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Colossian Blog
July 25, 2018 | Michael Gulker

Recovering Our (Theological) Imagination: A Call to Hope


My work provides me near-daily occasion to interact with thoughtful, passionate, and culturally engaged Christians. Whether I’m talking with pastors or leaders regarding concrete relational challenges generated by our political climate, wrestling with scholars or public intellectuals on more abstract questions of engaging post-Christian culture faithfully, or just executing the quotidian tasks of The Colossian Forum with my rather extraordinary co-workers, I’m perpetually immersed in fascinating questions of how to authentically live out our faith in today’s culture. 

 
Yet, there’s a shadow side to this work. Despite their energetic engagement with culture, many folks with whom I interact are plagued by doubt and fear. And despite enthusiastic involvement with The Colossian Forum, some friends candidly share, “You know, ‘all things holding together in Christ’—I’m not feeling it. I’m not seeing it. I’m not sure it’s real.” And they may continue: “I love Jesus, and I love the church, but I’m not sure I belong in the Christian world anymore. I don’t know where I belong.” These comments aren’t from disillusioned youth expressing a faddish critique of religion. Rather, they’re from . . .
      ~ mature, long-suffering Christians who hurt because today’s political           and religious divisions cut them off from conversations with those               they love; 
      ~ parents wrestling with the fear that their kids may leave the faith;
      ~ pastors questioning whether or not the church really is the body of             Christ given all the senseless polemics ripping their congregation or           denomination apart; and
      ~ young people pondering their identification with religious                             institutions that mirror the secular culture. 

As theologian Rich Mouw aptly remarked in a recent conversation, “Zombie movies and dystopian future flicks seem more pertinent to life than the Gospel.” We’re woefully short on hope these days. The future feels dark. What do we make of this? And what do we have to show for all our effort to pass on the faith to those we love? Scripture exhorts us to “give reason for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15),” yet we are short on hope.
 
Hope doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s not an act of will. Nor is it merely an optimistic view of the future, the fruit of a cheery disposition. Instead, our shared hope ought to be the natural outcome of our faith in what Christ accomplished for us in the past. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection reveal the depth and power of God’s love—a love that overcomes every barrier between heaven and earth, you and me, and the ultimate obstacles of sin and death. By faith, this reality gives us hope. While we were yet sinners (and, as such, enemies of God) Christ died for us. This is our reason to hope. 
 
And because of this hope, rooted in God’s faithfulness, we are freed from sin and the fear of death. We are freed to love others sacrificially, as Christ. “Now these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) 
 
Given this heritage of sacrificial love, why do we lose hope? Let me try out an idea on you, and I’d love to hear your reaction. 
 
We’re called to imitate Jesus’ self-giving love. We’re called to pick up our cross and follow his example by loving our enemies. What if we don’t? What if we refuse? What if we’ve lost our theological imagination for imitating Christ’s sacrificial love? What if we’ve forgotten all the practical ways we could embody self-giving love in our culture?
 
Could it be that our failure of hope—to be a hopeful people—is related to a failure of theological imagination? Perhaps it is a failure of practical wisdom on how to embody hope. Or, even worse, a stark refusal to love sacrificially, especially across political and cultural disagreements.
 
While we were yet sinners—while we were yet Republicans or Democrats—Christ died for us. 
 
Will we avoid risk and love only those who agree with us? 
 
This is what FOX and CNN offer us. If we lose our theological imagination we will imitate the broader culture by erecting barriers that Christ has already demolished. If we erroneously believe that ideological agreement is the condition for fellowship, then despair and division will be our heritage.
 
Hope is rooted in God’s faithfulness revealed through Christ’s sacrificial love. How will others experience resurrection hope if we don’t follow Christ by shouldering our cross and loving others sacrificially?
 
I welcome your thoughts around this topic of deep division, sacrificial love, and our longing for hope. I look forward to engaging with your responses in the upcoming part two of my musings on hope in a divided world.

