What's Tony Thinking

What Is Jesus Doing?


What Is Jesus Doing? God’s Activity in the Life and Work of the Church is a new book, a collection of essays, to which I am a contributor. It was edited by Edwin Chr. Van Driel, a theologian at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

In the introduction Van Driel has this to say about the title. “The title What Is Jesus Doing? is thus not only a riff on the evangelical ‘What would Jesus do?’ but it underscores the belief that our question simply cannot be, ‘What would he do if he were here’ — as if he were the great absent One — but now that he is here, what is he doing?

“As the resurrected One he is alive and active, and as such is present in the life of the church and the ministry of the pastor. In fact, his presence is the sine qua non of any church life and any ministry, as it continues and upholds the church and its ministry, even when we ourselves have no idea what our next step might be.”

(I see that my graphic, on the right, got cut off losing the word, “What.” Well, I kind of like “Is Jesus Doing?”)

As you can read from this bit and from the title itself the helpful premise of the book is that Jesus is active here and now, that God who took the initiative in creation, exodus, and resurrection remains at work today, times that are often trying for the church and its leaders.

Reviewer Kimberly Bracken Long catches this writing, “Van Driel and his colleagues speak to an anxiety-ridden church in a way that convicts, calms and converts . . . Pastors, scholars and church leaders all need to hear this good news: Jesus is alive, he is at work, and he is waiting for us to join him as he leads us into the future. Read this book, renew your hope, and get ready to be changed.”

That’s quite an endorsement. There are thirteen contributors to the book in all, including people like Craig Barnes, Angela Dienhart Hancock, L. Roger Owens and Will Willimon. The book is also a festschrift honoring Andrew Purves a pioneering figure in pastoral care and theology on his retirement at Pittsburgh.

This is the third such festschrift  (a German term meaning roughly “festival of writing”) to which I have contributed in recent years. One, titled Pastoral Work, was in honor of Eugene Peterson (translator of The Message and author of many books). Another for Robert W. Wall, a New Testament scholar at Seattle Pacific University, with whom I have co-authored two books. It is titled The Usefulness of Scripture. In that book and the new one I am the only non-academic on the menu, which I kind of like. I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of bridge figure, a pastor/ scholar, so this gives some credibility to that conceit.

My essay here is titled “Baptizing the Ordinary: Divine Agency in Church Administration.” I begin it a discussion of how the House of Healing, now Plymouth Healing Communities (residential, spiritual communities for those experiencing mental illness), began at Plymouth Church during my tenure there as Senior Minister. I note, and describe how, this wonderful ministry didn’t issue from any “long range” or “strategic” plan, but from the work of the Holy Spirit.

In recent years the festschrift genre, through which scholars honor a colleague’s life work, has all but disappeared. The reason being is that they don’t sell all that well. And believe me, publishers these days are watching the bottom line. Happily, the first two I contributed to have defied that characterization, selling rather well. What Is Jesus Doing? deserves a similar reception because the whole question of divine agency, of a God who acts, is so crucial for the church today.

I understand that many of you who receive and read this blog are probably not going to rush out and buy a copy. But there may be some of you pastors who really will find this book worthwhile and helpful. At least I hope so. Your work is important and you deserve all the help you can get. Blessings.

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