Westoby and Dowling on “White” Places

It is often the very individuals, groups, or neighbourhoods that look squeaky clean [“white”] that are experiencing the most destructive energies at a hidden, unconscious or subterranean level. These are the soulless modernist collectives that masquerade as communities – people who come together without a capacity for hospitality to those who are ‘other’. They refuse to dance with their own shadows and therefore project shadows onto other problems.

Peter Westoby and Gerard Dowling, Dialogical Community Development: with depth, solidarity, and hospitality, p. 57-8

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Reshaping Our Life Together: A Review of Sharon Astyk’s “Making Home”

This review originally appeared in the Ordinary Time 2012 print issue of The Englewood Review of Books.
Reprinted here with permission.  CLICK HERE for subscription info.

 

Take a moment to think about your life in the next 5, 10, 25 years. What do you see? If your vision includes a car, reliable and cheap electricity, food from a supermarket, or a climate-controlled house, you may be in for a rude awakening. In Making Home: Adapting Our Homes and Our Lives to Settle in Place, Shannon Astyk invites us to practice a new way of life that we both need and will inevitably be forced to acquire. She calls this new way of life “adapting in place” and bluntly describes it as “the only thing left that can save the world.” While her vision of the future is bleak and a bit frightening, she is nonetheless hopeful that another world is possible. She sets out to provide the tools and strategies that will give birth to this new world wherever we are – city, country, or suburb.

Before instructing us to compost our solid waste, give up our cars, and heat our beds with warm stones, Astyk uses the first three chapters to reveal the stark realities ahead as we face the consequences of living as if our homes were gods. Homes were meant to serve their inhabitants, but we have made them idols. Our worship is costly because it requires us to transcend the natural limitations of land, family, climate, and culture. Instead of ordering our lives around these limitations, we invest in cheap energy to power short-sighted, destructive solutions. The return on our investment: a lifestyle that is absolutely unsustainable for the 7 billion co-inhabitants of our planet. The god we have created has now become an economic and ecologic monster that threatens to consume our lives and those of several generations to come. Some – those who refuse to acknowledge the frequent failures in our complex systems – have chosen to ignore the monster’s presence. Others – driven by a conception of beauty that rejects utility for shallow appearances and hides the realities of messy, everyday life – choose to continue in their adoration, even as they are consumed. Where does this leave us? Collapse. We have passed a point of no return. Irreparable damage has been done and the storm clouds are brewing in our not-so-distant future.

How does Astyk respond to this bleak reality? She urges us to redefine home to be “an attachment to one place, one house, one set of people, one relationship between [ourselves] and a bit of dirt” that asks us to thrive with less of everything. This sacrifice is necessary if we hope to pass on a life worth living. She recommends that we assume failure and live in ways that serve our needs in and out of crises. These new ways of living should both lessen the impact of the coming collapse and build up our resilience against it. Finally, she encourages us to see beauty in old things made new, in dead things come back to life, and in the ugly, drab tools that actually help meet our real needs. She asks us to put down our Better Homes and Gardens and to fall in love with a “working home” – one that works for us. Bringing this vision of a “working home” to life will require us to come together as communities to think creatively about how we can say no to more energy, money, and resources and yes to more time with our families and more health, happiness, and resilience for all.

Over the course of the next 11 chapters, Astyk systematically deconstructs the “fossil-fueled, private solutions” that fulfill our basic needs and offers very practical strategies to help us “adapt in place.” She begins with triage: should we find a new place or just stay put? If we need to find a new place, Astyk helps us decide by offering a vision of how life in the country, city, and suburbs will be transformed in wake of collapse. From there, she marches through a litany of changes we will need to consider that address every aspect of our modern lives: heating, cooling, lighting, cooking, sanitation, transportation, and food and water production. As a general rule, if a system relies on cheap fossil fuel, it has no future.

Astyk cherishes no illusions about the difficulty of these changes, especially in our relationships. As a now married and formerly divorced mother of several kids, she knows the challenges of family life and gives strategies for navigating these changes with spouses and partners who may not be on board. She provides thoughtful advice on how to include your children even when they can’t or don’t really want to help. Since a working home incorporates extended family, Astyk critiques our somewhat ridiculous need for privacy and space (the average American is given 850 sq. ft. of personal space) and asks us to embrace a communal future with a broad and inclusive definition of extended family. She offers very practical tips to help us prepare our homes to be hospitable during short-term crises and suggests a renewed focus on caretaking, especially with our aging family members. Expanding into the sphere of neighborhood and community relationships, she echoes a well-known Biblical command: Love your neighbor. The alternative is simple: die.

Finally, Astyk shares her thoughts on issues of work and money and asks us to broaden our skills and learn to do things for ourselves. She even provides a list of seven skills that every adult will need. She emphasizes the coming importance of the informal economy, made up of “subsistence work, criminal acts, barter, under the table work, domestic economics, and self-employment in the cottage industry,” and suggests that we will need to be very flexible in how we define “jobs” or “careers.” With government services either failing or becoming unreliable in most places, those who adapt in place need to think about their personal and collective security. Astyk lists several ways individuals and communities can prevent violence but also ways to respond to violence if necessary.

As the book comes to a close, the idea of “making home” may will seem overwhelming, but Astyk ends with a message of hope. She and her husband were not experts in “making home” when they began this project 10 years ago, but they have made significant progress. In between some chapters, she helps to assuage our fears by inserting personal anecdotes from several folks who are making the kinds of changes she has suggested. Astyk is adamant that her goal is not to provide a rigid list of do’s and don’ts that are required for adapting in place. Rather, she insists that this book is a way for us to get started, a way to get our minds thinking differently, and a guide that may need some tinkering along the way.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, Astyk’s analysis of the crises I and my family now face and her vision for adapting in place struck me in several ways. First, I was deeply challenged to move beyond the empty lip-service I pay to my belief in the goodness of creation. Simply put: I say creation is good, but I live comfortably in ways that destroy it. Second, my understanding of the depth and reach of sin in our world was challenged by Astyk’s embrace of failure as the human condition. As it turns out, the seemingly “good” things I enjoy are actually very sinful when their human and environmental costs are rightly assessed. A robust understanding of sin must include the destructive effects of our lifestyles. A final challenge came to my belief in what has been called a “theology of enough.” Too often, I embrace the hope of this belief – creation’s abundance and God’s generosity – without accepting its command: take only what you need (Exodus 16:16-18). Thankfully, several affirmations came along with these challenges. Chief among them was how Astyk’s primary thesis of “making home” gives serious teeth to the Church’s call to practice hospitality. Since, as Christine Pohl says in her book Making Room, “the front door of the home is the side door of the church,” we would be wise to heed Astyk’s advice in transforming our homes if we desire a more hospitable world for all. While she does not claim to offer an exhaustive solution, she provides more than enough to spark further conversation.

I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to any individual or family in search of practical, down-to-earth advice about how to live in ways that honor creation, use a fair share of resources, and lead to stronger, more resilient families. While the changes she recommends are drastic, Astyk is very reasonable and humble in her guidance. She mostly assumes that her readers are very familiar with the concept of peak-oil, as well as the pace and consequences of climate change. If these are not familiar ideas, I would recommend some light research (use Wikipedia… while you still can) before reading. In conclusion, this book serves as a wonderful catalyst in an extremely important conversation about the reshaping of our life together in order to serve and protect the web of diverse, interdependent relationships that bind us to one another and our planet in ways more intimate than we sometimes like to admit.

Welcoming Hope [Romans 15:13]

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

As I meditated on this verse, one phrase kept jumping out at me: “as you trust in Him.” I thought about it a bit more and it seemed to beg the question: “for what? What is the goal, the end, the vision that Paul is wanting the church at Rome to trust in God for?”

