Posts Tagged ‘urban youth’

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” showarticle.asp? title=1757 (accessed 5 March 2010).

[2]. Terry Matthews, “A Black Theology of Liberation (Lecture 26),” 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.