whytheology

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Archive for the tag “Concise”

The King has Come

Today we celebrate that the King has come.

Today we remember that his death was not the end.

Today we acknowledge that in his death we ourselves died, so that in his resurrection we ourselves will find life.

Today we reflect on the power and glory of his name.

Today we see the emptiness of the tomb.

Today we are commanded to “Make disciples” “through going, teaching, and baptizing.”

Today we marvel that God has become human.

Today we look forward to his arrival again.

Today, Yesterday, and Forever, the King is here and we praise his name.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Something that has really stuck with me about the account of the events of Good Friday was probably best summarized in a talk given by N.T. Wright. He begins talking about this question of authority that Jesus and Pilate had a conversation about (what amounted to his official trial). There’s quite a bit of background to this question that, in the talk I heard, Wright doesn’t really have time to get into. Essentially, Pilate is trying to ascertain whether Jesus is guilty of sedition, of trying overthrow the empire to establish his own Kingdom. It turns out, Jesus is 100% guilty of that charge, but not in the way that Pilate had suspected. The whole dialogue is spread of John 18 and 19.

Pilate asks if Jesus is a King. Jesus responds by asking why he would think such a thing. Heavily implied in Jesus’s response is that Pilate actually has no authority, but does as others ask him. Yet soon it comes about where we have a key line from Jesus “My Kingdom is not from this (ek tos) world.” This is not saying there is a kingdom and it exists somewhere, but not here. Instead, Jesus is boldly declaring that his kingdom does not arise out of this world. It comes from somewhere else. Because it comes from somewhere else, it will be achieved in a radically different way. Jesus is basically telling Pilate that the Kingdom is coming from God himself, and Jesus’s death will only accelerate its arrival. This is why Pilate tries to release him.

The crowd having none of it, Pilate tries to make him king, in a mocking sort of manner, and in the cruelest way possible. Pilate seeks to make him a king completely according to the ways of this world, through violence and insult. Yet it is to no avail. Instead the people remind Pilate of Jesus’s claim, he claimed to be “the Son of God.”

There is a heavy nuance we often miss today in our modern sensibility. Jesus’s claim to be the “Son of God” was not, exclusively, a claim to divinity. There are other, much more explicit passages about that (“I and the Father are one.” “Before Abraham was, I AM (ego eimi)”). Instead, it’s important to note that, by this time, the Roman emperor had taken on a very specific title: son of the gods. It is for this reason Pilate became terrified. This is a true and unmistakable revolution. It also leads Pilate back to touting his authority, rebellions must be squelched, after all.

It is here that Jesus reminds Pilate of what authority actually looks like. Pilate claims to have authority, but any authority he has “comes from above.” The dual meaning here is that it comes only from Caesar, who is in authority over Pilate, but also that it comes from God. That is if he has authority. As it turns out, Pilate does not act like one with authority. His wish, at that point, is to be done with Jesus and not to crucify him, yet he succumbs to the will of the people, those over whom he claims to have authority. Pilate wants to release Jesus, but that is in violation of his authority from Caesar. Still he wants to to release Jesus, but his authority is taken away by the crowds.

And it brings me back to this line from the lecture by N. T. Wright.

“Pilate and Jesus have this debate about authority and who has authority and where authority comes from. Pilate hands Jesus over to be crucified, and Jesus wins.”

Pilate cannot let it go, and must admit Jesus is King, because he acted with authority. And there, on the cross, he is inaugurated. The Kingdom of God has broken into our world. The sorrow of the Friday will turn to joy on the Sunday. But let us not skip over the sorrow too quickly.

The King is dead, long live the King.

The Cup

Today is Maundy Thursday. This is the day when the events of the “upper room” occurred. It is also the night of the Garden of Gethsemane and arrest of Jesus. Through this night the cup, used in passover, takes on a special significance. In this post, I’m going to attempt to briefly outline some of them.

Ancient Drinking Chalice

The Cup was a Marriage Proposal

In first century Jewish marriage proposals, wine took on a special significance. In the proposal, the tale end of it, after a marriage covenant was actually drawn up and agreed upon by the groom, father of the bride and the bride, it would be sealed with a toast between the groom and the bride. The groom would pour wine and offer it to his (hopefully soon-to-be) bride, with the promise that “This is a covenant in my blood” or something similar. To accept she would drink it. To reject the request (because hers was the final decision) she would simply return the cup.

