April 26, 2021 -


Coming Together to Be a Faithful Presence

Rasool Berry

Rasool Berry
Rasool Berry, teaching pastor at The Bridge Church in Brooklyn, shares his ideas on moral imagination, argument culture, and what it means to be a faithful presence. He invites us to embrace diverse perspectives, to be culture makers, to be quick to listen, and to gain the fullness and richness of what God is doing in the world.

Episode Reflection

Invitation to Explore

Rasool Berry reminds us that there is a beautiful diversity in the church that includes a diversity of cultures and experiences. Often people can fall into a pattern where the only people they learn from, whether through conversations or books, are people who share their cultural context. Consider the people you know or the books you read? Who might you begin to learn from who comes from a different cultural context? Who has God placed in your life who can bless you with a different perspective?

Scripture to Study

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9–14)

Wise Words to Consider

“Again, going back to the Old and New Testament, the through line from Genesis – from the time that God tells Abraham, ‘I’m going to bless all the nations–’ literally ethnic groups. The peoples – ‘through you,’ to the point that we see Jesus at the top of the mountain in His resurrection, saying, ‘All power and authority has been given unto me, therefore go and say, every nation, nation, ethnos –ethnic group– people, and tell them about me and teaching them all that I’ve commanded you.’ And that ‘teaching them all that I’ve commanded’ usually gets overlooked. So that’s not just a get-out-of-hell-free card gospel. This is a gospel of the kingdom that blew up – blew away the minds and the concepts of the first century Roman Empire.”—Rasool Berry

A Prayer to Lead You

Merciful Lord, You have called us out of the darkness of sin and death into Your dazzling light of love and life to be one, diverse and beautiful Church to bring glory to Your name. In Your mercy, You have so intimately connected us to one another and Jesus that You have called us “the body of Christ.” Help us to be that body of Christ, united in mission, compassion, and justice. Keep us united, but more importantly keep us moving in the right direction: toward the world in love, toward the margins with hope, to the disempowered with the otherworldly power of the Spirit. We pray this in the name of Jesus, our King, who reigns with You and the Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen.

A Practice to Begin

We live between the times of Christ’s resurrection and second coming, experiencing a small part of his victory over sin and death, but waiting for the fullness of His victory to renew and transform the world. This leaves us with the responsibility to be fully present in the world, praising God for His work while protesting and against the evils and demonic forces that hold human beings in bondage to death-dealing systems of injustice and evil. To renew your commitment to being faithfully present, consider taking the time once a week to write a list of all the things you can praise God for and all the things that you are actively resisting. Then live each week being faithfully aware of God’s work in your life as you seek to be a faithful witness to your neighbors, friends, and family.

Questions to Answer

Rather than total capitulation to society or complete abandonment of society, Rasool explained that God calls us to be faithfully present in the world, embracing the beauty of the diverse cultures around us while resisting the injustices, sins, and evils of the cultures around us. What are some ways that you are being faithfully present in the world? What are some things you have embraced and value? What are some sins, injustices, and evils that you are actively resisting? What might God be calling you to embrace or calling you to resist?

Resources to Help

Esau McCaulley  Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope

Rasool Berry with Esau McCaulley, Where Ya From: Episode 9,  The Bible and Social Justice


Sam Holland  0:04  

You’re listening to the Created For podcast.

We believe that everyone was created to make a unique impact in the world. Created For is a podcast to explore ideas around purpose, calling, and discovering how God is inviting you to influence the world in your own way, right now. I’m your host, Sam Holland.

Rasool Berry’s name means “messenger” in Arabic. And it’s fitting because he’s passionate about communicating spiritual truths into the language and ethos of our times. Rasool serves as teaching pastor at The Bridge Church in Brooklyn. And as the host of In Pursuit of Jesus and other projects with Our Daily Bread ministries. In his Created For talk, Rasool talked about living not as culture fakers, or culture breakers, but as culture makers.

