchored in the eternal dream of God. This is what is beyond justice. When adjusted for population, there are more slaves living at this moment in history than at any other time, more than were trafficked cumulatively over the four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Millions of people live a life of horror, of degradation, of hopelessness and despair. Such things should not be. The reality of suffering and injustice causes most people to experience what the Bible calls “holy indignation,” or anger. Indignation is that “strong displeasure at something considered unjust, it is righteous anger.” There is something holy about righteous indignation-it brings out the best in humanity. Emerson wrote, “A good indignation brings out all one’s powers.” If you are like most people, as you see the suffering and injustices of the world around you, you long to do something, to be an agent of transformation. Kevin Jenkins, President of World Vision International expresses this holy indignation this way, “We don’t accept that any child should have to go to bed hungry. We don’t believe that mothers should watch their children get sick and have no way to help them. We don’t believe that fathers should work 16 hours a day and still not be able to provide for their children. We don’t believe teachers should give lessons to children who have no textbooks, paper or pens. We don’t believe governments and rebels should recruit youths to kill, or that girls should be bought and sold, or that parents must sell their children to pay their debts… There is a righteous anger at the heart of World Vision. But at the same time, we overflow with love for all those with whom we are called to serve.” Indignation causes us to reach for the dream, to band together across racial lines, across economic lines, across religious lines to do something greater, something that none of us could possibly do alone-to reach for the dream. The realities of injustice and suffering cause a deep sense of dissonance and rage within us and this rage at the injustices and suffering of others is a demonstration that we are made in the image of God. The commodification of people is as old a practice as civilization itself but in the dream of God, God Himself will reverse this in what the Bible calls the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a reality where the deepest longings of our hearts for justice and abundance are fulfilled because God will be in control instead of corrupt governments, greedy corporations, or broken systems of law.
The Kingdom of God is the Dream of God and it is this Dream where we find our hearts wandering. It is in this dream where we can feel the density of the air flow between our fingers and the green grass beneath our feet. Throughout the Bible, God gives us glimpses, small snapshots of a world that that can barely be imagined given the world we live in today. In Revelation 18, God gives us a horrific glimpse of the judgment that will come to those who exploit the poor, the world’s resources, and those who traffic in human beings. In Rev. 18, we read about the future destruction of a city of sin, where people make millions from the exploitation of the poor. The city is referred to as Babylon, but it represents for us every city where evil is allowed to flourish. Listen to the words of Rev. 18:11 (Message), “”The kings of the earth will see the smoke of her burning, and they’ll cry and carry on, the kings who went night after night to her brothel. They’ll keep their distance for fear they’ll get burned, and they’ll cry their lament: Doom, doom, the great city doomed! City of Babylon, strong city! In one hour it’s over, your judgment come! “The traders will cry and carry on because the bottom dropped out of business, no more market for their goods: gold, silver, precious gems, pearls; fabrics of fine linen, purple, silk, scarlet; perfumed wood and vessels of ivory, precious woods, bronze, iron, and marble; cinnamon and spice, incense, myrrh, and frankincense; wine and oil, flour and wheat; cattle, sheep, horses, and chariots. And slaves—their terrible traffic in human lives. Everything you’ve lived for, gone! All delicate and delectable luxury, lost! Not a scrap, not a thread to be found!” In the dream of God, we see the great anger and wrath of God, we see divine holy indignation in action. Many people have a hard time with a God portrayed as vengeful, who would bring destruction to people and places, who would judge the world, after all, isn’t God supposed to be loving? When we consider that men will fly across seas to commodify young boys and girls, that daily there are those who will pay to rape a child, when we see the expression of absolute evil in our world, the question shouldn’t be, “How can God punish the world,” but rather, “How can God not punish the world.” God is loving and His dream is rooted in joy and freedom but God is also holy, He is pure and it would be a nightmare, not a dream, for the world to continue as it is today without a course correction. According to the U.S. Department of State, an estimated 50 percent of all trafficking victims are children under the age of 18. Every year 1.2 million children are trafficked for child labor; another 1 million are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Every day, millions of children live the nightmare, not the dream. God hates injustices and He cares deeply for the hurting and the poor-this is what authentic religion is all about. Our world needs a course correction, we need God to bring an end to suffering and injustice, to bring the Kingdom of God, His great dream, to pass-this is why our dream is a dream beyond mere justice.
The Course of History
The things that cause us anger do so because we are made in the image of God and in the dream of God, God will make all things right. All of history is heading toward this cosmic collision, a day where God will judge evil and bring an end to injustices and suffering. In Rev. 11:15b-18 (NASB), we read of this day of judgment, “and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”” All history is heading toward a cosmic collision, a time of great punishment and wrath against the actors of evil-those who enjoy victimizing the poor, who enslave the weak, exploiting the world’s resources, while indulging in every luxury known to mankind.
Beyond Justice: Biblical Foundation for Mission and Justice Part 2 of 2
Beyond Justice, parts 1 and 2 were written by R. York Moore and are the full, non-filmed manuscripts for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA and World Vision ACT:S campaign project, “Beyond Justice,” or “Get ACT:IVE” campaign.
Our Dream is Realized Through Jesus Christ
Before we begin to think that the dream of God is some far off, ethereal idea, I want to say that God’s dream is coming to pass right now, all over the world-particularly in some of the most dire situations. The Kingdom of God is not merely a place and a time in the future. The Kingdom of God is showing up and transforming our world. The Kingdom of God begins with the good news of Jesus Christ. All history is heading toward the day when Jesus Christ will reign, where he will set all things right but the good news of Jesus is that it has already begun. Jesus declared the Kingdom of God a present reality in his first public address in Luke 4 (NASB) where he said, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” From this point forward in history, the Kingdom of God has been advancing toward God’s dream with the power of the present Christ. Notice Jesus’ emphasis on the poor, on those in bondage, the sick, and the oppressed. Justice is God’s heartbeat and the Kingdom of God revolves around making all things right, particularly for those who suffer. When Jesus told his followers to go and preach to the cities of his day, he told them to heal the sick and to announce, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Luke 10:9, NASB). God’s Kingdom dream has always revolved around good news to those who need it most-this is the mission of the followers of Jesus, to announce the good news of the Kingdom of God and to invite the nations to join in the dream! The Kingdom of God is a reality that is now, not just a future reality. Because of what Jesus Christ has done, the dream of God is breaking into our world, reversing injustices, freeing slaves, healing the sick and restoring hope. Isn’t that exciting!?!? What’s more is that Jesus invites us to be actors in bringing the Kingdom of God to bear upon the broken and unjust places of our world. This is the best way to think about what it means to be an activist. We live in an age where we long for change; we are more knowledgeable than ever about the plight of those who suffer. We want to change the world.
