Friday, May 15, 2009

"Out There Saving Souls, Huh?"

I will start my Clinical Pastoral Education (C.P.E.) requirement on June 1st. It is a full time chaplaincy program at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, IL. Prior to the start date, we are required to do some general hospital tests to ensure that we are in good health and will not do more harm to the patients than good. I went this last Wednesday to have these tests done, and had a wonderful nurse named Debbie.


Debbie was shocked when she first saw me. I think she had been anticipating an elderly man with a great grey beard, robed and adorned with the Bible and priestly garments. After numerous comments of how "young I looked," she inquired into my education. I informed her that I had one year left of studies, and then my wife and I would be pursuing full-time pastoral ministry in a local congregation. To this she answered, "Yeah, out there saving souls huh?!" The comment took me off balance because I have never viewed this as my drive for pastoral ministry.



I realized that there is a great stigma in people, that pastors and churches are only concerned about the "other worldly" saving of souls. While I believe that our soteriology does affect the pastoral ministry, our primary focus is not "getting people off of this planet and into heaven." The divine-human relationship that God created in sovereignty is dynamic and alive. God's passion for His creation is so great that he became one with it, that he may pay the debt for sin and defeat evil, restoring creation to its intended purpose of glory and intended relationship with Himself. The church was formed as the bride of Christ, the actual presence of the kingdom already at hand, yet incomplete until the time when Christ comes again to restore and renew all things. And we as pastors, along with the priesthood of all believers, are called to participate in this new reality, inviting others into the good news of the kingdom of God and allowing our hope and joy to be based in God's work throughout history and promises for the future.



But unfortunately the church has failed to act out of its true identity time and time again. We have neglected the historical presence and placement of the church here and now and focused solely on an eschatology that preaches, "Leave and consume this world, for only the future, heavenly, soul abiding kingdom matters." Therefore, the priestly/pastoral duties have become, at times, merely about "saving souls." I don't know Debbie's religious affiliation or if this was an off-handed comment, but something within her perceives spiritual guidance to be solely otherworldly.



This is both exciting and terrifying as I enter into these next months of pastoral care. How do I balance caring for people in the here and now, in all their pain and questioning, and also live as a beacon of hope and light because of the good news of Jesus Christ? Can I be a healing presence to people if I am solely focused on "another life?" I pray for wisdom and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as someone given the opportunity to be with people in great times of need. I pray that, God through me, can be more to people than, "someone trying to save souls."

"Out There Saving Souls, Huh?"

I will start my Clinical Pastoral Education (C.P.E.) requirement on June 1st. It is a full time chaplaincy program at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, IL. Prior to the start date, we are required to do some general hospital tests to ensure that we are in good health and will not do more harm to the patients than good. I went this last Wednesday to have these tests done, and had a wonderful nurse named Debbie.


Debbie was shocked when she first saw me. I think she had been anticipating an elderly man with a great grey beard, robed and adorned with the Bible and priestly garments. After numerous comments of how "young I looked," she inquired into my education. I informed her that I had one year left of studies, and then my wife and I would be pursuing full-time pastoral ministry in a local congregation. To this she answered, "Yeah, out there saving souls huh?!" The comment took me off balance because I have never viewed this as my drive for pastoral ministry.



I realized that there is a great stigma in people, that pastors and churches are only concerned about the "other worldly" saving of souls. While I believe that our soteriology does affect the pastoral ministry, our primary focus is not "getting people off of this planet and into heaven." The divine-human relationship that God created in sovereignty is dynamic and alive. God's passion for His creation is so great that he became one with it, that he may pay the debt for sin and defeat evil, restoring creation to its intended purpose of glory and intended relationship with Himself. The church was formed as the bride of Christ, the actual presence of the kingdom already at hand, yet incomplete until the time when Christ comes again to restore and renew all things. And we as pastors, along with the priesthood of all believers, are called to participate in this new reality, inviting others into the good news of the kingdom of God and allowing our hope and joy to be based in God's work throughout history and promises for the future.



But unfortunately the church has failed to act out of its true identity time and time again. We have neglected the historical presence and placement of the church here and now and focused solely on an eschatology that preaches, "Leave and consume this world, for only the future, heavenly, soul abiding kingdom matters." Therefore, the priestly/pastoral duties have become, at times, merely about "saving souls." I don't know Debbie's religious affiliation or if this was an off-handed comment, but something within her perceives spiritual guidance to be solely otherworldly.



This is both exciting and terrifying as I enter into these next months of pastoral care. How do I balance caring for people in the here and now, in all their pain and questioning, and also live as a beacon of hope and light because of the good news of Jesus Christ? Can I be a healing presence to people if I am solely focused on "another life?" I pray for wisdom and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as someone given the opportunity to be with people in great times of need. I pray that, God through me, can be more to people than, "someone trying to save souls."

