Archive for the ‘church and culture’ Category

North Park Theological Seminary Announces Urban Ministry Certificate

Certificate in Urban Ministry

Applications for first cohort accepted through March 31

CHICAGO (February 10, 2012) – North Park Theological Seminary is accepting applications for a new, two-year graduate educational program leading to a Certificate in Urban Ministry. The 15-credit certificate program is intended for Christian ministers and lay leaders who want to learn more about engaging in effective ministry in urban settings.

The Seminary is part of North Park University, a higher education institution with a Christian, multicultural, and urban identity. Those core values, combined with the cultural and Christian diversity represented in Chicago, position the Seminary to offer a rich educational experience to students, said Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, program director. Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism for the Seminary, and a former urban pastor himself.

“Chicago is part of the classroom we’re offering,” he said in an interview. “Being in Chicago is a tremendous advantage. It is a center for community development, community organizing, for ethnic diversity, and with diverse neighborhoods.”

Offering a certificate program in urban ministry is part of a larger trend of urbanization and the growing influences of urban culture, Rah said. Both the University and Seminary are affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), which is planting new congregations in urban areas, Rah said. Urban pastors and urban lay workers could benefit greatly from the certificate program, Rah said. “We hope it will strengthen and undergird their urban ministry,” he said. The program can also introduce people to urban ministry who want to learn more.

The urban environment is complex, constantly changing, and always challenging, Rah said. The certificate program will emphasize deeper theological and spiritual engagement, as well as practical ideas for enhancing urban ministry. “We do this ministry as followers of Jesus. Anytime we can deepen the theology, it is a good thing. Also important are spiritual formation and discipleship. All of these serve to strengthen our work in the city,” he said.

Students who complete the program will earn 15 credit hours in just over two years. Plans call for the first cohort to meet Aug. 13–17 in Chicago, followed by online coursework beginning in October. The cohort will meet in Chicago for another week in August 2013, followed by online coursework. A final week-long gathering in Chicago is planned for August 2014. Rah said an ideal size for the urban ministry cohort is about 15 to 20 people.

“There is great enthusiasm in this Seminary and in this denomination for this certificate program,” said Rah. “It represents a wonderful convergence of what North Park University is all about, and what the Evangelical Covenant Church is excited about.”

Applications and supporting materials must be submitted to North Park Theological Seminary by March 31, said E. Kirsten Burdick, director of Seminary admissions. All applications will be considered at the same time in April, she said.

Over the past decade, I have had a number of conversations with pastors who were beginning to engage on the issue of race in the context of the church.  Some are attempting to develop multi-ethnic/multi-cultural churches.  Others are struggling with whether multi-ethnic churches were in their future.  I have noticed that two dominant themes emerge in my conversation with the wide range of Christians on the topic of multi-ethnic churches

The first perspective claims that we are all the same and that racial and cultural differences do not matter.  Commonplace phrases include:

“We’re all the same race – the human race.”

“We don’t have a race problem at our church. We’re all one in Christ.”

“People put too much emphasis on culture . . . we should be about the culture of Jesus, not human culture.”

“We’re really trying to form a new culture at our church, one that goes beyond everyone’s original culture”

The second perspective also has its set of catch phrases:

“We have too many issues in our own community.”

“We’re just not ready, it’s too difficult of a task to try be a multi-ethnic community.”

“Multi-ethnic churches don’t grow, if we want to grow as a church, we need to be with people like ourselves”

Professor Willie Jennings of Duke Divinity School finds in these two different streams, the manifestation of two historical heresies. The first perspective reflects the docetic heresy, while the second perspective reflects an adoptionist heresy.

The docetic perspective is the theological heresy that Jesus was not human at all. There were strains of the gnostic heresy in the docetic perspective.  Flesh and matter were evil. Jesus could not have been encased in flesh, since flesh is evil.  Therefore, Jesus was fully spirit and his physical body was an illusion.  The docetic perspective stems from the inability to deal with differences. Human limitations and differences were a problem to overcome and to be eradicated rather than something to be renewed.  The docetic antagonism towards the flesh yields an antagonism towards anything of the flesh.  Racial and cultural identity (arising from the material world) should be obliterated, rather than affirmed.

The adoptionist perspective is the theological heresy that Jesus was born fully human and was later adopted by God as His son by virtue of Jesus’ supernatural devotion to God.  The awareness of this adoption occurred at the moment of Jesus’ baptism.  Declared a heresy in the second century, adoptionism was refuted by the First Nicean Council – hence the Nicean Creeds assertion that Jesus was eternally- begotten of the Father.  Adoptionism places a priority on one’s social location and identity and places high emphasis on one’s context.  Because one’s social location and identity are centralized, Christianity gets added on as an extra ingredient. Christianity is subservient to one’s culture, race and ethnicity which hold a primary, central position.

So one perspective exalts culture while another position diminishes it.  Both perspectives are heretical. Neither path is an appealing option.

I find that evangelical Christianity struggles with how to best deal with culture.  We tend to cover the gamut of perspectives ranging from the docetic to the adoptionist.  In Many Colors, I try to address the need to have a healthy perspective on culture.  A perspective that does not disparage or diminish culture.  At the same time does not elevate culture beyond its rightful place.  Part of the process of planting and developing multi-ethnic/multi-cultural churches requires a deeper theology of culture.  Working towards a deeper theology of culture provides a starting point for developing cultural intelligence for a changing church.

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