The Blog

Jesus’ Death – Seeking An Understanding of Atonement – Part1

Beginning with this introductory post and the ones to follow, I will be seeking a deeper understanding of the meaning and significance of Jesus’ atoning death.

Jesus Death Saves Us

Followers of Jesus across the spectrum of traditions have learned to speak of Jesus’ death as God’s way of somehow solving what was wrong with us and the world. We all speak of Jesus’ death of being in some way the means by which God is saving us from our sin.

La descente de croix Rubens

La descente de croix – Rubens

Atonement Through the Ages

When investigating the history of Atonement theories over the last couple millennia, you will discover that there are 3 main categorical theories; Christus VictorMoral InfluenceSatisfaction. To be sure, there are more subsets and sister theories to these 4, and others.

Which Atonement View Is Right?

But when we are asking how this works, what the mechanics of it are, how can a person’s death (specifically Jesus’ death) actually resolve things? -The answers vary broadly.

Initially in my search for understanding, I thought to myself, “I need to figure out which Atonement theory is the right view”,  with my added assumption that to choose one of them to be the true one, must therefore out rule all of the other views of being true in any way.

Truth In Part

But, after deciding upon one view as being the “right” one, I quickly found myself wanting to double back on that decision because suddenly a different one sounds more convincing.

I couldn’t find a single atonement view which by itself appeared to express the complete meaning and significance of Jesus death. Each view left to itself, seemed to come up short in explaining the full weight of what was going on. And each of the Atonement views appeared to have at least some truth. Anyway, why must only one view be right?

I resolved to settle on the idea the we may very well need all of the perspectives to help round out the fuller picture of Jesus’ atoning work.

You might imagine one person seeing one unique thing and another person sees another thing, each explaining in their own way, informing us what they see. It is a reasonable enough idea to think that quite a few explanations, similes, and metaphors might be needed to capture a richer and fuller understanding of the significance of Jesus’ death.

Metaphor & The Real Thing

After all, most of the Atonement views employ metaphor to explain the significance and meaning of Jesus’ death. And a metaphor being a metaphor, isn’t by its very nature the real thing which we’re getting at, is it? A metaphor is a device and a tool which seeks to point to something beyond itself, merely a representation, a likening -to the real thing.

Quentin Massys Ecce Homo 1520, Doge's Palace,Venice

Quentin Massys Ecce Homo 1520, Doge’s Palace,Venice

The real thing in this discussion, of which the various atonement metaphors are pointing to, is the real-in-person death of Jesus on a Roman cross. The real facts on the ground, so to speak. All that real stuff which led to Jesus death. The context surrounding it all. The different historical actors within the drama. Asking the questions, “Who killed Jesus”, and “Why did they want to murder him?” are necessary to make any plausible conclusions. Also, What role did God play in his death? Who is responsible for killing Jesus? Was it a just or unjust death? How did Jesus understand the meaning of his own death?

We might say the real thing of which the metaphors are merely pointing to, are detailed within the Gospel accounts themselves, in the narrative historical events and explanation of his death.

If the Gospel writers themselves were asked what their Atonement views are, they might each simply hand you their own books. But for some reason I/we feel the need to formulate further and in our own words and summary.. I can’t get away from it.

All Views Equally Valid?

A generous orthodoxy might welcome all atonement theories, every perspective, all views, and thus be saying, “they are all equally valid”. I had come to this conclusion- for a short while.

But then I began to realize that in spite of having concluded that the multiple views are all necessary in their own way because of their individual strengths in highlighting each of their particular truths, there is also a noticeable and stark incompatibility between these views and their various metaphors. That is to say, even though the various atonement views have so much that is solidly compatible between them , some of them are at times claiming things that are incompatible or contrary with the others. Sometimes, affirming that part of one atonement theory is true, then by reason, at least parts of a different atonement theory cannot also be true at the same time. One truth excludes another.

This incompatibility is the space that I am currently wanting  to continue my search for understanding: with further questions, observations, and conversation..

 

 

 

Questions That Must Be Asked: the “Big Picture” questions

Upon coming to faith in Jesus and beginning what would become a regular practice of reading and studying the Scriptures, I began to be stirred to know God, walk with Him closely, and understand what He was asking of me. Along with the truth I was gleaming, I began being intrigued, and sometimes daunted, by the great many details within the pages of Scripture, its many stories (seemingly unrelated to me at first), and the cultural practices that were very different from us today. Overtime, I also began having a growing suspicion that the many, seemingly unrelated stories of Scripture were all part of one long grand narrative that God was intertwining, and I was determined to know how this Story had taken and was continuing to take shape in the present.

As I became more and more familiar with the Scriptures in general and continued seeking to understand its mainline story, I began to naturally compare what I had learned in private study, to what was being taught and shared in Bible studies, youth group messages, Sunday morning sermons, and casual conversations with friends and family. There always seemed to be certain core beliefs I shared. However, I began noticing that some of my interpretations of Bible passages differed. This, I have come to believe, is very normal and happens with most believers on some level. Having said that, while I would argue that having differences, even slight nuanced differences, is very normal, I would also argue that some interpretations are more appropriate than others. And by appropriate, I mean interpretations that are rooted more closely to the historical context(s)—including the literary, grammatical, political, cultural, socioeconomic, and geographical contexts—reflected in the many books and pages of the Bible. In addition, and equally important, studying God’s Word in this light should help the student of Scripture to more readily recognize the interconnectedness of the Bible’s many small stories as being part of one Grand Story driven by God’s purpose for the world which involved, front and center, the call of Israel.

Since gaining a better understanding (albeit this process is not done) of the Scripture in its historical context and the Grand Story it makes known, I have often wondered why not all Christians do the same? Much could be said on this matter as there are many multifaceted issues involved, but one reason must be addressed. It’s the matter of question asking. Studying and learning Scripture ought to involve asking questions, that is, questions that arise in our minds and hearts which are rooted in a deep desire to seek and understand what the Scriptures say and the truth they proclaim. This should be obvious as learning anything in life requires asking questions, but it is not so obvious to everyone. In fact, one of the main reasons why the Bible is not studied or read contextually is that certain questions are in fact stopped in their tracks before ever being asked. They are stopped, I believe, by the theological framework(s) Christians are currently working within and under. In other words, certain ways or systems of thinking about God (which is what I mean by theological framework(s)) and this universe keep people from learning more than they currently know and believe. These frameworks have signs attached to them (so to speak) that say things like “Do not ask questions that will comprise this foundation!” regarding questions and or critiques of a different particular theological point of view. They hinder people from accepting the very real possibility there is another way to interpret the Scripture that be true or more accurate than one’s current interpretation (i.e. including interpretations on particular verses, passages, books of the Bible, or what the overarching Grand Narrative is).

There’s been a trend in the Church since its beginning that if one’s questions do not work within the present theological framework of a particular church or Christian institution,—today this includes denominations, seminaries, Bible Colleges, and yes, whole branches of Christianity—they either won’t be addressed or they won’t be addressed appropriately. This isn’t to say that truth is now relative or that there is no truth to speak of. Rather, way too often, churches with established institutional structures and ministries assume that their written and spoken doctrines and theologies are completely adequate, in no need for critique, as if to say inerrant and God breathed (like the Scriptures) and not open to even the possibility that their present theological framework is lacking or in need of repair. In contrast to this pattern of living and learning, the follower of Jesus ought to be earnest in his or her pursuit of truth (and God) with confidence and humility, knowing that the theological structures of men and women should always be open to critique and at times correction or rebuke, if not from man, but from God’s Spirit himself. My own theology, doctrinal stances, and lens of interpretation are not an exception to this. In light of my rebuke of those not open to critique of their theology and or doctrines, if my interpretative lens is shown to be lacking, then I ought to be willing to listen to the reasons why by my critics. If a theology or doctrinal stance is true and adequate than it should invite any question and be open to any and all critique.

As I have pursued God and sought to learn what the Scriptures reveal, I have asked a great deal of questions and brought those to God in prayer, to His people in conversation, and to the Scriptures. In fact, I have spent a great deal of time searching the Scriptures for answers to those questions. At times, I have found answers to my questions, and at other times, I have not. Out of all the questions asked, there are a number of them that I believe are vitally and critically important for Christians to begin asking if they have not already. These have come to surface for me after years of study, listening to hundreds if not thousands of sermons, participating in hundreds if not thousands of conversations with other Christians on various Bible related topics, and simply attempting to live out the faith I profess in Jesus for the last twenty years, among Christians and those who are not (yet). These questions did not all come to me at once, but gradually over time.

Many of them were motivated and inspired by the discrepancy I began noticing in my early years of following Jesus between what was being taught in various Church gatherings (i.e. Bible studies, Sunday or Wednesday sermons, books, commentaries, and other resources, etc.) and what the Scriptures actually say. I found the discrepancy was largely due to two reasons: First, the Bible was not being taught in its historical context (as I mentioned above). Secondly, the basic theological framework held by the person, group, church, or Christian institution giving the teaching was (and for some, still is) not deeply rooted in the long and powerful Story of Ancient Israel, and particularly, God’s purpose to call and use Israel for the sake of the whole world. Instead it was rooted wholesale either in the entire theology (or theologies rather) of the Protestant Reformation, or that of Roman Catholicism, or the Eastern Orthodox, or some other recent contemporary theology (like that of rapture theology or other escapist theologies rooted in Plato’s “Theory of forms” and 2nd century Gnosticism). My contention is that unless a person’s theological framework and subsequent doctrinal stances are rooted deeply in Israel’s long story and their part to play in God’s overall purpose in and for this world, they are not rooted in the Scriptures, or the God whom they make known.