Rasool, in your Created For talk in February, you talked about this human tendency that Christians have towards either culture breaking or culture faking, I think you said,

Rasool Berry  1:19  


Sam Holland  1:19  

Can you just define those two for us?

Rasool Berry  1:22  

Yes, absolutely. So I was inspired by this framework from reading the book “Culture Making” by Andy Crouch. And he framed it a bit differently. But essentially, there’s usually a continuum where the Christian response to culture can either be just imitation, or complete rejection. And that neither of those are faithful witnesses.

So let me explain what I mean. I think imitation looks like complete assimilation with all what the culture believes and teaches and does. So we see this in I Corinthians, and Paul wrestling with this church who is in the center of the Greco Roman world in Corinth, and are living out the same sexual ethics – and very promiscuous and permissive – as well as the same underlying, ambitious and even carnal way of thinking about how authority and status is leveraged – through eloquence or through education and these things. And he’s pushing back on that and saying, “I cannot address you as spiritual, but I had to address you as carnal. Because you’re acting like–” and ‘carnal’ means ‘of the flesh,’ “–because you’re acting like mere men.”

And so what Paul was challenging them there was to say, “You’re just assimilated– you’re just culture faking. You’re acting like you’re just the same as the culture that you’re in. But it’s fake, because you are holding to a faith in a spiritual perspective, that actually ought to critique that same culture that you’re in.” And you’re supposed to be in the world, but not of the world – right? As Jesus said in John 17.

So that’s one response. The other response is culture breaking. And that is the response of utter separation and defiance of getting involved in what we call like a culture war, where we have this analysis, a worldview, that says the church is the only safe haven for us to experience or understand anything about the world, appreciate beauty, and art, have wisdom, or anything. It’s just like when you used to play, like, tag or something, it was home base, and you just got to run the home base. And as long as you get to home base, you’re in the safe confines and shelter of the four walls of this place. And anything that I have, if I go to get education, that must be Christian education. If I go to experience finances, I have to be through a Christian finance industry, or if– you know – everything has to have that stamp on it.

And the problem with that is it undermines God’s teaching that all truth is God’s truth and that Jesus did say– so the one people say, “Be in the world, and of the world” – the culture of breaking response is, “Don’t be in the world or of the world.” And that’s not a faithful response, either, because Jesus even prayed, “I’m not asking that you take them out of the world, but that they would stay faithful in the world.” And the same thing with Paul. He says, “I’m not telling you not to interact with non believers – when I say don’t be ‘unequally yoked’ with non believers, I’m not saying you should not be in any communication relationship with them,” because he says, “Or else you’d have to leave the world,” – right?

But what I’m saying is be a faithful presence in it. And that sense of faithful presence – Dr. James Hunter talks about that in a book that he wrote called, “To Change the World,” where he analyzed various Christian responses to culture change, and basically took them all to task to say that it’s not either retreat like some would say – like the Benedict option – and let’s just put ourselves in a bubble. Or, and it’s not just acceptance, you know what I mean – of capitulation, but it’s faithful presence.

And that’s culture making. That’s being able to say, “I value enough– I see beauty and I see wisdom around me enough, to lean into that and learn,” and whether that comes inside– sometimes that does come in the church, sometimes it comes outside of the church. I can get that and I can value that. But it also means being able to be prophetic and speaking and challenging the culture as well.

And I think that’s what we’re created for – right? That holding those two things in tension like our Savior did, where He says about the woman caught in adultery. When they say, “Shouldn’t we stone her to death?” And He says, “Okay, you who’s without sin cast the first stone. I’m gonna give you a different imagination or categories to think about this.” Then He turns to the woman and says, “Where are they? There’s no one to condemn you. Neither do I. Now go and sin no more.”

So He holds in tension the aspect of, “I am not going to fake and pretend like everything you did was cool. But I’m also not going to completely condemn.” And that’s what it looks like to make a new reality of– building a new culture that balances both compassion and conviction. Love and truth. And it can create something new.