Change We Can Believe In
In our faith communities, the concept of a ‘justice activist’ is taking hold as Christians begin to realize the centrality of justice in the teachings of Jesus. Being inspired by the dream of God of a better world is fueling new expressions of Christian faith and a generation of ‘justice activists’ are rising up to take the gospel to the poor, the message of freedom to those enslaved, healing to the sick, and the message of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Being an activist whose vision is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ and whose hope is the coming Kingdom of God is sustainable activism that bares consistent, long-term good. We all want change we can believe in and in Jesus Christ we find it. The dream of God is ultimately realized only through the person of Jesus Christ. When we think of an 8 year old who has been sold by her mother in Myanmar to an international sex tourist for $200 or a father who would sell his son as a bonded laborer in India to bake bricks, we see what kind of evil we are up against. Ultimately, injustices always trace back to a spiritual brokenness, a soul sickness. In the state of Ohio alone in 2010, there was an estimated 1,000 U.S. born children, most under the age of 15, sold as forced prostitutes. We can legislate against such realities, prosecute those who traffic in the flesh of children, and build after-care facilities for victims but without addressing the hunger that would give rise to such a rape of humanity, we are failing to be holistic in our approach to evil. Real evil exists in our hearts and in the world around us and that is something that requires real spiritual power to address. This is why we need the power that only comes through the person of Jesus Christ. In the life and death of Jesus we hear the echoes of another world, a world where couples stroll, laughter flourishes, and the streets hum with music.
The Dream Making Work of Christ
When Jesus died on the cross, he dealt once and for all with the evil in the world out there and the world in here. As Jesus hung on the cross, his death paid the full price for all the things that we’ve done, all the things that we’ve left undone that are incompatible with the dream of God. We are not just victims in this world or neutral observers of the world’s suffering-we have all contributed to the wreckage of the world in many ways. Jesus’ death on the cross enables us to begin again and to experience God’s forgiveness. The Bible also tells us that Jesus, three days after his death, returned to life-he was raised from the dead. And it’s this power that raised Jesus from the dead that is available to us today. The spiritual life we find in the person of Jesus is given to us who would follow Jesus as Kingdom activists, proclaiming and demonstrating the Kingdom of God to the world around us. This is how the dream of God advances, as God’s activists, Jesus’ followers, take the power of God and apply it to those places that are broken, to people who are suffering, and to our own lives as well. Divine history is going somewhere. All that God is doing is pointing to another time and place, it is culminating in the grand dream of God. In contrast, human history can be summarized in its totality as the dialectic rise and fall between our pursuit of the dream we remember and its vicious counterpart, the nightmare of injustice and suffering.
The Dream Becomes Reality
What does God’s dream look like in its fullness? What picture does Jesus give us of this coming Kingdom? In the book of Revelation, we get a vivid snapshot of the dream of God fulfilled. We are introduced to a city unlike any city we’ve ever seen or read about. American cinema and literature have done us a disservice by giving us images of Heaven as a place where we’ll lounge partially nude on clouds, feeding from clusters of grapes while eternally honing our harp playing skills. But the dream of God revolves around a city, a unique city where infrastructure and agriculture are intertwined; a city where beauty and order coincide with population density and activity; a city of purpose and pleasure. This city that we read about stands in diametrical opposition to the city of Babylon we read of earlier. It is the city that is the antithesis of every broken and exploitative system in our cities today. Listen to the picture that has long fueled those who follow Jesus to reach for the dream. In Rev. 21 and 22 we read this description: (Rev. 21:21-27, The Message), “The main street of the City was pure gold, translucent as glass. But there was no sign of a Temple, for the Lord God—the Sovereign-Strong—and the Lamb are the Temple. The City doesn’t need sun or moon for light. God’s Glory is its light, the Lamb its lamp! The nations will walk in its light and earth’s kings bring in their splendor. Its gates will never be shut by day, and there won’t be any night. They’ll bring the glory and honor of the nations into the City. Nothing dirty or defiled will get into the City, and no one who defiles or deceives. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will get in.” (Rev. 22:1-3a, Message) “Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed.” In this city of hope we see a river of life, a tree of healing-abundance and restoration. God’s dream is a dream beyond justice though it includes the judgment necessary to establish it. Notice in this description that nothing dirty or defiled will get into the city-it is a holy place. God’s dream goes beyond holiness, beyond justice, God’s dream is a dream of flourishing. Like many cities, the city of Detroit even at the height of its grandeur held only a shadowy resemblance of the city of God. Detroit was never the final destination of slaves-they dreamt of something better, it was the dream behind their dream that fueled their journey. At best, this city or any of the other cities of this world are mere symbols of a dream that lives in our hearts because our souls remember. Malan, New York, Vancouver, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Dubai-all these and many other great cities hold aspects that are alluring to us. Beauty, transcendence, natural treasures, the arts, fashion, abundant resources, power-all these things in some way are attractive to us because our soul remembers. In the dream of God realized through the person of Jesus Christ, we see the culmination of divine history in this city of God.
Our Dream is an Invitation to the Dream of God
“All my life I been called a slave. They tell me I belongs to my master. That may be true about my body, but my soul remembers a time when I was free, so when I get a chance I will run.” What does it mean to respond to the dream, the world we remember? I believe this unknown slave has the right answer-we run! The dream God has put in our hearts is really an invitation, an invitation to pursue something greater than ourselves, greater than the façade around us-it is an invitation to run toward the dream. Feeling the dense air flow between our fingers, to see the sights and sounds of life the way it ought to be, and to hear the sounds of a world made right-this is what we can experience when we choose to run. How do we make the dream a reality? How do we respond to the dream God has for the world and each of our lives? How do we sustain our commitment to actualize God’s dream for justice. These are the questions we will explore together. When we choose to run, we reorient our lives. When someone chooses to run a marathon, they set goals, they practice and train, they endure strict regiments. When we choose to run after the dream of God, we choose to follow Jesus who sets the pace and the direction for the dream. We learn from him and submit to his way of thinking and doing. As a result, we begin by living a more active faith – by seeing our lives differently and joining a purpose bigger than ourselves. The reality is that whether or not you’ve noticed it, Jesus is already setting the pace and giving your life direction. The passion and drive we have, the joy we find in life are usually indicators of where the Kingdom of God is touching your soul. What dream has God placed on your heart? It might be tutoring children living in poverty in your own backyard, helping to right the wrong of modern-day slavery, helping end a preventable disease like malaria in your life-time, or something else that God has uniquely placed on your heart. Where do you see this other world tearing at the fiber of your soul?
The invitation that God is making to you now is an invitation to be more like Jesus and to pursue a world that is more like God’s Kingdom than the world of pain, suffering and injustice. Pursuing this world requires condition. Just like a runner will condition their body in pursuit of a goal, God invites us to condition our heart. God wants us to begin to see the way he sees and care about the things he cares about. The founder of World Vision, Bob Pierce, used to pray a prayer that is now famous the world over, “Let me heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” Conditioning our heart to reflect the heart of God requires us to connect deeply with Jesus Christ. Through prayer, reading the Bible, and seeing what is going on in our world we can begin to develop a heart like God. Our souls remember so we will run. The great news is that the run Jesus invites us to is not a solitary one-he invites us to do it together. Moving beyond justice requires a movement. We can only do so much on our own to change our soul or to change our society and so God’s dream is to be pursued in community. God’s dream is about both individual transformation and global restoration – and it requires each of us to do our part and all of us to do our part together. It’s not enough to simply live a more active faith individually; we must share God’s heart for the world with others and invite them to run with us.
There is something beyond justice and its joy. There is a place our soul calls out for, another place that our soul remembers. Our response to God’s invitation begins when we imagine what could be-a life together of joy, of endless summer nights-peace, safety, security- and most of all togetherness. God longs to restore the world and that will come to pass in a final way one day but today, he invites us to run with him in bringing the Kingdom of God to our world today. Our response to God’s invitation is to run, to run toward this place of magic, to breathe in and dream with God and to join him in making all things new.