My desire and intention in making these claims is that others may also recognize those and similar discrepancies, and then ask the hard questions that will (with God’s help of course) point them closer to the truth. Asking hard questions when it’s not popular to do so will likely mean, as it has meant for me, that when push comes to shove you seek to please God rather than please people. This is why, in part, I have been able to explore answers to the questions I have been asking. To be of help, I included some (not all) of those hard questions below. My challenge to you, the reader, is to ask them to yourself, then take necessary time to think about your current answer(s), and why you believe them to be true or adequate. Writing your answers down can and does help tremendously to see your beliefs in front of you and will serve to be a resource to return to in the future, on your own and with other believers. The below questions are not necessarily in any particular order of importance. However, I did order them in such a way as to help those who have never given the long and powerful Story of ancient Israel serious attention, especially in terms of treating it (and treating them-the people) as a highly significant part of the Grand Story of Scripture. To put it another way, without recognizing Israel in the Grand Story of Scripture, the Story will simply not make much sense, and or your theology will end up being rooted in something other than the Bible. My questions are purposely leading, pointing toward a particular end, and some of them hint at or clearly indicate the answers (at least, what I believe them to be) within the questions.

David_-_The_Death_of_Socrates

The Questions

Does the Bible contain a Grand Narrative (a long interconnected Story)?
What is the Grand Narrative of Scripture?
What was and remains God’s purpose for this world (and universe) in the Grand Narrative?
What does it mean that humanity was created in the image of God?
What is the connection between the God’s overall purpose and humanity being created in His image?
Why does the Old Testament spend so much time on the history of the people of Israel?
What was Israel’s part to play in this Grand Story? In other words, what did Yahweh God call them to do?
(First, how did Yahweh intend to use Israel as the solution for Adam and Eve’s disobedience?
Second, how is Israel intended or called to restore the broken image of God? Third, and lastly, how is this calling to be understood as being for the sake of the whole world?—the Abrahamic calling and promise of Genesis 12:1-3)
What was the purpose(s) of the Law of the Covenant between Israel and Yahweh God enacted at Mount Sinai?
Did Yahweh expect Israel to obey Him by obeying His Covenant Law?
What were the blessings Yahweh promised if His people obeyed His Law?
What curses did He promise should they disobey His Covenant Law?
Did Yahweh expect perfection in obedience? And further, did He expect perfection in obedience in order to obtain the blessings of the Covenant? Was it all or nothing as some Christians today suggest?
If Yahweh forgave His people Israel via the regular sacrifices and the yearly sacrifices given on the Day of Atonement, then why did He include a promised curse within the Law in case they disobeyed Him? Again, was it all or nothing (i.e. this may be related to at least the previous four questions, but potentially to all the above)?
Did Israel accomplish their calling (i.e. the Abrahamic calling and promise of Genesis 12:1-3)?
What was the curse of the Law? (Hint: destruction and exile).
How does Yahweh view the promised exile should they disobey Him?
What were the main reasons that Yahweh sent Israel into exile? (i.e. Was it for breaking the Covenant Law in general? Was the formula “obey and get blessings and disobey and get curses”?
Wasn’t it for Israel’s grand scale consistent disobedience in at least three main areas?—idolatry, Sabbath breaking, oppression of their own people by their leaders and other Hebrews?
Didn’t the prophets attest to these three main areas? (see all of the Prophetic Literature in Old Testament).
What was life like for Israel during their years in exile?
What did Yahweh promise to Israel should they repent for the sins that led to exile?
Didn’t Yahweh promise to forgive Israel for the sins that led to exile by no longer holding them to their account, then blessing Israel, their land, and by extension the whole earth—recalling the Genesis 12 project, giving His Spirit to them who would write His Law on their minds and hearts; using a kingly Messiah He would judge the nations who had exiled Israel and exalted themselves over Yahweh taking credit away from Yahweh for only things He should be credited; and then extend covenant status to any and all Gentiles who repent; all of this speaks to new creation on a grand scale).
What were the signs that Yahweh’s Messiah had come?
Did the work of the Messiah not only have to do with Israel but also Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden?
Wouldn’t the Messiah work on behalf of Israel in order to be the solution for Adam and Eve’s disobedience and fulfill the Abrahamic calling of Genesis 12:1-3, not to mention, the restoration of the kingdom of Israel—which was, to begin with, originally intended to be part of the plan to set the world right?
How did Israel’s hope (in Yahweh’s promises) affect how they lived during 2nd Temple Judaism?
Why were there so many competing factions in Judaism during 2nd Temple Judaism?
When Jesus of Nazareth looked to a crowd and said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand?” what did he mean?
How are we to understand Jesus’ message of the kingdom (its content, its purpose, its fulfillment in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection)?
What did Jesus believe about himself? At what chronological point in his life on earth did he become self-aware of His calling?—What do the Gospels tell us about this?
What did his closest friends and disciples think Jesus was about and what he was doing when he was proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand?
What did they think about his forgiving the crippled man of his sins prior to healing him?
Did Jesus depend on the Holy Spirit (that is God’s Spirit)? For what? To heal? To obey the Law of Covenant? To abstain from sin?
Was Jesus of Nazareth able of sinning? If not, wouldn’t this diminish his obedience to the Father?
Wouldn’t not being able to sin mean then that the temptation of Satan really was no temptation at all since (in that view) he wasn’t able to sin to begin with?
However, if Jesus of Nazareth was able to sin (not that he did), doesn’t this magnify his obedience to the Father? Wouldn’t this also mean that when Satan tempted him, he really was tempted? (read each and every word of the following passages carefully: Hebrews 4:14-16; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13)
Did (and How did) Jesus obey the Covenant Law that Yahweh gave to Israel to obey?—the Law passages we find in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy? (Hint: Yes. But in his obedience, he also critiqued present day misinterpretations and misuses of the Law by teachers of the law and others).
Did (and How did) Jesus critique some of the current interpretations of particular spiritual parties and leaders in Israel? (such as the teachers of the law, Pharisees, Sadducees, and others).
What was Jesus doing? What was his main mission or priority? Wasn’t it for the lost sheep of Israel?
Again what do the Gospel writers tell us that can help answer the above questions?
How should we understand Jesus statement that he came for the lost sheep of Israel as first priority?
Wasn’t it due to the fact that Israel did not (and could not) fulfill the Abrahamic calling of Genesis 12 and the Mount Sinai Covenant between Israel and Yahweh, due to grand scale disobedience in the 3 areas mentioned above? In other words, wasn’t Jesus representing Israel as Messiah, both in Israel’s original calling and covenant, by his entire life, death, and resurrection?
How should we understand Jesus being a Jew? Of the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? In other words, does Jesus Jewish identity have anything to do with his mission on the earth to Israel?
And along with that last question, why did Jesus become a Jew if he was the word who was God (John chapter 1)? Asked differently, why did God become a Jewish man? And not a Caucasian in the 21st century? Or you name the ethnicity and race, why a Jewish man?
How should we understand Jesus life as a whole (not just his death or resurrection)?
How did the Gospel writers, Paul, and other New Testament authors understand Jesus death in light of his life lived? Also, what did this mean within the Long Story of Israel (from the Abrahamic calling/promise to the Sinai Covenant to the failure to obey the Law on a grand scale to the future hope of Israel as told by prophets)?
How should we view Jesus death as necessary and God’s will if human agents were involved? If Jesus believed it was God’s will (the Father’s will), then does this mean God forced the Jewish leaders and the Romans to crucify him? Doesn’t this conflict with other current theological paradigms? Could the crucifixion of Jesus been both God’s will and human will? How?
And doesn’t the Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) paint the picture that human agents were to blame for Jewish death, namely hard hearted religious leaders, a large crowd of Judeans, and the Roman authorities (namely Pilate on behalf of Caesar—see in particular Matthew 26-28; Mark 14-16; Luke 19-24; John 18-21; and Peter and the apostles’ statements to the Jewish religious leaders in Acts 2-4)?
What did the Jews believe about a future resurrection (those who believed it would occur someday)?
How did the Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), the apostle Paul, and other New Testament writers understand Jesus resurrection? (see NT letters and epistles).
What did they believe was raised?—his spirit alone? His body alone? Or his body and spirit (working against the notion of immortality of the soul)?
Didn’t they believe that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, who had been completely dead for three days, by His Holy Spirit?
What did Jesus resurrection mean for the forward moving Story of Israel?
What did Jesus’ resurrection mean as a fulfillment of Israel’s (and God’s promises) hope foretold by the Hebrew prophets (Old Testament prophets)?
What did Jesus’ resurrection mean as restoring the image of God that was broken due to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden?
What did Jesus’s resurrection mean as fulfilling the call of Israel (Genesis 12:1-3), the very call that Israel on a grand scale failed to accomplish?
What did Jesus’ resurrection mean as being a prototype for all humanity and all creation?
What did Jesus call his followers to do to continue his mission on earth?
What did he promise his Spirit would do in, through, and for them?
What did the coming of the Holy Spirit mean for the first Christian Jews in relation to the promises of Yahweh through the Old Testament prophets?
How did Paul and the other New Testament authors understand the saving work of Jesus death on a Roman cross?
What did they mean by Jesus death being first for the Jew and then the Gentile (hint: the above questions and their answers regarding the Story of Israel, their calling, covenant, and future hope will help to answer this).
How did they believe God was holding the arrogant nations—who held Israel in exile and all those who continued to have power over Israel following their return from exile—accountable by the cross and blood of Jesus?
Along with this, how did they believe God was holding Israel accountable for the sins that led to exile by the cross and blood of Jesus, as well as their present and future sins?
Along with this, how did they believe God was holding the whole world accountable for their sins by the cross and blood of Jesus? (i.e. How did they believe worldwide justice was accomplished by the cross and blood of Jesus?)
How did Paul (and other NT authors) view God’s purpose, work, and accomplishment to set Israel, and by extension, the whole world (and all creation) right by the man Jesus Christ whom they now called Lord?
How did Paul (& other NT authors) understand Jesus to be Lord (over the Jews, Gentiles, and all creation)?
How did Paul (& other NT authors) understand the Church in relation to the Old Covenant People of God (i.e. the church is the inclusion of Gentiles as the people of God but not to the neglect of Israel, nor a replacement of Israel)?
How did Paul explain God’s pronouncement whereby both Jews and Gentiles may obtain covenant status as the people of God (i.e. the Church, the Body of Jesus Christ)? In other words, how is someone declared in the right, justified by God?
How did Paul and other NT authors view the Spirit of God (echoing the question already asked)? And what is the work of the Spirit in the life of the Church?
What is the Church called to do by the Spirit in and for this world in light of what God has done in and through Jesus and will someday do in and for us at the future Resurrection?
How ought the Church to live in light of the future Resurrection of all things, when the dead are held accountable for their lives, when darkness will be no more, and heaven and earth will finally and fully join together? When, as Paul put it, God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28)?
How do the above questions about Jesus and His Church intimately fulfill Yahweh’s call of Israel (i.e. the Abrahamic calling and promise) and purpose for the whole world?

