A Disembodied Head? Part 7: Power

The Logo of the Brethren in Christ Church

12 So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example – you should do just as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13.12-17)

I love the intentional reference to this in the Brethren in Christ logo through the basin and towel (see right). It seems to me that Christ is subverting the thirst for power. This is consistent with other instructions to the disciples, such as:

25 But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. 26 It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave – 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20.25-28)

Clearly, the power in the Kingdom is to be different. Of course, what Christ accuses the “Gentiles” of in this passage is essentially what the Pharisees were doing. They were using their power and authority to set up high ideals that the average person couldn’t attain. This solidified their position as the authority, and secured their continued power. Christ came and served. He washed the disciples feet. He walked with them daily showing the way of the Kingdom and explaining it to them. Ultimately, He laid down His life to pay our penalty, thus ushering in the Kingdom of God on earth. Then, He rose. After a very short time He went away again, commissioning (empowering) the disciples to spread the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world. This is to be the way of the Church.

Once again, the epistles echo this call to a servant attitude toward power.
1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. 3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. 5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,
6 who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
8 He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
– even death on a cross!
9 As a result God exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow
– in heaven and on earth and under the earth –
11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.1-11)
The way the NET breaks this passage makes it apparent that this is felt by scholars to be an early form of a Christian hymn. Paul tells us that we (the Church) should take Christ as our model. I think that this is clearly aimed at all in the Church. This is not just for laity as we look to our pastor, or just for pastors, since they lead. We are all to be modeling Christ, and thinking of each other. We are not to aspire to greatness and power, but instead to seek ways to serve others. If we do come into positions of power, we are to use that as a greater platform to serve.
Living this out will, of course, look counter cultural. The fact that this will look counter-cultural is, perhaps further evidence that our culture is not “Christian” in any sense of being like Christ. Everyone from politicians, to corporate executives, to far too many pastors, seem to be trying to climb the ladder of success. If we are climbing so that we can serve more, I suppose that could be a good thing. Or if the promotions come simply as a natural side effect of our using all of our God given abilities so well in service that others promote us, then that is not something to be fought, necessarily. Still, with increasing “rank” in the eyes of the world, we need to be even more careful not to rest or lord it over others, but should be reminded to strive even harder to find ways to serve those around us in our ever-increasing sphere of influence.
This is a point that sometimes makes me uncomfortable in the world of academe. We are encouraged to promote ourselves, and even required at times to defend our application for tenure or promotion to the next rank. While that promotion may be warranted and earned, and the increased rank includes increased influence from which we can serve and pay with which we can give to Kingdom efforts (more on wealth/giving another time), we should be cautious. As James says:

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect individual, able to control the entire body as well. (James 3.1-2)

If that isn’t good enough, how about this reminder:

48 But the one who did not know his master’s will and did things worthy of punishment will receive a light beating. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked. (Luke 12.48)

Christ here is explaining the parable of stewardship, and I’m pretty sure this applies to stewarding those under our leadership as well. We should be very careful, since we have a clearly laid out model of leadership set out for us. We are without excuse is we fail to lead as the servant to all those “under” us from the world’s perspective. Jesus has really ushered in a “power under” form of leadership, rather than the model of exercising power over you. In Jesus model, I use my power to serve you and supply for your needs. In the world’s model, I use my power to make you supply what I need. This is true everywhere from marriage to the boardroom to the Church to whatever political power (if any) we may be granted as Christians.

Questions for thought:

  1. Where do you have power or authority?
  2. How can you use that power or authority to serve like Christ?
  3. Where have you used that power or authority to rule over others?
  4. Is there someone you need to apologize to for this unGodly use of power?
  5. Is there some way you need to “give back” power, at least for a time, in order to get the attitude of Christ?

Feel free to comment below as you wrestle with these questions, or if you think there is some area of obvious application that I may have missed!


A Disembodied Head? Part 6: Politics

Heading in different directions?

17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away – look, what is new has come! 18 And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor 5.17-20)

Today’s post is a follow up to the last two posts (Friday: Allegiance, Monday: America). Let me start with a quote from my conclusion yesterday to set the starting point for my views on how those views affect my view of politics:

It seems, in summary, that our national priority is now with another Kingdom. We are not, however, to use this as an excuse to shirk paying our taxes and obeying the law. We should do this, so as to set a witness that we are not bad citizens, we are just foreigners who want to represent our King well while living in another Kingdom whose claims to power and authority are of a different sort than that of Christ. Where no conflict exists, we may fully be citizens of our country (America for me), but the moment any sort of discrepancy surfaces, my true allegiance must come shining through.