I started thinking about the whole letter of Romans to put this verse into context. Among the many theological nuances and levels of thought weaved into this letter, Paul is, on the whole, addressing a situation of deep disunity and distrust among Jews and Gentiles trying to be God’s people in Rome. The first 9 chapters lay the theological foundation for the new community in Christ that he envisions in chapters 12-15. However, this is not just any community but the “body of Christ”:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Romans 12:4-5

This is the vision Paul has been developing when we arrive at Romans 15. In this chapter, Paul is really driving his message home loud and clear. Verses 5-7 really capture, for me, the main reason he has written this letter:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.[Welcome] one another, then, just as Christ [welcomed] you, in order to bring praise to God.

Romans 15:5-7

So, what is Paul instructing the church at Rome to “trust in God” for? Becoming one mind and one voice, having the same attitude of Christ towards each other, knowing and experiencing God’s gracious welcome and then welcoming others in the same way. This, I think, is what Paul is asking us to trust God for: unity that is experienced in community, the specific, unique – even holy – community of the body of Christ.

So, we’re trusting God for community in Christ, but how is that related to hope? It’s interesting to me how Paul asks “the God of hope” to fill his readers with joy and peace – not with hope. Paul wants them to overflow with hope, but he doesn’t ask for hope directly. Why not? Why ask for joy and peace if he wants the church at Rome to be filled with hope?

As Christians, what is the source and ground of our hope? The simple answer, for me, is Easter: the empty tomb, the risen, resurrected, reigning King, the Lord, Jesus Christ. When Paul asks for joy and peace, I think he’s trying to remind his readers of their only real source of hope in the one who has defeated death and overcome evil. Jesus is alive and Jesus is our hope. But here’s the key: Jesus isn’t just up in heaven somewhere. Jesus is alive and well yesterday, today, and tomorrow. How? Through God’s people, “the BODY of Christ,” the community of men, women, and children that welcomes one another as Christ has welcomed them. This community is – by and only by the power of the Holy Spirit – the resurrected body of Christ!

We welcome hope when we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us. Our hope is found in the community enlivened by the Spirit to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ to us. Our hope is real because we know it by name, we can touch it, be hugged by it, and hear its voice.

Paul’s prayer in Romans 15:13 reminds the Romans that they need God’s joy because community is can sometimes be discouraging. It can be confusing and even upsetting, so we need God’s peace. As we trust in God for this provision, we experience the Holy Spirit’s power to “stay at the table” with each other and welcome one another even in the midst of our pain, confusion, and imperfect attempts to love one another. Then, I think, one day, we’ll be able to step back and say, “Here is my hope. In these people, in this place, as we come together and trust in God to fill us with joy and peace by the power of the Spirit; I have hope because I’ve known Jesus, I’ve felt his touch and heard his voice. He’s alive.”

Of course, this hope is experienced incompletely, inadequately and in ways we can’t plan or control. These experiences and moments of hope may be fleeting. The phrase “trial and error” comes to mind. “Community” does not “equal” hope and not just any “community” can claim to be “the body of Christ.” So, we move forward humbly always taking time to discern the Spirit – because, without the Spirit, we’re as good as dead.

Engaging Amos Yong’s Foundational Pneumatology and Theology of Discernment from Latino Pentecostal Perspectives

Introduction

As the twenty-first century unfolds, Amos Yong, a highly-regarded theologian writing from a Pentecostal, Asian-American context, sees an array of challenges facing the task of theology: modern science, religious plurality, and the crumbling of modernity along with its various epistemological structures.[1] However, he remains hopeful about these challenges because he is convinced that the Holy Spirit of God is still present and active throughout all creation. In his work on a foundational pneumatology, Yong establishes a theological, metaphysical basis for this hope by articulating “who the Holy Spirit is relative to the world as a whole and what the Spirit is doing in the world.”[2] This kind of pneumatology, according to Yong, “requires a theology of discernment in its widest and most robust sense” in order to distinguish the Holy Spirit from the diversity of spirits who are also present and active in the world.[3] In this paper, I explore Yong’s foundational pneumatology along with his theology of discernment from the perspective of a Euro-American male who is a member of a charismatic evangelical church in Ardmore, PA.[4] I have chosen to engage Yong on this topic because I am discouraged by how evangelical churches in the United States tend to domesticate and limit the person and work of the Holy Spirit within the confines of the church and private, individualized spirituality. For this reason, I was excited to read how Yong’s foundational pneumatology suggests that “divinity is present and active not only in the world that Christians inhabit, but also on the cosmic or universal level.”[5]

After presenting Yong’s foundational pneumatology along with his theology of discernment, I will explore two important aspects of his work through the voices of two other Pentecostal theologians – Samuel Soliván and Eldin Villafañe. I endeavor first to show how Yong’s foundational pneumatology is at risk of depersonalizing the Spirit, while suggesting a way he can maintain the Spirit’s personhood within his pneumatological framework. Second, I explore the relationship between christology and pneumatology in Yong’s theology of discernment and conclude that he successfully holds the Spirit and Christ together in mutual relation.

Amos Yong is the Dean and J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology at Regent University’s School of Divinity as well as a licensed Assemblies of God minister.[6] He was born in Malaysia to Chinese parents who served there as Assemblies of God ministers after converting to Christianity from Theravadan Buddhism.[7] At the age of ten, Yong immigrated to California with his parents who began pastoring a Chinese church.[8] As a scholar, Yong holds research interests in various fields including “global Pentecostalism, Pentecostalism and science, political theology, theology & disability, theology of religions and the interfaith encounter/dialogue, and Buddhist-Christian dialogue.”[9] The portion of his work I explore in this paper arises from  his work on a theology of religions, which he describes as “part of my own quest to learn about the Christian culture [my parents] handed down to me, even as I come to appreciate the truths, beauty, goodness, and values of other cultural-religious traditions.”[10]

Amos Yong’s Foundational Pneumatology

How does one construct a foundational pneumatology that accounts for the universal presence and activity of the Triune God in a way that the whole world can hear and understand? For Yong, the divine act of creation provides the best starting point because of the “perennial connection made between the Spirit and universality in the history of Christian thought,” which in recent times has led to a fresh affirmation of the Spirit’s cosmic role in creation.[11] Yong examines the act of creation from a Trinitarian perspective using a metaphor developed by the 3rd century theologian Irenaus who described the Trinitarian missions of the divine Word and Spirit as the “Two hands of the Father [sic]”.[12] Using this metaphor, Yong argues that “every determination of being exhibits the presence and activity of the divine being: Father [sic] creating something through the [Word] by the Spirit.”[13] Yong’s description coincides with Heinz-Josef Fabry’s analysis of the Genesis 1 creation account in which the ruah elohim – “the vitalizing spirit of Yahweh” – “drives back the waters of chaos” and creates space for the creative word to be actualized.[14] In this way, the Spirit is the “field of force” in which every “determination of being is what it is by virtue of the presence and activity of the Logos within the force fields set in motion by the Spirit, the supreme field of force.” [15] Therefore, all created things exist in outer “concrete forms” that can be experienced and manipulated by virtue of the divine Word, while each thing is simultaneously constituted by an inner “energetic force that shapes its processive actuality and directs its temporal trajectory” – by virtue of the divine Spirit.[16] This creation account allows Yong to describe the presence and activity of the Triune God in creation using pneumatological categories which are distinct from – yet inextricably related to – the Word.

