At-home-ment: Born Again in the Bible

We need to change our understanding of being born-again. And we need to change our emphasis on atonement.

“You’re a ‘born-again Christian’, right?”

I was asked this while at O’Mei, a fine dining Chinese restaurant I worked at through college.

My first thought was, Aren’t all Christians born-again?  But I said, “I don’t know. What do you mean?”

There, in the back room of O’Mei my religious understanding of Christianity in America changed.  My co-worker had just taken a sociology class on “Born-Again Christian Religion in America.”

But I didn’t know what a “Born-again Christian” was. I thought every Christian emphasized the need for adult conversion, the deep spiritual crisis brought on by consciousness of sin, resolved through faith in Jesus who died to forgiveness our sins.

In those years of college I was slowly learning that was an evangelical, a ‘born-again Christian’ who believed I needed to made a decision for Christ and believe with my heart in order to be saved.

Born-Again Atonement

Being ‘born-again’ roughly consists of two major movements (depending on which evangelist or tradition you come from).

First, you need to become aware of your sin and the consequences of sin.  This usually entails fiery illustrations used to scared the hell out of you, or to put the fear of hell in you.

Second, you needed to have faith in Jesus to forgive your sins because he had paid the penalty for your sins. He paid the penalty by dying on the cross as a substitute for us.

This is the “penal-substitutionary” view of the atonement (a theological word I wouldn’t learn until seminary a couple years later).

Atonement = At-one-ment

Atonement is a funny word.

It is an English word created—yes, it was created—in order to translate the Greek words for sacrifice for the King James Bible.

People often break up the word “atonement” as “at-one-ment” to emphasize how the sacrifices bring people into relationship with God. They are now “one” with God.

We usually think this is just a cute preaching device to teach a concept. But funny thing, this is EXACTLY what the word means!  It was created to mean coming to be “at-one” with God.

Trouble with Atonement

The trouble with focusing on the idea of atonement is that the process of often overwhelms the purpose.

We now have so many atonement theories, so many mechanisms for explaining what Christ’s death accomplishes, and so many disagreements about what is “most important”, that we often forget the goal of atonement.

And the goal of atonement is union with God, it is to live with God.

Born again into a new family

To be “born-again” is a fairly rare concept in the New Testament (though you might not know this in certain conservative circles).  It shows up in John 3:3-7 and in 1 Peter 1:3 and 1:23.

From use in evangelical circles “born again”, one might think it means individual salvation from the consequences of sin. But this is wrong.

Being “born again” is a family term.  It emphasizes one entering into a new family and living in a new household, a new home.  To be “born again” is to enter God’s new home and live with God.


John H. Elliott says that one of the main themes in 1 Peter is the “at-home-ment” accomplished by God. In Jesus we can now approach God, live in God’s home, and call God Father.

Through God’s at-home-ment we live with God and God lives with us. 

Now, if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you know that “God with us” is a major theme for me.  In fact, I think it is the theme the holds the entire Bible together, and indeed, it is the fabric of salvation itself—and the cosmos too.

(In fact, if you Subscribe to the blog I’ll send you the first chapter of a book I’m writing with my wife about all this “God with us” stuff.)

Two Things

So I submit before you two things for consideration.

  1. Being “born-again” is all about salvation, but not salvation through some atonement theory.  It is salvation through entrance into a new family and a new home.
  2. We should focus less on theories of atonement and more on practices of at-home-ment—”at home” with God and “at home” with one another.

How would a focus on at-home-ment change your understanding of the Gospel, of life, and the church? (Non-rhetorical question. I would love to hear your thoughts).

If this post has been helpful or thought provoking, please consider sharing it. Thanks.

4 Reasons Salvation is Coming…Not Going

Going Home

Believe it or not, in eighth grade I wrote a song called “Home.”

It was all about “going home” to heaven, finally being with God.  It was actually pretty good. In was an 8-bar blues song in the key of “C” with decent lyrics (for an 8th grader). I can still play it on guitar, but I’ve lost all the words—I’m sure you bummed.

Of course, given my evangelical-fundamentalist upbringing it is no surprise I viewed salvation as going home to heaven.  The Rapture was going to whisk us all away. The earth was going to burn. And we needed to get everyone into the raft before Jesus came back and all was lost (yes, I know that is mixing metaphors of flood and fire, but hey, that’s what I was given).

Of course there are passages of the Bible that seem to suggest this—that we will leave this place and go somewhere else.

And for many that is GOOD NEWS.  Because, well, this place can kind of stink.  Many people can not find a home, a place to belong, or a place for love and welcome.

So, we’re going home!

Coming Home

But what if we aren’t going home.

 What if our home is coming to us?  

What if God had always made earth our home and will make it our home again?

This would fundamentally change the direction of salvation. Salvation is not about “us getting back to God” with a little help from God. Rather, it’s about “God coming back to us.”