In light of the verses that I quoted yesterday (please check out that post for full reference to the message from Christ, Paul and Peter), it is clear to me that we as Christians must not put ourselves in a position in which our allegiance to Christ would be compromised. This does not necessarily preclude political service/involvement, in my view. However, the above verse that I quoted to begin this post, Paul seems to clarify things in some ways. We are to be ambassadors for Christ. This reframes the question here in a whole new light.

Let’s restate the question in another sense. Suppose someone with dual citizenship in Canada and the US was born and raised in Canada, but has extended family in the States. Further, suppose that she is selected by Canada to be an ambassador to the US, since she knows America customs and traditions. Would we ask what her opinion of US politics were? Certainly, if we assume that we would not like to unintentionally antagonize our neighbors to the north. Would we expect her to offer her opinion unasked for? Yes, if she felt it necessary to warn us of potential conflicts. Would we find it odd if she used her American citizenship to run for elected office while continuing to serve as Canadian ambassador? Undoubtedly! We would ask hard questions about her motivation. Also, if you were the Canadian government wouldn’t you ask her what she was doing? Wouldn’t you be worried that if she won this would compromise her ability to accurately represent your interests?
I wonder if Christ sometimes finds the same thing with us. Those involved with politics must sometimes fight between the things that are best for our heavenly citizenship that might not be best for our country. America, or any other nation, is not synonymous with the Kingdom. Now, I know that other Christians have a theology that more easily lends itself to public office. That is between them and God. I’m simply trying to offer what I see in Scripture. Thinking back to the idea of allegiance, we cannot, in my opinion, fully serve our country and fully serve Christ. There will necessarily be conflict between any two calls for our allegiance and we must be clear which is primary. We cannot serve two masters. Consider the Oath of Office for federal elected/appointed positions in the civil service:
An individual, except the President, elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services, shall take the following oath: “I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” (Source: Cornell University School of Law Legal Information Institute)
This is clearly a competing call to allegiance, and something that I would not feel comfortable agreeing to. Let me ask you a few questions to ponder. Feel free to give me feedback in the comments:
  1. What potential conflicts could a Christian in political office face?
  2. What potential benefits could a Christian in political office work for the Kingdom?
  3. Would a Christian in political office be in some ways a double agent?
  4. Can a Christian swear or affirm to uphold and defend the constitution of the US without compromising their commitment to follow Christ?
  5. What would inability to serve in political office imply about voting? From the spectrum of voting being a sin to voting being a requirement, where does Scripture point us? (I respond to my friend Chris Smith’s stance here, and admit that I’ve moved even closer to his view since that post.)

A Disembodied Head? Part 5: America

Is there something wrong with this picture?

18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 22.15-22)

After Friday’s post about the Pledge of Allegiance, I thought I’d follow up with the logical conclusions that led me to about America. As I said in that post, I am glad to live in America. I think there is much about this country that we have every right to thank God for. However, we must avoid the temptation to idolize America, or worship  any other native country in which a Christian might be placed by God. Christ clearly indicates to His disciples in the Great Commission, quoted above, that His followers should make disciples of all nations. This is an indication that Christ was expecting His Kingdom to finally become trans-national. That had been the goal all along, since Abraham had been promised that through his seed all of the nations on the earth would be blessed (some translations of Genesis 12.3 read all nations will be blessed through you, others read all nations will bless each other with your name), and clarified in Isaiah (Isaiah 41.1-7 and 49.6). The nation of Israel was God’s chosen representative, intended to show His favor and invite others to join their nation. It never quite works out that way, if you read the records from Genesis to Malachi (in the Christian ordering).

The early apostles made this clear as well. The Church does not need any certain government to do its mission. Even under the pagan Romans, and surrounded by hostile Jews, the Church thrived and advanced across cultural boundaries. Paul write this in Colossians:

11 Here there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3.11)

Earthly nationality plays no role in the Church, he seems to be saying. And Peter explains the same idea:

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul, 12 and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears. (1 Peter 2.9-12)
Here Peter is saying that in the earthly sense, we were not one nation, but people from various backgrounds. Now we are God’s people. Not as a nation (America), but as a Church, the Body of Christ. The member of Christ’s true Body who follow our Head are the new “Israel”. That is, we are God’s chosen people of the new covenant, a covenant in His Blood.
Where then does this leave us in our dealings with our earthly nation? Peter addressed that immediately following the section I just quoted.
13 Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether to a king as supreme 14 or to governors as those he commissions to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do good. 15 For God wants you to silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 Live as free people, not using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but as God’s slaves. 17 Honor all people, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2.13-17)
Paul is also not silent about this. After discussing in Romans 12 how to interact as a Christian with those who oppose or persecute us (our “enemies”), he reminds us in the beginning of Romans 13 that the state does have that power, before returning to our conduct in love immediately after this passage:
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment 3 (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. 6 For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. 7 Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. (Romans 13.1-7)
Lest we think that this was just the teaching of the Church, Jesus gives the same idea with the same example:
15 Then the Pharisees went out and planned together to entrap him with his own words. 16 They sent to him their disciples along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful, and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You do not court anyone’s favor because you show no partiality. 17 Tell us then, what do you think? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” 18 But Jesus realized their evil intentions and said, “Hypocrites! Why are you testing me? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought him a denarius. 20 Jesus said to them, “Whose image is this, and whose inscription?” 21 They replied, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 Now when they heard this they were stunned, and they left him and went away. (Matthew 22.15-22)
It seems, in summary, that our national priority is now with another Kingdom. We are not, however, to use this as an excuse to shirk paying our taxes and obeying the law. We should do this, so as to set a witness that we are not bad citizens, we are just foreigners who want to represent our King well while living in another Kingdom whose claims to power and authority are of a different sort than that of Christ. Where no conflict exists, we may fully be citizens of our country (America for me), but the moment any sort of discrepancy surfaces, my true allegiance must come shining through.

A Disembodied Head? Part 4: Allegiance

Students pledging to the flag, 1899, 8th Division, Washington, D.C.

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. (Matthew 6.24a)

Now I’m treading on more controversial territory. While I’m aware that the verse I quote here is talking about money, in its original context, I think the principal that Christ is referring to has a wider implication that we can’t serve God and anything else. One of the things that became clear to me as I read the words of Christ over again with fresh eyes was that there were areas in which the words of Christ would call me into beliefs and actions that might be counter to what my nation might ask of me. (More on these areas in the future.) How was I to balance these conflicts. I could come to only one conclusion, the call of Christ must trump all. Certainly, I think that most Christians, even ardent politically involved ones, would acknowledge that Christ must be preeminent. This became increasingly unsettling when I was in situations where the Pledge of Allegiance was being said. How could I pledge allegiance to my country, while in my heart knowing that there was another, far greater allegiance that would trump my commitment to my country in any and all situations?

Please, don’t get me wrong. As nations of this earth go, America is the one in which I would choose to live every time. The freedom to even consider this type of position openly is a blessing that I do not take for granted. Also, my grandfather served in the armed forces during WWII, and I value his service, and that of so many others down through the years. I am not calling America evil, or accusing anyone in the government of anti-God policies. This theology grew in me during both Republican and Democratic administrations, and has nothing to do with demonizing a particular party.

For me, this was about an issue of supremacy. If Christ and His Kingdom were supreme in my life, and that Kingdom was the place of my primary citizenship, I feel that I cannot pledge my allegiance to any other authority. Yes, I am subject to my governing authorities, and endeavor to abide by their rules in every way that I can. I pay my taxes, abide by local laws, respect the police and obey traffic laws (probably should slow down a little when driving, though). I am not advocating for anarchy, or anything of the sort. I’m simply saying that if we, as Christians, claim Christ as our authority, I cannot understand how we can cede any of that to our country, which we must admit is not infallible. For many years my adopted children would have been viewed as less than human under the law because of their mixed race heritage. For many years my wife would not have been allowed to vote. There are certainly things in this country today that are inconsistent with Christ’s teaching, and even debate about whether the wars we are currently fighting meet the threshold of “just-war” theory.

Jesus clearly indicates in His last prayer for His disciples in John 17 that we are not of this world any longer:

16 They do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Set them apart in the truth; your word is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. 19 And I set myself apart on their behalf, so that they too may be truly set apart. (John 17.16-19)

John reiterates this in his first letter:

