Evangelicals a Liberal Can Love

Nicholas Kristof, columnist for The New York Times wrote an opinion piece recently that takes liberals to task about their attitude toward evangelicals.

He writes,

"Liberals believe deeply in tolerance and over the last century have led the battles against prejudices of all kinds, but we have a blind spot about Christian evangelicals. They constitute one of the few minorities that, on the American coasts or university campuses, it remains fashionable to mock."

Citing evangelical pastor Rick Warren as an example, Kristof says,

"Today, many evangelicals are powerful internationalists and humanitarians — and liberals haven’t awakened to the transformation."

In a great statement about how liberals and conservatives need to get beyond entrenched politics, Kristof admonishes,

"Bleeding-heart liberals could accomplish far more if they reached out to build common cause with bleeding-heart conservatives."


Read the column here: "Evangelicals a Liberal Can Love" by Nicholas D. Kristof
Also, read Kristof's responses to readers of his column at his blog.

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Obama, Wright, Faith, Politics, and Race

This is an important and perhaps pivotal moment in American politics, American religious life, and American race relations.

As I listen to the left and the right (both in the secular realm and the Christian realm) react to the controversy over Barack Obama and his pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, I believe that we have come to the place in our nation’s history where we need to stop the inflammatory rhetoric and seek to understand and be understood. God has provided a unique kairos moment here: an opportune time to understand faith, politics, and race… and how they all interrelate in 21st Century America.

To review, videos of Jeremiah Wright, the pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ where Barack Obama is a member (and who married the Obamas and baptized the Obama children) started to become the fodder of the right-wing media. Sean Hannity of Fox News especially worked the story, recently stating that if Obama agrees with Wright, “that would mean a racist and an anti-Semite would be president of the United States.”

If you haven’t watched or read Barack Obama’s speech that deals with this issue, "A More Perfect Union,” given in Philadelphia on March 18, 2008, you can read the text of the speech and watch it here.

The Obama - Wright controversy brings to the forefront the question of the proper role of faith in politics. It also highlights the fact that our country is diseased by the factionalism of the Left-Right divide - all the two sides want to do is politically destroy the other side without seeking to understand and cooperate for the good of the country. The Obama - Wright controversy also highlights the fact that we have not overcome the issues of racism in our country - evident in how whites are so offended by the rhetorical style of a black preacher and how whites are shocked that there could still be "angry black men" who have "not gotten over the past." It is clear whites have a long way to still go in understanding the black experience.

All that being said, I want to focus in on the proper relationship between faith and politics.

This nation’s founding is based on a clear distinction between church and state (contrary to the pundits in some Christian circles of the “Christian Nation” myth).

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The entirety of this amendment tells us what our constitution sees as the proper roles for faith and politics: The government must have no role in “establishing religion.” It must also be careful never to hinder the “free exercise” of religion. In light of the rest of the amendment, this includes the preacher’s right to “freedom of speech,” and the church members’ right to “peaceably assemble,” to “petition the Government” to remedy or rectify grievances with the government, and to write criticisms of the government in publications (for the “freedom of press” applies to churches as well). In other words, the First Amendment recognizes that the nation's government must not infringe on the rights of its citizens. It is not "unpatriotic" to criticize the government, to publicly voice grievances with the government (whether in a sermon or in a article published in the press), or to gather a group of people to demonstrate the people's frustrations about the government. This is what is means to be American. It is a patriotic act to criticize the government!

This tells us the proper role of faith in politics: to be a prophetic voice; to clearly criticize the government for its wrongs and to admonish the government to move in a more righteous direction. We must state this clearly: As Americans, Christians have these rights according to the First Amendment.

We must also state this clearly: As Christians, it is our duty to exercise this right. The role of the faith community is to be that prophetic voice, to act as a dissenting voice whenever we deem that there is a need for one. We are citizens of both the Kingdom of God and the United States of America. We must never allow our loyalty to our nation trump our loyalty to our true King, Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is (according to the constitution!) a patriotic act to criticize the nation and its leaders. And it is a Christian act to do so when it or they act counter to that which God has determined ensures Shalom and Justice in the lives of human beings. When we read our Bible, we see that prophets have always called out the government for its corruption, for its oppression of the weak, for its wrongful use of military might, and for its unrighteous laws that do not fit with God’s good order for his Creation.

