Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What Is the Church?

As I recently read and studied in preparation for teaching Ephesians (along with a bit of not-directly-Ephesians-related reading), I came up with a compact statement about the church that I shared with the other members of our house church last Sunday: the church is the presence of the Messiah, in the power of the Spirit, for the sake of the world, to the glory of the Father.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Does It Mean?

In a recent blog post, beginning a series in the forthcoming book King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus by Tim Keller, Scot McKnight noted as he closed his post, ". . . in the temptation [Keller] sees Jesus and Adam (I think it is Jesus and Israel in the wilderness, though Mark's Gospel is not as clear in this regard as are Matthew and Luke)."

A reader of Scot's blog asked, "Could the temptation not be both? In other words, could Jesus' resisting of temptation not be a sign that he succeeds where Adam, Israel, and all of humanity have failed in the past?" In his response, Scot made some very good points about reading Scripture:

You touch a sensitive nerve when you ask if it could be both. "Of course, it could be anything," is what I'm tempted to answer. But I'd like to explore this briefly:

1. The goal of reading is to discover, more or less, the intent of the author as expressed in a text . . .
2. Which means we are asking what Mark intended here . . .
3. Which means we are driven to ask what evidence there is in the text for what we think we are seeing . . .
4. Which means "Adam" does not appear in the text but allusions perhaps do appear to Eden/Paradise -- perhaps . . .
5. Which means saying it means both things means we've got evidence in the text for both and that Mark was intentionally giving us a double entendre . . .
6. Which is different from our ability to suggest it could be this and it could be that -- our could bes are not Mark's intentions.
7. The evidence, and Keller actually plumbs this if my memory is right, in Matthew and Luke is almost entirely in the direction of a Second Israel and not a Second Adam (Paul has Second Adam theology).

So, what evidence in Mark is there for a Second Adam typology? That's the question. Second Adam theology is, of course, true, but it doesn't mean it's true to this text.

When I teach sessions on reading and interpreting the Bible, I talk about "extracting the right doctrine from the wrong text," meaning essentially what Scot does. From now on I may talk about "being true to the text."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


As I move closer to 60 than to 50 -- years, that is -- I think I'm going to take on the role of "grumpy ol' man." Well, maybe not. But I do reserve the right to "grump" once in a while, and this is one of those times. I'm tired of hearing about "Signing Day" . . . though perhaps not for an obvious reason.

In case you missed it, yesterday (Feb. 2) was the 2011 national signing day for NCAA Division I football: the first day recruits can sign a National Letter of Intent for their school of choice. The reason I'm tired of hearing about it isn't that I don't like college football, and it isn't that "my team" lost a great recruit to a rival team. What has bothered me is the talk of recruits committing and decommitting. Yesterday, I read about a high school linebacker who had committed to the University of Alabama, switched his commitment to Auburn University, and then switched his commitment back to Alabama. Thus, he committed three times and decommitted twice. [For what it's worth, I checked the online Oxford English Dictionary and merriam-webster.com just now, and neither included "decommit." I could opine as to why someone might feel the need to create such a term, but I'll leave that alone for now.] When did this young man really commit (keeping in mind the connotations such as "to obligate," "to bind," and "to pledge") to his school of choice?

My main concern is not for whom the young man plays college football; nor is it the misuse of the English language (though you who know me well, know that the latter is of more concern than the former). What really bothers me is the devaluation of the concept of commitment reflected in the story of the high school football player mentioned above. I certainly don't know all the facts in the story, but if he gave a verbal commitment in the first instance to the University of Alabama, what did he think he was doing? Was he obligating . . . binding . . . pledging himself to that university? Apparently not. Nor was he obligating himself to Auburn University when he committed to them. How would he feel if the cleats were on the other foot . . . if Nick Saban committed to sign him to play for the Crimson Tide, then decommitted? "No big deal, coach. I understand." I don't think so.

As I was writing this, I saw a story about another recruit. According to Rivals.com, this young man not only decommitted (switching from the USC Trojans to the Oregon Ducks), he was 45 minutes late for his signing ceremony -- apparently to make a dramatic entrance. I wonder if he made a commitment to be on time?

Lack of commitment to commitments is a sign of a lack of integrity. When someone makes a commitment to me, I expect them to mean it and to carry through on it. When I make a commitment, I expect the same thing of myself. That's integrity. [No, I'm not saying I've always been successful in this regard. But I do know when I've failed, and I desire, by the grace of God, to be a man of integrity.]