Sam Holland  6:59  

Yeah, I’m glad you said compassion and conviction – reminded me of Justin Giboney. And he, of course, was one of the speakers that Created For and is a friend of yours. And he talks about moral imagination, which is, again, sort of the same idea. Liz Bohannon, when I interviewed her, she talked about creating instead of critiquing. Jocelyn Chung calls it reimagining. And I’ve seen you quote, I think, Tim Keller talking about theological vision. And it just all seems to be this – I don’t know – I interpret it as like, the Spirit is moving and leading all of us into new ways of thinking about how to live as Christians. So talk more about culture making. How are you currently fostering hope in yourself and others, by navigating culture making?

Rasool Berry  7:57  

Yeah, great question. And I think it reveals, first of all, I try to anchor my experience in the Scriptures and see, “Where do I see that happening?” And I think throughout history, that tension, that line between permissiveness and license, you know, and then legalism, has always been one that the church has struggled to walk between and to walk upon.

And so for me, that sense of a moral imagination is this idea that you see in the prophets of– I love in Joshua, when Joshua was tasked with taking the land and all that. And then the Angel of the Lord appears, and he asks, “Whose side are you on?” And the Angel of the Lord is like, “I’m not on your side, and I’m not on the Canaanite side. I’m on the Lord’s.” The question is, who’s side are you on, Joshua?

Because what that does is, it raises a third dimension to say, it’s not just thinking linear, like on a continuum – to say, “All right, I’m in the zero. And in zero, do I just go negative five, or go positive five?” But it actually brings out a third dimension to go actually the greater heights that you can appeal to. And that’s what the prophetic tradition in the Scriptures lean toward, is to both be able to say, “Babylon is wrong for its consumption, and its greed and its lust, and its oppression. But you’re wrong too, fellow Israelites or fellow Judeans, because you have done the same things and you’ve neglected and rejected your God.”

So the moral imagination says,– So it’s not about the– so, in a basic kind of sociology of history standpoint, it’s like, “Well, who’s right? Who should win the battle?” And actually in God’s economy it’s like, “All of you need to repent.” That’s the moral imagination – to say, “Imagine what would happen if those who had power and abuse that power, like you see with the Babylonians, put down those weapons?” And this is what you get a glimpse of with Rahab. When she lets the spies in and says, “We’ve heard that your– you know, what God did.”  And so what she decides to do – she says, “I’m not going to do the linear game of just saying ‘I’m the Canaanite, I’m one of the people that you’re against, I’m just gonna fight you,’ I’m going to actually say, ‘hey can you remember us when you take things over?’” That’s moral imagination – to think of another category or possibility. And even the moral imagination of the Scriptures shows us, of highlighting the story of a prostitute and saying, “Actually, she’s the most righteous person in this account.”

It’s a fascinating twist that we see throughout Scripture and so the way that I try to do that on a practical basis is by, right now, highlighting the stories of those who are also elevating our perspective with that kind of prophetic view. I do that through the podcast that I host called, “Where You’re From.”

What one professor – Tim Muehlhoff – teachers at Biola, is a communications professor, and he’s highlighted the fact that people are calling what we live in now as an ‘argument culture.’ We live in an argument culture. You go on Twitter or you see people assume the worst. Reduce people’s arguments to overly simplistic notions and dismiss them out of hand – that you’re not only wrong but you’re evil and that’s it. And it doesn’t matter if you’re on the right or the left. And this is what Justin Giboney does a great job with the AND Campaign – of exposing the problematic nature of the argument culture that we live in.

One way I’m trying to elevate us beyond, and have a moral imagination beyond the argument culture, is by inviting us into people’s stories. So that you can actually go, “Okay–” by the end of you listening to us, say, Eric Mason – right? The term ‘woke church’ may still cause you some resistance and you may not agree with that word or how it’s been defined but, man, you’ll understand a lot more about his perspective and his history and why that made sense to him to write. Which is an incredible thing.