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 16 because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever. (1 John 2.15-17)
Jesus also points out that His Kingdom is not an earthly Kingdom:
36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” (John 18.36)
If His Kingdom is not of this world, we should be careful not to assume that the earthly “kingdom” (or nation) in which we find ourselves, no matter how wonderful and seemingly godly, is in some way a manifestation of the true Kingdom. In fact, Peter points out that we are part of a new holy nation, and should act as foreigners and exiles here on earth:
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul, 12 and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears. (1 Peter 2.9-12)
In the end, I’ve decided that as part of another nation, I consider myself as having dual citizenship, but the primary citizenship is in God’s Kingdom. Where there is no conflict, I am happy to meet the expectations and requirements of my earthly nation. But where there is any hint of conflict, I must side with the Kingdom of God. Thus, I cannot pledge allegiance to the United States. All nations are under God’s ultimate authority, whether they recognize it or not. However, no nation is a Kingdom of God come to earth.
Please note, I am not saying that if you say the pledge, you are a heathen, or less godly than I am. I am explaining my theology, and challenging you to consider what I’ve found in scripture. If you have helpful passages that you think show my interpretation of Scripture to be incorrect, feel free to comment briefly below and point me in the right direction to find your reference and understand your interpretation. If you can say the pledge but don’t believe it means what I’ve taken it to mean, feel free to disagree, and let me know how you interpret it in the comments below. I believe that this is an issue on which serious Christ followers might disagree. As for me and my house, however, we will study the pledge and talk about what it means, but stress that our full allegiance can only properly be placed in Christ and His Kingdom.

A Disembodied Head? Part 3: Judgement

Is this how Christians are viewed? Should we be?

It is finally time to begin looking at the change in my theology due to an increasingly Christ-centered view of Scripture. I’ll start with one of the first things God started working on in me, but one of the toughest to really defeat: Judgmentalism. The Evangelical environment in which I grew up seemed to think that this was crucial to being a faithful follower of Christ. It seemed as though being appropriately condemning of immoral behavior (at least what we defined as immoral) was required to prove your faith was real. It was as if we were all afraid that to not belittle and judge others who didn’t meet our standards was to admit we were not committed to faith ourselves. One might reasonably wonder whether we really knew the Bible, but we sure thought we did. We even read this famous passage:

1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. 3 Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? 5 You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 6 Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces. (Matthew 7.1-6)

Somehow, we still felt it necessary to judge those who swore, or women who dressed to provocatively, or people who had sex before marriage, or had tattoos, or … You get the idea. I remember God beginning to make me think through my dad. I mentioned to him at some point how disappointing (a helpful word that makes judging someone seem less “judgmental”) it was that one of the men in our church would walk outside the front door of the church to smoke on a Sunday morning. My dad opened my eyes to a more Christ-like attitude by saying something along the lines of “You don’t know what else God may be working on in his life. There may be something more important to God that we don’t know about and can’t see.” This made me pause. Could I trust God that He was working in this man’s life, even if I could still see “sin” in other areas?

Lately, I’ve been challenged in this area a lot by Bruxy Cavey, and what he refers to as the “plank-eye process” (which must be pronounced with a long o in process, since he’s Canadian).  When I truly am willing to acknowledge the areas in my own life where I know better, and yet still struggle, I can come alongside of someone else as a fellow traveler, trying to follow our Lord. Instead of judging them from my perceived perfection, I can admit that I struggle too, and ask for them to help me even as I try to help them.

Other verses that have helped me in this journey:

44 But Jesus shouted out, “The one who believes in me does not believe in me, but in the one who sent me, 45 and the one who sees me sees the one who sent me. 46 I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not obey them, I do not judge him. For I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not accept my words has a judge; the word I have spoken will judge him at the last day. (John 12.44-48)

If Jesus Himself says that He didn’t come to judge the world, why do so many of us get caught up in judging the world? Jesus clearly states that there will be a time for that judgement, but that it is at the last day, not today. In fact, we find that Christ says that He will be the judge then (see Matthew 25.31-33 and following, for example), but for now, that was not His role. Lest we delude ourselves by saying that this was only intended before the resurrection, but that now it is the role of the Church, Paul states that this is not our job either!

12 For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you. (1 Corinthians 5.12-13)

I suspect that what has happened to us here is that we have bought into the lie made necessary by the “Constantinian Shift” when the Church went from a persecuted minority to the official religion. I fear that much of the message of Christ was thrown aside because it did not lend itself to being in power, but there is plenty there to unpack in future days. For today, let me simply say that judging others, particularly outside of the family of Christ, is prohibited by Scripture.

Questions for thought:

  1. In what ways have you given in to this spirit of judgment?
  2. In what ways have we as a Church compromised our mission through this?
  3. How would it impact our witness if the Church was seen refusing to judge those outside our walls?
  4. How can we judge within the Church in ways that restore, rather than isolate? (Matthew 18.15-17 might help with this)

A Disembodied Head? Part 2: The Key

This image is what some scholars think a typical first century Jewish man would have looked like. If our image of Jesus could be this far off due to the culture that chose our image (Middle ages Europe), could our interpretations of His teachings be off as well?

