Life + Culture

The Gospel Next Door

Book cover for 'The Gospel Next Door' It can be fun and exciting to go on missions service tourism trips to "exotic" destinations, but what about the community in your own backyard?

Pastor Marty Troyer's new book The Gospel Next Door: Following Jesus Right Where You Are is released this week. It encourages us to connect deeply with the communities around us and see the opportunities we have to serve Jesus right where we are. Troyer uses his own experiences as a Mennonite pastor in Houston, TX to offer his readers a compelling look at everything that our lived faith can be.

Troyer notes that "if we limit the gospel to the personal, nonpolitical, and future worlds, nothing theological remains to guide our vision for human community. Without the cultural vision of Christ, it’s easy to fill the void with the American dream and assume it to be God’s dream.” (103)

Thus, we create a god made in our own image to serve our own priorities, forgetting that the radical love of Christ calls us to much greater things in our neighborhoods. Troyer argues that “the disciple-making culture in Western Christianity is woefully inadequate for equipping us to put our faith into action.” (100)
Like many of us, Troyer “found myself quite adept at interpreting ancient texts, but incapable of interpreting the nightly news.” (106) How many of us can relate to this sentiment? Without pairing strong biblical and sociological understandings of our communities, our theology can fall flat when it is needed most. 
With sign "I'm already against the next war"
Marty "The Peace Pastor" Troyer

Troyer reminds us that "prophetic justice advocacy is tied to theology; it speaks to who God is and how God chooses to be in the world.” (169) Our actions as the the hands and feet of Christ on earth serve as a witness to our communities. If we are to be co-laborers in God's plan for our neighborhoods, then it matters how we manifest that plan to the world.

“If we cry ‘Peace, peace!’ assuming that all is well, when our communities are filled with the culture of death," Troyer warns," we’re as mistaken as the misled prophets of old (Jeremiah 6:14).” (14) Too often our proclamations of the Good News fall on deaf ears because we fail to demonstrate that it matters for the brokenness that we see around us. What good is the Good News, if it makes no difference in our lives today?

But Troyer asks "what if God were like Jesus? What if God were deeply engaged,  extravagantly loving, passionately communal, infinitely absorbing of hate, and radically local?” (41) And what if we behaved that way as well?

"You can't heal a wound by saying it's not there!" Jeremiah 6:14Troyer brings a much needed skepticism to his examination of Americanized Christianity. He points out the gaps between the Gospel’s intentions and our current reality, and challenges us to imagine how the Church can play a critical role in bridging that gap.  And he warns that “blindness to the gaps creates religion that underwrites Western culture” (48)
Troyer also encourages us to be proactive, rather than reactionary as Christians. He wonders if "we’ve resigned ourselves to the role of post-chaos chaplain?” (80) Too often when in the critical moments of our community, wring bring too little, too late. What if instead, we reclaimed our role of prophetic witness to our communities? What if we proclaimed biblical justice and advocacy, leading the way instead of limping along in the rear? 
This book also emphasises the concept that “the marginalized have an important and meaningful role in clarifying our image of God,” (154) and indeed that “[Jesus’s] story would be hard to understand if we didn’t know that his death came about as a state-sponsored, religiously motivated public execution” (88). We cannot be outraged at biblical injustice, while remain complacent in the injustices we perpetuate today. Indeed, Troyer asserts that "my faith will suffer if I ignore that God wasn’t merely with the Israelites in Egypt; he was also very much against Pharaoh” (154)
At the end of the day, we must confront the question: Do we truly believe Jesus? We may believe in Jesus, “but do we actually take him at his word? Do we believe that Jesus meant what he said and was talking to us?” (186) Because if we do, it radically shifts the choices we make and how we live our daily lives. 
Troyer reminds us that “justice work is as much about spirituality and belief as it is about morality and action. It’s the natural lifestyle of those who have experienced freedom from inner chains and have given themselves to breaking the outer chains that oppress.” (192)
Houston skyline
I invite you purchase your own copy of The Gospel Next Door. When you do take a long look at the credo you'll find on page 51. Troyer eloquently outlines what the Good New means for his Houston community. I challenge you to do the same for yours.

Want to hear more? Check out this MennoNerds conversation with Pastor Marty Troyer!

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