March/April Issue


Being Reformed and (Globally) Missional

From Jessica Bratt

Jessica is away today, and guest blogging for her is Drew Yamamoto. Drew is the supervisor of mission in Asia and the Pacific for the Reformed Church in America (RCA).

I write, informed anew from yet another visit overseas, to the land of my ancestors, Japan. It is a country that I have spent much time in, spending my summers there, and it is a country that I think a lot about, as I am privileged to serve the RCA as the Global Missions Supervisor to Asia and the Pacific, from India to Japan.

Coming back to the States from Japan and to be asked to write a guest blog post by the Rev. Jessica Bratt, it's gotten me to think. What does it mean to be Reformed and Globally Missional? Some thoughts:

Reformed Christianity began in Christendom Europe, as a response to some of the brokenness in the Roman Catholic Church. This much most people, especially in the West understand, but one question that I've been wrestling with recently has been how does this affect the way we understand missions? It was not created directly to address or engage a global Christianity, it was created in the midst of Christendom. In fact, we Reformed were "late to the game", arguing about doctrine whilst the Roman Catholic Church was out sending missionaries to all of God's great world. How does the formation of our Reformed faith in the midst of Christendom struggles inform (or not inform) missions into a context where Christianity is not the dominant faith? 


She Wrote, I Said

Last week, preaching off-lectionary, I presented a simple question: "What is the gospel?"  Not to re-preach my sermon, but..... I  noted that the Bible includes four gospels, which are not all identical, though they all come to focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Long story short, after holding forth on John 3: 16-17 for an inordinately long sermon, I came across the following Facebook post:

" ... the gospel, in the New Testament, is the good news that God (the world's creator) is at last becoming king and that Jesus, whom this God raised from the dead, is the world's true lord. ... The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being 'left behind'), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God's new world has begun. This announcement, stated as a fact about the way the world is rather than as an appeal about the way you might like your life, your emotions, or your bank balance to be, is the foundation of everything else. Of course, once the gospel announcement is made, in whatever way, it means instantly that all people everywhere are gladly invited to come in, to join the party, to discover forgiveness for the past, an astonishing destiny in God's future, and a vocation in the present."  N.T. Wright, "Surprised by Hope"

Hmmmpphh.  He said in about one minute what it took me 20 to say.

I offer one reflection and one invitation based on that experience.

Reflection: how deflating it is, in the first instance, for a preacher to run across someone else's thoughts, just a wee bit too late.  On the one hand there is the initial discouragement:  "She said it so much more clearly, more winningly, more beautifully than I did!" 

But she "said" it in print.  It's not the same as an oral experience.  My "sheep" do not know the voice of that other writer, nor does she know mine.  The good news isn't a disembodied idea.  The message of God's favor came to us through a person, and in case we forget it, 'how blessed upon the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news....', not the ideas of those who bring good news. 

My botheration about how Wright said better what I meant to say gives way to the fact that I am the one entrusted with shepherding my congregation.  My feet stand at graveside with my parishioners, and at bedside, and at the altar when they marry, and it is my feet that carry the bread and wine, offering to them the true body and blood of Christ. 

So let the N.T. Wrights, and the Barbara Brown Taylors, the Fred Buechners and Anne LaMotts hold forth with rapier precision as I bumble along in my stilted prose, accompanied by infant howls and the hum of the gas truck across the street.  The gospel comes to life here, as we lift our hearts to God and as God descends to us, as the Spirit suspends the strictures of space and time and the sanctuary becomes the very courts of the living God.

Invitation: If you were pressed to articulate the gospel into three or four concise sentences (please, not compound or complex meanderings a la Paul the apostle), what how would you respond?  Think of it as the "elevator test" sometimes used in business schools.  "Describe your business to a stranger in the time it takes to go from ground floor to the 40th floor."  What say you?  The gospel is . . . . 

Rev. Paul G. Janssen is the Pastor and Teacher of Pascack Reformed Church in Park Ridge, New Jersey, which he has served since 1991.

My Summer Vacation: A Report

From Debra Rienstra

I spent an entire day yesterday with my departmental compatriots working on Student Learning Outcomes. This is merely the latest manifestation of the assessment mania now gripping our college--and higher education as a whole. Naturally I came home with a crushing headache.

Meanwhile, many of us have seen each other only in passing for the last few months, so we engaged in some pleasant chit-chat and catching up with one another. “How was your summer?” was the obvious lead-in to conversations, a question I’m never sure how to answer. And then, it struck me…


Change and decay...and a little bit of hope

From James Schaap

The older I get, the more vividly I come to understand that scowl on the face of both father and daughter inAmerican Gothic, an Iowa icon.  The longer I live, the more easily I know I could become just another of the grumpy old men.  “Change and decay in all around I see” becomes a mantra far too easily, because there’s things I just don’t get, lots of things easy to translate as the world gone just awfully awash.

Two articles in the latest Atlantic have me shaking my head.  “Boys on the Side” features the unforeseen benefits of what people call “the hook-up culture,” a way of life supposedly characteristic of not only college campuses but also unmarried singles.  Hanna Rosen’s article made the magazine, I’m thinking, not because it documented anything new, but because she flatly asserts that when young women “hook up,” engage in free-for-all sexuality at their leisure, it’s really an “engine of female progress.”

Just call me Walter Matthau.  But here’s the salient heart of things: 

“To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture,” she claims.  “And to a surprising degree, it is women—not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind.” 


A Wandering Aramean Was My Ancestor…, Part 2

From Thomas C. Goodhart

(This is part 2. The earlier posting can be found here.)

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor” was part of the response one was to make (Deuteronomy 26:5) when bringing the first fruit of the harvest to the priest before the altar of the Lord. An act of both thanksgiving and remembrance, claiming the identity of one who has been redeemed by God becomes a ritual grounding the community in gratitude describing who they are but also instructing them as to whom they ought to be. “No, you did not do this on your own,” one could hear God saying, “and remember that as you encounter others who are experiencing less fortunate realities in their lives…” My ancestors came from some place else and were saved and blessed by God becomes, we were saved and blessed by God, with further implications that we are to bless God and others.

Obviously, our Christian rituals and practices are different, but is not the Lord’s table similar in the way that we gather to remember and give thanks around something that we did not do ourselves but has been done for us, while also feeding and nurturing us to go and do likewise? Within the gathered community of the local congregation we can sometimes experience the immigrant story as alive and true and part of the Church’s story for today, and just as importantly, the call it places upon us as Christ’s followers.