On Wesley: The Sermons of a Perfectionist

When John Wesley set out to write two of his most famous and influential sermons—#40: Christian Perfection and #76: On Perfection—he was not writing in a vacuum. Indeed, theological controversies, economic hardships, political disputes and sinful living surrounded him like the plagues. What is more is that persons who claimed to be Christians played active roles in creating and sustaining much of the corruption. Wesley wondered how this could be. When reading the sermons mentioned here, then, such issues must be taken into account. It is important to understand how Wesley, as one always looking through the lens of Scripture, viewed and interpreted the world in which he lived. With the deep conviction that things could and ought to be different, he began preaching that Christians are called to exude a life of personal and social holiness—what he simply referred to as “perfection.”

While Wesley was extremely confident in this doctrine—even to the point of frequently urging people to argue against him if they dared—it does seem that even he, at times, was forced to alter his understanding of such a concept. For instance, in Christian Perfection Wesley comments that, “There is no ‘perfection of degrees’” but later, in On Perfection, he argues that in fact, there are degrees of perfection: angelic, Adamic and human. Along with such discrepancies (or rather, modifications), Wesley also seemed to undertake the art of special pleading when, in Christian Perfection, he argued that there were persons in the apostolic age that never committed sin.

Despite some of the minor tensions and extreme contentions that undergird Wesley’s discussion of perfection in these two sermons, many of his arguments are actually quite cogent. For instance, his point that there is no “necessity of sinning” laid upon Christians by God is incredibly sound. As he notes, “it can never be proved that any Christian must commit sin.” Furthermore, and against those who argue that total sanctification cannot be achieved in this life, Wesley posits the question: “Why cannot the Almighty sanctify the soul while it is in the body?…He can just as easily save you from all sin in the body as out of the body.” The great pietist also asked his dissenters to ponder the notion that, if God can give spiritual gifts to persons for the sum of their Christian life, why is it so unthinkable that He would do the same with the gift of perfection? Wesley reasoned, “Is [God] not as able to give [perfection to] us always as to give it once? As able to give it for fifty years as for one day?” Wesley also wonders if people are so averse to this teaching because deep down, they love to sin and long not to part with it? To that he remarks, “…why are you so fond of sin? What good has it ever done you?”

Widely misunderstood—partially because he was often incredibly ambiguous—Wesley’s doctrine of perfection is perhaps most clearly grasped when explained by that great scholar Albert Outler, who says: “If, for Wesley, salvation was the total restoration of the deformed image of God in us, and if its fullness was the recovery of our negative power not to sin and our positive power to love God supremely, this denotes the furthest reach of grace and its triumphs in this life that Wesley chose to call ‘Christian perfection.’” Though Wesley readily admits that few have ever achieved such status in their human life, he also urges that it is definitely possible. In fact, he even takes it a step further and in a typical Arminian demeanor, posits that, “some who once enjoyed full salvation have now totally lost it.”

For all of the difficulty that one encounters in attempting to gain a greater sense of Wesley’s theology of perfection, coming face-to-face with the truth that Christians are called live personally and socially holy lives is humbling. Though, in the end, some may choose not to seize upon this doctrine of Wesley’s, none can criticize him for seeking to fulfill the chief commandment of loving God and loving neighbor. Surely, this principle that was so desperately needed in his time and in the ages before him, is still needed today!


The Supreme Court, Colorblindedness and Theology

A little less than an hour west of me sits Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville is not an enormous city but it is progressive and growing. This is, perhaps, why it is so shocking to me that the school system there has been using ethnic profiling to place students in certain schools. Some of the educational officials said that they were doing this to create diversity; they were trying to mix the schools up so that they did not become ethnic hodgepodges. However, many parents (and students) in Louisville see this as a disgusting practice and numerous of them have claimed that both they and their children were discriminated against by the school system because of their ethnicity. This debate has been going on for seven long years and many see such actions as directly in opposition of the Constitution and even coming close to a reversal of the 1954 "Brown versus Board of Education" ruling. This has also been going on in Seattle, Washington as well. Click the following link to read more: Ethnic Profiling.

Yesterday, however, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 against using ethnic profiling when admitting students into educational institutions. Despite this long overdue victory, one thing that this reveals is that in many parts of America, ethnic prejudices are still alive and well. It is surely a sad sight when the Supreme Court almost loses when voting on such an issue (again, the vote was only 5 to 4). Just as troubling to me is the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts commented after the ruling, that we all need to be “colorblind.”

Honestly, I am so sick of hearing about colorblindedness. In fact, I think the call to be “colorblind” only adds fuel to the fire of prejudiced thought and behavior. Sadly, I’ve heard many Christians advocate this same type of thinking. I’ve heard many a Christian claim that God Himself is colorblind. From a Biblical and theological perspective, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, Scripture reminds us time and time again that in Christ, there are no distinctions. As Paul’s Magna Carta states, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female.” All who are baptized in to Christ Jesus are one. And even a cursory reading of Revelation quickly reminds us (as the phrase is repeated over and over again) that Christ’s blood was shed for “every nation, tribe, people and language.” Again, in Christ there is no distinction.

Yet, “no distinction” does not mean that Christians should advocate “colorblindedness.” Rather, it suggests the exact opposite, that believers should affirm the beauty exhibited by the wide array of diversity. To be colorblind is to deny the beauty of God’s rich and creative diversity. Further, and still worse, to suggest that God is colorblind is to speak against His own beauty and His own creativity. Just as well, it is to deny, in large part, the call of the Great Commission to take the Gospel to all peoples with a spirit of love, not a spirit of elitism. Theologically, then, Christians must see past the hollow words of our elected officials and instead, view the world in all of its many colors, in all of its many shades and in all of its divine beauty.

Perhaps we need a reminder from an old children’s song: “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves all the children of the world.” And if children can grasp and sing this truth, then why can’t we? And even more, if Jesus loves all the children of the world and we are called to emulate our Lord, then shouldn’t we love each other too—with no distinctions?

Society of Biblical Literature

I recently joined the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and am looking forward to being involved with it. I was wondering, for those of you who might already be involved, what you think of it? What are the pros and cons? What should I expect and not expect? If there are any of you out there who can provide some feedback that would be great. Thanks.


New Feature: Chat on Pisteuomen

Friends, I have decided to add a new "chat" feature to the blog. It is free for all to use and is incredibly simple. In just two easy steps, here's how it works:

1. Locate and click the "chat" icon situated in the top right column of this blog. Give the icon a few seconds to load (for those of you using a 56K dial-up modem, it should take about 45-50 seconds). When it has loaded, double-click the "start chatting" button.

2. Once the chat room loads, a brief note will appear that says something akin to "signing you in." The beauty of the chat room is that you don't have to sign-up for anything; you will simply be signed in as a guest in my chat room. Once this has happened, you are free to talk. You might even make sure your volume is turned up a bit so you can hear when other visitors come into the chat room.

Also, you can navigate other chat rooms as well. I noticed that there were a bunch of religious ones, so, some of you might enjoy that. Oh and if you chat in another room, try to remember to pass on my site address...that's always very appreciated. You should also know that you can chat with other visitors to Pisteuomen if you drop in at the same time as them. On another note, ignore the sometimes "odd" and sometimes "silly" banners at the bottom of the screen--those are not my doing!

Finally, if you do want to "officially" sign-up to have your own screen name (mine is Pisteuomen) or add a chat room to your site, click the following link: Blog Chat. Once you've done that, just click "sign-up" and follow the on-screen directions.

Leaving Behind Left Behind: Pt. 4

In my last few posts, I have shown a variety of problems with and have offered a number of arguments against Dispensationalism or rapture theology. In this post, I want to offer one final critique of that ever so problematic belief system. Here, I want to mainly address the issue of prophecy. The proponents of rapture theology (a.k.a. LaHaye, Jenkins, Van Impe, etc.) seriously misread the Bible when it comes to this subject.

