Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context by Glen Harold Stassen, David P. Gushee (InterVarsity Press) This evangelical ethics challenges us to make the injunctions of the Sermon on the Mount to be normative in our lives as the guide to following Jesus. Even if your own theology is more tepid and conciliatorily, it is important to realize that being a Christian demands the best of us. Excerpt: The church confesses that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. He is God incarnate. He is the Savior. He is the Lord of the church and of the world. He is the center not only of Christian faith but also, Scripture asserts, of the universe itself, the one through whom all things were made: "He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Col 1:17). Christianity is a nonsensical enterprise apart from Jesus, its central figure, its source, ground, authority and destiny.
Here is the problem. Christian churches across the theological and confessional spectrum, and Christian ethics as an academic discipline that serves the churches, are often guilty of evading Jesus, the cornerstone and center of the Christian faith. Specifically, the teachings and practices of Jesus-especially the largest block of his teachings, the Sermon on the Mount-are routinely ignored or misinterpreted in the preaching and teaching ministry of the churches and in Christian scholarship in ethics. This evasion of the concrete teachings of Jesus has seriously malformed Christian moral practices, moral beliefs and moral witness. Jesus taught that the test of our discipleship is whether we act on his teachings, whether we "put into practice" his words. This is what it means to "buil[d our] house on rock" (Mt 7:24).
We believe that Jesus meant what he said. And so it is no overstatement to claim that the evasion of the teachings of Jesus constitutes a crisis of Christian identity and raises the question of who exactly is functioning as the Lord of the church. When Jesus' way of discipleship is thinned down, marginalized or avoided, then churches and Christians lose their antibodies against infection by secular ideologies that manipulate Christians into serving the purposes of some other lord. We fear precisely that kind of idolatry now.
We write to redress this problem. Our purpose is to reclaim Jesus Christ for Christian ethics and for the moral life of the churches. We intend to write an introductory interpretation of Christian ethics built on the "rock"-the teachings and practices of Jesus. And in the process we also intend to recover the Sermon on the Mount for Christian ethics. We think that the Christian life consists of following Jesus-obeying his teachings and practicing the way of life he taught and modeled. Jesus taught that as his disciples obey him and practice what he taught and lived, they participate in the reign of God that Jesus inaugurated during his earthly ministry and that will reach its climax when he comes again; So we are attempting to write an introduction to Christian ethics that focuses unremittingly on Jesus Christ, the inaugurator of the kingdom of God.
When we surveyed the available textbooks in Christian ethics, we were amazed to find that almost none learned anything constructive from the Sermon on the Mount-the largest block of Jesus' teaching in the New Testament ` the teaching that Jesus says in the Great Commission is the way to make disciples and that the early church referred to more often than any other Scripture.; Something was very wrong. Now we are pleased to think we are part of a trend to recover the way of Jesus for Christian discipleship. Recently, and from three different traditions, Dallas Willard has published The Divine Conspiracy, William Spohn has published Go and Do Likewise, and Allen Verhey has published' Remembering Jesus. It is with great enthusiasm that we welcome these three elegantly written books, each of which takes the way of Jesus seriously. We are. part of the same cause, and we hope all four books foretell a movement and will, work together like a team of four horses pulling in the same direction.
We intend in this book to let Jesus, and especially the Sermon on the Mount, set the agenda for Christian ethics. This simple decision has surprisingly concrete consequences. Many current introductions to Christian ethics-not to, mention current moral advocacy efforts in the churches-focus their primary' attention on issues that Jesus did not discuss, while ignoring several that Jesus did continually address. While we acknowledge the need to consider presentday concerns that were nonexistent in Jesus' time, as far as possible we will try to allow Jesus' teachings to set our agenda. We want to focus our attention on what Jesus taught was essential to Christian discipleship. We think this is the best way to be a Christian-a Christ-follower. Such an approach also constitutes a check against the intrusion of present-day ideologies and the distorted agendas they promote.
Yet this is not simply a book on the Sermon on the Mount, but a book on Christian ethics. And further, we are not basing the biblical parts of the book only on the Sermon on the Mount: we regularly ground the interpretation in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament, and regularly look to the rest of the New Testament for confirmation. In fact, we see the background of Jesus' teaching about the kingdom of God in the deliverance passages of the prophet Isaiah, which brings far richer content to our understanding of the reign of God in Jesus' teaching. This particular grounding in the Hebrew Scriptures is one of the guiding insights of the book and is why this book is called Kingdom Ethics.
