Choose this day whom you will serve: Jesus or skin color

As the Advent season is now upon us, I’m reminded of an unfortunate Twitter exchange I got into last year during the middle of the season. I had wanted to write more about it but at the time was a little over a month away from my wedding and in the throws of packing for the out of state move. Taking a breaking from the pile of responsibility, I stumbled upon this statement made in a tweet;

 Still hearing way too many white church leaders uncritically equating darkness with evil this Advent. I mean what are you thinking while you’re looking into the (few) black faces of your congregants, colleagues, and sometimes children?

My immediate retort was that the darkness spoken of at Advent relates to the corruption of this world because of the Fall that happened through one man’s disobedience. So yes, it is associated with evil because of the sin that entered into the world (see Rom. 5:12). Advent points us to the hope in Christ in his overcoming the impact of the Fall.  After all, Advent IS about him and what he came to do in this world on our behalf. The darkness associated with Advent has absolutely nothing to do with skin color although historically, some have made that association (I’ll get to that in a minute).

Furthermore, the theme of darkness as it relates to the corruption of sin in contrast to light is a central theme in John’s writings and he certainly wasn’t referring to skin color. Are we really going to undermine the very expression of Scripture itself for some type of validation of ourselves and undermine the significance of Advent in the process?  It is not only perfectly acceptable to speak in these terms related to sin but more importantly, direct attention to the remedy for it. Continue reading

The slippery slope of social justice: a reflection about that statement

Last year around this time, the statement on Social Justice and the Gospel came out and set off a firestorm. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was sitting in a breakfast joint in Hartford, CT just hours away from my flight back to Dallas. As I scrolled through the statement, I found myself nodding a lot. But the more I nodded, the more I also grimmaced. As I wrote about in The Problem is Not About Social Justice, I saw pretty clearly the set up of the statement–you were either for Christ (and the framers of the statement) or against Christ. There was no middle ground. I suspected that the statement would have the effect of reinforcing camps that would devolve into tribalistic disputes. People would be accused, and sometimes unjustly, of aligning with a pro- or anti- social justice camp with just the utterance of a few statements. I suspected the result of the statement would spawn more feuds than fruit, even though there were many good points in it. That’s what happens when you set up that kind of dichotomy.

Unfortunately, this is precisely what I’ve seen play out over the past year. Even my own orthodoxy has been called into question because I won’t lock step with anti-social justice advocates in repudiating wholesale social justice even though I have issues with it depending on what you mean by “social justice.” But when you lump the term into a nebulous definition (that can have a range of meaning) and slap a “social gospel” or “anti-gospel” label on it without digging into the weeds to separate the wheat from the chaff, that’s what you’re going to get.

As I stated a year ago, I can appreciate the concern of the framers. They felt something was at stake and the gospel needed to be preserved. After all, the church has seen its fair share of opposition to orthodoxy and councils and such were formed to contend for the faith that was handed down ala Jude 3. Continue reading

Worst advice possible…telling Christians to look within themselves

woman hugging herselfWhile scrolling through my Facebook feed not too long ago, this statement assaulted me;

The wizard [of Oz] says look inside yourself and find self. God says look inside yourself and find [the Holy Spirit]. The first will get you to Kansas. The latter will get you to heaven. Take your pick.

Well, based on the title of the post it’s pretty obvious that I think this is this worst advice to Christians. Sadly, this came from a pastor who is telling his congregation this. I hate to say it, but it is actually sub-Christian that unfortunately has gained solid footing within Christianity. Aside from the fact that nowhere does God tell us in Scripture to look inside ourselves to find the Holy Spirit, this is problematic because it puts emphasis on the wrong person -us.

Considering the role of the Spirit, the 3rd person testifies to the Son (John 15:26) and provides the seal of regeneration for those who believe by the will of the Father (see Eph 1:3-14). It is to Christ that we look. The Holy Spirit within enables us to do this (see 1 Cor. 12:3). Consider the book of Hebrews. These Jewish Christians were tempted to go back to Judiasm because they missed the glory of the temple and prominence of their status as God’s elect. Instead of telling the troubled Christians to look within themselves, the writer instead points them to the Son. “Consider Christ.” This is the theme of the book. This is the theme of Christianity.

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, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2 ESV)

Look at what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3 where Paul is contrasting the Old and New Covenant, he highlights where the veil imposed by the law is lifted in Christ; Continue reading

Why Positively Powerless (expanded) is positively needed

book cover_positively powerlessRecently, I was in a business meeting in which I represented the organization I work for in a collaborative project with other organizations. The collaborative involved a grant application and therefore was contingent upon receiving those funds to be implemented. While we were putting the application together, at times others involved would assert positive declarations about receiving the funds under the premise that this would happen if we just declare it…in Jesus name.

These folks were acting on a strain of teaching that has infiltrated evangelicalism, that is positive declarations are needed to make circumstances happen. In Positively Powerless, Laura Martin, DTS grad, addresses the foundation and fallacy of this teaching as it contradicts the premise of Christianity. She sketches the historical development, which is built on the Positive Thinking movement that considers the mind a force in which we can “will” events in our favor. She notes this is not found in Scripture but rather has its foundation in Eastern Mysticism (I would have loved to see this built out a little more).

She then provides a snapshot of what Scripture does provide regarding the reality of sin and how that has impacted us. More importantly, Christianity is not built on positive declarations but rather submission to the lordship of Christ. In Jesus’ upside down kingdom paradigm, “success” from a kingdom perspective will sometimes result in our lives not looking successful or at least as the world sees it. We will see complete reversal of the Fall’s effect in the new heavens and new earth, but not entirely now. I love that she brings up Joni Erickson Tada because she is a prime example of what successful Christianity looks like from a Christian perspective, which does not jive with the proclaimers of positive thinking.

The chapter entitled A Christian View of Self is particularly noteworthy.  Fueled by the the prominence of self-esteem that took root in Christian teaching in the 20th century, positive thinking places an emphasis on the power of self to create reality in contrast to the emphasis on Christ. She concludes, “When the church came under the power of this movement it had the significant consequence of distracting us from Christ, shifting our priorities, and creating a different gospel entirely.” Indeed, this movement has created a great distraction and emphasizing the wrong things! Continue reading

Why you won’t see me endorsing these people…

I spent 6 years at DTS to get my ThM (Masters of Theology). In those 6 years I heard numerous chapel messages since chapel was a requirement (6 years is a long time!). Truth be told, in my maturing years, I have trouble recalling a lot. But one message made a profound impact on me delivered by Nathan Holsteen, a professor in the Theological Studies department. Now I took many classes with Dr. Holsteen and he was also one of my thesis readers. But what really resonated with me is this chapel message he delivered in 2013 entitled Beware of Mud.

The message was built on 2 John 6-11

And this love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of the Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

He laid out the problem, that certain teachers from among the flock were going about teaching something that contrary to the Christian message. And let’s be clear; they weren’t just some obvious outsiders disparaging Christianity but those who came from within the church, who “proclaimed” the name of Christ but used his name in a dishonorable fashion. Continue reading