“The Whole Gospel and the Human Condition”

“The Whole Gospel and the Human Condition”

The Christian Gospel is a distinctive and life-changing message that encompasses the whole life, the reality of human actions and thought, and pervades all lfe situations. It grieves me when some contemporary Evangelical leaders and Christian ministers deceptively label the very work of the Gospel and the duty of Christian church–such as feeding the hungry, improving the life of the poor and single mothers, caring for the sick and the widow, sheltering the homeless and the orphan, welcoming the immigrant and the homeless, visiting prisoners and the abused, and campaigning for greater social justice projects & uplift social programs on behalf of the vulnerable and the economically-disavantaged population and class– “social Gospel” or “social salvation.”

While followers of Jeus Christ should priotize the spiritual salvation and freedom of the lost and the glorious redemption of Christ and God’s relentless love and abundant grace in Christ for all people, social salvation by performing good works to the needy and the marginalized in our city and nation and the Christian responsibility to ameliorate the human condition in our community and in the world is integral to the very message of the Gospel. The biblical call to embody the Gospel in real life situations is a comprehensive Christian mission, empowered by the Spirit of grace and liberation.

If your Gospel consists of only the proclamation of the Word of God and not the concrete and tangible demonstration of the transformative power and deeds of the Word to people, your version of the Gospel is incomplete.

If your understanding of the Gospel accentuates only spiritual freedom from sin, and not servant evangelism, your idea of the Gospel does not do justice to the “whole Gospel.”

If your definition of the Gospel is about preparing people on earth for heaven while neglecting the liberative thrust of the Kingdom of God on earth, your Gospel does not promote or honor God’s holistic plan to redeem the whole humanity and his creation.

Because the Gospel matters for the whole life and in all life situations and circumstances, whether be it in the spiritual sphere, the intellectual life, the cultural sphere, or in the political realm, the Gospel must be seen and interpreted as a life reality like the breath of life that is necessary for the progression of human life and existence.

The Gospel is not just an idea or concept, it is a person: God Himself.

The Gospel is not just a message, it is Jesus Christ, the very content and definition of that message. His person/work (both in its spiritual aspect and tangible activities) is that Message.

The Gospel is not just about a transformative power, the Holy Spirit is that very Power of the Gospel.

The Gospel is not about how to find life in Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is Life himself.

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“The Death of Evangelical Ethics and Political Theology”

“The Death of Evangelical Ethics and Political Theology”

The moral compass of the American politics and ethical worldview of America’s geopolitical hegemony in the world is the antithesis of the Gospel culture and challenges the liberating ethics of Jesus that accentuates human flourishing and God’s salvation for humanity, especially the oppressed, the weak, and the vulnerable in our culture and in the world.

The contemporary Evangelical community has placed too much faith in American politics and politicians to make moral choices and ethical decisions for the church and the nation at large. Christian identity is christocentric, and not Americancentric, and the governing rules and values that shape both identities and their end contradict each other.

The political values of American Evangelicalism cannot be said, at the moment, to be a discourse of contrast, in view of the political ideals of contemporary American culture. In the same line of thought, contemporary American Evangelicalism has not fostered a clear and specific theo-ethical system, grounded on a political theology of care for the poor and the marginalized, that interrogates the socio-political habitus of the dominant class and powerful American elite group.

It seems to me American politics is regulating the norms and contours of Evangelical ethics and moral framework. (In fact, this has been an Evangelical tradition, which has crippled the public witness of Christianity in culture.)
This trend is happening/has been occuring in the Evangelical world because American Evangelicalism has never articulated a robust political theology of social justice and divine sovereignty that prioritizes the Kingdom of God above the Kingdom of America.

Perhaps, this is a new era for Evangelical thinkers and leaders to look for guidance and wisdom from the Word of God, not from the realm of partisan and ideological politics, and to reread with fresh insights and new lenses the political theology and theocentric kingdom-message of the book of Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation.

As long as Christians in America and American Evangelicals continue to prize the American kingdom and sovereignty, the kingdom of God will be subservient to American politics and cultural ideologies, and the public witness of the Christian Church in America will be just a footnote in the American experience and future.

Don’t get over it! Learning How to Talk to Each Other with Care and Sensibility!