With this Trinitarian groundwork in place, Yong proceeds to lay out his foundational pneumatology using three intentionally vague categories of general religious experience: divine presence, divine activity, and divine absence. He builds on Donald Gelpi’s statement that “present experience of the reality of the Christian God begins… in a conscious encounter with the Holy Breath”[17] by claiming that “all experience… [is] essentially of the Spirit.”[18] Yong then develops the category of divine presence as “our experience of relationality, and through this, of God, [as] mediated by the presence of the divine Spirit.”[19] He agrees with Ralph Del Colle who describes how “the more we discover our relation to other humans, to the non-human creation, and recognize the interconnectedness of all things, we experience the One who transcends all things and yet is in all things as the source of their dynamic interrelation.”[20] By virtue of being created by God through Word and Spirit, all things contain particular qualities and norms which must be recognized and honored for their created goodness if true relationality is to be experienced. With this category, Yong discloses how the divine Spirit of the Triune God whose being is communion can be universally present in all peoples, cultures, and places to the degree in which the community of creation is authentically experienced as unity-in-diversity and diversity-in-unity.

However, this relational experience of divine presence is never static because the Spirit is a dynamic field of force. Yong’s category of divine activity describes the “force fields of faith, hope, and love” created by the Spirit which “enable human beings to move from estranged, wounded, broken, and destructive relationships into reconciling, edifying, healing, and saving ones.”[21] Therefore, the universal activity of the Spirit is “to integrate a thing into its environment in a way such that it can be authentic to itself and of service in its relationships with others.”[22] The norms for judging this divine activity are derived from the created purpose of each thing so that “the question is whether a greater degree of aesthetic harmony is possible for a thing measured against its ideal norms.”[23] When the “harmonies of things are heightened and intensified in their interrelatedness,” Yong sees the divine activity of the Spirit.[24] This category discloses the character of the Spirit’s universal action in all peoples, cultures, and places.

Having said this, Yong is quick to recognize the injustice, oppression, and alienation which mar the image of the Triune God in creation. Because the divine “presence and activity are still eschatological – not yet fully experienced but punctuated here and now by the Spirit,” creation encounters what Yong calls divine absence.[25] He accounts for the possibility of divine absence through the subjective spontaneity given by God to all human creation which provides freedom “to pervert the determinate forms of being and establish force fields of destruction” that reject their divinely created purposes.[26] When this occurs, the divine absence becomes demonic and opposes the Holy Spirit’s work and leads to “a distortion of a thing’s identity and a disruption of its network of relations.”[27] The category of divine absence identifies the presence and activity of demonic realities which create “force fields or habits of chaos, irrationality, isolation or alienation, and stagnation… [that resist] the transformative and eschatological work of the Holy Spirit” in all peoples, cultures, and places.[28]

With his pneumatological categories of divine presence, divine activity, and divine absence, Yong constructs “a framework by which to understand divinity’s relation to the diverse realms of human undertaking.”[29] This foundational pneumatology sheds considerable light on how the Triune God is present by the Spirit to both form and preserve the infinitely diverse and unique qualities of all created things while working to unite “the manyness of the world in harmony.”[30] However, it also accounts for the experience of demonic forces seeking to undermine the true identity and purpose of all forms of being and destroy the communal image of the Triune God in creation.

Amos Yong’s Theology of Discernment

In a world where the Spirit is universally present and active and engaged in varying degrees of conflict with other, demonic spirits, a robust theology of discernment is absolutely essential. In true Pentecostal form, Yong builds this theology on the Pentecost event recorded in Acts 2, which reveals that the “mission of the Spirit is never abstract but concretely and historically realized and manifest” in the diverse outward forms and inner spirits of all created things.[31] This means that discernment has to take into account the full context of a thing with all its intricacies and particularities. According to Yong, this requires nothing short of a miracle; the miracle of the Spirit at Pentecost whereby “the impossible task of understanding the other in all his or her otherness, strangeness, and difference” is made possible.[32] This Spirit-inspired understanding facilitates relationships between people separated by culture, language, and religion in a way that preserves the unique diversity of each person even while bringing them together in deep fellowship and unity.[33] This Pentecostal reality of life in the Spirit allows Yong to define discernment as a “hermeneutics of life that is both a divine gift and a human activity aimed at reading correctly the inner processes of all things,” which greatly expands upon the understanding of discernment as a “spiritual gift” given to individuals “for the specific purposes of providing insight and guidance, and for edifying the people of God.”[34]

Yong constructs this expansive theology of discernment by considering the relationship between his three pneumatological categories. The category of divine presence “marks the reality of God,” while divine absence “registers the destructive, false, evil, ugly, and profane existence of the fallen and demonic world,” which means that “the symbol of divine activity is thus dynamic and mediational, calling attention to the fact that things move continuously either to or away from their divinely instituted reason for being.”[35] Since these categories must be held together to facilitate a comprehensive praxis of discernment, Yong proposes a three-fold process that uses phenomenological-experiential, moral-ethical, and theological-soteriological criteria that correlate with each pneumatological category.[36] Because he is speaking to a Christian audience in order to construct a pneumatological theology of religions, Yong focuses his theology of discernment on the religious dimension of human experience. However, his categories are vague enough to be applied to other dimensions of experience as well.

Discernment on the phenomenological-experiential level focuses on the “qualitative presentation” of religious rituals, acts, and symbols and uses “aesthetic norms” in order to “gauge the intensity and authenticity of personal religious experiences,” with specific attention to how individuals are transformed by their experiences.[37] The importance of a religious experience as understood by its practitioners becomes the initial standard by which the Spirit’s presence is discerned.[38] This requires a “careful and intensive engagement with the phenomenon in question as it is revealed in its concreteness” so that a discerning eye can peer “through its outer forms into its inner habits, dispositions, tendencies, and powers.”[39] This leads to the moral-ethical level of discernment where the primary questions posed to religious experiences and symbols are very practical in nature: “How do they work?” and “What is accomplished by practicing with the religious symbols over time?”[40] If “lives are made whole and communal relationships are continually mended, formed, and strengthened” through the religious experience in question, Yong advises Christians to say a “tentative yet hearty ‘Amen.’”[41] He recognizes that conclusions reached via discernment are provisional because discernment is an ongoing process that must continue to trace the concrete manifestations and tangible effects of the dynamic, inner spirits operating within religious experiences.[42]

Since “spiritual transformation for the better can always be succeeded by spiritual degradation,”[43] the two previous levels of discernment must be combined with a theological-soteriological inquiry that examines the possibility of divine absence, or perhaps the demonic, by asking questions concerning the transcendental reality to which religious symbols refer.[44] Usually, though, this sort of inquiry ends in confessional statements or theological claims whose ultimate truth is indiscernible.[45] In light of this, Yong states that “the final test for discerning the Spirit of Jesus on this side of the eschaton has to reside in religious praxis.”[46] Instead of getting mired in intractable theological arguments with religious others, Yong calls Christians to lead the way in “joint expressions of liberative action… for the betterment of the human condition and for the common good.”[47]

This call to action is heightened by Yong’s awareness of demonic spirits at work in all peoples and religions, including Christianity, which “[confront] us at every turn and [threaten] us in every dimension of our lives” in very real, tangible ways.[48] When these concrete manifestations of the demonic are experienced, the dialogue of discernment must give way to a “holistic understanding of spiritual warfare… [that] involves, besides the obvious spiritual practices and disciplines, concrete actions against the powers of injustice, destruction, and dehumanization.”[49] Therefore, the most reliable way to discern the truth of theological-soteriological claims made by religious others falls back to the moral-ethical question.

