A Powerful Testimony, A Work of God

Between two and three years ago, I had the opportunity to stand with Jason Gaines in the watery grave of baptism. Days before, I had sat down and talked with him and his family. I went through the Scriptures with them and we discussed what baptism and life in Christ meant. Then, I got to submerge this fellow--who is easily twice my size--right after he made the confession, "I believe that Jesus is the Christ and I accept Him as Lord and Savior." What a great moment! Not long after that, I began helping Jason read and understand the Bible. Soon after this, he enrolled in Bible College. Not too much later, I stepped out of the teacher role for one of my Bible classes and let him have it. Following this, I urged the leadership to bring him on board as youth minister. Eventually, he took the encouragement and started blogging--which he is doing much more frequently now. I say all that to say that, where Jason is at this point in his life is encouraging because it is a dramatic change from where he used to be.

Yesterday, on his blog, he shared his testimony--much of which I had no idea. It was a moving post. He talked about coming out of his cocaine addiction to serving in a formal ministerial position. If you don't read any other blogs today--or, even if you do--please, go read Jason's testimony. Sometimes, we Christian bloggers can get so caught up in Academic arguments (I do) or theological debates (again, I do) that we never stop to talk about the work we see God doing around us, the work we've joined God in or just how awesome God is. Well, Jason's testimony does that. Please, go read Jason's inspiring testimony and after you've been encouraged by it, give him a word of encouragement. I must tell you, I know of no youth minister whose first 6 months of youth ministry has been as tough as his (not because of him but because of some of the youth, their situations and their attitudes and actions). He could use some edification. Again, I ask you to give him a word of encouragement not only as a Christian but also as a student, minister and blogger. Here's the link to his site and the post with his testimony (add it to your blogrolls or page-readers if you would): PhpOneNine (Jason Gaines) / A Checkered Past Revisited.

Rating My Hermeneutic

I took Scott McKnight's "Hermeneutic Quiz" and here are my results (quite accurate, I'd say). Let me know what you scored.

Score: 75 / A Progressive Hermeneutic


Ancient Roman Jokes

I can't remember where I first found out about this, but there's an interesting book being written that takes a survey of jokes found in ancient, Roman literature. A few snippets can be found at the following link: Roman Jokes. Enjoy!

Is Confessing Christ Necesarry: Restarting the Conversation

Well, the whole diablogue has died down over the last few days. After I clarified myself, the conversation seemed to come to a screeching halt. In fact, in an attempt to keep the convo going, I asked James, Drew and others to clarify themselves. In particular, I asked them to each give their position on "confession". In other words, each of them were willing to take the stance (all to a different degree) that one did not have to hold any certain belief about Jesus and confess it to partake of salvation through Christ. I totally disagreed with all of them. I do think both of these are necesarry.

Still, nobody has responded to my challenge. In the meantime, I've read a couple of posts by persons not part of the diablogue, that I agree with to a large extent (though, I don't adopt everything each of them says). The first one is found at Parchment and Pen: Orthodoxy: Should We Define Who is 'In' and Who is 'Out'?. The second one is located at Between Two worlds, titled: Do Muslims Worship the True God? A Bridge Too Far. Give these a read.


America's Largest Ethnic Cleansing

It happened in 1912 and you've probably never heard of it. If you're an American, you should know that this story has been conveniently left out of our school's history books. Why? Because whites don't want to own up to their arrogance, ignorance, insolence and negligence. Don't get me wrong, not all whites have embodied these characteristics nor do all whites today do so. But the sad fact is: many did and many still do.

As if our war-mongering, prison-covered, bomb-dropping, blood-thirsty, Roman-arena-like history isn't enough, we also have the despicable act of ethnic cleansing. The worst case happened just under 100 years ago in the state of Georgia. The name of the town, where there is still not a black presence by the way, is Forsyth. In just the span of two to three months, the black population of Forsyth was wiped out by whites. Records show that at one point, there were 1,098 blacks in the city and almost over night, that dropped down to 30. This happened by the established pattern, by whites, to cleanse a city: accuse a black man of raping a white gal, hang him, threaten all other blacks that they'll get the same if they don't leave and then, when they leave, take all of their land.

If you visit Forsyth today, in one particular area, you'll find a white neighborhood full of large homes and mansions. That land, though, was taken by whites nearly 100 years ago when the Strickland family was run off and/or done away with. Sickening! Just sickening! Legally, the land was stolen from the Strickland family and legally, I believe it should be repaid to them. I believe in and am a proponent of reparations. Especially in cases like this (though, not all cases). The truth is, many blacks have started one, two, three, four or five starting blocks behind whites. And whites have the gumption today to say things like, "They shouldn't get anything; they should get a job is what they should get." Usually, when whites say that, they're talking about a job at the local fast-food restaurant or grocer--places where blacks can serve the whites who have more money because they have better educations and jobs.

I've said on my blog before that I'm not an Obama advocate. I also said that if John McCain got the Republican ticket, I'd probably vote Democrat (actually, if there's a candidate, I'll probably go Independent). Even so, I think it is a great thing that we have a black man and a black family running for president. If nothing else, it could hopefully bring some unity to this country. Though, I suspect there will be a lot of tension when ethnic jokes are made when he blunders. Anyways, it's time for whites to own up to the sad history that is theirs and to do something just about it. Let's be people of justice and do what's right. If anything, we are the ones who need cleansing; a cleansing from malcious, ignorant hatred and ugly, indulgent seflishness.

For more on Forsyth and other such happenings, check out the heart-breaking but inspiring documentary Banished: American Ethnic Cleansings.

For more footage, visit the following links:


Does The Military Give Me My Freedom?

Okay, today was kind of the last straw for me. I got another forward in my e-mail box about U.S. soldiers. I'm sick and tired of hearing about the U.S. military and how I'm supposed to act like it's personnel are my heroes. Even more than that, I'm sick of hearing the following phrase over and over: It is the military that gives you, as an American, the right to accept or reject Christ. This is patently false, no, this is just plain bullcrap.

Does the military in some sense, protect the American's freedom of speech? Yes, in some sense. But that is not the same thing as saying they are the ones who procure the possibility for me to freely proclaim Christ. Honestly, it just pisses me off when people say this!!! Here's the thing, whether or not there was a United States military and whether or not I lived in this country or one where Christianity was banned, I would still confess Christ. In other words, I am willing to lay down my own life for my beliefs and my confession. If someone were to take my life for my belief, so be it. No military is giving me the right to preach Christ and to continue to preach Him. No, I would do it anyway. I would do it whether I lived in a so-called "free" country or not.

Enough of the bad logic and portraying soldiers as Savior(s). They are not the Savior and they are not the guarantors of my salvation or preaching of Christ. Americans need to quit trusting in the government's mighty war-machine and start trusting in Jesus the Messiah. Nobody in a war uniform has anything to do, whatsoever, not one iota, with what I preach and what I believe. That is up to me and me alone. Finally, it is quite revealing to me when people who profess to be Christians make the kind of statements I'm railing against. Why? Because it tells me that if there came a moment in time where it came down to confessing Christ and being killed verses denying Christ and living, they'd choose the latter. It's like a lot of the reason they're trusting in the first place is because they feel safe doing so. Put them in a country where it is unsafe to profess Christ and they wouldn't do it. Probably, they'd follow and trust in that country's military too, just so they wouldn't feel unsafe.


Michael Halcomb Clarified

I am quite enjoying the diablogue with James McGrath, Ken Brown and Drew Tatusko. It has been fun so far. I feel that at this point, I need to clarify some of my statements and perhaps, in the process of this crystallization, make a few more arguments concerning the topic at hand.

Firstly, I never accused James of being a Universalist. Instead, I was arguing that given what he's said in the diablogue up to this point, he appears to be on the "fringes" of Universalism.

Secondly, I have never argued against Abraham's salvation. In fact, I've noted a few times that he probably was saved. This becomes even more clear when I note that in God's mind, it is quite possible (theologically speaking) that the cross was as good as done before the foundations of the world. This is, of course, a debatable theological tenet that I'm proposing. More will be said about this in point 11.

