Theology of Ministry, Section 2: basic theological understandings

Here is the continuation of this project. Section 1 is here.

Original paper is in bold. Reflections follow.

theology of ministry: basic theological understandings

 II. Basic Theological Understandings

With the Scriptural foundation established, I can now begin making some assertions about what I believe to be the basics of Christian theology. At the heart of theology is our understanding of who God is. For reasons that I hope are obvious from my spiritual journey paper, my understanding of God as Father has been central to my spiritual development. To this day, with an absentee father and an abusive stepfather, the idea of God as the ideal father is rather compelling. Over the course of my theological education, however, I have adopted many additional metaphors for God the Creator (after all, the best we can do is speak of God in terms of metaphors and analogies). In addition to Father and Creator, I have become comfortable thinking of God as Mother, Artist, Rock, and Source. I believe that God is infinite, eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. As the author of I John proclaims, I believe that God is love. God is love that is freely given and unconditional. God acts in complete freedom, yet is also at times intentionally self-limiting and vulnerable. This aspect is best represented in the person of Jesus Christ. I believe that the best way to know what God is like is to look at the incarnation of God revealed in Christ. 
I hold to an understanding of creation that states that God created all things ex nihilo. I find no reason for this view to conflict with what modern science tells us about the planet’s origin. With no actual witnesses present, the creation stories presented in Genesis have to be considered mythologies that help to form worldviews and develop priestly theology. I will say, however, that I also hold to the belief that God would be capable of creating the world in six days. I believe that creation was originally as God intended it to be and that humanity was originally created in the image of God. The fall of humanity has had far reaching effects on God’s good creation.
I believe that humanity is alienated from God by sin. Sin is not just a set of immoral actions that we commit. Sin is a state of being where creation is not as the Creator intended and the image of God has become distorted. At its heart, I believe that sin is when we turn from the Creator and begin to overvalue the creation. In his writing “Body, Soul, Will and the Image of God”, Augustine describes the state of sin as one abandoning “the goodness of the Creator in pursuit of some created good” (Hodgson, 150). Sin can also occur when another created thing is not given the value it deserves as part of God’s creation. Both of these modes of sin can occur on both individual and corporate/institutional levels. To better explain this I turn to process theologian Marjorie Suchocki’s chapter “Sin in a Relational World” from God-Christ-Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology:
Frequently Christians have personalized [the demonic] and projected them away from ourselves Process theology suggests as a nonhuman being, a devil, whose temptation of humanity in its very beginnings resulted in transgression and original sin. Process theology suggests a more tragic view, naming the cumulative acts of human beings in society as the source of the demonic. We are ourselves corporately responsible for the societies we create and the ill effects they engender. The demonic element is that we are each individually born into a society we did not create; insofar as it contains powers of destruction, these originate prior to our being. These powers can and do overwhelm us, involving us in the condition of alienation that is manifested in personal sin. In the grip of these powers, we continue to perpetuate them (15)The atoning work of Christ occurs in his life, death, and resurrection. It is atonement for the individual as well as for society. It is atonement that is initiated by God and seeking human response. It is also atonement with an endpoint in mind. I hesitate to make any definite eschatological statements. I do, however, find one particularly appealing vision of the coming reign of Christ in the writings of Miroslav Volf. Volf’s article “Love Your Heavenly Enemy” speaks to the necessity of reconciliation among individuals and people groups (races, ethnicities, classes, etc…) in order to realize our eschatological hopes for the Kingdom of God. Volf argues that for Heaven to truly be Heaven personal enmities need to be resolved to the point that “not-loved ones will have to be transformed into the loved ones and those who do not love will have to begin to do so” (94). Volf goes on to say that in order for those who have found each other as undesirables in this world to love each other in the next, they would in essence have to extend grace to each other and “justify” one another. The “last judgment”, in order to be completed, also needs to have the element of “Final Reconciliation”. “If the world to come is to be a world of love, then the transition from the present world to that world, which God will accomplish, must have an inter-human side” (Volf, 96)
Several elements have to exist in order for humans to repair their social relationships. According to Volf, the first is the giving and receiving of forgiveness. Though God can surely forgive our sins, it is essential that we receive the forgiveness of those we have wronged (and extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us) in order to live in a future world of peace. “…divine forgiveness cannot substitute for a victim’s giving and a perpetrator’s receiving of forgiveness” (Volf, 96). This, of course, echoes the emphasis placed on forgiveness throughout the gospels. The parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35, for example, emphasizes that God’s forgiveness of sin is to some extent conditional on our extending of grace to others in light of the grace we have received. The Lord’s Prayer, as presented in Matthew 6, draws a direct correlation between the degree that we forgive and the extent to which we will be forgiven. Luke echoes this sentiment with the phrase “Forgive and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). Volf crystallizes the idea, saying “Reconciliation with one’s estranged neighbors is part and parcel of reconciliation with God” (96).