A War-Waging Jesus? The Necessity of Judgment for Justice
Milan sinks down into her well-worn bed, her little legs aching and head throbbing to the beat of the ubiquitous dance music droning in the forefront of the red lit shop. 2:00 AM and a rest for the night to mourn her lost childhood, a childhood sliced away from her skin by the 20+ men a day for the past 17 months, 2 weeks, three days and now 14 hours. Each day the memory of their grotesque clenched faces and the groans of their anger and sexual release slither away like their cigarette smoke, rising and squeezing into the small hole above her bed and into the night sky. In the beginning she tried to will herself to rise like smoke, to fly away with their stench into the night air but now her legs ache and her head pounds and all she can do is try to slip into a world of mixed memories and dreams, an aftertaste of a life long lost. She rocks herself to sleep remembering the hours spent playing hide and seek with her older sister, the stories told by the old man at the fruit stand back home, the memory of something sweet on her 9th birthday, the last one spent in her disheveled little hut. Her home had not red lights, no damnable dance music, and no cigarette smoke, just tin walls, a small table where her mother sat singing and the sounds of children playing outside. What she wouldn’t give to rise like smoke and float away to that aftertaste world.
Apart from our sense of angst and anger for Milan’s plight, her story reminds us of something important, something necessary-suffering is real and evil churns in the human heart still. Remembering is a part of remaining human, of retaining our sense of grandeur and frailty and our incredible capacity for real evil. For many, real evil vanished long ago in the killing fields, the concentration camps, and the bursting hulls of slave ships. Only every now and then do we revisit evil in small doses-a campus shooting, an act of bigotry, a child’s molestation but then the actors of such evil are different aren’t they? They are alien, a throwback to a more ignorant and primal time. If we are honest however, what is really most disturbing is how familiar their actions are, how very near they are to the aftertaste life we know lives in our hearts as well. In our day evil has been romanticized, relegated to the status of myth and portrayed for us as hard-bodied, happy teenaged vampires. The myth, however, is all too real as modern-day vampires pay to slice away the flesh of young girls, to drink their youth and absorb their souls in the brothels where millions are lost. Their grotesqueries, hidden for now, are no less the face of hell on earth than the acts of all epic despots which seem to rise and fall throughout every time and amongst every people. Our cyclical suspension of belief in evil gives rise to the cancerous growth of such wickedness and this growth in our day has spread to every continent and is victimizing the daughters of every people.
If we would hear the defeated whimpers of girls like Milan, our all too academic musings on God’s commitment to cosmic justice may be altered. Her aching legs and pounding head turn the question of our day upside down. “How can a loving God send people to hell” is replaced with the question, “How can a loving God fail to provide justice against those who are primary or complicit in such a rape of humanity.” Amongst many neo and pseudo-evangelicals, the great dreadful eschatological realities of hell and judgment are being challenged or abandoned. A Christ without the severity of God’s wrath as seen on the cross, however, is nothing more than another modern-day domesticated god. Such gods provide nothing more for us than merely another happily ever after story that plays so well to our American myth making where young ladies become princesses instead of $5.00 whores. Milan’s red lights and stained sheets point us back to our universal plight-evil lives in our hearts and there is a cosmic reckoning on the human horizon.
The centrality of judgment and justice in the Christian story is unavoidable and both concepts are inextricably bound together, we cannot have justice without judgment. This relationship between justice and judgment is seen in the cross as God pours out his great wrath upon his Son but this one historical act of God is not an isolated expression of his commitment to cosmic justice. The dream of God, the sum of all His aspirations and actions throughout time, culminate with the great in-gathering of the nations and the wedding feast of the lamb where all things will be restored and death and mourning done away with (Is. 25:6-8, Rev. 21). Prior to this great event, evil will be judged and justice established. We get an awe-inspiring view of this act of justice and judgment in Revelation 19:11-16, “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (NIV, emphasis added). This portrayal of the reigning Christ is no less Christ as the weeping Son of God in the Garden or over the grave of Lazarus. It is no less Jesus as the One who healed the woman with the flow or the begging leper. ‘With justice he judges’ gives us just as much a picture of Christ as his acts of mercy and forgiveness throughout the gospels-they are not incompatible.
We need a war-waging Christ. A war-waging Christ helps us understand the ultimate intentions of God throughout time. God is at war. His eyes are ablaze with fire over the red lights that accentuate her prepubescent silhouette. His sharp sword will strike down all empires where injustices were allowed to flourish and in this, the entire world lays under the certain wrath of God. He alone is King of Kings and he will reign in actuality only after judging the world and establishing justice for all. God’s war is not a symbolic war, it is not a metaphor for his hatred of sin. “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” it is often said, but in the great judgment of the nations, sin and sinner are one object just as Christ on the cross was the actualized object of all of God’s great wrath and fury. Christ either stands as our substitute, taking on the full wrath and fury of a holy God who is at war or we stand before him, ready to be the objects of his justice and judgment. In Revelation 19 it says, “He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.” This phrase, ‘the winepress’ points to the well-known act of wine making where grapes are sequestered in a small area, corralled and smashed to a pulp, to be then pressed out. It is a sign not of total obliteration or annihilation but rather of a destruction so severe and complete that it transforms the object being crushed into an indistinguishable mass, forever incapable of being restored to its prior form. The phrase, ‘the fury of the wrath of God Almighty,’ points to the manner with which the act of crushing will be done. Fury refers to ‘unrestrained rage.’ God is not one to be ‘out of control,’ but a full, un-restrained expression of the Almighty’s rage against all that is unjust and evil lays over the human horizon and such an historic moment should strike real fear in the hearts of every person.
Milan’s plight is not out of sight from the all-seeing God and her defeated whimpers fuel the great wrath of God against the nations. The promise of Scripture is not merely that our sins can be forgiven or that Milan’s tears will one day be wiped away but also that her captors will one day be crushed like grapes, they will be pressed out under the full, unrestrained wrath of God. God is at war not only against injustice but also for those who suffer. As the great eschatological realities of the Christian faith are either ignored or allegorized, we are losing the ability to provide a cohesive, comprehensive worldview and thus the Christian message itself is being compromised. We cannot have the great love of God without also the great wrath of God. The prophetic realities of the return of Christ and his judgment have been relegated to the worst expressions of the Church, those who sensationalize God’s return, those who commercialize the promises of God and exploit those who fall prey to their teaching. Prophecy and the great eschatological teachings of Scripture are seen as the fantastical expressions of late-night television cult-leaders, an embarrassing expression of a day gone-by in the Christian faith. We need to recapture the full centrality and motivating nature of the eschaton, to recommit ourselves to the study of prophecy and redeem the hope we have in the personal return of the war-waging Christ. The cross alone cannot itself give us God’s ultimate answer for suffering and injustice. The judgment poured out upon Christ on the cross is only a part of God’s plan. God is at war, a war that was won in the devastating blow against sin and death on the cross but one that will only be won in actuality when Heaven stands open and the rider on the white horse comes forth with his armies to once and for all banish evil from his world. Milan’s suffering and her inadequate aftertaste world of happiness gone by will one day be replaced by the great wedding feast of God. No longer a $5.00 whore, she will be free to experience this time of great joy and renewal and in this alone do we see her tears wiped away and the music and red lights of her hell vanquished forever.
