I want to announce a series that I’ll be starting soon called The Bible in a Nutshell. It’s not a Bible study in the sense that I’ll be going through a book or portion of a book. Rather, it’s taking what I call the 20,000 foot view and considering how the Bible tells one cohesive story from Genesis to Revelation. For now, I plan on 8 segments outlined at the end, in which I hope to provide some insight into how each section of the Bible fits into the overarching narrative of Scripture. I don’t subscribe to be any kind of authority on Bible reading but I do want to pass on some lessons I’ve learned in my many years of studying Scripture and pitfalls to avoid.
If you’re like me, you started off your Christian journey with a Bible in hand and eager to dive in. After all, you heard that it is God’s word. That was me! I had a desire to read the Bible for I instinctively knew it was God’s word. I needed to learn about this Christian faith and what God has said about who he is and what his expectations are. It didn’t take long for that enthusiasm to be met with some confusion and even frustration. It’s not just one book, my many books! How does this all make sense together?
Naturally, the way we make sense of it in the beginning is to listen to the experienced voices, or at least those who claim to be. It doesn’t take much for whatever these leaders to espouse for us to then impose that on the text to derive our meaning.
That’s great if these experienced voices have taken great care to look at the Bible holistically. Meaning, they’ve studied how all the pieces fit together and handle the Bible reverently, not imposing their own philosophies on the text. Continue reading
It’s been interesting watching the reactions to President Trump’s announcement concerning acknowledgement of Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel. Many are seeing this as a fulfillment of prophecy, most notably Zech. 12:1-3. Of course, on face value it seems to make sense if in fact Scripture indicates that Israel with Jerusalem at the seat of its theocratic power, as existed in the Old Testament, that such a move would be celebrated on theological grounds (there are political reasons as well but we won’t go into that).
All this points to a telling sign to me: that so many Christians believe that God’s fulfillment of covenantal promises still involve the geographic, political state of Israel as if those promises still involved that particular piece of land.
It would be a long while in my Christian walk before I realized that references to Israel in Scripture, particularly the New Testament did not mean the political state of Israel. Romans 9-11 is particularly instructive in this regard. Paul lays out the case that though he longs for his kinsmen according to the flesh (ethnic Israel) because of all that had been given to them (9:4-5), they don’t belong to the true Israel. “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (vs. 6). Israel refers to Abraham’s children according to the Spirit (vs. 8), those who have believed in God’s promises through Christ (cf. Gal: 3:7-18). The remnant of Israel is actually the true believers, those united to Christ, including the grafting in of the Gentiles as those who inherit the same promises (11:13-24). It’s important to note here with the rejection of Israel that the distinction of ethnic Israel relates to the fact that they were first given the revelation of this glorious truth. God is not giving up on them but it doesn’t mean they are somehow a separate people of God who will be dealt with according to a specific piece of land.
But doesn’t Paul seem to be referencing such when he says, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles and come in. In this way all Israel will be saved” (11:25-26) then sites Is. 59:20 as an indication for a future for Israel. Is Paul referring to a deferred plan for the place called Israel? Not hardly. Another way of seeing this is that the time of the true Israel (Jews and Gentiles together) don’t get fulfilled until all the elect are saved, including Jews. (PS: I do recognize that scholars have debated the complexities of Rom. 9-11 and come to different conclusions.) Continue reading
A while back, I penned some thoughts about questions I had as it relates to issues of race and the church found here. I specifically directed my questions at those who feel like the cause of battling white supremacy takes such precedence that it becomes an overpowering force and actually defeats the purpose of reconciliation. I confess, I was a bit pointed and may even seemed to reject any lingering issues.
To be honest, I did not expect to be writing so much on this topic. I’ve been compelled to write because of concerns that I’ve had regarding the polarization of how issues of race were perceived in such disparate ways that increasingly, many in the church are decrying an urgency in addressing. I suspect that this is partially due to extended weariness and concern that things will never be right.
I want to wrap up some concluding thoughts as I don’t anticipate writing on this topic for awhile. As I’ve indicated recently, I’ve joined forces with a couple of other Christians who like me, are ethnic minorities who want to thoughtfully address these issues with honesty and through a Christ-centered lens at Kaleoscope. We don’t all agree but we do strive to prioritize the gospel above all else. Please do check it out! Meanwhile, here’s a few more thoughts.
First know that I do not want to be dismissive of concerns, especially where legitimacy still exists. I am reminded on a regular basis that prejudices of all kinds still abound, not just on race. Sometimes it is in your face, like the alt-right gathering at Charlottesville. But certainly more subtle and subversive can create standards around acceptably that is centered in Anglo culture. Yes, implicit bias does exist whereby a deviation from the standard is deemed to be inferior and even unacceptable according to that norm as this survey highlighted by a New York Times article points out. Surely, this can happen in churches to varying degrees whereby minority perspectives are disregarded and/or dismissed. I personally know of cases where this has happened.
So I do not want to undermine the very real frustrations that people of color can experience in predominantly white environments, especially in our churches. Though I am still left to ask about the collective conscious of “white evangelicalism” that pervades the church such that people of color are harmed. I continue to see the cries for white evangelicals to disrobe their “whiteness” so minority Christians can feel safe and welcome. But what exactly are the expectations in this regard? What exactly is the extent of harm? Continue reading
When it comes to the division between continuationism and cessationism (whether certain gifts still exist today), one of the common mischaracterizations that I have observed continuationists make against cessationists is that cessationists believe that miracles are no longer needed. While I do believe there are a small minority of cessationists who don’t believe in the existence of miracles, most would deny this charge and be open to the possibility that God can do whatever he wants to win people to himself.
I think a big part of the problem is how a miracle is defined. I have found that typically when my Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters contend that miracles exist, what they are really saying is the demonstration of signs and wonders as seen in Acts are to be expected such that they are needed to 1) believe the gospel and 2) demonstrate empowerment by the Holy Spirit. But a miracle can be defined more broadly as something out of the ordinary. So we need to ask what we mean by miracles still existing.
Now the cessationist would say that the miracles demonstrated in Acts were done to demonstrate that the validity of the apostlic testimony concerning Christ. After all, the record of the Old Testament shows that when God did something new, previously unrevealed, he did so with miraculous events. God was doing a new thing by bringing both Jew and Gentile together as one body through the sacrificial death of His Son (Ephesians 2:13-16; 3:1-7) marked by the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). Jews considered themselves the privilege group and Greeks were accustomed to pagan worship and sought after knowledge. Both groups needed to experience something out of the ordinary to know that what was being proclaimed through the apostles witness was real. But once the New Testament church was implemented, the body of Christ grew and the message spread, there was less reliance on these types of miracles for validation. Continue reading
A couple of months ago, I joined in a newly formed collaborative effort to address issues of Christianity in culture from a multi-ethnic, gospel oriented perspective. Please visit Kaleoscope when you get a chance. As a collaborative team, we don’t necessarily all agree but we do seek to look at issues through a Christ-centered and scriptural lens. Here’s are some links to articles I’ve written over there;
God did that! A 500th year reflection on Christ building his church
The devil is in the details: On distractions and causes
On Christianity and Confederate statues
The wisdom of God: a reflection on the life of Daniel Hale Williams
Is the imago Dei and race and misplaced argument?