So, really quick, here are 4 reason salvation is “coming”, not “going.”

4 Reasons Salvation is Coming

  1. The Biblical Bookends Say So

    Genesis opens with God creating a home for humanity in God’s presence. And this home is here.  God created all things as a cosmic-temple of his presence. In addition to this, God walked and talked with humanity in the garden-temple of his presence. 
    And in Revelation, at the end of all things, we hear of heaven coming down to earth. And heaven comes so that God can dwell with humanity forever.If heaven is the place God lives, then every passage that speaks of heaven as somewhere else must be provisional, not final.
  2. God comes to Israel With the call of Abraham and the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, to the building of the tabernacle and temple, God comes to his chosen people. And when God comes there is salvation and life.The entire life of Israel is marked out by the fact that God lives with them. The sole purpose of the Law was to facilitate the presence of God among his people.
  3. Jesus is the who comes as sentJesus, the Son of God, is sent to us as one of us. He comes to “dwell among” us as the “tabernacle” of God (John 1:14).  Jesus comes declaring the kingdom of God and his ministry makes it present. In Jesus, heaven is coming to earth in forgiveness, in healings from sickness, in deliverance from the powers.In Jesus salvation has come to us.
  4. The Church comes as sentAnd finally, like it or not, the church comes with the presence of God.It is no small thing that they church is called the “body of Christ” or the “temple of the Holy Spirit.”  These both indicate the place where God dwells (in a primary sense, although God of course is in all places and times—which is a comfort to all who suffer in secret).

Home Coming

The real question is, Are you welcoming God home in your life right now?

And the next question is, Are you living as a home for others?

(This post it is part of my “20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days.  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here.)

Be More Interesting, Get Angry

If I were angry then I would be interesting.
And if I were outraged I’d have something to say.
And if I have a complaint, well, then I would complain.

Then I would be interesting too.
I’d have opinions, information, enemies, and allies.

Because anger propels opinions and information.
Anger generates enemies and allies.

And all of this is so interesting!

Anger is bold, original, and inspiring.  It isn’t complacent, commonplace, or cooped up. Anger is free and unencumbered, standing against the status quo.

Anger challenges the system, sticking it to the man, daring to speak the truth—whatever truth that might be.

And all of this is quite entertaining—even if you disagree.

Especially if you disagree!

If you are repulsed by inane anger, if you’re above all that ignorant rage, then you too will be interesting.

Just point furiously point out every idiot around you, their faulty assumptions and their flawed logic.  Marshall your powerful insight to expose . Deploy your superior intellect to destroy the inferior imbeciles.

That’s how you find what to say, by focusing on what you are angry about.

So much to say.

Even when you have nothing original, constructive, or creative to say, you can angrily talk about what others are angrily talking about and—presto!—Now you are interesting, now you have a following, now you have an audience.

Why so angry?

Sure, you can ask this.

But, I say, “Why aren’t you more angry?”

There is so much to be angry about. The unacknowledged micro-aggression, the essential doctrine that’s been rejected, the slippery slope someone’s falling down, the privilege that’s been overlooked, or the slight that needs to be rectified.

Yes, especially the affronts that require a retaliation.  Those are the most interesting.

And interesting is what we’re after, right?

Otherwise we’d be so bored, with nothing to click on, nothing to skim through, nothing to be marginally informed about, informed enough to get angry about.

So, I’d be more interesting if I were angry. And then you would listen to me. And I would be someone.

If I could just be someone…

(This post it is part of my “20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days.  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here.)

Human for Our Sake: 3 Reasons Jesus’s Humanity is Important

Forgetting Jesus’s Humanity

When we don’t remember the humanity of Jesus we tend to forget our own.

Pastors and theologians are quick to emphasize the humanity of Jesus, that he is the full revelation of God, that he manifests God’s glory, that he embodies God’s presence in the world—all of which I of course agree with.

But when we emphasize these to the neglect of Jesus’s humanity we miss fertile pastoral and theological ground.  When Jesus’s humanity is only an instrument—a disposable one?—then we tip toward an instrumental view of our own humanity. Or worse, we can view others this way.

Here are three reasons the humanity is just as important as his divinity.

3 Reasons for the Humanity of Jesus

1) God is fully with humanity.

God fully with humanity, in fellowship and friendship, and intimacy and intensity, was always the God’s plan. The incarnation was not “plan B” after the Fall. While it would take a bit to unpack biblically, God’s plan for creation and humanity was always to dwell with humanity. This is the story from Genesis to Revelation.

And it only makes sense that this full dwelling of God among humanity would include the incarnation of God at some time.  The course of humanity placed it firmly in the realm of death and destruction. And for that reason the incarnation also included the crucifixion (and resurrection!). But that was not the plan. But the plan was always to be come human.

Affirming the humanity of Jesus means affirming God’s full intention to dwell with us—not up in heaven, but down here on earth.

2) Salvation is in and through humanity.

