I Hate Writing Sermons

~ the confession of a seriously ADHD sermon writer ~

 

The sermon wrestles you as you wrestle it.
Against me, the sermon usually wins. And I hate it.

I don’t mean that the sermon wins in a sanctified sense where the gospel confronts me and I’m changed by amazing grace. No. More like, I hate writing sermons because I am defeated by the whole process.

I don’t write my sermons out.  To do so would be to re-write the entire Bible along with the entirety of human existence and all the possible objections to everything I would say in the process of the previous two. It is exhausting because it is exhaustive.

You could say I’m lazy. I would.

I hate writing sermons because my mind snaps back and forth between possible roads of explanation, possible ways of understanding impossible grace, ways of objecting to and twisting God’s gift, all the ways of living the new life in Christ. Where does one start? Where does one end? Why begin writing? My mind grinds to a halt because I even start. It’s hopeless.

You could say I’m undisciplined. I would.

I hate writing sermons because it is easy to write a bad sermon. But who wants to do that?  I need a set structure and process. But then I forget to use it, or there are all these exceptions, or this text doesn’t really fit, or I’m bored with that structure, or… You get the picture.

So you could say I’m unfocused.

I hate writing sermons because I refuse to think of discipleship as “paint by numbers” where you just proclaim another law for people to follow, telling them what to do week after week.   I want to actually pay attention to the text and mine the experiences of my life and the life of others, their hopes and fears and dreams and terrors (all of which I actually suck at). AND THEN I have to listen to the Spirit for how redemption is at work through this particular text for this particular people.

I probably hate writing sermons because my standards are too high, my expectations are too high. (Is that comforting, arrogant, or both?)

Yes, I probably should end this confession by remembering that God works through all things, takes what little we have to offer to bless others. And I know and believe that.  And I know that results of a “good” or “faithful” sermon (by whatever metric or understanding you want to use) can only be seen by God.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t still hate writing sermons.
It just means I love all the other stuff more.



(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.)

In All Things, For God’s Glory

Obviously my mind is stuck on the theme of God’s glory (see previous posts here and here).

Which way does God’s glory flow? Back to God? Or out from God?

This is today’s question.

The glory of God’s keeps bouncing around in my mind as I feel out objections to the view I’m often put forward.  Why do people so quickly connect God’s glory to other concepts like “honor” and “reputation” and “praise”?  Not that any of those are bad when talking about God. I’m just not sure God cares about them as much as some claim or that these concepts are directly connected to the idea of God’s glory.

But 1 Cor. 10:31 was sticking with me when I woke up.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for (or to) the glory of God.

This seems a straightforward proof text that our lives are for God’s glory, for giving God honor and praise. And the next short step is that God is seeking God’s glory at all times, and we are to join him in this work, the work of glorifying God.

Now it is that second step that really bothers me—that God is seeking God’s glory—, but that is another large issue. Let’s just return to this text.

In What Things?

What is the context here?

Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to “flee from idols” (v. 14). He then links this to the Lord’s Table (vv. 15-17). The cup and the bread is a “sharing” or “participation” in the blood and body of Christ. Surely, Paul says, we cannot partake of Christ and partake at the table of idols!

This naturally shifts to a comparison of the sacrifice of Christ and the food sacrificed to idols (vv. 18-22). If we are partaking of the food of Christ then we can’t partake of the food offered to idols.

Paul ends by turning to God’s jealousy (v. 23). This is a common enough theme in the Old Testament.  Idol worship provokes God’s jealously because God is like a husband to Israel, but Israel takes the good gifts God has given his bride and offers them to others (to idols). She is cheating on God and God is jeolous (now this is not the time to discuss how God’s jealous and anger—even wrath—fit into all this…that’s also for another time).

So the context for the “do everything” statement is that of idolatry, but also the context of the Eucharist, and the implicit context of temples—God’s are worshipped in temple, but the church is now the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:9; Eph. 2:21).

Glory of God

So what does the “glory of God” mean in this context, toward which, or for the purpose of which, we do all things?

Too often we see the flow of “glory” as returning to God, as something “for” God—as if God was in short supply.  When we look at glory this way (usually in reference to honor and reputation) then we think of “in all things” or “do everything” being all our work and actions oriented toward bringing or giving honor or esteem to God.