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20, NIV)

The Cup is a Promise

The groom, after such a proposal was accepted, would promise not to drink wine again until he saw the bride again, on their wedding day. He would then go to make a bridal suite ready, which was a room attached to his Father’s house. He would stock it and prepare it to make everything perfect, returning to take his bride for their wedding day at a time she would not expect, to foster a sense of expectation and excitement everyday that today would be the day she would see her groom coming for her. In the meantime, the bride to be was encouraged to regularly drink small amounts of wine, each time reminding her that her groom would be coming for her. Today could be the day.

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3, NIV)

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
(Matthew 25:1-13, NIV)

29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. (Matthew 26:29, NIV)


do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19b)

The Cup is Also Tragic

Jesus directly prays that the cup he is to drink, the cup of death, will pass from him. This is an honest and human response. If there is ever any doubt that Jesus knows what it is like to be a human, here it is. It is only because he became incarnate as a frail, finite, person–the infinite in the finite–that we can have life in his name. Maundy Thursday reminds us to prepare ourselves for Good Friday. Without the death of the cross there is no resurrection of the dead. And in Christ’s dying, we ourselves die, so that by his rising, we may find life abundant.

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39, NIV)

The name “Maundy” comes from the Latin for commandment. We are commanded to love one another in the same way Christ loved us. Even when, or perhaps especially when, we don’t feel like it.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)

6 Things for the Last Day of Women’s History Month

Rosie the Riveter

For those who are unaware, March is Women’s History Month. From a theological standpoint, women are created in the image of God (as Genesis says “in the image of God he made them, Male and Female he created them”). The creation accounts end with women, the crown jewel of creation. In light of the fact that yesterday was the UK’s “Mothering Day” (aka Mother’s Day) and that this is the last day of Women’s History Month, here are six things you can do to show women (and other women) you care.

1. Appreciate women you know

Only, don’t appreciate them in some awkward “you’re a woman, so, er, um, I guess I appreciate you for being born without a Y chromosome” way. Instead appreciate the women you know for the things they do as people because, you know, they are people. Kinda a prerequisite there. So really look at what they excel at as a human being and take the time to say thanks for that.

2. Read a little about women’s history

It’s fascinating stuff. Try to get past Amelia Earhart too. I mean there are tons more fascinating women. Since this is a Christian theology blog, I’ll point out Hildegard von Bingen, or Julian of Norwich, both amazing women who impacted through their Julian of Norwich Picturewritings, and in many ways continue to impact, the church, theology and, in Hildegard’s place, music, yet lived during a time when most people, not to mention women, were illiterate. Of course there are many more (really these are just two of so many more within Christianity and outside of Christendom), so go do some research and get reading.

3. Acknowledge the fact that women get less credit, (and less pay) than men

This is not the product of a bygone era. Women still are regularly paid substantially less than men for performing the exact same task. They are also less likely to be promoted and generally have a steeper climb than men do. This is despite laws designed to prevent this sort of thing from happening. You may disagree about whether a woman should work out of the home or not, but if she is working, it is hard to make a case that her work is somehow less valuable for any reason other than the fact that companies can get away with it.

4. Realize that there is a negative double standard for women

This is related to the work issue, but goes beyond it. Women who spend lots of time in the office are considered neglectful of their families, while those who spend more time with their families are seen as less committed. In contrast, men who do these same activities are viewed as either driven or “family men.” Beyond the workplace, though, there is a different standard for sexuality. Men who are sexually promiscuous or who look at pornographic images are seen as subject to biology beyond their control or somehow just being manly. Women, however, are viewed as…well I try not to use that sort of language on this blog.

5. Understand that modern slavery disproportionately affects women

More people are kidnapped or born, bought and sold, or currently held captives as slaves today that at any point in history previously. Exact numbers are difficult to pin down, but roughly 80% of those in slavery are little girls and young women put into prostitution or other forms of sexual slavery. This is the disgusting and cold hard fact of our world. I currently live in Houston, the American Capital for human trafficking/slave trading/sex trafficking (with an international port, airport, and interstate highways close to an international border it makes it terribly suited for this sort of thing).

6. Work to end numbers 3-5

We should work to remove these disparities and end modern slavery. Not because these primarily affect women, but because they universally affect people. We are all created in God’s image and are all in need of God’s rescue. We should work to live out that equality in our lives.