Again,
Does the Bible contain a Grand Narrative (Story)?Yes
What is the Grand Narrative of Scripture?……
What is your part to play in it?……
Have you joined the Story?……

Kingdom of God Revisited

jesus artwork

For many Christians today, the phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” refer to “heaven”—in other words, the place called heaven experienced after one dies. However, this is not what was originally meant when Jews (including Jesus) and early Christian Jews of Jesus’ day spoke of “the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven”. This does not then mean there is not a place called “heaven” but rather that those phrases refer to something different. Their misreading goes at least as far back as the Early Middle Ages. Unfortunately, it has led to faulty interpretations of passages both in the Gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), Paul’s many letters, and other New Testament writings. As with any reading of ancient literature (or for that matter, any literature, no matter the time period it came from), context is everything. Historical context must be considered because context determines the meaning of a passage in any piece of literature, including passages in the sacred text of Scripture. This will be the aim of the following article: to put the phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” in their historical context.  The historical context of those phrases are set within the larger context of ancient Israel’s story and God’s purpose in calling and choosing this people. Once the context is better understood, the student of Scripture should then have greater clarity on the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth’s first announcement to his people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Consequently, this clarity will help to instill a renewed sense (and even fuller sense) of meaning, passion, and motivation in how one follows Jesus today. Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.

The following article is structured by three sections. 1) First, a brief definition of “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” is provided in their 1st century context. 2) Second, a short overview of ancient Israel’s Story will give the broader historical framework. 3) Third, their Story is detailed further and set within God’s overall purpose for the whole world.

Definition of “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven”: By the 1st century Palestine the phrase “kingdom of heaven” (for Hebrews, “heaven” was language referring to “God”) and its synonymous phrase “kingdom of God” referred to God’s rule, or reign over the people and land of Israel, and by extension, the world. It became part of the language the Jewish people used to refer to the much anticipated restoration of Israel as a theocratic nation under the leadership of Yahweh, no longer under occupation by a foreign power. They had already been under foreign occupation for over 700 years by the time of Jesus of Nazareth. What in fact that restoration would look like and how it would then transform our entire world and cosmos will be looked at in more detail below.  In order to get at those details, it is crucial then to investigate the context from which the phrase kingdom of God emerges, which then means getting familiar with ancient Israel and their long but forward looking story of God’s purpose–for Israel, and through Israel, the rest of the known world.

Short overview of ancient Israel’s Story: In the beginning stages of their Story, from 2000 BCE to 1000 BCE, Israel took shape as a theocracy, in which their god, Yahweh, led and guided them in all aspects of life (politically, socially, economically, and ritual purity). It later blended bits of theocracy and monarchy in a very dramatic and incredible story of salvation and covenant, victory and defeat, exile and the hope for deliverance.

Ancient Israel’s Story within God’s purpose for the whole world: At the start, Yahweh chose Abraham and his descendants (the Hebrew people) to be the agents through whom He would bless all the families and people groups of the earth. This followed humanity’s downward turn of events brought on by Adam and Eve’s disobedience and climaxed at the Tower of Babel when the known world exalted themselves above God their Creator. Yahweh’s choice of Abraham’s family was to establish His name and glory in His creation and world, namely by bringing wise order to it, through a people who might reflect Him in a way that their ancestors had failed to do and might reverse the effects of Adam and Eve’s disobedience (see Genesis 1:27-31 and 12:1-3 keeping in mind also 3:14-15). Yahweh demonstrated Himself powerfully and in various ways through Abraham, then through Abraham’s son Isaac, then his son Jacob, and then through Jacob’s son Joseph. These demonstrations of power were accomplished in the sight of many nations and people groups of the ancient Near East—notably, in front of kings and tribes of the people of Canaan as well as the Egyptians and their pharaoh. Among these displays of power was the favor Yahweh gave to Joseph with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, whereby Joseph was able to rescue—from many years of life threatening famine—not only his entire Hebrew family (Jacob’s sons and their families), but also the entire populous of Egypt and tribal groups from Canaan land.

A period of time later, another pharaoh rose to power in Egypt who did not know of Yahweh or Joseph or how he—due to Yahweh’s favor—rescued Egypt from the famine. For fear of the Hebrew’s ever increasing population and the potential threat they posed in the land of Egypt, this new pharaoh made slaves of Abraham’s descendants. After being slaves for nearly 400 years, Yahweh rescued them by performing plagues against the Egyptians and their pharaoh, and then again by His dramatic salvation at the Red Sea. At Mount Sinai in the Arabian Desert, Yahweh affirmed His prior choice of the Hebrews, and established it further, by inviting them into a covenant that would grant them covenant status as Yahweh’s special people. This involved laying out His expectations (in the form of Covenant Law) for a covenant people, and the Hebrews accepted the terms. Obedience to the Law of the Covenant became for them the means whereby they would represent and reflect Yahweh as their god both within the larger community of Israel (now named) and to the wider world in order that His name and glory would be known to all (Genesis 3:15; 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 4:1-8; see Isaiah 49:6 for His broader purpose for Israel, and bits of the Law that command for the proper treatment of the visiting foreigner—Exodus 22-23 and other passages in Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Yahweh promised that should they fail to obey His covenant, He would not forgive them (Exodus 23:21), meaning He would hold Israel accountable for their disobedience; he would do this by bringing destruction to the land (the land Yahweh had given them to steward) and then forcing them into exile at the hands of a foreign nation (Leviticus 26:27-45; Deuteronomy 7:1-4; 11:16-17 & 28; 28:15-68).

While there were seasons of obedience as a people and had their share of godly leaders, Israel, as a people, consistently failed to obey Yahweh’s Law on a grand scale. At the top of the list of offenses was Israel’s repetitive idolatry, failure to keep His Sabbath, and wide spread oppression of fellow Israelites (see i.e. Isaiah 10:1-4; ch.57-58; Ezekiel 20-22; Amos 2-8; and other passages in the Prophets). Why were three offenses particularly grievous and frustrating to Yahweh? Let’s start with idolatry: Idolatry was to serve and worship a god or gods and the idols that represented the god or gods—often made of wood, stone, or clay. In the ancient Near East, the vast array of gods (depending on the god) were believed to hold certain power over regions or places and various aspects of life, such providing strength and favor in battle, healing to overcome sickness or disease, fertility for pregnancy, wisdom, and prosperity of land and wealth. Serving a god or gods (or goddess/goddesses) meant doing what those gods demanded in hopes that they in return provide any of the above list. Worshipping a god (or goddess) was to revere and acknowledge that god’s power through various ritual acts. In entering a covenant with Him, Yahweh expected His covenant people to depend on Him for their general welfare and no longer on other gods nor their idols—which interestingly enough was not, at first, a denouncement of the existence of other gods (that would come later in their history), but of dependence on them. His command to no longer serve nor worship other gods besides Him was the substance of the first two of the Ten Commandments when Yahweh introduced to Israel His Covenant Law. Not far into Israel’s history you will discover the sins of idolatry showing up frequently and often unquestioned (see 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles), and among some Hebrew families and kings, even the practice of making the firstborn baby pass through fire to please the god Molech (or Moloch), which was an abomination to Yahweh. Idolatry, at its core, was not only a demonstration of Israel’s lack of dependence on Yahweh as their god but a way of demonstrating sometimes greater loyalty to other gods over against Yahweh, and at the very least showing a sort of synchronistic loyalty. There is also reason to believe that at times Israel had given credit to other gods for things Yahweh himself had done for Israel (see i.e. Exodus 32—the creation or recreation of the golden calf). Idolatry was a slap in the face to all that Yahweh had accomplished in, for, and through Israel—from the time of Abraham up through the time of the Kings—and after 700 years of idolatry following the Sinai Covenant, He had enough (the Sinai Covenant likely happened in the 1400’s BCE and the fall of Israel and the first stage of exile at the hand of the Assyrians in the early part of the 700’s BCE).