As the classical formula goes, “What is no assumed is not saved.” If Jesus is not fully human then who and what we are is not fully saved.

If Jesus is not fully human then Jesus only saves a part of us.  And too often this some “spiritual” part. If God only saves the spiritual part of us then we can dispose of our bodies, of our those parts we are ashamed of, those parts that don’t make the cut. This means salvation leaves out entire areas of our lives.

But if Jesus was fully human then there is hope and redemption for everything about us. Nothing is “too human” for God to renew.

3) God is always working through humanity.

That Jesus if fully human reminds us that God is always working through humanity. Humanity is the chose means by which God gets things done.  From Adam, to Abraham, to all of Israel, God’s chosen means of working is through humanity.

And not just generic humanity. But specific humanity. God calls Abraham from his home. God raises up Israel and places Israel in a specific place. God is born in a Jewish body. I could do on.

And not only specific humanity, but the marginal, the meek, the powerless.

Human for our sake

So God takes on our skin of flesh, as Augustine says. God, who once provided Adam and Eve with “garments of skin” (Gen. 3:21), now takes on the garment of human flesh. Not so that he can then take it off later and save us all from our humanity.


Jesus comes not to save us FROM  our humanity, but saves us FOR our humanity.


How have you seen the neglect of Jesus’s humanity?
What have been the practical and pastoral results?
What are other reasons we must keep the humanity of Jesus before us?

(This post it is part of my “20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days.  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here.)

Church Stats: Advanced Analytics

The baseball playoffs are approaching and teams are drilling into their advanced analytics to scout the strengths and weaknesses of potential opponents.

In honor of this great time of year, I bring you “Church Stats: Advanced Analytics” (developed through a fabulous team somewhere on Facebook, but I can’t find the thread—how’s that for giving credit).

Stat Categories

As a review, there are three major categories we track with our sophisticated stats system:

  1. Service Time: This is a measure of the length of service.
  2. Preaching: This measures the quality of the preaching.
  3. Worship (or “Musical Worship” for those who would remind us that all of life before God is worship). This measures the exuberance of the worship and how it is led.

Service Time:

Service Time stats are pretty straightforward.

  • LOSS: This is the “Length of Sermon and Songs” stat recording how much time is LOSS(T) each Sunday.
  • SOT: “Starts on Time” average. You can judge the relative age of the congregation by this stat (there is a High/High or Low/Low correlation, the congregation is high in age if the average “Start on Time” is high, and the reverse).
  • FOT: “Finishes on Time” average. You can judge how committed to the NFL a church is by looking at this time.

Preaching Quality:

  • SAL: “Sermon Average Length”
  • VEPS: “Verses Per Sermon”

The previous well established stats help you know if a church is liberal or conservative. A low SAL and VEPS mean you are liberal and a high SAL and VEPS means conservative (although, some of our younger preachers are turning this stat on its head. So we started developing more advances stats).

  • PAR: “Preacher Above Replacement” basically calculates how many people join or leave a church because of the preacher (regardless of SAL or VEPS).
  • EX-EIS Ratio: This is the “Exegesis vs. Eisegesis Ratio.” It compares—in relation to how many verses are expounded—whether the preacher is preaching the “word of God” or mere human tradition.
  • SWAT: “Sermons with any Tears” (developed especially for David Fitch)
  • APS: “Amens Per Sermon” (applicable only for non-white congregations)

(Musical) Worship

Here are the more standard metrics for distinguishing between a traditional and contemporary church.

  • VPHY (pronounced Viffy): “Verses Per Hymn”. This stats allow you to know whether a church is singing all 7 verses of “All Creatures of Our God and King” or not.
  • HI(cu)PTS: “Hymns Included Per Total Songs”. If this is above .500 then you are definitely in a traditional church. Usually you are looking for a .10 (or 1 hymn for every 10 songs, which included having contemporarized/rewritten a hymn). But watch out for “hipster” or “retro” church which are not traditional but could have almost .450 HI(cu)PTS.

Now this is where we have gotten very experiment, but we think there is much fruit to be gleaned if these stats are applied properly, especially for the more charismatically inclined.

  • SLEAPS: “Song Leader Emotive Average Per Song”. This includes pre- and post-song statements, in song encouragements, and all inarticulate verbalizations (whether in “tongues” or not).
  • HaLELU: “Hands Lifted or Elevated & Loudness Unit”. This measures the congregational response to the musical worship (because it is assumed everyone on stage is already lifting hands and being loud).

In Development

  • TOMS: “Tatoos On Main Stage”
  • WIMS: “Women in Ministry Status”, not to be confused with just WOS, or “Women on Stage”.

Please add your own below. We would love to build out our analytic approach to church growth.

(This post it is part of my “
20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days.  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here.)