God’s Greater Eschatological Vision: Platform Message Delivered at Orlando 2011
It was a mystical moment with sloshy streets and ice ruts guiding our car that Sunday morning. The sun was fresh, hitting the slosh, making steam rise all around us like a fog machine in a movie! We left early from the abandoned building we were living in and were on our way to something called “church,” a thing I had never heard of in all my 10 years as my Atheist parents meticulously hid all signs of God and religion. We had hit bottom, however, and this thing called “church” had recently provided financial assistance, food, clothes and were working to get us off the streets so my Mom said, “We are going to ‘church.’” Our car careened off the ice slots and bumped onto the curb as we piled out of our rickety car-what a site we must have been to those White people! I ran right up to the front door with all my wild hair, buckled shoes with no socks, and obvious lack of Sunday morning etiquette but I had to see this thing called ‘church.’
I stood with my back to the cold foggy world behind me and my face toward the strange world of pews and pulpit. The scene inside this little building was as mystical as the foggy snow outside. People stood side by side singing except it was like no kind of singing I’d ever heard! These strange people sang with a twang but their song had a mystical pull on me. Though I would not return to church again for nearly 10 years, I would remember this first encounter- I would replay the song, recall the people’s faces for years to come. Only years later, after I met Jesus Christ for myself as a an Atheist philosophy student at the University of Michigan would I fully realize what a ‘church’ was, or why White Southern Baptists would help Black kids with no socks and wild hair from Detroit. Only years later would I rediscover the song these kind people sang with a twang: “Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow? There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood; Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow; There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.”
I stand here today because I was introduced to a mystical world called the church, a magical power called the gospel, and a Majestic person named Jesus Christ! The Church’s message is of a new world and the power to live into that world through the name of Jesus Christ! Too often, our evangelism focuses merely on the individual and her need for the forgiveness of sins and salvation from hell. As an evangelist, I want to make it clear that this core element of the gospel is indispensible but it is not all there is to our proclamation. As I stood small in the middle of two worlds that day I needed a Jesus who could both save me from the hell I was in as well as the hell to come. With an open door to my back that day, the cold damp world of fatherlessness, of poverty, and of drugs stood in diametrical opposition to the mystical world those people sang about and preached. May I say to you that the Jesus we serve through the same nexus moment of the cross and resurrection is able to save to the uttermost!?!? May I say to you that we serve a Jesus who doesn’t need to choose whether or not to save a boy from the despair of this world or the damnation of the world to come? There is power in the blood!
The American Church is in need of a larger eschatology because a larger, more holistic eschatology inspires us, it free us to practice a more Biblical, holistic, integrated evangelization. The word eschaton means ‘last things,’ but our evangelical heritage has placed the emphasis on the wrong set of last things. We believe in the future personal return of Jesus Christ, the judgment of the living and the dead, the Lake of Fire, but also the re-creation of the world and the eternal blessing of the nations. Our heritage has placed its fare too much emphasis on the former set of realities to the expense of the latter. Neo-evangelicals in their pursuit for Kingdom integration and cultural relevance have begun to deny the great eschatological realities of hell and judgment and to preach a gospel with no need of the cross. This will ultimately rob the gospel of its purpose and lead to nothing more than another iteration of cultural Christianity. While this is true, the long history of our evangelical heritage placed too much emphasis on the wrath of God and far too little on the wonder working power of God to re-create the nations-to transform not only soul, but society as well. Our story doesn’t end with crucifixion, but resurrection. Our hope is not in the destruction of the world but in its re-creation. The work of evangelization is the work of bringing echoes of a mystical world to come, because there is wonder working power!
Throughout John’s vision of the eschaton in Revelation, there are still nations, there are still cities-not separated by oceans but filled with life. Trees and rivers, lakes and mountains-the new world is not some sci-fi visage of an altogether different universe (Gr: heteros). An eschatology that emphasizes life and renewal leads us to practice a more holistic evangelization of restoration and shalom.
A larger eschatology also inspires innovative and effectual evangelization. It inspires us and frees us to integrate, not dichotomize, the proclamation of the Gospel and the practice of the Kingdom. For the last 10 years, I’ve worked as a justice evangelist, an evangelist and abolitionist to bring political, business, medical, and legal leaders together with the Church and academic institutions to address the commercial sexual exploitation of children and to help people meet Jesus through the lens of justice. My calling to this integrative work of justice evangelism came in the midst InterVarsity’s global missions conference, Urbana 2000, after hearing Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission speak. I’ve had the privilege of giving the evangelistic message and call to faith for the past two Urbana conferences where hundreds have come to faith as they heard the gospel through the lens of justice, particularly the fight to end modern day slavery.
I’ve also worked to develop justiceinvitationals which are week-long campus campaigns around justice issues where the gospel can be preached in a new light. Through these campaigns, not only has the Church been mobilized for justice but the nominally churched, the non-church, and the anti-churched have heavily participated in Kingdom work while encountering the person of Christ! In the last campaign at the Ohio State University, we had both a substantive engagement of the issue of the commercial sexual exploitation of children as well as a true and effectual proclamation of the gospel.
Throughout the campaign, we empowered front-line non-profits like World Vision, the Not for Sale Campaign, Hagar International and the International Justice Mission! We raised money, a house, mobilized thousands to advocate politically for the Child Compact Act, educated over 20,000 citizens about modern-day slavery, and helped state lawmakers pass State Senate Bill 235 which will bring Ohio from the child prostitution capital of the United States to one of the states with the toughest anti-trafficking legislation. Because the Gospel of Jesus Christ was clearly proclaimed during this campaign, over 300 students repented of their sin and came to faith in Christ. This is what the gospel can do because there is power in the blood!
For the lost, when we give this generation a vision of God’s future Kingdom, of His wonder working re-creative power, it both inspires Kingdom engagement as well as repentance from sin. For the Church, a larger eschatology re-shapes our limited understanding of global evangelization, it inspires innovation as we partner with God to re-create the world around us! We don’t serve an either or Jesus-he wants it all-not just souls but society, not just the future, but the present, not just Heaven but Earth-He will not stop until “…The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ…” In God’s great eschatological vision the work of evangelization is to live into both of these realities simultaneously-not to do evangelism at the expense of the Kingdom and not to pursue the Kingdom with no care for the eternal state of the soul! Biblical, effectual, innovative, and integrated evangelization is a both/and, it is to to ping echoes of a mystic world, a magic that can transform the soul and transform society, and introduce those who are damned in this world and the world to come to the Majestic One-Jesus Christ!
The Building is On Fire: Our Responsibility to Soul & Society
The message of the gospel is the power that can change a world-the worlds within worlds multiplied billions of times over throughout the globe! The gospel can change the world of every person who would respond to its power. The gospel changes the world of individual people, transforming them from the inside out. The gospel is the good news of the death, resurrection, and Lordship of Jesus and is good because we stand already condemned before a holy God with the death sentence already handed out to humanity! In the gospel we see God’s glorious grace, his strong desire not for mere reform but for renewal. In the gospel we see God’s power to literally make us right and to restore our lost state of grandeur.
In the gospel, however, we also see the power that can change the world, the entire system that has crashed and merely wobbles about simulating the world intended for us by God. There is little debate that the world we live in is not the world God intended for us. There are wars in this world, enduring poverty too. There is debasing addictions along with the oppression of women and children. In this world, people die of preventable diseases by the hundreds of thousands all the time. This world seems to offer so little purpose, so little hope that even when we have plenty we still throw away our families for cheap thrills, our abilities and gifts for mere consumption and our dignity to feel connected to another person, if even for a moment. Our world is damaged and no quick fix, no political party or reform, no amount of money or determination will fix it. What we need is a supernatural, superspiritual, supra-human, extra-dimensional solution of power and the great news is that we have such power in the person of Jesus Christ! Yes, Jesus is able to save our world, but He is also able to save the world!
