Christianity 201

March 12, 2018

Staying on Track When Christians Seek Political Influence

Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them.
 -2 Timothy 2:4 NLT

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.
 -2 Peter 2:20 NIV

Again we’re revisiting the writing of Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious. Amy is current at the forefront of the intersection of Christianity and the study of mental health issues.  Her new book is Blessed are the Unsatisfied: Finding Freedom in an Imperfect World (InterVarsity) and you can read chapter one from the book for free at this link. (Look around her blog for chapters two and three as well!) To read today’s post there, click the title below.

Be Careful: Power Tends to Corrupt…Our Faith

Several years ago, my family and I spent a weekend visiting friends in North Central Indiana. Although this part of the country is home to lots of regular Indiana folks, it’s one of the places known as “Amish country,” a handful of regions in the United States that are home to large Old Order Mennonite and Amish communities. Although we were there to visit friends, not to engage in “Amish tourism,” we did visit the Menno-Hof Amish/Mennonite Information Center in Shipshewana, Indiana. Part museum, part educational experience, it features interesting exhibits about the history, beliefs, and contemporary experiences of Amish and Mennonite people.

The experience began with a quick multimedia presentation of a couple of thousand years of Christian history, starting with the birth of Jesus and showing how and why the Anabaptist movement emerged in sixteenth-century Europe. Through this perspective, one prominent theme emerged: bad things happen when religion and political power get cozy.

These folks should know; their history serves as brutal illustration. The center’s exhibits highlighted the European experiences of Anabaptists and other minority religious groups. An underground dungeon shows the lengths to which powerful state churches would go to suppress the rights and views of minority groups. A ship, ready to sail for the “New World,” illustrates the lengths to which they went in order to find a place where they might peacefully practice their faith and honor their conscience.

In fact, among those of us with European roots, many are descended from people who came to this land seeking escape from state-sponsored religious persecution in Europe. They saw for themselves how political power and religion, when they get all mixed up, can be a recipe for oppression. And we see it for ourselves today, in nations all around the world, where faith and power are used as both justification and tools in the fight for domination. Whether we like it or not, the entire Western world is at war with one such system. How tremendously ironic that American Christians can’t seem to let go of our own appetite for political power.

Now, I’m no separatist. I’ve never even read an Amish romance novel. And I’m a firm believer that Christians ought to be as engaged–and personally invested–in our cultures as anyone else. But I think these Anabaptists got something right–political power has the potential to corrupt our faith as thoroughly as it can corrupt any other area of life. As soon as people perceive a threat to their power, they often begin to lose their way as they focus on trying to cling to it. I’m afraid this is one form of sickness currently infecting the American church.

We are here to live in relationship with God and wield our influence in the direction that relationship leads us. We are not here to make or keep ourselves powerful. That is not part of our calling. Does this mean we ought to eschew power and influence, automatically yielding it all to people who have no misgivings about the relationship between power and faith? Absolutely not. But graciously exercising power is far different from grabbing for it, hoarding it, or wielding it only in our own self-interest. Humbly and generously seeking the common good is vastly different from seeking to hold over others the kind of power that God himself chooses not to exercise.

Many of the people who are quick to point out power’s corrupting influence on people who have disappointed us–like lifelong politicians, corporate kings, and media moguls–are foolish enough to believe it won’t have the same effect on us. Take a look around and think again.

These are messy times, like all other times in human history. I’m not naive enough to believe any one attitudinal shift will bring ideological peace to our society. But clinging to power at all costs has never brought lasting peace or fostered a kinder, more livable culture. In fact, those who refuse to share, without exception, eventually lose everything they worked so hard to amass. Let’s take a lesson from our own stories. Let’s imitate the all-powerful King of Kings and Lord of Lords, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).


May 29, 2017

Holy Days and Holidays

“This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time.” – Exodus 12:14 NLT

Today, our American readers have a national holiday, Memorial Day. I started thinking about this in the context of writing something here, and there is wealth of material available online on this topic.

First stop for the Christian is to understand our Jewish roots, and in particular the Feast Days and also, as the lower section of the chart below shows, their fulfillment in the New Testament:

Source: God’s Calendar.

In searching, I came across several articles by a group called United Church of God, which celebrates these Feasts but doesn’t do Christmas or Easter. (Jehovah’s Witnesses fall into this category as well.) I don’t know much about this group, but I found this comment challenging:

Jesus Christ celebrated seven festivals every year that most Christians today can’t even name, yet He is at the core of all of them.