Hopefully I piqued your interest with yesterday’s teaser at the end of my post. I do believe that there is a “Key” to correctly interpreting everything in Scripture, and the Key is pointed out within the text. For me, the discovery was more of a “Duh” moment than an “Aha!” The Key was actually something that I was aware of, and would have told you I was using. The fact was, I knew the Key’s importance intellectually, but it didn’t really work its way into my theology for quite some time. The Key? Jesus.

Yep, you probably just said “Duh” to yourself, right? I mean, every Christian knows that Jesus is the Key to everything. He brings meaning to life. His death pays our price; His resurrection brings us hope. He is to be our Lord and our King. I knew all of that. What then was I missing? Somehow I missed the fact that all of Scripture must be interpreted in light of Him. All of the Bible really does turn on the person of Christ. I was unintentionally forgetting that, or at least not applying it thoroughly enough. If there is a verse that seems to contradict the teachings and words of Christ, they must be interpreted in light of Him to be correctly applied in forming theology. Christ Himself told us this, but it isn’t just His teachings, the New Testament hints at this all over the epistles. Here are a few verses that helped bring this home for me:

1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. 2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith. 4 For just as in one body we have many members, and not all the members serve the same function, 5 so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another. (Romans 12.1-5)
11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. 14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love. (Ephesians 4.11-16)
27 Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you is a member of it. (1 Corinthians 12.27)
16 So the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28.16-20)
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, 16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him. 18 He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, so that he himself may become first in all things. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son 20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross – through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven. (Colossians 1.15-20)
But perhaps most importantly was this passage:
6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you have known me, you will know my Father too. And from now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be content.” 9 Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves. (John 14.6-11)
What really hit me, and has continued to become clearer and clearer these last few years, is that Jesus is the perfect image of God. If we truly see Him as He is in the gospels, we have seen God. This means that if there is a picture of God in the Bible, Old or New Testament, that seems on its face inconsistent with the gospel image of Christ, we are interpreting the other passage incorrectly. This awoke in me a passion to really dive into the gospels and see what the image of Christ was really like there. What I read wasn’t new to me, but what it implied awoke my soul to a new picture of God. This new image of God was one who finally began to look like the Messiah. Instead of a sometimes vindictive God, I saw His love throughout the Bible. I saw Him weeping over Jerusalem, not just in the gospels, but also through the prophets. God was not being vindictive in His judgement, He was simply, sadly, withdrawing His protection from the people He loved due to their choices. Sometimes He took the blame for their punishment, but if you look closely, it is always someone else actually carrying off the captives and dashing the babies on the rocks. I began to see God’s broken heart longing for a different type of relationship with all people, not just the Israel of the Old Testament.
Over the next few days (weeks?) I want to unpack some of the things that God revealed, and how they focused my theology, or in many cases re-focused my theology. These passages might also explain the idea behind the title of this series. If Christ is to be the head of the Church, are we following our head? Or is Christ giving us commands that we are choosing to ignore, and thus He is, in a sense, disembodied?
I look forward to formally thinking through and writing down this process  that I’ve been walking through for years. Obviously, this is deeply personal, but I’ve reached the point where I feel compelled to share my thoughts. Thanks to those of you who would like to journey with me through this, and I welcome feedback, especially constructive and edifying responses from those of you who may feel I’m missing something helpful along the way. I may not come to agree with you, but I might! Also, I value the input from those journeying with Christ who would like to help me see my own blind spots, or simply wish to help me appreciate another point of view. I humbly realize that I don’t have a corner on the Truth, and that many I respect greatly will disagree strongly with some of the conclusions I’ve reached. If comments come in on the blog, Facebook, Twitter, or through email, I’ll post responses if they warrant a full response to my whole audience.
Note to my Jewish, Atheist, etc. friends: your comments are welcome as well, and I pray that we can have an open conversation about what we value without demeaning each other, or having to pretend the differences don’t really matter. Our views on these things should matter greatly to us, but we should also be able to discuss them without degenerating to nastiness.
1 Comment

A Disembodied Head? Part 1

The Author at the Santa Barbara Mission in June 2011

The Author at the Santa Barbara Mission in June 2011

Today I want to begin a series on my theological journey. I will not go into great detail here on some of the history of the theological journey, but I want to give enough of the story along the way to show how I’ve come to my current place, and show the Scriptures that helped lead me to what I feel is the most faithful position I can be in right now on my journey with my Messiah.

