Posts Tagged ‘urban churches’

The Gospel, the Church and Holistic Development of Urban Youth

Thursday, April 15th, 2010 by Antipas Harris

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about our expanding urban world. The future leadership of communities, society and the world rests in the hands of youth. As the world is increasingly urban with accompanying struggles, it seems logical that urban churches place particular emphasis on youth-development. If the total restoration of the situation of depravity, as relating to urban youth, is not the church’s primary focus, the future of urban communities is bleak.

Recently, I presented a paper at Empowered 21 in Tulsa, OK. The paper addressed the need for churches to re-vision their ecclesiological superstructure. I argue that to achieve a goal of transformation, urban churches need ecclesiological outlook grounded in a theology of total transformation. The most fundamental Christian theology of total transformation exists in Christ’s holistic vision of the gospel. Churches, moreover, must maximize the effectiveness of the holistic gospel by embracing a renewed concept of “the Church” as the “Body of Christ” (I Corinthians 12:12-13), advancing the mission of Christ as expressed in Luke 4:18-19:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because (the Holy Spirit) has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. (The Spirit) has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

From this passage, James Cone draws an inherent message about Jesus. In Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998, he argues that Jesus’ work is profoundly and essentially one of liberation.[1] By liberation, Cone means that Jesus is primarily concerned with helping, mentoring, advocating for, educating, and healing victims of social oppression.  To this end, Cone contends that Jesus launched “an age of liberation in which ‘the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them’” (Luke 7:22). He further argues that “in Christ, God enters human affairs…. Their suffering becomes his; their despair, divine despair.”[2] While liberation theology provides insight into the social dynamics of the gospel, it is important to note that a gospel of liberation expressed in the life, teaching and works of Jesus is actually holistic in nature. In Toward a Prophetic Youth Ministry, Fernando Arzola Jr. critiques the Liberation theological approach suggesting that while existential liberation is essential to Jesus’ ministry,  a close read of the gospel renders more of a holistic theology.  By holistic theology, Arzola contends that the gospel addresses the total human situation– social, personal, and spiritual.[3] I want to push Arzola a bit further, however. I argue that a holistic theology includes the role of community. All of Jesus’ ministry involved and was concerned with community. For the future of urban communities, moreover, it is imperative that the churches embrace and proclaim this holistic theology as explained in Arzola with my added emphasis on “community.”

I believe, furthermore, that churches with ecclesiologies grounded in a holistic theology develop ministries that focus total community transformation and beyond their own walls. A holistic approach to ministry, grounded in holistic theology extracted from Christ’s gospel, minimizes the celebrity-oriented notions of ministry and reduces the “Hollywood” ministerial aspirations paramount among churches today. Without a holistic vision of ministry, urban churches lose their relevance in holistically developing youth into men and women to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Does Luke 4:18-19 count with respect to urban communities? It seems that churches have a wonderful opportunity to make a holistic difference in the world with respect to youth, urban youth specifically. Will they take advantage of this opportunity or will they let this chance slip away? What do you think?

[1]. James H. Cone, Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), 6 and 7.  Also, see Ronald J. Sider, “An Evangelical Theology of Liberation” http://www.religion-online.org/ showarticle.asp? title=1757 (accessed 5 March 2010).

[2]. Terry Matthews, “A Black Theology of Liberation (Lecture 26),” http://www.wfu.edu/~matthetl/ perspectives/twentyseven.html (accessed 08, February 2010); also, see James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1990).

[3]Fernando Arzola Jr., Toward a Prophetic Youth Ministry: Theory and Praxis in Urban Context (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 32, 33.

Prosperity Gospel-Preachers and Hip Hop Artists: Is There a Common Impact on Urban Communities?

Thursday, April 8th, 2010 by Antipas Harris

As a musician and theologian, lover of all styles of music and proponent of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I have been thinking a lot about the impact of music and sermons on urban communities. There seems to be an ideological comparison between the popularized message of “Kingdom Success” by materialistic (or prosperity) measures that many of today’s top-ranking celebrity preachers teach and the message of materialism (or prosperity) advanced by most of today’s top-ranking Hip Hop artists (i.e., Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, P-Diddy, Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne). There is no wonder that urban communities are falling apart! The rappers and the preachers are not helping like they should. Albeit a provocative comment, rappers will admit that they are about the “cake,” or “that green stuff.” However, many of the preachers would deny that their message is of similar ideological categories as the Hip Hop artists.

Yet, I argue that a message about “Kingdom Success” that is in any way associated with glitz, glamor, and lavish living is a subscription to an erroneous Christianized version of the same message of materialism perpetuated among Hip Hop artists. Pastors that subscribe to a highly materialistic (or the prosperity) gospel are often blinded by the money-oriented lens through which they see the world. They sanctify that lens as they tend to theologize their conclusions through strange scriptural proof-texting. An increased number of contemporary pastors seem to judge their message differently than the Hip Hop artists based on the medium through which the message is presented rather than the message itself. Using the Bible and preaching materialism rather than rapping it with profanity does not make the message better. In fact, it convolutes the message that Jesus intends. Careful analysis of the messages of both rap songs about money and sermons about prosperity seem to render similar conclusions that success is defined by lavish living and material assets—both venues that promote this practical conclusion promote unhealthy individualism and erroneous measures for holistic success by a barometer of materialistic measures. One wonders if the message of materialism highly propagated through the aforementioned mediums have assisted in people’s poor financial choices.

It should be appalling that the gospel of prosperity emphasizes material gain over holistic transformation and promotes self-interests that trumps community building. The Bible is full of passages and teachings that emphasize the need for holistic transformation rather than material prosperity as litmus test for “right standing with God” or “Kingdom Success.” Also, the Bible promotes a Christianity of community and community building with several metaphors, images and concepts that promote community rather than self-interest (i.e. “the Body of Christ,” “the Household of God,” and “they had all things in common,” “the Church”). When are we going to get back to an authentic Biblical understanding of Church? Of will we ever? If so, what would it look like? How would it change our communities?