Don’t get over it!
Learning How to Talk to Each Other with Care and Sensibility!

We are a nation that is broken and fragmented by the painful narratives of conquer and triumph. As a people, we continue to bear psychologically and relationally the sins of our past as well as those in the present, and we are deeply stamped from the beginning. Unfortunately, we do not know how to talk to one another, relate to the other individual who is different from us, and we often abuse people in the name of American democracy, and in the name of individual rights and liberty. Further, we do not seek help because we believe we are not sick; rather, we have convinced ourselves it is the other person who needs assistance and that it will be alright if we just move forward. This is the power of self deception, hypocrisy, and collective guilt.

No good doctor will tell a patient who has just been diagnosed with cancer to move forward without recommending proper treatment to help alleviate the pain and hopefully eradicate the disease. No good teacher will advise his or her students not to prepare or study for the upcoming exam because of the belief in the inherent ability and aptitude of the students to conquer all possible and potential examinations and challenges.

The “get over it” language is a common response in American conversations, and it occurs between individuals in position of dominance and individuals in peripheral place in the American society. This kind of language fosters isolation, resentment, and hostility in human interaction and between us as a family. If you want to nurture positive and healthy friendship and relationship with someone who lives in the margins of society, do your best to avoid employing the “get over it” rhetoric. It is a painful reaction that triggers the painful memory of the past.

Therefore, it is insensitive to tell modern American Jews to “get over it,” that is, the genocide of Jews in Germany. It is insensitive to tell Native Americans to “move on” because of the historic mass murder of and violence against their ancestors is of the past. Also, it is insensitive to say to Japanese Americans to forget the Japanese internment camps where their ancestors were annihilated. Correspondingly, it is also insensitive to tell African Americans and blacks in general to get over slavery in which their ancestors were brutally harassed, tortured, and died. We continue to deploy this rhetoric because of the continual diminishing value of human life in our society. We are not sanitized to human pain, suffering, sorrows, and death.

The “get over it” language is never an effective way to engage in meaningfully sensitive conversations with those who have been victimized in our society or whose ancestors have experienced terrorism, dehumanization, and death itself. Various forms of human suffering and types of human degradation come to people like permanent invisible scars which they carry with them everyday; they continue to haunt their memory and alternate their actions and movements in the present because the human life, from it’s inception, has been marked by suffering and pain. Suffering challenges our humanity and sometimes makes us doubt the gift of life and the power of perseverance and love.

In addition, the human memory is a powerful device even after the death or the lost of a loved one, it continues to shape our existence and human relations. Individuals who continue to rush others to get over the suffering their ancestors went through undermines the gift and sacredness of life–past, present, and future–and do not empathize with those who are currently suffering in the present because of the repercussions of a history of collective suffering and dehumanization. People mourn about death because human life is sacred and a person’s life should never be taken for granted.

In order to live together and peacefully, and to become fully humans as God has intended for all people in Jesus Christ, the Bible, in strongand provocative language, commands us to forgive one another, to support one another, to emphasize with those who are suffering and oppressed, to bear one another’s burden, and to love one another as Christ has loved us and died sacrificially to reconcile the world with God and individuals to each another. Reconciliation is a Christian ministry that is rooted not in human resentment and retaliation but in human understanding and forgiveness produced by the empowering presence and intervention of the Holy Spirit; it is also grounded on the ethics of selflessness and participation as we’re as the people of God are called by God himself to participate not just in the sufferings of Christ, but also in the sufferings and sorrows of our brothers and sisters.

Kwame Bediako (1945-2008) on (the) African pre-Christian Religious Tradition

Kwame Bediako (1945-2008) on (the) African pre-Christian Religious Tradition

One of my favorite theologians is the late Kwame Bediako (his full name is Manasseh Kwame Dakwa Bediako) of the country of Ghana. He was born in Accra, Ghana, in 1945. He is the author of three influential texts “Theology and Identity: The Impact of Culture Upon Christian Thought in the Second Century and in Modern Africa” (1999); “Christianity in Africa: The Renewal of a Non-Western Religion” (1995); “Jesus and the Gospel in Africa: History and Experience” (2000) and numerous academic articles. He is considered as one of the most respected and influential African theologians in the twentieth century.