With that being said, different faith communities and different spokespeople will have, obviously, different understandings of what needs to be those prophetic statements. Depending on your reading of the Bible, your cultural circumstances, and your understanding of the pressing issues of contemporary culture, these statements will have different slants and nuances, and often times, totally different agendas.

Shortly after America was attacked on 9/11, Jerry Falwell appeared on the 700 Club with Pat Robertson and said, "The ACLU has got to take a lot of blame for this. And I know I'll hear from them for this, by throwing God – successfully with the help of the federal court system – throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked and when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America. I point the thing in their face and say you helped this happen." To which Robertson said, "I totally concur.”

Christians like Falwell, Robertson, John Hagee, and Rod Parsley see America as a Christian nation that was once pristine and God-honoring, but that now has gone pagan and thus is being judged by God because of the evil people who are taking us away from the good old days. God sends planes into the World Trade Center and a hurricane onto New Orleans to judge us (John Hagee said on NPR’s Fresh Air that "all hurricanes are acts of God because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that.") Those who combine religious conservatism with political conservatism interpret events in light of conserving the past. These prophets of the Right are exercising their American right as “patriotic” citizens by offering what they understand to be a prophetic voice to criticize the nation.

Jeremiah Wright has that same right to criticize the nation. But in contrast to the Christian Conservatives who believe in the good old days when we were a Christian nation, Wright is a Christian Liberal whose viewpoint makes him see a nation that has fallen short of the glory of God. He sees a nation that has embraced evil in its past. He is a product of the racist America of the previous generation, when blacks were still fighting for equal rights in a nation that supposedly was based on the idea that all humans were created equal. He is of a generation of African Americans who were forced to ride in the back of the bus, to drink from water fountains marked "Colored," and had to be bussed across town, passing several schools in order to get to a segregated one. He has long been a vocal critic of a nation that continues to hinder African Americans from having equal opportunity. Wright sees his Christian calling in the midst of such injustice as to speak prophetically against it and thus to progress our nation beyond where we have been and where we continue to be, moving us toward becoming more of a Christian nation.

This is why Wright would say in a 2003 sermon about how blacks have been treated at the hands of the government, “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strikes law and then wants us to sing, ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no! God damn America—that’s in the Bible—for killing innocent people! God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human! God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme!”

Echoing Jerry Falwell's attempt at being prophetic after 9/11, Wright told his congregation, "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye...We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost."

Whether or not you agree with Wright or Falwell or Hagee, as a citizen of this nation, you must believe that they have the right to speak to our nation in what they feel are prophetic statements like these. And (and this is a large AND!), as a Christian, you must be willing to listen to their statements and, putting aside your patriotism for America, judge whether or not what they are saying is what God would say about our nation. At the end of the day, we might say that Wright does more harm than good with his statements (as I've said for years about Falwell, Robertson, and his ilk on the right), but it still remains that he has the right as an American and a duty as a Christian to say what he feels must be said.

It becomes the job of the Christians to evaluate these statements based on Scripture. When someone attempts to be prophetic and simply says something that is out of step with God's revealed Word, these outrageous statements are to be denounced – be they from Jerry Falwell or Jeremiah Wright.

But the fact remains that religion is meant to be a separate and prophetic voice into the political world – both constitutionally and biblically. The proper role of faith in politics is to be a dissenting voice for the glory of God's Kingdom, and a patriotic voice established by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Whether or not these "prophetic" dissenting words should have influence is to be determined by the civil discourse of a free and pluralistic nation.

As Christians, we all can think of better prophetic words from the Right and the Left than the words quoted in this post! There are some very responsible people trying to engage the political issues of our day from a Christian worldview. We especially do well to listen to those from varying vantage points on the political spectrum, Christian and non-Christian. We should first listen intently before coming to judgment, and after hearing and understanding the point-of-view, weigh the words against what we continue to discover in the holy Scriptures.

