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interview by C. Stephen Evans and Gail Gunst Heffner


The Word on the Street

Eugene Rivers on faith-based urban ministry, the black church, and the "sexual holocaust" in Africa.

In 1984 Eugene Rivers founded the Azusa Christian Community, a charismatic intentional community. In Dorchester, in Boston's inner city, he challenged black professionals to live in a neighborhood they could easily have shunned, all the while bemoaning the plight of the "underclass." Articulated in a "Ten Point Plan" that has served as a model for urban churches, Rivers' Spirit-filled holistic ministry has received national attention: a cover story in Newsweek magazine, a profile in The New Yorker, and much more. He visited Grand Rapids earlier this year to speak in Calvin College's distinguished January Series, after which he joined Calvin's Steve Evans and Gail Heffner for a conversation.

C. Stephen Evans: You've been a strong advocate for African American young people for a long time. Where does your passion come from?
My passion emanates from my Christian faith, my sense of the importance of a morally consistent Christian witness that advocates and defends the sacredness of human life and a real commitment to preaching and bearing witness, prophetically and pastorally, to the gospel for the winning of the lost.

My passion emanates also from my Pentecostal background. I am from the high-octane wing of a low church. My spiritual father, Benjamin Smith, from Philadelphia, was a powerful holiness Pentecostal minister, and I'm an ordained elder in the Church of God in Christ. What we need now is a postmodern renewal movement within the Pentecostal movement, to give it more intellectual and social grounding.

The notion of personal and public holiness is particularly important to me in the face of a declining secular civil rights industry. Throughout our society, there has never been a greater need for a biblical faith that is morally consistent, programmatic, and pragmatic. This is what we have to give our kids. I love my kids. I'm a big family guy, and I am dedicated to family ministry.

Gail Gunst Heffner: How have the challenges of urban ministry changed within the last ...

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