The book is divided into seven sections. Section one attempts to situate the ethic Jesus taught by considering the meaning of the kingdom of God, for this idea stood at the heart of his proclamation and self-understanding. Our approach to Christian ethics offers a sharp focus on God's reign, a focus we think well justified given Jesus' own proclamation. This discussion then lays the foundation for our treatment of the issue of character, beginning with a kingdom-centered rethinking of the Beatitudes and moving to a consideration of contemporary character ethics.
Section two considers the perennial themes of moral authority and moral norms in Christian ethics. All approaches to ethics, Christian or not, must offer some account of what will count as authoritative in determining moral truth and of how such truth is packaged and communicated. In this section, we attempt to show the way in which Jesus dealt both with moral authority and the shape and function of moral norms. This section will be our most obviously "methodological"-and yet the entire work is intended as a demonstration of a certain methodology in Christian ethics.
All remaining chapters deal with issues and themes raised by the Sermon on the Mount or suggested by the Sermon in relation to contemporary moral challenges. Section three focuses on various issues of life and death; section four considers sexual, gender and marriage ethics; section five explores the great themes of love and justice; section six looks at relationships of justice and love by exploring truth-telling, race, economics and creation care. Finally, section seven concludes the volume by considering Jesus' teachings on prayer, politics and moral practices.
Each chapter is in one way or another grounded in a portion of the Sermon on the Mount, but the Sermon does not form the exclusive basis of the ethic that is developed there, and we do not attempt to organize the book as a straightforward exposition of the Sermon. As in any worthy introduction to Christian ethics, we attempt to present the most relevant biblical texts, themes and motifs related to the issues under discussion. Because we are trying to stay as close as possible to the ethics that Jesus taught, we attend especially to those Old Testament texts that most strongly influenced Jesus' teaching and to New Testament materials that reflect the Sermon on the Mount and other Jesus-sayings as passed on to the early church. But we do consider the whole of the canon as authoritative for Christian ethics and do our biblical work accordingly.
Reasoned and Spirit-illuminated reflection on tradition, experience and social scientific data, among other resources, also offers insight on most moral issues we face, and plenty of that kind of moral archaeology can be found here as well. To claim as we do that Christian ethics must be built on the rock, Jesus Christ, and on his teachings is by no means to claim that the rest of the Bible should be abandoned or that no other source of knowledge is relevant.
To make the book more readable, we have avoided footnotes and incorporated the notes in parentheses within the text, often with a shortened title even on first reference. A bibliography for further reading at the end of the book identifies the publication information for the books to which the parenthetical notes refer. We hope the discussion is interesting enough, and controversial enough, to lead you to want to read further.
We always appreciate it when authors tell us who they are, what their agenda is, and whom they are trying to reach. So we here briefly offer the same courtesy to our own readers.
Glen was raised a North American Baptist in Minnesota. He is now Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary. He took up that position in 1996, after twenty years of teaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as at Duke University, Kentucky Southern College and Berea College. David was raised a Roman Catholic in Virginia and became a Southern Baptist through a conversion experience at the age of sixteen. He is now Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University, located in Jackson, Tennessee. David began teaching at Union in 1996, after three years on the faculty of Southern Seminary and three years serving as managing editor of the publications of Evangelicals for Social Action and guest teaching at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
This project was born during three overlapping years at Southern Seminary (1993-1996). David, originally a student of Glen's, returned to Southern to join him as his partner in the two-person Christian ethics faculty. Glen had the original idea for the book in 1995, and later David joined the project. We were both excited about our sense of calling to retrieve Jesus' teachings and redemptive actions for Christian ethics.
Circumstances change in ways none of us anticipate. In 1996 David moved to Union, where he has developed a program in Christian ethics within the Christian studies department, and Glen moved to Fuller. From a distance of two thousand miles, with the aid of e-mail, we completed our work-though it took a bit of time!
Our agenda is to write an excellent introduction to Christian ethics grounded in the teachings of Jesus. We have aimed for a book that can be used in college and seminary classes. However, by introducing several new kinds of arguments we also hope to advance the ongoing conversation about Christian ethics among professional practitioners of our discipline. And we have tried to write with sufficient verve to attract the thoughtful general reader as well.
Those interested in theological/political labels and categories may find this book hard to pin down. We think we are offering a Christian ethics that seeks to follow Jesus' lead as faithfully as possible. As such, it is simply Christian ethics. We are writing for all Christians who have an interest in following Jesus and want to recover, or deepen, what that means.
