Chris Jehle l NTS Class of 2013
Master of Arts (Theological Studies) Degree Program
“What we really need to be doing is getting as many of the kids from the inner-city into mansions in heaven, instead of focusing on their housing here on earth.”
This was the pushback I received from a prominent figure in a national Christian organization, after I shared about helping to repair a low income family’s house. It was theological statements like these that pushed me into seminary. After a decade or so of living and serving in low income communities, I began to ask deeper questions about why the inner city community where I lived and ministered remained so abandoned. While many possible reasons exist, I concluded that the primary reason is an unhealthy, misdirected theology held by most evangelical Christians and Churches.
Yes, drug usage, teen pregnancy, violence, substandard housing, lack of access to quality education etc. are all major societal problems present at crisis levels in impoverished communities. Yes America is known for our individualism, materialism, and numerous other “isms.” But to see any of these as the most pressing issue is to avoid a deeper issue.
Unfortunately, the broader evangelical Christian community does not possess an adequate theology from which to engage poverty and oppression in transformative ways. Of course much good occurs from out of this existing framework. And I acknowledge a tangible increase in concern for the poor and even the desire for justice over the past several years. Yet, my neighborhood continues to suffer from extreme isolation.
The quote which opened this post reflects the pervasiveness of a “gospel” focused on an individual forgiveness of sins which ensures that individual a disembodied eternity somewhere out in the heavens. If the primary work of the life/death/resurrection of Jesus is to deliver someone from this world, there will be little incentive for them to join with God in seeking its redemption.
Thankfully I have found a much more robust theology at NTS. I have often been brimming with enthusiasm as I have been taught about God’s love for His good creation and His active commitment to the restoration of all things. I am gaining the knowledge to articulate a gospel message which more comprehensively reflects this all-encompassing redemption. It is redemption on this grand scale that gives a metanarrative for the People of God that could compel it/us to a more comprehensive, deeply committed approach to poverty and oppression.