Creation and Embodied Discovery in Genesis 1-3

While the Imago Dei is not a prominent biblical theme, it shows up right at the beginning of scripture in Genesis 1-2 and so, understandably, becomes vital in Christian history to how we understand God and ourselves. Stanley J. Grenz explains how there have been two primary ways of understanding the Imago Dei in the west, structural and relational, with the former taking the increasingly prominent view in western Christian history (The Social God and the Relational Self, p. 142). The structural view also tends to identify certain attributes or capabilities, particularly “reason” or “will” as what make humans in the image of God. 

Although it makes sense that the church fathers would primarily focus on the qualities of “reason” and “will” given the influence of Greek philosophy in their day, this conception of what it means for humans to be in the image of God is not what we have in view in Genesis 1:26-27. In the ancient Near East, “an image was believed to contain the essence of that which it represented” (Walton, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, p. 8). Generally, it was either the king or an idol who was supposed to have the image of God. However, in Genesis 1:26-27 we have people in general, both male and female, bearing the image of God, which would have been radically egalitarian in that day.

In the first creation account, we have a man as the pinnacle of God’s work (Gen. 1:27). Each of these aspects of our biblical origin story shows a communal, bodily, and even environmental understanding of the relationship between humans and the Creator. We start with humans reflecting the divine image, an image depicted in the plural that reflects not just the relationships that take place within God’s Triune self, but the relationships between God and other spiritual beings. 

In Genesis 1:26 we see God creating in community, probably in the author’s mind including what might be called the divine council, heavenly host, or even other Elohim (cf. Ps 82:1, LEB). While the author might not have had the Trinity in mind when saying “us,” including the Trinity in our exegesis of the passage would not conflict with the meaning of the text even though it might be anachronistic. The point that God identifies himself in the community is made either way by the “us” passages in Genesis. The author of Genesis saw fit to represent God’s identity in the plural in various places (Genesis 1:26, 3:24, 11:7, 18:20-21 cf. 19:13), which seems to indicate that God’s identity is to be portrayed as not alone but in relationship to others. Possibly the poetic parallelism of “them” in vs. 27 is also meant to reflect “us” of 1:26 in referring to the divine community. In this way, the human plurality would also mean a reflection of both divine plurality and unity.  In other words, God’s identity is social and relational, and no individual by him or herself represents the image of God.  

While the first creation story has already established humanity as the pinnacle of creation, in the second creation account man is made first after “the heavens and the earth.” Not even the plants have come up before man is created. The first task man is given is to work and take care of the earth (2:15). The adam (earthling) is formed from the adamah (ground), showing his intimate connection with the land and environment. The isha (woman) is formed from the ish (man) to show her intimate and harmonious connection to the man (Note: ish and isha are in other places in the Old Testament is translated as husband and wife). 

Everything is depicted as being in a harmonious relationship, with emphasis on humans and animals, humans and the earth, and male and female. However, in Genesis 3, the result of their disobedience is to disrupt these harmonious relationships. It would be a misreading to see the results of the fall and the “curses” as the way things were meant to be or even should be today. Instead, the curses are distortions of what God intended for humankind.  

God helps man learn through interaction with his environment, giving him tasks to do like caring for the earth, and the fieldwork of naming the animals. What is conspicuously missing from the account of Adam and Eve is that God directly teaches man anything. On the contrary, in allowing Adam to name the animals, God—knowing that Adam needed a female counterpart—allowed Adam to learn through experiment. As the first human, he would know very little at this point, being like an infant. He may not even have known that he is actually different than the rest of the animals, or that he is not simply an animal himself. 

God could have easily told Adam that he was different or needed a female counterpart. However, God let Adam learn through a “failed” experiment so he would know in his gut that he would need a partner different than what any other animal would be able to offer.  So God is not operating not from a “bobble-head” premise, in which people primarily learn through head-knowledge, but from James K.A. Smith’s premise that “We are what we love, and our love is shaped, primed, and aimed by liturgical practices that take hold of our gut and aim our heart to certain ends” (Desiring the Kingdom, p. 40). God treats Adam not primarily as a cognitive creature, but as an embodied learner, a “liturgical animal”, so to speak, who learns through a process of experimental habit and practice over time to be “a certain kind of person” (Desiring the Kingdom, pp. 24-25). This is how God gains ground in His relationship with Adam and helps Adam learn.