For me, the journey has been ongoing for most of my life. I grew up in a conservative Evangelical home, with my dad a United Methodist pastor who was not “typical” of a mainline denominational stance. I picked up much of his theology, but it got mixed with things from Sunday School teachers and friends along the way. Some of what got mixed in was not consistent with my parents’ theology and was quite “messed up”, while other things meshed nicely. For me, the journey of discovering this kicked into high gear when I got to Messiah College as a Freshman (Year 1 of university, for my Canadian friends) Mathematics major. I roomed with two guys who were both Juniors (Year 3) and had thought more deeply about many things than I had ever had to do. They challenged me, in healthy ways, to consider my positions. Over that year, and the three that followed, I found myself asking good questions. Much of my parents’ theology stayed, but now a little more rooted on Scripture. I did find some things that I had picked up that just didn’t stand the test of real consistency with Scripture.

After graduating from Messiah, I went to Virginia Tech for graduate school. My wife and I attended a conservative Wesleyan congregation. Though my graduate work was in statistics (MS and PhD), I continued to think about theological things, and several things began to unsettle me. I realized that some of the beliefs I had held for most of my life were only justifiable if I ignored certain parts of Scripture and read things into others that weren’t quite in the text. I also discovered that what I had always assumed was a consistent literal interpretation of Scripture was really not consistent at all. Some parts that were clearly literal, I didn’t read that way or explained away, while other parts I assumed were literal, actually lent themselves more readily to non-literal interpretations. Some passages began to become even more meaningful when I looked for the reason behind their inclusion that went beyond the face value of the story. Other passages became much more challenging to me when I admitted they might be literal. In all of this, I had to admit that one thing was becoming clear, I needed a handle by which to make the decision on correct interpretation.

I couldn’t just trust what I had always been told. What if others were in error? I couldn’t just trust my own instinct. What if I was letting my personal preferences tell me what to do? I needed, of course, to trust the Spirit of God, but I wasn’t sure I had even understood how He worked correctly. So where could I start? Certainly with prayer, but I found another “Key” directly in Scripture. Over the years of walking this journey, I’ve discovered this key to be more and more vital to finding confidence in my walk, and assurance that I am using Scripture to guide my life in ways that are consistent with God’s will.

Tomorrow I’ll share this Key I’ve found, and then Wednesday I’ll begin walking through specific points of theology where I’ve seen this Key make a difference.

1 Comment

A Powerful Challenge

A friend shared this post (HT: Rob Martin) from the Mennonite World Review that I couldn’t wait to post. (I have ideas for a new series coming next week.) Here is a snippet from the post that caught my attention:

Did you know that every year 15,000 children age out of the foster care system in the United States?

  • 98 percent of those will not earn a bachelor’s degree.
  • 51 percent will be unemployed.
  • 30 percent will not have health insurance, even though they qualify for Medicaid (they apparently won’t know that).
  • Up to one in five will commit suicide in the first year after aging out.
  • One in four will experience homelessness in the first year.
  • 84 percent will become parents in the first year after exiting the foster system (and the cycle will continue).
  • 60 percent of the young women will become prostitutes.
  • 70 percent of the young men will become “hardened” criminals.
  • 70 percent of the victims of human trafficking in the U.S. were foster kids.

(All stats taken from this site.)

These are simple statistics, but they tell a story about who has privilege, who has power, and who doesn’t have anything.

The author shared that he was challenging the Christian world to do something about this. I’m proud to be a part of the solution, through our adoption of two children from foster care. I’ve also experienced a student who “aged out” of the system and was pursuing her undergrad degree (in social work!) here at Messiah College. Even more, I’m proud of the large number of friends we know involved in adoption, but also in fighting human trafficking and working in the foster/adoption world.

If you are interested in ways that you can help, you can support our friends the Kings as they work toward their third adoption, check out the purses for sale at ChangePurse.org (all proceeds go to fight human trafficking), or donate to Bethany Christian Services, an agency who works with adoptions and through whom we have received the blessing of continued support services since our adoptions. Or, you could take the bold step of contacting your local adoption agencies and explore what role God might have for you in ministering to kids trapped in the foster care system.

(Note: nothing against international adoption, that just isn’t the focus of this post.)

Leave a comment

A Dedication


Reading the letter to Solomon.

On Sunday night we gathered with family and some close friends to dedicate our 1 year old son Solomon to the Lord. As part of this process, we were asked to write a letter to Solomon expressing our dreams and goals for him, especially as it pertains to his walk with the Lord. Since I thought this might be of interest to some of my readers (are any of you still out there, after all my negligence with this blog?). Here is that letter.