The publisher is an evangelical Christian publishing company, and as authors we are certainly comfortable with that theological label. We happily embrace the authority of Scripture and the tenets of orthodox Christian faith, and have written this work on that basis. Both of us, though, relate widely to an array of Christian communities both in North America and abroad, and attempt to avoid ideological pigeonholing. We hope that anyone interested in the moral teaching of Jesus Christ and the contemporary moral witness of the Christian church will find much here that is of value.
The informed reader will likely notice the theological/ethical traditions and figures that seem to influence us most heavily, but it is good to be explicit about this as well. Both of us are Baptists-the kind of Baptists who connect both to the Anabaptist and to the Reformed strands of the Baptist tradition, as well as to the Great Awakening, revivalist and Pietist heritage of North American Baptist life. The Anabaptist strand offers especially strong emphasis on the teachings of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount. The Reformed strand develops creational and covenantal themes, and has always emphasized the Hebrew Scriptures and the sovereignty of God over all of life, not only over the church or a narrow "religious" part of life. The revivalist and Pietist strands stress the role of heartfelt personal commitment to Christ as Savior and Lord, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. These themes are all critically important in our approach. Thus our approach seeks to be faithfully and concretely Trinitarian, in, we hope, a fresh way.
We also both find the historic black church tradition in the United States to be extraordinarily congenial and confess its deep influence on our thinking, especially in its emphasis on incarnational ethics and on justice. Recent years have found us impressed by the Pentecostal/charismatic wing of the church; its thinkers are beginning to offer important insights for Christian scholarship, some of which we incorporate here. Glen has been intimately connected with the Protestant churches of Europe, especially Germany, for many years; that influence is felt here. Finally, having been trained in mainline seminaries and universities, both of us are well acquainted with Catholic and mainline theological and social ethics and have studied closely the towering figures of those traditions. Thinkers such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and H. Richard Niebuhr have clearly left their mark on this work.
All of this is to say that the Christian ethics we offer here is nourished by the grand tradition(s) of the church as a whole, with certain strands particularly prominent-in large part because of their recognition of the centrality of Jesus for Christian ethics. Our primary loyalty is to Jesus as Lord and Savior, not to traditions about him, but we are happy to draw on the best of those traditions where they are most insightful.
Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God's Mission in the Bible by Arthur F. Glasser, Charles E. Van Engen, Dean S. Gilliland, Shawn B. Redford, Paul G. Hiebert (Baker Academic) Glasser perceives the common thread of the Kingdom of God to hold the totality of Scripture together. Without needing to stretch or create seams, Glasser assists the readers in understanding God's sovereignty over Heaven and Earth and that "[t]he whole Bible is a missionary book."
The description of the calling of Abraham, and the missiological implications of the covenant are brought out in ch. 4. One of the frequent implications throughout the book is prayer, and it finds its first expression in this chapter: Abraham follows the discovery of God's graciousness (Gen. 18) with intercession. Glasser often reminds the reader that contact with the Kingdom of God is through prayer, and through communication with God, the mission is advanced. One omission in the advance of the mission, the section on "Mission and Passivity" notwithstanding (!), is the anticipatory response of Abraham to the Egyptians (Gen 12:10 ff); many missiologists and missionaries have observed the failure of Abraham to "bless" the Egyptians, and Glasser would have done well to elaborate on this forgetful act on Abraham's behalf.
The long elaboration of God's Mission through Jesus Christ (ch. 12) is a real treat. The chapter on "Demonstration" is welcome; Glasser does us all a favor by examining the deeds of Jesus, throwing light not only on Christology, but also in the process, delivering missiological distinctiveness to the familiar offices of Christ by adding the role of "servant." The section on "Teacher-Trainer," based upon John 1-4, was an unexpected appearance. The discussion on "The Consolidation of Faith" was challenging; later in the book, though, I wondered about some possible backtracking from some of the biblical description of God's "dramatic answers" that deepens the faith of new disciples. Apart from that curiosity arriving admittedly retrospectively, the chapter concludes strong with the emphasis that Jesus intentionally mentored and prepared "the Twelve for leadership in the missionary community of the Kingdom- the church." I came away with fresh and renewed convictions regarding leadership development.
