No, this is not one of those nerdy academic posts. On this Christmas day I wanted to sketch out some brief thoughts over some observations I’ve made recently that really points to something broader I’ve witnessed in how we can make false choices with respect to the Christian faith. And particularly, this time of year with reflections of Christmas and the purpose for which we celebrate this unprecedented occasion of the incarnation. So I will get to the title in a bit.
Let me start with a gospel music production that we watched last night. The program was mostly music (and it was pretty spectacular too!) interspersed with acting scenes centered on three characters whose lives, we learn after awhile, are interconnected. The overriding message I got was Jesus is a means to make your life better. If you have the Lord and tragedy happens you have the power to “speak life.” You feel empty? Try Jesus. You witnessed a miraculous event points to the fact that you need God.
What was missing for me in this presentation is why God the Son, eternally existent with the Father humbled himself and left his throne of glory. It was to rescue us from our sin, the sin that plunged humanity into sin because of the events that happened in Genesis 3. This sin that we are all born into, that impacted all of God’s good creation into anticipated decay and ongoing corruption (see Romans 8:20). From Gen. 3:15 onward in the Old Testament, God promised a reversal of this curse. The incarnation was for the purpose of fulfillment of God’s promises to redeem a people for himself not so much to fulfill our every life demand. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
The title question is one I’ve been mulling over the past couple of days since a charge was thrown my way that I care too much about my reputation and how I look in the eyes of others. Well, the first place we should go with such accusations is before the Lord with honest introspection. Is it true? It doesn’t help to justify and defend if others see something in us we are unwilling to admit about ourselves. That’s why I think it’s important whenever there is a consensus of critism. Not that this is the case here, but generally, if a number of people are saying the same thing about you, it’s something to pay attention to.
But the second place we should go is to Scripture because for the Christian, it is our ultimate authority. Now this is nowhere near an exhaustive examination but some observations. In asking this question does reputation matter, here are some musings I’ve come up with thus far.
No, reputation is about pride.
Well, it can be for sure. We can take so much care in how we look in front of others that it becomes more about self-preservation than Christ proclamation. When it comes to the issue of reputation, we can look no further than mission of the Son to humble himself on our behalf. I love how the NKJV portrays Christ’s condescension;
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Jesus’ mission wasn’t to look good in front of others but to do what was good according to the Father’s will. His earthly ministry demonstrated that he cared nothing about what people thought of him but everything about revealing the mind and will of God so that people see his glory and purpose. His obedience to this call is ours as well, to proclaim him who became of no reputation so that we can be reconciled to the Father and live at peace with him in this world. We do that in spite of our reputation and caring what others think of us. Continue reading →
These are tense times. Many factions at work in the frame of our society are ripping at the seam. The election of Donald J. Trump has polarized a nation and disintergrated relationships. But even at the heels of his election, the heat was rising with an increased exposure of unarmed shootings of black citizens and the rise of Black Lives Matter. White supremacy is the culprit, it seems, and must be extinguished.
The church in America has not been exempt. The past few years have seen a rise in a cry for the church to address issues of race and justice. This cry has increasingly leaned on secular socialological paradigm of critical theory to address issues and provide remedies over and above the dictates of Scripture. Whitness is the evil that must be extinguished, is a growing roar. The election of 2016 only added fuel to that fire. The whiteness that contributed to the perceived injustice was now being perpertrated by anyone who dare approve of the Trump administration. White evangelicals were on trial and stood guilty of perpetrating perpetual crimes of marginalization against black and brown people.
On the flip side, another faction has arisen that began decrying the intrusion of social justice paradigms in the interest of preserving the gospel and reliance of the authority of Scipture. Legitmate concerns have turned into witch hunts if there was even a hint of capitualtion to a social justice paradigm. Then there is support of Trump, whether it be the man himself or conservative policies themselves. The leftist, social justice warriors are bringing the church down and must be stopped, so goes the rallying cry.
Social media serves as a ready platform to take this disenchantment to the public square. Brothers and sisters go after each other in the name of truth. Condemnations are created, in some cases by partial profiles and half-baked information. Blog posts abound with indictments of the latest perpetrators of anti-biblical positions, whether it be for or against social justice or Trump. Guilt by association turns into easy categorization of people into simplistic boxes based on minimal evidence. (Lanie Anderson has a great article about guilt by association that I commend reading here.) Echo chambers are filled with glanging gongs. Continue reading →