But one article on another site — I won’t link to this one — asked the question, “Should you observe God’s holy days or demonic holidays?” This rather provocative approach accomplishes little. We don’t live in a theocratic society as did the Jewish people. You may not celebrate those points on the calendar, but probably the place where you work will be closed for the day. Does the modern, secular Christmas detract from the Biblical story of incarnation? Absolutely, but we can also use the day as a talking point to inform our non-churched friends and neighbors. Similarly, we can share with them why the secular symbols of Easter — eggs and rabbits — are a shadow of the story of life we find in the resurrection.

One of the arguments used by those who oppose secular holidays, and secularized Christian holidays is that it constitutes adding to the calendar God has already given. Two verses in Deuteronomy are quoted:

Don’t add anything to the word that I am commanding you, and don’t take anything away from it. Instead, keep the commands of the Lord your God that I am commanding all of you.  (4:2, CEV)

Diligently do everything I command you, the way I command you: don’t add to it; don’t subtract from it. (12:14, MSG)

Again, remember these verses are from the Pentateuch. These books teach us the ways of God and God’s dealing with humankind, but they also encode a law we are no longer under.

Those from liturgical churches however do have Evangelicals at an advantage. In the Biblical panorama of the church calendar we see things which are often missed in our modern churches. It might do some good to swap out the names Christmas and Easter to look more closely at “Epiphany” or “Resurrection Sunday.”

Another example: We just passed Ascension Day on Thursday. Writing on Friday at, Stephen and Brooksyne Weber noted:

In most of Christendom this day doesn’t have nearly the emphasis as other notable events in our Lord’s earthly life such as His birth, death, resurrection or Day of Pentecost which followed His Ascension by 10 days. I wonder how many readers even recalled that yesterday was Ascension Day prior to reading today’s message?

The old order communities of faith in our area place great emphasis on this holy day. As we traveled through that part of the county yesterday we noted that many of the stores and businesses are closed on Ascension Day with special services being held.

Many Christians express their faith in creeds and a line in the Apostle’s Creed states, “He ascended into heaven”. Other churches have formal statements of doctrine and this truth is expressed as in a statement such as “in His ascension to the right hand of the Father”.

Did you know that Thursday was Ascension Day? I know that I never gave it a moment’s thought. Yet today, Americans will both celebrate and remember the nation’s military history with Memorial Day. I don’t think that’s wrong. It’s important to remember the people who paved the way for our liberty and freedom. But I think it’s sad that, myself included, an important day on the church calendar should pass without notice…

…In preparing this I realized there is a place of balance to be found here between our spiritual worship and our civic obligations; and especially between our First Testament history and our Second Testament life under grace. Verses can easily be pulled out to randomly support particular positions. With respect to the Law, I think this one is helpful:

NLT Gal 4:10 You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. 11 I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. 12 Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.





July 25, 2013

A Path to Conquering Temptations


Matthew 5:27-30 (NIV)


27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[a] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

2 Peter 1:3-5 (NIV)

Confirming One’s Calling and Election

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Today’s writer is Michael Belote at the blog Reboot Christianity. Although it was directed at men specifically, the principles apply to men and women equally. To read this and many other good articles at source, click here.

The best path for conquering temptations

I recently wrote a post about the need for men to step up and own lust as their own sin, instead of constantly blaming women for the way that the women are dressing. The comments, frankly, followed the typical modern Christian teaching on the subject, pivoting to blame women’s immodesty instead of man’s sinful heart. One commenter was honest enough to just lay it right out there, saying that our goal should be to focus on women’s immodesty because then men “wouldn’t have to” deal with lust at all.

What is interesting is that this debate has brought to mind that there is a larger subject under discussion here: what is the best way to avoid temptations? When faced with any physical temptation (alcoholism, drugs, sex/lust, gluttony), what is the best way to avoid it?

Most commenters seem to be focused (at least in the lust debate) on prohibition–that is, our focus needs to be on removing the temptation. If no temptation exists, then voila, we get no sin!

I find this argument to be wholly without merit, for several reasons:

1.  Removal of all temptation is impossible.

You will never, ever ever, remove all temptation. Even if you are somehow able to get Christian women to switch from a two-piece to a one-piece, you still have all the non-Christian women, you still have immodest one-pieces, you still have advertisements on billboards as you drive, you still have commercials on TV that are inappropriate, you still have magazines that show too much skin, you still have internet access with all of its temptations, etc., etc.