The way God interacts with Adam and helps him learn is through bodily experiments.  In the same way, ministers should not shy away from uncharted territory where people try different things until they find out what works for them or their ministry in life. Such tests and experiments should be encouraged even if they may lead to “failure.” Allowing such “failure” means entrusting people and helping them along in the process, even if the process does not necessarily “succeed” in the way we might measure success.  God allowed Adam to know what the way forward was because God allowed Adam, who bears the image of God, to walk through the process in an embodied way.  This would have built trust between Adam and God because God was not simply dictating to Adam what he should or should not do but allowed him to go through his own process of embodied discovery.

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Jonathan Lichtenwalter has written and edited for the website evidenceforchristianity.org, articles for renew.org and his website jonwalt.com,  He has studied under John Oakes, Ph.D. (creator of the website evidenceforchristianity.org), and is currently getting a Master’s in Missional leadership from Rochester University. He is passionate about missional theology, apologetics, and biblical studies. He loves to use his writing and studies to build up the faith of others, to help disciples grow deeper in their understanding of scripture, and to share the truth of the gospel with others.

Back to Africa

By Gailyn Van Rheenen

It was a transformative trip – for churches among the Kipsigis of southwest Kenya, for national leaders meeting at the Nairobi Great Commission School – and for me personally.  We all felt God’s presence!

The purpose of my trip was to give encouragement; greet families (especially those of loved ones who are ill or have spouses who have passed away); visit as many churches (or clusters of churches) as I was able; and to teach 3-day courses at two Bible schools. I returned from this 2½ week trip tired but empowered.

When we left the Kipsigis area of Kenya, where we ministered for thirteen years, there were 100 churches. Today there are 450! This growth has not simply been numerical. These churches have also grown spiritually – using disciple-making and mission to form new communities and growing existing ones.

Kenya sitting

High points of the trip were visiting elders who helped start the churches, praying over leaders who were seriously ill, and greeting and giving condolences and memories to the families of leaders who had passed away.  A special joy was sharing time with Matayo Matwek, a leader now 101 years of age, weak in body, but strong in spirit and testimony.  Once upon a time he cast vision and encouraged Christians in his home area.  He partnered with other leaders to build a mighty movement of God in his home area. We shared time with Mary, the widow of David Sambu, who was Chairman of the “Committee” (Board) of Siriat Bible School and prayed for her extended family.  I miss David, my African mentor and confidant! Another good friend, Daniel, once worked for me tending my yard and garden and later became the sub-chief in his area.  He now is very sick with cancer. I joined with others praying over him and giving finances to pay medical expenses and help his family.

I thoroughly enjoyed teaching two 3-day seminars, one in the Kipsigis language at the Siriat Bible School in what I call my “home area” of Kenya, and another in English at the Nairobi Great Commission School for major Kenyan leaders in the Mission Textcapital city. In each seminar I applied sections of the 2nd edition of Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies to their contexts. I began each section with a teaching time, a time of discussion as a group, followed by discussion and/or prayer in small groups and pairs. The favorite teaching was a parable on “spiritual awakening”—how crawling caterpillars are transformed to become flying butterflies able to both draw nectar and spread pollen.  The most important teaching was “how do people of the kingdom of God make decisions.”  Attentive listening! Laughter! Confession! Dialogue! Prayers! Worship! Transformation!

Kenya churchI visited as many of the churches as I could in the short time that I had.  The churches in Konoin are vibrant for the Lord, focused on evangelism, highly respected by the local community, and are growing locally and in other areas where they send evangelists. They give generously to build facilities for their church gatherings and other events but also meet from house to house.  A local Christian named Jonathan builds these facilities.

