Leadership is a Call to be Prophetic and Reframe

“No future can be stuffed into this presence except by being dead.”1 Resurrection is impossible without prior death. Scriptural imagination is often difficult to perceive until one has the eyes to see and ears to hear and is simultaneously shaped by the cosmic scope of authority, power, and kingdom that Jesus claims is to be made on real on earth as in heaven (Matt 6:10). Leadership, inspired by scriptural imagination is helping to provide an alternative view on reality, that is, creating the particular space for change and the in-breaking of God. Leadership is submitting to the radically subversive lordship of Jesus that challenges every presupposition, the tendency to see through the lens of binary options of how to participate in the world (choices between naive hope and despair), and ultimately to take on the task of becoming a reframer. This kind of leadership, that both attests to the in-breaking of the future into the present and is capable of providing an alternative view of reality, is only made possible through the path of suffering and cross; because, without the cross there is no resurrection.

Situating Matthew’s Gospel as a prophetic text, and Jesus as a prophet in Matthew’s narrative, reframed the scope and function of the text for me and helped me to have new eyes to see. It also helps to explore Walter Brueggemann’s description of prophetic imagination as:

The task of prophetic ministry is to bring the claims of the tradition and situation of enculturation into an effective interface. That is, the prophet is called to be a child of the tradition, one who has taken it seriously in the shaping of his or her own field of perception and system of language, who is so at home in that memory that the points of contact and incongruity with the situation of the church in culture can be discerned and articulated with proper urgency.2

The prophets are not loose canons looking to dismantle the tradition and break down boundary markers of identity unless those boundary markers and traditions have become inconsistent and divergent from the memory that birthed the contemporary incarnation of the community and shared story. In this sense, Jesus is not only a prophet, but also a reframer, whose memory of the tradition and story of God is reoriented to new possibilities, and is a fulfillment of the spirit of the memories of the past. Jesus did not come to abolish the law or prophets; no, Jesus came to fulfill them (Matt 5:17). Fulfillment is only possible with knowledge of what came before so that it may be actualized in the present. Peter Rollins describes this process of reframing in order to fulfill as learning how to ask “circumcision questions”, i.e. questions which ask us to “remove something previously thought of as vital in order to help unveil, in an apocalyptic way, the central scandal of Christianity.”3 Reframers must be willing to help find out what must die so that new life might be able to emerge.

However, reframing is not simply an ideological endeavor that is meant only to shape imagination. The telos of reframing through the development of scriptural imagination is for transformation of the community where “the glory of God in Jesus Christ that makes itself visible in fleshly communities conformed to Christ’s image.”4 Leadership then is the ability to attest to the in-breaking of God who writes on our hearts and bears witness to the covenanted community “whose lives, transformed by the Holy Spirit, bear undeniable witness to the truth of God’s work in their midst.”5 Reframing is all-encompassing and cosmic in scope as all of creation is groaning towards the making right of all things. Leaders reframe perspectives by attesting to an alternative reality and way of participating in the world that is a signpost of the manifestation of God in our midst.

Leadership and the art of reframing is truly a gift, but a gift that is not to be enjoyed by oneself, but is instead a gift leading us back out into the larger context, a gift given to us so that we might be a blessing to the entire world. We are invited to reframe the larger cultural story, with a new story rooted in the faithfulness of God. Dr. Hays writes in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, “What we have to offer instead is the story of Jesus. To believe that story is to find one’s whole life reframed, one’s questions radically reformulated. Therefore, much of the work of Christian apologetics will be to say to people, ‘No, you are asking the wrong questions, looking for the wrong thing.’”6 Leaders help us work together to ask the right questions and be open to how God might reframe us and reorient us to become the transformational communities God has called us to be. And let us pray for the courage to ask the right questions to help each one of us to reframe the story in the luminous darkness of the mystery of God, who is the author of the words on our heart, lest we mistake ourselves to be the Word ourselves.

Strangely enough, leadership and the invitation to become a reframer is a calling that I sought to avoid, because while the truth may set me free, it does so by turning my life completely upside down.7 It seems to me that one of the most pressing tasks for Christian leaders today is to “sketch a portrait of an alternative Christianity, one that is as ancient as it is new…a work of memory and imagination, of dangerous memories as well as daring ways to imagine the future.”8 But this task will inevitably lead to suffering, or if Wendell Berry is right as quoted above, the future cannot become the present without death. And while the good news of Jesus is that through the resurrection the kingdom has come, as leaders we must learn how to help cultivate and proclaim scriptural imagination so that our churches can bear witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit that is seeking to “create communities that prefigure and embody the reconciliation and healing of the world.”9 And it seems to me that the battle over our imaginations whether through national identity, consumerism, war, corporations, rampant individualism, and ceaseless connection via technology is a perpetual struggle for leaders today in the church. For me, to accept the call to lead in the church today is in essence an acceptance of the call to weakness and seeming foolishness: “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor 1:25)”