Trying to reduce lust by getting one small segment of the population to cover their stomachs on the three days per year that they visit the beach is ridiculous. It’s like trying to eliminate salmonella poisoning by making sure that everyone born in 1983 stops cooking with eggs: you are picking one tiny portion of a massive population, making one small change to it, and hoping that somehow it will magically change everything else.

We have to wake up, people. Lying to ourselves about our ability to change the culture won’t help us at all. We live in a sin-cursed, depraved world. We always have, and we always will. The world has been filled with sex and violence since long before Jesus and will be until He comes back. We are warriors in Enemy-occupied territory, and our goal needs to be to focus on protecting ourselves, not to focus on the ridiculous notion that we can somehow talk the Enemy into not tempting us any more.

Temptations will be here, and to be honest…even if every attractive Christian woman in the world started wearing old-fashioned bathing gowns, it would not make lust significantly easier in our modern era of internet pornography and lewdness everywhere.

2.  Even if we could remove all temptations, this will not diminish the frequency of sin.

As I wrote about in my book, as long as there is a demand in one’s heart for sin, he will find a way to do it. History is rife with examples. Prohibition of alcohol failed miserably, actually increasing alcoholism as people began to buy cheap moonshine instead of having a beer. Muslim countries where women wear burkhas have brutal rapes too–indeed, there is no statistical correlation between the amount of clothing worn in a country and its lustfulness. Sailors put on a boat for months on end, and prison inmates with long sentences, have “switched” from heterosexual to homosexual (or at least, bisexual) to satisfy their cravings for lust, even though their visual stimuli to women was completely removed.

It is simple supply and demand: as long as the demand exists, the actions will still happen: limiting the supply will only increase the cost someone will pay to perform the sin (either literal money, or a “cost” in personal life).

3.  Even if we somehow removed all temptations (impossible) and that removed all frequency of sin (impossible)…even then, that is not self-control as described in the Bible.

The Bible talks a lot about self-control. Jesus talks about it (Matt 5:27-30), Peter talks about it (2Pet 1:3-5), Paul talks about it (Gal 5:22-23). Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and is to allow us to avoid temptations.

Trying to remove all temptations is NOT the same as exhibiting self-control. Let’s use another fruit of the Spirit for example…take any of them. Is it mature to say, “I could exhibit Christian love as long as others were lovable?” Is it mature to say, “I could have joy as long as there was no suffering in my life?” Is it mature to say, “I could have peace as long as we remove any anxiety?” Is it mature to say, “I can be patient as long as I get what I want when I want it?” Is it mature to say, “I can be gentle as long as there is no one making me angry?” Is it mature to say, “I can be good as long as there is no temptation to be evil?” Is it mature to say, “I can be faithful as long as there is no other available choice?”

Of course not! So why is it okay to say, “I can have self-control as long as women don’t dress in a tempting fashion?” Why do we treat self-control differently? We shouldn’t. Just as with the other fruit of the Spirit, self-control must be able to be exhibited in the midst of the temptation, or it is not a discipline at all, and you haven’t grown any closer to Christ in the least.

Does all this that mean I’m saying we shouldn’t also focus on removing temptations? Of course not! Feel free to pray, as Jesus recommended, for God to keep us from walking into temptations–indeed, we should pray for that daily. What I’m saying that removal of temptations is not a necessity to having self-control, and existence of temptations is not an excuse to lack self-control. And further, I am saying that lust is a MUCH bigger problem than just “a natural reaction to immodesty,” and (see the examples I gave in section 2 above) will NOT go away just because we improve women’s modest dress. So we have to stop using immodesty as an excuse, and starting owning the problem–because we will never live in a world free of temptation from lust (or any other sin), until the Lord comes back.  And one day He will fulfill those promises of a world where we have no temptation…but until then, He commands us to learn self-control.

My proposal for men

My proposal is that we do not spend our time hoping that the Enemy will not afflict us with temptations–because that is a losing proposition, and will be until the Lord returns–and instead start donning the armor we need to protect ourselves.

As my boss would say, it’s time for us to “Confront the brutal reality”–and the brutal reality is that, no matter what we accomplish as Christians, in our society we will be tempted, and frequently.