When Jesus warns his disciples about “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves,” he also provides them with a standard for discernment: “you will know them by their fruits.”[50] Echoing the words of Jesus, Yong’s theology of discernment offers a way for Christians to “know” the presence and activity of the Spirit outside the “official” boundaries of Christian faith. Instead of staking a priori claims that refuse to see the Spirit outside the church, Yong cautions the church to look closely for the “the fruit of the Spirit”[51] in all peoples, cultures, places, and religions in order to participate in the universal “mission of the Spirit to heal and reconcile the social, economic, political, etc., divisions and fragmentation in our world.”[52]

Dialogue with Samuel Soliván and Eldin Villafañe

Having presented Yong’s foundational pneumatology and his corresponding theology of discernment, the voices of two theologians – Samuel Soliván and Eldin Villafañe – who talk about God from a Latino Pentecostal context will be raised to explore Yong’s hypotheses. This dialogue will begin by discussing the place of the Spirit’s personhood in Yong’s foundational pneumatology and will conclude by exploring the place of Christ in Yong’s theology of discernment.

The Personhood of the Spirit in Yong’s Foundational Pneumatology

For Soliván, the Spirit is first and foremost a person who relates to human persons in all their diversity and complexity.[53] He decries how the Spirit’s full personhood has not been honored throughout the theological tradition as it has at times “been subsumed or overshadowed by Christology, ecclesiology, and soteriology.”[54] Soliván expresses his primary concern using a quote from Thomas Oden describing how “the depersonalization of God the Spirit has occurred… [through] unconstrained application of a mistaken impersonal analogy to the person of the Spirit”[55] Tellingly, Oden includes the analogy of the Spirit as “creative energy” in his list of depersonalizing analogies.[56] Given Soliván’s approval of Oden’s thoughts, one may assume that he would also raise an objection to the potential depersonalizing effects of Yong’s description of the Spirit as a “force field” throughout his foundational pneumatology. Soliván sounds a dire warning concerning the danger of these impersonal analogies: “the depersonalization of the Holy Spirit serves the interest of those who would employ a divine image to further their own desires for control” while also being “counter to the imago Dei given to all human creation through the agency of the Spirit.”[57] The urgency of Soliván’s objection arises from his context in the Latin@ culture where he is well aware of the various ways Latin@s are dehumanized and objectified.[58] From this context, Soliván seeks to protect the personhood of the Spirit “because the relationship of the Spirit to persons… can provide a transformative model of personhood and self-esteem” for all people.[59] In addition, Soliván notes how only a fully personal image of the Spirit can relate to and redeem the unique particularities of all human persons in order to create the unity amid diversity that “is the strongest evidence that we have been and are being filled with the Holy Spirit.”[60]

Soliván’s critique raises a serious protest to Yong’s foundational pneumatology. However, Yong’s description of the Spirit in terms of a “force field” is certainly not original. Yves Congar seems to imply this notion when he summarizes the Spirit’s role in Hebrew scripture as “the action of God.”[61] However, Congar does note how this general “action” was at times “intimate” and related to specific persons.[62] Wolfhart Pannenberg describes the Spirit as “the force field of God’s mighty presence.”[63] Jurgen Moltmann, says “God’s Spirit is felt as a vitalizing energy… [or] the divine field of force.”[64] Finally, Michael Welker states that “the pouring out of the spirit means that [an individual human being] stands in a force field… in which he or she is more and more filled with ‘the fullness of God’ (Eph. 3:19).”[65] While Yong’s use of the “force field” analogy may be somewhat justified in light of its use by these other theologians, he still needs to face Soliván’s concerns.

Is there any space for the person of the Spirit in Yong’s foundational pneumatology? At first glance, it seems that his fully public, metaphysical proposal requires an impersonal understanding of the Spirit because he seeks to furnish “a general [public] understanding of divine presence and activity… [understood] against the backdrop of the fundamental hiddenness of the Spirit in mediating… the divine reality [emphasis added].”[66] While the public nature of his project may require a “general” way of talking about the “hidden” Spirit, Yong also frames his foundational pneumatology in “a robust trinitarianism that recognizes the Son [sic] and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father [sic].”[67] This patristic image of the Trinity does seem to capture a dimension of the Spirit and Child’s relation to each other and to the Parent in the mission of creation, yet the Spirit is still described in impersonal terms.

At this point, the work of Eldin Villafañe may help Yong respond to Soliván’s concerns. With Yong, Villafañe affirms the Spirit’s universal presence and activity in creation and highlights how the Spirit functions as a protector and provider in the Genesis 1 creation account.[68] He then connects these functions with two names for the Holy Spirit drawn from 2 Thessalonians and the Gospel of John: “’the Restrainer’ (To Katechon – 2 Thess. 2:6,7)” and “’the Helper’ (Parakletos – John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).”[69] Villafañe describes “the Helper” Spirit as the one who is present “wherever good, love, peace, [and] justice… are manifested in the world.”[70] The person of the Spirit identified as “the Helper” fits Yong’s foundational category of divine activity because it describes the work of the Spirit to bring about networks of relationships that are harmonious and authentic. Villafañe describes “the Restrainer” Spirit as the person who “maintains ‘order’… [and] restrains the ‘powers’ from bringing about total oppression and chaos.”[71] This personal image of the Spirit as “the Restrainer” fits Yong’s foundational category of divine absence as it highlights the presence and activity of demonic spirits who oppose the Spirit’s eschatological work. In this way, Villafañe provides Yong with the resources for maintaining the personhood of the Spirit within his foundational pneumatology.

The Place of Christ in Yong’s Theology of Discernment

According to Soliván, “Christ is the norm against which we are to understand and define the Holy Spirit.”[72] He notes what he describes as a contemporary “fascination” with the “spirit” and says that this situation “requires us to differentiate between that Spirit of God… [and] Spirit of the Lord, and other, false spirits that are in fact anti-Christ.”[73] Specifically, Soliván is concerned about “a monistic theology of the Holy Spirit which does not differentiate between the life force of the Spirit in creation and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.”[74] While he allows for an immanence of the Spirit in creation, he retains a tight grip on the transcendent God who is guiding creation towards redemption in Christ through the lives of individual human persons who become “instruments of the creation’s redemption as [they] are regenerated, refashioned in the image of God’s son [sic]” by the Spirit’s power.[75]

At the root of Soliván’s unease is the relationship between pneumatology and christology. Leading Eastern Orthodox theologian John Zizoulas frames the issue succinctly with two questions: “should Christology be dependent on Pneumatology or should the order be the other way around?” and “when we speak of Christology and Pneumatology, what particular aspects of Christian doctrine – and Christian existence – do we have in mind?”[76] For Soliván, the answers to Zizioulas’s questions seem to be settled: christology takes priority over pneumatology so that the primary arena of the Spirit’s work is limited to the completion of Christ’s redemptive work in the lives of individuals. The Spirit is not “some impersonal force” of creation, which is then deified.”[77]

Yong addresses Zizioulas’ questions regarding the relationship between christology and pneumatology at many points throughout his work. In fact, one of the primary reasons he cites for developing a foundational pneumatology is to “free up some valuable space to reconsider the christological dilemmas” that have created an “impasse” in contemporary discussions concerning a theology of religions.[78] At the same time, he is clear that he does not mean to give priority to either christology or pneumatology.[79] Yong states that his foundational pneumatology is not an “escape from Christology” because any question about the norms, integrity, or authenticity of any created thing – questions that are essential for Yong’s theology of discernment – are, at root, questions about the presence of the Christ.[80] He further states that discernment should be “guided by the biblical and ecclesial traditions” and “normed by Jesus Christ.”[81] For Yong, “the Spirit’s work is to constitute each thing authentically in accordance with its own norms and purposes even while bringing all things together ultimately under the normative measure of all norms: Jesus the Christ.”[82] While it is clear that Yong does not seek to divorce his foundational pneumatology from christology, he seems to be in disagreement with Soliván’s restriction of the Spirit’s domain to “saved” individuals. This contrast with Soliván is on full display when Yong states that “non-Christian faiths can be regarded as salvific in the Christian sense when the Spirit’s presence and activity in and through them” is correctly discerned.[83]