One location that I had great hope for disappointed me, and that regret was the description of "God's Kingdom Extends over the Powers" (ch. 21). Glasser presumably addresses some nameless Christian leaders regarding the notion of "power evangelism." (Peter Wagner? The late John Wimber?) My critique here is that 1) Glasser seems to have dodged any response to John 14:1-14, especially v. 14 (although Glasser has employed the same passage elsewhere to serve some other interesting ends!), and I remain wondering why, and 2) the same Paul Hiebert who wrote the Foreword to this book also authored the now famous paper "The Flaw of the Excluded Middle:" why, then, would Glasser explicitly articulate a rationale for keeping the "excluded middle" in evangelism? Granted, Hiebert was no fan of the "Signs and Wonders" crowd at Fuller, but he compassionately and intelligently argued for the biblical presence of the Holy Spirit and power in anyone's ministry! My reading of this section prompted the rereading of chapter 12, and I wondered why any "mature Christian" would now consider supernatural phenomenon for the "consolidating" of the faith of a new Christian, but exclude from their ministry of evangelism any participation or expectation of signs and wonders. Glasser is not a cessationist! But, the splitting of the availability of God's power by the author creates confusion.
This book is good, and I am sure that I will read it again. I would have liked to read Glasser's engagement with some later exegetes like Joel Green, N.T. Wright and Raymond Brown; my hunch is that Glasser's work would become bullet-proof. Those desires notwithstanding, this book will now jump up alongside the works of Ladd and Cullmann: it is that strong. There are some real gems in here, but I would assert that Glasser has served the Kingdom and us in a larger fashion by developing the theme of the Kingdom of God that runs throughout Scripture, and, hopefully, empower the People of God for participation in the missio Dei.
Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God's Mission in the Bible represents a lifetime of thought, Bible study, missionary experience, and missiological teaching by one of the premier missiologists of the last half of the twentieth century. During the past fifty years, there have been few works that have dealt in-depth with a missional reading of the Bible. Yet of those that do exist, in many cases the biblical analysis has been done by Bible scholars with little background in missiological thought or praxis. In other cases missiologists with little background in biblical studies have tried to derive biblical foundations for their missionary perspectives. In this volume Arthur Glasser uniquely couples a careful and in-depth approach to the Bible with a broad understanding of missiological reflection and missionary action.
The purpose of this book is to offer the reader a biblical study of the Kingdom of God and the worldwide mission of God's people. One of the most basic aspects of mission theology has to do with the relation of the Bible to mission theory and practice. Initially one would think that this would be obvious. Such is not the case. In each generation there is a need to reflect again on the way the church embraces or exploits the scriptural understanding of mission.
In Arthur Glasser's words:
Only if the church understands the full biblical revelation of God concerning the mission of God's people, stimulated by confronting Scripture with today's questions, will they be responsibly challenged to offer to God the devotion of heart, strength, time, and resources essential to its completion. This means listening to the Old Testament witness as well as to the New Testament.... All Scripture makes its contribution in one way or other to our understanding of mission. This is our thesis. In our day evangelicals are finding that the biblical base for mission is far broader and more complex than any previous generation of missiologists appears to have envisioned.... It has become increasingly difficult to defend the modern missionary movement by supplementing this concern with appeals to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), in the tradition of William Carey and Hudson Taylor. Nor can greater credibility be gained by broadening the base through appealing to proof-texts carefully selected to support such related themes as the sending character of God, the compassionate compulsion of the Spirit, the example of the apostolic church, and the relation between missionary obedience and the second coming of Christ.... An overall approach to Scripture must be undertaken that will allow each part to make its contribution so that the total concern of God for the nations might be understood. To develop such an approach is our concern in this book. (Glasser 1992: 26-27)
In this study our objective is to explore the emergence and development of the Kingdom of God motif within both the Old and the New Testaments taken as a whole, in order to understand more deeply God's mission through God's people in God's world. This, in turn, will give us new wisdom and insight as to what should be the church's mission in a new millennium.
Our mission is none other, no more nor less, than participation in Jesus' mission. To state it negatively, when it is not Christ's mission, it may be colonial expansion, church extension, proselytism, or social services-but it is not mission. Our mission is biblical mission only when it is centered in Jesus Christ. As Art Glasser has said, "The gospel has at its heart the affirmation that Jesus Christ alone is Lord and that he offers to enter the lives of all who come to him in repentance and faith" (Glasser 1984: 726).'
The authors of this book have used an earlier draft of this volume with great benefit for several years in courses in biblical foundations of mission at Fuller Seminary's School of World Mission. Nearly two hundred students have read the book each school year and have consistently acclaimed it as the most profound, helpful, and provocative book relating Bible and mission they have ever read.
A Kingdom of God perspective has been one of Arthur Glasser's major contributions to missiology. Drawing from the works of George Ladd, Herman Ridderbos, Oscar Cullmann, and others, Glasser's Kingdom of God paradigm has done at least four things for missiology.