If it is true, that we have the power to change the world, than what do we do with it? What would you do if you could carry around with you, in your jacket or purse, a device so powerful that if it were unleashed it would literally impact everything and anything around you? Would you release it? Probably not if it were a nuclear device, an incurable virus, or a poisonous gas but what if it were an unstoppable force of hope, a contagion of love, or an enveloping power for restoration? Where would you first introduce such a power? As Christians, we do have such a power, the power to change the world! Unfortunately, most of the time, we leave it in our purse, our desk drawer, glove box, or cached on our disk drives, making sure that it changes nothing and nobody around us. Often, this power has been cemented like a memorial to a time gone by, a faith tradition that used to impact communities, countries, and continents. We have the power to change the world and we need to use it, but where and how?
Recently, I was asked by two students in two separate conversations about how to discern God’s call and how to invest themselves in God’s broad world and Kingdom. I shared with them that there are some things God calls all of us to. “It is God’s will for everyone to be evangelized,” I said, “so you are always safe including personal witness as God’s will for your life.” I said, “God wants us all to always pursue knowing Him so I’m pretty sure you should do that too.” In both conversations, however, they specifically wanted to know about the vast universe of things Christians are doing, “What about AIDS orphans, and clean drinking water for the poor, and sex slaves, and Scripture translation, and Muslims and Hindus, and unreached people groups, and…and…and….” The students felt overwhelmed by both the responsibility of the power entrusted to them as well as the vast needs and ways to use that power in the world. I think we can all sympathize with being in this place at one point or another.
I continued, “One way to look at it is as if the world were a high-rise apartment complex and we live on one of the floors. Let’s say there was a fire on one of the floors. Now, if the fire were in apartment 14B and everyone got out, it might be the Christian thing perhaps to send money or a nice card to express care for the material loss of the tenants in that unit.” I continued, “However, let’s say there was a raging fire on the top floor and the lives of many were at stake. In this case, rescuing them might require special abilities and gifts, not the least of which would include bravery and physical strength-in reality only some people would be helpful in rescuing people on the top floor of the burning building.” I ended by saying, “Now, if there were a raging fire on the first floor, threatening to spread upward to consume each and every floor, every apartment, every life-certainly you would say that we would all be called to do something for ourselves and our neighbors in the building, right?” Both students agreed. I brought the illustration to a close by pointing out, “…some fires in our world are apartment 14B fires. 14B fires matter to God and they should matter to us but our response shouldn’t be to rush in and risk our lives to rescue the material possessions being consumed-it is good enough that the people got out and will live to rebuild their lives. We can and should share our love and concern with people during their time of loss.” Continuing, “Some fires threaten a great many people and require a concerted and passionate response requiring special gifts and bravery. God equips many to respond to these needs even though in doing so they themselves may perish. Such people are heroes to us, people of whom the world is not worthy but we are not all such people-God chooses those heroes.” Finally, “There are many issues we as Christians face, however, that are like the fire raging on the first floor of the building, fires that if left unchecked would simply consume all of humanity. These fires are complex and often reflect not one gigantic blaze but rather a series of smaller interrelated fires. These fires,” I said, “require all of us, no matter what our calling or gifting is, to respond with everything we’ve got.”
It is true that our world is in shambles and there is no end to the need before us, both temporally as well as eschatologically. Each and every person is lost and everywhere we look the impact of that reality is felt. The fact that those without Christ are dying and on their way to hell is a first floor fire. No matter what we do for people temporally, unless we also share the message that can change their world, they will perish and the eternal suffering they will endure will make all suffering in this world pale by comparison. I believe the interrelatedness of modern-day slavery, aggressive secularization, the simultaneous rise of global poverty and the super-rich, the dehumanization of women and children, and mass deaths as a result of preventable/curable diseases are examples of more first floor fires. We are not given a choice by God whether to address first floor fires of the soul or first floor fires of the material world, the Church is called to them all. We must care about all suffering, whether temporal or eschatological. It is not my place to determine what are 14B or top floor fires, and people that have particular calls to such ministries that focus on these fires would not find my opinions on the matter helpful or empowering. It is clear, however, that we all must contribute what bravery, what super powers, what faith we have to doing all we can to put out the blaze that threatens to consume the soul and consume society. Again, the great news is that we have such power, the power to change a world and the power to change the world. The question is will we use it?
Debauchery: Our Newfound American Pastime
Four of my favorite words are uttered every night at 6:30PM Eastern in the U.S., “On the broadcast tonight….” Most of the time, these familiar words are uttered by Brian Williams, the news anchor for NBC Nightly News. Brian is a welcome guest in my home, distilling the big issues, breaking down the all too often “big world” of information to a thirty minute expose’ on the “must know” news. The coverage is diverse, relevant, balanced, and well-told. Recently, however, I raced to shield my children’s eyes from Brian’s expose’ on the new trend in Las Vegas as the coverage of a pool party at a well-known casino seemed more like an infomercial for a “Girls Gone Wild” video! The trend of Vegas pool parties has spawned hundreds of millions of dollars in spending to renovate and expand pools that can accommodate up to 5,000 people at a time, cabanas with day beds, and “swim up bars and black jack tables.” Vegas has hit it big once again, this time recapturing the wonder of the 22-35 aged demographic, a demographic that has eluded Vegas for some time now. Brian Williams’ coverage of 5,000 guests in the middle of a Sunday afternoon looked less like a pool party and more like what I imagine sex temple rituals in ancient Mesopotamia looked like. The preponderance of public displays of indecency in this news story evoked a unique feeling of shock. Taken individually, any one of the scenes of indecency shown would have been, unfortunately, quite commonplace by today’s standards. There was something particularly disturbing, however, about seeing this mass of oiled, pulsating, dripping wet flesh in beautiful high definition as Brian spoke of the recapturing of this elusive demographic. It was more than sexual brokenness, it was the equally elusive concept we’ve forgotten, ‘debauchery.’
To Google the word alone is a dangerous endeavor but researching the topic seriously is quite difficult as Western culture has lost the category altogether. Debauchery, however, is making a comeback in a big way. Increasingly, strip clubs, dance clubs with excessive public expressions of group sexuality, porn stars, and sex toy manufacturers are making their way into our mainstream understanding of entertainment and social connection. Both the porn industry and sex toy manufacturers have found ways into the dorms and public spaces of our college campuses under the auspices of sexual education. What is most distressing about this trend is that it seems to be accelerated by the burgeoning entertainment industry in its pursuit to identify new revenue streams in an age of digital piracy and the ever-expanding application of free speech laws. All this coupled with a Western Church in atrophy and a Judeo-Christian ethic on the decline, I believe we are in the beginning stages of societal decay. The late philosopher and historian, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, detailed this decline in the great world empires of Persia, Greece, Rome and others, always beginning with an expansion and acceptance of the practice of debauchery in the mainstream.
