Portrait of A.J. Swoboda

A.J. Swoboda

  • Pastor
  • Professor
  • Speaker
  • Writer
  • Community Architect

Location: Portland, Oregon | USA

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Theophilus

A.J. pastors a community called Theophilus, a unique Christian church in the heart of the Hawthorne district of SE Portland. Here's just a little about it.

  

The Name Theophilus

Theophilus is named after somebody we know almost nothing about.

Each of the Bible's works were penned for a particular person or community at a particular time for a particular reason. Both of the Timothies were written to an ill-equipped under-aged pastor on how to keep the church he led from losing its mission and heart. Revelation was written to a number of churches for whom God had a specific message by an apostle named John while stranded on a distant island called Patmos. The first letter to the Corinthians was written to a church that had gotten caught up in some rather awkward sexual and dietary practices that made even their idols cringe.

Interestingly, the largest portion of the New Testament was written by a Gentile named Luke to some anonymous guy named Theophilus. All we know about Theophilus is his Greek name and his apparent willingness to fork up enough money to personally commission two major books in the Bible on very expensive papyrus: the gospel of Luke and Acts. Theophilus means two things: "lover of God" and "loved by God." It's a name that conveys reciprocity, like a two-way street. Other than this, Theophilus is a mystery. (see Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2)

We liked the idea of some mysterious guy of anonymity who loved and was loved by God who desperately wanted to hear more of these stories about Jesus. So the name stuck.

Theophilus is a Christian community in southeast Portland, Oregon that meets in the Hawthorne district.

The mission of Theophilus is to try and be and do whatever Jesus says to be and do.

And we're still working that one out.

Our Faith and Theology

It is undeniably challenging to assess what "we" believe since "we" consist of many types of people from differing religious and traditional backgrounds who have become intrigued and enamored by Jesus. Some of us love church, some have been burned. Some of us speak in tongues, some think it's weird. Some of us are conservative, some are not. But no matter where we come from, it is clear we need a guide and some maps to help us find where we are going.

We look to God (Father//Son//Spirit) as our guide and the Bible (OT//NT), the Creeds (Apostolic//Nicene), Christian history and tradition, and God's creation as our maps.

Our theology is best described by a beautiful communal document written by the earliest Christians of the fourth century called the Nicene Creed (325 C.E.). It reads:

"We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come."

Simplicity of Practice

One must journey complexity to find simplicity. In an effort towards simplicity, Theophilus does not do much. We practice three things at Theophilus: Tents, Tables, and Tears. Tents are our public gatherings where we come together to pray, worship, celebrate Communion, and learn from the Scriptures on Sundays. Tables are smaller communities that eat together to build friendship, practice love, and embody hospitality throughout the week. Tears are our communities local efforts at compassionate service where God is already at work such as practicing servant-hood, contributing to the life of our city, and seeking justice for the world.

Check out more here.

We recently had some atheist friends come and join us for an evening. They had some interesting things to say about Theophilus. Read them here.

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Books I've Written

Living People I Read

Alan Hirsch

Allan Anderson

Amos Yong

Bernard Anderson

Dale Davis

Don Carson

Donald Bloesch

Donald Dayton

Donald Gelpi

Ed Dobson

Elizabeth Johnson

Eugene Peterson

Frederick Beuchner

Gary Babcock

Gordon Fee

Gregory Boyd

Harvey Cox

John Drane

John Goldingay

John Stott

John Zizioulas

Jim Belcher

Jürgen Moltmann

Karen Armstrong

Kenneth Bailey

Kevin Vanhoozer

Kirsteen Kim

Larry Hurtado

Lauren Winner

Mark Cartledge

Margaret Feinberg

Mel Robeck

Nancey Murphy

N.T. Wright

Paul Hiebert

Ray Bakke

Richard Baukham

Rodney Clapp

Robert Banks

Rowan Williams

Sallie McFague

Stanley Fish

Stanley Hauerwas

Thomas Schmidt

Timothy Keller

Walter Brueggemann

Zygmunt Bauman

Dead People I Read

Aimee Semple McPherson

Athanasius

Augustine

Basil the Great

Charles Spurgeon

Charles Wesley

Colin Gunton

C.S. Lewis

David Bosch

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Sayer

G.K. Chesterton

George Eldon Ladd

Hendrickus Berkhof

Henri Nouwen

John Wesley

Jonathan Edwards

John Calvin

Joseph Fitzmyer

Karl Barth

Leslie Newbigin

Martin Luther

Michel Foucault

Paul Tillich

Raymond Brown

Robert Farrar Capon

Roland Allen

Simone Weil

Steven Bevans

Theresa of Avila

Vincent Donovan

Walter Hollenweger

William McClendon

Top 10 Books Ever

#1 Theology and Hope: On the Ground and Implications of a Christian Eschatology (Jürgen Moltmann)

#2 Church Dogmatics (Karl Barth)

#3 Systematic Theology: Doctrine, Witness, Ethics (William McClendon)

#4 Scandalous Beauty: The Artistry of God and the Way of the Cross (Thomas Schmidt)

#5 On the IncarnationDe Incarnatione Verbi Dei (St. Athanasius)

#6 Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt & Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Leslie Newbigin)

#7 Narratives of a Vulnerable God: Christ, Theology, and Scripture (William Placher)

#8 Personal KnowledgeTowards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Michael Polanyi)

#9 Desiring the KingdomWorship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (James K.A. Smith)

#10 Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Miroslav Volf)