Basically, there are four sections of the Bible that when it comes to prophecy, they, like a broken record, play over and over and over (especially Van Impe): Mt. 24, Mk. 13, Lk. 18 and Revelation. For some reason (because they have a certain agenda), they treat these four sections of the Bible as futuristic “prediction” sections. In other words, when they read and teach from these passages, they do not read them in their ancient contexts (e.g. as seeing into the near future or immediate context back then). Instead they treat these passages like they were never written to or intended for the original, ancient audiences but rather that they were intended for people of modernity—21st century Americans. I must ask, what is this but the height of modern arrogance? For example, they tend to argue that Revelation was not written to call the early Christians to turn from idolatry and to worship the One True God, but rather it was written directly to us 21st centurions.

Often, the argument Dispensationalists use is: “If Revelation isn’t about the end of the world in our times, predicting events in our times, then why is it relevant?” Well, that is quite a silly question. The rest of the Bible never predicts anything specifically for our times today, does that render it all irrelevant? Of course not! Just because it isn’t predicting modern day wars and things does not mean it is irrelevant. Surely, John the Seer would not have told a number of first-century Mediterranean congregations, in code-like language, that in the future there would be flying scorpions that would come to be called helicopters. This is not only unthinkable but incredibly ridiculous and forcing the Bible to say something it never tried or intended to.

While I could go on all day about that, suffice it to say that as I’ve shown over the last few posts, this is just another way they twist the Scriptures and end up teaching falsehoods. One of the most trouble aspects about it all though, is that the rapture theologians are increasingly using their misinterpretations of the Bible to achieve political ends. For example, people like Tim Lahaye and John Hagee have tried repeatedly to become involved in the political affairs of Israel. Why? They want to usher in some imaginary Armageddon. They believe that once the Jews and the Temple are restored in Jerusalem, the final battle will start. And because they want Christ to return as soon as possible, they are trying to get the Temple rebuilt so the war will commence. I might add here, and you will know this if you keep up with politics, that the president of Iran has a very similar apocalyptic outlook. Doesn’t it frighten you when this sect of Christians is saying essentially the same things as fundamentalist Muslims? It should!

Because of their tangled up views of how to understand Biblical prophecy, rapture proponents are often war-bent. But why not, if they’re going to be raptured up and saved from it all; they have nothing to war about, so, bring on the war and kill as many people as you need to in order to get the Temple rebuilt!!! I should point out at this juncture that most rapture theologians also believe that there are 2 peoples of God: The Jews and The Christians. Indeed, many of them, such as John Hagee, teach that Jews are the only people in the world who do not have to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. In fact, they go even further and suggest that Jesus is not the only fulfiller of prophecy but the Jews are too. Now, I am by no means anti-Semitic but friends, this teaching is just about as un-Scriptural as it gets! All must accept Christ.

Finally, it should not be surprising that one of the most popular belief systems in America right now (funny how all over the rest of the world Left Behind really isn’t nearly as popular!) has duped so many people. This theology is a wolf in sheep’s clothing; it makes a mockery of God, of Christ, of how to understand prophecy and really, just the Scriptures in general! It is high time for Christians today to learn how to read the Bible and understand it correctly so that we can not only know these falsehoods when we see them but to lay them to rest so that they don’t lead the masses into violent and even heretical actions. Once and for all, let’s dispense with Dispensationalism and leave behind Left Behind.


The Year of Paul

For all of you "Paul junkies" out there (I am one myself), you might be interested to know that tomorrow, the Pope plans to announce that June 29, 2008 - June 29, 2009 will be the "Pauline Year." This is in prepration for the 2,000 year anniversary of the apostle's birth. For more on the story, click the following link: Catholic News Service.

Leaving Behind Left Behind: Pt. 3

In my previous two posts (part of a small series of posts), I have been critiquing the incredibly popular but heavily flawed rapture theology of Left behind I continue that critique here. So, what follows is exactly that.

As you will remember, I have already pointed out the ways in which the Left Behind crew has twisted Matthew 24 and totally misinterpreted it. Of course, that is one of their foundational passages. There are, however, two more so-called foundational passages: 1 Thessalonians 4.16-18 and Revelation 4.1-2. What I want to do is put these passages in context for you and show you how the rapture theologians, one again, have twisted them to fit their agenda. I begin with 1 Thessalonians.

As I mentioned in my post “Meteora and Monasticism,” a few months ago my wife and I traveled to Turkey and Greece. Well, one of the other places that we visited was Thessaloniki. While there are few ancient ruins there to visit, one site stands out above all. This site is an ancient castle. Now, the castle is not from the times of Jesus or Paul, it is much later. However, when the castle was built, it was definitely built in the spirit of the earlier structures of the city that had been there. What I mean by this is that the castle was completely walled (that is, it had a wall all around the entire perimeter) and inside the walls is where the actual city was located. So, it was more than a castle; it was a walled city! So too, was the city in Paul’s day! This is important to know because when we read Thessalonians, we must keep this in mind.

Of course, the city was walled largely for protection purposes. It goes without saying that in the ancient world, entire cities were often attacked and plundered. So, Thessaloniki needed to protect itself. At one point in the wall there was located an enormous gate with towers near it that watchmen worked in. When rival armies or other important persons were approaching, such as a king or an emperor, these watchers would alert the city officials about it. In fact, there are a number of ancient documents that speak of the emperor visiting Thessaloniki. Here’s a brief picture of how that would have looked:

Imagine the watchmen sitting in the tower and all of a sudden a few delegates or forerunners approach the gate. Out of breath they say, “Hail, hail, make way, the Lord Caesar is coming.” In a frantic, the men alert the city officials and preparations for the emperor get underway. As the chariot approaches, the large entourage stirs up dust clouds and all of a sudden the watchmen toot their bugles and trumpets. Everyone inside (and outside) of the city knows what is going on. A few men strain to push the gates open and the town welcoming committee (yes, they had those) ran out and bowed down before the chariot and said something akin to, “Our Lord, we welcome you.” What happens next? They stand up and escort the emperor into the city.

Now, with the ancient context in mind, let’s read 1 Thess. 4.6-18 but as we do, take note of all the “emperor-like” language used: “For the Lord Himself will come down from Heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

Now, for many, when that is read, they automatically think: “rapture.” Yet, what is going on is no description of a rapture event. Instead, Paul, writing to people who lived in a walled city, is describing the return of Christ in terms of the arrival of the emperor—a scene the people could relate to! If you read closely, you will notice that a rapture-in-reverse takes place: Christ comes down (assumedly with the New Jerusalem). Now, just as the emperor’s chariot stirred up clouds of dust and the welcoming committee escorted him into the city, so will Christians go out and greet Jesus in the clouds. However, He will not take them up to the sky, instead, they will meet Him there and simply escort Him back down to earth where He will establish His throne and transform all that is in Him. You see, the chief reason Paul wrote his Thessalonian letters in the first place was to comfort believers who had actually thought they had been left behind; their friends and relatives had taken by death but they had not. Yet, Paul says that they need not worry because being left behind is not a bad, but rather a good thing; Christ will come down here and make His dwelling and in fact, you may even be one of those who get to go out and greet Him and escort Him back to the very earth that He will transform. Notice the comments in chapter 5 about not being “asleep” but instead being “awake and sober” at all times. Why? So that when Christ does come down, you will recognize Him and be able to welcome Him and give honor to Him.

So, once again, you can see how the Dispensationalists have totally ignored the context out of which Paul was writing and have instead, made up their own way of reading, understanding and interpreting such passages. Another place they do this is Revelation 4.1-2. There, John says, “After this, I looked and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once, I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.”

Now, at first glance, this passage might seem like John was “raptured” but rest assured, he was not. What we have to keep in mind is that all throughout Revelation, John repeatedly tells his audience that all of what he has “seen” he has simply seen in a vision given to Him by God and God’s angel (as chapter 1 especially notes). Further, when John says, “I was in the Spirit” that is simply another way to say that the Spirit (e.g. God) is giving Him a vision (e.g. 1.10; 4.2). In short, John is not taking a literal journey into heaven; instead, He is describing what is being shown to him as God gives Him insight while he looks into the heavens, the skies. To put it differently, as some have noted, John did not get “beamed up” to heaven; instead, as he tells his audience at the beginning of his letter, while he was on the earthly island of Patmos (1.9), he received insight from a heavenly being!