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Passover Celebration in our Family

A Family Celebration Based on Matthew 26:17-30

To celebrate the purpose of Passion Week, our family has a traditional experiential time to understand the connection between the Exodus and the Christ Event. I share it with you so that you might incorporate it into your family traditions:

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. (Matthew 26:17-19)

Toward mid afternoon on the Thursday of Passover, one
lamb per household would be brought to the temple court where the priests sacrificed them. The priests took the blood and passed it in basins along a line till it was poured out at the foot of the altar. As opposed to our 24-hour clock, In the Hebrew culture, the next day did not begin at midnight, but after sunset. So, once the sun went down, it became “Friday.” The household would gather in a home to eat the Passover lamb.

Thursday during the day: Searching for and Dumping the Leaven

According to Leviticus 23:6 and Numbers 28:17, Jews were forbidden to use yeast in their bread for seven days during and after Passover. Exodus 12:18 says that yeast should be removed from the house on Thursday. So, at noon of Thursday, all the leaven (the yeast) in the house was taken out.

This was to remind the Israelites that when they hastily departed from Egypt, they could not wait to
bake leavened bread so they carried dough and kneading-troughs with them, baking as they wandered. The prohibition on leaven was also used as a teaching device: fermentation implied disintegration and corruption, and to the Hebrew anything in a decayed state suggested uncleanness. Rabbinical writers often used leaven as a symbol of evil and of humanity's corruption. Just as the leaven works its way through a whole loaf of bread, so our sin works its way through the entire family of God.

So, to echo the Hebrew tradition, my wife and I hide yeast packets all over the house (much like an Easter Egg Hunt), for the kids to find. They search the house high and low, seeking to find any yeast that may have been hidden in the
household. As they search, we remind the children that yeast is what decays the bread, and sin is what decays our family - individually and corporately. We tell them that we must find all the yeast and dump it outside the house, showing our desire to dump all sin outside of the family of God.

When they have found all the yeast packets, we go outside and open them and dump them in our front yard. "Lord, we dump this out as a symbol of our desire to dump sin from our family."

Preparing the Meal: Lamb and Bitter Herbs

The children help us prepare the lamb and the bitter herbs for dinner. We do not eat lunch on Thursday because we want to fast and grow hungry while the smell of the lamb cooks in the oven.

We start by preparing the rack of lamb. We follow this recipe from allrecipes.com:


  • 1 (7 bone) rack of lamb, trimmed and frenched
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Move oven rack to the center position.
  2. In a large bowl, combine bread crumbs, garlic, rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Toss in 2 tablespoons olive oil to moisten mixture. Set aside.
  3. Season the rack all over with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy oven proof skillet over high heat. Sear rack of lamb for 1 to 2 minutes on all sides. Set aside for a few minutes. Brush rack of lamb with the mustard. Roll in the bread crumb mixture until evenly coated. Cover the ends of the bones with foil to prevent charring.
  4. Arrange the rack bone side down in the skillet. Roast the lamb in preheated oven for 12 to 18 minutes, depending on the degree of doneness you want. With a meat thermometer, take a reading in the center of the meat after 10 to 12 minutes and remove the meat, or let it cook longer, to your taste. Let it rest for 5 to 7 minutes, loosely covered, before carving between the ribs.


Allow internal temperature to be 5 to 10 degrees less than you like because the meat will continue to cook while it sits. Bloody rare: 115 to 125 degrees F Rare: 125 to 130 degrees F Medium rare: 130 to 140 degrees F Medium: 140 to 150 degrees F

I also came up with my own recipe for "Greens and Bitter Herbs":


  • One bunch of Kale
  • One bunch of Arugula
  • One bunch of Dandelion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
  • 1tablespoon olive oil

  • Slowly simmer all ingredients together in a pan until wilted.

The First Cup of Wine and the Bitter Herbs

To start out the feast, the head of the Hebrew household would pray, giving

thanks for the feast day (the Passover Kiddush) and for the wine (I suggest you purchase a good Cabernet or Merlot!), praying over the first of four cups to be drunk throughout the meal. A preliminary course of greens and bitter herbs was followed by the Passover haggadah--in which a boy would ask the meaning of all this, and the head of the household would explain how the symbols pertain to the Exodus.