To move into a future world of love, not only must the sins of the present be forgiven, but also the misdeeds of the past. As Volf explains, the future kingdom of God has to be more than just a “fresh start”, but it must also be “redemption of yesterday, today, and tomorrow… Heaven is having had your messy pages made clean and right again” (96-97). This goes beyond a reconciliation of the lives of those who are currently living and active in the world. It requires that old social ills be made right and that the sins of the past be forgiven and resolved. This involves more than the healing of past interpersonal sins, but also of past corporate sins as well. “Hence the final reconciliation of those who died unreconciled must be part of the transition from the present world to the world to come” (Volf, 97). 
The final piece of Volf’s argument may be the most difficult. It is a move from continual attempts at self-justification to full acknowledgement of sin. In the final judgment, all will have to give up their right to be right and admit that they have fallen short. Volf’s final argument on this is most compelling:
The divine judgment will reach its goal when, by the power of the spirit, each person eschews attempts at self-justification, acknowledges personal sin in its full magnitude, experiences liberation from guilt and the power of sin, and recognizes that all others have done precisely that – given up on self justification, acknowledged their sin, and experienced liberation. Having recognized that others have changed… one will no longer condemn others but offer them the grace of forgiveness (97)The call of the gospel to deny oneself includes giving up on being right in one’s own eyes in order to be reunited with others in love. Volf adds that this extension of grace is only fully consummated in the embrace of former enemies. “Reconciliation will take place only when former enemies have moved toward each other and embraced each other as belonging to the same communion of love” (Volf, 97) It is this final communion of love, communion among humans and between humanity and the triune God, that is the hope of Christians which moves us to seek reconciliation with our neighbors in the here and now. The point of Volf’s article is not to say that we should wait until we reach the fulfilled Kingdom of God to begin the work of restoring relationships. On the contrary, our offering and receiving forgiveness is a glimpse of the Kingdom in the present day. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that Volf is arguing that we cannot be ushered into the future world of love without extending grace and mercy to our contemporaries. This brings us into a discussion on the nature and purpose of Christian Life.
3 quick things before I dive in:
1. It’s interesting that I did not put I John into the scriptural section, but then open this section with it. Silly!
2. If I were to re-write this paper, I would tear this section apart. Not that I completely disagree with what I wrote here before, but because the organization is poor. I would have done more to connect theological points directly to the scripture that I referenced in section 1. A poor systematic on my part. I may have also renamed this section. It seems to be more about God, sin, and eschatology, which is a pretty unusual threesome.
3. I haven’t read much serious theology since I finished seminary. I am embarrassed by that.
Looking at the first paragraph, I’m not sure that I would use the “omnis” anymore when talking about God. What does it mean for God to be all knowing, all powerful, and all present? It’s not that I no longer believe those things, it’s just that I no longer find that language helpful. “God is love” suffices for many things. Love is powerful, but love is disciplined in the use of its power. Again, if I were to rewrite this, I would highlight the passage I used from Philippians 2 in the explanation of God’s kenotic (self-emptying/limiting) love. Love is power restrained and used appropriately. It is not coercive power, it is persuasive.
To say that God is love requires an expanded definition of love. For that I turn to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In an article entitled ” An Experiments in Love”, Dr. King defines agape (the greek word for love that is used in I John 4) through 4 properties. Love is “disinterested” “It is love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor”  2) it is need-oriented. “… it springs from the need of the other person” 3) Agape seeks to “preserve and create community” and 4) Love “recognizes that all life is interrelated”. To assert then that God is all of these things gives focus to what I would say is the thesis of my theology of ministry: which is that I feel called to ministry that creates and nurtures community. This thesis, which I’ll explore in subsequent sections of the paper, comes directly from my understanding of who God is.
To the extent that my theology has developed, even without extensive reading, it has developed along the lines of process thought. I highlight a process thinker when talking about sin, but it can be used for much of our theological understanding. A relational God is at the heart of process thought. It is not required that God be all knowing to be in relationship with us. In fact process thought suggests that God is moved and shaped by events as much as we are. (think of Hebrew scriptures where God’s mind is changed).
Without a specific quotation, I highlight the work of Bruce Epperly, who for the last five years has greatly effected my preaching through his reflections on the lectionary at processandfaith.org.
I continue to love Volf’s article “Love Your Heavenly Enemy”. His eschatology in that piece fascinates me. To imagine “heaven” as a series of reconciliations is a powerful image for me. It could easily be said that it is an argument for universalism. I have no problem with universalism though I am not a universalist myself. I believe there are some who will languish in unforgiveness, being unforgiven to the degree to which they will not themselves forgive. I would tie the conversation on Volf’s article to the passage in 2 Corinthians. The ministry of reconciliation is and will always be the mission of the church.
Absent from my original paper is any discussion of creation. I would argue that my theology is still largely anthropocentric. Colossians 1 speaks of the reconciliation of ALL things to God. I think this is key. The creation, which was originally declared to be good, must then fall under the umbrella of that which finds itself in need of the reconciling work of God in the world. This becomes an important theological assertion to understand the work of the church.