A simple (perhaps too simple) definition of debauchery is, “excessive indulgence of the appetites; especially, excessive indulgence of lust; intemperance; sensuality; habitual lewdness.” Debauchery is more than sexual sin, more than public indecency; it is a phenomenon, one that occurs in a people group when the rot of spiritual decay under the surface of familial and cultural institutions bleeds out into the public sphere. This is happening all around us. The ‘lubrication’ for an acceptance of debauchery at a societal level begins when those structures of culture erode-the family, academia, law, commerce, entertainment….Hypocrisy and collusion in the area of sexual brokenness in the Church is also a powerful component in legitimizing debauchery. Systemic pedophilia in the catholic church amongst ‘spiritual fathers’ has brought public outrage and distrust but also an open door in the home for ‘biological fathers’ to reconsider the boundaries of their own sexuality in the vacuum of moral authority. In the Black Church in the U.S., a once-strong tradition of theological conservatism around sexuality has been eroded by the allegations swirling around mega-church pastor, Bishop Eddie Long, accused of molesting young boys in the church. AME Bishop John Bryant recently reached a settlement for his involvement in allowing (the late) Rev. Sylvester Laudermill Jr. to molest multiple minors in both St. Louis and Los Angeles AME churches. For young men in the Black community, these expressions of perversion reinforce the centrality of sexual gratification in identity, again fueling ever-increasing expressions of brokenness.
There is no lack of illustrations of debauchery in the Scriptures. As soon as mankind began to “…increase in number on the earth…” (Gen. 6:1), we read, “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen. 6:5). How this wickedness and evil inclination expresses itself from this point on in the story of humanity is clear. Cyclically, debauchery resurfaces in every people group over time as societies rise and decline. The suffering generating by debauchery, particularly in the poor and amongst children, is also well documented in Scripture, evoking the anger and wrath of God, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because you poured out your wealth and exposed your nakedness in your promiscuity with your lovers, and because of all your detestable idols, and because you gave them your children’s blood, therefore I am going to gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see all your nakedness. I will sentence you to the punishment of women who commit adultery and who shed blood; I will bring upon you the blood vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger.” (Ez. 16:36-38).” Though this passage speaks figuratively of the Nation Israel and her corporate actions, God uses the common imagery of debauched practices to illustrate his point.
Debauchery in the Scriptures is a unique concept, not merely the preponderance of sinful practices, but rather a corporate expression of a constellation of sinful behavior revolving around sensuality. I Peter 4:3 calls the Christian to abandon debauchery and what I believe to be the subcomponents of debauchery, “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” Debauchery is the corporate expression of these practices.
Finally, debauchery presents a unique threat to Christian evangelization. Because mainstream debauchery “hollows out” the soul of a people group, it anesthetizes them to concerns outside of their own sensuality. Deadening the conscience of a people group paves the way for atrocity and exploitation. As the Christian message always incorporates a call to care for the poor, to provide for the hungry and sick, and to stand against injustices, the Christian message in a milieu of debauchery becomes the enemy of ‘a good time’ to some and our ‘personal freedom and identity’ to others. When this clash of worldview begins to happen, the Christian message begins to be seen as the enemy. The resources of intellectual and economic sophistication of those profiting politically, economically, and socially from debauched practices begins to be used against the Christian Church. This is much more than another expression of culture war but a life and death battle for the remnants of society. We see this clash when the gospel is brought to the Ephesians and the subsequent riot over the profits associated with temple worship of the God Artemis (Acts 19:23-41). The desensitization debauchery brings produces new economic and social structures that are inherently incompatible with Christ and His Kingdom. Where debauchery has become entrenched, there is strong resistance to the Christian message and often the only solution is the eradication of that people group by God.
We as American Christians ought to pray against this emerging spirit of debauchery and for God to bring revival and awakening to our culture before it is too late. Focusing on the family structures, on holiness in the church, on a redemptive presence in government, academia, entertainment, and commerce are all also things Christians should be dedicating themselves to. Running from the increasingly corrupt world around us will only allow the fire to spread more rapidly, increasing human ruin and allowing the widespread suffering that always comes with a people group given over to debauched living. We need God to bring a spirit of repentance and brokenness over what we see around us and in us before it is too late. As a precursor to the active wrath of God, God eventually “gives us over to” the desires of our heart societally. Once this happens, it is too late to turn back to God, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” May God bring us back from the brink.
The Church and Renewal
All too often, the Church is rendered impotent due to the habitual drift of organized religion toward societal institutional identity. In every society, God has established seven great culture-making institutions-government, commerce, medicine, the family, academia, entertainment/sport, and law. These seven institutions not only generate the culture of any people group or nation but are themselves the conglomerate of how the various “tribes” or ethnic groupings within a people or nation express their culture-in other words, these are both the motors of culture and the vehicles for expressing culture. Because of the decaying presence of sin in every people group, these institutions are often mere shadows, broken fragments of what God intends them to be. Renewal can come to particular instances of these institutions as individuals and groups begin to follow Jesus Christ and apply Kingdom values and practices to their spheres of influence but the decaying cycle of sin in any given people group requires major, societ- wide renewal in order to protect these vehicles from not only eroding but morphing into tools which accelerate wickedness.
Entertainment/sport as an institution of culture has often, in its eroded state, become a vehicle for accelerated societal evil. When entertainment falls into eroticism (as it often does) and when sport falls into violence (which it often does), the good gift of sport and entertainment goes from a vehicle for cultural expression to the glory of God to an instrument causing accelerated societal decay. Each and every one of the seven institutions of society has a corresponding broken expression with equally wicked and destructive demarcations. Commerce falls to greed, government falls to power at the expense of the marginal, families become places of abuse and neglect….The reality is, because of sin, we have rarely seen expressions of whole and transformative institutions. We need renewal as many of the institutions of our time have or are beginning to enter into the unsalvageable stages of erosion. The de-evolution of the entertainment industry into eroticism is well documented but we also see irreversible damage to the notion of the family, to medicine, and certainly to commerce. Corruption, a culture of death, acceptance of broken sexual paradigms are all the cumulative effects of a lack of much needed renewal.
Renewal is not merely the bridled restraint of such expressions of decay. It is true that the Church has a preservative nature in culture. The presence of the Church in the World slows the ramped downward spiral of society and the grotesque end stages of unbridled wickedness. The Scripture’s use of preservative imagery, however, is often misused. Preservatives do not bring new life, they merely prevent the decay of death from entirely ruining the food they preserve. Only the blowing winds of God’s grace on a people through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in a unique, corporate way can actually bring new life. Without this unique act of God, the best we can hope for is a slowing of the inevitable and at worst, when the preserving Church fails, the active judgment of God on a people-perhaps even their eradication. Renewal is the unique resurrecting work of God through the corporate application of the Spirit’s power in bringing repentance and the subsequent Kingdom transformation of people groups in application to the culture-making institutions of their society. Renewal is not mere mass conversion nor is it mere revival in the Church, though it may initially begin there, renewal is the macro-transformation of nations, peoples, tribes, and tongues expressed in their culture.
The Church often fails not only to preserve the culture but also fails to be able to receive renewal from God because it trends toward drifting in its identity. The Church world-wide, when left un-checked, confuses itself as an institution of society. We are to be “in the world, but not of the world,” says Jesus. Applied societally, the Church is to participate and lead in every one of the seven institutions but not succumb to the temptation to be those institutions or to circumvent these institutions. Sadly, we see the Church all too often failing to lead and transform these institutions but instead seeking to become or replace them. How often have we seen the Church attempt to be a place of commercial enterprise with her ministers and evangelists peddling programs, conferences, products and the like? How often have we seen well meaning Christian leaders attempting to use the Church as a vehicle for political manipulation and power? How often have we seen the Church give up its ministry of prayer, evangelism, and the study of the Word of God for entertainment and programs of sport? To sit in many prayer circles in today’s Church, one would think we are a hospital as we pray for strokes, heart attacks, cancers, and sicknesses at the expense of lost neighbors, broken families and injustices around the world of every kind! The Church is not a hospital, though we are charged with caring for the broken hearted and the sick. The Church is not the judicial system, though we are charged with loving the prisoner and visiting them in their hours of desperation. The Church is not the academy but we are charged with bringing every thought captive to the Lordship of Christ and worshipping God with our whole mind. The Church is not the family but we are a new family under God charged with caring for widows and orphans.