Why was Sabbath keeping so important to Yahweh? Although in the fourth of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath was established prior to the introduction to His Covenant Law (see Exodus 16 and 20). Sabbath meant “rest” understood as a day of rest. It was to be a day when Israel would not do work as usual, but instead rest from work. By resting from work, Israel was given time and mental space to reflect on Yahweh and His provision of the basic sustenance of life, food and water, as well as remembering what He had done in and for Israel in days past. By not working, it also meant Israel was relying on Yahweh and trusting Him that the basic sustenance of life (food and water) would be provided again the following week just as it had the week prior. Additional Sabbaths were added to the many yearly feasts (or festivals) Israel was commanded to celebrate—some centered on Yahweh’s provision of food during the season of harvest, while other feasts focused on one or more of the following: His deliverance from slavery in Egypt, dramatic salvation at the Red Sea, guidance toward the Promised Land, and atonement of collective sin in the community of Israel (see i.e. Exodus 23:14-17; 35:18-26; Leviticus 23:1-44). Every seventh year was to be a Sabbath year in which the land was not harvested as before, but was provided rest from men’s labors. Every fiftieth year was to be a Year of Jubilee—a yearlong Sabbath of sorts in which all human debts were cancelled and the land was given another year of rest from men’s harvesting of its crops (see Leviticus 25). These commands make clear that Yahweh valued rest both for His covenant people and for the land He provided them, and in these days or seasons of “rest” He valued His people taking time out to reflect and give thanks to Him for what He had done for them. It was intended to be a good and beneficial thing both for His covenant people and their land. Sabbath keeping, at one level, meant choosing to trust Yahweh’s promise to provide for them. At another level, it meant keeping the covenant they promised to Him. Unfortunately, they failed on both counts. While it is not clear from the historical narratives how much or how often Israel failed to keep the Sabbath during their weekly observances, yearly festivals, Sabbath years, and the years of Jubilee, their lack of being mentioned at least implies Israel did not keep it as a normative practice. However, it is clear from the prophetic literature (i.e. The Prophets), from Yahweh’s own mouth, that Israel had grossly neglected Sabbath keeping (as stated above, see i.e. Isaiah 10:1-4; chs.57-58; Ezekiel 20-22). The cancelling of debts every fifty years can hardly be imagined as normative Israelite practice by the time of Isaiah. Whereas the practice of keeping the Sabbath could have (and would have) fostered a climate of trust in Yahweh for provision during the land’s harvest season, which consequently would have cultivated honesty in business dealings and dedicated attempts to care for the poor and less fortunate, not keeping the Sabbath fostered instead a climate of self-sufficiency and blatant disregard of Yahweh’s past provisions, which then of course cultivated dishonesty in business dealings and financial oppression of their own people, including treatment of widows, orphans, and the poor in general. Not keeping the Sabbath became in the community of Israel a widespread demonstration of their selfishness—those in positions of authority and or with great wealth leading the way—to acquire wealth at the expense of the vulnerable and poor, which perpetuated their ongoing disobedience to Yahweh, both to His Law (the written down commands and instructions given to Moses) and His voice (i.e. “the word of Yahweh” which came through the prophets).

Widespread oppression of fellow Israelites, as just noted, worked in conjunction with Israel’s neglect of the Sabbath. Oppression hit on various levels. According to the would be prophet Amos—Amos himself wrote that he is not a prophet but “a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs” in chapter 7:14-17 of his prophecy)—there were those in power that cheated fellow Israelites by changing the value of their crops for sale by selling smaller bundles for more than they were worth (or should have been worth), while raising the value of money (deflation—as with the shekel) in order to buy more from the less fortunate, the vulnerable, like widows and orphans, and the poor (Amos 5:10-13 & 8:5-6). It appears that certain wealthy Israelites owned two homes (summer and winter), even houses constructed with ivory (a sign of great wealth), while many of the poor in the land suffered with little (Amos 3:14-4:2). There was no doubt a direct connection between the financial oppression and disparity within the community of Israel and false prophecies that were rampant. People who have wealth and power to lose often, in their sinfulness, want to protect their wealth and power, and the false prophets spoke “Yahweh’s favor” toward the wicked priests and kings in order to maintain whatever power and favor they had with the kings and priests. The false prophets in turn also were protecting the wicket lifestyles of the kings and or priests, including their sexual impropriety and drunkenness; this climate of disobedience was not just a leadership issue, however, as it seems the above sins were reflective of many in Israel (see Amos 2:6-4:2 and Ezekiel 22:6-12 & 26-31 and any number of Israel and Judah’s kings whose memories are recorded in 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles). The rulers in power, including the priests and kings, made aims at keeping the true prophets quiet in order to continue living however they wanted, without sincere and honest regard for the Covenant Law (Amos 2:12; 7:10-17; and Ezekiel 22:6-12). Enough was enough and was only time before Yahweh would soon hold them to account.

Though a godly king would rise up from time to time, sometimes in conjunction with a prophet of Yahweh (and many times not, because Israel’s kings were often part of the problem), to rebuke the people and their leaders of widespread disobedience, calling them to repentance, the people and their leaders would often turn back for short seasons only (again, see 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles). It was primarily because of the grand scale disobedience in the three areas just dealt with above (idolatry, Sabbath breaking, and oppression), the Prophets tell us, that compelled Yahweh to take action against His people and send them into exile. It was not merely for breaking His Law in general that they were exiled (as many in the church today assert and assume) for the sacrificial system required in the Law had taken care of ritual purity and provided the avenue for Yahweh’s forgiveness of sin(s). Having said that, Yahweh eventually did judge His people for the above mentioned sins by sending (or prompting) the Assyrians and then later the Babylonians to wreak havoc on His people and land and take them into exile in the foreigner’s lands (2 Kings 17-25; 2 Chronicles 28-36; Ezekiel 20: 33-44; Amos 9:1-4; Isaiah 10; 13:1-9; 47:1-6). The broader effect of Israel’s grand scale disobedience was that in failing to obey Yahweh’s Covenant Law they also failed to reflect Yahweh (i.e. bear His image) to the surrounding nations, and so failing to establish His name and glory to wider world. Despite their massive failure, He anticipated a day when His people would in fact, by His own doing, accomplish the mission He gave to Abraham (recalling Genesis 12:1-3).

Exile felt to Israel as if Yahweh had abandoned them. Eventually, the people of God repented and cried out to Yahweh (see the cries and prayers from exile: Psalm 137; the whole book of Lamentations; Jeremiah 31:18-19; and possibly Psalm 42-43). Yahweh answered their cry for help and began sending them back to the Land of Promise by giving them favor with the foreign powers (see the continuing story of Israel in the books Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel). Although the people were permitted to return to their land, foreign powers remained in control of them. A series of five empires remained in control of Israel at different times from 721 BCE and on into the time of the 1st century CE and beyond (the Assyrians, Babylonians, Media-Persians, Greeks, and Romans). The Jews, however, did gain semi-independence over Judea and some areas surrounding Judea for nearly 100 years through the resilient and aggressive efforts of the Maccabean revolt. While there was a degree of freedom that the people had, religiously and socially, among the latter three empires, they were still under occupation and control, which gave them a gnawing sense that the period of exile was not over, that Yahweh had not returned to their community as before exile, actively working among them, speaking to them via the prophets and leaders, and blessing them.

This very real sense that exile had not ended (at least not completely) was in conjunction with the widespread belief that the Spirit of God was no longer at work in and through Israel as He once had been during the glory days of their past, and that this would remain a reality until the much anticipated future restoration of Israel at the hands of Yahweh (see Amos 9:11-15). The prophetic books spoke of a day when God’s Spirit would return to His people, even come into them and write Yahweh’s Law on their hearts (Ezekiel 36; Jeremiah 31:33-34, Isaiah 32:15). This future restoration of Israel was often believed to be working hand in hand with Yahweh’s judgment of the foreigner powers (or Gentile nations) which had occupied Israel and taken them into exile (see i.e. Isaiah 10 and 66; Jeremiah 30; Joel 3 and other passages in the Prophets). His coming judgment of these nations was for their arrogance in exalting themselves above Him (see i.e. Isaiah 10:5-34; 47:1-15; 51:22-23). Yahweh’s judgment came to be named the day of Yahweh (often translated into English as the day of the LORD). There were differing views on whether Yahweh would judge the nations Himself or act via a human agent, a Messiah (Anointed One) whom He would chose (see i.e. Deuteronomy 18:15 and Psalm 2); although there seemed to be widespread belief in Israel that He would indeed use a human agent. There was also differing views on the timeframe and quality of the future Messianic age. Would Yahweh’s judgment be prior the Messianic age or following it? Would the Messianic age be the final and ultimate age of Yahweh’s reign? Would the age be entirely earthly, entirely heavenly, or would it be a combination of both? It is clear, however, that many in Israel did in fact hope in and anticipate an earthly reign of the Messiah who would overthrow the foreign powers and usher in the restored kingdom of Israel, or kingdom of God.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Reconstruction_of_Jerusalem_and_the_Temple_of_Herod_(Réconstitution_de_Jérusalem_et_du_temple_d'Hérode)_-_James_Tissot

During 2nd Temple Judaism (515 BCE to 70 AD) in particular, but likely beginning much earlier in Israel’s history, this future Messiah figure was widely believed to be a descendant of David, which meant he would be a king of Israel (see i.e. Micah 5:2; Isaiah 9 and 32; Jeremiah 33:17; 2 Samuel 7:12-13; 2 Chronicles 13:5; Zechariah 9:9; and Ezekiel 37). Others believed Yahweh would send a heavenly figure who would operate in His power (using Daniel 7:9-14 and apocalyptic literature), while some held that this figure and the Messiah were one and the same. Still, it seems that others may have wondered whether Isaiah’s Servant figure was the promised Messiah or simply representative of the whole nation of Israel (see i.e. Isaiah 42-43; 52-53).

The much anticipated restoration of Israel, not only included Yahweh’s coming judgment, the work of His Messiah, and the Spirit of Yahweh, but also the restoration of the land of Israel (i.e. Isaiah chapter 11; ch.35; 65:17-25; Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36:24-38), and this restoration seemed to have an effect not only in Israel but somehow making its way in all the earth (Isaiah 11:9; & 65:17). Not only this, but some prophets acknowledged that the restoration of Israel as a people and land would positively affect Gentiles coming into covenant with Yahweh (see Hosea 1:10, 23; Psalm 22:27-29). So as the day of the Lord extended from Israel to the whole world, it would affect all of humanity and all across Yahweh’s earth, harkening back to an earlier promise (Genesis 12:1-3). When these things eventually happen in the sight of Israel, the people of God would once and for all know that Yahweh their covenant god and King had returned to them and forgave them of the sins that led to exile, and extending out from Israel (the land) and through Israel (the covenant people), act as the rightful Lord of this world.