My Spiritual Journey – Five (ish) Years Later

So I started this ridiculous project last week. In doing so I made an oversight. You see, the theology of ministry paper was actually part 2 of our writing for my seminary course. Part 1 was outlining our spiritual journeys. I post this because section 2 of my theology of ministry paper references the spiritual journey paper. So… here is my spiritual journey through my eyes five or so years ago. Commentary to follow.

I feel it is necessary to begin my story before I was born. When my mother was seventeen she had an abortion. I was conceived, out of wedlock, in between her first and second marriage, her second marriage being to my stepfather. Many people, some that I dearly love, attempted to persuade my mother to abort me. She said that she believed God was giving her a second chance to not compound a mistake. She has told me that she believed God had a plan for me and she also believed that God gave her my name. Needless to say, I was born.
The first thing I ever wanted to be was a pastor. That desire was spurred on by a pastor at the Assemblies of God church that we attended when I was young. He seemed cool and he gave me candy. I also like the idea of getting up in front of people and being both smart and funny, which I thought he was. Over time the desire to be a pastor faded. For some reason, it began to seem impractical.
The first time I got involved in a ministry, I was in third grade. I worked with a group called Victorious Faith Evangelistic Outreach as a puppeteer. We went into inner city areas of Pittsburgh proclaiming the Gospel through the arts, mostly puppetry and music. I remember that the night before one of our shows there had been a gang shooting not far from where we were going to perform. Amazingly, what we did that day was bring much needed levity to a very tense area. I later started a puppet ministry at my church that basically involved our whole youth group (by this time I was attending a UMC congregation in the suburb where my family had moved to when I was nine. I was no longer attending church with my family. They went to a Pentecostal “prosperity gospel” church that even in middle school rang hollow). I did puppet ministry and was involved at the UMC congregation all the way through high school.
Towards the end of high school and the beginning of college I started to move away from my faith. I no longer could believe what was being taught in my parents’ church, namely a performance-based gospel where God would “bless” me if I did the right things, and I was experiencing a lot of what I considered to be failures in the ministry I was doing at the church I was attending. When I started college I began to think of myself as an atheist. I wasn’t very good at it. I still prayed all the time.
After my second year of college, my brother and sister-in-law invited me to come and work at the Pittsburgh Project for a summer. The Pittsburgh Project is an urban community-based ministry that runs a summer home repair ministry that serves low-income homeowners and does outreach activities for urban youth. It is also where my brother and sister-in-law met. I was looking for a summer job because my internship opportunities in my chosen field (film studies) were falling through. I went to the Project expecting just a summer job. I soon discovered it would be much more than that. After only a few days of being there and meeting the folks who had come to serve in the city, I became very aware of the fact that something significant was happening. Within the first week of being there I was sitting alone on the back steps of the Project building and asking God to give my life direction. That was a stupid prayer. God was more than happy to oblige.
It would almost be impossible for me to overstate the significance of The Pittsburgh Project to my life. Early in my time there I had shared my story with some folks. I focused a lot on the hatred I felt towards my biological father…
Flashback: I didn’t meet my biological father until I was fourteen. Before then, he had called me a couple of times, always promising that we would get together and that I would get to meet the other side of my family. He never followed through. I met him quite by accident. On Easter of 1994 he was at my parents’ church. My mom asked me if I wanted to meet him and, of course, I said yes. Basically all he said to me that day was “nice to meet you”. I pretty much from that point decided that I hated him.
… six years later I am sharing this with folks at the Project. While they understood my anger, they also challenged me to let go of the anger, saying that it might end up being a barrier that keeps me from loving others as Christ wanted me to love them. They were right. I decided that the root of my anger was in the fact that my father didn’t know me, so I wrote him a letter telling him everything I could think of to tell him about myself. I told him about my anger towards him, but I also told him that I forgave him. I held on to that letter until I knew that I could send it and not be hurt by a lack of response. So I wrote it in June and mailed it in October. I haven’t heard back from him. I know where he is. He serves a church in Pittsburgh. I make a conscious effort to forgive him on a regular basis. I honestly believe that the ability to forgive my father has allowed me both to love and to be loved, so it might also be of note that I, like my brother, met my wife at the Project.