We are all of these things and none of them at the same time for we are something much greater. A loftier, controlling identity shadows any particular missional charge, for we are the Bride of Jesus Christ, not merely the sum total of our functions. As such, our primary passion should be to connect with Christ and to allow the regenerative flow of the Spirit fill us for His glory. In the world, the Church’s passion should be to be the receptacle of the transforming power of God that can alone bring renewal to our society. How sad that we drift away and settle for our secondary functions instead of our primary identity like a man who confuses his employment for his true identity. The Church is to be just and the place for championing justice without being the hall of justice. The Church is to be a place where the needs of the widow, orphan, sick and lame are addressed without becoming a hospital or place of respite care…The Church is to have no greater preoccupation than that of the person of Jesus Christ and being the receptacle of His renewing power.
The Church is to be in each and every institution, shaping and defining the trajectory of those institutions. There is no place in society where the Church should not be seeking to bring renewal. The high courts of justice, the culture-making centers of music and film, the great halls of academia, the research labs of science and medicine-it is all Christ’s. We are not guests here, this is Christ’s world and He is in the process of reclaiming what is His through us. When the Church abandons entire institutions, the society should expect to erode into debauchery. When the Church leaves the university, we should expect godlessness to reign in the dorms, bars, and offices of faculty. When the Church leaves the world of politics, we should expect unjust laws. When the Church leaves the medical field, we should expect immoral research and practices. Jesus will not break if we expose him to the real world but to listen to retreatists, one has to wonder if they have a cheap plaster Jesus picked up at some tourist shop of faith. The real Jesus can withstand the challenges of brokenness and sin in all these places-He is more durable than we think!
We are to be in the world, acting as the preservative element that prevents it from eroding into darkness and despair. However, we cannot content ourselves with mere incremental advancements of God’s Kingdom. We long for it to break through in its fullness, for another ‘Great Awakening,” for mass repentance that gives way to new life! We are to be waiting and calling on God for the unique work of renewal, of revival and awakening-the work that only God can send from Heaven. The work of renewal, the breath of God on our land, is the only hope in escaping His wrath and seeing our society live again. When the breath of God comes, it brings new life. This new life in society looks like medical breakthrough, a passion for research and learning, just laws, resources for those in need, whole and joy-filled families, redeemed leisure and competition, breathtaking art, dance, film, music-all to the glory of God! May it be so in our time Lord Jesus.
The Sexualization of Society
For ten years, I’ve been addressing the growing problem of human trafficking, particularly child prostitution. Frequently, those who are new to the grotesque facts of this growing global cancer are initially angered not at the facts themselves but at me and others who have brought these realities to their attention. Frequently the process of acceptance initially begins with deep disbelief and suspicion then moves to shock and horror and typically ends with a sense of being overwhelmed and disturbed.
This is to be expected when looking such a monster as child prostitution in the face. Addressing an issue like child prostitution holistically is the only way we can expect to have any impact on such a rape of humanity. If we merely articulate the economic/profit drivers of the problem and fail to address the overall realities of poverty and political instability, we will fail to fully realize and engage the issue. If we only address the geopolitical circumstances which allow the modern day slave trade to proliferate and fail to also address the complicity of those who participate through the remote consumption of sex slaves through internet pornography, we will fail to fully get at the roots of the issue.
Ultimately, a problem like child prostitution as a spiritual problem has many different manifest implications. Child prostitution has medical, economic, political, social, familial, and psychological ramifications but to address any one part of this complicated matrix without addressing the human soul as the controlling issue is a mistake.
In Escaping the Devil’s Bedroom: Sex Trafficking, Global Prostitution and the Gospel’s Transforming Power by Jewell, the author makes the case for the connection between the sexualization of society and the growing acceptance of a slave culture. Many resources on human trafficking focus entirely on particular case studies and overwhelming statistical facts but Jewell makes the necessary connection between a sexualized society, the growing appetite and acceptance of sexual exploitation, pornography and the remote consumption of victims with the spiritual brokenness of humanity. This matrix of causal factors is rarely explicated in resources on the issue. What Jewell has articulated is the heart of the issue we must address.
Before we ask how a place like Toledo, Ohio can become in 2009 the child prostitution capital of the United States, we must first ask the question, “How can a person’s heart get to such a state of destitution that she would commoditize a child sexually for financial gain?” Before we can ask the question, “How can sophisticated, educated people in major metropolitan nightclubs legally get away with paying for sex with under-aged slaves?” we have to first ask the question, “What has happened to the human soul to allow us to actually enjoy paying for the opportunity to rape a child?”
Quintessentially these and other questions are spiritual in nature. The real question to me as an evangelist is how have we gone so long without such an exploitation of humanity? We have been anaesthetized to the true horrors of our own sin and brokenness. Wealth, education, a long period of relative peace and the façade of personal satisfaction through indulgence have paved the way for a forgetfulness of the deranged depths of our own humanity.
The return of the global slave trade is not only a stark reminder of the brokenness of the human soul, it is THE moral issue of our day. The only way to retain the relevance of a Biblical faith in this modern milieu is to fully engage the issue of global slavery with the spiritual power of the gospel. To fail to act
against this preeminently spiritual problem with the only spiritual power capable of bringing justice is to ultimately abdicate our role as salt and light in the world. We must act.
We must also understand how the sexualization of society has led to the possibility of the commoditization of humans and that this commoditization has led to a growing acceptance of the consumption of this commodity-children, women, young boys and girls-people for whom Christ died. Our generation will be judged by our children by what we did or did not do to protect the least of these.
You Gotta Have Art!
I can recall as a young boy in the 1970’s a jingle, “You gotta have art! Lots and lots and lost of art!” It was a polemic for Detroit’s Museum of Art. To me, this was self-evident as I lived in the upper flat of an art gallery surrounded by the oils and sulfur smells of clay. My parents were artists and raised me not only to appreciate the arts but to champion them. When I was converted from Atheism to Christ during my philosophy studies at the University of Michigan at the age of twenty, I re-discovered just how much you gotta have art.
Many churhces have little appreciation for the arts. With the exception of a music ministry, the inclusion of the arts in the life of faith is typically minimalistic. Dance, poetry, and the visual arts are looked on with suspicion or as mere tools for evangelism. Buildings are functional. The sense of architectural transcendence seems to be to the sole property of the Orthodox, Catholic, and the occasional Presbyterian. Such things should not be! I was hungering for art but did not see the arts celebrated in the life of believers.
Art is not a tool to reach people for Christ. As soon as art becomes a mere tool, we relegate our subcreative powers to mere pragmatism and become nothing more then spiritual capitalists. We gotta have art! I will say, however, that art feeds the soul because it points us toward our quest for true transcendent beauty. The quest of beauty is an important part, perhaps one of the most important parts, of becoming thoroughly Christian. As important as the discipleship of the mind, as holiness, as mission is the quest for and enjoyment of beauty. This may seem odd coming from an evangelist, particularly from a pragmatically oriented conservative Baptist evangelist such as myself but it is particularly true for those of my cloth. We gotta have art!
