Voices on Disruption: Willie Jennings

Willie Jennings at the Missiology Lectures

The first step is to do what we Christians have been trained not to do: Pay attention to the land. What existed in the place before your house or your school? Who lives around you? How does the traffic flow? Where are the sidewalks? Are we here because we just got a good deal on the land? Is there some Holy Spirit reason why we’re here? And what is God saying to me about where I live in relationship to where I worship?

Remember that almost everybody in the book of Acts is being compelled by the Spirit to go where they don’t want to go. The sign of the Spirit’s presence is not “Oh, I’m so thankful you’re here,” it’s “I don’t want to go there.” That’s the sign of the Spirit’s presence. I think the fundamental reality is that we have especially resisted the Spirit when we think about place and where we live and geography.

We have had no serious thinking of discipleship in relationship to real estate, relationship to developers, relationship to land. We’ve had no serious discipleship in thinking about those things. We have allowed the entire world to be part of an economic calculation and not a gospel calculation. Everywhere that private properties become a new reality, everywhere that people are being taught to look out at their world through calculation and commodification, they’re losing their world. Whether it’s here or someplace else, if you are inside those calculations and they’re being mapped on top of old forms of segregation, the question of discipleship is not simply how you should live, but where you should live and how you should rethink your life in a place. That’s what I want people to do: to really start to think about the placement of discipleship. If the incarnation teaches us anything, it’s that God cares about place.

+ Willie Jennings is a Fuller Trustee and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies, Yale Divinity School