My reason for writing this post, as well as the other ones before it, is to warn you against the incredibly popular but skewed teachings of Dispensationalism, especially Left Behind. While learning to read the Bible in context takes some work, in the end it is worth it because it helps us to get a truer and more Scriptural understanding of things. Sadly, those who teach and believe in a rapture come up short in this area. To arrive at such a teaching you have to not only overlook what Scripture actually says but twist it to fit your agenda. So, take this article as one of encouragement. If you are in the Christ, don’t fret about an end-time Armageddon (there will not be one, Christ has already won!), don’t worry about being left behind (you want to be—although, you don’t want to be taken) but rather learn to read the Scriptures as best you can and just live with the anticipation and excitement that, one day, you might just be one of those who gets to escort Christ and His heavenly entourage back to the earth that He will renew and transform! Praise God. Hallelujah.


Leaving Behind Left Behind: Pt. 2

In my previous post, I began to critique the flawed thinking and un-Scriptural notions of the Left Behind movement. In particular, I argued that they not only mishandle but also totally twist and misinterpret Mt. 24.36-41—one of the main passages that they base their theology on. Indeed, a close reading of that passage reveals that being left behind is a good thing and that as believers, we should want to be left behind. In Noah’s days, it was the evil people who were taken up by the flood and the people of God (e.g. Noah’s family) that were left behind and saved. When Christ returns, then, as Christians, we should hope not to be taken up or away (for that will mean that we are experiencing God’s judgment) but rather left behind (which will ensure our salvation). The Left Behind guys have gotten it all wrong and sadly, they have misled many people with their “rapture theology.”

In the present post, as well as in a few more to come, I want to address this problem even more. In short, I want to suggest to you that there will be no rapture! In fact, the rapture is not a biblical notion. For instance, the word “rapture” never appears in the Bible (a fact that many Christians may be unaware of). However, the argument cannot just be based on that for the word cocaine never appears in the Scriptures but we know that taking such drugs is wrong. Also, for the first 1800 years of Church history, no student of the Bible ever thought about or necessarily mentioned a rapture event! This point is very telling because it reminds us that rapture theology was particularly borne during the Civil War, a time period when people were desperately wanting to escape all of the fighting and killing and thus, leaving the earth was quite appealing to them.

Most people do not realize how rapture theology (also known as Dispensationalism) came about, so, I’d like to share some of that background. Surprisingly, Dispensationalism did not come from any great Church figure such as St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin or John Wesley. Instead, a young Scottish girl—Margaret MacDonald—gave birth to this belief system in the 1830’s. One evening at a revival healing service, MacDonald went forward and said that she had been given a vision. Basically, the vision was that Christ would come back twice—once to gather believers and take them up to heaven where they would watch a lengthy war play out. Then Christ would come back down and the people who had previously been left behind would be given a second chance to join Christ in His fight against satan and satan’s minions. If the people did this, at the end of the battle they would be “taken up” by Christ and then everything else would be left behind, animals, the whole earth and all and it would be totally destroyed. Now, all of this is incredibly flawed. For example, the Scriptures never espouse a second-chance theology! Just as well, to say that Christ has to come back, mount up an army and fight satan (again) is to say that His crucifixion and resurrection were not good enough. Indeed, Paul says repeatedly in His writings that Christ has already defeated death and satan. Rapture proponents, however, do not teach this. In their thinking, Christ still needs to defeat satan.

Even more, the picture that the author of Revelation presents (as well as Paul) is not of the earth being annihilated while all of God’s raptured people watch from Heaven’s grandstands. No, instead, believers are to rejoice in the fact that God’s throne will come down from Heaven and at last, transform the earth on which it will rest forever (Rev. 21-22). If anything, this is a rapture-in-reverse! Besides, who would want to watch so many people be judged by God? I don’t know about you but if I had to watch that, there definitely would be weeping in Heaven! Yet, the Left Behind crew, like the bloodthirsty Romans in the ancient theaters, can’t wait for this moment.

Well, I have digressed; let me return to the young Scottish gal. In all honesty, as Ben Witherington notes (in: The Problem With Evangelical Theology), her “vision” would have soon faded away except that a British preacher heard it; his name was John N. Darby. He was enraptured by this vision (pun intended) and spread the story far and wide. In fact, he went to the Scriptures and pulled together a few verses from here and there to make a case for this vision. Eventually, Darby came to America. While here, he met another evangelist named Dwight L. Moody. Moody, who had established “Moody Bible Institute” began teaching this too. Over time, a businessman heard about this belief system and realizing how new and appealing it was, came up with an idea to promote it and make a pretty penny off of it. His name was C. I. Scofield. What he did was to come up with a reference Bible where he added new headings and subtitles that promoted the rapture theology. This caught like wildfire and Scofield became instantly rich. For many years this would become the leading study Bible and many Americans would buy into what it was promoting. Eventually, a Presbyterian minister by the name of Lewis Chafer decided that there needed to be a center for Dispensationalist theology, so, he founded Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). A fellow by the name of Charles Ryrie became a student at DTS and later published a popular study Bible that also promoted rapture theology. But guess who else attended this school and was heavily influenced by it? None other than Tim LaHaye, the infamous author of Left Behind.

So, this, in a nutshell, is how this fairly new but very flawed rapture theology grew up and caught on. It’s not hard to understand why it caught on by any means and in fact, it’s quite scary given that it is all that many Christians have ever heard and been taught! From its very roots though, it is an un-Scriptural theology. While I will explore this more in my next few posts, I want to say here that I believe that what was accomplished through Christ on the cross and in His resurrection and ascension was enough. He no longer has to “fight” satan—Christ has already won! If this isn’t true then it’s all a hoax! But thank God it is true and that Christ is victorious!

For more on this, see: Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in Revelation (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004).


Leaving Behind Left Behind: Pt. 1

This week I am going to begin a series of posts examining the teachings of the Left Behind dynasty. In particular, I am going to, through some simple exegesis (Scriptural analysis) and contextual work, show how they distort and misuse the very passages of Scripture that they base their belief system on. What follows, then, is the first part in the series. Enjoy.

North American Christianity has seen fads come and go. We have seen the WWJD bracelet craze (which took the country by storm). We know all about the Christian t-shirt phase, a time period when religious t-shirt makers hijacked secular slogans and Christianized them (for example, the t-shirt that resembles the John Deere Green logo but reads: John 3:16). While seemingly harmless trends such as these come and go, there are other fads the Church must be more cautious with. For instance, many years ago, a new translation and interpretation of the Bible came out, which was called The Message. This work, done by scholar Eugene Peterson is easy-to-read, inexpensive (usually) and fitting for a new Christian. However, in many ways, this type of work misses the mark when it comes to being a valid and trustworthy translation. Thus, when it comes to serious study of the Bible, this translation must be set aside.

Perhaps, though, the most widespread and faulty fad yet has been Left Behind. The theology and belief system that undergirds these films and books is simply wrong. Moreover, their methods for interpreting the Bible are flawed, which leads them to misread and misinterpret it. The sad thing is that many Christians have followed along and bought into this mess, which has no precedence in the first 1800 years of Church history—and there’s a good reason for that!!! Let me give you an example of how they misinterpret the Bible.

The foundational passage of Scripture that the Left Behind corporation is based on is Matthew 24.37-41. Those verses read: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a handmill; one will be taken and the other left.”

Now, the Left Behind corporation makes people think that this passage means that at some point in time, God will snatch-up or rapture believers into the sky and leave sinners behind. However, such a reading makes a mockery of the passage. In fact, if you read it closely, they’ve got it all wrong. First of all, these verses never talk about anyone going “up” into the sky, much less staying there forever. It simply suggests some will be taken (with no “direction) mentioned. I could come to your home and “take” you but that does not mean that we have to travel through the sky; we could go anywhere.

Read closer still. In these verses, Matthew uses the story of Noah to make a comparison. He says that the people who were eating, drinking and marrying knew nothing of the ensuing flood (of course, the text implies that they “knew” about it but chose to ignore it or not take it seriously). In short, they were unprepared, while Noah and his family were prepared. The picture painted here is of two groups of people: those who are obedient to God and those who are not. This fits perfectly with the following analogy.

Now, a question should be posed here: What happened to Noah and his family and what happened to the unprepared people (e.g. the wicked or disobedient)? Answer: The wicked were “taken” by the flood (which was God’s form of judgment) and the righteous (Noah and family) was “left behind” on the ark. The point that Matthew wants to make is this: Just as in Noah’s case, when Jesus returns, the wicked will be “taken” for judgment and the righteous will be “left behind” to dwell in the New Earth (or New Jerusalem). In short, as Christians, we want to be left behind—we don’t want to experience God’s wrathful judgment.

