Christopher J. H. Wright began this series of Global Conversation essays with an exposition of the Lausanne Movement's driving definition: "Evangelization requires the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world." What does that gospel look like when it invades the margins of the world, sectors where our more traditional churches don't often go? To catch glimpses of that gospel in action and to understand the biblical themes that can animate ministry at the margins, we turn to Joel Van Dyke and Kris Rocke of the Center for Transforming Mission in Tacoma, Washington.

The psalmist asks, "How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?" (Ps. 137:4). It's a beautiful question springing from the heart of a poet struggling creatively to live out in a strange land (Babylon) what he knows to be true in another, more familiar context (Jerusalem). English poet e. e. cummings once wrote that the beautiful answer is always preceded by the more beautiful question, and in this psalm we discover a beautiful question. It has given theological roots to missional communities of grassroots leaders in six countries throughout Latin America (as well as in urban centers in the Caribbean, Kenya, and North America) under the banner of the Center for Transforming Mission (CTM).

We are learning how to read the Bible not to or even for those we serve, but with those we serve—those who have been wrongly labeled the least, last, and lost. Sustaining this approach is the belief that grace is like water: it flows downhill and pools up in the lowest places. We are learning to see God's grace pooling up in places of extreme poverty and violence.

The core theological values of CTM are formed by the incarnational mission of Jesus Christ. In Jesus' incarnation—and here we mean all that Jesus did and said, including his death and resurrection to save us from our sins—the intimacy of human and divine is fully realized. Said plainly, the Incarnation unites what the world divides—always, and in all ways. It says that matter, not just spirit, matters. Ministry that spiritualizes away the problems we face in the world of matter is simply not true to the biblical picture portrayed in the Creation and the Incarnation. Biblical, incarnational ministry is radically holistic. It touches the body and the soul. It calls forth personal transformation and systemic change. It invites righteousness and justice. It connects God and humanity, heaven and earth, and, perhaps hardest of all, "us" and "them."

Our concern to incarnate Jesus among the least, last, and lost has introduced us to some amazing grassroots leaders who are singing God's song in some very strange lands, such as among populations of street youth, families in extreme poverty, prostitutes, women in the throes of domestic abuse, and incarcerated gang members in the prisons of Central America. We have learned that "misfits" are critical to the mission of the church. Let me (Joel) try to illustrate.

There is a men's prison in Central America with a surprising group of residents. A ragtag clan of girlfriends, wives, sisters, and mothers connected to one of Central America's major gangs sleep under and on top of the cement tables in what ...

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The Conversation Begins
Selected writers respond to Joel Van Dyke and Kris Rocke from around the globe.

In the mid-1960s and early '70s the church was thriving in Burundi. One denomination in particular, the Burundi Pentecostal Church, experienced a tremendous move of the Holy Spirit in the southern part ...

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The evangelical church in Africa is thriving. The numbers are phenomenal. In Lagos, Nigeria, almost every other street has a church, and every other evening features a "revival" or an evangelistic rally. ...

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In Theology of Hope theologian Jurgen Moltmann reminds the church that " … if God is not spoken of in relation to man's experience of himself and his world, then theology withdraws into a ghetto ...

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There is a story that I cannot forget from one of the Egyptian villages where we have done development and social work through CEOSS (Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services). One day we found ...

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The Conversation Continues: Readers' Comments

Displaying 1–1 of 1 comments

David Neff, United States

April 05, 2010  4:03pm

As a theological theme, the Incarnation was extremely important in the early years of the church. The apostolic fathers and their successors had to fight the anti-Incarnation teachings of the proto-Gnostics. This was their main artillery. Today, curiously, it is liberals who take refuge in an Incarnation-centered theology as a way of avoiding dealing with the Cross and its related themes.

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