CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Paul Roberts, president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Ga., said that his presentation at the NEXT Church conference — “Called to create what’s NEXT: Theology meets ministry” – assumes or maybe even presumes something: “That you and I are called to what? Called to be co-creators with God.”
Roberts’ Scriptural basis for the claim included:
· John 14:12-14: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
· 2 Peter 1:3-4: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
He then quoted John 3:5, where Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”
Roberts emphasized that verse read “kingdom of God” – not heaven. “Kingdom of God does not imply other-worldliness,” he said. “That’s an important distinction.”
He then gave a short synopsis of Jesus’ parable of the talents found in Matthew, where a man gave one servant 10 talents, another five talents and another one talent. He left and later returned from this trip to find out what the three servants had done with what he gave them. Both the servants with 10 and five talents doubled the amounts, but the servant who received one talent did nothing to increase his amount. Instead he buried it until his master returned.
Roberts’ interpretation of the master’s reply to his servant was, “You buried it. You created nothing, so what I gave you I will give to the others – the others who produced, the others who created.”
One of the things Roberts said he loved about the PCUSA was that it “talked about this stuff in our papers.” He referred to the Confession of 1967, section 9.06, which reads:
“God’s reconciling work in Jesus Christ and the mission of reconciliation to which He has called His church are the heart of the gospel in any age. Our generation stands in peculiar need of reconciliation in Christ. Accordingly, this Confession of 1967 is built upon that theme.”
“The work of reconciliation — the doing of reconciliation to which He has called the U.S., the church, you and me — is at the heart of the gospel in any age,” he said. “So my friends, I ask: Is there such a thing as passivity in the Kingdom? Can there be such a thing as passive Christian? One who sits back and enjoys all that God is going to do for me? I don’t think that is how it works.”
Roberts then showed a segment of the Janet Jackson video “What Have You Done For Me Lately?”
Why did he share that? “I think a lot of people, great people, church-going, faithful worshipers who go week in and week out, and I include myself in this — for me and for many of us there is an imbalance in how we understand theology and who we are as Christians,” Roberts said.
Roberts said that in the past, he carried himself with a certain demeanor, a certain posture that, in retrospect, suggested, “God, what have you done for me lately?”
He came to the conclusion, he said, that growing up, he had heard so much about the marvelous gifts that God gives to us – like grace and salvation – that all he had to do was obey the rules, be watchful until the second coming and then go to heaven.
“So, God, what have you done for me lately, is how I went about my church life,” Roberts said. “It has occurred to me there are a lot of people like me who have heard a lot of great preaching about grace and gifts of God and want to hear more about that than the more challenging aspects of our faith.”
“Ask not what the church can do for you. Ask what you can do for the church,” he said. “We are so much more than passive recipients of God’s grace.”
Roberts read a quote from Anne Frank’s book Diary of a Young Girl:
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
“And that is your job,” he said. “When you accept the call of Christ, that is your job – to enjoy the goodness of the kingdom, to bask in the light of God, to be ambassadors of the kingdom, to live into God’s grace and all at the same time risking it, laying it on the line, doing something difficult, challenging to carry the kingdom forward.”
Roberts then cautioned those in the audience to be careful when creating what is next.
“There are many throughout history who have used the Scriptures as weapons,” he said. They have “verbalized selected portions of it to wreak havoc. My caution here is that we really, really have to be careful and thoughtful as we go about this work of creating what’s next.”
Roberts then gave some rules of thumb that NEXT should follow:
- Rooted in listening. “If we don’t have clarity about what we are called to create, the right thing to do is listen,” he said.
- Expectant, anticipatory waiting. “Let’s not listen like we are chilling in a rocking chair,” he said. “Instead, let’s listen like we are on the edge of our seat … like we are anticipating something.”
- Temperance. “We don’t take ourselves so seriously, and we are temperate because we recognize no matter how much we are able to discern it is not the whole picture.”
- Respect for the rights, privileges, traditions and practices of others. “If we trample on any others’ rights, privileges, traditions … if that winds up being the case, then we are creating the wrong thing,” he said.
- Awareness of the economics.
- Commitment to justice and peace. Roberts spoke of “our commitment to do justice in the world, to make peace in the world, to be inclusive in our goings and comings and to walk humbly with our God.”