Do you see, then, how the Left Behind crew has misread, twisted and perverted Scripture? Moreover, they have founded and based their whole company and agenda on this. They have even tried to frighten people by telling them: “Don’t be left behind.” However, the Scriptures urge that you do want to be left behind—again, you don’t want to be in the company of the wicked who are “taken” to experience wrathful judgment. The thing is, when it comes to the Left Behind dynasty and their faulty rapture theology, there are many more problems. In the next several posts, I am going to expose and lay them bare. Still, it goes without saying that this is a fad that we must reject; it distorts and misrepresents the Bible and the Christian faith.

You know that when passages of Scripture that a company founds itself on are misinterpreted, that is a sure sign that they ought to be question (and probably not trusted). Thus, it is high time to leave behind Left Behind. After all, I don’t want to be in the company of the wicked who are taken away to experience harsh judgment, instead, I want to dwell here, with God on the New Earth. In short, I, like Noah and the author of the Gospel according to Matthew, want to be left behind.

How To Post A Comment On Pisteuomen

For those of you out there who want to post comments but don't know how, here are a few easy tips:

1. When you want to respond to a certain article, click the "comments" link at the bottom of the page (this also allows you to view the comments that others may have posted).

2. When you get to the "comments" page, on the right hand side you will see three places to enter text: Comment box, email and password.

3. If you are a blogger or have a google account, you are exempt from an extra step. However, if you are not a blogger or do not have a google account, all you have to do is give them your current email address and a password. So, when you click the "sign up for account" link, you're not really acquiring a new email address but rather giving google your current information so that you can use blogger. Therefore, even after you "sign up" you will not "sign in" with a new email from google, you will still use your old email address and the password you have furnished.

4. Once you have given your information to google, you never have to do it again. Just use your old email and password every time you want to post a comment. Even when I, as a blogger, sign in, I do not use a google email account; like everyone else, I just use my old (= current) email address.

5. You can type your comments in the discussion box and sign in and when you do, your comments will be posted. Oh yeah, you will also have to replicate a code word that appears on the screen--nothing complicated. In fact, it is all that easy.

6. Also, keep in mind, you do not always have to respond to the contents of the article, if you click the "comments" section and find that someone posted a comment that you would like to respond to, you are free to do that. Blogger is a great place for carrying out discussion and debate.

7. When you're done, feel free to sign out (although, it's not a big deal if you don't). The "sign out" link is always located at the top right corner of the screen.


For the Birds: A Communion Meditation

Some time ago, my wife Kristi and I were out in the front yard enjoying the sun, enjoying each other’s company and tossing softball. As she reared back and wound up to throw the ball my way, something bad happened. The one and only bird soaring overhead, decided that the time was right to relieve itself. Now, I must admit, I don’t think she did it on purpose but Kristi, right in the middle of her throw, actually made a pretty good catch—the bird’s gift to her landed right in her hand; needless to say, though, our game of catch was over.

It wasn’t a half hour later that we walked outside again and guess what, we had another bird encounter. This time though the situation was different, there was no bird flying overhead but instead, a wounded baby bird lying at the foot of our steps. Even more, there was a cat hovering over it! The cat—which seemed to realize that he was up to no good—left when he saw us coming towards him and the bird. Kristi picked the bird up, built it a nest, gave it some water, put it in our basement and tried nursing it back to health. However, it was just too wounded and too young to survive.

It is definitely true that sometimes, it seems like life is for the birds. You see, these two real-life situations reminded me, in a parabolic sort of way, of my relationship with God. I am like that bird who, for the lack of better terms, dumps on God. I treat Him unfairly; I make a mess of our relationship. Yet, before too long I am humbled God.

Because you see, at just the right time, He comes along, pulls me from the teeth of that prowling cat—or lion if you please—and He fixes me up, cleans me up and He heals me. As we meet at the Lord’s Table this morning, unlike my story with the not so happy ending of the bird dying, we remember that we, as the unworthy birds that we are, don’t have to die because He did it for us. In His death, we find life.

And in life, during those times that we’re not who we should be in Christ, let us remember Him and let us call on Him so that He may pick up our broken souls so that we might soar on wings as eagles and there meet the Heavenly. And as we partake of these emblems, may we meet Him now as well.


Receive Pisteoumen by Email

Let me begin by saying "thank you" to everyone who has visited Pisteuomen so far. In the short week and a half that this blog has been up and running, it has had almost 500 visitors.

One of the interesting things, though, is that while numerous people have visited the blog, only few have left comments. I realize that one of the reasons for this is that many people simply don't have much time to respond. With that said, I also realize that for some it is even tough to visit the blog repeatedly to check the updates. So, I've decided to set up Pisteuomen in such a way that if you'd like, you can begin receiving blog updates and entries by email.

To make this happen, all you have to do is navigate to the right column near the top of the page and click the underlined phrase that reads "Click here to begin receiving Pisteuomen updates by email!" Once you've done that, you will be instantly redirected to a form where you simply type in your email (which will not be given out to anyone) and a confirmation code (which will appear on the screen). After you've done that, just click the "Subscribe Me" button and you're done; the whole process will take you less than 15 seconds. Every time the blog is updated, you will be the first to know about it; it's that easy!!!

Be sure to sign-up and let others know about this site. Be blessed and be a blessing.


A Flood of Praise for "Evan Almighty"

As with most anything he stars in, Steve Carell is hilarious when it comes to his new motion picture “Evan Almighty.” Though “The Office” fans will not see as much of his quirk in this film as they do on his television series, he is nonetheless, still quite funny. However, and surprisingly, it is not Carell who has the majority of punch lines in this movie but rather the comedian Wanda Sykes—nearly every time she speaks it is to say something humorous. Along with these two, “Evan Almighty” is filled up with a great cast: Morgan Freeman, John Goodman, Molly Shannon and Ed Helms (a.k.a. “Andy” on “The Office”) to name but a few. The soundtrack was also good with music from CCR (Creedence Clearwater Revival) and others like John Mayer.

In the movie, Steve Carell is a former newscaster who has just made it big in the political arena as he has been elected congressman. Carell, who plays the main character Evan Baxter in the film, prides himself on his achievements and success. Yet, just when he thinks he has life by the coattails and everything perfectly “planned out,” that all gets interrupted—or so it seems—by God! In a manner similar to some of the great Church fathers such as St. Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther, it is one verse of Scripture which Baxter comes across that totally changes his life: Genesis 6.14.

As for some thoughts on the movie itself, I must say that it was quite refreshing to go to a theater and see a show that paralleled a Bible story but didn’t mock it. While the movie kind of places the ancient story of Noah’s Ark in a modern context, it does not attempt to be a perfect replication of it—expecting it to would cause the viewer to totally miss the point! Still though, there are some neat parallels: 1) The frequent “Gen. 6.14” allusions, 2) the animals coming 2x2, 3) God as Creator, 4) Building the ark (out of Gopherwood which, in the movie is from “Alpha & Omega” lumber company—a creative little play on words there), and 5) society making a mockery of “New York Noah” and the whole notion of him building an ark.

The movie has a few simple twists, no foul language and no explicit content—it is definitely fit for Christians and children to view. Another thing that I liked was the fact that “God” was cast as a good, positive character and for once at least, Hollywood filmmakers weren’t cursing him; however, one of the dangers here could be that the many people who already despise the notion of a God could become even less tolerant of the idea.

Though the movie is rather lighthearted, it has a lot of themes that Christians need to pick up on and think about. For example, the way that we treat God’s creation: are we meant to “dominate it” and “lord over it” or tend it and care for it? Of course, Christians should choose the latter. In a day where environmental issues are being discussed more and more, one of the things this movie asks us to do is to have a healthy theology of creation.