Thirdly, I disagree with both Ken and Drew that one can worship Christ or be a Christ-follower and thus, be saved, without knowing it. What Paul says in Acts 17 is surely not along the lines that those I'm conversing with have suggested. Read the last verse of that story!!! In the end, people believe in Jesus and begin following Him. Paul is being evangelistic. I'll say more about this in another post.

Fourthly, I do not believe, like James, that the "righteousness" or "righteous acts of a person" in God's eyes is the same thing as saying they are saved or in complete right standing with Him. It seems to me that the only person in the world whose righteousness can set them totally right before God is Christ, the sinless one. To take the view of those mentioned above is to, in my eyes, demote the righteousness of Christ. I will allow that, logically, if one were perfect, their righteousness might render them saved or in right standing with God but this cannot be said for Abraham, Melchizedek or anyone else. More on "righteousness" in piont 11.

Fifthly, I have maintained from the beginning and I continue to maintain that Christianity is at once, inclusive and exclusive.

Sixthly, it is my contention that where Christ offers salvation, the second step is that one must accept it. It is not applied, unknowingly to persons. Faith in Jesus--post resurrection--is a MUST. This faith is to be believed, confessed and lived out. I do not see how, in any way, this is going beyond the claims of the NT.

Seventhly, if my interpretations end up seeming like the "typical evangelical" readings, I am fine with that. I do not read with some modern-day evangelical proposition in mind that is all-determining. It quite works the other way around for me.

Eighthly, I find it odd that James can accuse me of modern-day, typical evangelical readings (in a pejorative sense) but then, he goes with the "scholarly consensus" on things (e.g. the authorship of Hebrews; by the way, there are a number of modern scholars who hold that Paul is the author, see Witherington's new commentary). I guess I could use that in the same sense, against him. We all know how much scholarly consensus wanes and to rely on that as an argument has always been and still is rather shaky and weak to me.

Ninthly, I do not think the lines were/are already as blurry as James is leading on. I think that they can be discerned in a rather straightforward way.

Tenthly, I never said that Christ's coming makes it harder to attain God's grace. In fact, I said it just causes some people problems and for certain individuals, it may, in the end, be harder. Lest you think I am alone in this, it is Paul's idea. He is quick to say that salvation in Christ is a stumbling block, that it is foolishness, etc. Paul's argument is that if persons could get their theologies out of the way, or their philosophies, they might wind up seeing the simplicity of salvation in Christ.

Eleventhly, it should be made clear that the recurring appeal by James and Drew to Abraham, I think, is a bit off. When Paul cites Abraham, he does it as a means to an end. He tells the story of God's promise to Abraham so that he can finally say, "It has come to fruition in Christ, whom has been among us." So, placing the focus on Abe's righteousness is to not only miss the point but to not focus on what Paul was focusing on. To be even clearer, I shall state again that, at this point, I do not think Paul thought righteousness and salvation were the same exact thing (though, there is a relationship between them). Look at 1 Cor. 1.30, for example. There, Paul says that Jesus has become our "wisdom, righteousness, holiness and redemption." σωτηρια is not the same exact thing as δικαιοσυνη. From a theological perspective, it seems to me that the latter can be a result of the former or even a preface to the former. That is, God can begin to work righteousness in someone (e.g. prevenient grace) before they are saved but that righteousness may grow cold and thus, salvation not attained. However, the righteousness can also lead to salvation. Or we can even say that the same righteousness that worked in a person before their salvation can still be accounted to them once salvation occurs. Acts 13.26 may be a good example where Paul refers to persons as "children of Abraham" and "God-fearing Gentiles" who he does not necesarrily view as "fully saved". Clearly, in this passage, Paul wants them to go the extra step and trust in God. He doesn't doubt that they've had experiences of God but for him, that's not enough. Christ must be in the equation.

These are my positions in the diablogue thus far. I just thought I should clarify my views before we go any further.

Tupac & Matriarchy

There's no doubt about it, Tupac was prone to objectifying women. Actually, it might be more correct to suggest that he glamourized his sexual encounters with various ladies. Indeed, this is a large part of what rap music talks about and a large part of what rap culture has identified itself with. But behind the sexual smokescreens, Tupac had a deep appreciation for women, not least his mother, Afeni Shakur whom he raps about in Dear Mama and other songs. Ironically, while one part of rap culture objectifies women, another part lifts them up. It is young, single women who are sexual objects but the mothers, especially single ones, who are heroes. Common sense would seem to say that if there former didn't exist, then perhaps all women would have the latter applied to them. Who knows, though? Anyways, I say all that to say that there is a certain matriarchy that coarses through the veins of many of Pac's lyrics. Every time I listen to his "Keep Ya Head" up, I am moved and inspired; that song is just so deep and so true on so many levels. Here are some powerful words from Tupac that are worth sharing. They were just as true when they were first penned as they are today:

...I give a holla to my sisters on welfare
Tupac cares, if don't nobody else care
And uh, I know they like to beat ya down a lot
When you come around the block brothas clown a lot
But please don't cry, dry your eyes, never let up
Forgive but don't forget, girl keep your head up
And when he tells ya you ain't nothin don't believe him
And if he can't learn to love ya you should leave him
Cause sista you don't need him
And I ain't tryin to gas ya up, I just call em how I see 'em
You know what makes me unhaps? (what's that)
When brothas make babies, and leave a young mother to be a paps
And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman
And our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women,
Do we hate our women?
I think it's time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women,
Be real to our women
And if we don't we'll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies
And since a man can't make one
He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one
So will the real men get up?
I know you're fed up ladies,
But keep your head up


On The Fringe Of Universalism?: McGrath Blurring The Lines

If you want to follow the conversation/debate, Ken Brown has compiled an in-order list. Click the following link to get there: Inclusivism Bloggersation.

I want to start off by saying that my attempt to “label” James here is not pejorative. Instead, I am simply trying to use labels to clarify—not create division or anger. I trust James’ confession that he is a born-again, Jesus-loving, Christian. However, I do question some of his views and as you know, that’s why we are having this discussion in the first place (he also questions some of mine!). If anything, I hope that our diablogue exemplifies Christian civility while also showing that we can vehemently disagree with one another, even to the point of not accepting one another’s views. However, lest we get to the point where anything goes in Christianity, I am quite willing to say that there are things that do not go; I am quite willing to say that there are things that make Christianity distinct and that those things must be held on to. That is what the heart of this post is about!

Out of every post so far, in his latest entry, James McGrath most clearly spells out what lies at the foundation of his view of salvation. It is this “spelling out” that leads me to suggest that if he hasn’t already stepped fully into it, he’s surely on the fringe(s) of universalism. Like many Universalists, he attempts to blur the lines between those who have placed their faith in Christ (and will thus be saved) and those who have not placed their faith in Christ but who will also be saved. So, it is clear that a full-throttled inclusivism stops at no boundary and eventually spirals downward into Universalism. However, Universalism was not the Gospel that Paul (nor any of the other NT writers preached). So, what I will do in this post is answer each of James’ questions about the passages he was inquiring over, that is, passages concerning Melchizedek, Acts 17 and finally, Abraham.

Of course, Acts 17 is where the infamous Mars Hill episode is recounted. I need not retell that story here. Instead, I would like to point out that from this episode, we learn that Paul was not a Universalist but rather a Christian evangelist. Paul did not talk to the men at Athens and say, “Well, I think it is okay that you believe in this mysterious god, so, we’ll leave it at that.” Nor did he say, “This god you believe in is the same God I worship.” Instead, Paul was saying, “The experience(s) you’ve had of this so-called ‘god’ you’ve been worshipping are only part-and-parcel of the truth.” What Paul was attempting to say was that those who’d had these experiences are in a better position than most to understand the God Paul was speaking of. Why? Because a number of the practices and truths that Paul embodied were seen in these men. Paul was contextualizing the Gospel, meeting these people where they were and building off of that. This is why, in the end, Luke feels it necessary to say “some believed and followed”. In other words, they changed their beliefs and trusted in Jesus. This is not a passage validating Universalism. It is, instead, a passage revealing that Paul did contextual evangelism.

