November 22nd 2016
Enjoy this guest post from writer Randy Petersen, Director of Scripture Engagement at the American Bible Society. Randy's been a long-time friend of UrbanPromise and he recently taught a workshop at our international Summit!
My friend Bruce Main taught me the word praxis. I'm sure I had run across it in some theology text, but Bruce was actually using the word in a sentence, like it meant something.
We were meeting at a South Jersey diner a few years ago. Bruce was giving an update on the ministry he founded, UrbanPromise—a lifeline for kids in Camden, one of the country's most violent cities. I was sharing plans for a new small group program at my suburban church.
"Don't forget praxis," he said.
"Of course," I replied, trying to hide the fact that I didn't really know what he was talking about. "I mean, who could forget praxis?"
"Well, a lot of churches do. They're very focused on orthodoxy, which is great, but they don't seem to care so much about orthopraxy. Don't get me wrong. It's important to teach people right beliefs, but that's only half the story. The Bible is full of challenges to practice what you believe. Praxis."
Paul and James and Us
I learned something from Bruce that day, and not just a new word. In the years since then, I've been taking note of the many Bible passages that emphasize action. James is a paean to praxis, but so is Romans 12. We can't pit Paul's faith against James's works—they fit together. We are saved by grace through faith, but we are created to do good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). While much of the Old Testament Law is about what people should not do, the prophets in particular call us to positive action. What kind of fasting does God want? To feed the hungry, to work for healing and freedom (Isaiah 58:6-7). Jesus picks up the prophetic call ("Do unto others…") and other New Testament writers join the chorus.
Our faith involves doing. And this goes beyond the activities of worship and fellowship. We are specifically called to care for those in need.
Romans 12 gives us a great game plan, starting with worship and orthodoxy but drawing us outward into service. We are to be living sacrifices with our minds renewed, but we live out God's will. Along with the rest of the body of Christ, we use our varied gifts in service and hospitality. The "body of Christ" is generally an image of church unity, but this image also helps us see ourselves as those who together do the physical activity of Christ. We are his arms and legs as we work on his behalf, carrying on his mission. And what was that mission? As he explained it,
". . . he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free the oppressed
and announce that the time has come
when God will save his people."
What is Scripture Engagement?
At American Bible Society, we've been putting a lot of thought lately into what Scripture engagement really means.
Is it just reading the Bible? No. Is it defined by a certain frequency of Bible reading? Well, that helps, but it's not the whole story. True engagement would require some reflection, wouldn't it? Don't we need to reflect on the text in some way, to interact with it? Isn't this how we challenge the people we lead? We try to help them see themselves in the text and—more importantly—encounter God there.
And that brings us to praxis. When we encounter God in the Scriptures, our lives change. His word lights our way, it burns within us, it does surgery on our souls. Full engagement needs to lead us to the point of becoming doers and not just hearers.
'Tis the Season
This is a season of charitable actions. Your church may be gathering cans of food to give to the poor. Some will invite the homeless to Thanksgiving meals. Christians in many places are leveraging Thanksgiving, if you will, not only thanking God for his blessings, but also sharing those blessings with people in need.
This charity is not just good stuff for churches to do. It's more than a few extra items on the church calendar. Nor is it just a respite from all that preaching and teaching we do. I'd suggest that it is a vital piece of Scripture engagement and its proper outcome.
I just spent a day at the UrbanPromise Summit. The ministry founded by my praxis pal has grown into a nationwide, even worldwide, operation. Yesterday I stood in the back of a room where I used to hold drama workshops with five kids. Now there were 240 people there—ministers of the gospel conducting innovative youth ministry in poor areas of Trenton, Birmingham, Toronto, Honduras, Malawi, and elsewhere. These ministers, mostly under 30 years of age, were investing their lives in the work of sharing God's biblical promises with the next generation. All day long they were quoting Scripture, exploring its message, and talking about how to stay anchored to it. They were also abuzz with the joy of their work, providing this anchor to kids who desperately needed it.
This is praxis, a vital part of Scripture engagement and its proper outcome.