There are other good themes that the movie brings up such as: faithfulness, courage and boldness, being world changers, God and Christians in politics, family values, the love and wrath of God and prayer. The film also critiques negative things such as: selfishness, materialism, treating God like a celestial Santa Claus and manipulating people. Some of the great quotes from the movie, though they may not seem as funny here if you’re unable to put them in context, are:

1. “You want me to get my BB guns?”
2. “Whatever I do, I do because I love you.”
3. “Why do you sound like Evan Baxter but look like a BeeGee?”
4. “What are you shootin’ up, Rogaine?”
5. “Well, I hope this is not our Last Supper!”
6. “Is that a llama with a hammer?”

If you have time soon, you should go see this movie; the people in the theater Kristi and I went to (us included) were laughing the entire time. I think that you’ll be surprised by some of the subtle twists and the simple but powerful theology that the movie conveys.

Oh, and make sure you don’t rush out of the theater too fast at the end, the credit reel is hilarious!

Luther's The Babylonian Captivity of the Church

I just had the opportunity to read Luther’s The Babylonian Captivity of the Church and thought I’d post some comments on it. What follows is a brief review of Part 1 of that work:

Undoubtedly, Martin Luther stands as one of the great towers that looms over the horizons of Church history—especially from a Protestant perspective. Luther is known best, perhaps, for boldly and courageously drafting and nailing his 95 Theses to the doors of the Catholic Church. Yet, a simple perusing of any number of his writings reveals that it was customary for him to speak with such an air of boldness. So it goes in his indictment of the Roman teachings concerning the Eucharist titled The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.

In part one (the focus here), Luther launches an all-out assault against three particular practices of the Roman Church of his time: 1) the Denial of the cup to the laity, 2) the Doctrine of Transubstantiation, and 3) the act of turning the Lord’s Supper into a work. Systematically, Luther addresses and works through each of these issues as he seeks to debunk them. Moreover, he is not reticent about taking on the Roman Church at all and is quite bold with the labels that he applies to them: “the kingdom of Babylon,” “the power of Nimrod,” “The Grand Hunting of the Bishop of Rome,” “messengers of satan,” “tyrants” and “idolaters.” Ironically, while Luther is not at all shy about making such comments on the Roman Church as a whole, throughout the work he repeatedly announces—and almost with a flair of humility at times—that he will abstain from mentioning the names of specific opponents. Later, though, he mentions that that he would rather not waste ink or writing their names down.

The first few pages of The Babylonian Captivity consist of Luther charging the Roman “tyrants” of being Scripture-twisters. Indeed, he argues that if a Roman scholar so chooses, he “can prove anything he pleases from any passage of Scripture he pleases.” Luther makes such comments in reference to passages such as Mt. 26, Mk. 14, Lk. 22, Jn. 6 and 1 Cor. 11—all passages with Eucharistic significance whose words and meanings have been changed by high Church authorities. While he is rather tough on others in this essay, the reformer, at points, is also quite critical of himself. At one point, in reference to a number of his previous works that approved of indulgences, he even goes as far as saying, “Would that I could prevail upon the booksellers and persuade all who have read them to burn the whole of my booklets…” While Luther’s genuineness is not to be doubted here, there is little room to doubt that this was also a powerful rhetorical device that from the outset contrasted his willingness to repent with the Roman officials who refused to.

In his discussion concerning the denial of the cup to the laity, Luther charges the ecclesiastical authorities with lording the gift of the Supper over the common believer. One of his chief arguments is that the body and blood of Christ were given for “all,” not an elite few. He illustrates that the “popish flatterers” have wholly changed 1 Cor. 11.23 to defend their practices. The passage, he argues, says, “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” not, “what I permitted to you.” In other words, the Roman Church was using the passage to argue that “permission” to partake of the Supper must come through them. All Luther could call this was “godlessness and despotism.”

When he moves on to his second point, the Doctrine of Transubstantiation, Luther waxes simple. Unlike his “sophist” opponents who have shrouded their teaching in “the pseudo philosophy of Aristotle” so that the commoner might not understand it, he endeavors to keep the Doctrine of the Eucharist easy-to-understand. To be sure, he is apt to engage in the philosophical debates about “substances” and “accidents.” In fact, he has such a good grasp of the concepts that he is able to make light of the “babble” and “metaphysical trivialities” throughout, for instance, when he comments: “If a ‘transubstantiation’ must be assumed in order that Christ’s body may not be identified with the bread, why not also a ‘transaccidentation,’ in order that the body of Christ may not be identified with the accidents?”

Luther’s considers the third topic, the act of turning the Lord’s Supper into a righteous work, the most heinous and “wicked abuse of all.” For most modern readers, this portion of Luther’s work would probably sound the most familiar, as it has to do with “works righteousness.” The sum of his argument is that “mass” is the “divine promise or testament of God” and therefore, a gift that humanity should freely receive. However, the ecclesiastical leaders, instead of receiving it freely, have suggested that it is an event whereby a special few are able to make sacrifice back to God—which, is to say that they have greater precedence before the Divine than all others. In Luther’s eyes, this is precisely where the Supper had become so corrupt because, “When we ought to be grateful for the benefits received, we come arrogantly to give that which we ought to take.” To put it succinctly: Luther saw communion strictly as a gift from God to humanity and for humanity to try to give the gift back to God so as to try to earn His merit, was nothing short of invoking His “wrath” so that it might “[rage] against us.”

Despite Luther's harshness at times, this is an intersting work to read and provides some good insight into his life and the context of the early years of the Reformation.


"Fundamentalist" and "Literalist" -- Reclaim these terms or scrap 'em?

So, I consider myself a rather “conservative evangelical” (by that I do not mean that I go along with Pat Robertson and co.). I’ve been to an extremely conservative Bible College (at least it used to be) and an incredibly liberal seminary. I’m currently at an institution that is somewhere between the two extremes (in my estimation anyways).

As you can imagine, I’ve seen a lot of different approaches to spirituality, theology and hermeneutics. I’ve been amid the people who constantly prooftext (I’ve been that person) and I’ve been amid the people who are constantly operating with a “hermeneutic of suspicion”—not just towards the Scriptures but towards evangelicals too (but evangelicals are guilty of this as well, they can be quite suspicious of people who hold even minutely different views than they do).

Now, I believe that there are some basic tenets of Christianity that one must adhere to be a Christian (e.g. the Trinity—and yes, I realize that this term wasn’t coined until around the 4th century but it is definitely presupposed throughout the Scriptures; see Gordon Fee’s new Pauline Christology for more on this). Yet, this brings me to an important topic: Perhaps we evangelicals need to reclaim some of our words!

Take for instance, the word “fundamentalist.” This word has become so warped and twisted that when heard, it immediately conjures up negative thoughts and feelings in many people. Yet, honestly, when we get down to the heart of it, all the word simply means is that one adheres to the fundamentals of the faith. Now, I understand that the word has been hijacked and has been taken over by some “ultra-conservative” religious icons but does that mean that we should just lie down and let it happen? If our theology, our “God-talk” or the words we use to talk about God and the things of God are as important to us as we often claim, shouldn’t we defend them? Or should we simply let people “take” the words and be content that we’ll come up with new ones (perhaps we like doing this because we want to coin the next theological tagline).

Or take the word “literalist” as another example. This word also causes many to bristle and even go into cardiac arrest mode when they hear it. But what does it mean? Well, I think that the common usage today insinuates a type of “wooden literalism” where, for instance, when the psalmist says that “the trees clap their hands” people actually believe that they had hands. Or like when John the Seer talks about the 4 corners of the earth, which leads some people to believe that the earth is flat and cubed. Without a doubt, this type of literalism is not only dangerous it is extremely ludicrous and dim-witted. But that is precisely my point, should we who strive to do good theology let these types of people take our words?

Now, I consider myself a literalist but not in the above sense (as in “wooden literalist”). Instead, when I speak of literalism, I have a much more healthy hermeneutic in mind. By “literalism” I simply mean: reading every portion of Scripture how it was literally, meant to be read. That means reading poetry as poetry, history as history, genealogy as genealogy, parable as parable, idiom as idiom, figure of speech as figure of speech, symbolism as symbolism, etc. Thus, when the psalmist says that the trees clap, he is using poetic symbolism and that’s literally what I read it as, poetic symbolism. Or when John the Seer speaks of the 4 corners of the earth, he is using figure of speech (e.g. this was a way to refer to North, East, South, West) and so, that is what I read it as.