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Language About God and Revelation

I have started reading a book by John Sanders, titled The God Who Risks, and the book has raised some interesting questions. Many of the most pressing theological debates are rooted in the discussion of language that we use to talk about God. If God is completely other and distinct, can we really say anything in truth about him/her? Are we not just simply projecting our own human understandings on a being completely other? Even the use of metaphorical language cannot avert the problem of our experiences being projected onto another being. For me to say, "God is a rock," or "God is my friend," or "God is holy and just," is to attribute my experience and knowledge of a rock or a friend and my experience of seeing holiness and justice in others, to God.

So the debates seem to come down on either (1) saying nothing about God, or (2) understanding this and humbly say what we can about God.

My own understanding is that God, as creator who creates ex nihilo (out of nothing), has made himself knowable through natural and special revelation, but no form of such revelation is God himself/herself. We encounter the living God through Scripture. Scripture contains the story of God's faithfulness from generation to generation and invites ALL into the reality of the kingdom. God also offers revelation through community. As Deuteronomy 6:4 reads: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone." God is one, yet three, in perfect community. Although we will never understand the community and oneness of God in the doctrine of the Trinity, we experience moments of God's revelation when we submit to one another in community and service. God's revelation comes through beauty. As human beings, we long for beauty in this life. How many have stood at the great and beautiful natural wonders of this world and not said, "Surely, there is a God."

God, although completely different and above creation, still chooses to reveal himself/herself to all of creation. And this self-revelation is enough reason to set our minds and hearts to worship and glorify our Maker! Lord, you are a great, might, powerful, and loving God, and we thank you that you choose to reveal yourself to us.

Language About God and Revelation

I have started reading a book by John Sanders, titled The God Who Risks, and the book has raised some interesting questions. Many of the most pressing theological debates are rooted in the discussion of language that we use to talk about God. If God is completely other and distinct, can we really say anything in truth about him/her? Are we not just simply projecting our own human understandings on a being completely other? Even the use of metaphorical language cannot avert the problem of our experiences being projected onto another being. For me to say, "God is a rock," or "God is my friend," or "God is holy and just," is to attribute my experience and knowledge of a rock or a friend and my experience of seeing holiness and justice in others, to God.
So the debates seem to come down on either (1) saying nothing about God, or (2) understanding this and humbly say what we can about God.
My own understanding is that God, as creator who creates ex nihilo (out of nothing), has made himself knowable through natural and special revelation, but no form of such revelation is God himself/herself. We encounter the living God through Scripture. Scripture contains the story of God's faithfulness from generation to generation and invites ALL into the reality of the kingdom. God also offers revelation through community. As Deuteronomy 6:4 reads: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone." God is one, yet three, in perfect community. Although we will never understand the community and oneness of God in the doctrine of the Trinity, we experience moments of God's revelation when we submit to one another in community and service. God's revelation comes through beauty. As human beings, we long for beauty in this life. How many have stood at the great and beautiful natural wonders of this world and not said, "Surely, there is a God."
God, although completely different and above creation, still chooses to reveal himself/herself to all of creation. And this self-revelation is enough reason to set our minds and hearts to worship and glorify our Maker! Lord, you are a great, might, powerful, and loving God, and we thank you that you choose to reveal yourself to us.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Theomorphism and the Church

John Sanders quotes Abraham Joshua Heschel when he says that, "God's concern for justice and love is not anthropomorphism, rather our concern for justice and love is a theomorphism." God is not taking on human characteristics when exercising justice and displaying love, but rather, we are participating in the nature of God when we act in such ways.

The quote above by Heschel puts into perspective our transformed lives. When we offer ourselves in service to one another, and when we strive to illuminate the reality of the kingdom of God here on earth, we are participating in our baptized and transformed lives into Christ. God is not like us in these moments; we are acting in the nature of God.

It is the power and continual presence of the Spirit in our lives that guides and directs the moments that we choose to live out of our renewed being: body, soul, and mind. Heschel's quote may seem like an issue of semantics, but I believe that it heavily impacts our understanding and drive in ministry. The Church is not equivalent to humanitarian agencies pursuing the betterment of individuals for the sake of ourselves, but the Church does these good works because they are ontologically the bride of Christ. Justice and love are not just social concerns, but are deeply theological.

(John Sanders, The God Who Risks (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 29.

Theomorphism and the Church

John Sanders quotes Abraham Joshua Heschel when he says that, "God's concern for justice and love is not anthropomorphism, rather our concern for justice and love is a theomorphism." God is not taking on human characteristics when exercising justice and displaying love, but rather, we are participating in the nature of God when we act in such ways.
The quote above by Heschel puts into perspective our transformed lives. When we offer ourselves in service to one another, and when we strive to illuminate the reality of the kingdom of God here on earth, we are participating in our baptized and transformed lives into Christ. God is not like us in these moments; we are acting in the nature of God.
It is the power and continual presence of the Spirit in our lives that guides and directs the moments that we choose to live out of our renewed being: body, soul, and mind. Heschel's quote may seem like an issue of semantics, but I believe that it heavily impacts our understanding and drive in ministry. The Church is not equivalent to humanitarian agencies pursuing the betterment of individuals for the sake of ourselves, but the Church does these good works because they are ontologically the bride of Christ. Justice and love are not just social concerns, but are deeply theological.
(John Sanders, The God Who Risks (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 29.

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