At this point, Villafañe’s work is helpful once again as a mediating voice between Soliván and Yong. Villafañe notes how “Jesus’ life and mission were both inaugurated and empowered by the Holy Spirit” to the extent that Jesus could rightfully be called the “Charismatic Christ.”[84] In Villafañe’s view, Jesus’ dependence on the Spirit leaves little room for any subordination between christology and pneumatology and calls for equal, mutual relations between Christ and the Spirit. Villafañe further contributes to the dialogue by explaining how the Spirit is at work in creation above and beyond the realm of the redemptive work of Christ in individuals. He begins by examining “the texture of social existence” where he finds the presence of potentially evil social structures “that seem to have an objective reality independent of the individual [emphasis added].”[85] He then notes how “the Gospel of the Reign” witnessed in the Spirit-anointed incarnation of Jesus Christ brings total liberation from the demonic forces operating in social structures.[86] Therefore, all people baptized in the Spirit are empowered to continue Jesus’ mission through their “struggles with the forces of sin and death, with the demonic powers that-be, whether individually or institutionally manifested.”[87]

Villafañe’s insight illuminates how Soliván may come to an agreement with Yong concerning the place of Christ in the discernment of the Spirit’s work in the world. Yong states that the end goal of his theology of discernment is “our full immersion into the liberating and reconciling work of the Spirit of God in all spheres of life” because “it is empowered by the Spirit and directed to the kingdom of the Father through Jesus Christ.”[88] Seen in the light of Villafañe’s thoughts, Yong’s theology of discernment is shown to be christological to the core because it enables individuals and communities to join the Spirit in the continuing mission of Jesus. It seems that Soliván’s christological “limit” is really no limit at all because the work of Jesus is no less than the universal work of the Spirit.

Conclusion

The praxeological implications arising from Yong’s foundational pneumatology and its corresponding theology of discernment are as universal as the Spirit’s presence and activity in creation. As I consider how to apply his work to my own life and ministry, I believe his recent book, Hospitality and the Other: Pentecost, Christian Practices, and the Neighbor, provides a very helpful guide for moving from his abstract, metaphysical theology into the realm of everyday life. In this book, Yong weaves his pneumatological framework together with a theology and practice of hospitality.[89] While he focuses on practicing hospitality with religious others, Yong’s work invites application in a wide-array of contexts where “otherness” may not be defined in strictly religious terms… [to be continued ;)]


[1] Amos Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 17.

[2] Amos Yong, “On Divine Presence and Divine Agency: Toward a Foundational Pneumatology,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 3, no. 2 (July 2000): 167.

[3] Ibid., 180.

[4] My church is affiliated with the Vineyard church network. See http://www.vineyardusa.org for details.

[5] Yong, “On Divine Presence and Divine Agency: Toward a Foundational Pneumatology”: 175.

[6] “Amos Yong – School of Divinity – Regent University,” Regent University, accessed May 5, 2013, http://www.regent.edu/acad/schdiv/faculty_staff/yong.shtml.

[7] Amos Yong, Beyond the Impasse: Toward a Pneumatological Theology of Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 9.

[8] Roger E. Olson, “A Wind that Swirls Everywhere: Pentecostal Scholar Amos Yong Thinks He Sees the Holy Spirit Working in Other Religions, Too,” Christianity Today 50, no. 3 (March 1, 2006): 53.

[9] “Amos Yong – School of Divinity – Regent University.”

[10] Yong, Beyond the Impasse, 10.

[11] Amos Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s): A Pentecostal-Charismatic Contribution to Christian Theology of Religions (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 105. For examples of these affirmations, see Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 8-10 and Clark H. Pinnock, “The Role of the Spirit in Creation,” Asbury Theological Journal 52, no. 1 (March 1, 1997): 47-54.

[12] Amos Yong, “Spiritual Discernment: A Biblical-Theological Reconsideration,” in The Spirit and Spirituality, eds. Wonsuk Ma and Robert P. Menzies (London: T&T Clark International, 2004), 87, 91.

[13] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 116, 120.

[14] Heinz-Josef Fabry, “רוּחַ,” in The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, trans. David E. Green, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 386.

[15] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 118.

[16] Yong, “Spiritual Discernment,” 87.

[17] Donald L. Gelpi, S.J. The Divine Mother: A Trinitarian Theology of the Holy Spirit (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984), viii.

[18] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 122.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ralph Del Colle, “The Experience of the Divine,” Chicago Studies 31, (November 1992): 293-294.

[21] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 123.

[22] Ibid., 125.

[23] Ibid., 124.

[24] Ibid., 125.

[25] Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh, 252.

[26] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 127, 129.

[27] Ibid., 130.

[28] Ibid., 131.

[29] Ibid., 133.

[30] Ibid., 132.

[31] Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on all Flesh, 254.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Amos Yong, “As the Spirit Gives Utterance: Pentecost, Intra-Christian Ecumenism and the Wider Oikoumene,” International Review Of Mission 92, no. 366 (July 1, 2003): 301, 305.

[34] Yong, “Spiritual Discernment,” 84, 98.

[35] Yong, Beyond the Impasse, 165.

[36] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 250.

[37] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 251.

[38] Ibid., 144.

[39] Yong, “Spiritual Discernment,” 100.

[40] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 252.

[41] Ibid., 253.

[42] Yong, “Spiritual Discernment,” 101.

[43] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 253.

[44] Ibid., 254.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Amos Yong, “The Holy Spirit and the World Religions: On the Christian Discernment of Spirit(s) ‘After’ Buddhism,” Buddhist-Christian Studies 24, (January 1, 2004): 197.

[47] Ibid., 199.

[48] Yong, “Spiritual Discernment,” 102, 103.

[49] Ibid., 103.

[50] Mt. 7:16.

[51] See Gal. 5:22-23.

[52] Yong, “As the Spirit Gives Utterance”: 307.

[53] Samuel Soliván, “The Holy Spirit – Personalization and the Affirmation of Diversity: A Pentecostal Hispanic Perspective,” in Teologia en Conjunto: A Collaborative Hispanic Protestant Theology, eds. José David Rodríguez and Loida I. Martell-Otero (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 50.

[54] Ibid., 51.

[55] Thomas C. Oden, Life in the Spirit: Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1992), 20 as cited in Samuel Solivan, “The Holy Spirit,” 53.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Soliván, “The Holy Spirit,” 53.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid., 59.

[61] Yves M. J. Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, vol. 1, trans. David Smith (New York: The Seabury Press,  1983), 12.

[62] Ibid., 11.

[63] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 383.

[64] Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 195.

[65] Michael Welker, “The Holy Spirit,” Theology Today 46, no. 1 (April 1, 1989): 17.

[66] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 98.

[67] Ibid., 311.

[68] Eldin Villafañe, The Liberating Spirit: Toward an Hispanic American Pentecostal Social Ethic (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 182.

[69] Ibid., 183.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Soliván, “The Holy Spirit,” 54.

[73] Ibid, 52.

[74] Samuel Soliván, “Which Spirit: What Creation?,” Christianity And Crisis 51, no. 10-11 (July 15, 1991): 225.

[75] Ibid.

[76] John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s University Press, 1985), 126-28, 130-32, 136, as cited in Veli-Matti Karkkainen,ed., Holy Spirit and Salvation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 283.