By these definitions then, I am both a fundamentalist and a literalist. And again, all I mean by this is that: 1) to be a Christian there are a number of fundamental beliefs that one must adhere to, and 2) I read all Scripture how it was literally, in terms of genre, meant to be read.

So, in those terms, is there anyone else out there who is not afraid to refer to themselves as a fundamentalist or a literalist or am I charting into dangerous waters all alone? Let me remind you, all I’m doing is trying to reclaim some of our precious speech and give it a fresh, new, inviting face. Are you optimistic that we can do this or do you think it is just a lost cause?

Have I Come up with 2007's Best Bumper Sticker?

Any bumper sticker manufacturers out there? I’m willing to market this bad boy; I think it will sell like hotcakes! The “Don’t let the car fool you, my treasure’s in heaven” sticker doesn’t even come close to being as good as this one.

Anyways, just a little humor for you…and me.


Christian & Muslim at the same time?

Apparently, there is an article that is all the rage this week that the Seattle Times published. It covers the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding who claims that she is at once, both a Christian and Muslim. Really!? Evidently she doesn't realize just how illogical and ridiculous her claims are. Some people!

While visiting a number of other blogs, I've encountered this story repeatedly and so I thought I'd pass it on to you; it's definitely worth a look! For the article visit: Seattle Times. For some religious perspective on this, visit: Josh McManaway, Targuman or John the Methodist.

Be sure to peruse the comment boards on these blogs while you're at it, you're bound to find some interesting thoughts!

Four-Year Anniversary

Four years ago, in this month, a lot of changes took place in my life all at once. Within the time period of a month I: graduated Bible college, assumed a ministerial role, entered seminary and got married. All of this was a whirlwind of change. Yet, it was good change. And while all of these events have been mile-markers of sorts in my life, none has been so significant as my marriage to Kristi. Four years ago this day, we stood at the head of the courtyard to the left and got married. Thus, today is our four-year anniversary, so, happy anniversary babe! Thanks so much for your love and support and thanks for having my back! It has been a great four years already and I know that there are many more great ones to come, especially with little Lydia on the way!


Blood Born: 3 Thumbs Up for Jason Epperson

It seems like Winchester, KY native Jason Epperson just can’t catch a break in Hollywood. The 31-year old entrepreneur and owner of Eppic Films, Inc., began his television journey on the latest reality TV game show titled “On the Lot.” The show, a Steven Spielberg production, aims to find the next best director in America. As with most reality game shows, “On the Lot” began with thousands of applicants and is now down to a select few.

Basically, the contestants (or directors) have a week between shows to write, cast, direct and produce their short films. After they’ve been aired, America calls in and votes for its favorites—the director who earns the least votes goes home. Yet, before the contestants hear America’s opinion (a week later), after their short airs, they must immediately stand before a panel of 3 judges and receive their support or disapproval. While Jason’s first film “Getta Rhoom” was dealt a number of tough critiques but the judges, America not only voted Epperson through to the next round, they thought his film was one of the top 3 (click here to see “Getta Rhoom”).

Fans of Epperson’s work are hoping that the same will happen this round too. As with before, the judges were highly critical of Epperson’s work and didn’t receive it very favorably. Both Carrie Fisher and Wes Craven said that they were “confused” by the film. Unlike his previous short, a comedy sketch, this film titled “Blood Born” was more serious. Though Epperson doesn’t consider himself a “Christian filmmaker” but rather a “Christian who wants to make positive films,” his mini-drama from this week teemed with Christian imagery and overtones.

The storyline followed a young man named Brandon whose life is—to say the least—bittersweet. On the one hand, Brandon is caught up in the dope-game and because he owes some money to a number of drug dealers, his life is at risk. On the other hand, Brandon is a rather generous fellow as he is a frequent blood donor. In fact, after his visit to the doctor’s office, Brandon finds out that the blood he has been donating has healed scores of cancer patients and that he has the potential to save many lives. Yet, the viewer, along with Brandon, is blindsided when as he leaves the office where he’s just received the good news, by a car that pulls up and guns him down in a drive-by. While there could be a number of morals to the story, the one that seemed most obvious to me was: Our lives often affect many more people than we realize.

Though the mini-drama does not portray the lead role Brandon as Jesus per se—though this is what director and judge Gary Marshall seemed to be expecting—he is meant to be a character that has been given a gift by God, a character who has the potential to heal many people and save their lives. Still, the title of the film, “Blood Born,” seems to imply such Christian connotations. There are other biblical echoes and allusions in the film as well—even though Epperson may not have meant for them to be there, as a believer rooted in the Biblical story, it might be that it is simply such a part of who he is that it shapes the stories he tells. For instance, the themes of cleansing water and healing blood are found throughout. The doctor says to him while showing him a number of pictures of patient who previously had cancer: “All of these people, all of them have received your blood…and all of them have been completely healed…there is something in your blood that is healing…You’re going to help save the lives of many people. You’re a miracle. You are a gift from God.” There is also a tinge of the Messianic Secret cloaked in the film when the doctor tells Brandon, “Don’t talk to anyone about this!” Just as well, the quick shot of the clock on the 11th hour implies that something bad is about to happen; that Brandon is on His way to death; he’s bearing His cross!

While the other contestants had some good films (I particularly liked “Glass Eye” by Will Bigham), Epperson’s film was my favorite. The imagery and themes of the film are thought provoking and go well beyond the surface of what’s seen on the screen—honestly, they have the potential to raise some deep questions. I think that one of the reasons the directors may have missed the cogency and beauty of the film is perhaps because they had presuppositions about the Christian imagery in the film which they truly didn’t understand (e.g. Gary Marshall waiting for a resurrection) and on top of that, they only had a few seconds to make a halfway decent analysis.

Despite the negativity of the judges, I give Jason 3 thumbs up (because there are 3 judges); I hope he wins this thing! It’s about time LA had a good, clean, unbigoted, Christian filmmaker around! Vote for Jason!

Meteora and Monasticism

Over the course of the last week I have been immersed in monastic history. One of the documents I’ve had the opportunity to read again is The Rule of St. Benedict. Basically, the work is handbook of discipline for those involved in early monastic life and society. Yet, the work is much more than that. Despite the continual string of prooftexts, The Rule is a call to scriptural holiness (at least as Benedict understood holiness). I have the feeling though, that most evangelicals would raise their noses at all of the “rules” and undoubtedly dub Benedict as “legalistic” and claim that he is “impinging on my freedom.” And while there is truth to such claims, one thing that The Rule might accomplish for today’s evangelical is to give them a reminder that the Christian walk is one that should be shrouded in holiness. Indeed, believers are to be “unspotted from this world.”

Of course, some evangelicals might argue: “When you’re locked away in a commune or monastery, holy living is not so tough.” Yet, while the tendency might be to make such statements, most Protestants probably don’t realize how mission-oriented the early monks were and that it was the monks who carried on the faith and ultimately formed the bridge between the first few centuries of Christianity and what would later be referred to as the Age of Reform (The Reformation). Without a doubt, all of Christendom is indebted to them. Indeed, much of the list of Church history’s greatest thinkers is composed of monks.

However, most Protestants—myself included—are largely ignorant of monastic history and because of this, there is a tendency to speak of these “hermits” in hurtful ways. While I cannot say that I agree with the lifestyle or all of the theology, there is much that modern believers can learn from it. Honestly, I need to be more educated on it. A few months ago when I was in Greece, my wife and I along with some others made a journey to Meteora, a small town that is so quaint that it almost seems like it fell off the pages of a heart-warming children’s book. This place is incredible. Honestly, I cannot really describe it but the reason for bringing it up is because while we there, we visited the 7 monasteries situated on the tops of the meteor-looking mountains—they are a sight to see!

Though many visitors pass through the monasteries every day (and every year), they never see the monks; they keep themselves hidden. In fact, if you ask any of the guides or townspeople, nobody even knows how many monks live there; they all give a different number (their own best guesses I imagine). Some said 5 lived there and others said hundreds. Part of the problem is that, according to the monks, they not only count those dwelling there now but also include all who have ever lived there. The monks believe that the souls of those who have passed still inhabit that place. Indeed, as one of the pictures below shows, their bodies are definitely still there.