Made for God’s Glory? another on the Nashville Statement

Is there a better way to understand the idea that God made us for his glory?
Yesterday we focus at this phrase from the Nashville Statement:
“Many deny that God created human beings for his glory.” ~ Preamble to Nashville Statement.
I ended my post asking this question. And, “Yes,” there is a better way.


In the Old Testament, the main understanding of “glory” when applied to God is God’s visible splendor, or God’s overwhelming presence.
Where God’s glory IS there is God’s presence.
We see this in God’s appearance at Sinai when God’s glory rests on the mountain.  We see this with the construction of the tabernacle—God’s glory rests on it. The same with the Temple.
In Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God roaming the desert the idea refers to God’s presence. And in Ezekiel’s vision of the glory leaving the Temple—this also refers to God’s presence.
Indeed, the psalms and prophets speak of God’s glory filling the earth and the heavens. This can only mean God’s presence—an overwhelming display of splendor when God is near.

Made for Glory

If we are to affirm that humanity is made for the glory of God, then this means we are made for the presence of God. We are made to dwell with God.
Now that is Good News.
And you know what else is good news?
That God’s main desire and main work in the world is to overcome whatever barrier keeps us from dwelling with God.
God is working to bridge the distance by coming to humanity, coming to us. From the call of Abraham, the raising up of Israel, the promises of David, to the send of the Son, to Jesus’s death and resurrection—God is coming to dwell with us.
This is the hope coming at the end of all things:
“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” (Rev. 21:3)

Glory and the Nashville Statement

What does all this have to do with the Nashville Statement?
If we have been made for God’s glory—meaning God’s presence—and if God is constantly seeking to to dwelling with us so we can dwell with him, then public statements like the Nashville Statement should be acts of hospitality and welcome.
If God longs for us to live with him then our theological statements should express this. Indeed, they should be expressions of God’s love with and for us and others.
Certainly we should not reduce God’s love and living with God to vacuous statements and platitudes. Living with God is rigorous work.  The Old and New Testaments are witness to this. And God’s presence demand standards of holiness and purity.  
But those proper concerns should not be elevated to a controlling theme in our theological systems.
Immanuel—God with us—should be our theme, our inspiration, or hope, and our joy. Nothing less. Nothing more.


(I know this is short, but it is part of my “20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days.  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here. I’m planing on expanding these two posts for Missio Alliance, so look for it there).

Are Evangelicals White? A Brief History

CEOs withdraw from Trump’s advisory councils because of the Presidents bankrupt statements about Charlottesville—maybe because of their moral backbone, but probably because of the financial bottomline. But so far no evangelical advisors have stepped down.

It makes people ask, “Are evangelicals really are just White?”
For some this is self-evident. Others vigorously deny it.

And statements like this by Jerry Falwell Jr. don’t help the cause of those trying to deny it.

So, are evangelicals white?

1976, the Year of the Evangelical

In 1976, pronounced the “Year of the Evangelicals” by Newsweek, Democrat Jimmy Carter won the presidency over Republican Gerald Ford. With each of them confessing to be “born again” Christians, Carter won with almost half of evangelical voters supporting him.

Only four years later evangelicals abandoned Jimmy Carter for Ronald Reagan. Opening his presidential campaign in the heart of Mississippi, Reagan presented himself as the “law and order” candidate advocating states’ rights, continuing the Republican “Southern Strategy” by obliquely cultivating racial fears while simultaneously courting evangelical voters. As Randall Balmer notes, throughout the campaign, Reagan operatives adeptly used “evangelical code language just as they had employed racially coded language in Mississippi.”

On the one hand, this quick reversal from Carter to Reagan confirmed the fears of black Christians who see evangelicals as merely a synonym for white, conservative Republicans. According to Anthony Bradley, associate professor of theology and ethics at The King’s College, evangelical leaders “sold out the mission of the church to win a ‘culture war.’”

Is this the Year of the Evangelical?

Thirty years later, 2016 could also be called the year of the Evangelicals. But this designation would be less congratulatory as white evangelical leaders fight with each other about supporting Trump. In the end, 4 out of 5 white evangelicals voted for Trump, prompting many to abandon the label altogether.

But on the other hand, evangelicals like Ed Stetzer contests collapsing the term to only meaning white conservatives. Formerly a Southern Baptist researcher and now the current Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center, Stetzer complains that “it’s not politics that unite all Evangelicals; it’s the gospel.” According to this broader, belief-based definition, many African American, Asian, and Latino Christians should be considered evangelicals.

And as alarming as it might be to some, recent surveys suggest the “evangelicalization” of American Christianity. As “self-identified Christians shrink and evangelicals have remained relatively steady,” says Stetzer, “American Christianity looks more evangelical year after year.”

But this kind of expansive definition seems rather self-serving as white evangelicals seek to distance themselves from the reality that 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump.

A focus on religious beliefs, rather than self-identification, effectively pushes out the far right white segment of the definition—by excluding those who identify as “born-again” but don’t regularly attend church—while also pulling in African American, Asian, and Latino populations who hold evangelical beliefs but don’t primarily identify as evangelical. A focus on beliefs conveniently diversifies evangelicalism but runs roughshod on how people identify themselves.

