The year that got us: my look at 2020 in the rear view mirror

As the year is wrapping up, I’d thought I’d share some reflections and personal updates because it’s been quite the year. I’ll do my best to keep it from being rambling or disjointed. Truth is, I’ve not been writing as I typically do, which is evidenced in the sporadic posts I’ve had this year. The last one was September so what does that tell you. It’s not for a lack of wanting or material, either. I’ve actually started several posts but never finished them. I do have one almost complete in which I’ve already committed over 1,200 words so hopefully that will come soon.

I think a contributing reason to the writing malaise is that its just been a hard year and one that wears on the soul. I recognized early on in the pandemic that the sense of disorientation and “fogginess” is actually kind of normal for what has been a most un-normal year. My hats off to those who seized the opportunity of slow down to fill it up in fruitful ways. I just wasn’t able and I learned that is ok, too.

If there is one thing I can say about this year, it’s been one of exposure of hearts and where our loyalties really lie. I say this primarily of the Christian whose first loyalty should be to Christ and his kingdom with loose commitments to the social and political factions of this age. But this year with all that’s happened–from COVID, more police shootings of unarmed black people, lockdowns, and a bizarre election cycle–has pulled back whatever veneer resided over socio-political orientations we tried to mask with our Christian presentation. Not to mention the tensions that have ramped up in the church over the issue of Critical Race Theory that has created more divisions. That’s why I say it’s the year that got us. It exposed us. It showed what we truly valued. We can no longer hide.

Nor should we. In fact, I’d say with everything 2020 has wrought also gives us the opportunity to take a good hard look at the priorities of our Christian commitment and the lenses through which we filter it. It’s easy to say I love Jesus when it’s also accompanied by affirmations of cultural comfort. I love Jesus and my freedom. I love Jesus and my blackness. I love Jesus and my fight for justice. I love Jesus and my president….loves that put caveats on faithfulness. But the church has always been tempted to follow the spirit of the age and we do well to ask some deep hard questions about our propensity to follow it. That’s something that ultimately comes through conviction of the Holy Spirit. We should not grieve or quench him. John’s divinely inspired words ring true here, “little children keep yourself from idols.” (1 Jn. 5:21)

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Christianity and the Patriotic Gospel

The other day, I came across this question on Twitter, “What’s worse, the prosperity gospel or the patriotic gospel?” My first reaction was it was a bit of a toss up. But the more I thought about it and observed the discussion on my Facebook page, I do think the patriotic gospel needs to be spelled out a bit. I don’t know the author of the tweet so I have no idea what he meant by it but I thought I would write out a few thoughts about what I believe it is. I suspect that some will disagree but these are my convictions.

I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with patriotism, as long as it is kept in perspective. I see no prohibition in Scripture where one cannot love their country and want what is best for it. Though America has not always lived up to her ideals, we can celebrate her victories.

However, the patriotic gospel is more than just a love for country. I actually do believe it is a form of the prosperity gospel so let me lay that out. A common misconception about the prosperity gospel is that it is about money or getting rich. Actually, wealth is just an outcome of its foundation. At the heart of the prosperity gospel lies the notion that material gain symbolizes favor with God. Material gain can be wealth but also comes in different forms, such as employment success, social standing, houses, cars, and other earthly treasures. While proponents of the prosperity gospel will say they are placing their faith in Jesus, in reality, hope is placed in obtaining material gain since that represents right standing with God. It’s why you see so much emphasis on the material in prosperity teaching. Sadly, I think softer forms of prosperity teaching run rampant in mainstream American evangelism.