Other highly significant parts of the story are not mentioned here but are still very important, such as Yahweh’s creation, the importance and purpose of the Temple, the priesthood, the sacrificial system and other bits of the Covenant Law, the divided nation of Israel into the kingdom of Israel and kingdom of Judah, which myself and others have dealt with in other places (see the resources mentioned below). For now, returning to where we started, the long Story of Israel was the larger historical context in which the phrase “kingdom of God” (and “kingdom of heaven”) emerged; it emerged sometime during second temple Judaism (515 BCE to 70 AD). This is the time period that Jesus of Nazareth was born into and in which, when he began his public ministry, spoke of the kingdom of God. When Jesus said, “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”, we must take into account what the common Jew in Israel in the first century understood that to mean. Sadly and frustratingly, this has all too often not been the case and all too often “the kingdom of God” has come to mean something very different.

the kingdom of God today

Since the above Story is the historical context for Jesus’ proclamation of and teaching about the kingdom of God, then it raises at least a few questions regarding how the phrase “the kingdom of God” is commonly used today in many Christian circles. So first, what has “the kingdom of God” come to mean today? How does this new meaning alter the vision and meaning the New Testament authors gave to us? What are the resulting shortcomings today in Christian thought and values as well as in lifestyle when we embrace today’s popular alternate meaning rather than the one rooted in Israel’s history (as revealed in Scripture)? How will embracing the New Testament’s vision of the kingdom of God positively affect Christian thought, values, and lifestyle today? These are some of the questions, and much more, that my upcoming articles, “The Gospel Revisited” and “The Gospel Today: How Christians often miss the point,” will attempt to answer.

Eccehomo1_500w

For further study on this topic

In addition to thoroughly reading and studying the Bible books and passages mentioned in this article, I highly recommend the following resources for additional historical background and context: the three articles “Kingdom of God/Heaven”, “Servant of Yahweh”, and “Revolutionary Movements” in the IVP Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels; also, my upcoming article “The Grand Narrative Begins: The Story of Israel in God’s purpose for the whole world” in a larger project yet to be titled (and still in the process of completing). I also highly recommend the following four books by New Testament historian and theologian N.T. Wright which set out the historical context of 1st century Palestine in great detail: How God became King: the forgotten story of the Gospels; Simply Jesus: A new vision for who he was, what he did, and why he matters; Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s vision; and his large scholarly work, The New Testament and the people of God (Volume 1 of a 4 volume series entitled Christian Origins and the Question of God).

Simply Jesus Gathering

simply jesus gathering

“Jesus may be a bit different than we think.”

That is the ideas behind this Gathering in Denver in just 3 months time. This gathering initially caught my interest when I saw that Tom Wright was going to take part. I am anticipating his soon to be released, “Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God)
“. His work has encouraged my faith greatly.

Then I saw that the author of one of my favorite books from last year was going to be there also (Carl Medearis, “Speaking of Jesus” ).

You ask, “Who is the Simply Jesus Gathering for?”
Anyone…who wants to understand more about Jesus of Nazareth…for any reason.

Atheists, believers, agnostics, truth seekers, church goers, non-church goers, pastors, non-pastors, church planters, anti-church planters, contemplatives, activists…anyone who wants to take the person and precepts of Jesus seriously.

www.simplyjesusgathering.com/

Join the gathering November 7-9 in Denver for a unique gathering featuring N. T. Wright, Philip Yancey, Jay Pathak, Bart Tarman, Hugh Halter and Carl Medearis.
Encouraging a Jesus Conversation

Pursuing Justice

Ken Wytsma Pursuing Justice Book Review

I can’t more highly recommend a book which explores the topic that Jesus himself instructs us to seek first above all other things: God’s Kingdom and Justice.

In the book, Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things, Ken Wytsma sets out to explore the proper place and broad reaching effects that pursuing a life of justice ought to have among the followers of Jesus.

Ken Wytsma Pursuing Justice Book Review

For me a book about justice seemed a bit daunting at first, and so you too might be hesitant or suspicious that this is another book meant to guilt you and twist your arm into caring about many issues that may be beyond your natural sphere of concern. Who wants more of that? You might already have enough on your plate within your own purview. This fear is not necessary..

Ken carries you through his program with conviction and passion for sure, but not with any emotional and manipulative tricks up his sleeve. Instead, he points you towards seeing the intrinsic joy and beauty that accompanies those who begin to join God in his Kingdom and Justice dreams for this world.

Ken Wytsma Pursuing Justice Book Author
Ken Wytsma

He lays the ground work very well, philosophically and theologically, towards a big picture view of justice; including it’s individual/personal as well as its societal implications.

Some have recently gotten stuck in the false dichotomy of pitting the “social gospel” folks against the “heavenly/spiritually minded” folks and acting like you must choose between these bounded polar ends. Ken steps into this discussion with some helpful context and offers us a 3rd option or rather builds a bridge and life line between the two isolated extremes and shows us how they are better together, serving to compliment the bigger whole.

While Wytsma does name many of the pressing justice related issues of today, rather than presume to offer up an exhaustive schematic that all should now follow, he cleverly goes only so far in his prescriptions, and thus leaving work for his readers both to imagine and appropriate how they might go about pursuing a life of justice in their unique situation.

I found the chapter most personally intriguing in which Ken tells an anecdote from his relationship with a friend of his from Rwanda. His friend Célestin, a Hutu who had lived through the Rwandan Genocide between April and July 1994 has now become one of the world’s more respected voices on reconciliation and forgiveness.

While visiting Ken’s church recently Célestin said that “Americans tend to think that punishment is the only way to satisfy justice, when in fact punishment is only one of several ways to satisfy it. The evil must be punished, but the goal is not just to punish the perpetrator; the goal is to restore the community.”

And further, “There is no justice without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without justice. Before I forgive something, I have to judge it as evil.”

This whole discussion about the many possibilities or means of achieving a restored shalom/justice really got my head churning and I begun connecting the dots from this idea to the life and mission of Jesus.

This has catalyzed my thought process, and I am now desiring to further investigate my forming theology around the significance and meaning of the central work of Jesus. If achieving justice need not be limited to a punitive means simply, then how might that reality shape my understanding of what Jesus’ sacrifice means. How do I read it? I already see some possibilities but won’t continue in that vein here.

There was so much more that the book stimulated my thoughts and hopefully soon my actions towards. I simply am mentioning this one bit -to encourage you that the words can have fruit. I found the book not static in nature, but leaving me with a sense of action.

I pray that “Pursuing Justice” will do just that for you, imagining a world of justice, God’s dream, and beginning to see and act on that vision in your life.

-Nick Watts

If the last few words aren’t enough, this creative spoken word by Micah Bournes just below hits at the heart of the message..

Pursuing Justice | Book Trailer from The Justice Conference on Vimeo.

Read Ken Wytsma’s recent article on Huffington Post

Connect with Ken Wytsma’s Facebook

Tom Wright On Old Testament Sacrifices And Penal Substitutionary Atonement

It seems there ought to be a much broader approach to the understanding of Jesus’ atonement work than to simply be correlating all O.T. sacrifice into the penal substitutionally metaphor. If you’re used to thinking in such lines consider the “3 question reward” which Wright says is in store for those who gain a more nuanced approach to understanding the meaning of Jesus atoning sacrificial death.. If that is at all interesting to you then go ahead and listen to or read below N.T. Wright discussing this topic.

Watch Old Testament Sacrifices w/NT Wright in full size window

Interview in text:

Interviewer: What.. What don’t you know? What makes you angry that you don’t know or that your wrestling with.

Tom: Oh there is a thousand things. I have often said to students and indeed in pastoral work, “the reward for getting one answer is you get three more questions.” You know, thats why life goes on being exciting. You say, “Hey I just found that but then this leads me into a different room, I didn’t know this room existed! Now where do we go?”

One of the things that I think our generation finds it very difficult to understand is the notion of sacrifice. That the O.T. is full of sacrifices. And Jesus and the Apostles used the language of sacrifice in relation to Jesus’ own death. Now, obviously we do not as a matter of habit, ritual, custom, umm slit the throat of goats or bulls or calves or doves or anything else in the way that people used to very cheerfully right across the ancient world.

Interviewer: I still do that.

Tom: You still do that? Oh well, Ok, then you can tell me afterwards what it means.

You see my fear is that a lot of Christians when they think sacrifice, they collapse the notion of sacrifice into some version of penal substitutionary atonement. Now as my books make it quite clear I believe in penal substitutionary atonement, just in case there’s any doubt on that score. Yes, watch my lips: Galatians 3:13, Romans 8:3 and 4 etc. Paul says that umm God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ. That is penal -because it is condemnations. It is substitutionary -because what happened there in the flesh of Jesus Christ means that therefore there is now no condemnation for those.. So I mean Romans 8: 1 to 4 really says it all and there are lots of other passages too of course.

But, I don’t think that’s what sacrifice is about. Sacrifice means a wide variety of different things in the O.T. There are sin offering and guilt offerings and thank offerings and so on. And the idea that all sacrifices have to be collapsed into the idea that God wants to punish me but I transfer the punishment to the sacrifice and the sacrifice gets killed instead of me. You do get that a little bit on the day of atonement, but i noticed that when the sins are confessed over the head of one particular goat, that is the goat that isn’t killed. Thats the goat thats driven off in to the wilderness because the sin has made it unclean.

