This dissertation is an exploration of the geography of grace with and for those who have been labeled the ‘least last and lost.’ It is a theological resource designed to encourage theological reflection and dialogue specifically for grassroots leaders who teach and preach the Gospel of Jesus to high-risk youth and families in hard places.
This text is written with love for what God’s creative work among those who live at the margins of society. It also written with a holy discontent for the gospel that is being nurtured and proclaimed within the mainstream North American church. I am referring to the gospel that unwittingly sows seeds of violence and despair among society’s most vulnerable members, a gospel that is being exported from North America to hurting people around the world. It is my prayer that love and holy discontent form in me and others a desire to take greater responsibility for the gospel we proclaim and the social locations from which we proclaim it, so that we might be better equipped to teach and preach Good News to the poor in the global urban and postmodern context in which we live.
This text tests two assumptions. 1. Grace is like water. It runs downhill and pools up in the lowest places. This is the basic thesis of the text. I set out to explore the limits and boundaries of God’s grace on behalf of those who feel damned and disinherited by God. 2. If we are test the limits of grace we must be willing to risk heresy. It is incumbent upon all leaders to risk their power and their privileges on behalf of the powerless. This is especially true of white, male leaders within the North American church such as myself, who share in and benefit from the dominant culture and whose proclamation of the gospel is often a product of the power and privileges we enjoy. Therefore, we must be wiling to take great risks if we are to teach and preach Good News to the poor who live at the mercy of the dominant culture and who endure the theological categories we produce. The Gospel of Jesus’ liberating word demands that we not only examine, but also challenge and even subvert, if necessary, ‘orthodoxy’ as it is defined and practiced by the mainstream church, wherever it resides.
Finally, this dissertation represents the culmination of a five year journey that began with my enrollment in the doctoral program and Bakke Graduate School in 2002. What began as an academic exercise to reflect on 15 years of urban ministry experience resulted in the development of a new training organization called Center for Transforming Mission (CTM). CTM’s mission is to help the Church reach out to high-risk youth and families in hard places by training grassroots leaders. This dissertation is a personal theological summary of that journey as well as the core perspective of CTM and its training.