So that’s one of the things that I think is helpful. Is me trying to model what it means to enter each other’s stories and even in my own space, in my own presence. To try to be charitable with everyone who I discuss with and many of them who disagree with me. But just to be like, “Well, let me try to listen and hear before I seek to be understood.”

Sam Holland  12:47  

Yeah. So good. Can you tell us more about your own spiritual journey and how God, along the way in your life, was confirming your calling and the work that you’re doing today? Things like that.

Rasool Berry  13:03  

Sure. Yeah. Well, I’ll tell you – when I was 17, if you would have told me that I was going to be a pastor, I would have laughed in your face. That is the last thing that I ever would have imagined. I did not grow up in a Christian home, and in fact, my parents had both left their different christian traditions – one baptist, one catholic – and joined the Nation of Islam for a spell, and then we were just a secular home.

And so for me, there was only culture faking – in terms of being a part– trying so much to be embraced by my peers and accepted by my peers. Even to the point of pretending, like, the things that they wanted to do, I wanted to do too – right? I was always a romantic – I never wanted to be a player. I always liked the idea of being married and having a family. That always appealed to me – even when I was younger. But you can’t say that as a teenager in high school – they’d look at you like, “What?” So I tried to be this player and be into relationships I could fake like I was in the in-crowd. And as they say you can’t be a player if you don’t have game, so I got caught trying to be a player. And I’ll never forget what the girl said. She said, “You’re no better than other guys – in fact, you’re worse because you think you’re better than them.”

Sam Holland  14:28  


Rasool Berry  14:29  

Y’all – it was brutal. But I knew she was absolutely right. Because of my temperament – because of my– you know, even somewhat intimidation or timidity around women, I wasn’t a womanizer person. But it wasn’t because I was substantially morally better than those who were. My personality type was just shyer – my interests were different – but when it came down to it, I was self serving just like they were when it mattered most. And that was what God used to get my attention and to break me.

So then I decided, “Well, I might as well get all this out the way.” So I tell the other young lady – because it was two. So I’m like, “I might as well just let her dump on me too.” And I never forget her response. She said, “I forgive you.” And I was like, “What?” I was like, “Why? I just got chewed out by this one person.” She said, “Jesus forgave me for all of my sins. So I don’t think I should hold it against you.”

Sam Holland  15:34  


Rasool Berry  15:35  

Moral imagination. My mind was blown. I had no category for that – right? And so I was like– cuz she was still calling it sin, but then she was also saying, “I’m not holding it against–” And I’m like, “Okay, how does this work?” And she began to explain the gospel. But it was more than just her explaining. She lived– I wanted something because the guilt was there. And so she started taking me to church.

And I started hearing this good news, this news that God saw our brokenness, He saw our sin. He knew we were not good enough. And He decided to sacrifice Himself for us. In that, I knew I could be in relationship– because I didn’t know how forgiveness worked. I just knew I was guilty. And I was like, “What are you supposed to do? Give money? Go to church?” None of these to-dos. No, it’s about a relationship with God. And I’m like, “That sounds beautiful. And it feels true.”

That truth wasn’t just some objective, logical premise, but it was a person. His name was Jesus. And I could get to know Him better. Know truth better, and see the world clearer. And so that’s what got me going, right as my college journey was beginning. And just really growing from there.

And so that is how I got to this place of wanting to also help other people see that there is a better way. There’s a better story that God wants to tell. Not just, “You’re terrible,” and not just, “Everything’s perfect and that there’s nothing wrong,” because we know that neither of those are true. But that we have something else that holds together in incredible tension and beauty and pain, the truth of a sinful, fallen, broken world, and the beauty of a God who loves us enough to do something about it. And enter into that, if we only invite Him in.

Sam Holland  17:33  

Yeah, I’m glad that you brought up telling a better story. You talked about that in your Created For talk – about telling a better story when we’re communicating about Jesus. So can you think of a recent way, when you told a better story, when you were communicating the good news to someone in everyday life? In person, on the internet – doesn’t matter.