For more on what you can do to end modern slavery see these organizations or find other reputable ones: Free the Captives, Free our City, and Houston Rescue and Restore.

4 Reasons I won’t be going to see “God’s Not Dead”

Let me set the record straight before I go any further. I am (obviously given the content of this blog) a Christian. I also used to be a huge fan of the Newsboys, and, when I was in High School, I likely would have gone to a movie liked this and encouraged others to do the same. That being said, I simply cannot advocate that anyone goes to see this movie for the following reasons:

1. It’s just a bad movie.

Unfortunately, as many reviewers have noted, the “Christian movie industry,” if there is such a thing, is doing poorly. They keep turning out mediocre or just bad movies. Stop! you might say, those reviews are from the secular media. Well here’s one from Crosswalk,  a site dedicated to providing Christian resources, news and devotional material for free. That review notes that there have been some good movies (like the animated “Prince of Egypt” and Terrence Malik’s “Tree of Life”), but most of them are just bad.

But don’t we need to support the making of Christian movies so that studies see them as a good investment and will spend more money on them? No. When evangelicals support mediocre movies, the only message it sends is that the quality of a movie doesn’t matter, evangelicals we go to see it no matter what. By supporting sub-par movies we are actually encouraging more subpar movies. If you want quality Christian movies, either get involved in making them, or only see those movies that are genuinely good.

2. It presents a caricature of philosophy

I am a philosopher and a theologian. My current dissertation (aka the reason I rarely update this blog) forces me to study, engage with, dispute, and agree with a wide range of philosophers. I am not, however, an atheist. When I first studied philosophy as an undergraduate student, many people from various churches told me to either “watch out” for it, or else that they were “praying for” me. In case you don’t know, my undergraduate degree was from the very conservative Oklahoma Baptist University. I did not become an atheist, and in many ways actually grew stronger in my faith as I studied these philosophers. Philosophy does not equal Atheism.

The movie would also have you believe that Richard Dawkins is the apex of philosophy. Richard Dawkins: Not being a PhilosopherThis may sound a bit insulting to Prof. Dawkins, but he barely understands what constitutes professional or academic philosophy. Dawkins is, or at least was at one time, an eminent biologist. Unfortunately he has devoted an obscene amount of his time recently to being a pop-philosopher. The vast majority of pop-philosophers could not handle anything beyond what most freshman learn in a first year philosophy course. Now, there is nothing wrong with not knowing anything about philosophy beyond Introduction to Philosophy (although I personally think everyone should take one or two philosophy courses beyond intro.), but to consider him a philosopher of any order beyond a college sophomore is just a mistake. It would be the equivalent of me taking one or two biology classes and then declaring myself to be a preeminent physician.

Additionally, it is a bit insulting to those who are philosophers. This includes Christian philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and Dean Zimmerman who are leaders in their fields, and also members of the Society of Christian Philosophers, which is a completely legitimate group whose members are also part of the American Philosophical Association (of which Dawkins is not a member). It also ignores the fact that no philosopher would want to “avoid the debate and jump straight to the conclusion” as the atheistic professor wants to do. Philosophy is the debate. This, of course, includes the fact that the phrase “God is dead” is not used by any legitimate philosopher today as a declaration of atheism. When Nietzsche used the phrase he was operating under the presumption of atheism, not arguing toward a point. For Nietzsche it was a lament that became a triumph for those who recognize it. It was not, however, his attack of Christianity (that can be found elsewhere).

3. The Non-Christian Characters are One Dimensional

Maybe this is a take off from points one and two, but I think it deserves its own mention. The reason for this is that many Christians have a very simplistic, uncomplicated view of those who are outside of the faith. As long as the religious “other” is viewed as a caricature kept at more than an arms length, there will be no radical transformation of those individuals. Christianity is not about conversion divorced from all else. It is about relationship, family, and citizenship. It is an invitation to a family, a marriage proposal of sorts, not a declaration of war or a debate to be won. The bible declares that “our battle is not against flesh and blood” and that instead we are invited into “the new covenant” in Christ’s blood. This is not the language of putting myself first or being comfortable for my own sake, but of sacrifice for the sake of others. We need, then, to acknowledge those who are not within the Kingdom of God as individuals in their own right.