Pollsters looking at the same data see either a predominantly white religious segment with conservative political views, or they see a multicultural and politically diverse cross section of Christian America. “If we use a big-tent measure of evangelicals,” says Ryan Burge, instructor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, “we don’t find evangelicals to be different from other Americans. But if we use a measure based on what church people attend, then we find that there is an evangelical voter who is more likely to be politically conservative.”

So which definition is best when looking at evangelicals?

See also “Is Trump the End of Evangelicalism?”


Classical Evangelicalism

Examining the history of evangelicalism in America—rather than focusing on ideas or beliefs—is the best way to determine whether evangelicals should be considered primarily a conservative white expression of American Christianity.

Evangelicalism in America begins with the spiritual Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries. This classic period of evangelicalism—preceding the rise of fundamentalism by two hundred years—is best described as conservative Protestantism with a “revivalist twist.”

But this hope for spiritual revival also inspired a desire for social reform.

Celebrated revivalist Charles Finney and Jonathan Blanchard—the founding president of Wheaton College, a flagship evangelical institution—were both staunch abolitionists. And an evangelical feminism also flourished in the 19th century as women like Phoebe Palmer and Hannah Whitall Smith led revivals in America and Britain—a development continuing into the early 20th century with the rise of Pentecostalism.

Eminent historian of evangelicalism and professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, George Marsden observes that “in an era when social reform was not popular” it was evangelicals who modeled an impressive record of social service.

Evangelicals, before rise of fundamentalism in the 1920s, seamlessly united spiritual revival and social reform as a centrist movement balancing conservative theology and compassionate politics.

But the rise of fundamentalism within the US pushed evangelicals toward spiritual and social individualism. And the threat of Soviet Union outside the US pressed evangelicals toward a “Christian” nationalism. With the ascension of Soviet Communism and its militant atheism, evangelical-fundamentalists countered by championing a distinctively Christian American Capitalism. The political trinity of Christianity, American nationalism, and free-market Capitalism prompted evangelicals to abandon the work of social reform, leaving such service to the mainline Protestant churches.

This bifurcation of classic evangelicalism led, on the one hand, to evangelical-fundamentalists pursuing the spiritual revival of individuals while mainline Protestants, on the other, sought the political reform of society. As David Moberg notes, to this day each side “accuses the other of being untrue to the essential nature of Christianity.”

Evangelical Great Reversal

This rupture resulted in the “great reversal” of evangelicalism. Historian Donald Dayton notes how the previous champions of abolition came to resist the Civil Rights Movement, how an earlier evangelical empowerment of women came to oppose 1960s feminism, and how an original egalitarianism impulse succumbed to celebrity elitism. Dayton laments that since the 1920s a “great heritage of Evangelical social witness was buried and largely forgotten,” while its spiritual descendants reject as unbiblical activities clearly aligned with the early spirit of evangelicalism.

The abandonment of the Civil Rights Movement by self-described (white) evangelicals triggered the abandonment of black churches identifying as evangelical, creating the general impression that evangelicals are predominantly white conservatives.

But the spirit of classical evangelicalism—uniting spiritual revival and social reform—has not failed to haunt its children. There has always been a “moral minority” within post-fundamentalist evangelicalism promoting such integration. And even if they avoid the label, a growing number of mainline Protestants—and even Catholics—use evangelical terms to explain their faith.

This spirit of classical evangelicalism has always hovered between the extremes of conservative and liberal Christianity. Amid the chaotic waters of our bifurcated society, will this radical center emerge again?

The Spirit of Evangelicalism

Will this spirit breath life back into a three centuries old movement of multicultural and trans-denominational revival and reform? Or will it exhaust itself as the civil religion of white conservative Americans?

Are evangelicals white? It depends on which version prevails within the American religious landscape.

How to Connect with Congress regarding Refugees


Confused with Congress?

President Trump is not confused about his view of refugees. But much of congress IS confused whether they support Trump, especially Republicans.  The CHURCH, however, is not confused about refugees (see here, here, or here). As pilgrims passing through—looking forward to a better country (Heb. 11:13-16) and a City with gates the will never be closed (Rev. 21:25)—Christians should always opt for openness to refugees and immigrants. 

If you don’t know how or what to say, this is my letter and phone call to my Representative and Senators. Adopt and use them as you see fit. And please remember, the person you talk to or write should be treated with civility and respect.

This post is about 1) why and how to connect with your member of Congress AND 2) the letter and phone call I plan to make to Peter Roskam, my congressional representative (who happens to be a Republican). If you just want an idea of my letter and you already know how to connect with your Congress members, then skip to the “MY LETTER/CALL TO ROSKAM” section.