Before getting to Melchizedek, I will deal once more with Abraham. James keeps wanting to argue that Paul says Abraham was “saved” by his own righteous faith. This is never what Paul says—especially in Galatians! Paul does say that Abraham’s faith made him righteous in God’s eyes. This isn’t even close, though, to asserting that Abraham was saved. Again, Abraham may have been saved but Paul never argues about that here. This is making the text argue something that it never intended to. Paul only says that Abraham’s faith made him righteous. As we all know “righteous” does not equal “saved”. I think that by trying to blur the lines here, James is making a great error. I also think the attempt to use this passage in a Universalistic sense is to misuse it.

As for Melchizedek, James wonders if he was saved—outside of Christ (kind of like Abraham). Of course, this gets back to the issue of “Will people before Christ be ‘saved’; will they be in ‘Christian eternity’ for a lack of better terms? Will righteous people like Abraham and Melchizedek be saved, even though they never specifically confessed Christ as Savior? Well, Melchizedek was, in my mind, comparable to those on Mars Hill. He had a partial understanding of the truth (probably more fully, though, than those on Mars Hill). Melchizedek, though, was not a Universalist or Polytheist. Instead, he rejected the idols of Canaan and confessed only one God. The logic of Hebrews 7 makes it clear that while Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, Jesus was greater than Melchizedek. In other words, Jesus was the fulfillment of the priesthood; He is the Great High Priest. So, for those in the audience who revered Melchizedek and knew a lot about him, well, this was a point the author of Hebrews (probably Paul) could build on. Again, we see contextualized evangelism; the people are being met where they are and then the rest of the truth is being relayed. Will Melchizedek be saved? Perhaps. Probably. How? We might take the view that the cross, since it was established before the foundations of the world, covers those prior to it (at least in God’s mind) who were faithful to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, after the cross event, this cannot be the case as “belief” and “confession” in Christ are a MUST.

Therefore, when it comes to modern-day Muslims and Jews, while they might have some things to teach us about being faithful people or whatever, they do not posses the full truth about Jesus—it has been distorted—or the Triune God. Our job is to share that with them and help them to enter into a relationship/union with God.

Lastly, James wonders if the children of Abraham are really the children of Abraham? I would say: Of course. But I do not mean by that what he does. I do not mean that by being an ancestor of Abraham or any other patriarch I am saved. What I mean is that the promise that God gave to Abraham extends to me (the promise to unite all persons in Christ who would accept Him) and thus, I am a child of Abraham. My righteousness, your righteousness, any Jew or Muslim’s righteousness does not include them in God’s people. Jesus includes us in God’s people. So, while the Sufi Mystic and his prayer are quite fascinating, in the end, they fall short of what includes one in the true people of God.

To be sure, the notion of sexism, slavery, etc. that James is worried about does not have to be caused or carried out by believers who make exclusive confessions like I have done. While I am exclusivist, I am at the same time an inclusivist because there is always an open invitation to accept Christ. Just because I make my confession in Jesus, in no way means that I have to mistreat, belittle, demean, dehumanize or hurt others. Where persons reject Christ, I am still willing to love them and live at peace with them. Even then, it is not my righteousness that saves me it is God’s grace in Jesus.

ExegeTV - Greek Diphthongs / First 7 Words (Episode 7)

Here's the 7th episode of ExegeTV. The lesson teaches Greek diphthongs as well as one's first 7 Greek terms. As this was done a while back, when I was just teaching myself Greek, forgive me if there are some slight mispronunciations. Hope this helps. Enjoy!


A Humorous Reply To James

I'll reply in the next day or two with a more serious post but for now (to add some fun to our diablogue) here something a bit more lightweight:

(Pic HT: Locusts&Honey)

The conversation thus far:

Where This Diablogue Started: Michael (When Politicians Say They're Christian)
Initial Reply: James (Flaming Meteorite Challenge)
Second Reply: Michael (A Response to James)
Third Response: James (Community of the Saved or Salvation of the Community)
Fourth Reply: Michael (A Rejoinder To James)
Fifth Response: James (Continuing Diablogue About Salvation)
Sixth Reply: Michael (The Ensuing Riposte with James)
Seventh Response: James (A Brief Reply)
Eighth Reply: Michael (the current post)

Some others who have joined in the convo: Ken Brown (1) (2) (3) and Drew Tatusko (1) (2).

The Ensuing Riposte With James McGrath

The conversation thus far:

Where This Diablogue Started: Michael (When Politicians Say They're Christian)
Initial Reply: James (Flaming Meteorite Challenge)
Second Reply: Michael (A Response to James)
Third Response: James (Community of the Saved or Salvation of the Community)
Fourth Reply: Michael (A Rejoinder To James)
Fifth Response: James (Continuing Diablogue About Salvation)
Sixth Reply: Michael (current post below)

Some others who have joined in the convo: Ken Brown (1) (2) (3) and Drew Tatusko (1) (2).

So, I should note at the start that I was not intending to make you out, James, to be one who holds the view that this was “only” a social matter. I was just suggesting that you were letting the “social” define what Paul says. I do not. I think the issue, in the main, is theological and that the social implications are a result. Thus, the theology is central while issues such as identity, boundaries, etc., are social and resultant. I hope I’m stating this in a clear enough manner. (I feel it important to note, at the fore, as I have said in the previous posts, all that is said here is said in a spirit of love, humility and spirit of inquiry. What seems like a challenge is not agression or anger at any point. Kudos to James--and others--for being such good sports. I hope I'm doing the same.)

Next, it is now clear that we have a text to focus on: Galatians. Let’s stay there for a while. It is also clear that James and I have different ideas of what’s going on in Galatians. He thinks Paul is combating legalism (works). I do not. Paul is for “works”. In fact, in the end, he tells the Galatians to obey the “Law of Christ” and in doing so, they will fulfill the “Law of Moses”. Thus, I assert that what James sees as “clear” is in fact, not really all that sound. Along the lines of the New Perspective people, I would say that Galatians makes the most sense when we understand Paul forbidding Gentiles (that is, the Galatians) to submit to the notion that they must become part of Israel to acquire salvation; for instance, through circumcision, keeping calendar days, etc. (or even confession of the Mosaic Law). Paul himself was circumcised, still kept Hebrew holidays, etc., and while that maintained his Jewish identity, he did not force it on anyone for salvation and in fact, would not let Gentiles who thought it could “earn” them right standing with God, do it.

Thus, it’s not about good deeds, self-righteousness or legalism. The central issue is how one becomes and stays part of the people of God, what Paul redefines in Gal. 6 as God’s Israel—that is, a body of Jews and Gentiles united in/through/by Christ. (A uniting that came about through belief, confession, baptism, repentance and the indwelling of the Spirit, which are not works, but simply responses to grace.)

The Abraham issue is an important one here. For James, Paul’s use of Abraham as an example of one who is “saved” by faith is an example of someone who is “saved” but not by Jesus. The idea is: Abraham was saved by faith before Jesus; therefore, evidently, people can be saved without Jesus. But this is not what the text says. Gal. 3 only says that Abraham’s faith was credited to him—by God—as righteousness. This is a far cry from saying that Paul said Abraham was saved. Indeed, Abraham might be saved, but this is not what Gal. 3 is saying.

And this is where I think James makes a fatal turn in his interpretation of Paul: Abraham was to draw in Jews while “what Jesus accomplished was to draw in Gentiles.” Yes, Jesus was to draw in Gentiles but He was also to draw in Jews. Paul would have never written Rom. 9-11 had he not believed this!!! He is not merely haggling over the influx of Gentiles (though that was an issue, especially in Galatians). Many of the Judaizers were ready to welcome the Gentiles, so long as they adopted the badge of common Judaism: the Law of Moses. Paul is completely against this. And again, this is where I think James is quite mistaken because for Paul, it was salvation through Jesus Christ alone! There was no other way to be set in right standing. You could not be set right through another deity, you could not be set right through religious heritage, you could not be set right through ethnic cleansing (purifying the land of Israel), no, the only way was through Christ. So, he may not say it in these exact words but Paul certainly does say that salvation comes through Christ alone.