So, there is a real problem about this and I get frustrated with the thought that a lot of Christians when they think sacrifice they either ignore it all together or they think oh yes that’s that atonement stuff which we learned about in Sunday school. I don’t think that either of those really works. And I suspect we need to do more studies of the kind of whole social and anthropological context of what people thought they were doing when they were offering sacrifice.

And i’ve tried, I’ve asked Jewish friends, Jewish scholars why did the ancient Israelites do this? And the the only answer I usually get, is because it said so in the Torah so they had to do it. And i’m not satisfied with that.

I think people had a deep instinct. It is something to do with humans, and animals and god and land and so on. Its a kind of a ritual way of expressing the place of humans that we do not take flocks and herds for granted. We are not simple building up our own wealth which was of course animal wealth in the ancient world. Animals and land were wealth basically. Umm, So you give the first and the best to God as a sign that it’s all from him in the first place and you are not just being greedy but that’s only a little pointer towards something which is right in the middle there somewhere and uh I’d love to see some more serious work done on that.

10 reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained For Ministry

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. The pastoral duties of men who have children might distract them from the responsibility of being a parent.

8. The physique of men indicates that they are more suited to such tasks as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do ministerial tasks.

7. Man was created before woman, obviously as a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. Their conduct at football and basketball games demonstrates this.

5. Some men are handsome, and this will distract women worshipers.

4. Pastors need to nurture their congregations. But this is not a traditional male role. Throughout history, women have been recognized as not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more fervently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are prone to violence. No really masculine man wants to settle disputes except by fighting about them. Thus they would be poor role models as well as dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. The New Testament tells us that Jesus was betrayed by a man. His lack of faith and ensuing punishment remind us of the subordinated position that all men should take.

1. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep sidewalks, repair the church roof, and perhaps even lead the song service on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the church.

[original source unknown]

Lucas Cranach Adam and Eve 1533

Lucas Cranach The Elder-Adam and Eve 1533


It is interesting to see how humor is a powerful way of breaking down silly ideas.

Jesus And His Message


Jesus, the Jesus of history, the Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth, the Jesus who was raised by his parents Joseph and Mary, the one who grew up as all good Jewish boys did memorizing the Torah, attending the synagogue and pilgrimaging to the temple; this Jesus began his public ministry with a simple announcement, “The Kingdom of God is near!”

Vittore Carpaccio, Vocazione Di San Matteo

Vittore Carpaccio, Vocazione Di San Matteo



For Jesus of Nazareth, from that point on forward, what began as his opening announcement remained his central message in all that he said and did.  He stayed on course with his Kingdom of God motif right through to the very end of his life.

If this was Jesus’ main message then we might ask: “What is the Kingdom of God?” and “how is it near (at hand)?” Many did ask Jesus these questions and other questions just like them.

Now, Jesus had a peculiar way of communicating his message when people would ask their questions. Many times he simply answered people’s questions with another question.. He had a way of seeing behind people’s questions to something deeper and quite revealing.

He also wasn’t nearly as literal and precise as we are today. Our modern sensibilities seem to prefer describing things in more of a straight forward and direct approach.  In contrast, Jesus chose to explain his message through simile and short stories called parables. Jesus went about saying such things like:

The Kingdom of  God is like a mustard seed..

The Kingdom of God is like yeast the a woman mixes into flour..

It is like a man who scatters seed on the ground..

It is like.. when a certain man was preparing  a great feast..

If Jesus were around today we could imagine Jesus being interviewed on the TV show Larry King Live. Larry might ask Jesus if he could explain more about his main message.  Jesus would begin explaining, “The kingdom is like this.. or the Kingdom is like that ..”  Larry King might ask Jesus in the closing 15 seconds of the show to simply break down his message into a headline or soundbite, something short, concise and clear. Jesus might say, “Well Larry, the Kingdom of God is like.. a..” 

You probably get the point already.

I have been on a journey of following this Jesus. The one who was born, lived, died and resurrected a couple millennia ago. When at first I started following Jesus, it was for a variety of different reasons and motivations (I could talk to you about those reasons some time in greater detail.) The point I want to make now is that I now find myself following Jesus for a different set of reasons. Some of the orignal reasons  remain, some have evolved, and many are brand new reasons altogether.

Paula and I have been apart of a community of people (here in Cape Town) who are learning together what it means to follow Jesus. Recently we have been learning about and deeply exploring this central message of Jesus, the Kingdom of God. There are four accounts of the life of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. When I first seriously started reading the story of Jesus I began in Matthew (because it was the first book in the New Testament). Matthew has Jesus going everywhere talking about the “Kingdom of Heaven“. At the time when I first started reading Matthew some people told me that Jesus came to teach people how to get to heaven when they die. Therefore, I used to read Jesus’ parables explaining “the Kingdom of Heaven” and think that he was describing what Heaven will be like for us one day after we die and escape this earthy physical dwelling. I assumed he was talking about a place somewhere else, not here.

Kingdom Of Heaven, Kingdom of God

Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven, The Empyrean 19th century

In contrast, Luke’s and Mark’s Gospel’s tells us Jesus was talking about the “Kingdom of God”. Even though these Gospels had “Kingdom of God” instead of “Kingdom of Heaven” I hadn’t really asked myself why the language was different in their account of things. I just assumed that all of these stories and parables were Jesus’ attempt at describing what Heaven was like and what we needed to do in order to get there some day.

Originally my motivations for following Jesus was more about getting to heaven, escaping this life. My hope was for a distant spiritual place far away from this physical place.

Recently, my motivations have been changing. I am waking up to the reality that actually Jesus wasn’t going around teaching people how to escape this world, rather he was planting creative stories in the minds and hearts of people which were explaining how God’s Kingdom was breaking into this one, the here and now, with renewing and transforming power.

I have been discovering that Jesus’ Kingdom of God Message is about the present, not simply the future. It is about what God is doing through us, not only what he does in and for us. Following Jesus and living for his Kingdom is not the least bit about escaping this world, rather, it is about shaping our world.

Our Lord teaches us to pray for the reality  of God’s-realm (heaven) to become meshed with our-space (earth).

“May your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

This has become our prayer. May the reality/life of heaven become reality in your life today. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Harrowing of Hell/ 15 c. Hermitage

Harrowing of Hell 15 centurey. Hermitage

 

Making Disciples, How Should We Go About It?

sermon on the mount, making disciples, way of jesus

I just came across this great video with some very interesting and provoking illustrated thoughts about Jesus’ central instruction to his disciples to “go and make disciples”.

How should we be going about discipling followers in the way of Jesus? There are probably many various and creative ways to answer that question.. What do you think?

Time Rethinking Heaven: Heaven Can’t Wait

Time_Magazine_-_first_cover

Time Magazine has a very interesting cover article this week titled, “Rethinking Heaven”. It as about how scholars and theologians are rethinking the Christian perspective of life after death.

Time Magazine, Rethinking Heaven

Here is a link to the article. Unfortunately you must pay to read it online. You might want to pick up a copy at the local store.

The Gospel: Resurrection

Luke 24

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.
9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

 

women at the resurrection, gospel of Luke

On the Road to Emmaus

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

The Ascension of Jesus

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

The Gospel: Good Friday


John 18:1-19:42

Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.”

 



Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,

“They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”


After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Jesus, Good Friday, Entombment

Don’t Miss Tom Wright on Fox & Friends


If there is a speaker that I have listened to the most, without a doubt it is Tom Wright. I would love to attend this event taking place this summer where N.T. Wright will be speaking at a conference on Paul’s letter to the Galatians & Christian Theology at St Andrews in Scotland.

The dates are July 10-13th. I would go, but I’ll be In California and/or Oregon about that time.

If you can’t make it to that conference you might enjoy reading his interview with Christian.co.uk, where Tom discusses his latest book, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels
, and more. I am in the middle of How God Became King as well as Scot McKnight’s complementary book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. I will be reviewing both of them very soon.. Yes, I am half way through both, and they are quite excellent so far.. Well, if that is not a good enough recommend then I will do a better review as I said, very soon..

Last of all you can watch him on FOX & FRIENDS where he will be interviewed for a special Easter show on Sunday, April 8, 2012!

The interview will focus on two of his books, his newest HOW GOD BECAME KING, as well as his seminal work considered a new Christian classic, SIMPLY JESUS
. Yes, I have read Simply Jesus as well. And yes, it is recommended. I will review it properly as well very very soon..



Eugene Peterson and Love Wins

Eugene Peterson respected author of The Message
wrote an endorsement for the book Love Wins
that reads,

“It isn’t easy to develop a biblical imagination that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ…Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination — without a trace of the soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction.”

Eugene Peterson Love Wins Rob Bell Endorsement

Eugene Peterson

Timothy Dalrymple got the chance to interview Peterson asking him why he gave an endorsement for Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived”:

What are your thoughts regarding Rob Bell’s book and the controversy it ignited?  What inspired you to endorse the book?

Rob Bell and anyone else who is baptized is my brother or my sister.  We have different ways of looking at things, but we are all a part of the kingdom of God.  And I don’t think that brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God should fight.  I think that’s bad family manners.

I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell says.  But I think they’re worth saying.  I think he puts a voice into the whole evangelical world which, if people will listen to it, will put you on your guard against judging people too quickly, making rapid dogmatic judgments on people.  I don’t like it when people use hell and the wrath of God as weaponry against one another.

I knew that people would jump on me for writing the endorsement.  I wrote the endorsement because I would like people to listen to him.  He may not be right.  But he’s doing something worth doing.  There’s so much polarization in the evangelical church that it’s a true scandal.  We’ve got to learn how to talk to each other and listen to each other in a civil way.

Do evangelicals need to reexamine our doctrines of hell and damnation?