5 thing to know when connecting with Congress

  1. Why would you consider calling your congress member about the ban on refugees?
    • Participating in a democracy does not end with voting people into office, but entails continually informing your members about your views in regard to their actions and opinions.
    • Most House Republicans have not voiced an opinion on Trump’s executive order yet. We should help shape that opinion.
    • Evangelicals participating in a democracy, especially in having been a huge forces in electing members to Congress and the current President, should continue to exercise their influence in affirming or protesting the actions or inaction of congress members in relation to issues facing America.
    • We contact our congress members, not because we place our hope or faith in officials, but as of rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s within the political process in which we live (Matt. 22:21).
  2. Find your members of Congress (1 Representative by District; 2 Senators by State): Go here.
  3. Identify yourself (this is important especially for communicating with Republicans): If you are a Christian, then state that at the beginning of the call/letter. If you could generally be called an evangelical (even if you don’t use that term very often to describe yourself), then you should say, “I’m an evangelical Christian…”.  If you are a pastor or leader of a non-profit then mention that at the beginning because leaders of groups carry more weight than individuals.  For example, I will identify myself as “A pastor of an evangelical church in your congressional district…” (which doesn’t mean that I’m speaking for my church in an official way, but just that this is the vocation and title that I have).
  4. How to communicate: A 1-2 minute phone is the best way to make your concern known to members of Congress. Mail and email follow that. Social media is basically a waste of time.
  5. How many issues per call/letter? It is best to only cover one issue for each piece of communication. If you have 5 issues you want to bring up to your members of Congress, then write 5 letters or make 5 calls.


3 Reasons for Caring about Refugees

A fuller account is of courses needed, but here is a 3-part outline: love of God and love of neighbor, love of foreigners, love of Christ.

  1. When Jesus is asked what is the greatest command he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27), quoting from Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18. Jesus then gives the famous parable of the Good Samaritan (which could be updated as the Good Syrian Refugee) to explain who a neighbor is, commanding us to “do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
  2. It is interesting that later in the chapter of Leviticus that Jesus quoted from that we hear these words, not about our neighbors but about foreigners. “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34 NIV, see also Ex. 22:21; 23:9).  Just as in v. 10 we are told to love our neighbor as ourselves, now in v. 34 we are called to love the foreigner as ourselves. All of this is based in the identity that the Israelites themselves were once foreigners without a land and God came to rescue them from bondage and provide them with a home.
  3. Last is the famous parable of the sheep and the goats when God separates the righteous on account of how they treated Jesus as he came to them disguised as a stranger/foreigner/criminal: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:35).

My Letter to Representative Roskam

Representative Peter Roskam,

My name is Geoff Holsclaw. I am an evangelical pastor in your district (Illinois District 6).

I am deeply concerned that you have yet to state your opinion about or opposition to President Trump’s executive order creating a temporary ban on and extreme vetting of refugees.

Are you—and all Republicans—a prisoner of the president, unable to think or act beyond his prerogative? I hope not! You are certainly beholden to your own conscience and to the concerns of your constituency.

Last year my evangelical church began sponsoring a refugee family from Syria. We support this family because, as Christians, we believe in welcoming all people. And we support this family because, as Americans, we are all descendants of immigrants on see the continuing legacy of this land of opportunity.

As an American, I am deeply troubled that a country founded by immigrants and refugees would give into the baser instinct of fear and self-preservation. Our land of opportunity must continually look forward in hope, hope for ourselves and hope for others.

As a Christian, I am deeply disappointed that a fellow evangelical like yourself would shy away from “acting justly and loving mercy” in regard to “the least of these” who live without a home to return to.

I hope you will be a leader that will direct our country toward building a bigger table open to all rather than capitulating to one who is closing doors and abandoning ourselves to desolating solitude.

I eagerly await your view on this matter.

Sample Call

(Remember that a good intentioned staffer will answer who deserves our respect and courtesy)

Geoff: Hi. I’m a constituent of Congressman Peter Roskam. Can I please talk with a staffer who handles refugee and immigration issues.

(Staffer will probably check my address).

Geoff: I would like to know the Congressman’s view of refugees in American, and specifically his view on President Trump’s newest executive order to temporarily ban incoming refugees.

(Staffer may or may not know this view, if there is one)

Geoff: I would like Congressman Roskam to know that as an evangelical pastor (or evangelical Christian)…(insert points from the letter).

Geoff: I am very concerned about our President’s view of refugees and look forward to hearing how the Congressman will support a different approach.  Thank you for your time.

Westworld and the Myth of Christmas | Mockingbird

On Westworld and Christmas.  Here is my conclusion.

In contrast to this mythological framework, the Abrahamic faiths have no story of violence at the dawn of the world. Instead, the book of Genesis opening the Bible depicts the creation of all things in peaceful, even artistic, terms.

The same is true of Christmas. At its best Christmas speaks of peace. Christmas comes as a new mythology—a “myth which is also a fact,” as C. S. Lewis puts it—declaring peace to a world embroiled in violence.

