Seeking the Good of your City: an Expansive View of God’s Redemptive Purposes

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:7)

In the pietistic Lutheran Church in which I was nurtured as a teenager in Brooklyn, New York, we were called to evangelism: sharing the good news that people can be redeemed from the tyranny of selfish will and be restored to a proper relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That was good, as far as it went, because Christians are called to be agents for fostering redemption between persons and God.

But when I was exposed to the Reformed Christian tradition, first as a faculty member at Gordon College in Massachusetts, and then, in no uncertain terms, when I moved to northwest Iowa in 1980, I came to the conclusion that that my earlier view of God’s redemptive purposes was severely truncated: In addition to, not in place of, the “saving of individual persons,” God intends for all of the Created order to be redeemed through Jesus Christ (Colossians 1: 15-20). As beautifully expressed by Abraham Kuyper, “There is not a square inch on the whole plain of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord of all, does not proclaim ‘This is mine!’”

On October 27-29, 2016, Dordt College will be hosting a Christian Community Development conference (Connect: CCD Iowa) that will exemplify to a marvelous extent this expansive view of God’s redemptive purposes. You will have to attend to capture this amazing scope: There will be 41 sessions with presenters including the renowned John Perkins, Director of the John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development. What follows is only a sneak preview: a partial sampling of topics to be covered that will expose attendees to the extraordinary breath of God’s redemptive purposes.

God Christians to be agents for peace among all persons and reconciliation between those in conflict. A number of conference sessions will address this calling, including “Reconciliation and Redemption: Theory and Practice” (focusing on diversity and race relations); an “(In)Complete Dutch People’s Guide to Understanding Race”; and “Cross-Cultural Collaboration.”

God calls Christians to be agents for justice, one aspect of which is to work tirelessly on behalf of the poor, the marginalized and oppressed of the world. This aspect will be addressed in multiple sessions devoted to efforts to promote the well-being of our immigrant neighbors, including “Current Efforts and Future Prospects for Immigration Reform”; “Living Faithfully in a Broken Immigration System”; “A Pastoral Response and Church Approach to Immigration”; “Creating a Generous Economy for Immigrants”; and a moving life-story told by an “Immigrant DREAMER.”

Seeking to promote the well-being of the marginalized in our communities will also be addressed in a “Blanket Exercise” (“The Loss of Turtle Island”) that will simulate the experiences of Native Americans.

Another aspect of justice deals with questions related to our criminal justice system. Two sessions will deal with such challenging issues: “Prison Ministry: Finding Freedom Inside the Walls”; and “How to Integrate Restoration in Your Own Life and Advocate for Restoration in the Criminal Justice System.”

God calls Christians Christian to be agents for promoting the physical well-being and healthy growth of persons. Sessions that will address this calling include “Promise Community Health Center: Transforming a Community”; “Prevention/Intervention for Substance Abuse Disorder”; “World Renew Disaster Response Services”; and “Kids Hope USA: Loving Kids Beyond Church Walls.”

God also call Christians to be agents for knowledge, seeking greater understanding of all aspects of the created order, so that we and others may live in proper relationship with that order. Four sessions that will focus on that calling are “Juntos: Together for a Better Education” (helping Latino high schoolers and their parents to understand better their college and employment options after high school); two sessions on “Knowing Islam: Work Among and with Muslims”; and “Addressing the Needs of Students with Interrupted Formal Education.”

Those who choose to attend the illustrative sessions noted above will see that although there will be a call for “global outreach” in a number of sessions, the target audience for most of these means for fostering God’s redemptive purposes will be those neighbors who live in our own cities and communities, better preparing us to “seek the good of our cities,” as called for in Jeremiah 29:7. In  addition, the following sessions will also focus on means to foster the well-being of persons living in our own cities and communities: “Helping Without Hurting in the Local Community”; two sessions on “Missional Hospitality:  Loving Cities and Communities into Greatness”; “Yes, You CAN Make a Difference: The Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion Programs of Greater Siouxland”; “Creating Space for Community Connections”; “Fair Trade: The Economy of Community”; and “Organizing a Successful Community Meal.”

By now, readers who aspire to be agents for God’s redemptive purposes should feel overwhelmed. How can I do all of that? Of course, you can’t and to think that you should is to misunderstand biblical teachings on how the “Body of Christ” works (e.g., I Corinthians 12). God’s calling for Christians to be agents for fostering the expansive scope of God’s redemptive purposes is a “collective” calling, with each follower of Jesus choosing to “partner with God” in ways that best fit his/her unique gifts and abilities. So, whatever your particular gifts and abilities may be, I hope and pray that you will join us on October 27-29 to explore ways in which you can use your giftedness to promote aspects of God’s redemptive purposes for creation.

Harold Heie is a Senior Fellow at the Colossian Forum and served as Vice President for Academic Affairs as Northwestern College (IA) from 1980-88. A member of the Planning Team for the CCD Iowa conference, Heie will be presenting at a session titled “Respectful Conversations about Controversial Issues” based on his recent work on his web site