To claim that either Abraham "the" example for leading Jewish persons to right standing with God or that Jesus’ work was to draw in Gentiles is to, I think, miss the mark by a wide margin. To repeat myself, many Jewish persons were willing to let Gentiles “in” if they would adopt the Judaistic badge. But Paul knew it could not happen this way or any other. So, when he writes passages like Rom. 9-11, he has to spell out the alternative. He’s even willing to give up his own right standing if only such Jews would assent to this one point. However, he doesn’t foresee this and so, he can only hope that they will become jealous as they see God indwelling and empowering Gentiles who come to Christ. And here is the point: He wants them to get jealous so that, as Jews, they too will come to Christ. Thus, Christ is drawing in both Jew and Gentile—as Paul so eloquently states in Gal. 3.

Therefore, my statement that trusting in Christ for salvation alone (especially after Christ has already stepped on the scene), is not out of place. Neither is it anachronistic or biblically or theologically illiterate (not that you made those statements of me, James). But you are right, James, that this is the whole heart of the issue. It is the whole inclusive/exclusive issue again. The way you pose the question or frame the topic is interesting. You say, “The question is not whether, from a Christian standpoint, God is understood to have reached out to humanity through the life of Jesus, but whether in doing so God has restricted access to grace so as to exclude people who were otherwise acceptable.”

You make many, many assertions in this statement (most of which I will not dissect here). The main bone of contention here, for me (and to all reading, I think this is precisely the point where mine and James’ view of soteriology is most spelled out) is that you’re kind of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Did the coming of Jesus hinder (or restrict) some people from experiencing God’s grace? No, it didn’t. Was it a stumbling block to people? Paul says, “Yes.” Was it foolishness to some people? Paul says, “Yes.” Was it the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham (e.g. that all nations would be united to Him)? Paul says, “Yes, all nations have the opportunity to unite in Christ.” No, it didn’t restrict but it was hard for people to accept. But the invitation (inclusivism) was and is always there to accept. At the same time, accepting it results in a form of exclusivism (not a nasty, hateful one but a peaceful one). Therefore, Paul’s argument is that even though it might be a hard pill for some to swallow, the fact is, right standing comes only through a relationship (e.g. acceptance of, belief in, allegiance to, etc.) with Jesus.

That is, I think, the best way to interpret what Paul has to say on the issue. Now, before I close out this post, I do want to make a couple more remarks. To clarify, I was not attempting to use spiritual gifts, especially tongue-speaking as definitive of experience but just as a simple example that persons experiences of God are quite often, not what unites them as a congregation. This was just one example of many that I gave. I may not have been clear on this but nevertheless, how it was interpreted was not what I was attempting to say.

Lastly, I do think it is appropriate, as I’ve already stated, to allow that the spiritual experiences of people outside of Christianity are partially legitimate. I say partially because they are not experiences of the One True, Triune God. You noted, James, as I have, the Mars Hill episode. The difference between you and I is that you’re willing to let the Athenians continue on with their religious experiences thinking that this is enough. I do not. Paul, as it seems, was not either. That is why he tries to lead them to the fullness of Christ. In short, he wanted to say to them, “What you’ve experienced in part can be experienced more fully, indeed, the most fully and legitimately in Jesus Christ. What you’ve had and what you’ve got is part and parcel, what I’m telling you about is the fullness of God—total right standing with Him through Christ.”

As for the diversity of opinions in Scripture, I am not frightened by this, nor do I find it offensive when appropriate. I think there are differing eschatological views; I am cool with that. However, when it comes to right standing through Christ, I wholeheartedly disagree with you, James, that the NT writers offer up ways other than through Christ. You may be correct that at various junctures they validate other (partial) experiences but in no way do the take that as the stopping point. Instead, it is a starting point. A starting point to lead persons to faith in Jesus and Him alone. When it comes to right standing with God, the NT writers are univocal: Christ alone!


A Rejoinder To James McGrath

So, here's the order of the conversation thus far:

Initial Post: James (Flaming Meteorite Challenge)
First Reply: Michael (A Response to James)
Second Response: James (Community of the Saved or Salvation of the Community)
Third Reply: The current post (contents below)

Some others who have joined in the convo: Ken Brown (1) (2) *[update] (3) and Drew Tatusko (1) *[update] (2).

In his latest addition to our “blogalogue” or as McGrath calls it, a “blogversation”, James posits the idea that, “…it is not that Christianity is a group that one enters because only therein one can find salvation, but one enters it (either?) because it offers a community of those who have had a particular experience of God and are united by it, and invite others to have it.” Fundamentally, I disagree with this. Let me explain why.

Firstly, while there is a communal aspect to the Church/Christianity, I think it a travesty to say that this is why one enters. The Body of Christ is more than a social club and/or community of persons who have a shared experience of God. Secondly, the goal isn’t to join the Church. The goal is to join oneself to Christ. The Church does not offer salvation, or right-standing with the Triune God, Jesus does. So, we join ourselves to Him and as a result, we are joined to the Body of Christ. This is a fundamental difference between how James and I understand salvation through Jesus alone and also being part of the Body of Christ.

Thirdly, I think one is incredibly hard-pressed (James doesn’t seem to think so, though) to make the argument that the Church is the community whereby persons come together because they have a shared experience of God. One only needs to look at the letters of Paul to see that they congregations are widely different and that this is the case, at least in part, because they’ve had different experiences of God. Sure, the message Paul preached to them was the same but the way the Corinthians responded versus the way the Thessalonians or the Galatians reacted are quite dissimilar. If you were to compare a few of the people from congregations I know of or have been part of, you would also see that their experiences of God are way different. In many cases, it is the rural lifestyle, the familial aspect of the congregation, the small-town identity that is the uniting shared experience, not the “experience” of God. Some have spoken in tongues and others haven’t. Those who haven’t have even tried to invalidate the speaking in tongues experience saying that the people are just crazy or were even being used by satan. That said, the people still congregate together, love one another and serve. However, it is not their experience(s) of God that keeps them united as much as it is other factors. For sure, this element was present in the Early Church as well.

Fourthly (let me build on the previous point here), the non-tongue speakers want nothing to do with speaking in tongues, so, the tongue-speakers will not “invite others to have it”. That experience of God is not a shared or evangelistic one. What is shared, however, is the belief, confession and lifestyle built on the premise that Jesus has given them right-standing with God. Do people have to believe this? Yes! Do they have to confess it? Yes. Do they have to live life based on it? Yes! All of these have to be in place. Thus, I wholeheartedly disagree with James when he says, “It is hard to imagine any way that Paul could have made clearer that what he means by "faith" is not believing Christian doctrines to be true, or even necessarily having explicit knowledge about Jesus.” This means I also disagree with Ken Brown when he comments, “Therefore, it is possible to follow Jesus without knowing it, and thus it is possible to be saved without hearing his name.” It is abundantly clear to me that the Early Church expected and would not compromise belief in Christ in tandem with confession and lifestyle (e.g. ethics, character, praxis, etc.). To counter both of these statements, then, I would say there is no place in the NT that supports either of these statements. Even more, from a theological standpoint I also think this is the case. (Note: I’m not being aggressive or angry here, I’m just attempting to state my position. So, please do not read this as me being offensive or nasty. Tone is often lost in blog posts, so, this is one point where I feel like I should state my tone.)

While I appreciate to a large degree James’ knowledge and implementation of the social sciences in his interpretation of the passages/issues at hand, I also think he misapplies some of those insights. For example, he is right to point out that Paul is redrawing boundary lines and redefining community. But I think he overstates the case, to a very large degree, when he seeks to apply these insights to how Jesus sets people in right standing with God. For example, he states that Paul “makes” a redefining characteristic of the community “trust in God”. (On a side note, I fail to see how this is something innovate among believers or the believing community!) Paul doesn’t “make” this or even “define” this. Instead, it has always been this way. What Paul “does” is proclaim that to trust in Jesus is to truly and fully trust in God. This “trust” concerns the issue of how one attains right standing with God (again, through/by/in—each preposition having a similar meaning here—Jesus!). So, I would say to James that, if he wants to argue that Paul is reorienting things, he must argue that ultimately, Paul is arguing that to trust in God is to trust in Jesus and Jesus only. It is not simply a social marker or some identity issue at hand—though these aspects are certainly a result of what’s going on.