This may mean that we admit that some atheists (perhaps even most atheists) are actually pretty moral people (or at least as moral as we profess to be). This may mean that we accept that not all who have turned away from the Christian faith have done so for traumatic reasons. This may mean that we note that fundamentalist Muslims are not the only ones who are intolerant of others and who would abuse children who deviate from their perception of the norm (spoiler alert: that happens in the movie). Christian families have kicked out children who have renounced their faith, or who have identified themselves as gay. What’s the difference between that and the girl who comes out to her Muslim father as an evangelical Christian? You can’t have a true and genuine conversation with someone about matters of eternal significance until you recognize them as a person and not an idea, a concept, an adversary, a talking point, or as in any way not created in God’s image just as much as you.

4. They made the wrong movie

If you have Dean Cain and Kevin Sorbo together in one movie, there should only be one reason: A Marvel/DC crossover movie:

Superman versus Hercules

For those of you who don’t know. Dean Cain used to play Superman/Clark Kent on the TV show Louis and Clark. Kevin Sorbo is perhaps best known as Hercules on a different TV show. I used to watch both of them. You may also not know that Hercules is a Marvel superhero and Superman is one for DC. Every now and then Marvel and DC do a crossover battle between their heroes/villains. Really, if you have Hercules and Superman in the same movie, this should be the only logical outcome. It would be Epic!

Man of Steel

Son of Zeus

Book Review: Activating the Power of the Cross

Today I’m review Tony Evans’ Book Activating the Power of the Cross. I’ll follow the same format as last time. I will note, here at the beginning, that I received a free review copy from Moody Publishers for the purposes of this review. If you want to purchase the book, go to your local bookstore or get it online here.

The book is organized into 4 chapters. The first one deals with keeping the cross as our primary focus always. The second one makes the argument that the cross (of Christ) is a source of genuine authority when so much of that is called into question. The third chapter points to the cross as an anchor in the storms of life. No matter how bad things get, we can have power in the midst of our trouble (i.e. Evans doesn’t make the claim that God simply removes us from our trouble, but that he gives us shelter in the midst of our trouble). The final chapter deals with our call to “come and die” as Bonheoffer famously put it, we identify with Christ in his suffering and death that we might be raised with him.

The Good

Tony Evans is unquestionably a master of illustration. The illustrations throughout are poignant, engaging, and really wonderful. Plus the overall message is one I can really get behind: the cross gives you victory even in the midst of defeat, so long as it remains in our focus.

The Bad

There’s not too much I actually disagree with. There are some things I would have done differently, but I’ll save those for the next section.

The Ugly

Although Tony Evans doesn’t ever come to a position that might be characterized as “health and wealth” some of his language could be interpreted that way by a less than careful reading. Especially the terminology of “activating the power” and getting victory now. I will say that just because some preachers use these terms to promote a mistaken theology does not mean we should avoid these terms, but I would have liked to see a little bit more elaboration and clarity on this point. The book is not very long, so there is space for that.

Recommendation

I’d say buy the paperback (5 out of 6). It’s a concise yet pointed read, and for illustrations one can really not do better than Tony Evans, but I grew up listening to his radio program in High School and College, so maybe I’m biased.

James 5:19-20 (Lent Readings)

This is the last of my James series. I’ll update the Calendar link to hyperlink each section to the appropriate reading as I have time. Let me kn0w in the comments if you’ve appreciated the series or what you would change.

Text

KJV Below (Link to NIV)

19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;

20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

Comment

In the book of Genesis, immediately after the sin of Adam is the incident of the first murder. In that account, the question is posed, one that presses us more than any question except the one concerning our relation with God and what to do with sin: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The response given here by James is: YES! Part of living in community, which is what the church fundamentally is, is watching out for others while they are in the fold, but even more so when they wander from it. We don’t give up on each other because the church is not a holy club, it’s a family. We are our brothers’ keepers, and they ours. We do not work alone. The priesthood of believers means that all Christians are (under the Great shepherd) simultaneously sheep and shepherd. And what we do now, how we act that out, has far reaching consequences.

Question

Have you ever failed in your duty to brothers and sisters who have wondered far? Have you asked for forgiveness? Have you tried to do anything about it since?

James 5:17-18 (Lent Readings)

Text

KJV Below (Link to NIV)

17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.