Yes, I guess I do think they ought to reexamine.  They ought to be a good bit more biblical, not taking things out of context.

But the people who are against Rob Bell are not going to reexamine anything.  They have a litmus test for who is a Christian and who is not.  But that’s not what it means to live in community.

Luther said that we should read the entire Bible in terms of what drives toward Christ.  Everything has to be interpreted through Christ.  Well, if you do that, you’re going to end up with this religion of grace and forgiveness.  The only people Jesus threatens are the Pharisees.  But everybody else gets pretty generous treatment.  There’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell.

 

A Text Without A Context Is A Pretext For A Prooftext


I was just listening to a talk by Greg Boyd where he was saying, “A text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext” . I don’t know if it is orignal to Boyd, but it was a punchy and well placed statement within what are usually really encouraging sermons by Boyd. He was talking about the importance of exegeting the scriptures within their original and occasional contexts.  Greg was talking about how so many verses and sentences from the bible are often quoted with total disregard for the meaning and context from which they come from.  It really is a good message. Listen to it over at Woodland Hills’ website.

It reminded me of the great blog post I was reading this week over at Jesus Creed.  Scot Mcknight was registering his disappointment along with Ed Stetzer about the mismanaged journalism concerning a recent interview of Rick Warren . It reminds me of what happened on the blogosphere when Rob’s Love Wins hadn’t been released yet.   It turns out it was a simply “a text without a context” that became “a pretext for a prooftext”.

Hermes, Hermeneutics, Exegesis

Hermes is considered the inventor of language and speech

Quotes of N.T. Wright

In the last few years N.T. Wright has been the author who has had the single most impact on shaping my theology and praxis. I thought that it would be fun to post some of his quotes here. Click through to get the book if any of the quotes intrigue you. It will change your life. Follow Tom Wright as you follow Jesus..


N.T. Wright Quotes


“The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church


“Our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to a world that has discovered its fallenness, to announce healing to a world that has discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to a world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion…The gospel of Jesus points us and indeed urges us to be at the leading edge of the whole culture, articulating in story and music and art and philosophy and education and poetry and politics and theology and even–heaven help us–Biblical studies, a worldview that will mount the historically-rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading the way…with joy and humor and gentleness and good judgment and true wisdom. I believe if we face the question, “if not now, then when?” if we are grasped by this vision we may also hear the question, “if not us, then who?” And if the gospel of Jesus is not the key to this task, then what is?”

― N.T. Wright, Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is


“the work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.”

― N.T. Wright


“When we learn to read the story of Jesus and see it as the story of the love of God, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves–that insight produces, again and again, a sense of astonished gratitude which is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience.”

― N.T. Wright


“The resurrection completes the inauguration of God’s kingdom. . . . It is the decisive event demonstrating thet God’s kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven.”

“The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.”

― N.T. Wright


“…left to ourselves we lapse into a kind of collusion with entrophy, acquiescing in the general belief that things may be getting worse but that there’s nothing much we can do about them. And we are wrong. Our task in the present…is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second.”

― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church


“Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.”

― N.T. Wright


“What we have at the moment isn’t as the old liturgies used to say, ‘the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead,’ but a vague and fuzzy optimism that somehow things may work out in the end. ”

― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church


“Heaven is important, but its not the end of the world”

― N.T. Wright


“We could cope—the world could cope—with a Jesus who ultimately remains a wonderful idea inside his disciples’ minds and hearts. The world cannot cope with a Jesus who comes out of the tomb, who inaugurates God’s new creation right in the middle of the old one.”

― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church


“Just as many who were brought up to think of God as a bearded old gentleman sitting on a cloud decided that when they stopped believing in such a being they had therefore stopped believing in God, so many who were taught to think of hell as a literal underground location full of worms and fire…decided that when they stopped believing in that, so they stopped believing in hell. The first group decided that because they couldn’t believe in childish images of God, they must be atheists. The second decided that because they couldn’t believe in childish images of hell, they must be universalists.”

― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church


“Whenever you see, in an official lectionary, the command to omit two or three verses, you can normally be sure that they contain words of judgment. Unless, of course, they are about sex.”

― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church


“We cannot worship the suffering God today and ignore him tomorrow. We cannot eat and drink the body and blood of the passionate and compassionate God today, and then refuse to live passionately and compassionately tomorrow. If we say or sing, as we so often do, ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit’, we thereby commit ourselves, in love, to the work of making his love known to the world that still stands so sorely in need of it. This is not the god the world wants. This is the God the world needs.”

― N.T. Wright


“Don’t misunderstand me. The terrorist actions of Al-Qaeda were and are unmitigatedly evil. But the astonishing naivety which decreed that America as a whole was a pure, innocent victim, so that the world could be neatly divided up into evil people (particularly Arabs) and good people (particularly Americans and Israelis), and that the latter had a responsibility now to punish the former, is a large-scale example of what I’m talking about – just as it is immature and naive to suggest the mirror image of this view, namely that the western world is guilty in all respects and that all protestors and terrorists are therefore completely justified in what they do. In the same way, to suggest that all who possess guns should be locked up, or (the American mirror-image of this view) that everyone should carry guns so that good people can shoot bad ones before they can get up to their tricks, is simply a failure to think into the depths of what’s going on.”

― N.T. Wright, Evil & Justice of God


“All Christian language about the future is a set of signposts pointing into a mist.”

― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

Walter Brueggemann -What is Justice?

I was just watching this short vimeo video from The Justice Conference where Walter Brueggemann is discussing what biblical Justice is and the challenge for those who follow Yahweh to work towards the alleviation of injustices.

I am encouraged how Brueggemann is bringing much needed attention to the often separated notions of our “declared love for God” and our “social activities”. I also appreciated how he highlights the truth that there can be systemic conditions within communities that lend to the oppression of people.

Watch this video below and lets discuss what he is saying here. Is it helpful to you?

One of the misfortunes in the long history of the church is that we have mistakenly separated love of God from love of neighbor and always they are held together in prophetic poetry.

Covenant members who practice justice and righteousness are to be active advocates for the vulnerable and the marginal and the people without resources and that then becomes the way to act out and exhibit one’s love of God.

So love of God gets translated into love of vulnerable neighbors. And the doing of Justice is the prophetic invitation to do what needs to be done to enable the poor and the disadvantaged and the neglected to participate in the resources and the wealth of the community.

And injustice is the outcome of having skewed neighborly processes so some are put at an unbearable disadvantage.

And the gospel invitation is that people intervene in that to correct those mistaken arrangements.”     -Walter Brueggemann

I have read his book about the both the vocation and influence of the Prophets within the scriptures titled, “The Prophetic Imagination”. It was very interesting and quite stimulating to say the least.

I do recommend it if you are interested to study about the prophetic literature within the Bible. It is only 150 pages but full of prophetic challenge for the faith.



Speaking of Jesus


Carl Medearis has a way of making what might appear to be a complicated issue seem both simple and exciting at the same time.

He is a creative and provocative story teller and has a way of inviting you into a life of following Jesus that seems as exhilarating as one of Indiana Jones’ adventures. Watch this video I blogged recently of Carl discussing the life of Jesus to see what I am talking about.



While Carl’s new book, “Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism” should technically be located under “Evangelism, How to”, in contrast Carl is showing how the common evangelistic methods are so very much misrepresenting and distracting folks from engaging with the actual person and life of Jesus.

Medearis talks about how often times many people find themselves making the mistake of getting defensive over Christianity when talking with someone about there faith. This just muddles any hopes of getting anywhere fruitful in the conversation.

Carl shows us the way out of these kinds of traps and pitfalls, explaining how simply speaking of Jesus almost always pays the best dividends. Not giving a defense of Christianity, Church Doctrines, and the like. Simply Jesus.

In Carl’s own words, “Here it is – the thesis of this book: if you don’t feel like you have to evangelize someone away from their team onto yours, you can speak of Jesus much more freely, and thus, much more effectively.”

You might find his CNN article, “Why Evangelicals Should Stop Evangeliziing” interesting. I did, so I followed through with getting the book and now am including you in on it.

I have really been quite encouraged and very impressed with Carl as he makes the conversation about Jesus. Jesus is where the life is. Just sayin.

Celebration of Discipline

Richard Foster’s excellent book, “Celebration of Discipline, The Path to Spiritual Growth”
explores many of the classical spiritual disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. Foster  shares from his own experience and involvement with the Quakers. While he does quote from many of the leaders of the Friends Church he by no means limits himself to this stream of the Christian Faith. He pulls from many of the influential voices through out Christian history.



I know you might be thinking that a book about the Christian spiritual disciplines is probably quite dry and lacking lustre. That is usually what has kept me from any such titles in the past. Actually this book is quite full of energy and life. He indeed challenges the reader to consider that some of the disciplines do take some real effort, but he is so very quick to qualify these notions with the reality of the life that is behind all of these disciplines. A whole chapter is about “Celebration” and joy.



In fact he says that the discipline of celebration is a kind of linchpin to the rest. Concerning celebration Richard writes, “Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines.” “Celebration brings joy into life, and joy makes us strong. Scripture tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength” “Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit. Often I am inclined to think that joy is the motor, the thing that keeps everything else going. With out joyous celebration to infuse the other Disciplines, we will sooner or later abandon them. Joy produces energy. Joy makes us strong. Ancient Israel was commanded to gather together three times a year to celebrate the goodness of God. Those were festival holidays in the highest sense.  They were the experiences that gave strength and cohesion to the people of Israel.”

What Is The Gospel, And Why Is It The “Good News”?

What actually is the Gospel anyway? What did the Evangelists intend by using the word Gospel? N.T. Wright is seeming to assert that Matthew and the other writers announced their narratives about the life of Jesus cased in the term “Gospel” so as to contrast Jesus with the other Lord of the known world, Caesar. If this is true. How would we apply this same truth today. What do think?