The Pittsburgh Project is also where I first heard grace explained. Though it is a word we use a lot in church circles, I somehow went through most of life feeling like God’s love was something that I had to earn. It was at the Project where I heard that there was nothing I could do to make God love me more (or less). My ideas of ministry changed from being performance-based to being gratitude-based.
Racial reconciliation was a frequent topic of conversation at the Project. We read a great deal on the topic. Race issues have always been an important issue for me because I have lived most of my life in majority white situations. Questions of racial identity are a constant struggle for me. Racial reconciliation remains a passionate issue for me.
As I said earlier, there is much I could say in regards to the Pittsburgh Project, but I will add one more thing; it is the place where I began to feel a strong sense of call. Late in my first summer I was leading a small group of students. During one of the evenings I had shared my story about my father. In my group was a cute, small twelve year old girl, a very “perfect” looking child, seemingly happy-go-lucky. During the course of our week she told us all a story that, though we weren’t competing, put mine to shame. She had experienced various levels of abuse, neglect, and instability through her young life due to situations with her parents. Her story broke my heart to the point that I went alone into the Project’s club room and wept. It was in the midst of this that I heard/felt the voice of God say to me that the brokenness and healing I was experiencing that summer was something I could use to help God’s other heartbroken children. Within a year of that God asked me a very simple question: what was the first thing you ever wanted to do? (refer back to page 1, paragraph 2!) That was when I began to seriously consider coming to seminary. In the interest of full disclosure, I probably need to say one more important, Pittsburgh Project related thing: The executive director of the Project was mentored by Phil Butin. For better and worse, that relationship has had great significance for my ending up at SFTS and has also greatly affected my experience here.
I have had some pretty significant ups and downs at seminary. I’ve felt that much of what I knew with certainty before I began my M. Div studies has been challenged. Those challenges have been a growing edge for me. It has made me reevaluate those things that I truly hold to be true. I have struggled greatly with the idea of ordination since I have been here. Recent communication issues with my presbytery have exacerbated that particular struggle. I have questioned whether or not I should be ordained in a denomination that I have only loose connections with and is at times very uncomfortable for me. I have questioned whether or not my place is in a church at all and have considered devoting myself more to an academic sphere.
This summer I had an experience that made me decide to put further academic aspirations on the shelf. I served in an internship in Portland with a consortium of churches known as the Presbyterian Urban Network (PUN). I was working with seven small, urban, congregations that are struggling with aging populations in a city that is getting younger. The churches are dying while the city is thriving. During the internship I got to experience myself in the role of pastor and it felt really good! I got excited about ideas of helping to revitalize a congregation and connecting the church to the larger community. I was also greatly encouraged by opportunities I had to share my faith and build friendships with self-proclaimed atheists, several of whom eventually came to hear me preach. I discovered an identity as an evangelist. Because of my interest in and exposure to the “emerging church” movement, I also was encouraged that I was able to get pastors to think about ways that church can be done differently and be more relevant to the surrounding community.
I have no clever metaphor for my spiritual journey. All I can say is that I am a work in progress. My hope is that I am always a work in progress. I don’t know where I’m heading. My interests are varied. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has made a huge impact on my life, which is why I do not give up on the church, even though I often hate it. Whether or not I am ordained in the PC (USA) or not, I believe that God has a place for me in ministry. I believe that God wants me to continue sharing my story which ultimately will give me opportunity to share God’s story.