The place is so shrouded in secrecy and mystery (as far as the monks go), that nobody really knows anything about them. However, it is a highly interesting place and a very educational place to tour. If nothing else, the breathtaking views and the meticulous iconography are worth the visit! If you’re ever in Greece, you should visit Meteora (if I remember correctly, it’s only an hour or two from Athens). Some pictures below for your viewing:


Why God Became Human

This morning I read one of Church history’s earliest, strongest and most logical defenses of the Incarnation: Cur Deus Homo. While the author, Anselm, is quite verbose at times and though working through all of his logic is often a challenge, he raises many good points. Often criticized and blamed for seeing salvation in terms of atonement (or satisfaction) only, given his feudal, law-court context, what else could be expected? While Anselm raises other serious theological questions in this work (e.g. the use of philosophy and reason in theology, free will, hamartology, etc.), I have focused below on his logic of the central tenets of Cur Deus Homo: incarnation and soteriology.

Feel free to comment on this brief review:

Around the year 1100—a time period sated with ecclesiastical and feudal controversies—Anselm of Canterbury completed one of his most renowned works: Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Human). Cast in a dialogical mould, the treatise attempts to portray a reasoned or logical conversation between two monks: Anselm and Boso. The work was quite unique for its time as it sought to prove—through using sheer reason alone—the necessity of God’s becoming human. Thus, in the preface, Anselm makes his readers aware that in what follows, he will ultimately seek to “remove Christ from sight” and proceed “as if nothing were known of Christ”—ironically, all of this is done to in the end, actually prove that humanity surely does need Christ!

It seems that Anselm’s logic begins with the absolute: Nothing is greater than God. It follows from this, then, that: “The will of every rational creature must be subject to the will of God.” Yet, the problem is that this rarely happens. Instead, humans turn from God’s will, an action or actions which Anselm defines as “sin.” As Anselm argues, “To sin is nothing else than not to render God His due.” Herein lies another question: How does He who is greater than all but has been sinned against by a lesser being, both defend His honor and at the same time, allow the human to enter back into a state of right standing with Him?

If God forgives the sinner for his or her “sin out of mercy alone…[that] is the same as not to punish it.” In Anselm’s view, allowing such an “inordinate” act ultimately renders God unjust. So, God cannot simply hand out mercy tokens and look past the sinner’s wrongdoing. Thus, it is necessary—if God is to be rendered just—to have “satisfaction” made. Yet, Anselm argues that for true justice to come from satisfaction, “something greater” than the one being paid the satisfaction (in this case, God), must be given. However, such a “gift can be found neither beneath Him nor above Him.” Yet, he is relentless about the fact that something must be paid. So, here, the question arises: How, then, can a human finally satisfy this exalted God who demands justice? The answer is: The human cannot make the appropriate satisfaction!

From here, Anselm argues, “But only a man [sic] ought to make this satisfaction. For in any other case it would not be man who makes it.” In short, Anselm is still holding humans responsible for their sins against God. Yet, he also urges that: “only God is capable of making [the necessary] satisfaction.” The only way out of such a tangle is that a human who is also divine must make the required satisfaction. The necessary satisfaction, then, “must be found in [God]…therefore, He will give either Himself or something belonging to Himself.” This, then, is why God ultimately became human. The result of such a “God-man” was not that the divine nature was swallowed up by the human nature or visa versa (as might be found in some versions of: Apollinarianism, Nestorianism or Eutycheanism) or that the two natures “mingled and formed a third nature” (as might be found in some versions of: Monophysitism or Monothelitism). Instead, the individual was (and must have been!) both “fully divine and fully human…For only one who is truly divine can make satisfaction, and only one who is truly human ought to make it.”

Just as well, the God-man must assume His human nature from the race of Adam and not some super, supra or proto human being. This is the case because, in the end, this person who has not “descended from Adam’s race,” would not be able to make satisfaction for it. Thus, not only did God merely seek to become human but so that He could make the proper satisfaction, He also sought to become human through Adam’s race. But another questioned remained: Can God, who is sinless, incorruptible and immortal really die? Anselm answered, “Yes,” because He is “omnipotent” and therefore “able to lay down His life and take it up again.” Further, the God-man didn’t die because He had to pay recompense for His own wrongdoing; instead, by “free will” He chose to lay down His life so that the race of Adam might receive the “fruit” of His death—salvation, a “reward” from the Father. In return for the gift of salvation, which Jesus passed on to humans, those who became “heirs of the reward” and “shared in His merit” were to “live under His grace” and become like Him—godly.


Did Jesus own a home?

Currently, at the congregation where I serve, I am leading a sermon series and Sunday morning study on Mark’s account of the Gospel. Like a few before me, I have become highly interested in a number of the passages that seem to suggest that Jesus owned a home. These are:

1) Mark 2.1-2: “A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that He had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and He preached the word to them.”

Now, a plain English reading of this verse leaves no room for speculation really that Mark places the event he’s speaking of, in the home of Jesus (the Greek seems to suggest the same). There is no pause in the story and no other people mentioned whose home it could have been (it is commonly argued that this is the home of Peter but the text makes no such claim; further, when Jesus did go to Peter’s home just a few verses earlier, Mark didn’t hesitate to make that known).

Also, in an ancient setting, we know that one’s place of origin was of great importance (e.g. Saul of Tarsus, Jesus of Nazareth, etc.). I would argue that when Mark says that Jesus returned “home” to Capernaum, a literal home is being referred to here, not, say, a hometown. His hometown was not Capernaum but Nazareth. So, home (oikoi) should be taken literally here as a house. Clearly, Mark knows the word “hometown” (patrida) because he uses it in 6.1. If he wanted, he could have just as easily used it here.

It might well be the case too, that, when the men dig through the roof to lower their friend to Jesus, His comment, “Son, your sins are forgiven” is a meant to be humorous as well as a precursor to the forgiveness he will fully experience along with his healing in verses 10-12. More on this comment can be found on Mark Goodacre’s blog: NT Gateway.

2) In the very next scene (2.13-17), Jesus goes out to the lake where Levi is collecting fishery taxes for the Roman government. Jesus walks up to Him and says, “Follow me” (2.14). And, of course, Levi did. The question has been raised, “If Jesus were going to Levi’s home, why would He tell Levi to follow Him? Wouldn’t it make more sense that when Jesus says this, He is taking Levi to His own home?” While this argument is pretty lightweight, its simplicity seems to speak volumes. I agree with it.

Verse 15 is quite ambiguous in the Greek here. The reader can either translate the text as “While Levi was having dinner at the house of Jesus” or (as most translations read) “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house.” The Greek reads: “en thi oikiai autou” (in/at the house of him). Again, the reader, in light of the context, must decide here whether or not the home being referred to is that of Jesus or Levi. I suggest the former. I think the next episode in Mark’s account helps prove this.

3) Mark 2.18-19: “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have Him with them.”

While Jesus uses the metaphor of a wedding here, the analogy might suggest that the while He was having a meal at His home (the same meal from the previous episode), that people approached Him. Perhaps the analogy is not merely eschatological but just appropriate because Jesus is “hosting” people at His home, where they are the “guests.” Further, when you take this scene, of Jesus eating with sinners in His home, in tandem with the previous scene where His roof is ripped off and people are crowding His house and you contrast it with the surrounding scenes of the religious leaders who tended to ban the sick from their houses of worship, you end up with a powerful contrast here. The scene becomes all the more potent if one accepts that the synagogue scene of 3.1-6, where the man with a shriveled hand is healed, was planted there by the religious leaders in an attempt to catch Jesus in a trap. Indeed, in 3.6, after Jesus healed the man, we read, “Then the Pharisees when out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” Part of their anger was probably due to the fact that their plan to trip Jesus up by planting this man in there backfired. Further, when Jesus walked in and saw this outcast sitting in there, He would have been as shocked as anyone (He knew they didn’t normally let people like this in) and would have immediately realized that something was up.

4) Mark 3.20: “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that He and His disciples were not even able to eat” (TNIV). As with 2.15, the Greek is ambiguous here. There is no definite article before “oikon” (house), which might suggest that “a house” is the correct reading. However, and against that, the context seems to allow that this is the home of Jesus. For instance, the fact that His family arrives so quickly might imply this (e.g. as family members, they would have known where He lived). Bruce Malina's argument that the family came to preserve their honor might also help the argument. For example, society would have connected the house of Jesus with dishonor, which in a society where kinship is incredibly meaningful, would have, by virtue of blood relations alone, also brought shame or dishonor on the homes or households of Christ's family members. In short, their homes would have been "marked" with dishonor simply because one of their family member's homes was. Also, in this episode, Jesus is accused by the religious leaders of being in-league with satan. Jesus responds with a couple of analogies: 1) kingdom divided against kingdom and 2) plundering a strong man’s house.