Gospel of Mark, Armenian Artist, 14th Century, N.T. Wright, Gospel of Jesus Christ,

Life of Jesus -Carl Medearis

“What are the top 4 things you love about the life of Jesus?”, asks Carl Medearis in this youtube video. “Not what he said or his parables and what he taught..” This is challenging.

Carl points out that we have often skimmed right through the life of jesus in our Christian thoughts and meditations. He said that in the 30 Christian creeds he went through there is nothing about the life of Jesus within in them. They might mention briefly that he “lived”, and yes that he was sinless, but nothing about “how” he lived.

He lived a real actual life. Carl says, “Look at how Jesus actually did things, not just what he said, not just his parables, not just the end game, not that he died and rose again, not just the theology around it, but look look at how he lived, how he interacted, how he questioned the questioner, how he didn’t answer questions, ..how he dealt with the religious people as opposed to the sinners. How he dealt with his closest disciples..”

Carl talks about a couple of things that he admires in the life of Jesus. He points out how Jesus never seems to mind being interrupted as he is on his way. He walks everywhere and doesn’t ride there.. He also talks about how jesus taught as he went. He does something. Then he tells the disciples they can do the same thing. Then he does the same thing with them. Then he sends them to do it by themselves.

What are some things you love about the life of Jesus?
Has this short video helped you to think a bit differently about the life of Jesus and encourage you in following him?

A New Kind of Pentecostalism

From the earliest time I can remember on up through High School I was a member within a Pentecostal Church. It was full of mostly great experiences with some bad experiences mixed in as well. For various and sundry reasons I eventually came to the point where I no longer identified myself as a Pentecostal. It was not that I disliked “Pentecostals”, or for that matter liked Non-Pentecostals better. I simply chose to not identify myself with any particular denomination or tradition over another in a formalized sense. Of course being that this was the particular Christian expression that I grew up in, I did have many critiques of Pentecostalism as one from the inside.

This new book comes along, and when seeing the title, “A New Kind of Pentecostalism: Promoting Dialogue for Change
, my first thought was that I had no interest to read about any kind of reassertion of the kind of Pentecostalism of which I was familiar with. Nor did I want to read a book about Pentecostalism over against the other great Christian traditions and movements as if Pentecostalism were the elite expression of true Faith so to speak. I was happy to have discovered that neither of these ideas were present within this book. In fact, quite the opposite was true. Samuel hopes to affirm many of the great strengths of the Pentecostal movement, but there is no elitist snobbery found in this book.

Sam opens his conversation with a very broad definition of what it means to be “Pentecostal”. He tries to show how it can be something all Christians ought to take ownership of in its deeply rooted biblical context. He is quite bold in his critique of the movement at large. Sam brings plenty of challenging points to the conversation concerning the common pitfalls within the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement. And he follows through with just as much constructive guidance for the way forward. I highly recommend Sam Lee’s book, A New Kind of Pentecostalism: Promoting Dialogue for Change for those who at any point have identified with Pentecostal and or Charismatic expressions of the church. He has a prophetic message that needs to be heard.

A few of the topics he covers is Emotivism, Exaggeration, Performance, Miracles Sings and Wonders, Financial Ethics, Denomination and Leadership, Bible Interpretation, Dialoging with the Other, Dialoguing with Islam, and Social Justice. In all of his talking points there is a great spirit of dialogue that is encouraged, within and outside of the church.

Why Not Women? A Fresh Look at Scripture on Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership.

Two Authors, both apart of the world missions organization Youth With A Mission have put their hearts and minds together in this important book, “Why Not Women”.

Loren Cunningham, the founder of Y.W.A.M (pronounced, y-wam), and David Hamilton, a dedicated student of Christian scripture have brought light to this critical debate within Christian praxis.


Loren starts out the book by putting a great focus on the suppression of women within both church history and the modern mission movement. He questions the majority opinion that Leadership is Male. He talks about Deborah, both a leader and a Prophet, the head of state. He notes Miriam’s leadership as well. In the New Testament Loren points out Phoebe a minister, and Junias an Apostle. Apparently 886 verses of Scripture are from that of Women. He then articulates a principle of allowing for Women to teach if they have the God given and recognized gift. Simple logic says, if God gifted them, then they ought to teach. Sometimes simple logic works best. Of course, it doesn’t always win out the detailed skeptic. That is where Hamilton compliments this book’s message so well.

As David Hamilton begins his contribution to this work, he talks about the overwhelming oppressive sexist ideas and beliefs that have pervaded in both the “Gentile” and “Hebrew” cultural backdrop to the historical context of the books of the bible. Hamilton finishes up the remaining majority of the book with in depth exegesis of all the key relevant passages. He works through the Timothy, Corinthians, and other passages in great detail. There is quite a bit of great detail within these chapters that would at least give “traditional” readings and translations much pause and cause for a reevaluation on this subject.

Youth With A Mission Logo

The Shaping of Things to Come

If you have heard any of the following terms in religious conversations as of late, Missional, Incarnational, Meta-Narrative, Post-Christendom Culture, being an authentic community, it was probably encouraged at least in part by this book,  “The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church“. Both Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch have done an excellent job in describing what is at the the center of the  fresh expressions of church that are emerging.

Frost and Hirsch explain how “Western” society has been moving into what they describe as a post-christendom era. They say, “Christendom has been in decline for the last 250 years.” They argue that many are now or many ought to be moving in to a “Missional” phase of church expression. One where we are moving away from the many things that defined the era of Christendom, such as Buildings, Institutional Centralized Leadership, Institutional Sacraments, Church as center of Society,  and ex-tractional Conversions.


The Missional emerging shape of things to come will not be focused on a Church building. The new leadership mode is one that is pioneering-innovative in nature, including the five-fold ministry ethos, not just majoring on the “pastor/teacher” role. It will move towards being more grassroots and decentralized. It Redeems, re-sacralizes, and ritualizes new symbols and events. Church is once again on the fringes of society and culture. The church re-embraces a missional stance in relation to culture.That is a mouth full.

They suggest the idea of Shared Projects. Rather than only doing church based programs,  instead getting involved in programs and initiatives that are already helping the community.

There is this group in San Francisco calling itself ReImagine.  They have been meeting to explore the goal of living in what they call Green space. Green is the goal. The color green is made up of course by both the colors yellow and blue . “Yellow space refers to a Christian spirituality that is only concerned with the personal, interior world of faith. It characterizes the classic individualized form of faith the focuses on personal quiet times, Bible study, church attendance and personal moral/ethical behavior. Blue space refers to an exclusively other-focused form of Christian spirituality, one that takes context seriously and features such activities as social concern, justice-seeking, activism, and public moral/ethical behavior.” These two parts of faith ought to be blended and not separated.

Rather than being an attractional church, the goal of the emerging church is to be Incarnational. “The incarnational church seeks to infiltrate society to represent Christ to the World” A long chapter toward the end is about what they call “the genius of APEPT“. This is the five-fold ministry or functions of disciples: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher. The newer expressions of church are giving a more rounded recognition within the leadership of all these roles, not just favoritism to the Pastor/Teacher C.E.O. style of things from the past.

I have read many books in this genre and this one is is quite unique and stands out amongst the rest in many ways.

N.T. Wright reflects on Rob Bell and Hell

NTWright_feature

Here is a recent interview of N.T. Wright about his thoughts on “Hell” and Rob Bell’s new book, “Love Wins“.

If you prefer viewing theology over reading theology or vice versa, you have the choice below. In this interview Tom Wright gives and interesting outsiders observation of “American” theology.

If you have read “Love Wins“, do you agree with Wright that it is a good thing to stir things up as Rob Bell has done so with his book? What do you think? Has Bell succeeded in getting you to re-evaluate and and thereby adjust/refine your view of “Hell” and eschatology in general? Even if you went away from Bell’s book not agreeing with a lot of his arguments, did the book act as a catalyst for your own re-evaluation of “heaven” and “hell”?

The Video

Wright on Hell & Bell from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

The Interview

My usual counter question is: “Why are Americans so fixated on hell?” Far more Americans ask me about hell than ever happens in my own country. And I really want to know, why is it that the most prosperous affluent nation on earth is really determined to be sure that they know precisely who is going to be frying in hell and what the temperature will be and so on. There’s something quite disturbing about that, especially when your nation and mine has done quite a lot in the last decade or two to drop bombs on people elsewhere and to make a lot of other people’s lives hell. So, I think there are some quite serious issues about why people want to ask that question.

Having said that, I am not a universalist. I’ve never been universalist. Someone quoted a theologian saying, “I’m not a universalist, but maybe God is.” That’s kind of a neat way of saying, “OK, there’s stuff in Scripture which is a little puzzling about this, and we can’t be absolutely sure all down the line.” But it seems to me that the New Testament is very clear that there are people who do reject God and reject what would have been His best will for them, and God honors that decision. How that works and how you then deal with the questions which result I have written about at some length.


I don’t think myself that Rob Bell has quite taken the same line that I did in Surprised by Hope
. I haven’t actually had the conversation with Rob since his book was published. So, one of these days, we will and we’ll have that one out. I do think it’s good to stir things up because so many people, as I say, particularly in American culture, really want to know the last fine-tuned details of hell. And it seems to be part of their faith, often a central part of their faith that a certain number of people are simply going to go to hell and we know who these people are. I think Rob is saying, “Hey wait a minute! Start reading the Bible differently. God is not a horrible ogre who is just determined to fry as many people as He can forever. God is actually incredibly generous and gracious and wonderful and loving and caring. And if you paint a picture of God which is other than that, then you’re producing a monster and that has long-lasting effects in Christian lives and in the church.”


Rob Bell Love Wins