My proposal is that we stop wasting so much energy trying to create a world free from temptation (which we will not achieve), and instead spend our energy creating men who are immune to the temptations.

By far, the most successful program in the history of the world for overcoming temptations is the AA program, which has helped millions overcome crippling addiction. Founded by Christians on Biblical principles, the 12 steps there are a great approach for anyone dealing with any temptation:

  1. Admit that you personally are powerless to overcome the addiction/temptation.
  2. Believe that God can restore you to sanity.
  3. Make a decision to turn your life over to God in this area.
  4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.
  5. Admit to God and to others the exact nature of your sin.
  6. Be entirely ready for God to remove these defects of character.
  7. Humbly ask Him to remove your shortcomings.
  8. Make a list of all persons harmed.
  9. Make direct amends to as many of them as possible, as long as it does not cause further harm.
  10. Continue personal inventory and when mistakes are made, promptly admit it (usually to a sponsor who has walked the same path).
  11. Seek prayer and meditation to God, asking only for His will and the power to carry it out.
  12. Practice the same by leading others who have the same struggle.

With all due respect, as long as we continue to blame women’s dress for our lustfulness, we fail to go beyond #2 and #4 above–we do not believe that God is capable of removing lust as we are, but rather that temptations must be removed first, and in so doing we are not being “fearless” in our moral inventory.

A final word:  men, I’m not speaking about something that I do not know. I struggled with lust in college, mightily. And the path I walked down–though I didn’t know it at the time–was not far off of the 12-step program. While I still am not perfect, the successes that I have had with regard to gaining self-control in my life (not just over lust, but self-control in general) all began when I admitted that I was the problem, not the world around me. I could gain self-control from the Spirit, and not just hope to never again be tempted.

If you can’t get to that point, then you will never heal. Of course women should make sure they are not tempting men, but that’s an extremely minor part of the problem. And that is why I am so insistent that we stop telling men that they are mindless sex fiends who cannot help themselves if they see a woman in a bikini: it is not true, it is not biblical, and it keeps them from progressing down the path to healing.

July 19, 2013

Miroslav Volf Quotations

We haven’t done anything in our quotations series for quite some time. Today’s author may be unfamiliar to you.  Wikipedia‘s article on Miroslav Volf begins:

Miroslav Volf (born September 25, 1956 in Osijek, Croatia, ) is a Croatian Protestant theologian, public intellectual, and public speaker who is often recognized as “one of the most celebrated theologians of our day”.Having taught at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in his native Osijek, Croatia (1979–80, 1983–90), and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California (1990–1998), Volf currently serves as the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.

and continues

…Since Volf considers theology to be an articulation of a way of life, his theological writing is marked by a sense of the unity between systematic theology and biblical interpretation, between dogmatics and ethics, and between what is called “church theology” (e.g., Karl Barth and, later, Stanley Hauerwas) and “political/public theology” (e.g., Jürgen Moltmann and David Tracy). His contributions to theology have for the most part been topical; he wrote on human work, the nature of Christian community, the problem of otherness, violence and reconciliation, the question of memory, and the public role of faith, to name a few issues. But in all his writings, he sought to bring the integrated whole of Christian convictions to bear on the topics at hand… 

Volf writes about a variety of topics and I could not begin to include here all of the various places where he is quoted. This is a sample:


“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of
humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one
can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that the torturer will not eternally is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.”

“Because the Christian God is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communio. One cannot, however, have a self-enclosed communion with the Triune God- a “foursome,” as it were– for the Christian God is not a private deity. Communion with this God is at once also communion with those others who have entrusted themselves in faith to the same God. Hence one and the same act of faith places a person into a new relationship both with God and with all others who stand in communion with God.”
After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity

Miroslav VolfWe do not need for all of our lived life to be gathered and rendered meaningful in order to be truly and fully redeemed…. no need to take all of our experiences, distinct in time, and bind them together in a single volume so that each experience draws meaning from the whole as well as contributes meaning to the whole. It suffices to leave some experiences untouched…, treat others with the care of a healing hand and then abandon them to the darkness of non-remembrance…, and reframe the rest.

