Every day I drive past church parking lots and admire the church buses and vans that sit collecting dust while we attempt to address the transportation crisis in our city. Across this city, congregations gather for meals that resemble a feast as I watch my urban friends scrap together a meager meal so that they can enjoy the same kind of table fellowship. I read church bulletins about the upcoming missions trips and the thousands of dollars being raised to help send members to the other side of the world for a one week experience while our local urban missionaries fail to find the support and encouragement they need to transform our own backyard. We currently have four desks crammed into one office and two team members per desk while many inner city churches sit empty all week. I get letters from churches asking for funds to support their next mega-building campaign while I watch families become homeless because they do not have the $200 they need to maintain their housing. When we approach churches about using what should be God’s resources to advance God’s Kingdom or care for God’s children, we hear the following:
“We can’t use our van to help you take inner city kids to the park because of “liability” issues.”
“We can’t host your fellowship event because our people are just too busy.”
“Members of our church really like going away to foreign countries to do missions.”
“Our policy is to only use our building for “church-sponsored” activities.”
“We only provide financial support for “members” who are in crisis.”
Lately I have been hanging out over at Jesus Creed and gleaning scraps from the table of some of the most brilliant theologians of our time who are wrestling with some very deep issues related to how we understand the Christian story. Scott McKnight got to what I think is the core area of contention within the present debate, the issue of election, in his post Soul Sort One More Time: David Opderbeck.
McKnight writes “Scripture seems to suggest quite strongly that God chooses a particular people in Christ. On this question of particularity, a “missional” approach to election seems to be emerging. In this view, “election” refers primarily to God’s choice of some people to engage in His mission of redeeming all of creation. When we reflect on the doctrine of election, the point is not to divide “who’s in and who’s out” in terms of final judgment. The final judgment is God’s prerogative alone. What we can know is that, having received the grace of the Gospel, we are chosen to bring the Gospel, in all its fullness, into all of creation. (For some hints at this approach, see Leslie Newbiggin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, and Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God.) We, the Church, have been elected for mission. But this emphatically does not mean that those outside the visible Church are forever outside the reach of God’s grace.”
What would it mean to your faith and the way you understand the Christian Story to see “election” as being chosen to go on mission with God? What do you think of McKnight’s suggestion that our present focus on election as final judgment is in error? How would this new way of understanding election change the way you tell the Christian story?
I encourage you all to take a trip over to Jesus Creed and read the whole post. Also check out some of my other posts related to the topic including Social Justice vs Evangelism, Confessing my Ignorance – Revised, and A new twist on the conversation.