Wipf & Stock publishes latest Crofford book

mere-ecclesiology-coverJ. Gregory Crofford, Mere Ecclesiology: Finding Your Place in the Church’s Mission (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2016)

Available in paperback for $ 13.60 USD at Wipf & Stock by clicking here, or at Amazon.com for $ 17.00 USD by clicking here. An Amazon Kindle e-book edition will be available in early 2017.

Book synopsis

Too many churches limp along with no clear sense of mission. In Mere Ecclesiology: Finding Your Place in the Church’s Mission, Dr. Crofford clarifies the purpose of God’s people through the metaphor of spiritual respiration. “Breathing in” (worship and discipleship) leads to “breathing out” (transformative service in the world). Newcomers and seasoned believers alike will be challenged to discover their calling as the Holy Spirit sends the church out on a challenging mission to heal families, communities, and creation itself.

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Dr. Gregory (“Greg”) Crofford, Ph.D. (University of Manchester), is a Senior Lecturer and the Ph.D. (Religion) Program Coordinator in the Religion Department at Africa Nazarene University (Nairobi, Kenya).
An interview with the author

What led you to write this book?

Christianity is fragmented. I wondered: What are the characteristics that all churches within the Christian tradition share? Mere Ecclesiology is an attempt to identify what unites us and to celebrate it.

You talk about “spiritual respiration.” What do you mean by this rather odd term?

Just like the human body must breathe in order to survive, so must Christ’s body, the church. It’s a word picture. “Breathing in” represents discipleship, coming to Christ and growing in our faith, both individually and corporately. ” On the other hand, “breathing out” is the mission God gives the church in the world, impacting communities through service that transforms. A healthy church will evidence both movements of the Holy Spirit, inward and outward.

Your chapter on “calling” has some surprises. Why do you present the word in such broad terms?

One of the downsides of the clergy/laity divide in how we conceptualize the church is that we become like a soccer match with only a few playing on the field and the rest watching in the stands. Yet Ephesians 4:11-16 teaches that all of God’s saints (believers) have a place of service, a role to fill not only in the church but in how the church fulfills her mission for the sake of the world. It is not just clergy who have a vocation from God. We all have a calling to fulfill. This is really where the sub-title of the book comes into play: “Finding your place in the church’s mission.”

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When sin grows wings and claws

This leopard stopped long enough for me to take his picture at the Nairobi (Kenya) safari walk.
This leopard stopped long enough for me to take his picture at the Nairobi (Kenya) safari walk.

It’s a moving scene from the film, “Amazing Grace.” William Wilberforce is desperate to make the horror of the slave trade concrete for those who have the power to abolish it but remain unconvinced. So he hosts an outing for selected members of the aristocracy, a short boat tour up the river Thames. What they don’t know is his real motive. As violins play, the boat steers alongside the Madagascar, a filthy slave ship just returned from the West Indies. Dramatically, Wilberforce calls out from the deck of the putrid vessel, inviting the aristocrats to breathe in deeply, to take in the stench that is slavery. Instinctively, women cover their noses with their handkerchief, shielding themselves. “Take away that handkerchief!” Wilberforce commands. “Breathe in the foul smell of slavery.”

In recent days, there have been two moments when we – like those aristocratic women – were tempted to shield ourselves from the foul smell of twin evils. The first was the hidden-camera videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of body parts harvested from abortions. Instinctively, media put up the “handkerchief” of diversion, focusing on other health services the group provides for the poor. “Don’t look at that, look over here instead!” was their plea. But it was too late. The public knows a putrid smell when it accosts our collective olfactory sense, and the damage was already done and will continue as more videos are released in coming weeks. Estimates are that 55 million unborn have been aborted since 1973, the year that Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in all 50 states. Some stenches are not easily covered up.

The second story that smelled foul was the baiting and slaying of Cecil, a majestic 13-year-old lion in Zimbabwe. Reports are that he was lured outside of the wildlife reserve where he lived by the use of a dead animal. Subsequently, he was skinned and his head severed. Whether laws were broken is still being determined, but the public is seething. Uproar continues as the media focuses on the story, and the American dentist who has admitted his involvement in the trophy hunt has gone into hiding.

As I look at the two stories, I’m reminded of a quote from Walter Rauschenbush in his 1917 A Theology for the Social Gospel:

When fed with money, sin grows wings and claws.

In both cases – the Planned Parenthood trading in body parts of aborted babies and the slaying of Cecil the lion – money has played a role. In a video featured at Breitbart.com, Dr. Mary Gatter, President of Planned Parenthood’s Medical Director’s Council, discusses the price of fetal parts. She later jokes about “wanting a Lamborghini” in exchange for body parts. Some have argued that the videos have been cleverly edited for effect, but this has not stopped promises by members of Congress to investigate. Likewise, reports are that the American dentist who shot Cecil with his bow and arrow paid $ 55,000.00 to local hunters to assist him in the hunt, this despite the fact that there are now only 34,000 lions left in the wild in Africa.

The Apostle Paul appears to be on the same page with Walter Rauschenbusch. Writing to his young protégé, Timothy, he observed:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:19, NIV).