Finally, I also disagree that it all boils down to different interpretations. The fact is, some interpretations are solid and grounded and some are not. Hermeneutics is not just an anything goes type of game. I would assert, then, that what James has offered here is problematic because he’s attempting to use the social sciences to make the theological issue of salvation/right-standing about something other than what it is. The social sciences only help explain the results of the belief, confession and lifestyle that persons employ. The social sciences do not create these things but rather hey only help explain them. It is fact that one must trust in Jesus alone for salvation, a trust that is actualized by a held belief, which is realized/stated in a confession before the community and lived out/applied before the entire world (first in baptism, then in spiritual praxis, along with personal/social ethics and then evangelism). This goes for everyone, including Cornelius!

(I want to note once more, that I am not at all attempting to be vicious or aggressive at any point. Where it may seem like that or where I may be stating disagreements, I am doing it with a spirit of peace and even humility. Please, do not attempt to read the above words in another way.)

$20 Well Spent: Chaim Potok

I stopped into Half-Price Books today and picked up a collection of works from one of my favorite authors, certainly my favorite Jewish author, Chaim Potok. If you've yet read any of his books, I would highly encourage you to get ahold of a few. A good starter is his work The Chosen. It's a very fun, thought-provoking, academic, easy-read. It can also shed tremendous light on how to deal with loved ones who have different views or who may seemed to have strayed from the family's faith. It also offers some insights into the struggle students often face when they go off to college or become more critical thinkers and begin to ask questions of their faith (e.g. evolution/creation, biblical interpretation, etc.). Anyway, after sitting in the doctor's office for 2 and 1/2 hours this morning, I went and picked up some books to make me feel better. Indeed, I do feel better as this was $20 well spent. Here's what I picked up:


A Response To James McGrath (1)

In his initial post, James asked readers to take the “Flaming Meteorite Challenge”. He posited the following theory (in sum): If, just before Peter had reached Cornelius (a non-Jew; see Acts 10) a flaming meteor had struck him dead, would Cornelius, having already been “righteous enough to be noticed by God”, be included among or excluded from the saved?

Probably, most of us have heard this question in one form or another. Usually, it tends to come up in debates between those who have high and low views of baptism. The one with the low view will ask the one with the high view, “So, if John Doe made a confession to Christ but didn’t have the chance to be baptized, you’re saying he wouldn’t be saved?” Personally, I don’t think the Scriptures answer this specific question. Probably, it would have been closer to the context to ask: If Cornelius’ chariot wheels came off and he wrecked and died, would he still be saved? (joking) Anyway…

For Paul, salvation was a process (present, past and future tenses): you have been saved, are being saved and will be saved. It is also clear to me that in the Early Church, initiation for Gentiles was also a process. Recalling the fact that converts had to go through a lengthy process (sometimes even three years; see the Didache among other documents) before gaining membership in the Body, it is safe to say that they were in no rush. In other words, they were not too concerned with a question like James asks and that’s why I contend that they don’t attempt to answer it. So, the question is not one that Scripture itself speaks to. This means that we can only speculate how the first Christians “might” have answered such a question. Still, had they answered it, I don’t think it would have necessarily placed them in the categories that James sets up.

To try to say, for example, that Paul was “either” an inclusivist or exclusivist is misleading. Paul was both at the same time. As I’ve already stated in previous conversations with James, Paul’s view was that while there is always an open invitation to Christ (inclusivism), the reception of that invitation calls and forces one to place their allegiance in Christ alone (exclusivism). Furthermore, Paul believed that Jews/Judeans could maintain their Jewish practices and be Christ-followers as long as they did not mandate those practices (for inclusion into the Body/salvation) upon Gentiles. So, while Paul allows for a type of religious pluralism (e.g. you can maintain the Law of Moses if you are Jewish and you don’t have to if you are Gentile), it is not a type of soteriological pluralism. If anything, Paul argues vehemently against this in his letters and at times, even uses himself as an example.

This is precisely where James’ analogy fails in the highest because, as I’ve shown, Paul is an exclusivist, inclusivist and religious pluralist all at the same time. What Paul is not is a universalist.

James started the conversation off as he did in hopes of drawing some lines of demarcation. However, while labeling can be helpful (from philosophical and theological perspectives), I think the way he has framed his approach does not work. Again, I can’t answer his question from Scripture because that isn’t a question they deal with. I can, however, answer the question based on other theological tenets that I hold, which I believe are derived from Scripture. In fact, I would say that I adopt Paul’s approach and view as my own. That is, I am at once an inclusivist, exclusivist and religious pluralist. I am not a universalist by any means (of the modern term). I believe that while there is always an open invitation to accept Christ (even through a process), that invitation results in a type of exclusivism. I should be clear, the exclusivism does not have to be rigid, mean, arrogant, etc. It can be a type of exclusivism that seeks to live at peace with those who share a different view—even if one, through conversation, seeks to persuade persons to change their views.

I am a religious pluralist in the sense that Paul was too. It is clear that Paul believed that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob could work through other faith systems. But it is also clear that Paul believed those faith systems were ultimately inadequate. That is why he offered Christ. Paul did not write off all that had happened to him in Judaism before the Damascus Rd. experience. Looking back, he saw God working in him to bring him to a point of understanding the person and work of Christ. The Mars Hill episode is another good example of where Paul says that God could work through other religions to help persons understand Christ. Now, I don’t think God puts persons in those religions. No, I take the view that He meets them where they are and works with them and attempts to reveal His full truth to them. So, to reiterate, I transcend the barriers of James’ analogy because I am at once an inclusivist, exclusivist and pluralist (as qualified above).

Apart from the whole “Scripture not dealing with this question” issue, part of my reason for responding this way was to also get away from the “quick-to-label” actions of religious persons today. A more detailed explanation was needed, that is, a more defined answer than just taking James’ test and concluding that I am of this or that persuasion. Now, if I could humor James and answer his question about Cornelius, I would say this: Given my theology, firstly, I would say that Cornelius will be judged by God alone and ultimately nobody else can make that call, but secondly, given what we know about salvation in Christ and membership (for Gentiles) in the Early Church, Cornelius had not been through the catechetical process, so, it would appear that, had a meteor hit him, they would not have considered him part of the Body of Christ, which means they would not have pegged him as one in a saving relationship with Christ.

On a closing note, because this always comes up in an exclusivistic conversation, I would just say that at present, my view is that for those who have never heard of/about Christ, these persons may be judged by God in accordance with their behavior/knowledge about the divine. That said, God does not owe them salvation or anything else, the fact that they get to come before Him is grace enough in and of itself. God is not culpable or fit to blame because they didn’t hear and thus, He cannot be blamed if He renders them lost. It was their faith/actions that led to that result, not God’s.

I’ll graciously await James’ reply realizing in the meantime that if I’ve been arrogant in any way, I’m sorry and did not intend to be. Also, for others who want to be part of this ongoing conversation, feel free to jump right in—so long as you’re civil. Otherwise we might wish a flaming meteorite upon you and God knows we don’t want to have to debate your salvation.

Link to James' first post: Flaming Meteorite Challenge

ExegeTV - The Greek Alphabet (Episode 6)

Last year, as I was getting familiar with Greek myself, I started teaching it in one of my classes at the Church where I serve. I gave the attendees a dvd to take home that would help them get started with Greek. I'm going to offer those two lessons here as installments of ExegeTV. Forgive some of the slight mispronunciations. I hope you find these helpful; here's the first one. Currently, I'm still trying to figure out ways--from a multimedia perspective--to design biblical languages courses that are easy to use and understand (mainly for congregants/laity). Any thoughts, ideas, comments, etc. are welcome.