The role of art in ministry cannot be reduced to a mere tool. Christians have stood throughout time as some of the greatest protagonists of art as well as some of its greatest enemies. As this culture, however, yearns for the sublime, as they quest for beauty, settling only for lust, we must reclaim the arts. We are undoubtedly entering the age of the ministering arts. When I was a child, it was the expert-the lecturer, the philosopher, and the debater who were the culture shapers, today we make way for the poet, the painter, and the song writer. Hence the domination of the “American Idol,” and the aging of Alec Trebek.
This is not to say that the arts and the intellect are in some way apposed, in fact the opposite is true. Art flows from the intellect and the intellect from art. True art stirs not only the heart but also the mind and this is key. In a postmodern milieu, we find ourselves ministering in an age of anti-intellectualism. The diet on campus no longer tolerates intellectual stimulation let alone a “discipleship of the mind” worldview. The greatest danger in this is not the dumbing down of a generation, but rather the implications of what this dumbing down will do to the imagination.
Without the arts, imagination crumbles and so does the soul’s ability to connect with the sublime. The result of this tragedy is violence, lust, and a culture of death. Dr. Francis Schaeffer made this connection in his day to his generation and so we must in ours. We gotta have art-lots and lots and lots of art! Art, in an anti-intellectual climate, is the sole means of salvaging the mind and re-connecting a generation with their own soul and the Artist who painted it in the first place!
Are Certain Issues Counter-Missional: Addressing Homosexuality and Abortion in Mission
Should Christians refrain from addressing certain issues for the sake of the mission?
In a time where it seems student culture is extremely open to the Christian message, is it counter-missional for Christians to address or have a position on certain issues that may alienate non-Christians? Should a Christian student group publically articulate a stance, say, concerning abortion or homosexuality? How are these issues different from taking a public stand on the issues of sexual slavery, child soldiers, the environment, AIDS and AIDS orphans, malaria, or bonded labor? The former list is seldom addressed any more while the latter is very much a driver for lots of organizations and churches seeking to make a real difference in the world today.
It seems as if there are issues that increasingly Christians are awakening to that really connect with and serve our mission to non-Christian main-stream culture. The “party-line” set of issues (abortion and homosexuality most notably) for conservatives is increasingly out of style and being treated like an ugly, embarrassing step-daughter, kept out of the light of day for fear of offending those who would venture into our midst. Why is this and what happened to bring us to this state? I believe there are five powerful forces that have come together to cause young evangelicals in particular to abandon their parent’s set of issues for a new vision of world-engagement.
1. Exclusionary Treatment: For young evangelicals who are increasingly aware of the realities present in the rest of the world, there is no doubt that issues like modern-day slavery and the suffering of the poor and the marginalized matter to God. They care about the world and want to bring God’s Kingdom to bear on places of injustice and suffering. However, when they see traditional evangelical leaders speak, act, give, and coordinate against traditional issues AT THE EXPENSE of what they know to matter to God, it causes them to resent the “old guard” and draws those very issues into question. “What makes abortion a greater evil or a more worthy issue to address than slavery?” “Hasn’t the issue of abortion seen its day?” “Aren’t there enough people passionate about ‘those’ issues in the Church?” These often-internal dialogues shape how young evangelicals consider the personal relevance traditional issues have for them.
2. Lack of Coherence: As long as young evangelicals fail to be led into a cohesive worldview that connects sin and brokenness across the board, it will appear as if what to care about is a matter of personal preference. Helping the next generation understand that abortion is as evil as the sexual slavery of a child is one task, helping them understand the relationship between the dehumanization of the unborn and the wanton commoditization of the child after birth is another. The currently approved panoply of missional issues are often no more thought out in terms of how they fit into a comprehensive Christian worldview than their former counterparts. There is good work being done to ground the abolitionist movement in theology but too often there is no work being done to connect the issue of slavery with, say, abortion or the disproportionate number of Blacks imprisoned or the environment, each of which have a strong relationship to the rise of modern-day slavery. The lack of intellectual cohesion in our thinking historically allows evangelicals to compartmentalize issues and thus these issues eventually come to cannibalize each other as they compete for allegiance, dollars, and people resources.
3. Ethical Ambiguity: Issues like abortion and homosexuality are often addressed by the same people with the same passion as issues like immigration, gun control, home schooling, women in ministry, and government spending. These latter issues are fused with a lot of political energy and often divide Christians from various denominations and certainly along socio-economic and ethnic lines. The rising conservatism that defines itself around issues like these is often an angry conservatism and one that assumes all Christians must have a certain view of temporal issues. These realities have caused many to exclude abortion and homosexuality from substantive dialogue for fear of being lumped in with the rest of the ‘old guard’ or the new ‘angry conservatives.’
4. The Two Extremes: For quite some time, culture makers, leaders, and super-star pastors have intentionally distanced themselves from issues like abortion and homosexuality and in so doing they have become silent on these issues. Young evangelicals growing up in most churches today have never been given the tools to put together a cohesive, Biblical Christian worldview that would allow them to conclude that abortion and homosexuality are forms of brokenness. Far too often, they are either force-fed the belief that abortion and homosexuality are sinful or their leadership is silent while addressing other issues or no issues at all. These two extremes nearly ensure the young evangelical will reject the view that abortion and homosexuality are sinful. In the one instance, it is unlikely they will receive without question a particular view that is so counter-cultural that they are often alone in their communities and in the world. On the other hand, the experience of silence in the Church coupled with the wide assumption of the legitimacy of abortion and homosexuality in the world allows the young evangelical to comfortably allow for these assumptions to be their own.
5. The Power of Personal Experience: Far too often, young evangelicals, given these other four realities, are disproportionately influenced by the power of personal experience. In high school, a young girl has a close friend who has come out of the closet and is practicing her homosexuality with joy and personal satisfaction. “How could this be wrong?” she asks. Far too often, young evangelicals arrive as freshmen on our college campuses without the tools to apply a Christian worldview to large, influential, and unquestioned communities championing a certain way of life. They are celebrated, given certain rights and protection, and many of which seem very attractive and well adjusted. “How could this be wrong?” he asks. The battle for their hearts and minds was lost long ago and what should be expected at this point in their journey is an acceptance of a worldview that is incompatible with the Scriptures.
These five forces have given rise to an environment, for better and worse, where young evangelicals have begun to branch out into new areas of ethical responsibility. Rick Warren coined the phrase “Whole Life Christian” in contrast to “Pro-Life Christian” when asked why he was addressing issues of slavery and AIDS orphans while refraining from being more vocal on the issue of abortion and homosexuality. It is good to broaden the areas of ethical responsibilities in the church and it definitely seems that God is using this emerging generation of Christians to establish His Kingdom in ways traditional evangelicalism could not or would not.
Certainly, when building coalitions around initiatives and projects like “Justice Invitationals,” issues like the environment, slavery, poverty, natural disasters, and the like are going to build more consensus, allowing for us to re-build the bridges burned by so much demonizing in the past. However, we have a responsibility to both publically denounce the practice of homosexuality and abortion as well as give our young evangelicals the tools to learn for themselves why these practices are not the way God intended the world to be. Speaking and writing such in today’s secular milieu is certainly more dangerous than it used to be but it is still our responsibility before God.