[77] Soliván, “Which Spirit: What Creation?”: 225.

[78] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 33.

[79] Ibid., 98.

[80] Ibid., 136.

[81] Yong, “The Holy Spirit and the World Religions”: 203.

[82] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 131.

[83] Ibid., 312.

[84] Villafañe, The Liberating Spirit, 185.

[85] Villafañe, The Liberating Spirit, 176.

[86] Ibid., 186.

[87] Ibid., 187-87.

[88] Yong, “As the Spirit Gives Utterance”: 307.

[89] Amos Yong, Hospitality and the Other: Pentecost, Christian Practices, and the Neighbor (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008), xiii-xiv.

The Kingdom Beyond Borders: Joshua 10:1-15

[CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD AUDIO] …sermon starts at the 3:30 mark

Back in the summer of 2005, after my freshmen year at Auburn University, I signed up with Alabama Rural Ministry, or ARM, as a construction site coordinator. ARM hosts work teams, which were usually youth groups, during the summer. These teams stay for a week at one of ARM’s sites in rural Alabama. Poverty is widespread there. Each team works on home repair projects along with running a children’s day-camp. I worked at ARM’s site in Sumter County, which is based in Livingston, AL – a small town about 10 miles from where I grew up. Sumter County was my home and I thought that I knew it pretty well. Unlike the other ARM staff members, I knew all the shortcuts, the good places to go, and some of the people in the community. I was comfortable, connected, and secure; this place and these people were my home. However, little did I know, everything I knew and loved about my home was going to change in a big way over that summer. It turns out there were some roads in Sumter County that I had never traveled, some houses that I had never visited, and some hands I never dreamed of shaking. Like many communities – rural and urban, in the Northeast and in the Deep South, Sumter County is a very much divided place. It is crossed by clearly drawn lines – border walls if you will, much like the one shown in the slides – that tear it apart. I had lived my entire life there and was well aware of these border walls, but I had never imagined what would happen if I dared to cross them. But this was exactly what my service with ARM called me to do: to respond to the very practical needs of others who lived on the wrong sides of the many borders. When I did, I was surprised, amazed even, to find God waiting for me on the other side; already at work and inviting me to join. I can now say with certainty that, after crossing borders with ARM, my home and my heart have never felt the same.

In our text this morning, Joshua and the Israelites have a similar experience. They were in the midst of settling into their new home in the Promised Land. This was the place God had given them to be comfortable, connected, and secure. Under Joshua’s lead, they had just succeeded in winning two major victories over the cities of Jericho and Ai. They were striving to display a devotion to Yahweh according to the covenant they had renewed before crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land. This devotion to Yahweh was laid out in the book of Deuteronomy and it had three parts: keep the commandments, take the land, and eradicate the foreigners. Pretty simple right? Not really. After an interesting encounter with a Canaanite prostitute named Rahab that seemed to bend the rules, followed by an act of blatant disobedience to God’s commands by an Israelite named Achan, life in the Promised Land really gets complicated when the Gibeonites show up at Joshua’s door.

These people were inhabitants of the Promised Land and were therefore supposed to be destroyed by Israel. However, the Gibeonites easily tricked Israel into signing a forbidden peace treaty with them. When Israel discovered their ruse, they were quite upset but couldn’t break the treaty, so they made them servants. By coming to peace with the Gibeonites, Israel had screwed up in every way possible: they broke God’s c

ommand, didn’t take the Gibeonites land, and didn’t eradicate the Gibeonites. Major, major oops.

Then we come to the story told in our text, Joshua 10:1-15. Listen as I read.

 When King Adoni-zedek of Jerusalem heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, he became greatly frightened, because Gibeon was a large city, like one of the royal cities, and was larger than Ai, and all its men were warriors. So King Adoni-zedek of Jerusalem sent a message to King Hoham of Hebron, to King Piram of Jarmuth, to King Japhia of Lachish, and to King Debir of Eglon, saying, ‘Come up and help me, and let us attack Gibeon; for it has made peace with Joshua and with the Israelites.’ Then the five kings of the Amorites—the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon—gathered their forces, and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon, and made war against it.

And the Gibeonites sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, ‘Do not abandon your servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us; for all the kings of the Amorites who live in the hill country are gathered against us.’ So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the fighting force with him, all the mighty warriors. The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not fear them, for I have handed them over to you; not one of them shall stand before you.’ So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who inflicted a great slaughter on them at Gibeon, chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon, and struck them down as far as Azekah and Makkedah. As they fled before Israel, while they were going down the slope of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down huge stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died because of the hailstones than the Israelites killed with the sword.

On the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the Lord; and he said in the sight of Israel,
‘Sun, stand still at Gibeon,
and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.’
And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in mid-heaven, and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded a human voice; for the Lord fought for Israel.

Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.

The Gibeonites, Israel’s illegitimate, obnoxious neighbors, are under attack by a frightening alliance of Amorite kings. They cry out desperately for Joshua’s help. Listen  in verse 6: “‘Do not abandon your servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us.’” Now, Joshua’s leadership had been pretty inconsistent up to this point. Victories had been won but not without some major blunders. So, what is Joshua’s response? Verse 7: “So, Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the fighting force with him, all the mighty warriors.” He takes off. All the fighting force of Israel marches through the night to rescue Gibeon. But that’s not all: Yahweh is there too and Yahweh is revealed in an awesome, unprecedented way. Immediately following Joshua’s bold response, Yahweh offers assurance. Then, God throws the Amorites into a panic and rains down large stones in order to secure Israelite victory. If that weren’t enough, we find out that Yahweh – Creator, Almighty, El Shaddai – actually hears Joshua and responds obediently to his command. Listen to the astonishment in verse 14: “There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded a human voice, for the Lord fought for Israel.” Wow.

So, looking over this story of how Joshua heard the Gibeonites’ plea and went to their rescue only to be amazed by Yahweh’s incredible response, here’s what I’d like us to consider: God responds to us when we respond to our Gibeonites.

It sounds simple enough on the surface, but for this story to come alive in us there are a few questions we should explore: who are our Gibeonites? What does our response to them look like? And, finally, where is God in all of this?

First, who are our Gibeonites? Here’s my definition: Gibeonites are all the people on the wrong sides of our many border walls – just like the families I came to know and serve in Sumter County. The Gibeonites were on the “wrong side” of all three of Israel’s covenantal border walls: they didn’t keep God’s commands, they were living on Israel’s Promised Land, and they were not God’s chosen people. In addition to all of that, they lied to Israel and made them look pretty dumb. Then, they get attacked and start whining. Sure seems like it would have been easy for Joshua to ignore them right? After all, they deserved some punishment. They had brought this attack on themselves by seeking peace with Israel. The text even says that the Amorite king of Jerusalem was scared of Gibeon because of its size and number of warriors, so why can’t they deal with this attack themselves? They’re so frustrating. Gibeonites: illegitimate, obnoxious people who deserve what’s coming to them, on the wrong side in every way. Any modern day “Gibeonites” coming to mind for you?

