Sunday, February 24, 2008

Another Killing in Grand Rapids

Sometimes ministry can be depressing. The cousin of Greg, one of my students that I mentor, was shot and killed Friday night. Here is the link to the story.

It will be interesting how my church, Berean Baptist, handles the situation. The murder took place in the house next door to the church, which it owns. In the past several years, Berean has developed a very positive reputation in the Creston neighborhood by loving the community in a variety of ways. However, it has not had to deal with some of the crime and violence that UTM has experienced. I am praying that the violence will not cause them to waver from reaching its community, even if it is dangerous. I remember a line from, Living Dangerously in the Hands of God," a song that Steve Camp penned almost twenty years ago. In the middle of the song he proclaims,

"There is safety in complacency. But God is calling us out of our comfort zones into a life of complete surrender to the cross. To live dangerously is not to live recklessly, but righteously. And it is because of God's radical grace for us, that we can live radically obedient for Him."

Another reason not to waver is because people are hurting from the violence. For example, as I was taking one of my students (Derek) home from the ROCK, he shared with me that his Dad had died (not sure from what), three of his brothers had been shot and killed, and his other two brothers were serving life prison sentences. Now his mom is fighting cancer. He tells me, "If she dies, than I am the only one left in my immediate family. And I just turned 18. " Thursday Night Hype and the ROCK has become his extended family where several of our students and staff show him constant love and support. Many of the students can comfort him because they too have gone through the same loss as Derek.

Berean Baptist can use this incident to embrace the neighborhood people who suffer from pain that violent crimes produce. I pray that their love will help turn a horrible situation into something good and redemptive.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Why I am blogging about Shane Claiborne

I had a great mini-vacation with my family and our very good friends, the Vanderkolks. We spent most of our time at Ludington’s Best Western Hotel relaxing around the pool, waterslide and hot tub. As I mentioned before, my goal over this break was to read Walker Wink’s “Powers” trilogy. I read Engaging the Powers and sparsely read Naming the Powers and Unmasking the Powers. The books were stimulating, but it was like eating a whole chicken. There were a lot of bones to spit out in order to get to the meat. I spent much of my time having to sort out his liberal assumptions before I could really take in a few of the good points that he makes. To sum it up, these books really didn’t help me as much as I’d hoped in understanding Shane Claiborne’s beliefs, but they did help me understand where he got some of his practical ideas in responding to violence non-violently.

After taking some good advise from Sherilyn (my wife), I need to clarify why I am even spending time blogging about Shane Claiborne. For the record, UTM sentiments is not a “gossip” blog where people pool their ignorance in order to form some sort of united consensus of criticism. Unfortunately, the Cedarville cancellation due to the buzz from the “angry bloggers” put Shane Claiborne in a negative limelight, where he took some unfair shots from his critics (slanting the truth, pronouncing him guilty-by-association, conveniently leaving out certain facts, etc…).

My purpose for writing has more to do with clearing up the fog concerning his worldview so that fundamental and evangelical churches are neither labeling him as a heretic nor remaining in the dark about some of his beliefs that are outside the realm of evangelical theology. Since Shane Claiborne’s influence among the younger evangelical world has exploded due to the success of his book. irresistible revolution, and the fact that he is in constant demand speaking about urban ministry and social justice issues at churches and college campuses all over North America, it is natural to engage into a conversation about his worldview on UTM Sentiments. In my coming blogs, I will explain where I believe Shane Claiborne is right, where I believe he is wrong, and where I believe he is partly right.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Going on a Mini Vacation!!!!

Since my oldest two, Tiera and Jalen, are on a mid-winter break at their school, today my family and I leave for Ludington Michigan for some R and R. This will give me some time to read a trilogy of books by Walter Wink. These books, “Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the Powers,” address the concept of structural sin and evil as well as a Biblical response, which Wink contends is non-violent. If you have heard Rob Bell or Shane Claiborne speak of “the myth of redemptive violence,” you are in fact hearing the influence of Walter Wink. This will help me put my arm around the worldview of Shane Claiborne so that I can provide a more accurate picture of his beliefs when I unpack his teachings in the next few weeks or so on this blog site.



Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Drama of Cedarville, Shane Claiborne, and the "angry" bloggers

I am feeling sorry for Cedarville U. these days. In response to a swell of pressure from concerned parents, alumni, and bloggers, Shane Claiborne’s February 11th lecture to the students of Cedarville was canceled. According to Dr. Carl Ruby, “There was a tension between my desire to use this even to challenge students to take a closer look at a very important social issue, and the need to protect Cedarville’s reputation as a conservative, Christ centered university. There can’t be any confusion about our commitment to God’s Word and our historically conservative doctrinal position.” You can read more about it on this link to Christianity Today.