There is a lot I could add here. I said very little about my wife in the original reflection. That seems derelict. I credit/blame my wife for pushing me to the left on social issues. I have, in turn, pushed her to the left on theological issues. We’re a match made in whatever your construct of heaven might be. She has encouraged me and modeled grace for me in ways that no one ever has. She continually affirms my gifts and is a great partner for me. On the flip side of that, she is a caring and compassionate social worker and in some ways I feel she does far more significant ministry than I will ever do. What she brings home with her every night are stories that highlight for me the depths of human need. How she maintains her sanity in all of this is somewhat miraculous to me.

Of course fatherhood has been another significant landmark in my spiritual journey. It has been redemptive, in the truest sense of the word, to provide for my son the father that I was denied. While my wife has enhanced my ability to receive love, my son has taught me how to give it in ways in which I did not think myself capable. I’m sure our daughter will only add to that.

I did complete the PC(USA) ordination process and I stayed in the presbytery that is mentioned in the closing paragraphs. Sometimes you just have to finish things. I returned to work at the Pittsburgh Project after seminary in an expanded leadership role in the organization. I enjoyed supervising staff and mentoring college students. I enjoyed sharing the Word of God with an average of 300 students for nine weeks in the summer. I continue to love the organization for all that it has given me, but it was not what I was called to. I began serving a small congregation in Pittsburgh part time then took a full time pastoral position in Ohio.

Though I strongly feel called to pastoral ministry, it has sent me to some of the lowest lows I have experienced. Last year I lead the church I was serving through a six month discernment process. I will write more about that elsewhere, but it was hard and frustrating and in the end I learned a lot about myself and the nature of people who both need and fear change. It took a great deal out of me. While I am no longer in that particular congregation, I have been strongly affirmed in my call to the pastorate.

I didn’t write about this five years ago, but during my time in seminary one of my best friends came out to his family. His dad is a pretty conservative pastor and said some pretty hurtful things to him. Being at school at SFTS I was surrounded by many talented people who seemed to love a church that wanted nothing to do with them. I was moved by their devotion to God and the church. I heard the witness of Janie Spahr (google her if you need to) during a  chapel service at the school and that evening I committed to being an ally to my LGBT sisters and brothers. On that night I was born again, again (again?) I still have much to learn, including much to learn about my own sexuality.

Lastly, I would add last year’s trip to Haiti as a significant milestone in my spiritual journey. I had never really been out of the country. I had never sen poverty on that level. But I had also never seen such force of will and desire to survive. I continue to process my time there, but I know that that was my first trip to Haiti and not my last.