First, the Kingdom of God concept broadens missiological reflection beyond a predominantly individualized and vertical understanding of salvation to a holistic view of the interaction of church and world.
Second, Glasser's Kingdom missiology breaks the impasse between evangelism and social action that has plagued Protestant evangelicals.
Third, Kingdom of God missiology creates the possibility of new conversation among evangelicals, representatives of the conciliar movement, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Pentecostals, and charismatics.
Fourth, Glasser's own personal pilgrimage made him deeply aware of the social and political implications of the Kingdom of God that challenges all governments, all forms of racism, all social structures that would seek to deify themselves.
Born in 1914, the year that World War I began, Arthur and his wire, twice, saw tremendous changes take place in the way Christian missions are done. Yet throughout all those changes, their vision of the essential motivation and goal of Christian mission remained focused. As Art Glasser once wrote, "There is but one acid test that should be applied to all activities that claim to represent obedience in mission. Do they or do they not produce disciples of Jesus Christ?" (1974: 8). Here Glasser was echoing Donald McGavran's conviction on which Fuller's School of World Mission (SWM) was founded. McGavran understood mission "as an enterprise devoted to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, and to persuading men and women to become his disciples and responsible members of his church" (1990: 23-24). McGavran believed this was the primary basis on which ministry formation should be evaluated (1989: 22-26).
Graduating from Cornell University in Civil Engineering in 1936, Art felt that God was calling him to full-time cross-cultural missionary service. After graduating from Faith Theological Seminary in 1942, Glasser joined the Navy as a chaplain in the First Marine Division, which saw fierce fighting in the South Pacific in 1943 and 1944. After the war, Art and Alice Glasser joined the China Inland Mission (CIM), and were a part of the first group of candidates accepted by CIM after World War II. In 1946 they were sent to China. In their first missionary prayer letter, dated December 28, 1946, the Glassers wrote, "There are two basic reasons why we are on our way to China. First, as Christians, we owe to the One who died for us the obedience He demands of all His disciples, since He has placed upon us the solemn obligation to `go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.' And secondly, we are going to China because of the appalling need of that tragic land which has one quarter of the world's population."
After the Communist takeover of China in 1949, Art taught for several years at Columbia Bible College in Columbia, South Carolina. In 1955 Glasser was appointed assistant home director of CIM, by then called the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF). He and Alice lived for several years in Singapore. In 1960 he became the home director of OMF. During those years Glasser was the editor of China's Millions, later called East Asia's Millions. In 1969 Glasser resigned his position with OMF to study for a year at Columbia University in New York. From the 1940s until the late 1960s Glasser was also heavily involved with Erik Fife and others in the Urbana Missionary Conferences of the Foreign Missionary Fellowship of InterVarsity. In 1970 Art was invited by David Allan Hubbard to become the second dean of the School of World Mission, following Donald McGavran. He served as dean from 1971 to 1980. Drawing from his lifelong passion for Jewish evangelization, Glasser founded the Judaic Studies Program in the School of World Mission. During more than sixty years, God has used Art widely with his various gifts as missionary theologian, mission statesman, theological educator, mission executive, mission mobilizer, evangelist, writer, editor, and speaker. Today Art and Alice make their home in Seattle, Washington.
The other names that appear on the cover of this book are those of three "generations" of disciples who have been transformed by Arthur Glasser's missiology.
Dean Gilliland served as a missionary, teaching and training church leaders in Nigeria for many years. In 1977 he was invited by Art Glasser to join the faculty of the School of World Mission at Fuller, where he now teaches contextualization and Pauline theology of mission. Chuck Van Engen studied mission theology and church growth with Art in 1972 and 1973, prior to going as a missionary to Mexico. At Art Glasser's insistence, Chuck joined the School of World Mission in 1988, at which time Art promptly handed over to him a course called "Biblical Foundations of Mission," for which the primary textbook was an early draft of this book. In the mid-1990s Shawn Redford began his studies at Fuller and has been a follower of Art Glasser's missiology ever since. Chuck and Shawn now team-teach "Biblical Foundations of Mission," and they use this book as the primary resource to help students understand God's mission as it takes place from Genesis to Revelation.
Our prayer is that you, our reader, will allow this unique work to serve as a focusing lens through which you can read the Bible with new missional vision. And once you look through this lens, we pray you will rejoice with us in the amazement and wonder we have experienced in seeing the kaleidoscope of ways in which God's mission advances through Scripture. We are all indebted to Arthur Glasser for giving us new eyes to see God's mission in the Bible.
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