Theopolis comes from two Greek words, “God” and “city.” We believe that the Spirit of God works through faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word, through vibrant, rich, transformative Liturgy, and through courageous and diligent pastoral leadership to form the church into an image of the future city of God. As Christ-shaped churches share the mission of Jesus in the power of the Spirit, the world itself becomes more and more like God’s heavenly city.
The Theopolis Institute, based in Birmingham, Alabama. was founded in 2012 by Dr. Peter Leithart and Rev. James Jordan, but our work began two decades earlier. Since the early 1990s, a small group of pastors and theologians, led by James Jordan, has been gathering for the Biblical Horizons conferences in a small town in the Panhandle of Florida. Quietly and slowly, the seeds we planted grew and a fresh form of Reformed Christianity began taking root. Dozens of churches in the U.S. and across the globe now combine rich liturgical life with solid biblical teaching and rigorous pastoral care.
The Theopolis Institute perpetuates the Biblical Horizons agenda of church reformation and cultural transformation into the future. We offer a vision that we believe can and should shape the churches of the future – a thoroughly sacramental and Trinitarian theology and church practice, solidly rooted in Scripture, combined with unreserved catholicity that draws from all traditions of the church.
We accomplish this aim principally by providing affordable, graduate-level leadership training courses, focusing on biblical and liturgical theology. For the first several years of our existence, we are sponsoring intensive week-long training sessions, both in the United States and in other locations throughout the world. In 2019, we plan to continue a revised Fellows Program.
Theopolis Scholar-in-Residence James B. Jordan is working on a Psalter for use in churches, as well as fresh translations of critical books of the Bible and a collection of liturgies. We equip church leaders of the future through lectures that address the key cultural issues of our time and the annual Nevin Lecture series, in video and audio resources, and by advancing theological scholarship in essays on our web site and newsletter. Students in our courses, attendees at our conferences and lecture series, and readers of our publications learn to read the Bible imaginatively, worship God faithfully, and engage the culture intelligently.
Bible. Liturgy. Culture.
The needs of the church are vast, and we can meet them faithfully only with ministry that integrates Scripture, sacramental worship, and cultural transformation. Churches need to be biblically rooted, liturgically vibrant, and culturally aware. None of these three planks can be neglected. A weakness in one area will necessarily produce weakness in others.
Many churches have for all practical purposes rejected Scripture’s authority over faith and ethics, and those that honor Scripture often have a narrow view of its scope. Brash confidence in the accuracy of the Bible is increasingly rare in America today, even among self-identified Evangelicals. On this issue, we cheerfully stand with Fundamentalists. Fundamentalism unfortunately encouraged a flat and unimaginative reading of Scripture that missed much of the Bible’s truth because it missed most of its beauty. Because we believe the Bible is God’s word written, we want to hear and savor every nuance of Scripture, every harmony of its music, every shift in the tone of God’s voice. Scripture is Jesus’ love letter to His bride, and we want to hear everything our Bridegroom says.
Worship today is chaotic and casual, and, despite progress, the Lord’s Supper is still marginal to the lives of many Christians. Evangelical Protestants who promote liturgical renewal sometimes adopt practices that have no biblical foundation or are directly contrary to Scripture. The biblical theology that underlies Evangelical liturgical renewal is typically thin and undeveloped. On the other hand, Bible teaching is not enough. Scripture must be taught in the context of lively liturgy, Psalm-singing, and frequent Eucharistic celebration in order to form churches that can withstand the pressures of the world.
In addition to these challenges within the church, the West faces a cultural crisis. The Christian foundations of our civilization are rapidly eroding, most obviously in the advance of the same-sex marriage. Christians have responded energetically to these challenges for several decades, but they have often fought with weak weapons of the world. We at the Theopolis Institute are convinced that this cultural crisis can only be met when the church’s life and worship are reformed. Only churches enlivened by Word and Worship are equipped to be the Spirit’s instruments for transforming the world.
Bible. Liturgy. Culture. They must go together. None can be neglected.
The church cannot be reformed, and the world cannot be transformed, without leaders, so the Theopolis Institute focuses its energies on leadership training, and on pastoral training in particular. The Theopolis Institute prepares men and women, in the United States and throughout the world, to take advantage of the opportunities with creative hope and to meet the dangers with courageous faith.
We envision a world full of churches that teach the Christian Scriptures as the Word of God in all their power and beauty; churches where the people of God sing Psalms, hymns, and songs in lively worship and eat and drink together each week around the Lord’s table; churches that live in obedience to the Lord Jesus and practice discipline together under the leadership of pastors; churches whose members share in the mission of the Son and Spirit to announce and give shape to God’s city of peace, justice, and love.
Catholicity in the City
The divisions of the church since the Reformation have been disastrous both for the church and for Western civilization. Jesus said that the world will know that He came from the Father when the disciples are one as He is one with the Father. When the church is deeply divided, as it has been for centuries, it is no wonder that the gospel loses its plausibility.
Over the past decades, long-settled boundaries between churches have become more porous. We believe that the decline in denominational loyalty reflects of the boundary-bursting age in which we live. If the churches respond rightly, a more catholic, more faithful church will emerge from the rubble of denominationalism’s collapse. When God begins to make His people new, He first tears down the old. When God gets ready to build a temple, He first sends in the Philistines to rip apart the tabernacle. The disorienting ecclesial chaos around us is a crisis, but crises open doors to the Christian future.
At the same time, the world is rapidly urbanizing. Back in 2008, the human race turned a corner. For the first time in history (so far as we know!), the majority of the human race was living in large towns and cities. Many churches have recognized this trend and reoriented their ministries toward cities and many have begun to replicate the work of the early church, stunningly summarized by Rodney Stark: “Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with the homeless and the impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.”
Put these two factors together – denominational decline and urbanization – and you have the contours of a new model of church structure, a metropolitan one. Under denominationalism, Presbyterian pastors in Atlanta reserve their closest ties with Presbyterians in Macon or Minnesota than with the Methodist across the street. In a metropolitan model, the Presbyterian and the Methodist are primarily co-laborers with the Lutherans and Pentecostals and Catholics on the next block, working together to build the city of God within the city of man.
The Theopolis Institute is devoted to encouraging such catholicity among churches. Each year, we invite a Nevin Lecturer from outside our tradition to speak about a topic where the church is currently divided. Through this exercise in receptive catholicity, we hope to help overcome the wounds in the body of Christ.
The Theopolis Institute is also committed to fostering a metropolitan model for the church’s future. In Metropolitan Manifesto , Theopolis Fellow Richard Bledsoe describes his long ministry to civic leadership in Boulder, Colorado, and explains how pastors can become “counsellors to the king.” Other pastors associated with Theopolis have told the stories of their ecumenical engagements on our website.
Our logo, designed by CREVIN AMD of Missoula, Montana, symbolizes our goals in visual form. With its curved horizontal lines, our logo represents the horizon of the future that God constantly makes new. At Theopolis, we live out of the Christian tradition, not to find a safe haven in the past but to respond creatively and faithfully to a future we cannot anticipate or control.
The logo is a badge of our mission. At the top, it shows a city-scape, resting on the firmament – the heavenly city of God. But the city is reflected below the horizon, the image of God’s city on earth. Shifting perspective, the city-scape stands at the edge of a sea, its skyline reflected in the sea of nations below.
The logo forms a T for Theopolis. It is a cross that stretches between heaven to earth and from one end of the horizon to the other, signifying our desire to see the world filled with cruciform churches that give birth to a cruciform cosmos. It is a cross that embraces all reality. We do our work in the hope that the Lord will use us to make His world more and more theopolitan.