jim wallis

Reformation Day and You(2): Reformed and Always Reforming

When I was ordained as a "Minister of Word and Sacrament" in the Reformed Church in America, a denomination that began in 1628, I imagined that I was being ordained to a church that was "reformed and always reforming!" (Emphasis mine).

Reformata et semper reformanda was a theme of the Reformation, which Martin Luther kicked off on Oct. 31, 1517 when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to front door of Castle Church of Wittenberg, Germany.

But rather than reviewing history from a half-millennia ago, let me explain what I hoped for 22 years ago, when I was ordained.

Wallis and Mohler Debate Social Justice and the Gospel

What was most telling about the disagreement between the two men was their discussion of Luke 4. Mohler argued the passage should be understood in light of how he interpreted the preaching and teaching of Paul and the other apostles. This means that when Jesus said that he came to bring good news to the poor that good news was personal salvation.

Wallis argued that yes, personal salvation is one part of that good news, but that the other part is the Kingdom of God breaking into the world and transforming societal relationships as well. When the Gospel is proclaimed, it is good news for a poor person's entire being, community and world -- not just his or her soul.

First, it was encouraging to hear Mohler spend a lot of time emphasizing that working for justice is essential to fulfillment of the Great Commission. Throughout the night he repeated his concern that a lot of Churches are REALLY bad at making disciples who actually do the things Jesus told us to do. As the president of one of the largest seminaries in the world, it will be interesting to see if he is able to train a generation of pastors who will do things differently. My concern is that he is missing the connection between his theology and the failure of Christians to actually do justice.

The "Atonement-Only" Gospel

If justice is only an implication, it can easily become optional and, especially in privileged churches, non-existent. In the New Testament, conversion happens in two movements: Repentance and following. Belief and obedience. Salvation and justice. Faith and discipleship.

Atonement-only theology and its churches are in most serious jeopardy of missing the vision of justice at the heart of the kingdom of God. The atonement-only gospel is simply too small, too narrow, too bifurcated, and ultimately too private.

Lawyers' Surreal World and the Fight Against Selling Children

When three dozen prominent clergy (including Jim Wallis) signed an ad in the New York Times saying that the best way to stop the sex trafficking of children on Backpage was to shut down that website's "adult" section, the company's response was awfully familiar to me. Rather than accepting this advice from the clergy--which was the same as the urging of the attorneys general of 48 U.S. states plus three territories--Backpage went on the defensive.

This reminded me, a lot, of the time I spent last summer talking with a lawyer for Craigslist, following up on Sojourners' anti-child-trafficking story Selling Our Children.

Watching Democracy Happen

When some of these local young people heard about my event, and asked the church if they attend, the church graciously gave them free tickets. Apparently, the word spread and a big crowd of protesters descended on the already large audience. It soon became clear that Occupy Grand Rapids was in the house as they enthusiastically participated in the discussion, offering very civil, but also very challenging questions.

After the program ended, the young Occupy Grand Rapids activists asked if I would spend some time with them, to which I quickly agreed. But they also asked the Mayor to stay, and bravely, he also accepted - a decision I thought was in keeping with what a responsive democracy should look like.

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