But what if we turned it around, and the flow of glory was outward?

God’s glory most often refers to the visible manifestation of splendor. God’s glory is God’s overwhelmingly majestic presence. God’s glory is something that goes out from God for the amazement and wonder of other, of all creation (and yes, it often is a threat to others, but after Christ—as Paul well knows—God’s glory is not a threat to those in Christ).

With this in mind, to do all things “for or to” God’s glory is to do them so that God’s splendor is manifest to others. When Paul talks about whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols (vv. 23-30) he ends with the concern that “they may be saved” (v. 33).

This is the goal of mission, and the purpose of God’s glory manifest in the world—that they might be saved.

Why we were made

So, if l may be so bold, the purpose of God’s glory—and our purpose for everything we do— is not upward but outward.

And this is what humanity was made for, to be God’s image in the world, the visible, tangible manifestation of God.  And when we properly image God (in Christ) then God’s glory is known through us.

Which, returning back to idols, is the main problem. It is not just that humanity is supposed to worship God that makes idolatry so odious. It’s that humanity IS God’s idol in the world. Humanity is the idol that God made to show forth God’s glory in the world.


(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.

Glory

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).

God’s Glory? On the Nashville Statement

“Many deny that God created human beings for his glory.” ~ Preamble to Nashville Statement.

I have a bunch of thoughts about the Nashville Statement released last week and how it positions itself within the American sexuality and identity. But for now I just want to focus on a typical statement from the preamble.

The focus on God creating humans “for his glory” is very typical among this crowd. And “for his glory” has a very specific meaning which, I think, leads to some of the other disastrous positions and postures evident in the document.

For this crowd, that humanity is made for God’s glory is mean to highlight and emphasize God’s sovereignty, power, and majesty in comparison with all creation.  It is mean to be an affirmation that God is Creator and all else should be put in it’s proper place.

But—and this is a “but” this crowd would deny—but we see it plainly in the Nashville Statement, this view all too easily also includes a debasing of humanity to a merely instrumental status.

What does that mean?

It means the worth and dignity of humans are only instruments—or tools—for God to receive glory. And often pastoral cares is equivalent to reminding people that everything in their lives—their hopes, struggles, fears, and dream—is either increasing or decreasing God’s glory.

But when our theological systems implicitly instrumentalize humans, then our theological statements will also instrumentalize humans.

Too often the desire to put everything in it’s place before God (theologically) tips toward “putting them in their place” (practically…think of subordinationism in marriage and the Trinity).

I often say that stating your theological conviction IS NOT the same things as offering pastoral care.  But when you have a instrumental view of human beings (coupled with an overly cognitive view of faith as affirmation) then shooting out a document like the Nashville Statement seems perfectly reasonable.  

If we are going to base theological statements as “for God’s glory” then we need a different way of understanding this. And thankfully there is a different way that does not tend (even if inadvertently, even if they best of that tradition doesn’t do it) toward instrumentalizing us.

I’m turn to that tomorrow.

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

20 for 20

While on sabbatical I began writing a book with my wife about how “God with us” is the MAIN thing, how everything—how we read the Bile and how we live our lives—needs to flow in and out of God coming to dwell with us.

But during this writing process and sabbatical I’ve come to realize two things: 

  1. I really enjoy writing (for all sorts of reasons)
  2. I don’t really know what I’m doing when I write

The second needs more explanation.

Basically, I know how to write academically. I’ve been fairly successful at that. But frankly, that stuff is boring (well, not for me, I love it and love to do it, but it’s boring for most people).

The problem is I don’t really know how to write in a non-academic way.

What I mean is that I don’t really—like really, really—know my own “writing voice”.  While writing with Cyd this summer I would go in and out of my “academic voice” and then my “classroom” voice and then my “more casual church teaching-preaching voice.” And all of those are fine, but as I embrace a vocation as a “writer” I need to fine my voice.

And I can only do that more writing, and writing, and writing.

So to that end I’m pledging to write every weekday for 20 minutes (or up to 200) words for 20 days.  Hence my “20 for 20” title.