Well, different things happen whether it [religion] is pushed out [of the public square] or whether it leaves voluntarily. When it is pushed out, I think it leads a sort of subterranean existence. It often becomes insular, often becomes unaware of what bearing religious thoughts have on public life because they are not tested in the public realm. That is to the detriment of positions of Christians themselves. If faith retreats from the public realms – and in some areas it has to retreat because the conditions are not there, and some accounts of the Christian faith are such that Christians are not encouraged to take responsibility – I think this is a kind of diminution of the Christian faith. Sometimes it is an understandable diminution of the role of faith but it is a diminution nonetheless, because God is the God of all of reality, of all aspects of life. Our faith has bearing on all aspects of life. When faith is pushed out or retreats from the public sphere, it idles. That is especially true of the prophetic faiths. Christianity is a prophetic faith.

They make up two of the largest religious groups worldwide, comprising more than half of humanity. They are at each other’s throats, if not literally, then in their imaginations. And we need to find ways we can believe peacefully together.

Both groups [Muslims and Christians] are monotheists. They believe in one God, one God who is a sovereign Lord and to whom they are to be obedient. For both faiths, God embodies what’s ultimately important and valuable. If our understandings of God clash, it will be hard for us to live in peace—not impossible, but hard. So exploring to what extent Christians and Muslims have similar conceptions of God is foundational to exploring whether we inhabit a common moral universe, within which there are some profound differences that can be negotiated, discussed, and adjudicated…

…I don’t think we need to agree with anyone in order to love the person. The command for Christians to love the other person, to be benevolent and beneficent toward them, is independent of what the other believes. But will we be able to forge common bonds of social life in some ways? Will we be able to inhabit common space? That is a question distinct from whether I’m able to love somebody.

Christians often understand the doctrine of the Trinity as if there were three separate divine agents who form a kind of loving troika and as if, when they want to do something in the world, they deliberate as a committee. Muslims understand what Christians mean by the Trinity in a similar way. They claim that Christians associate another being—Jesus Christ—with God; Christians, in their view, believe in one God and then add to that one God a divine associate.

But as I argue in my book, this is all wrong… Christians who know what they are talking about believe that there is one and only one God who has no associates—no divine troika, no divine committee of three. The Word and the Spirit are distinct but inseparable from the Speaker of the Word and Breather of the Spirit, and no divine “person”—neither Father, nor Son, nor the Spirit—ever acts independently in any activity. The Holy Three who are the Holy One interpenetrate each other in a way that creatures do not. Consequently, you cannot count God in the same way you count things in the world, and of course, you cannot count when it comes to God simply because God is not one of the things to be counted but is a source of all things that can be counted. Therefore, what Muslims deny about the Trinity, we Christians, when we know what we are talking about, do not affirm; Muslims are not contesting what we believe about the divine Trinity. So where some Muslims and Christians think there is an unbridgeable gulf, there is actually much commonality (though also some significant difference).

Christians believe that there will be a Judgment Day at the end. And it is my belief that on that day justice will be done and there will be a reconciliation between those who have profoundly injured one another takes place.

I think evangelicals would do better if they concentrated less on bolstering the formal authority of the Scripture – which I certainly would want to affirm – and more on displaying how biblical texts can shape lives in salutary ways, how they are fruitful texts, how they are texts one can live according to.

Christ’s indwelling presence has freed us from exclusive orientation toward ourselves and opened us up in two directions: toward God, to receive the good things in faith, and toward our neighbor, to pass them on in love.

God will judge, not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves. If evildoers experience God’s terror, it will not be because they have done evil, but because they have resisted to the end the powerful lure of the open arms of the crucified Messiah.

Sources: Goodreads, Ryan Dueck’s blog, John Pattison intereview, Christianity Today interview, Near Emmaus blog, Brainy Quote, Ray Choi, Resources for Study

November 10, 2011

Michael Frost on Being A Christian in a Post-Christendom Era

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Australian pastor and author Michael Frost has had a huge affect on how I look at church, mission, evangelism and community; just to name a few things.   We’ve been privileged to hear him speak several times and I often find myself repeating many of his examples of what God is doing around the world. This 51-minute lecture was posted at Glenn Schaeffer’s blog,  Go And Make and I believe it was recorded about a year ago.

What does it mean when the Jesus story no longer informs the broader culture? Rather than whine and complain, is it not possible for us to imagine that this experience may be the very ground from which we rediscover what it is to be a faithful follower of Jesus? 

Frost compares our present situation to that which faced God’s chosen people while they were in exile in Babylon.