Our Precious Solomon,

Today we celebrate you as God’s gift to us. We bring you here to celebrate, but also to dedicate you back to the One who gave you to us. We recognize that you are nothing less than a blessed gift from our heavenly Father. We were so surprised to discover you were on your way, and were filled with thanks and gratitude. May you never doubt how loved and precious you are. Your Mommy was delighted to have you growing inside of her, and Daddy, Abby, Jaden, and Naomi were all eager to meet you. We believe that all this time God was preparing us to welcome you into our family.

As we discussed what to name you, using Isaac as your middle name was natural. You brought such joy and laughter to our family even before you came out into the world. We chose the name Solomon for you for several reasons. First, it connects you in name to the Jewish background in Daddy’s family. Also, we obviously wish for you to have the wisdom that Solomon had because he asked for it from God (1 Kings 3.1-15). But most importantly, we chose your name because it is connected with the root shalom in Hebrew, meaning peace. Since you are a gift from our Messiah, who is called the Prince of Peace, we pray that you will grow up to be a man who follows the example of Jesus. Here are some verses that we hope will become true of you as you grow.

  • Matthew 5.9: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
  • Matthew 5.43-48: You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor’ and `hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet the brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? So then be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
  • Luke 6.27-28: But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
  • Romans 12.17-21: Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance  is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
  • Ephesians 6.12: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.

We pray that you will become a young man filled with wisdom, but also a man who works for peace with all men. As you do this, we pray that you will do battle with our true enemy, but never forget the value that every person has to the One who made all men and women in His own image. We pray that what was said of Jesus in Luke 2.52 would be true of you as you grow: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people.”

With all of our love,

Daddy, Mommy, Abigail, Jaden, and Naomi

Leave a comment

Defending of the Value of Algebra

How Students Feel?

This post is a little old, but I find it so encouraging that even those who are self-professed Math-phobes are coming to the defense of algebra (and through it mathematical thinking and the value of working to learn). This post was so good I’m going to copy a sizable portion here. The topic is important, and I encourage you to check out the whole piece!


Forgive Jen-Luc Piquant for being a bit rant-y, but today we are defending algebra. Again. We also defended algebra last night on the newly launched Huffington Post LIVE streaming network, along with a few other like-minded sorts. My high school algebra teacher is having a good laugh, because believe me, as a teenager, if I had read Andrew Hacker’s recent New York Times op-ed, advocating that schools ditch algebra, my kneejerk reaction would have been “Hell yeah!” And, like Hacker, I would have been so very wrong.

You probably heard about the controversy surrounding Hacker’s article; it was the op-ed that launched a thousand outraged blog posts. Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham argued in the Washington Post that “The inability to cope with math is not the main reason that students drop out of high school.” Rob Knop asked why we’re not getting to the bottom of “why it becomes normal not to ‘get’ math,” and bemoans the willingness of students to “just do what’s necessary to get by without actually learning anything.” PZ Myers went for satire, questioning why we’re bothering to teach students antiquated skills like grammar and punctuation, when they’re all just texting nowadays anyway. Educating students is so much easier if you “strip out the difficult learning part.”

Mark Chu-Carroll trounced Hacker’s assertion that most students don’t need algebra in real life (so did Blake Stacey). And Melanie Tannenbaum of PsySociety weighed in with a thoughtful look at how algebra is taught, compared to what psychologists now know about how we learn: namely, “people are better able to remember events, facts and knowledge when it is integrated into people’s self-concepts,” and when “it’s situated within a social context.”

You get the idea. What else would you expect from all those scientists? Well, I’m a former math phobe. I hated algebra, and avoided all advanced math and science until well into my 20s. But I’m standing in solidarity with the fusty old scientific establishment on this one.There is, indeed, an important conversation to be had about education reform, and I heartily applaud any effort to address different learning styles and methodologies. If nothing else, Hacker’s misguided op-ed has fostered a discussion. And I agree that learning practical math like statistics and probabilities is dead useful for a good social citizen. I just think it should augment, not replace, the traditional curriculum.

Hacker tosses out a lot of statistics on students unable to pass algebra to support his “case,” but I don’t think anyone disagrees that this is a problem. I just can’t see how ditching algebra comprises a sensible solution. Hacker’s thinking seems to be that, because algebra is such a stumbling block for many students, we should throw up our hands and despair of ever teaching it to them. But do we really want to throw in the algebraic towel just because it’s, like, rilly hard?