I would love have you all stick around and give me feedback about how it goes and what you observe and find interesting. Of course I’ll be posting everything on Facebook and Twitter, but if you think you might miss those, please subscribe to the blog on the right sidebar under “Don’t Ever Miss A Post.”

Usually I write about theology, and the Bible, and politics, and stuff like that. But over the next month I’m going to give myself permission to writing about whatever—even if it is just how annoying our cats can be sometimes. I hope that is OK.

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. http://lifehacker.com/the-best-ways-to-contact-your-congress-people-from-a-f-1788990839
  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.

www.mbird.com/2016/12/westworld-and-the-myth-of-christmas/

Subordination and #AltonSterling

I was about halfway through another post talking about theology and the Trinity and why claims for the “eternal subordination of Son” makes for bad theology.

And then I saw the new about #AltonSterling, another black man shot by white police.

And so I wrote this instead, because I couldn’t finish the other post…(it is 1am, Wednesday morning)

___

I’m mad. I’m really mad. I tried to go to bed but I just couldn’t.

I’m mad at my people, the evangelicals. I’m mad at conservative evangelicals who think they are just talking about a doctrine of God when they speak of the Son submitting to the Father. They think they are just (just?) talking about gender differences between women and men and why women should submit to men.

But conservative evangelicals, YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT POWER!

Every time you talk of authority and submission you are talking about power, and you therefore are not just talking about gender but also race, race relationships and racism. When you talk about power in any way you must understand that you are talking within a culture of white power, white privilege, even white supremacy.

I read a Bible where authority is always giving itself away. God hands over creation to his image bearers, giving them authority in all things. And when we screwed it up God does not demand obedience again, but entered as a SLAVE (Phil. 2:7) and became obedience himself (he who was Master would rather become a Slave than forcefully assert his rights as Master, so that all could be free and become children of God). That is the story I read.

From the conservative while male theologians (who I believe are not outright racists) to the pastors conferences they plan, to the pastors they teach, and then to the people (who often are racists) these ideas of authority and submission take shape and create a culture, a culture of expected deference to authority by “equal” people who are nonetheless expected to be “submissive”. And this expectation of submission to authority then blames the victims like #AltonSterling when something happens by the authorities, by the police.

I am angry about all this.

I am angry that white conservative theologians are so numb, ignorant, or blind to the fact that these ideas of “authority/submission” are continually used to denigrate women and minorities as they hide behind walls of abstraction and Biblicism (and I’m all for the Bible, but I see a very different story than they do). It is not enough to say “We are trying to be biblical” when those made in God’s image are being shot those in “authority”, especially when He who is the Image of God would rather himself die so that all might live.

Like it or not, these doctrines ARE causing incredible amounts of social apathy among white conservative evangelicals who are tempted to say “Well, if you just submit to authority then you won’t get shot.” Are we supposed to think that just like the Son submitted to the Father so too every black man should submit white police officers, or more likely, white police officers feeling like a black man should submit to them in every way, in excess of the law and trampling their rights?

“We are trying to be biblical by affirming authority and submission in the Trinity.” That is convenient that you are placing yourself as the authority of Scripture and not submitting to 2000 years that are in direct contradiction of your position. Why not submit to the church? And even those white conservative evangelicals who do not support this position of the Trinity, you still have fallen under the spell of submitting to authorities and turned a blind eye to our fellow black brothers and sisters. We (evangelicals) are all complicit! (Please see Divided by Faith and Disunity in Christ)

And so I am sorry.

I am sorry that I haven’t been more angry and more outspoken.

I am sorry to my Black friends, colleagues, and students that I haven’t been more urgent in exposing the dangerous theology and practice of the white evangelical community. That I haven’t been more bold in naming what is so obvious.

As one who claims an evangelical heritage, I often attempt to call evangelicals back to their better selves, their true traditions of spiritual conversion linked with social transformation. I am sorry that I have been too timid with the faults of persistent racism and white privilege.

I am sorry. Please forgive me.

Let our orthodoxy be known through our orthopraxis, otherwise we are noisy gongs and clanging symbols.

 

God’s love is coming; and so is his justice.

Lord, have mercy on us

Christ, have mercy.

 

Amen.

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.