Well, I’ve got one that I’d like you to meet. His name is JB Lake, or just Mr. JB. I met him during the summer that I served with ARM. When we met, Mr. JB was in his mid-fifties and lived alone in an old, dilapidated single-wide mobile home. Mr. JB is African-American and has schizophrenia. He’s also a writer, with a degree, and loves to write poetry. He lives alone because his family has all but abandoned him. His income was about $600 a month in 2005, all from federal assistance. He called ARM’s office from the Sumter County Mental Health clinic. He said his home needed repairs. I asked for clarification: “Well, is it your ceilings, floors, walls, windows, bathroom…” His answer: “Yeah. All of that.” My staff partner and I visited his home a few days later and I’ll never forget it. You could barely see his driveway from the road and we parked on the street because we weren’t sure if we could drive up to the house; the weeds were chest high. This home was literally falling apart. He had closed off half of it because the roof leaked so badly. There were huge holes in the walls, rotten floors, broken windows, filth, smell, sweltering heat, no electricity, no running water, and no bed. He slept on the lightly covered frame of a couch and cooked canned food on a single gas burner. We stood inside his home and just stared, completely overwhelmed. I had seen poverty before, but this was not Central America – this was my home. Rather, this was my home on the other side, the wrong side, of several borders: race, socio-economic status, educational attainment, social compatibility, age, and even morality (there were big piles of beer cans and quite a few “adult” publications lying around his house). Meet my Gibeonite: Mr. JB Lake; a man who inconveniently shattered the sense of comfort, connectedness, and security that I cherished in my home.

Who are the Gibeonites in our lives today? They are the neighbors, the family members, the co-workers, the community group members, and the Kingdom Partners that, if given a choice, we would have chosen otherwise. They’re the ones we ignore because acknowledging their existence challenges us, it makes us uncomfortable, and it reveals our own pride and selfishness. They are the “outsiders.” They may even look like us, talk like us, and live like us, but, for whatever reason, we’ve built border walls to keep them away. Maybe it’s because they eat at Chickfila, or refuse to eat at Chickfila. Maybe they’re too conservative, or too liberal; maybe they’re the 1% or the 99%; maybe they’re not believers, or maybe they have “bad theology.” Our border walls come in all shapes and sizes; we create new reasons to divide ourselves all the time. In the end, the Gibeonites always live on the wrong side, and they always need us, God’s chosen Israelites, to bail them out of something; always disrupting our calm, interrupting our peace, and challenging our assumptions. And after all, we’re just trying to be good Israelites – it’s hard enough without all these distractions… do you know any Gibeonites today?

So, what does our response to these Gibeonites look like? Looking back at our text, we see that Joshua’s response was bold, decisive, and simple: rescue them, save them, and do not abandon them. In other words, cross the border walls and go to the “outsiders” and fight to secure their place as “insiders.” Maybe these people did trick or mistreat you, maybe they could handle this situation themselves, and maybe you didn’t choose to have them as your neighbors – none of that matters now because you have a relationship with these Gibeonites. Might as well forget about how God had commanded you to stay away from these people in Deuteronomy; the situation has changed and your response should change with it. Joshua wasted no time; he didn’t even stop to pray about it. He just took off toward Gibeon to save his illegitimate, not-chosen neighbors. When he acted, he committed Israel’s full fighting force to the task. With his bold response, Joshua secured a place for Gibeon within Israel’s Promised Land. The outsiders would become insiders.

Just in case you think this is a one-off event, we should briefly look back at two other events in Joshua that we’ve already mentioned. The first major event in Joshua is the battle of Jericho. You’ve probably heard the story. It begins with Israel sending spies into Jericho to scout out the city. Once inside, they meet Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute. She feared Yahweh and believed that the land had indeed been given to Israel so she hid the Israelite spies and helped them escape. She and her family were spared when Jericho’s walls came-a-tumbling-down. An outsider, a woman – a prostitute even – became an insider. (You might recall that Rahab shows up in a very important genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew – you can look that up when you get home). After Jericho, Joshua marches straight into battle against the city of Ai but suffers a crushing defeat. What happened? Turned out an Israelite named Achan had disobeyed God by stealing some of Jericho’s forbidden goods and had kept them for himself. The defeat was God’s punishment on Israel. Achan and his family were stoned when his sin was found out. In this case, an Israelite insider suffers the fate of a Canaanite outsider. So, when we get to the story of the Gibeonites the text has already presented two encounters that reveal some distressing identity issues. Canaanites were being let in and Israelites were being kicked out. This theme of uncertain identity reaches its pinnacle in the Gibeonite story. All the border walls that Israel thought they could count on to keep themselves separate from the Canaanites, and therefore devoted to Yahweh, had been crossed. What does this mean for us?

It means that we are not called to be border patrol agents because the border walls we setup to divide ourselves are not as reliable as we think. In fact, if we are honest, we have to admit that these walls not only keep us from others – they divide our own hearts too. The Nobel-prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, reflecting back on his experience of the Russian Gulag, said it best: “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”[1] We’re all human, all fallen, and all made in God’s image. All of us, even God’s chosen Israelites, have a little Gibeonite mixed in. When we setup border walls, we rarely see how we’re actually sectioning off the pieces of ourselves that we don’t like, that we refuse to bring to the light. Border walls keep us from fellowship with others; they keep us from being whole; and ultimately, they keep us from God. I would suggest to you that there is scarce need for border patrol agents in God’s Kingdom.

Thinking back to my Gibeonite, Mr. JB Lake, I can remember several trips across the borders. Our first task was to completely re-roof his house and then to restore electricity and water. We got him a bed and fixed some of the holes in his floors, walls, and ceilings. Every week ARM hosted a dinner with the work team and invited all the families we had worked with that week. Mr. JB was a frequent companion at these meals. Of course, he didn’t own a vehicle so he needed a ride. Those trips back and forth to Mr. JB’s house, just he and I, were quite simply transformational. A minor hurricane hit Alabama that summer and we took Mr. JB to the local Red Cross shelter to spend the night. I remember leaving and being so worried about him there. I regret not staying with him instead of going back to my parent’s house with the rest of the staff. The shelter called promptly the next morning after the storm had passed for me to come get a very restless Mr. JB. We had some “complications” with one work team, a large group from Orlando, FL, with lots of teenage girls, when one of the girls discovered a pornographic cartoon. Of course, there were “concerns” after that incident. Getting along with Gibeonites, inviting them into your life and becoming a part of theirs, is not always pretty. It’s hard work and it takes time. The border walls will need to be continually crossed, and eventually, they cease to exist.

Our response to Gibeonites is simple: we cross borders to secure their place in our lives. The border walls are quite useless and there is really no point in patrolling them. As we also see from our text, our real enemies – the Amorite kings – will not be hard to detect. Evil will be exposed by its actions. Yes, there are some people that are best kept at arm’s length, if not farther, but we must always humbly examine ourselves and our reasons for this separation to ensure that we’re not ignoring the cries of Gibeonites. We’ll sometimes need help from our faith community to discern between friendly Gibeonites and violent Amorite kings, but this is not the core of our mission. We are not border patrol agents. When we hear the cries of our Gibeonites, which assumes we have taken the time to listen, our response is to cross the border walls to secure a place for the outsiders among the insiders. In a word: it’s hospitality.

Finally, where is God in all of our border crossing adventures? Looking back to the text, we can be encouraged by God’s faithful and active presence on the wrong sides of our border walls. It is interesting to note that Yahweh is silent throughout the entire Gibeonite debacle in Joshua 9 and into our text in Joshua 10. Notice when Yahweh decides to chime in; it’s immediately after Joshua sets out to rescue Gibeon. What does Yahweh say? Remember, this Gibeonite peace treaty was a MAJOR TRANSGRESSION of Israel’s mandate from Deuteronomy. Also, remember that God had already punished Israel once for Achan’s disobedience with a defeat at Ai. Surely, God has another defeat in store to punish Israel for making peace with these forbidden people. With all this in mind, Yahweh’s response in verse 8 is even more surprising: “Do not fear them [the Amorite kings] for I have given them into your hands.” Apparently, God is very much ok with Joshua’s decision. If there was any doubt of Yahweh’s approval, we see Yahweh kicking butt and taking names with these Amorites. Then, in a startling, completely unprecedented, blow your mind kind of event, Yahweh comes under Joshua’s command. Yes, this sounds heretical. I’m sorry – this is the Old Testament – it gets weird sometimes. Just listen to verse 14: “There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded a human voice, for the Lord fought for Israel.” Saying that God “showed up” on the other side of the border wall would be quite an understatement. The sun was stopped in its tracks. The moon stood still. Stones rained down from the skies. Yes, I think God may have been in the area. We can’t forget the context for this incredible, nearly ridiculous, divine response: Joshua and Israel were crossing their covenant border walls to rescue Gibeon and ensure their place in Israel. Yahweh was there and no one could deny it.