Rasool Berry  17:59  

Yes. So this is one I have done. And I’m about to do after we get finished talking as well. So this is like hot off the press. But, one of the current stories that have dominated the headlines over the last several years and definitely last year, is the story of race. And racism in our country. It’s a story that, for many, evokes pain, anger, rage, shame, or guilt, embarrassment, or a sense of just fatigue – the whole gamut – right? White, Black, Latino, Hispanic, Asian, Native, immigrant, international, we all enter into that story and that conversation from a different place.

And too often, the flattened version of that either looks at good guys and bad guys. And just to say, “Hey, they’re bad guys who do bad things. And so we need to stop the bad people and if you’re one of them – if you’ve had those thoughts, then you just are the problem. Period. The end.” But what I think the better story – that God allows us to enter into – is one that says – you know – in spite of the fact that even in the Christian tradition, there have been major– uh, evidences – moments – where the church has fallen short of the standard that God has set about how there is one human race. And that there’s beautiful complexity and ethnicity and culture that we need to admire and embrace and still be in it but not of it, and all those things that we said earlier. Even though it’s true that the church has fallen woefully short of that in many ways, there’s another truth that we get to be held to, that God is actually saying, “Here’s what needs to be real and true.”

Again, going back to the Old and New Testament, the through line from Genesis – from the time that God tells Abraham, “I’m going to bless all the nations–” literally ethnic groups. The peoples – “through you,” to the point that we see Jesus at the top of the mountain in His resurrection, saying, “All power and authority has been given unto me, therefore go and say, every nation, nation, ethnos –ethnic group– people, and tell them about me and teaching them all that I’ve commanded you.” And that ‘teaching them all that I’ve commanded’ usually gets overlooked. So that’s not just a get-out-of-hell-free card gospel. This is a gospel of the kingdom that blew up – blew away the minds and the concepts of the first century Roman Empire, who, all they knew were territorial, petulant, petty deities, who were just like people. Who were just like the people that worshiped them. Who made them.

And instead of either of that category, Jesus gives a greater one that says, “Actually, I’m creating a new people. A people that’s not exclusively Jew or Gentile. A people that’s not just from this place. Like, yes, you’re from your ethnicity, you’re Egyptian, you’re  a Parthian, you’re a Mede–” I’m thinking all of the lists that were in Acts 2, “–but you’re more than that, you’re redeemed and you’re blood-bought, and now I can cause you to actually do what Paul does to the Corinthians.” To say, “You can eat the meat of your culture and spit out the bones.” There’s some stuff in there that’s not good for you. There’s some stuff in there that you’ll choke on.

And so what I like to do in telling the better story, is to say, “So when it comes to race, we can look at the utter brutality– we must look at the devastating ways that the story, the bad story of racial superiority–” because it wasn’t just bad laws. There were stories attached that made the laws acceptable for people to apply. That even though the laws change, the story that people continue to have in their mind never got completely confronted and dismantled. So we still have to fight that battle.

And the way that we do that is, one way, is by telling the better story of the fact that by the time we get to Revelation 7:9, look at what we see – we don’t see a colorblind Heaven. We see a Heaven where John, when the scroll of time is rolled back so he can see eternity, it says that he sees worshipping at the throne every people group. Every tribe. Every tongue. Every nation, in the sense of unity. But, at the same time, we see that same Babylon, that was the oppressive, greedy, lascivious entity, challenged and judged. There is judgment for the sin.

So the better story is, we can enter in. And we can actually find unity and value in each other. Even in those who have fallen short of God’s glory, just like I did. And yet, we also find in it a standard where we are all held and can hold each other to a higher position of what is true and what ought to be. So that’s the story I’m telling tonight. And that I continue to tell because we, including myself, need to continue to hear it.