Eternal Submission? Thinking (all the way) Through the Issue

(originally posted on Missio Alliance)

Imagine this preposterous exchange. At a party, I enter a conversation when I hear that someone else is a Giants fan. “I love the Giants,” I say. “Yes, I love how the Giants hit,” comes the response. “And how they get after the ball,” he adds. “I really like their helmets,” I reply, knowing that sounds weird. “Well, I have a man-crush on the guy who throws the ball,” he admits.

Who knew we could find so much agreement!

Then he asks, “How did you become a Giants fan?” “Well, I grew up in the Bay Area so it was only natural to become a fan of the San Francisco Giants. I’ve loved baseball ever since.”

“WAIT!” comes the shocked response. “I thought we were talking about the New York GIANTS, the FOOTBALL TEAM!

The small facts seemed to line up (the team name was right, people hitting things, wearing helmets, and chasing a ball). But in the end we were talking a different team, a different sport.

The Trinity, or the Trinity?

When it comes to talking about the Trinity, we often have conversations like this.

Are we talking about how God is working for our salvation, or who God is from all eternity? Are we talking about Scripture or early church Creeds (or both)? And if we agree the Creeds are important, do we understand them in the same way?

When it comes to the recent online kerfuffle about the Trinity and the Eternal Subordination of the Son, it is easy to think either “What’s the big deal?” or “There is nothing more important!”

So, what is the big deal?

Some (Bruce WareWayne GrudemDenny BurkMark ThompsonMike Ovey, Owen Strachan) want to say that in the Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit) there is an “Eternal Functional Subordination” of the Son (EFS), or an “Eternal Submission of the Son” (ESS), or that Father, Son, and Spirit consists of “Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission” (ERAS) (I stick with this last one). These believe they are being faithful to Scripture and adhering to the Creeds. Others (Michael Bird, Liam GoligherCarl TruemanDarren SumnerMark JonesScot McKnight) are concerned these views are not faithful to either Scripture or the Creeds (see this or this for a full summary).

“So, are you a fan of the Giants or the Giants?” is how this conversation has been proceeding.

For readers, these questions about the Trinity fall equally into the category of “There is nothing more important!” and “No big deal.”

Big Deal? Theologians teach a subordination in Trinity—Others say unfaithful to Bible and Creeds.CLICK TO TWEET

The Trinity: Nothing More Important & No Big Deal

In reality, there is nothing more important than the doctrine and experience of the Trinity. At the very bottom of it all, to the questions “Who is this God we love, worship, and serve?” the Trinity is the answers that says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). And that is really important!

But equally, this dispute is no big deal because those who support a view of the “Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission” (ERAS) are not so much wrong in their claims about Scripture and God. Rather, they are incomplete. The ERAS view needs to think ALL THE WAY through this issue according to Scripture, taking into account more passages than they normally do.

Let us, then, think along with those who affirm an “Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission” (ERAS). But also, let us think through all of Scripture and see where this leads us.

So, as a thought experiment, we will agree that speaking of “authority” and “submission” is proper of the Trinity because it is found in Scripture. But let us see where Scripture takes us as we think through the issue to the end. (Now, thinking through all of Scripture is not easy. It ask of us a persistent attention to detail and a seriousness of mind. Let us not take the easy way out and only read the passages of Scripture that affirm what we already think. Rather, let us submit to the full council of God, wherever it might lead us and not accuse others of scholasticism merely because we seek to understand all of Scripture rather than just a portion).

“Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission” is not so much wrong, but incomplete.CLICK TO TWEET

The Father’s Commanding Authority

The idea of ERAS comes from experience and from Scripture. It is claimed by several that a human father naturally has authority and his son naturally submits to it. Likewise, it is claimed, God the Father has authority and the Son submits, from eternity. Texts of Scripture seem to support this view (John 5:19 where the Son does only what the Father does; John 6: 38 where Jesus submits to the will of the one who sent him; John 14:31 where the Son does what the Father commands; 1 Cor. 1:28 where the Son gives all things to and is subject to the Father; 1 Cor. 11:3 where the Father is the head of the Son).

These seem rather clear and compelling. But let us think through, according to Scripture, the idea that the Father has authority over the Son. To do this let us ask questions about this authority the Father has over the Son.

How is this authority known or expressed by the Father to the Son?

The Son must know the will of the Father because the Father communicates it in some way (speaks or commands in some form from all eternity). The Father must communicate so the Son can know, submit, and obey. Now the speech or word of the Father is affirmed by all to be the Son who is the Word, the Word which was with God in the beginning (John 1:1-2), through whom God has spoken to us (Heb. 1:2). If the Son is the Word of the Father, as Scripture proclaims, and the Son submits to the authoritative Word of the Father, then the Son submits to himself, both as the authoritative Word of the Father and as the submissive Son. Now if the Son submits to himself then he is not submitting to another. And if the Son submits to himself it is best to say that he is free, or at least the he freely submits, making it fitting that Jesus is the leader and liberator of freedom, “for it is freedom that you have been set free” (John 8:36; Gal. 5:1).