Bediako received his first PhD from the University of Bordeaux (in France) in French Literature, and his second PhD in Theology is from the University of Aberdeen (in Scotland) under the supervision of Andrew Walls.

Bediako and I share a few things in common. His first PhD is in (French) Literature; my first PhD is in (English) Literary Studies. I also have a Master’s degree in French Literature. His second PhD is in Theology; my second PhD is in Systematic Theology and Ethics. He was an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana; I’m an ordained minister of the Baptist Church. After he had obtained his first doctoral degree and while he was in France, he converted to Christianity and went on to study Christian Theology as an academic discipline. Bediako had abandoned the secular academia to contribute to and strengthen Christian ministry and theological scholarship in Africa. As the good Lord continues to reorient my thinking and scholarship, I have seen the need to refocus my writings to Christian academic scholarship and church ministry. Finally, a lot of my friends and my African friends especially often think I’m from Nigeria or Ghana. Hey, that’s a plus 🙂

Interestingly, I discovered the writings of Dr. Kwame Bediako as a seminary student, perhaps in the year of 2003 or 2004, but have not really had a chance to focus on his theological writings because I was concentrating on finishing that degree and move on to doctoral studies. Nonetheless, I had promised myself to read everything he has written and to eventually write an article about his theological legacy. This is the historical context and intellectual curiosity that led me to revisit the works of Bediako, and began researching for this new essay.

As I’m researching for a future article on the pre-Christian religious tradition and African Christian identity in his writings and those of E. Bolaji Idowu (of Nigeria) and John Mbiti (of Kenya) (in previous writings, I have engaged both Idowu and Mbiti) I came across this important statement:

” …a widespread consensus that there does exist an African pre-Christian religious tradition heritage to be taken seriously, there has been also the realization that it is important to recognize the integrity of African Christian experience as a religious reality in its own right. The view here is that Christianity, as a religious faith, is not intrinsically foreign to Africa. On the contrary, it has deep roots in the long histories of the peoples of the continent, whilst it has proved to be capable of apprehension by Africans in African terms, as is demonstrating that Christ had effectively become the integrating reality and power linking the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ in the African experience. This perspective, therefore, seemed to offer the most hopeful signs for the development of a sustainable tradition of an African Christian thought into the future, having firmly taken on board the critical notion that the Christian faith is capable of ‘translation’ into African terms without injury to its essential content.”

The next paragraph is more revealing, informative, and celebratory about the success and redirection of African theological enterprise:

“It is no mean achievement, then, that African Theology, by the sort of agenda that it self for itself from the start, as well as by the method it evolved, managed to overturn virtually every negative verdict passed on African tradition by the ethnocentricism of the Western missionary enterprise; and it is a mark of that achievement that African Theology has succeeded by and large in providing an African re-interpretation of African pre-Christian religious tradition in ways which have ensured that the pursuit of a creative, constructive and perhaps also a self-critical, theological enterprise in Africa is not only viable but in fact distinctly possible, as a variant of the universal and continuing encounter of the Christian faith with the realities of human societies and their histories.”

When Bediako died in 2008, I wrote a short essay about him and posted on my blog one of his lectures/ interviews on African Christian identity. His daughter was very kind to leave a message on my blog on how much she appreciates my acknowledgement of the legacy of her father. I look forward to continue engaging Kwame Bediako.

Worship is…

What is worship?

Worship is the complete devotion of one’s life to God and to what God honors and delights in.

Simply, worship is the exaltation of God in all of our pleasures, which should parallel to all of God’s pleasures.

The question is this do your pleasures and delights parallel to those of God?

If they’re not, you are not worshipping God or exalting Him in your and with your life.

The Moral Problems of Our Times!

What are the moral problems of our times?
Here are a selected few:

The immigration crisis is a moral problem.
Separating children from their parents is a moral problem.
Mistreating the poor and the homeless is a moral problem.
Poverty is a moral problem.
Abortion is a moral problem.
Pedophilia is a moral problem.
Racism is a moral problem.
Adultery is a moral problem.
Beating one’s spouse is a moral problem.
Hunger is a moral problem.
Stealing is a moral problem.
Sexism is a moral problem.
Homophobia is a moral problem.
Xenophobia is a moral problem.
Living life without Jesus is a moral problem.
Sin is a moral problem.