Theology of Ministry, Section 1: Scriptural Basis for My Theology of Ministry

Original Paper in Bold

As in any Christian theology, scripture plays a foundational role for my understanding of ministry. Several passages in particular are central to my conception of how the church is to act in the world. First among them is II Corinthians 5:17-19:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

I understand this passage in several different senses. First, it is a statement about the atonement of humanity through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Second, it is a missiological statement about the nature of the work to which the church is called; the work of proclaiming the reconciliation that is found in Christ as well as the work of reconciling ourselves to one another. Finally, this is an eschatological statement. To be in Christ is to participate in a new creation in which reconciliation, not enmity, is the norm. This new thing that is being created in Christ does away with the old moral order and Paul’s acknowledgement that he has been entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation illustrates that God has a participatory role set aside for those who follow Christ.
The next foundational passages are found in the Gospels. First is Luke 4:16-18:
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
In this quotation of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus is giving what amounts to a mission statement. Jesus’ understanding of himself as the fulfillment of this prophesy has missiological, Christological and ecclesiological ramifications which we will discuss later.
Along these same lines I see Matthew 25: 31-46 as making important missiological claims for the church:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Though the author of the Gospel of Matthew must have certainly intended these words to have an eschatological tone to them, I imagine that the evangelist also intended these words to shape the understanding of the Christian mission. To finish off this section, allow me to use two more passages of Scripture that will be the springboard for the following theological discourse. First is simply John 1:14:
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 

The second is Philippians 2:5-8:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Both of these passages speak to the incarnational nature of Jesus’ ministry and provide a model for the church to follow.

A few observations: I could add at least a dozen passages to this section with rationale for each as to why they are central to what it means to do ministry. I think that is a good thing! I’ve spent more time with Scripture since finishing seminary and continue to draw upon it for personal strength as well as allowing it to shape the ways that interact with the world. Perhaps for now I will limit my additions of texts to three that have been central to me in the last 5 years.

Were I to completely re-write this paper, I would begin it with I John 4:7-21:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

My starting point for everything these days is that God is love. What that means, what does that have to do with me, and how does that affect the ways that I interact with others seems to be the most important questions with which I should find myself concerned. Love in opposition to fear and love in action that responds in care to the needs of others seems to be the heart of the biblical witness. I may need to say more about the nature of this love elsewhere in this project.

The next passage that I would add as foundational to my theology is Ephesians 2:8-10

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

A couple of key things that go hand in hand for me. One is the notion of being saved by grace, but add to that the notion that we are not saved “from” so much as we are saved “for” good works which then becomes our lifestyle. Leave to some Deutero-Pauline author to lump grace and good works into the same passage!

Speaking of Deutero-Paul, the final passage I would add to that has become foundational to my theology of ministry is found in Colossians. Chapter 1, beginning at verse 15 reads:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

While I love the cosmic image of Christ presented in verses 15-18, it is the last two verses that to distill the mission of Christ (and by extension the mission of the church) down to it’s essence; the reconciliation of all things to God.

I could say more on the topic of scripture. I could have added Isaiah 58, James 2, John 13:12-17, The entirety of the Sermon on the Mount, but it seems best to stop here to give focus to what follows.

Theology of Ministry – Five Years Later

During the last year of seminary, students at SFTS are asked to write a theology of ministry paper. At the time when I wrote and presented my paper to my class, there was really only one criticism offered: it ends very abruptly. My answer at the time was that the paper was unfinished. How could I possibly finalize my theology on ministry before my ministry had actually begun in earnest? I naively said at the time that in five years I would like to revisit the project and see where I have evolved and see if there are some things that are actually no longer a part of what drives me to do what I do. Well… It’s five years later. As fate would have it, I have some time to think and write in this season of my life. So, I’m going to spend some time to revisiting this paper and thinking through the ways my thinking on ministry has changed. The paper was split into 5 sections:

1. Scriptural Basis for My Theology of Ministry

2. Basic Theological Understandings

3. Christ and the Church

4. Me and God

5. My Call

My next five posts will include the original paper broken into the above sections and reflections/additions/ amendments based on the ways that I have changed and grown. We’ll see how this goes…