Photo courtesy of www.amazon.com
by Cheryl (Warren) Brugel '90
May 4, 2009
“I love people, and I love the church. I believe the church through Christ is the hope for the world.”
These words, spoken by Jeremy Bouma ’02, sum up well his passion and life since his days on Cedarville’s campus. A political science major, Bouma’s goal was to prepare himself to engage the culture with the truths of Scripture. He felt that government would be a great place to do this and ultimately hoped to be on the “front lines of cultural engagement” through writing and speaking opportunities.
After graduating, Bouma packed up everything and moved to Washington, D.C. — without a job! “Intuitively, I knew God was taking me to D.C.,” he said, “and to Capitol Hill in particular.” He spent the next year working for Senator Mike DeWine from Ohio. He then worked three years for the Center for Christian Statesmanship, an organization that reaches government workers with the Gospel. While there, God used him to help a Senate staffer “re-find Christ” and lead an agnostic staffer to find hope again in the church.
Refocusing a Calling
Although Bouma had many incredible experiences in Washington, God used this time to open his heart to full-time ministry. Sensing God leading him “back home” to Michigan, Bouma left Washington in 2006 to attend Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He is currently earning his Master of Divinity with an emphasis in church planting and beginning a Master of Theology in historical theology — all while helping to pastor a small church in the area.
While God may have changed Bouma’s location and type of ministry, He has not changed Bouma’s passion. If anything, Bouma’s desire to engage culture with the story of Christ has only strengthened his focus since attending seminary.
“While on Capitol Hill, I discipled people and found myself having spiritual conversations in order to connect their stories to the Jesus story,” he shared. “Now I am preparing to do it for a living through seminary, learning how to pastor a church and dreaming of ways to engage my postmodern, post-Christian world with the teachings of Jesus, in both conventional and alternative ways.”
(Re)Telling the Jesus Story
Most recently, Bouma had the opportunity to write a book titled The (Un)Offensive Gospel of Jesus. Writing a book while pastoring a church and attending seminary may seem a little daunting. But for Bouma, the process has further clarified his mission of helping the church accurately and lovingly tell Jesus’ story of rescue. “After returning to Michigan, I was amazed to see the amount of cultural and ecclesiastical transformation within my generation,” he said. “I began to examine the ways in which the church shows Jesus and tells His story.”
And he struggled with what he saw. The Jesus he saw portrayed mostly ranged from a “white, middle-class Republican who’s only concerned with blessing” people to a Jesus not concerned with daily happenings but only with getting people saved from hell. He saw many young people offended by what they heard and saw, which led them to turn their backs on Christ and the church completely.
Bouma began asking himself, “Where is the Jesus of the Bible?” In his book, he sets out to accurately portray the biblical Jesus and gives insight on how the church can better share the story of Jesus to a postmodern world.
As the title suggests, the book seeks to debunk the notion that Jesus and His story will never offend unbelievers. Bouma writes, “Lest you think that my use of (un)offensive means undemanding, think again. While I do not believe the heart of Jesus and substance of His story is offensive, I do not mean His demands will not irritate our modern sensibilities.” He further explains, “The Gospel of Jesus, then, is both (un)offensive and offensive. Jesus’ good news of rescue and re-creation is not inherently offensive, yet people can still react in offense at its demands.”
What Bouma does see as offensive is the way the church often shares Jesus’ story. “I feel that the way the church tells God’s story of rescue is incredibly problematic,” he said. “We start in the wrong part of the story.” He explains in his book that too often Christians begin sharing the Gospel “in the middle of the story, either with sin or heaven/hell.” He believes it is more accurate to begin God’s story with creation and who we were intended to be at the beginning. He takes the reader through the biblical story of creation, rebellion, rescue, and re-creation — using each to explain how to better share God’s story with a lost and dying world. For Bouma, “this is a better, complete, more biblical way of telling God’s story of rescue than the ones typically told.” He also feels it better addresses a new generation embracing postmodern ideals.
Reaching a Generation
A key element of his book is explaining the postmodern movement, especially in relation to how it affects the church and its mission. He writes, “Before the church considers how to retell God’s […] story, it is essential that we first understand the context in which we are telling that story.” He then devotes a chapter to postmodernism, breaking it down into easy-to-understand themes that can then help the church understand the world.
Bouma ends his book by encouraging believers to follow Christ. He explains that Jesus’ first words to the disciples were “Come, follow me,” not just “obey me” or “believe me.” Bouma writes, “No longer were they [the disciples] to be who they were before that calling. Instead, they would be a different people, called to a different mission.” Bouma calls the church to do the same: “[We need to] leave our former identities and both follow after Jesus and engage in His mission.” In so doing, Bouma believes we will better engage our culture with the love of Christ and reach a dying world with the good news of God’s story.
Since publishing his book, Bouma has been encouraged by the response. “I’ve learned that an atheist friend of a friend is inching toward a relationship with Jesus because of the Person and story she encountered in the book,” he said. “Hearing that made my day, because ultimately that is what it’s all about: people encountering the loving, gentle, caring Jesus and connecting to His hopeful, (un)offensive Gospel story of rescue.”
Bouma trusts that his book will be just the beginning of his work to bring lost people and the church together by teaching the church how to best share God’s hopeful story of redemption.