The Chair and the Desk, 9/28/15

From the chair:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

-John 14:6-7

In the face of consumerism and individualism, the cross is still offensive. Jesus’ self-sacrificing love still confronts and challenges our (my) addiction to TV, fine foods, and relaxation.

However, in the theological academy, I’m not sure that Jesus’ cross is the real hurdle to following him anymore. Love, humility, selflessness are all almost taken for granted. We (theologians) take for granted that we are enlightened enough to see love as superior to hate, humility  to arrogance, and selflessness to domination. That doesn’t mean there’s no hurdle, no “offense,” and if we don’t pause, see, and confront it, then we will almost assuredly continue on the smoother way. In the 21st century, North American theological academy, I think the real offense of Jesus is his incarnation. We are confronted by the claim that God really has revealed himself, and that an endless quest to account for all human experience will come at the expense of attention to the divine revelation in Christ. We can’t just “punt” on transcendence, revelation, or the incarnation. If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, if through him we have known and seen the Father, then God’s revelation has the right to dominate our lives.


From the desk:

“To be taken seriously by populations that are subjugated pastoral theology will need to have the capacity to engage systems of power…Pastoral theology needs theoretical resources that not only provide psychological insights, but can also interpret the wider cultural, social, economic, and political contexts.”

-Cedric C. Johnson, “Resistance is Not Futile” in Healing Wisdom (Eerdman’s), 162.

I’ve read a lot about politics and pastoring lately, and while I’m not entirely sure what to conclude, I do believe this: We can’t put all of our focus on individual psychological needs, we must attend to systemic political problems.

On the one hand, “pastoral care” shouldn’t pretend to be professional therapy. In fact, great pastoral care considers people’s psychological needs and helps people with things that professional therapy doesn’t specialize in (ongoing care, spiritual guidance, sometimes in partnership with professional therapy for more acute needs).

In the same way, pastors shouldn’t pretend to be politicians, but we must still consider people’s political needs. We live in a world of systems and power–some of which we suffer from, most of which I (and those like me) benefit from, and though as pastors this isn’t our “profession,” systemic justice must nonetheless become our concern.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

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