Josiah Leming: I Love This Kid

For those of you who watch American Idol, you're probably familiar with Josiah Lemming. It was crazy that he didn't make the top 24 (especially after seeing how awful 9 of the 12 who did make it performed last night). But this Lemming kid isn't just a good singer, he's an incredible song writer too. I'm a writer myself and I know a good one when I see and hear one. I uploaded a video of him to YouTube where he is performing one of his originals (as seen on the Ellen talk show yesterday). Great stuff. It's only a matter of time before this kid is big, mark my words!!!


When Politicians Say They're Christian

Christianity is a huge "playing card" in the upcoming election, just like it was in the previous two. I'm not saying that we have to elect a Christian president (though, they're all claiming allegiances to the Church). Yet, for those of you who are holding to that view, let this video be either a reminder or an eye-opener:

HT: Leaven


Free Software Bundle

I have compiled all three of my alphabet modules into one bundle and thought that I would post it for you to take and share. The bundle includes my Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek modules. The modules are interactive and contain audio for each alphabet; they are quite handy. The software or better yet, tellware, is free. If you download it, I simply ask that you tell at least two other people about it, whether it be through your site, blog, every day conversations, etc. The bundle can be downloaded by clicking the icon below. It is (and will be from here on out) also located on the "My Free Bible Resources" page. Enjoy!

My Free Software Bundle

Bundle contains:
*Free Interactive/Audio Greek Alphabet
*Free Interactive/Audio Hebrew Alphabet
*Free Interactive/Audio Aramaic Alphabet


Breastfeeding & Communion: A Meditation

It is probably safe to say that if we were to compare today's practice of communion to that of the earliest Christians, we would realizes that it is strikingly different. Unlike us, they probably would not have had seats at the front of the sanctuary (they didn't have sanctuaries, they met in homes), there would have been more women involved and there wouldn't have been arguments about who can give communion thoughts or even serve the emblems. There would have been no piano and no organ playing. There would have been all kinds of food, not just a small cracker and some grape juice. When they took the emblems, it was during an all-out meal; comparative to our suppers or dinners. Indeed, we've made communion quite different than it originally was and actually, about things that they probably never would have dreamed of. In many ways, they might be stunned or even upset by what we've done with thier ancient practice.

But let me return to the issue of women for a moment. Throughout history, men have sought to make communion a "man's" thing. We've barred women from serving and speaking; we've prooftexted in order to shut them down. That is wrong; we have sinned with our practices of exclusion. I wonder if some of the impetus for turning communion into something it was never intended to be, a male dominated event, comes from 1 of 2 things: 1) The fact that Jesus was a male, and/or 2) The fact that we focus on males at the last supper?

Perhaps, though, we should focus our attention elsewhere, like on the words of instituion, the words that remind all of Jesus' followers that the loaf and cup are Jesus' body, or at least, representative of His body. It is these emblems, according to Jesus, that feed and sustain us; they are our spiritual food. But let's not stop with the words themselves, let's go deeper into the meaning of them. What does it mean that Jesus' body is our food? Well, it means that His body, in a spiritual sense, when we partake of it, feeds us and sustains us. Now, if we are all honest with ourselves, we have to own up to the fact that not only is this a seemingly mysterious idea but it is odd. Isn't it odd for a man to suggest that His body can feed another person?

Indeed, it is very odd! A man's body cannot provide sustenance for anyone. However, a woman's body can. In fact, I would venture to say that at the heart of Jesus' words, at the heart of communion, lies a feminine metaphor. As a woman breastfeeds her child and sustains it, so Jesus' body sustains and feeds His followers. Men, let that sink in for a moment. Women, you let it sink in too (and don't shy away from it). Could it be that behind Jesus' words of institution is a metaphor based on breastfeeding? Could it be that behind communion is a female-based analogy?

If this is the case, if communion has at it's very core and very roots a feminine base, then how can the Church exclude women from having a major role in it? In fact, it may well be the case that they deserve a more profound role in it. Well, I may be overstating the case on either end because we don't want to make communion about "our" roles; it is about God. However, we do need to be reminded that this is an inclusive event. It is not about men or women alone but about them communing together, with the Triune God.

So, as you partake of the cup and loaf, remember why you're doing it and remember what's at the heart of it: Jesus' desire for you to feed on Him much like a child is sustained by the body of it's mother. May we all, with a commitment to love and equality, partake of this cup in a manner worthy of our God and of one another.


πιστευομεν : We Believe

Here are some NT occurrences of the word Pisteuomen (πιστευομεν), the title of this site which means "we believe". Want some translation practice? Give them a read:

τῇ τε γυναικὶ ἔλεγον ὅτι οὐκέτι διὰ τὴν σὴν λαλιὰν πιστεύομεν, αὐτοὶ γὰρ ἀκηκόαμεν καὶ οἴδαμεν ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ἀληθῶς ὁ σωτὴρ τοῦ κόσμου. (Jn. 4.42)

νῦν οἴδαμεν ὅτι οἶδας πάντα καὶ οὐ χρείαν ἔχεις ἵνα τίς σε ἐρωτᾷ ἐν τούτῳ πιστεύομεν ὅτι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθες. (Jn. 16.30)

ἀλλὰ διὰ τῆς χάριτος τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ πιστεύομεν σωθῆναι καθ' ὃν τρόπον κἀκεῖνοι. (Acts 15.11)

εἰ δὲ ἀπεθάνομεν σὺν Χριστῷ, πιστεύομεν ὅτι καὶ συζήσομεν αὐτῷ, (Rom. 6.8)

ἔχοντες δὲ τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα τῆς πίστεως κατὰ τὸ γεγραμμένον· ἐπίστευσα, διὸ ἐλάλησα, καὶ ἡμεῖς πιστεύομεν, διὸ καὶ λαλοῦμεν, (2. Cor. 4.13)

εἰ γὰρ πιστεύομεν ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἀπέθανεν καὶ ἀνέστη, οὕτως καὶ ὁ θεὸς τοὺς κοιμηθέντας διὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἄξει σὺν αὐτῷ. (1 Thess. 4.14)


Images of Antiquity: Delphi, Pt. 11

In this session of Images of Antiquity, coinciding with my pictures above, I want to offer some commentary on ancient Delphi.

In the first photo, what we're looking it is actually a beautiful model of what ancient Delphi would have looked like. This city, where the Delphian Olympics were held was truly magnificent. It had a nice theater, a sizeable stadium, a treasury, some temples and was quite wealthy. I can honestly say that of all the places I visited in Turkey and Greece, Delphi was one of my favorite.

In the second picture we are looking at a close-up of an altar at the front of (Pythean) Apollo's Temple. This is where persons would lay their sacrifices before entering the temple. It reminds me of a chopping block! Many of the temple's columns are gone today but the foundation is actually in pretty good shape. We know that women from the Pythean cult would burn incense (and strong herbs!), dance and attempt to predict the future, much of which took place in this very temple. In Acts 16.16--see the Greek text--Paul actualy has a slave-woman from the Pythean cult following him around saying, "These men are servants of 'a' most high god", which really hacked Paul off. He ripped her a new one for that! I showed a Greek Pythean pedastal in my Philippi portion of this series, which actually lends credibility to this event; give that another look.) The third image is a shot of the temple's remains. Again, if you look to the front (left), you can see where the altar is in relation to the entrance.

The fourth picture was one I took while in the modern Delphi museum. I wanted to snap a photo of this because it realy brought to life for me the whole "golden calf" event. There is a good chance that when Israel and other cults created such idols, this is what they looked like.

In photos five and six we see images of Delphi's largest theater. Picture #5 is taken from the base or stage of the theater while #6 is taken from the top. Of course, this theater was like all of the others in antiquity. Dramas, plays, speeches and other things were put on here. This was one of the best maintained theaters I saw (along with those at Hierapolis, Philippi and Ephesus).