The analogies would be especially potent if Jesus Himself gave them in His own home. How could His house stand if He were in-league with satan and was at the same time, driving out satan? It couldn’t! Yet, as Mark shows, it is satan’s house that is being divided not Christ’s (e.g. the Jesus Movement is spreading like wildfire all throughout the Mediterranean world; Mk. 3.7-8). Given this, Jesus goes on to say that the “strong man” (= satan) is being bound and plundered by Him—ironically, this is what the religious leaders end up doing to Jesus, which might be another suggestion on Mark’s behalf that they are the one’s working on satan’s behalf. Thus, if Jesus is in His own home at this point, the analogy of Him plundering the strong man’s house works well. Why? Because it is like a play on words where He proves that His house is not the one that needs to be plundered of evil (not least because “sinners” are coming there and being changed and forgiven) but rather the houses of worship and the Empire who are sated with evil. While I acknowledge that this part of my argument is not the strongest and needs tweaked a bit, it may work.

5) Traditionally, the consensus seems to run counter to this whole idea of Jesus having a home. Some have attempted to use Matthew 8.20 and Luke 9.58 as prooftexts to argue against such claims. In those passages, Jesus is recorded as having said, “Foxes have holes and the birds of air have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” Yet, this does not mean that Jesus never had a home. Indeed, in the Gospel accounts where this statement is made, it is always after Jesus has left the villages and is on His way to Jerusalem (= the cross). Logically, then, it only follows that Jesus has definitely left His home for good—He’s not going back! These should be taken as narrative markers that reveal the “onward press” of Christ as He makes His way to Golgotha. He knows it is going to be hostile and He knows He will die. Thus, when He makes this comment to the scribe, He essentially is asking Him to make a choice: Follow me, with the potential of dying or stay here where you are comfortable.

Well, those are my thoughts for now. I plan to look into this more in the future. Personally, I love the idea of Jesus opening His home up to the needy; it is a powerful and challenging image. Perhaps it is time to let the stereotype of Jesus as a wandering, homeless, peasant preacher be put to rest. While I would not go as far as James Tabor and argue that Jesus was wealthy, I do see in Mark’s Gospel account, reason to believe that Jesus owned a home that He opened up to people. Let me know what you think.


On Ichthus, Amazing Grace and Theology

This weekend Ichthus descended upon Wilmore, KY. The sun was scorching, the dust was stirring and the masses were rejoicing. It is quite amazing to stand next to 15-20 thousand brothers and sisters in Christ out in a field in KY and hear them all exalting God.

Of course, it is no secret that music is a powerful force. In fact, in the Church, I would argue that it is through music that most believers develop their theology. What this means, then, is that when choosing songs for the Church to sing, we must choose carefully. Such careful choosing unquestionably entails critiquing. Yet, many of us are quite resistant to critiquing the songs we’ve heard and sung for years on end.

Lately, I have been writing a lot about the fallacies of the Left Behind movement (a.k.a. Dispensationalism) and trying to reveal to the congregation where I serve as a minister, the scores of problems with that belief system. I have consistently been amazed at how many people from all over the world (especially America) have grown up hearing about the rapture and Armageddon, etc. and have never questioned it. I think there are many reasons for that but one of those is: they’ve been taught that theology through songs…and they don’t want to give up their precious songs—which seem almost as sacred as the Scriptures!

Last night, during the worship session at Ichthus, the song leader talked about the infamous 6th verse of Amazing Grace. If you’ve never heard it, the lyrics are:

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

Now, when this verse was put up on the screen for the crowd to sing yesterday, I refused. The scene it speaks of is not Scriptural (this could be argued about some of the other lyrics of the song as well)! The Bible speaks nowhere of the earth dissolving or melting away. However, the Bible does teach that when Christ returns, the throne of God will descend as well. Believers will go out and greet Him, meeting Him in the sky, and then escort Him back to this place (1 Thess. 4). After this, Christ will judge all and then He will transform this old earth from a state of decay and corruption to a state of newness—this includes the bodies of believers (1 Cor. 15; Rev. 22).

Yet, the Dispensationalists teach that this earth will dissolve or meltdown like snow (theirs is an image of a nuclear meltdown). But that is not what Scripture teaches! We will not sit in a celestial arena, as LaHaye, Van Impe and others teach and watch this place dissolve or burn up. No, believers will be right here amid the cosmic-proportioned transformation that will take place—they will be a part of it. The old earth will be met with a God of transformation and thus, be transformed by Him. This is the teaching of the Bible!

Not only does this have major theological ramifications but in a very immediate sense, it also has great ecological consequences. It reminds us that one day the Lord will transform this place and renew it. It also reminds us that right now, as believers, we get to be the ones who prepare this place for that great event. It is a privilege that God lets us participate in this. And while it brings us joy to nurture this earth and care for one another right now, preparing everything for that great and glorious day, when the time comes, will be filled with joy because we will see God carry out to complete the good work He began in us—thus, His promise will be fulfilled.

That is kind of the long way of getting to my point: As Christians, we need to be conscious of the words we sing! We needn’t sing some lyrics simply because other believers are and we shouldn’t sing them because they’re catchy or well known. What we sing needs to be in tune with the Scripture—a tune that produces sound…sound theology.


Remembering Ruth Graham--because the media won’t!

Yesterday, Ruth Graham, the wife of evangelist Billy Graham passed away. To read about her life, follow this link: Ruth Graham.

While I do not know a lot about Mrs. Graham, it is quite telling when Billy says, “Without her, my ministry would have been impossible.” Indeed, for those of us who are married (and especially those in the ministry), we know that a supportive spouse is invaluable. Hearing about Ruth’s death made me reflect on my ministry and how grateful I am for having such a supportive wife. Yet, it also caused me to reflect on our culture and our media, especially in regards to who is eulogized or getting press coverage.

Think, for instance, about the two women who have been getting the most press coverage lately: 1 porn-star who overdosed on drugs and killed herself, leaving behind a whirlwind of confusion as to who her infant daughter’s father was because she had slept with so many people and 1 porn star who got arrested for DUI and tried to buy her way out of jail. When we compare the press coverage of these two women—Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton—with the scant coverage that Ruth Graham will get, it speaks volumes about our society. Now, I know that the Graham’s have never been in it for press coverage but the fact remains, our culture values ungodly women far more than they do godly ones.

What can we do to curb this? As parents, we can raise godly women and for those of you who are women, you can live your lives in such a way that people will see Christ in you and long for what you have. Within the next month my wife and I will have a newborn daughter. While I am not nervous about parenting, in some ways it is frightening to bring a girl into this world and in particular, into this culture. My prayer for her though, is that God would raise her up to be a godly woman, one of the godliest women of all time, so that she might touch this world with the love of Christ and make a positive, holy, godly influence on it. May it be so.



So, I tried my hand at blogging a couple of years ago but after offering a few entries, I found that I was unable to devote as much time to it as I had wanted to. Therefore, I put blogging on hold. Now, I’ve decided to enter back into the blogosphere and give it another try.

About Me: I am currently serving as the preaching and teaching minister at Sadieville Christian Church and am a full-time student at Asbury Theological Seminary. I completed my Bachelor’s Degree at Kentucky Christian University (Double Major/Minor in: Biblical Studies & Youth & Family Ministries/ Preaching) in 2003. I finished my MDiv at Lexington Theological Seminary in 2006, will finish my Master’s in Biblical Studies this fall (at Asbury) and a Master’s in Intercultural Studies in the summer of 2008. I hope to get my PhD in Biblical Studies some day.

I am interested mainly in New Testament Studies. In particular, I am drawn to Pauline and Apocalyptic Studies and as a member of The Context Group I value the use of the Social Sciences as interpretive tools. As for blogging, I hope to form relationships with other Biblio-bloggers and participate in some of the good, fruitful discussions that promise to take place.