(or, "oh, brother, i really am a lefty.")

in honor of my church's name, which is all in lower case, i'm posting with no capitals today.

yesterday, my ethics professor asked how many of us were, in general, in favor of the death penalty. most of the class raised their hands. then he asked how many of us generally opposed the death penalty. nick nye and i, the sojourn contingent in the room, raised our hands. and maybe one other person. it was at that point that i realized i'm probably not in the mainstream of southern seminary students. oh well. c'est la vie.

this last week was sojourn's final sunday meeting at highland christian fellowship, the building where we've had our gatherings for a few years. next sunday will be our inaugural gathering at 930 mary street, our first very own building. i was there monday night, and let me tell you, it does not look ready to receive guests. there's still a lot of work to be done before our "grand opening" on december 3. but God (jeepers, i have to capitalize that!) is faithful, and has kept all the workers and volunteers safe throughout the process.

i'm going to miss hcf -- silly, isn't it? the building we've been meeting in, to me, represents comfort, hospitality, simplicity. but that's not what the church is all about (well, except for maybe hospitality). this building project has been tough -- we've cancelled normal community groups to encourage folks to come work at 930, encountered numerous setbacks in the schedule, hired new staff members, come to a standstill with funds, etc. but we're pressing ahead, believing that this building represents incarnational ministry, ministry that goes where people are, and meets their need for the transformative power of the gospel authentically. 930 mary street is where the Lord wants us to be.

so pray for us as we make this important transition. pray that we would not succumb to complacency, thinking that we're done with God's work now that we've moved into germantown. pray for the details of the work, which will take several more months to complete (the building is absolutely enormous). pray for erin (especially!) and dominic and john, who are bearing much of the stress of this transition, and for michael and mickie and laura beth who are sorting out the details of the galleries and shows. pray that the Lord will provide financial resources through the generosity of his people -- that other churches will help us to shoulder the burden. pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to stir up our passion for the lost. pray for the preaching of the word. pray that God will continue to draw people to himself through our ministry.


John Dekker said...

The question that comes to mind is this: are you opposed to the death penalty because you're at sojourn, or are you at sojourn because you're opposed to the death penalty?

Laura said...

I think I'm at sojourn in part because they share a philosophy of not toeing a party line. More on my political schizophrenia later.

Laura's Dad said...

John D.,

I think the issue of the relationship between being against the death penalty and being a partner in sojourn is more correctly stated in another sense. sojourn is a fascinating and intentional combination of radically conservative-reformed theology and studiously "liberal" sociology. Thus, is it probably fairly common for "sojourners" to be both pro-life and pro-environment, a combination that is relatively uncommon in the secular realm. Laura can (and likely will) correct me on this if I'm wrong, but that's how I see the connection.

Laura's Dad

p.s., I think sojourn is a great church! I wish I could start over in the pastorate and do what's being done there!

Laura said...

Dad, I think you've about got it. I mentioned "incarnational ministry" in the post, and I think "kingdom intentionality" is another important aspect of our theology -- or, as my OT prof put it the other day, the Church is the "pilot project" for God's Kingdom. So that leaves us with a whole bunch of responsibilities... which I would talk more about, except that I'm falling asleep at the keyboard. Night.

John Dekker said...

I wish I could start over in the pastorate and do what's being done there!

This is significant for me, because I'm about to start in the pastorate!

So, what should I be doing?

And could you explain to me what "studiously liberal sociology" is all about?

Jonny said...

The new church sounds very exciting. It's a rare opportunity to start over.

I am opposed to the death penalty. Any argument for or against is only going to justify what you already believe.

Laura's Dad said...


That's a fascinating statement you made: "Any argument for or against is only going to justify what you already believe."

I think that may be accurate among some, who adopt a position based on emotion and/or political affiliation. However, for others, it may not be quite on target. I believe arguments for or against the death penalty should derive from one's assessment of what is of greatest value. In other words, if one has an epistemological conviction that the preservation of human life is appropriate at all costs, based upon the fact that each human is made in the image of God and/or the fact that God desires to extend to each human being as many opportunities to trust Christ as possible, then one could argue against the death penalty on principle rather than on preference or on presupposition. Behind this argument would lie certain more foundational convictions about the nature of God's covenantal intervention in human history, about the extent of the atonement, about humans as imago Dei , and even about the manner and intent of God's self-revelation.

It is my hope that among thinking Christians, social and cultural positions are developed not merely from a set of inherited presuppositions uncritically acquired, but rather from a prayer-driven seeking of the mind of God, insofar as He reveals Himself to us. I know that's not always how people (even Christians) develop their positions on social issues, and that your statement is (sadly) often an accurate description. But I am optimistic that Christians have a better way of arriving at their convictions. At any rate, it's how I teach the members of my church to do it.

Laura's Dad

mike said...

I really like the sound of sojourn. Your alignment politically etc sounds very similar to Crossroads.