Suggested Posts
Reclaiming Jesus
February 14, 2019 | Gene Miyamoto
Reclaiming Jesus
“The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Wicked Problems The “Wicked Problem” of today’s political climate can present us a wonderful, if challenging, opportunity for polarized Christians and churches to gather as one body. It gives us the chance to face our conflict and brokenness, learn through the Spirit to lovingly “fight” well together and to become stronger; to be held together in Christ (Colossians 1:17) and known as Christ’s disciples through our love of one another (John 13:35).  Reclaiming Jesus is a letter from a group of Christian leaders acting upon their conscience, coram deo, posting six theses that affirm what they believe and what they reject, specifically related to several pivotal issues that are driving separation across our society. In the letter, they denounce racism, particularly white supremacy; oppression and abuse of women; abandonment of the vulnerable, the poor, immigrants and refugees; normalization of lying and the undermining of the public accountability to truth; autocratic and authoritarian rule; and xenophobic ethnic nationalism. Their declaration calls to churches for a process of prayer, discernment and turning away from complicity in politics that undermines the theology of being seen as disciples of Christ through love for one another. The authors repudiate “those at the highest levels of political leadership” who incite such behaviors, implying but without naming President Trump.  Critics of this statement, such as the author of the 6/10/18 The Washington Times’ op-ed, “Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing,” focus primarily on hyperbolic criticism of the “Reclaiming Jesus” authors, rather than offering biblical exegesis illuminating counter-points.  Choose Loving Engagement Over Rhetoric But rhetoric isn’t the point. Rather than trying to convince the other to come over to our side or engaging in a vitriolic argument that simply drives us further apart, we have the opportunity to change the conversation. We can recognize these kinds of opinion differences – these conflicts – as Christ-given possibilities to offer a new way to approach our disagreements.    In this case, both sides are equally impassioned, equally committed to revealing the “truth.” It is precisely, squarely within the realm of disagreement between two sides such as these where we have the chance to deepen our relationships with God and one another. For the pastors, local churches and young people watching and waiting to see what liturgical leaders will say and do in response to this, and other arguments, that are playing out on the national stage, be encouraged. Because polarized Christians who gather and lovingly engage and learn well together as one body held together in Christ provides a wonderful opportunity for leadership and discipleship.  Let’s defy Dr. King’s observation. Let’s join our voices to create a beautiful sound, change the way we argue, and both lift up and restore the church and its people.
Imagine: Recovering our Desire to Participate in God’s Holy Life
January 29, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Imagine: Recovering our Desire to Participate in God’s Holy Life
We live in exciting times—times when the need for the reconciling power of the gospel is blindingly clear. Christendom is in retreat. The church suffers from a brand problem, rooted in its complicity with a divisive culture that it tacitly reflects. Young people, as well as old, are leaving the faith at an unprecedented rate.[1] Yet, there are pockets of beauty, faithfulness, and hope, as hunger for communion, community, and peace is becoming increasingly pronounced.[2] Pockets of Hope The work of The Colossian Forum (TCF) is privileged to be situated within these pockets of hope—as well as within the tensions among them. We recognize the depth of our society’s polarization and alienation, while at the same time, seeing that, by the grace of the Holy Spirit present in the body of Christ, the solution has already been given and indeed is embedded in the problem itself. Conflict, at its core, arises from differing desires, and those differences are perceived as threatening. Yet, the Christian tradition from Augustine onward has recognized that desire is always desire for communion—with God and one another. If this is the case (and we think it is), then conflict is that same desire for God and one another gone awry. How so? Well, we begin with our confession that humanity is created in the image of the Triune God, whose very life is constituted by self-giving love across three distinct, different persons. The Father gives himself completely to the Son, the Son gives himself back—unto death—to the Father through the Holy Spirit, catching up all creation into the divine and eternal dance of self-giving love and delight. This is ultimately who we are and how the world most truly is. Harnessing Conflict But in a world full of brokenness, hurt, and sin, rather than participating in the divine dance of pouring ourselves out through self-giving, our love has become self-protective and self-serving. Rather than experiencing delight and desire across different persons, there is defensiveness, fear, suspicion, and even violence. Yet the very desire powering conflict (all the energy of our desire gone awry) can, by the healing power of the Holy Spirit, be harnessed for our own redemption and the salvation of the world. The conflicts raging across our society, denominations, churches, and even our families are driven by our deep and abiding desire for communion with God and one another, however distorted that desire has become. And we have, in the words of 2 Peter 1:3, “…been given everything we need for a holy life...” TCF is an organization tasked with the recovery of the language, imagination, and practices that will help open up believers to the Spirit’s power to reshape our desires, moving us away from the fearful and combative desires of the self-protective “flesh” and toward active participation in God’s own holy life of self-giving love, especially in the face of the conflicts that plague our time. Built for Communion To our deep delight, we have found believers and non-believers alike are hungry for this way of being-in-communion-in-the-world. We are made for this. We are ready for this. We are built for communion, and even amidst the intense divisive language we experience in social media and elsewhere, we haven’t forgotten it. Because of this deep longing, and because of the vision and faithfulness of people like you, TCF has had the privilege of being set aside—given the time and space—to walk with believers, churches, leaders, and Christian organizations from divisiveness to discipleship and to the first fruits of reconciliation. Through almost eight years of research, reading, writing, experimentation, and evaluation, we now have the clearest sense in our history of where we are as an organization and where we need to go next. And with this emerging clarity, we are embarking on a five-year strategic planning process next month. Envisioning a five-year horizon will insure that near-term planning plots the appropriate trajectory. This is an exciting, yet daunting, time. [1]Pinetops Foundation reported in 2018 that if the current trends continue, 30-50 million people will have left the church by 2050, never to return. [2]Google’s NGram tool analyzing word usage across time marks a 46% increase in references to “community” from 1960 to 2000.