This kind of experiment has already been done. We need only look to our Eastern neighbor, Japan, for a glimpse of the kind of future this could bring. Caltech string theorist Hirosi Ooguri minced no words when he reacted to Hacker’s article on Facebook:

This is extremely dangerous, and we should not just laugh at it. A similar argument led the Japanese Government to reduce elementary, junior high, and high school math education significantly during the 1990′s. In the past few years, the Government realized the mistake and is trying to reverse it. Unfortunately, a generation of children missed opportunities to get decent education in mathematics, and I am afraid that its negative effects will be felt for many years to come.” (Ooguri graciously granted permission to quote him).

He is referring to the yutori kyoiku (“room to grow”) educational policy that dramatically altered the elementary, junior high and high school curricula in Japan. It sounds great on paper: convinced that traditional rote memorization is insufficient in a 21st century world, Japanese students now were encouraged to develop individuality and initiative, and foster critical thinking and problem solving. The number of classroom hours was reduced, and so was the amount of required math. “Japanese had good basic study skills, so the idea was to add the more individualistic things that westerners have on top of that,” psychologist and author Hideki Wada told the Financial Times.

The results, as Ooguri says, were disastrous. According to the Mathematical Society of Japan, a recent study revealed that 1 in 4 Japanese college students can’t even explain what taking an average means. Of the five questions on the survey, only 1.2 percent answered them all correctly. Per an article in Asian Correspondent: “Students can still calculate the problems, but are not correctly answering proof questions. Educators say less time spent studying fundamental maths problems means students don’t understand why a problem is solved a certain way.”

Nor has it pleased employers. The Financial Times piece points out that Sumitomo Metal now offers remedial science classes for its factory near Osaka, and other companies have followed suit, because students “don’t know anything” when they graduate from college. …

Finally, there is a deeper, uglier under-current to Hacker’s article. What he’s really saying is that we should know our place in society, accept that we’re just not smart enough and don’t need to worry our pretty little heads anymore about anything that might interfere with our enjoyment of American Idol. It’s not like we were ever going to amount to much anyway, amirite? As journalist/science fan Jesse Emspak observed on Twitter: “The argument isn’t about math. It’s really about whether anyone but the privileged should be educated.”

USC string theorist Nick Warner addressed this point in his own response to Hacker, eloquently articulating what is at stake:

Algebra is not just the language of mathematical elites, it is one of the cornerstones by which we have emerged from a peasant society, ruled by the small elites sometimes capable of abstract thought, to become a complex, vibrant democracy. Algebra has helped us to rise beyond the simple understanding of immediate, tangible experiences and frame questions and look for the essential data that will give us deeper understanding.

Only authoritarian and reactionary politicians benefit from a population for whom abstractions have no meaning. Such a population will be satisfied by sound bites and flag waving and will be placated by bread and circuses while their economy is subverted and their democracy implodes. Like mechanics problems in physics, the study of algebra, and the skills it develops, are not just critical to our long-term health individually but to our survival as a society.

This is a deeply personal issue for me. My father was the first member of his blue collar family to receive a college education, under the G.I. bill. Sure, he struggled at times to fill in the gaps in his background knowledge, but he persevered. He became a civil engineer, enabling him to give his children (including me) the kind of stable, middle-class upbringing he had lacked. And he made sure we got a college education, too, believing it to be the key to a better life.

Make no mistake: eliminating algebra for most students would end up disenfranchising them from any number of potential careers: physics, engineering, biology, chemistry, epidemiology, and psychology, as PZ points out. This matters because most of us have no idea what we want to do as a profession as teenagers. We have no idea what knowledge we’ll need. I didn’t even know science writing was an option. By the time we figure that out, more often than not, it’s too late to remedy our lack of background knowledge. …

Dear educators: I get that you’re frustrated, that you are under tremendous pressure to accomplish more with fewer and fewer resources. I get that you are underpaid and unappreciated. No doubt it is demoralizing to stare out at all those apathetic, unmotivated faces week after week, and hear the kneejerk whinging about how awful it is, this subject you love so much.

But please don’t give up on us. Not yet. We need algebra, whether we realize it or not, regardless of whether we use it on the job or not. Help us appreciate that there is more to education than mere job training, and that “culture” doesn’t just encompass art, literature, music, history and philosophy; it also includes math and science. Don’t let us get away with doing just enough to get by, of being less than our best. Make us realize that just because something is hard, and doesn’t come easily, that’s no reason just to give up and stop trying. Some things are supposed to be hard, and those hard things are worth doing.

Make us do the math. Some day, we’ll thank you.