Admittedly, it’s hard to get past hand-wringing to workable solutions. As long as there is a financial incentive for selling parts of aborted babies, trafficking of this sort will continue. If convicted of having broken existing laws, Planned Parenthood should be fined massively so that any past profit will be mitigated. Closer regulation and monitoring should be put in place. Likewise, trophy hunting – to be curtailed – must take away the bragging rights of such hunters. The simplest way would be to deprive them of their trophy, and already Emirates Airlines has announced it will no longer transport trophy carcasses, with pressure mounting on other airlines to do the same.

The Psalmist affirms:

The LORD is good to all. He has compassion on all he has made (Psalm 145:9, NIV).

The love of money always has the tendency to undercut our compassion, whether toward human beings in utero or the rest of God’s good creation. We don’t need Lamborghinis and we don’t need animal trophies. Like Paul, let us be content if we have food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:8). In the end, the only answer to greed and the vices it spawns is not more laws but a willingness to celebrate what God has already given us, the daily bread for which Jesus taught us to pray (Matthew 6:11). Only contentment – as individuals and as peoples – can prevent our sin from growing wings and claws.

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UPDATE: This article from Factcheck.org does a decent job of answering some of Planned Parenthood’s critics. It seems to me that any money given in exchange for fetal parts is too much. And – of course – it begs the question of what other abortion providers make profit from the trade, even if whether Planned Parenthood profits from this is still to be determined.

When soteriology and ecology embrace: Howard Snyder’s expansive vision

Howard Snyder
Howard Snyder

“Ecology” is one of those musty words crowded out by more trendy fare, terms like “environmentalism” and “Creation Care.” But if theologian Howard Snyder has his way, ecology will soon be on everyone’s lips.

In Salvation Means Creation Healed: The Ecology of Sin and Grace: Overcoming the Divorce Between Earth and Heaven (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2011; Kindle edition), Snyder – a theologian of mission and John Wesley scholar –  boldly challenges the Church to broaden its narrow conception of salvation to encompass the full panorama of God’s loving concern, as presented in Scripture. If the ideas championed in his book were to take hold, the mission of the Church in the world would look radically different than it has for much of the past 100 years.

John Wesley often structured his sermons in terms of “sickness/cure,” and Howard Snyder adopts a similar methodology. Following Chapter 1, a treatment of the “divorce of heaven and earth” due to a dominant neo-Platonism that prioritizes the value of spirit over matter, Snyder details a “fourfold alienation”  under the heading of the “ecology of sin” (see pp. 68-78):

1) alienation with God;

2) alienation from one another;

3) alienation from ourselves (internal division), and

4) alienation from the land.

Following a time-honored Wesleyan paradigm, Snyder treats sin as a moral disease. Because sin is fourfold in nature , the Gospel as cure must address each aspect of the condition or be incomplete. Snyder argues that evangelical soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) has indeed been grossly inadequate. While we have effectively addressed the first point (alienation from God) – preaching tirelessly about justification and sanctification – we’ve had less to say about points 2 and 3 and until recently were wholly silent on point 4. (Note: Snyder correctly points out that John Wesley himself later in life had much more to say about God’s concern for all creation, not just human beings).

For Snyder, the one biblical concept that covers all four alienations is that of healing. This healing is not a far-off, wholly spiritual prospect reserved for an ethereal “heaven.” Rather, healing is for the here-and-now, an expansive, cosmic restoration of all creation in which the Church – empowered and gifted by the Holy Spirit – actively participates. Snyder argues (p. 38):

But an agenda remains. The church spread throughout the earth but often doesn’t see the earth. The church is still far from realizing its potential to renew and heal the land. Millions of people have been reconciled to God. Yet the full promise of salvation as creation healed is yet to become real and visible worldwide.

Turning from sickness to cure, the book capably unpacks the meaning of the covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:8-15). This first covenant is both everlasting and for the “preservation of creation” (Snyder, p. 55). Importantly, it is a three-way covenant, i.e. between God, humans, and creatures. Snyder observes that it “has never been revoked, and largely defines stewardship on earth” (p. 90). In Chapter 6, “The Groans of Creation,” the reader uncovers what such stewardship means in relation to climate change, the overstressed oceans, and deforestation. At its core, taking care of the earth is a human question since it is poor people who are first and most affected by human practices that throw the earth’s systems out of kilter. Synder rightly observes: “Creation care is pro-life” (p. 83). Later, he concludes: “If we are passionate about people, we will be passionate about their world” (p. 152).

Salvation Means Creation Healed is an ambitious book, perhaps too ambitious. Chapter 11 delves into the nature of the Church, introducing material on worship styles that – while interesting – is tangential to the  main thrust of the book. That central concern is relating soteriology to ecology. Thankfully, Snyder finds his footing once again at the end of Chapter 12, speaking of how the “stigmata” ( the marks of the Church) should be practiced through four principles as related to Creation (pp. 198-200):

1) the earthkeeping principle;

2) the Sabbath principle;

3) the fruitfulness principle;

4) the fulfillment and limits principle.

These four principles provide a positive agenda for how the Church can rectify the fourth alienation, our distance from and poor stewardship of God’s good earth.

Howard Snyder adds his voice to a rising chorus of those who have concluded that the Church’s mission – particularly the modus operandi of its Evangelical branch – has been too other-worldly. His is a clarion call to rediscover the biblical Gospel, the full scope of God’s concern for all creation and our duty under God to care for the land. Since Evangelicals – including the descendants of John Wesley – have placed soteriology at the center, Snyder’s re-casting of ecology in soteriological terms is very welcome. May both his tribe and readership increase.

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Image credit: Greenville College