Now, let’s make that application to the patriotic gospel. I think the most obvious form is believing that the United States has a special status with God and therefore, supporting her prosperity means continued favor. It’s treating the US as if God has made a covenant with her. This line of thinking sees no problem with inserting patriotic symbolism into Christian expression such as Bible verses and church services. Continue reading

Some thoughts on the church and racial reconciliation efforts

I recently got into a twitter exchange over the issue of church’s hosting of a racial reconciliation conference, panel discussion, etc. The thrust of the argument was that it puts a focus on the reconciliation according to skin and we should do as Paul says ‘to know no one after the flesh.’ I pushed back on the notion that anytime a church calls for a racial reconciliation, it is a “false gospel.” As typical with Twitter exchanges, I start getting lost in the comments. So I thought I’d sketch out some thoughts I’ve had on this issue in a more cohesive fashion. This is not so much about that exchange but rather  examining the broader scope of racial reconciliation efforts in the church, my observations of them, and also to identify some concerns. This is not meant to be anything exhaustive but more like me dumping some thoughts on this topic into a single space.

First let me note that I do heartily endorse the idea that believers should anchor their identities first and foremost in Christ. I believe that our first consideration for dealing with other believers is based on our union in Christ. When you see another person with whom you are united in Christ, the first thought should not be a [______] Christian but a fellow heir, regardless of their race, ethnicity, physical characteristics, or place of origin. We should take serious Gal. 3:28;

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

But of course there are distinctions and we can appreciate them according to how God made us.  Are we not male and female and are we not different in that regard? We are not nondescript blobs. We can appreciate the ways in which we bring our ethnicity, heritages and experiences to the table.  We also have to recognize when those distinctions have caused and do cause dissension in the body of Christ, especially when dealing with a long-standing one like racial disparities that were not only deeply ingrained in society for hundreds of years but also in our churches. Racial reconciliation is ultimately about reconciling hearts towards one another. Continue reading

My cloud of witnesses: 7 traits of highly effective race runners

I’ve been mulling on this passage in Hebrews for the past couple of weeks;

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (Heb. 12:1-2a)

Of course the cloud of witnesses referred to here are the heroes of the faith in the Old Testament listed in Hebrews 11. I interpret this to mean those whose lives have testified to their belief in the promises of God and demonstrate what faithfulness to those promises mean in how they have lived their lives.

I’ve been thinking about my own cloud of witnesses, those who for me model what Heb. 12:1-2 talks about in their witness and ministry commitment. In leveraging the title of that popular book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I’m thinking about common traits these folks possess that not only invoke an admiration for them but also an inspiration for me for any ministry God has placed in my hand to be faithful to Scripture and glorify him.  And while I can include a whole swatch of Christians who have encouraged me in my walk with Christ, I’m particularly thinking of those who are more subject to scrutiny and criticism because they pastors, seminary professors and/or have more visible ministries. Continue reading

On transforming culture and why I dislike the question

Are Christians called to transform culture? Whenever this question comes up, I’ve typically been struck by those who declare we are not. Now I get that transforming culture is loaded with complexity. What do we mean by this? The simplistic answer is influencing culture such that it is compatible with Christianity. But in a fallen world, that lofty goal is myopic at best.

Another issue is what do we mean by culture? Andy Crouch states it simply, “it is what human beings make of the world.”[1]  Of course, it’s a bit more complex than this in the ways an ethos is formed from the various components that make up a particular culture. Example, a workplace culture is one defined by the priority of values and examples of living that out. So, if we consider the nature of culture, we have to conclude that there is not just one culture but many operating in different spheres of society and overlapping with each other. Even when we consider our prevailing ethos, it is an amalgamation of various cultures forming a compatibility that infects the whole. This is one reason I dislike the question about transforming culture. Which culture do you mean?

But there’s another problem I have when the question gets dismissed with an emphatic no. I’ve been reading through Theology in Three Dimensions by John Frame. He provides a basic layout for his theory of triperspectivalism, which deals with the multi-dimensional aspect of how we come to know and accept truth. Room does not permit an exhaustive description and I don’t want to deviate from the point of the post. For the sake of brevity, he speaks of that which is normative, situational, existential and the ways in which each perspective overlaps with each other. In his chapter entitled, “Perspectives in All of Life,” he starts off by saying that we bring our relationship with Christ into every sphere we enter proclaiming “the gospel changes all of life . . .it creates new people, as new creations of God (2 Cor. 5:17). Continue reading