Throughout the trip I experienced African hospitality. I stayed in a small two-room house with an outside latrine and shower area on the homestead of my good friends Philip and Irene Chebose. Irene cooked most of my meals, indigenously African and deliciously prepared.  They took care of my every need, even warming up the water for my morning sponge bath.  It was a joy sharing life with this family!  Their son Wycliffe is growing as a preacher and another son Nicholas is learning African sign language so that the Kipgsigis-speaking congregation can connect with the deaf congregation, which also meets in their building—much like the deaf ministry at the Willis Church in Abilene, where I was once served as an elder.

Kenya DavidThroughout the trip I walked and ministered with David Tonui, Principal of the Nairobi Great Commission School, my son in the faith who once lived with us while completing his Masters in Christian Ministry at ACU. I praise God for how David and I worked synergistically during joint presentations, knowing instinctively how and when to speak and when to remain quiet. It was also a joy to share many meals and trips with both David and his wife Eunice.  They illustrate both great hospitality and partnership in the mission of God. They are a rural/urban family—one home in the big city of Nairobi close to the Nairobi Great Commission School where two of their children work and study and another in a village near Siriat Bible School in southwestern Kenya, where the two younger children have been in school.

In many ways I became part of both the Chebose and Tonui families during my stay in Africa—eating, living, and sharing in close proximity.

I was called many years ago to be a missionary in Africa and served there for 14 years. I am energized by being there for a short time! My goal is return every two years to visit the churches and in the process both learn and teach. After each trip I feel that I have received more than I have given.

Our prayer and goal is to continue to grow and develop a similar (though culturally different) church planting and renewal movement in North America through Mission Alive.

Reflections on September 4, 2014

 

Listening to God—From Theology to Practice

Theology is like the rudder of a boatIn Mission Alive we move from Theology to Practice. Theology is listening to God and seeking to do the will of God. It is like the rudder of a boat—setting direction. I can remember how our children, when they were small, loved pedal-boats and always wanted to “drive”. At times they were so intent on pedaling–making the boat move–that the rudder was held in an extreme position, and we went in circles. Realizing their mistake, but still intent on pedaling, they would move the rudder from one extreme to the other so that we zig-zagged across the lake. Without the foundation of theology, church leaders and church planters tend to zig-zag from fad to fad, from one theological perspective and related philosophies of ministry to another. Theology helps center us so that we turn the rudder according to the will of God. It forms and guides the mission of God. Then, paradoxically, our practices of mission begin to inform and shape our theology–a movement from Theology to Practice and then from Practice to Theology.

Cultivate Personal Discipleship

In Mission Alive the first step in training is a two-day, interactive lab called CULTIVATE: Personal Discipleship. The theme is that “what God will do through us he must first do within us.” We would say that the two most important questions are: “What is God saying?” and “What does he desire that we do about it?” In these labs and through coaching and equipping huddles life transformation is sparked for both church planting and renewal.

In Mission Alive we believe in both church renewal and church planting. The impulses of growth, learning, and transformation are similar yet different. These impulses spiritually form searchers to become disciples of Jesus who then go on mission within growing vibrant communities—that meet publicly for teaching, inspiration, and testimony and in smaller groups in neighborhoods and relational networks for mission and community. Discipling-making leads to missions resulting in the development of community. We believe that “the future of the Western Church is . . . a powerful return to Jesus’ heart for making disciples, and multiplying them into missionary leaders” (Jon Tyson, Forward of “Multiplying Missional Leaders”).

There are two types of leaders: those who listen primarily to human voices to guide them forward and those who listen to God’s voice. Mission Alive aims to equip leaders to listen to God’s voice in both church planting and renewal.

The Art of Church Planting

The art of church planting is like three intertwined rings, like Olympic circles, each related to the others. The first circle, disciple-making, is guiding people to become more like Jesus.one ringThe second is mission, summarized by Jesus’ statement: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” The words “follow me” designate discipleship, and “I will make you fishers of men” is descriptive of mission.

two rings

The third, community formation, is the result–the outcome–of disciple-making and mission.

three rings

 

Community is inherent in disciple-making and mission. It becomes the arena of nurture, of spiritual maturation.Thus, the art of church planting is learning to make disciples on mission with God, which results in new communities of faith.Disciple-making, mission, community-all three are counter-intuitive to North American society. Our tendency is to emphasize champions over disciples, participation without mission, and attendance with little community.