From the blogger’s viewpoint, bringing Shane Claiborne to speak before the student body is unthinkable because his theology and leftist politics embodies the emergent liberal. In their mind, Shane’s conversations will only lead Cedarville students away from orthodox Christianity because they assume that the majority of them are not grounded in sound doctrine. Here is a typical blogger who apposed Shane Claiborne’s visit to Cedarville.

Reflecting on the Cedarville incident, Shane Claiborne blogged to the world that Christians should not fear disagreements, and invited the bloggers to have a public conversation, and share a meal or even communion together.

For the record, I do have some serious disagreements with some of Shane Claiborne’s theology, but I am going to side with him on this one. University students should be exposed to different faith perspectives than their own, especially since Cedarville concentrates a great deal of attention helping their students form a Christian world and life view, which in turn helps them discern truth from error. Then again, over the past few years, Cedarville has had a public relations nightmare such as the GARBC vote to disassociate itself from the university over its relationship with Ohio Southern Baptists as well as the controversy in its Philosophy and Bible department over the certainty of truth vs. assurance of truth.

Maybe the best way to handle a “controversial figure” like Shane Claiborne without appearing to compromise their historical doctrinal position would have been to invite Shane as part of a forum to discuss social issues that affect urban ministry. Include a few more urban ministry leaders that are more conservative in their theology, but who are as passionate about evangelism and social justice as Shane is. Let’s have a real “conversation” where we evangelicals, who hold to differing viewpoints, can actually talk to and with each other, rather than talking past each other.

At least Dr. Ruby didn’t get fired. In the early 1980’s, Grand Rapids Baptist College (now Cornerstone U) invited Tony Campolo for their Staley lecture series, but because of the public outcry from certain fundamentalist pastors, uninvited him and then fired the Dr. Veldt, who was responsible for the invitation.

Friday, February 15, 2008

My Journey into Urban Ministry-the reader's digest version

In 1992, while a student at what is now Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, I responded to God’s call to live among and serve the urban poor. Along with a couple of my friends, we opened our inner-city apartment to homeless men. When we observed people running in and out, day and night of another apartment in our building, we soon realized that crack cocaine was being sold there (We accidentally moved into a crack-house). One night a gun battle erupted between the dealer and one of his customers.

However, we sensed an even stronger calling. While we worked with the G.R. Vice Unit and the neighborhood association to rid the street of the drug houses, I teamed up with Servants Center to help launch a transitional shelter for homeless men and worked as a supervisor of a recreation program at Coit school until it closed. During my time as a supervisor, I realized the overwhelming needs and problems among the neighborhood youth. Over 60% of these kids lived in poverty, while over half of them came from single-parent families. Several were victims of chronic neglect and abuse. Many joined gangs, experimented with drugs and alcohol, and developed promiscuous lifestyles. In 1995, not only did I marry Sherilyn(who developed a heart for the 'hood while attending Moody Bible Institute), but the two of us also joined with Servants Center to develop an inner-city ministry reaching at-risk youth and their families from the neighborhood. Along the way, we began forming partnerships with neighborhood organizations such as Campfire USA, and Coit and Eastern Elementary Schools. We also formed partnerships with local churches of like faith such as Berean Baptist to ensure that urban youth and families receive long-term discipleship.

Nevertheless due to strategic developments in 2003 and with the blessing and assistance of Servants Center, we launched a separate faith-based, non-profit inner-city organization, Urban Transformation Ministries (herein referred to as UTM). UTM continues to serve over 300 at-risk inner-city youth, young adults, and their family members in the Belknap-Lookout and South Creston communities of Grand Rapids. Activities include: small-group Bible studies, one-to-one mentoring, basketball outreaches and tournaments, outdoor camping, youth church(Thursday Night Hype), service learning, leadership training, employment assistance and crisis interventions.

For the past twelve years I also taught the church-at-large throughout the midwest how to do urban/poverty ministry through workshops and seminars. In addition, as an adjunct professor, I taught a couple of urban ministry courses at Cornerstone University and accompanied their students on a mission trip to inner-city LA.

I graduated with a bachelor of Music degree from Cornerstone University in 1991 and a Master of Arts degree from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in Intercultural Studies in 2006. I most recently finished my thesis, “helping resolve the missional tension between evangelism and social responsibility by rooting mission within the doctrine of creation.”

Most importantly, I am married to a godly woman, Sherilyn, who has been my life and ministry partner for almost thirteen years. We have 4 children (Tiera-9, Jalen-7, Ashlyn-5, and Sahara-19 months).