Mr. JB, my Gibeonite, had lived in Bellamy, AL, my entire life. I had driven past the road to his house countless times before, but I had never thought to drive down it, much less to get to know someone who lived there. When I did, when I crossed those borders, everything changed. Going to Mr. JB’s house, I kind of felt like Moses walking up to the burning bush, it was like I was standing on holy ground. I don’t think I’m being ridiculous with this: crossing our border walls and catching a glimpse of God’s image in the people we would least expect is nothing less than a sacred event. Like Moses, we’ll probably be a little scared. Honestly, it scares me even now to go back to Mr. JB’s house. He still lives in Bellamy, and, while I have been home plenty of times over the years, I haven’t made the effort to see him. It’s not easy. His house has improved, but it is probably still in need of significant repair. He’s still just as poor, and probably just as lonely. But, I can’t ignore him. I’ve crossed the border and I found God waiting for me on the other side. What happened to me there explains why I’m even standing here today – training for full-time ministry at Palmer Seminary and Eastern University.

God is at work on the other side of our border walls. The Kingdom of God is waiting for us there. Why ignore it? When we ignore our Gibeonites, we ignore God, and we ignore ourselves. But how can we know, for sure, that God will be there on the other side? Our faith in Jesus as the Son of God confirms it. We know God will be there because, well, if we have faith in the New Testament, we can say with certainty that God IS ALREADY THERE. Just think: Jesus crossed the biggest border wall imaginable: “though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”[2] In the person of Jesus, this border crossing between divine and human was held in perfect tension. Remember also the stories of Jesus’s life: the woman at the well, the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes. Jesus’ life was FULL of crossing supposedly sacred borders. His death was no different. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus not only crossed the border walls on our behalf – he tore them to the ground. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[3] Jesus crossed the border between death and life, so that we might inherit the Kingdom of God. The Spirit of Christ takes up this same work. In the book of Acts, the Spirit falls on the Jewish disciples AND the Gentile believers – that border crossing really threw the early church for a loop. In his letter to the church at Colossae, the Apostle Paul summed up this new reality perfectly: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”[4] Border crossing is an essential mark, the founding mark, of the abundant life we receive in Christ. Enemies become friends. Relationships are restored. The new creation comes to life and, like little children we enter and receive the Kingdom.

As we look back on this story, we can see that God responds to us when we respond to OUR Gibeonites. The Gibeonites are all the people on the wrong side of our border walls. They are the seemingly illegitimate people who get under our skin and call us to make good on all the commitments we’d like to ignore. Our response to Gibeonites will involve crossing borders to ensure a place where outsiders can become insiders. When we, like Joshua, set out boldly across these borders, we can know that God is already at work on the other side and is waiting, hoping, desiring for us to join in the Kingdom mission.

At Six:Eight, we are all about crossing borders. This fall our community groups will restart in partnership with those ‘out there’, our community partners. Too often, our church walls have kept us insulated from the world. But here we have a regular practice of scaling these walls and building bridges over our church borders into the lives of those in our local community. As we go to them and love them where they are, guess what? We have found that God is already there, always present with us.  The Spirit is at work in Ardmore and Havertown, going before us, out over these church walls, preparing this community for the gospel message which falls from our lips, hands and feet. As followers of Christ at Six:Eight, we desire to join the Spirit’s work on the other side of all our borders, to live like Jesus in the midst of those we normally would not have lived among, and to manifest Christ to them in very real ways!  Cassie and I along the Shalom in the Home community group have been doing this for a while now with Linwood Park. We cross borders by pulling weeds, planting flowers, showing movies, and playing games. Recently, we were invited to the wedding of the couple that oversees the Park. Border walls are coming down; now it’s time go out and cross these borders in love!

I wonder: who are your Gibeonites? You could take some time this week to reflect and make a list. Maybe you already know for sure or have some people in mind. How will you cross those borders? Or maybe you’ve tried to reach out before and were rejected or got scared. Try again. Be persistent. Reach out to your faith community for encouragement, prayer, and new ideas. You can do that now even – our prayer team would love to pray with you about a Gibeonite you are trying to reach. As you go about this work, remember that God is already there waiting for you. As we respond to our Gibeonites, God stands ready and able to stop the sun and moon on our behalf – Gibeonites included. Amen.


[1] Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956, 17.

[2] Phil. 2:6-8.

[3] 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

[4] Col. 3:11

The Risk of Dialogue

In the first chapter of his book, A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament ExegesisRichard Erickson discusses the necessity of openness and commitment to the practice of faithful exegesis of Scripture. He says

Exegesis requires openness toward hearing the message of the Bible, the Bible to which we are passionately committed.

Exegesis, like every critical task, requires a certain amount of distance from the object being criticized. This distance gives us a vantage point for asking questions about the text that we could not see before. It’s like trying to criticize your “outfit” while standing 1cm away from a mirror – you can’t really see everything you need to see unless you back up. I think this is what Erickson is getting at when he says openness. There has to be space in our minds for something new to take root; open space.

The commitment part seems self-explanatory. We must remain committed to our belief that Scripture is in fact the Word of God and that it brings us life. Regular commitment won’t do – we need passionate commitment. As Erickson explains, the work of exegesis is tough and it takes time and lots of practice to develop. Our commitment to the Word – our desire to know the God whose Word it is – will propel us in this hard work.

What does this have to do with dialogue? Everything. Why? Because exegesis IS dialogue (well… half of it at least). It is about hearing the text rightly, as it was heard by those who first heard it. So, what is essential for exegesis is essential for dialogue as well.

Like exegesis, true dialogue – on any topic – requires an openness to the voice of another. Without this openness, you hear nothing but static. It also requires a passionate commitment to your own voice. Without this commitment, you have nothing to say.

In my view, followers of Christ – His Church – should be well-equipped for the art of dialogue. Why? Well, we say that we believe in things like forgiveness and hospitality and reconciliation. If we do, we should have no fear of dialogue with one another; no fear of sharing ourselves with another. We say that we base our lives – even our eternity – on the things we believe. If we do, we should have no lack of passionate commitment to those things. So, we should be equipped with the tools we need for dialogue, but how is that going?

I’m often discourage by the lack of dialogue in the Church as a whole. Of course, I have a very limited view and much, much, much, much, much is happening that I do not and will never know about. Still, if I had to grade the part of the Church I participate in on its dialogue skills, I’d give it a C-.

Why do we struggle with dialogue? I think Erickson hit the nail on the head. He writes about how we are sometimes afraid of jeopardizing our passionate commitment to Scripture (or to any topic of discussion) when we open ourselves to hearing other interpretations of it. He says:

For those who truly love the Bible and Bible’s Lord there is little risk of losing the passion by listening to what others think. These people love Scripture so much that they are willing to risk what they believe the biblical text says in order to discover more accurately what in fact it does say.

Are we willing to take the risk of dialogue? Do we hold our own beliefs and interpretations so dearly that we “hide them under a bushel”?  Are we willing to quiet our own passion in order to be hospitable to the voice of others? Do we even care what others think?