Mission Training

The process of Mission Training integrates disciple-making, mission, and community through experiential learning processes for the sake of both church renewal and church planting.

Click here to download a Mission Training brochure.

Gailyn Van Rheenen

Mission Alive

Meet our first Network Coordinator

A recent update  shared our excitement about the kickoff of the first Mission Training Equipping Lab called Cultivate. There’s another reason we’re excited about it, too. This Mission Training Cohort signifies the beginning of a new Mission Alive network! Mission Alive’s vision is to equip leaders to plant and renew hundreds of churches all over North America, thereby catalyzing a movement of mission and discipleship. By God’s grace we’re seeing this begin to happen — from San Antonio, Texas, to Regina, Saskatchewan, and from Newberg, Oregon to Williamsburg, Virginia! We are pursuing this vision through the creation of regional networks – where leaders and churches in a particular geographical area connect and work together for planting and renewal. As a result, we’re thrilled to commission Fred Liggin as the Network Coordinator for Mission Alive’s new Mid-Atlantic Network! Continue reading

Introducing Redland Hills Church planting!

Redland Hills bannerPraise God for new beginnings!  On Monday, November 18, 2013 the Redland Hills Church in Wetumpka, AL held its first gathering.  After months of conversation, planning, and praying, our core families, along with others who have been interested in what we are doing, gathered for a night of worship and thanksgiving.  And we have much to be thankful for!  God has been walking with us and far ahead of us each step we have taken.  We are grateful for the partnership, advice, and coaching from Mission Alive to even get to this point.  We have been blessed with a great space in a neighborhood clubhouse, with even space for a kids program.  We’ll begin renting this space each Sunday beginning in January 2014.  And we’re so grateful for the many prayers and encouraging words that friends and supporters have shared.  It is humbling to begin a new work like this, but so rewarding to see it come to fruition.

Redland Hills square

Cultivating Personal Discipleship

October 11-12 was a big weekend for Mission Alive! We launched the first Cohort of Mission Training, the new equipping process for church leaders we have been developing in the past year.

Thirty people in six teams came together to participate at the Williamsburg Christian Church building in Williamsburg, Virginia – three church planting teams and three renewal teams (from existing congregations).

Mission Training

Mission Training is designed to equip church planting and renewal leaders as missionaries in their particular contexts. They begin to envision how the churches they lead can make disciples, reach those who are searching for God, and embody God’s inbreaking kingdom in their communities.

Leaders experienced Cultivate: Personal Discipleship, the first Equipping Lab in the Mission Training process. Cultivate fleshes out our fundamental conviction that the most effective church leaders are devoted Christ-followers. The purpose of the Lab is to help leaders evaluate their own personal spiritual health, have an encounter with God, and identify spiritual rhythms they want to live out in the six months following the Lab. Throughout the weekend, leaders receive teaching input, engage in personal reflection and journaling, and interact with other leaders in Equipping Huddles.

Wes Gunn, team leader of the Redland Hills church planting in Montgomery, Alabama, enjoyed the personal formation and networking opportunities in Cultivate:

“I appreciated the focus on personal discipleship and the foundation that we must be shaped by Christ ourselves prior to being able to guide others.  A particular blessing to me was networking with other church planters and encouraging each other in our journeys.”

Jason Thornton, a team member from the Williamsburg Christian Church, was touched by the depth of community and spiritual intimacy in the Lab:

“The Mission Alive Lab reminded me of the importance of the ‘each otherness’ of walking with Christ. I found it refreshing to be in a Huddle and to share in a time of confession with other brothers in Christ. Having been in ministry, I have frequently felt like I was on an island in spiritual battle. From my brief time in the Mission Alive Lab, I feel like I had more true spiritual intimacy with brothers and sisters in Christ than I had experienced in most of my time in ministry.”

Cultivate is one of four Equipping Labs hosted every six months in the two-year Mission Training Process.

Mission Training diagram

Click here to download our Mission Training brochure.

We are excited and thankful to God for the opportunity to walk alongside kingdom leaders and equip them for the mission!