Down-home wisdom says, "Say what you mean, and mean what you say." Jesus says, "Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No'. Anything more is from the evil one." (Matthew 5:37, New American Bible). God, make us people who honor commitments, people of integrity, people of The Yes and The No.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Discipleship and Government

I haven't read Bevere's entire first post in his "A Christian Case for Limited Government" series, let alone the entire series, but he's given me something to ponder in his stated thesis:

My thesis throughout this multi-part discussion will be that the main reason the practices of discipleship are in such sad shape in Western culture is not because Christians don't want to read their Bibles, nor because they don't want to take time to pray, nor because they would rather hoard their money than give it to those in need. While all of those may be true to a greater or lesser extent, they are but symptoms of something deeper. The main reason for the decline of the church in the West is Christian support for large government, which undermines the very integrity of the church itself as the counter-story that interprets the world's politics. The reason it is so difficult to get Christians to attend to all the practices of discipleship is because they frankly see no need in a society where the government is the major player in the lives of people in the way that makes the church irrelevant. As the state becomes larger Christian identity is supplanted by national identity because the state requires more from its citizens as it does more. Thus it becomes more important for Christians to work, not so they can tithe, but so that they can pay their taxes. (Allan R. Bevere, on his blog)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Setting aside for the moment all the debated aspects of this topic, I'm curious about something. From time to time I hear or read comments from homosexuals and from those who are sympathetic to the cause of homosexuals about those on the other side of the issue, calling them "homophobic." I have no doubt that homophobes exist and are accurately identified as "homophobic." However, often the word is used to identify those who, based on their religious beliefs, express their opposition to homosexuality. Does opposition equate to fear? Granted, fear can prompt opposition. But that isn't always the case. Would those who oppose Christian opposition to homosexuality accept being identified as "christiaphobic"? or those who think belief in God is quite irrational, as "theophobic"? I don't think so.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If You Love One Another

I find myself in and out of agreement with Brian McLaren -- more in with The Secret Message of Jesus and more out with Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope. In his recent "An Open Letter to Conservative Christians in the U.S., On Health Care," I once again found substantial points of disagreement, but in a couple of areas he was spot on.

I have been growing more and more deeply troubled by the way so many from my heritage in conservative Christianity -- in its Evangelical, Charismatic, and Roman Catholic streams -- have allowed themselves to be spiritually formed by various conservative political and economic ideologies. It's been disturbing to see how many Christians have begun to follow and trust leaders who live more by political/media/ideological codes than by moral/spiritual/biblical ones.

As a result, I sometimes think that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Fox News may now influence many conservative Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Catholics even more than Billy Graham, Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes, Pope Benedict, or even the four gospels.

Now in a free country, people certainly have the right to choose their ideology. But Christians of all sorts, I think we all can agree, have a special calling -- to increasingly harmonize our lives (including our lives as citizens) with the teaching and example of Jesus. My concern is that many of my sisters and brothers, without realizing it, have begun seeing Jesus and the faith through the lens of a neo-conservative political framework, thus reducing their vision of Jesus and his essential message of the kingdom of God. As a result, too many of us are becoming more and more zealous conservatives, but less and less Christ-like Christians, and many don't seem to notice the difference.

Amen, Brian. When we
equate our political framework of choice (or, dare I say, our geopolitical situation) with our Christian faith, we're on shaky ground. Though McLaren doesn't mention it, I think he would agree with me that this applies to Christians on the other end of the spectrum as well. "My kingdom is not of this world" covers the entire spectrum.

If one does not "notice the difference," one may make statements like the one I have heard a friend make more than once: "I don't think a person can be a Christian and a Democrat." I suppose it's possible that someone might say "I don't think a person can be a Christian and a Republican," but that hasn't passed the lips of any of my friends . . . in my hearing. [Now, I have heard some rather disparaging things said about those who claim to be Christians and Republicans, but not that particular statement.] McLaren points us to a more charitable way:

[P]eople are free to disagree humbly and respectfully with their fellow Christians and their government. ... But we Christians, it seems to me, have a high calling -- to be radically committed to integrity and civility, even (especially) with those with whom we disagree. God, after all, is merciful, generous, and kind to "the just and the unjust": how can we not have that same obligation regarding those with whom we disagree? Even if others resort to dirty political tricks and distortion of the truth through exaggeration and fear-mongering, we simply cannot. At the very least, we should be seekers of truth, seekers of wisdom, not consumers (or purveyors) of propaganda -- even if it comes from members of our own political party and people who quote a lot of Bible verses (often out of context). We have a higher calling.

The Apostle Paul might suggest "speaking the truth in love." We should feel free to express our disagreements with our brothers and sisters in Christ. But when we do so, we must make sure what we are speaking is truth (rather than something passed along to us in email, that is so deliciously deprecatory of 'the other side' but unsubstantiated) and in love (rather than because 'they said nasty things about our guy when he was in office').

"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."