18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

Comment

As an example of what I spoke of yesterday, James points to the Old Testament prophet, Elijah. He prayed, and something happened. The implication is that his prayer, in some way, had an external and not merely internal impact. Now, in light of yesterday’s passage and the reality of our life, it should be noted that, being a righteous person was because he was following God’s will. It was God’s will to cause a drought and end it, for a very specific purpose. God was calling his children back and they needed to be woken up. Does this mean that if Elijah had prayed no such thing would have happened? I don’t know. I think either God would have worked in a different way, or found a different person, but my hunch is that to ask such a question is a mistake because this is the episode that marks the beginning of Elijah’s entrance into Scripture. We don’t know anything else about him before this. My hunch is that, if Elijah had not prayed, we would simply never have heard of him. That’s not to say that doing God’s will makes you famous, in fact it very often does quite the opposite, but it does mean that being in the will of God means our prayers have a real impact.

Question

Have you ever personally prayed, or known of someone who prayed, for something that seemed near impossible only to have it happen anyway? Who gets credit for it? The person praying or the One to whom we pray?

James 5:13-16 (Lent Readings)

Text

KJV Below (Link to NIV)

13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Comment

The main thrust here is that no matter what our circumstances, happy or sad, troubled or free, we should be in communication with God because it “availeth much.” However, this passage does raise some issues. What about the times I prayed in faith and the sick weren’t healed? Do I simply have to wait until they are “raised up” on the last day? On the one hand it is tempting to say that our prayers merely change us, but not God (I think C.S. Lewis said something similar), but that doesn’t seem to be the case with this passage. Here, it seems that our prayers do accomplish something. That it is important to bring others into the prayer and fervently pray. So how do we reconcile the disconnect? I don’t know for certain, but I have an idea. I think of it like I think of my relationship with my (still very young) children, after all, Jesus taught us to think of God as our Father. Now, when my kids ask me for something, I will do everything in my power to get it for them (or do it for them), at least most of the time. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have other plans, I very well may have and they were good plans, but there are certain aspects of those plans that can be done other times, or the particular aspects of which may be open to change (you want Strawberry Jelly instead of Grape? no problem). Yet, other times it is not in my children’s best interest for me to fulfill their requests. If they want another cookie at dinner, sometimes I need to say no because the sugar makes it hard for them to sleep, and they’ve really had a large meal. Sometimes it’s even trickier. For example, my daughter likes to get herself stuck in places and ask for help. Sometimes, I leave her there for a bit because a) she really can get it out and its good for her problem solving skills, or b) she needs to face (at least briefly) the consequences of her actions, or c) sometimes I’m doing something else. Now, I’m not suggesting God is ever busy doing something else, but I am suggesting that, in some way, perhaps a way we can’t see or even begin to comprehend (my kids don’t understand the complexity of sugar and how it affects sleep and future health issues), but that doesn’t mean it’s not for their betterment. Remember, we have a full eternity with God coming up, that’s the ultimate benefit of prayer. Sometimes, it may be in our best interest, in a way we can’t begin to fathom yet, for God to say “no,” even for our fervent prayer. Yet in that prayer, the “no” is still for our betterment.

Question

Have you ever had God say “no”? What might that situation look like if you put it in terms of a young child to a parent who says “no”? Do you think that our relationship with God can still be improved through the “no” answers that God gives to our prayers? In what ways?

James 5:10-12 (Lent Readings)

Text

KJV Below (Link to NIV)

10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

Comment

Now, near the end of the letter, James reminds those to whom he writes that the end of days is near (in light of the resurrection we are always in the last days). And in light of the eminent presence of Christ we are encouraged to endure in the midst of persecution, just as the prophets who were each intimately acquainted with God in the Old Testament. And that even Job, who may not have enjoyed the same intimacy as even the prophets, could endure, so much more should we. The final verse, which at first glance looks out of place, is an attempt to make it more practical. Rather than a legalistic rule to follow (as some do, particularly those who have problems with pledges and oaths in court), this is a principle in the face of persecution. All too easily those being persecuted could have found ways to avoid their persecution by deceiving those who were against them, only they thought it was not sin if they did not technically lie. Rather, James is encouraging them to be courageous. They need not hide who they are (as this ploy would likely be discovered), or make odd oaths as certain Pharisees and Sadducees were (swearing by the gold of the alter rather than the alter, etc) whom Jesus criticized. Instead, the Christian should be marked by integrity in all things, particularly in the face of persecution.

Question

Do you experience persecution? How does it compare to that of the prophets, most of whom were killed? If they can endure theirs, does it help you to endure yours? Have you ever been tempted to hide your faith to avoid persecution? How did you feel about your actions if you gave into the temptation?

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