If you are looking for a way to dream of an alternative reality that seeks to imagine how the power of Jesus can change systemic injustice you won’t want to miss the event hosted by The Leland Center this weekend:

Journey to Justice is a daylong spiritual formation event focusing on the ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other great people of faith during the civil rights movement. This inaugural seminar will be held on Saturday, April 27 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, VA. Dr. Jim Melson, Leland’s Director of Spiritual Formation, will moderate Journey to Justice in 3 formative sessions. For more information about event registration click here.

 

Josh is the Pastor to Students and Director of Creative Technologies at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Warrenton, VA. He’s also the author of Sacred Hope a book designed to foster conversation around the role of hope in our lives. Josh is currently pursuing his Doctor of Ministry degree at Duke Divinity School while raising two boys and loving his entrpreneurial wife, Shey. Josh blogs at joshuarhayden.com.

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1 Wendell Berry, Given: New Poems (Emeryville: Shoemaker Hoard, 2005), 27. 

2 Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 2.

3 Peter Rollins, Insurrection (New York: Howard Books, 2011), xii.

4 Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in The Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 146. 

5 Ibid., 150.

6 Richard Hays, First Corinthians; Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2011), 38. 

7 John D. Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, 30.

8 Ibid., 35. 

9 Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation; A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1996), 32.

Pray for Ears to Hear

A couple nights ago the first presidential debate aired on television, and as responsible theologians, leaders, pastors, and followers of Jesus living in one of the strongest powers in the world, we watch, listen and prayerfully consider the words of these two men who have reached the pinnacle of the electoral process. Tomorrow morning blogs, news websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc. will all be filled with commentary from authoritative voices, friends, enemies, and people across the spectrum from our own personal and communal political postures.

As we consider the words of these two leaders, as Christians we must wonder where our responsibility lies in the political process. To what degree are we to find hope in the correlation of the government and the kingdom of God, or is there any correlation at all? Baptists throughout our history have struggled with how we should relate to the government and political powers at large, and today is no different.

It seems like we might be able to learn from the models of leadership in the Old Testament royal tradition to give some insight into contemporary leadership today. I’d like to specifically explore the relationship of the prophet and kings, all in a conversation with Jacques Ellul, the French theologian and philosopher, his book The Politics of God & The Politics of Man (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972) and in the context of the stories of the monarchy discussed in 2 Kings.

If we can learn anything from the failure of nerve and incompatibility of the kings highlighted by Ellul that is particularly relevant for contemporary leadership it seems to be: pray for the ears to hear and eyes to see. Time and time again the “anointed” and called out kings who were meant to be messiahs and living signposts of the covenant between God and his people simply confused the politics of man so as to miss the power and politics of God. The prophetic word came to them through Elisha, and they could not or chose not to hear, which led eventually to inaction or sinful action.

In this high pressured election season, it seems appropriate to ask where the (dis)continuity of the kingdom of God and government begin and end; or perhaps, does the (dis)continuity actually point out the tremendous complexity and difficulty in whether there is the potential for confusion in the eyes of the world in understanding where Christianity begins and ends in relation to national identity?

Leland is a model of what seminary education can look like when cultural, ethnic, racial, theological, and contextual diversity is embraced for the mutual benefit of the community at large and the kingdom of God. And this diversity presses us to stretch beyond the media sound bites and exaggerated rhetoric to become signposts of the politics of God, rooted in love and groaning toward the restoration of the world and signaled by the visions of John in Revelation:  “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands (The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Re 7:9). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.)”

Yet, in spite of the often poor models of leadership we find in the royal tradition as explored by Ellul in 2 Kings, God’s salvation is greater and may be a point of emphasis for Christian leadership during this election season. As Christian leaders we can emphasize God’s intervention in that “God takes upon himself the misery of this people, its shame and the evil it commits (Ellul, The Politics of God & The Politics of Man, 68).” As leaders in the Christian situation today, we can find hope that God’s freedom is bound to take on the suffering and misery of humankind so that it will lead to our eventual and mutual salvation. And we can pray together that we will have the ears to hear God’s call during a political season marked by alienation and fragmentation, so that we might be able and willing to choose a politics of love rooted in the salvation of God for all people—no matter their party affiliation or national identity—because we are all made in the image of God.

By: Rev. Josh Hayden

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