These moral problems are inherently Gospel issues.

*** What else would you add to the list?

“American Public Evangelicalism, the Public Sphere, and the Questions of our Times”

“American Public Evangelicalism, the Public Sphere, and the Questions of our Times”

For many public thinkers and cultural critics in the American society, today’s American Evangelicalism stands against anything that is democratic and human flourishing. Because of the anti-intellectual sentiment that has been a sustaining characterization of American Evangelicalism, the contemporary Evangelical world has not produced (enough) critical public intellectuals & cultural critics who are capable to address adequately and think in public about the pressing issues that are affecting (and changing) contemporary American individuals and families and concurrently the predicament of other people beyond the American geographical frontiers.

There are many reasons associated with this crisis. First, this lack of Christian intellectual representation in the public sphere lies in the academic formation and training of today’s Evangelical Christian leaders. A large number of these individuals are men who have received an academic education or a theological training that has prepared and confined them only to the Christian world, leading to their disengagement, both intentional and unintentional, with the urgent questions of our times and the crises of human nature and relations.

Second, those higher learning institutions, usually conservative Christian private schools and conservative theological seminaries, do not nurture Christian professionals, clergy or thinkers toward exercising a “public faith” or a “public Christianity” that is sufficiently robust and could simultaneously engage both the critical problems in/of the church and the secular world. Evangelical Christianity must produce an enduring Gospel-centered way of life and ethic that could sympathize with the suffering and needy individuals and families and actively address the concerns surrounding the plot of this country’s poor and vulnerable.

Third, in many ways, the educational curriculum of those institutions is ideologically constructed, limited, and selective, for example, to the studying of a selected few men and women of the dominant culture (i.e. individuals of European descent) and partially engages interdisciplinarily, cross-culturally, and cross-disciplinarily. For example, if Karl Marx is discussed in the Christian classroom, it is only to demonize his theory of the social classes and capitalism, and not to acquire genuine understanding about Marx’s (scientific) observations and proposals about the deficiencies of modernity (and now postmodernity) in Western societies. These institutions do not form future Christian thinkers to accurately understand the world, but to find (faults) everything wrong and unchristian with the secular age. This lack of clear and meaningful understanding of the things of the world and of people becomes more pronounced when one of those Christian leaders is given a public platform to interact with individuals of various educational, ethnic, racial, and cultural background, and economic standing in society. Certainly, it is a pivotal matter to consider or even appreciate the plurality of human epistemology in American Evangelicalism.

Fourth, many contemporary public thinkers and cultural critics in our culture have observed a popular trend that has now become an Evangelical tradition. It entails the passive attitude of Evangelicals to categorically avoid (addressing) cultural matters that do not directly affect (the future of) Evangelical churches and institutions. If the subject matter does not relate to them or their corresponding family members, the common reaction is to remain silent about it, or to put it bluntly, they automatically disengage the issue.

Fifth, many Evangelical leaders and clergy associate public engagement with ungodliness and moral liberalism. The apparent Evangelical anxiety is within the Evangelical world itself: it is the phobia of the self. Those from the Evangelical culture ( i.e. Russell Moore, Thabiti Anyabwile, Tim Keller) who have committed themselves to engaging in public the big questions of our times such as social justice issues, public education, sexism, classism, labor ethics, labor wages, immigration, Police brutality, poverty, mass incarceration, racism, inner city problems, etc. need to be carefully watched or monitored lest they’re leaning towards socialism and Marxism. Some have argued these thinkers ought to be “suspicious” in the Evangelical world because they’re too political as if the greater Evangelical world does not have a conscious agenda to dominate the world of American politics and rule over the sphere of American culture.

Finally, it is important for Christians of all denominational expressions or ideological tribalism as it is in contemporary American Evangelicalism to come to grips with the realities of our moments that are constantly altering (and waging war against the poor and the vulnerable in our society) human nature and radically transforming the human condition. Let American Christianity in this twenty-first century give birth to men and women of courage and conviction who will assume a public platform in the legacy of public intellectuals and cultural critics like Martin Luther King, Jr., Reinhold Niebuhr, John Courtney Murray, S.J., Richard John Neuhaus, and the late James H. Cone.