Charles Kiser

Director of Training

We are excited!

Mission Training WilliamsburgFirst, we are excited about Mission Training.  Tod, Charles, and I were in Williamsburg, VA, this past weekend facilitating the first lab of our new equipping cycle.   Thirty-six participants (from three new/beginning church plants and three established churches) explored how to “Cultivate Personal Discipleship.” These participants were both growing as disciples themselves and learning to help others do the same.

new church plantersSecond, we are excited about new church planters–committed, talented, people of experience!!  For example, Wes Gunn recently announced to the Landmark Church in Montgomery, AL, that he was resigning to follow God’s call to plant a new church in the area where he lives.  Praise God for the words of encouragement and affirmation that Wes and Amanda and their core team received from their church family.  Please pray for Wes and Amanda Gunn (pictured), Tim and Diane Castro, Rob and Rivers Sellers, and Rob and Joy Williams as they begin to reach out into their community.  Read more about the Redland Hills Church at http://www.redlandhills.org/blog.  And we are thankful that this church planting is fully funded from the beginning.  Praise God with us!

Third, we are excited about the leaders who are growing to heightened spiritual vitality and understanding through our Equipping Communities, which we have been calling Huddles. Continue reading

New Missions book…first look!

In late July Becky and I finally finished writing and editing the second edition of Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies.  Completing this missions text is very significant for Mission Alive.  Writing the chapter on “Planting, Nurturing, and Training: An Incarnational Model for North America” (in the context of theMissionsText other chapters leading up to it) has helped to sharpen our thinking and led us to be very intentional in the process of church planting and renewal.  This text has nine new chapters and moves more intentionally from theology to practice than the 1996 edition (http://zondervan.com/9780310208099).  This first edition has gone through 12 printings. Its publication will also be significant for us as a ministry.

In the next few weeks I will continue blogging a few excerpts from this text.  We invite you to read and to respond.

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God’s Ministry through Jim and Julie

Jim and Julie discerned that they were naturally gifted as evangelists and this understanding amplified their interest in missions.  As youth ministers, they felt the calling of God to begin Missional Communities, meaning in this case, Christian relational networks within schools to help searchers know God and walk with him.  With other leaders of their church, they conceived of multiple Missional Communities, embedded in neighborhoods and relational networks, as extensions of their public Worship Gathering on Sunday morning.  The seeds of the communities were planted when they began to pray with Christian student leaders about their schools and to minister with these students during campus activities and in coffee houses.  They were present for many school activities; it was their arena of mission.  Soon Jim and Julie were ministering to a broader group of students who were friends of the core group within the church.  After a student’s death, Jim and Julie were at the school to comfort, counsel, and pray.  They attended many sports events and the coaches frequently asked them to pray for and minister to struggling students.  Jim and Julie attempted to model Jesus’ ministry on earth in their campus environments by teaching, listening, praying, and healing.  Reflecting the ministry of Christ, they also prayed diligently for the students from their church who ministered with them.  After extended prayer, they selected twelve students, six from each of the two high schools in their area, and invited them into two discipling huddles.  The huddles’ focus was to help the students grow as disciples of Jesus and partner with them to be Christ to their campuses.  As a result, within a year missional communities of about 40 students were ministering in the name of Jesus on each campus and worshipping in the church’s public gathering.   Mission had gone out of the church building and into the schools and homes of the community.

What do you think are Jim and Julie’s assumptions about the nature of ministry?

A ReVision Church’s Story

We in Mission Alive were invited to begin walking with Fred Liggin and the Williamsburg Christian church when he transitioned into his leadership role at WCC two years ago.  Fred calls Gailyn his special mentor and coach, his sounding board and partner in his personal journey to cast a new vision and lead this church toward spiritual renewal.

Fred said, “We came to a cross roads where I realized we needed a partner in the journey. I shared this with the elders and we invited Mission Alive into our journey.”  Theirs is an exceptional story, not just because attendance has doubled and children’s ministry tripled, but because they have begun to think of themselves as a kingdom community on mission with God.  In this story you will hear that growth is not primarily about numbers but a people’s heart on mission with God.