One needs to be careful using the words "incarnational theology" for Australians.

In Australia this refers to more theologically liberal approaches to scripture and other forms of dodginess. I realise this isn't what sojourn is on about.

For Australian readers Mark Driscoll gives an excellent and tight definition of what he calls "incarnational theology" which I regard as non dodgy.

Laura said...

I think terms like "liberal" and "conservative" are often unhelpful because they immediately conjure up a certain set of ideologies on both sides.

And Dad, I think there are LOTS more arguments against the death penalty then the ones you listed (for instance, the injustice of its application, the utter brokenness of our judicial system, the ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a crime deterrent, the expense of the appeals system compared to imprisonment, the goals of the judicial system, etc.), but your larger observation is probably true. I want to urge people to think about their positions. In America, we too often equate Christian and Republican (or at least tie them too closely together), so instead of being critical of classic Republican political positions and evaluating them, as well as other positions, in light of the Biblical perspective, we simply accept the "package deal" of moral and political values, some of which we should, biblically, reject!

I'm not saying that everyone needs to be anti-capital punishment, but every believer needs to think about all the implications of the death penalty. By the way, I don't think that "we need to give them more chance to come to Christ" is a good argument against the death penalty. The evangelism in the NT is urgent, now-focused pleas, not, "Oh, you'll have plenty of other opportunities." But Dad, you're right to say that folks who adhere to an anti-capital punishment view because of such an argument are being unthoughtful.

Jonny, it's true that most people totally don't focus on the actual facts, but do you think that means we shouldn't try to defend our positions? I don't think that's what you're saying, but what do you think?

Laura said...

Oh, Mike... you're right. I see incarnational ministry as going to where people are instead of expecting them to leap across huge cultural gaps in order to have access to the Gospel. This includes being where people are geographically and physically, following the example of Christ, who came to us! But I know the term has some baggage. Thanks for pointing that out.

Laura's Dad said...

So, what should I be doing? And could you explain to me what "studiously liberal sociology" is all about?

Great questions. What you should be doing is reading Mark Driscoll's book, "Confessions of a Reformission Rev," in which he describes the distinctive characteristics of a reformed missional church (hance "reformission"). Included in this definition is the notion that conservative theology does not alway go hand in hand with conservative social ideology. By "studiously 'liberal' sociology," I mean taking an approach to socio-cultural issues that some might call "liberal," but basing that approach on careful study of God's Word as it critiques the culture itself.

Just read Driscoll's book. Or just go check out sojourn's website.

Laura's Dad

John Dekker said...

Daniel Kirk has some good thoughts on "Incarnational Christianity" here. In Johannine terms, we are in the world as he was in the world.

Jonny said...

As for being qualified to comment on this matter, I am a qualified motor mechanic! Nothing more.

We don't have the death penalty in Australia, and probably never will. It is considered a very old fashioned idea along with the right to gun ownership, witch hunts and other things. So it is not often talked about and I don't have a ready argument.

People only surgest the death penalty after someone kills ten people, and it's an emotional response. Martin Bryant is in prison here for life, he killed 35 people one day. John Howards response was to ban guns and I am very very happy with this.

Because the bible dosn't really say anything, the government could go either way (if it were lookiing at the bible). I could change my mind about the reasons, but I would still be against the death penalty.

My main reason is that humans are too complicated and valuable for us to even understand the situation enough to make a decision.

Jonny said...

In a country ruled by a democratic government which is full of ecconomists and lawers, most things work out ok. You have a legal system with logical process, and if you do a crime you do time etc. But as soon as you bring in a death penalty, you flip over to the spiritual world and it reaks of old world religion. Something ecconomists and lawers can't and shouldn't deal with.

Laura said...

Jonny, that's an interesting perspective -- I hadn't thought about the fact that economists and lawyers end up with the power over life or death. I'll have to ponder that one awhile.

But at the same time, in America, for instance, the death penalty is applied far more often when a black person kills a white person than when the reverse is true or when one black person kills another. Those in favor of capital punishment would probably say, "Then we need to fix the problem rather than just abolishing it altogether." But what to do in the meantime? And is the problem fixable?

Also, the Bible does speak to the death penalty in a few places outside Deuteronomy, which punishments few people (except some theonomists) would expect to be applied. Genesis 9:5-6 talks about the reckoning of blood required when a person kills another person precisely because that murdered victim is in the image of God. Also, Romans 13 discusses the right of government to wield "the sword" in punishing evildoers. Admittedly the latter is a weaker argument.

I worked at sojourn tonight and now am wearing a very charming fine layer of construction dust from head to toe. Off to wash up and then to bed... Prepare for an "Ode to Mike's Leaving" tomorrow in all likelihood.

John Dekker said...

Great questions... Just read Driscoll's book.

Thanks, and thanks.

Alex & Laura Beth said...

Thanks for your prayers, Laura... Things went wel last night and the gallery is beautiful!