Sam Holland  23:17  

I love it. I grew up in, in really white spaces. I grew up in Oregon – very white school, very white church, went to a very white seminary, worked in a very white organization. And I was very biblically literate my whole life. I’m a lit major – I love books. So I know the Bible. I knew the gospel. But it wasn’t until I heard Chris Ghubril, an Arab American, tell me that when Moses said, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh, God?” that he’s saying that as a tricultural person, that he’s asking a deeper question than I ever could have known, reading it as a white person in white spaces. It wasn’t until I heard Esau McCaulley talk about Jacob blessing Joseph’s sons, who were half Israelite, half Egyptian – right? And for him to say that Jacob’s blessing – he was talking about their ethnicity, their ethnic identity in that blessing. And so there’s just the fullness and the richness of the gospel when we listen to how our brothers and sisters are reading these passages because of your identity, which is different from mine. It just has enriched my life so much, and it enriches the way I understand the gospel, the way I communicate it. Yeah, just really life changing. So I’m so glad that’s the work that you’re doing.

Rasool Berry  25:03  

Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate it. And yeah, those folks that you mentioned – Esau – shout out – he showed up to the podcast and his book “Reading While Black” is amazing. Chris, Justin, Jo Saxton, Jocelyn Chung, all the folks that were part of this Created For event – I’ve learned so much from and I’m so grateful that we get to do it together.

And that’s part of the better story that none of us have all of it figured out on our own. Jesus tells us through Paul in Ephesians 4, what he says – until we get to the point that we are mature, and unify, we will be tossed to and fro by every wind and wave of doctrine, because we’ll only be looking through our blinders and our blind spots. But there’s something collaborative that we see happening, there’s something constructive in the body of Christ, that when we come together, we gain and learn and glean insights from other people’s point of reference –while still holding the truth– that we don’t see. This is why the gospel is written from four different perspectives. And not just one – right? It’s the same thing, and we get some of the same value of that when we traverse ethnicities and cultures, too.

Sam Holland  26:23  

Absolutely. Well, as we wrap up, Rasool, if there’s just one invitation that you could leave us with for followers of Jesus who are listening right now – they want to step into their calling – what would that one invitation be?

Rasool Berry  26:42  

I love the verse and I’ve been leaning on it more and more in recent times – “Be slow to speak and quick to listen.” Just think of that phrase for a second, ‘quick to listen.’ So often, I’m quick to speak and slow to listen. And I think we live in a culture that tends to be quick to speak, because we all have megaphones and microphones in our pockets. And we can put out and post our random thought – “What I had for breakfast” – you know. And so it’s very easy to be quick to speak and slow to listen.

But I think the Scriptures admonish us – and in this time I would challenge us, including myself – to be slow to speak and quick to listen. And for me, part of being quick to listen is there’s never been a greater time in the world’s history to be quick to listen. I literally have had times when I’ve heard of a book, like I’m listening to the Church Politics podcast by Justin and I go, “Oh – the AND Campaign’s book just came out!” Guess what – I can go to Kindle, download the book right there and start listening to it while I’m riding my bike. And I don’t even have to stop to read it. It’s an incredible time that we live in.

leverage those tools and resources to learn from a diverse point of view and reference, and especially from traditions and from people that don’t think like you do. That’s what it means to be quick to listen. And I think the more that we do that, the more that we gain the fullness and richness of what God’s trying to tell us in the world.

Sam Holland  28:09  

Be slow to speak and quick to listen, in a culture that’s quick to speak and slow to listen. It’s so easy to be quick to listen because of all the resources we have at hand – podcasts, audio books, leverage those tools and resources to learn from a diverse group of voices. Choose one book or podcast today, to listen to that represents someone different from you, who can give you a new perspective.

Created For is hosted and produced by Cru. If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe, rate or review it wherever you listen. For more resources to continue your journey to living out your impact, check out the show notes on our website. Cru.org/createdfor. And follow us on Instagram at _createdfor.

Thanks for listening.

We’ll catch you again on the next episode, when our Created For host Wendy Chen and I, will reflect on all we’ve heard from our speakers and their talks and their podcast episodes.

Recent Podcast Episodes