If we think of the “Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission”, and indeed mean “eternal”, without beginning or end, or before or after, then within this freedom of the Son both to have “authority” and to offer “submission”, the ideas of authority and submission now cancel themselves out. To say the Son both eternally submit to and eternally has authority from the Father is to lose grip on the meaning of those words as they cancel themselves out.

In this way, by thinking through the issue, thinking all the way through according to Scripture, there is no controversy or innovation about the Trinity. Both authority and submission are cancelled out and all that remains is the eternal relation between Father and Son. And this is the case logically and ontologically, and biblically.

The Father’s Glorious Authority

Perhaps it will be said that the Father does not communicate authority by words or commands, but rather the Father perfectly and immediately manifests His authority before which the Son submits. Indeed, is this not just what the “glory” of the Lord is, the manifestation of God’s overwhelming presence, before which none can stand? Israel quaked at the presence of God in the think cloud and devouring fire when the glory of the Lord rest on Sinai (Ex. 24:16-17). And Moses could not enter the tabernacle because the glory of the Lord filled the place (Ex. 40:34-38). Likewise if we permit ourselves to speak this way, the Father’s glorious authority must compels the Son to bow in submission.

And certainly this is biblical. We see that the “God of our Lord Jesus Christ” is the “Father of Glory” (Eph. 1:17), who by his glory raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 6:4). And the Son seeks to glorify the Father by obediently finishing the work given to him, as is stated in John 17:4, when the Son says, praying to the Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” This indicates that the Father has glory and the Son both seeks to add to it and submit to it.

But let us again think through this according to Scripture. In John 17: 4 we hear Jesus glorifying the Father an obeying him, but in the very next verse we hear the eternal Son say, “Now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5).

What conclusion is to be drawn from this? When one says that the Son eternally gives glory obediently to the Father, we must immediately add that the Father gives glory to the Son. This is a reciprocal actions (two-direction; two-way), not a unilateral action (one-direction; one-way). And we must ask, “From where is the glory that is given from the Father to the Son?” (see John 17: 22,24) If this “glory” is a gift from the Father given to the Son, giving to the Son something he didn’t already have, then this would not be “from all eternity” or “before the world existed” (according to Scripture). If at one time the Son did not have this glory, and then latter did, then it is not eternal. It is for this reason the text plainly teaches that the Son already had this glory “before the world existed.”  So, even if the Father glorifies the Son, it is not that the Father is giving something that he didn’t already have. This is why John says “with the glory that I had” indicating the Son was not only given glory, but already had it. It is this glory which John speaks of when the Word became flesh when he says, “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the only Son of the Father” (John 1:14: ESV).

By thinking through Scripture we see that as the Father has glory, so too does the Son have glory. The Son both radiates glory and submits to glory. If this is the case, as Scripture indicates, the Father, in giving the Son glory, necessarily gives the Son an eternal share in the Father’s authority (even though the Son always already had this glory and therefore his own authority, if we assume that glory grants authority). Therefore, ontologically, logically, and biblically, the Father and Son give mutually glory to each other, such that speaking of the “authority” and “submission” of one to the other neither adds nor subtracts (except that we have added many lines of dialogue, argument, and proof) to what is already the common orthodoxy of all.

Is God Love?

At the end of the day, those who advocate for ERAS are not necessarily wrong in their views. Rather, they have not completed their thoughts concerning the Trinity. We have found that whenever “authority” and “submission” are filled out according to Scripture they become completely reciprocal (which is not in the nature of those terms). And if there is reciprocity in the application of the terms, but not in the terms themselves, then it is best to focus on different terms to discuss the eternal life of the Trinity.

Indeed, much of church doctrine has done just this, focusing on terms like love and light. Arriving at “God is Love” from the non-reciprocal and hierarchical terms like authority and submission is not impossible, but perhaps not worth the work involved or the possible misunderstandings.

Showing Your Work

But this discussion is important for two reasons (that will be explored in future posts).

  1. It highlights the many paradoxical statements in the Scripture need to be understood somehow together, requiring that theologians and biblical scholars “show their work” rather than just repeating the Creeds (which it seems every adheres to and therefore help little).
  2. It prompts us to attempt, as we read Scripture, to affirm both the unity of God and preserver the diversity of persons when considering the actions of God in salvation. This again is to “show the work” so critics don’t think you are just cheating.

The first leads us to the topic of interpreting statement about the Son according to his two natures (human and divine).

The second leads to the topic of “inseparable operations” of God and the “appropriation” of actions to particular persons of the Trinity (I know, “What is he talking about” is what you’re thinking).

And just in case I lost you all, we must in the end return to the topic of “God is love” and understanding the Trinity from this angle.