Image number seven is, as you can see, a photo of one of Delphi's stadiums. Once again, I must say that I was very impressed by how intact and well-maintained this site was. At this stadium you could still see the ancient starting blocks, which was pretty fascinating. A number of persons from my group took it upon themselves to race the length of the arena; it wasn't easy.

The last photo is of the infamous Charioteer of Delphi. The statute or bust was created for the Delphi Games in commemoration of racing team from Delphi in the Pythian/Pythean Games. Delphi is also known for being the pagan navel of the Greek world. It was a popular place for persons to go and seek oracles or predictions for the future. This was certainly something Christianity had to contend with in its early stages.

Delphi is also famous for housing the "Gallio Inscription", the only piece of evidence that allows us to date portions of Paul's life with hard, factual proof. For a picture of and some commentary on that, click the two following links: The Gallio Inscription & How The Gallio Inscription Helps Us Date Mark's Gospel.


Fundy Fallout & Liberal Meltdown

As far as my research interests go, I am a NT scholar at heart. Over the last few years, my approach to the NT has primarily been a social one (e.g. social-sciences, anthropology, etc.). I love social experiments, case studies and researching cultural backgrounds. That is also why I love--odd as it may sound--the television show Wife Swap. Contrary to stigmas, this is not a hokey, homemaker's show; this is a telvision series that dabbles in social and cultural tests. The premise of the show is to take two families, mix them up and see how they deal with one another. It is quite ingenious really.

This week, the two families were both Christian. One of the families was fundamentalist and the other was liberal. As you might expect, there were times when the fundamentalist family viewed the liberals as satan but there were also times when the liberals just couldn't tolerate the ultra-conservatives. If you missed the episode, I would encourage you to find it somehow; it is a great experiment and is quite telling. Check out the clip below and see for yourself.

Having Surgery Tomorrow, Prayers Appreciated

Tomorrow (Thursday: 02/14), also known as Valentines Day, I will be having surgery. The operation will be on my right hand, in particular, my pointer finger. The surgeon says that the bone will have to be permanently cut down and thus, the finger permanently shortened. As you can imagine, I'm not too thrilled about that. After six months of wrapping my finger with bandaids, though, I'm kind of ready for it (my finger got smashed over the summer, that's what led to all of this). Anyways, I will continue posting the next few days but I may not be responding. However, I'd still appreciate any comments and I will respond to them once I can. I'd also appreciate your prayers. Please pray that the doctors have all the wisdom and insight they need and that all goes smooth. You might also pray that once the surgery begins, the doctors will actually realize that they don't need to do as dramatic of a surgery as they initially planned. Thanks ahead of time. --Michael


Presenting A Paper

In a few weeks I will be presenting a paper at the annual Stone-Campbell Journal Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. The title of my paper is "Innovations & Galatians: A Social-Science Reading". The list of other papers and presenters has recently been listed. If you're interested in skimming through them, click the following link: SJC 2008 Sessions.

I'm especially interested in hearing the papers to be presented by David Fiensy, Beth McCabe (keep an eye out for her work; I heard her speak last year and she has some great things to say and insights to offer!!!) and Tom Thatcher.

Tornadoes, Theodicy & Some Leading Baptists

When I first became a Christian, I was part of the Southern Baptist denomination. The Sr. Minister took me to his Southern Baptist alma mater when I was visiting colleges and he strongly advised me to go there. I declined. When I went outside of the denomination's selected schools, my home (Baptist) Church would not help me like they helped Baptist college students; oh well. I love the Baptist Church. It is where I laid down my roots and got excited about Christianity. But, I must say, I'm not too excited about some of the leading Southern Baptists these days.

My disinterest in these leaders has mainly to do with what they say about natural disasters. Take Franklin Graham, for instance, a leading voice among Baptists. He was one of the first to suggest that when Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, that God sent it. Moreover, God sent it because those places were sinful and needed wiped out and cleansed. This is patently absurd!

I might clarify myself here. I said that my disinterest in these leaders had to do with what they say on natural disasters. Well, it also has to do with what they do not say. Take, for example, the recent tornado strike on Union, a Baptist affiliated school. Why did Mr. Graham not rush to the televisions and say, "God sent it because you're all heathen"? I'll tell you why. Graham didn't do that because these are Baptists. To condemn them and incite them is to condemn and incite himself and his party. This, my friends, is sheer Hypocrisy with a captial "H".

I was going to mention some other folks who could be paired with Mr. Graham but I'm going to abstain. When it comes to things like tornadoes, theodicy and some leading Baptists, I think consistency is needed. Mr. Graham, be consistent. You other leaders, be consistent. And here's how you can do that: Quit making the inept and hypocritical statements that you are! Otherwise, incite yourselves too! Oh yeah, and don't run from the eye of "hypocritcal" hurricane that is headed your way whenever an ugly storm surrounds you and your kindred.


Loving the Scholar in Your Life: For Dummies (for free)

As Gordon Fee has reminded us, biblical scholars can be an odd lot. Heck, even our loved ones often have a hard time understanding us, what we're about and what we do. So, in order to curtail that issue, I've written a very, very short book (only 8 pages, double-spaced; includes pictures). The book is yours for the taking. In fact, share it freely with those close to you. You might even print it off and give it as a Valentines Day gift. Enjoy. Thoughts and comments appreciated!

My Short (knock-off) Book:

Loving the Biblical Scholar in Your Life: For Dummies

Theology, Ethics & "Rambo"

(No spoilers) I grew up watching Rocky and Rambo movies. However, when I went to see the latest Rambo flick, I was shocked. Not only was this different than the Rambos I had previously seen, it was nothing like it (the Rambo website was spot-on when it said, "This Rambo makes all the others seem enchanted.")! Well, the plot and premise of the film were similar but no Rambo flick, or any other movie I have ever seen, were or are as graphic and violent as this one. The movie starts off a little slow but picks up really fast and from there, it never slows down. Once Rambo starts killing, well, that's all that happens.

The violence in this film is unmatchable. The close-ups of beheadings, murders, stabbings, gunshots, bomb blasts, lynchings, etc. are straight gory. After the show I told my buddy who went along with me, "It's pretty bad when Rambo can wipe out half of the theather too." It's true, many people who were in the theater cleared out halfway through the movie becuase it was too sickening and violent. While it all happens in the world today and it is quite realistic, that doesn't mean people enjoy watching it. I was suprised that I made it through the whole thing. This movie is certainly not for the faint of heart. It's like Stallone--who wrote and produced the film--got as gruesome as he possibly could. He gave new meaning to the phrase "go out with a bang".

Without spoiling the movie (actually, the plot and premise are very simple), I want to explore a number of issues this film raised for me:

1. The movie takes place in-between modern-day Thailand and Burma (precisely near where they border). Rambo lives in Thailand and some Christian missionaries ask him to drop them off near a local village where they can take medicines in Burma. Eventually, Rambo does. However, the missionaries are captured and placed under the tyrrany of a Burmanese army; Rambo must go rescue them. In the process, he kills hundreds of Burmese soldiers. Given that the movie starts out with clips of Burmese monks protesting, which happened just months ago, I couldn't help but think that if anyone in Burma saw this film, they would hate America. The movie does nothing but show Rambo wiping out a bunch of Burmese people. I wonder if this wasn't the wrong time to put this film out? I also wonder why it didn't catch any political heat? Is it okay, even if only in a movie, to show Americans wiping out other nations?

2. Was it ethical for the Christians to go in, knowing that if they got in trouble American troops would have to try to recover them, all the while risking life and limb? Should Christians abstain from these types of things and wait them out or should they warn the U.S. Army (or whoever), not to try to save them? I think this is a serious ethical issue for missionaries today.

3. This movie made me realize that God hates war, murder and killing. It also made me realize that I will not vote for someone like John McCain who during his campaign sang to the tune of "Barbara Anne", the lyrics, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran, bomb Ira-a-a-an" and said, "Let's stay in Iraq for fifty, heck a hundred years." War should be avoided at all costs. This movie really brought out the pacifist in me. But it also raised another issue that troubles me: Is it more loving to let people be raped, tortured and killed or is it more loving to use force, kill the tyrants and free the victims? I'm not sure.

