After a hiatus, I am continuing on with my podcast interviews of Southern Baptist leaders that I began in the late summer of 2016 focusing on issues related to the ministry and witness of the church in society, especially in regard to immigrants and refugees. I interviewed quite a few people at the Evangelical Immigration Table booth at the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri last summer and I hope to publish those interviews over the next several weeks.
This interview is with Dr. Matthew Hall, the Dean of Boyce College. We discuss what it means to be an Exile in the Empire and how we can carry our faith into difficult challenges and situations in a culture that is not necessarily friendly to Christianity. It is a fascinating discussion and I am grateful that Dr. Hall joined me. I was challenged and I know that you will be too.
Below are some notes that I took from Dr. Hall’s interview. You’ll understand them better if you listen to the whole podcast (only around 10 minutes long) and hear the questions that spurred these comments on. These notes are not direct quotes, but just summaries of his statements. He really offers some great insights into living out our faith and pastoring in a rapidly changing world.
What is God doing in the world today? How are we to respond? God is doing what He has always done in reminding Christians who have lived within empires that we are elect exiles. Yes, we are citizens of our nation, and that is good, but our fundamental identity is rooted in Christ. God is disrupting our primary allegiance to our nation/people and is reminding us that we primarily belong to Him. In the midst of an empire that is failing, God is calling His people to live as exiles.
We talked about a Matthew 24 mission that recognizes that in difficult times and significant challenges, God uses these things to send His people into them so the gospel will be preached to the nations. Dr. Hall says that God has always used diasporas of peoples. We often have identity confusion where we cling more to the world than to God. God uses diasporas to scatter people for His purposes. We need to see the immigrant/refugee crisis as a tragic thing, but we also must understand that God is using this so that people can move across the world to hear the gospel and be saved. But, they also carry the gospel with them to the places that they travel to.
At Boyce College and Southern Seminary, Dr. Hall sees a generation of bible and theology students who are trying to keep together both the proclamation/teaching of the world with a ministry of justice. They are holding them together instead of bifurcating them. If we just focus on teaching/preaching, it is a hollow discipleship that is void of justice. If you just focus on justice, then you lose the biblical framework. We need both and Dr. Hall is seeing a new generation arise that are holding both together well, as younger Christians are focusing on a love for those on the margins, the vulnerable, the sojourner, and the stranger.
Southern Baptists love the gospel and we are a gospel people. But, we need a full appreciation of the gospel message – the gospel that Jesus preached, which is more than how to get saved. We must have a full, holistic gospel, which involves reconciliation. What does it mean to be reconciled to God vertically, and reconciled to others horizontally? We must have a biblical perspective on sin and its effects. The fundamental cure for that will be a a full focus on the whole gospel that takes into account how we treat other people and how relationships are distorted.
How do we help pastors address the difficult cultural issues and controversies of the day from a biblical perspective? It is very difficult for pastors to know how to address all of these things. Yet, our people show up each week and are asking how to see life and its problems. If we don’t talk about these things, our people will have their consciences and lives shaped by culture instead of by God’s Word. We need more of an ability to dialogue and learn. We have come to think (wrongly) that knowing how to address these problems is an upgrade to the standard package of just living the Christian life. But, it isn’t. It is part of the basic understanding of following Christ. For example, God’s heart for the stranger and sojourner is basic Christianity – it is not part of the upgrade or an optional part. It is right at the core of our faith.
We should expect to be persecuted and rejected if we are embracing the Cross, loving the vulnerable, and doing what Jesus did. People will attack us when we follow Jesus. When we reach people who do not fit the profile of the successful or wealthy, then we remember that those people are blessed, according to Jesus in the Beatitudes. Reaching and loving the vulnerable is a far more powerful testimony to the gospel – where the Kingdom of God really shows up and bears lasting fruit. Ministering to the vulnerable is where we will have the most lasting effect in society.