4. Another issue that came up was "whose life is most valuable?". I mean, is the Burmese soldier's life worth less than the American's or visa versa? In a war, that is the choice that is made. But who are we to decide who is more valuable or not? Aren't we all of equal worth in God's eyes? Is the Christian more valuable than the Burmese soldier? Is the Thai migrant more valuable than the missionary?

5. Is it okay to portray the film with the amount and substance of gore that Stallone did? Is it unethical to show these types of things in films?

6. The film almost pictures Rambo in the role of a very violent savior, especially the end when he returns to his roots (don't want to say any more on that, it would be a spoiler). Is this okay? Does it further the mentality that war and weapons, soldiers and warriors are our saviors? I think it could!

7. With the title "Rambo To Hell and Back" and a setting in Thailand/Burma, viewers automatically associate Asia with Hell. This does not seem okay to me. Neither do I think it would have been right to place it in America or anywhere else. If anything, a "fake" location would have been best. In an era where war and terrorism, fighting and national battles are prevalent, a fictive setting would have been the most appropriate. What do you think?

I could say more about the film but I'll stop there. I must say again that this film shocked me. I would probably not recommend it to anyone. It is not a wholesome film and it has the potential to make people, even Christians, place trust in guns and bombs instead of Jesus Christ. There is even a line where one soldier says, "God didn't come to save you, we did." In my eyes, I could never picture Jesus advocating war or running around throwing grenades and shooting people. There is a reason this film is called "To Hell and Back" and that's what we get when we go into and stay in wars--hell! Perhaps the only two good things about this movie were that it raised a lot of ethical/theological questions for me and that it gave me more resolve on the end of pacifism. After all, Jesus did not say, "Blessed are those who kill" but instead, "Blessed are the peacemakers".


Bible Belt Award

It's that time again (actually, it's about a week late)! January's "Bible Belt" goes to: Chris Tilling of Chrisendom. See his ingenious post here: When Asked. In order, here were my other January favorites.

2. MetaCatholic: Making Political Music (Okay, this was posted on Feb. 3rd but I couldn't resist including it here.)

3. Things On Bryan's Mind: 2Pac One of the Greatest Rappers Ever

4. Kudos to the Rt. Rev. Bird for his creativity in this post: The Society of Baseball Literature (A Parody)

5. Ben Witherington: Akedah


Big Butter Jesus

Whenever my wife and I travel to North to see her family, we always pass the gigantic Jesus statue seen in the picture here. It is right off the interstate and really, it just towers over everything. Well, someone wrote a song about it. You must give it a listen; you'll have a good laugh! Here it is, just hit "play":


Fridays Are For Fun: Lighten Up

Remember Ken Jennings from Jeopardy? Bet you don't remember this (by the way, look at those scores...and they're only in the first round!!!)...

Oh my goodness, this is so funny!

Now, this is just unfortunate!!!

And this vid isn't funny but I think you'll be rather impressed:

Westboro Baptist : To Da Xtreme

This is a video put together by some of the women who are part of the Westboro Baptist group--whom you might know because of thier picketing events (e.g. funerals, events, etc.). They're bumpin' to Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'" here. For more of their stuff, follow the links they advertise on thier shirts.


Jesus Didn't Predict His Death: Studies in Mark, Pt. 44

I don’t like starting posts off negatively or with a complaint but I think the one to follow is warranted: If you’re going to write a commentary, don’t do it just to do it. If you’re going to write a commentary be creative. If you’re going to write a commentary, add new insights to the field. If you’re planning on writing a commentary, quit saying what everyone else has already said. Not that every idea has to be new but honestly, say something worthwhile that is the product of your own thinking, studying and imagining!

Okay, I’m done with that rant. I feel that it was warranted because when I read through commentaries on Mark, they all seem to be saying the same exact things. Not only does it feel like I’ve wasted my money on these books when this happens, it is just boring and redundant. I wonder if there are any scholars out there with anything new to say about Mark’s Gospel? Thank God for social-science scholars, they seem to be the only ones!

Here’s one example of what I’m getting at: In reading through commentaries on Mk., every single one of them makes this statement or offers this heading “Jesus predicts His passion”. For one, I’m not so convinced that Jesus is emphasizing His passion. I think He’s emphasizing that the crucifixion has to happen only so He can be raised. He’s emphasizing the resurrection. Furthermore, I don’t think Mark was attempting (at all) to portray Jesus as “predicting” His passion.

“Predicting” is a very poor choice of words here. For starters, Mark tells us in 3.6 that after Jesus had ticked the religious leaders off, they (the Pharisees) went to find the Herodians to plot to kill Jesus. This is at the beginning of Mark’s story!!! In Matthew, where the same set of events are portrayed, it is made even more explicit that Jesus is made aware that they are plotting to kill Him (see Mt. 12). Here’s my point: It’s not fair to suggest—after we are already told by Mark that Jesus is aware of the plotting—that Jesus was “predicting” His death. How can we say He’s “predicting” it if He’s made aware of the plot ahead of time? This is akin to me finding out that some corporation is going to hire me, then after finding this out, saying that they are going to hire me. That is not me “predicting” getting hired; it is simply acknowledging what is going to happen.

Just as well, in Mk. 10.32-4, we find some other clues that inform us that Jesus was not “predicting” His passion. The verses lay it out this way: 1) He told them what was going to happen, 2) Going to Jerusalem—this is not a prediction but a statement of what He’s going to make happen, 3) The Son of Man will be delivered, 4) To the Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law, 5) They will condemn Him to death, 6) They will hand Him over to the Gentiles, 7) Who will mock Him 8) spit on Him, 9) flog Him, 10) kill Him, and 11) He will be raised.

Now, all of these things do happen in chapters 14-6 of Mark’s account. However, if Jesus was “predicting”, He didn’t do a great job. Why? Because His predictions, as told in Mk. 14-6, follow a different order than what is found in Mk. 10.32-4. We would think that if Jesus were “predicting”, He would at least get the order of things right.

Just as well, in context, one need not resort to “prediction” to make sense of these passages. What I mean is that most people in antiquity knew the process of capital punishment via crucifixion. In general, the process described a lot of the things found in Mk. 10.32-4. Commentators have pointed out that Jesus’ “prediction” here is more detailed than His others. Well, they are right that this account (not prediction) is more detailed. I mean, He’s already spoken of the events twice and the disciples don’t get the point. Perhaps Jesus senses that to drive the point home, He has to get graphic. He does just that.

Whenever the people would have heard Him say what He did in Mk. 10.32-4, it would have become very real. Why? Because they all knew these were “real” elements of a crucifixion. They all knew what this type of capital punishment entailed. In this sense, if Jesus was “predicting”, then so was the whole crowd or crew of disciples “foreseeing”. But that’s not what’s going on. To give a practical example, imagine someone being condemned to capital punishment today. If I asked you to write an account of that persons last hours on earth, most accounts would contain most, if not all, of these elements: You will eat your last meal, you will see your loved ones, you will be chained, you will be walked down the hall, you will enter a windowed-room, you will be strapped down, your face will be covered, you will be injected, you will shake, you will die, you will be taken to the morgue for examination, you will be buried, etc.

Now, if I were to say that to anyone, even an inmate, I would not be “predicting” the future and nobody would think I was. Why? Because everyone already knows what happens. It was the same in Jesus’ context. Everyone knew how crucifixions went down. This method of punishment lasted around a thousand years, 5-600 before Jesus and about 300-350 after Jesus. This form of punishment was nothing novel; everyone was aware of it.

It is not tenable to continue putting misleading headings in our Bibles (see the NIV for example) or our commentaries. Jesus did not predict His death. He was told He was going to die and He kept telling His disciples, even though it never really sank in with them. In Jesus’ day, everyone understood the process of crucifixion so, when Jesus said what He did, it was nothing out of the ordinary and nobody would have thought He was predicting. He was simply stating the facts and everybody knew that, even His followers whose concerns were elsewhere at the time.