So, what we do is begin with eating the Greens and Bitter Herbs, and one of my children (they take turns each year), will ask me, "Why do we eat this meal?" And I will explain:

The Passover is the celebration of God “passing over” the Israelites when they were in Egypt. The story is found in Exodus 11 and 12, which tells how Pharaoh refused to let God’s people go, and how, as a final blow against the evil of the Egyptians, God threatened to kill every firstborn in Egypt, but wou

ld spare the Israelites of the same terrible curse:

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
“This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance.
(Exodus 12:12-14)

After explaining this, the Hebrew family would sing the first part (perhaps just Psalm 113) of the Hallel (Palms 113-119). We read Psalm 113 together as a family.

2. The Second Cup (Matthew 26:20-25)

Then a second cup of wine is drank, to introduce the main course—the Passover Lamb. We recline on the floor to share in the lamb (or, if you are a vegetarian, try a specially-seasoned veggie-burger!) and some Peta bread to dip into the Bitter Herbs or a bowl of seasoned olive oil.

It was at this juncture that Matthew 26:20-25 occurred, so we read this passage.
When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”
They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?”
Jesus replied,
“The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”
Jesus answered,
“Yes, it is you.”

The NIV is misleading: it gives the impression that a particular "one" is in view, when in fact most, if not all, those present would have dipped into the same bowl as Jesus, given the eating styles of the day. Jesus' point is that the betrayer is a friend, someone close, someone sharing the common dish, thus heightening the enormity of the betrayal.

The Third Cup (Matthew 26:26-29)
This was followed by a third cup, known as the “cup of blessing,” accompanied by another prayer of thanksgiving. As a family, we continue to read about the Last Supper in Matthew (Matthew 26:26-29):

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying,
“Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Jesus again gives thanks, praying something like, "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine." Jesus “gave thanks,” the Greek word is eucharistesas which has given us the word "Eucharist." Some Protestants have avoided the term because of its associations with the traditional Roman Catholic mass, but the term itself is surely not objectionable. W

e are to “give thanks” as well! So, as a family, we take turns praying short, one-sentence prayers thanking God for his creation, provision, and deliverance.

At this juncture, we must make the connection very clear for everyone. Jesus understood the violent and sacrificial death he is about to undergo as the ratification of the covenant he is inaugurating with his people. He is using the same language that was used when Moses ratified the covenant of Sinai by the shedding of blood in Exodus 24:3-8.

When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’S words and laws, they responded with one v

oice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said.
He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.”
Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
(Exodus 24:3-8)

Therefore, what Jesus was saying is this: What we have here is a new exodus! In the Old Testament, God saved the people from the evil of Pharaoh and created a deep, lasting relationship with them by creating a covenant relationship with them, giving them the Law that spelled out the stipulations of this covenant relationship between the people and God. Moses received that Law written on Stone Tablets and in the Book of the Covenant. Moses ratified the covenant with the blood of the animals at that sacrifice. And then he says, in verse 8, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Now, at this Passover Meal commemorating that event of the Exodus, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, tells them that the bread is his body, and the wine is the blood of the New Covenant. He says, echoing those words from Exodus,
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

The greatest event in the Older Testament is the Exodus. And Easter is the fulfillment of that Exodus event! Christ delivers (yes, Jesus SAVES!) his people from their bondage to sin through his death. Again, we have a “Covenant” between man and God. Again, it is ratified with blood. But this time it is the “New” Covenant. In fact some of our ancient manuscripts actually has that word there—“This is my blood of the new covenant…” and in Luke’s account of this event, Jesus says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” This is what the Prophet Jeremiah spoke of—

31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD,
___“when I will make a new covenant
_____with the house of Israel
_____and with the house of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
___I made with their forefathers
_____when I took them by the hand
_____to lead them out of Egypt,
___because they broke my covenant,
_____though I was a husband to them,”
_______declares the LORD.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.
___“I will put my law in their minds
_____and write it on their hearts.
___I will be their God,
_____and they will be my people.
34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
___or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
___because they will all know me,
___from the least of them to the greatest,”
______declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
___and will remember their sins no more.”

_______(Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Therefore, we are to see the Exodus as a "type" of a new and greater deliverance! It is a foreshadowing of the spiritual reality of what the whole Bible points to!

The New Exodus.jpg (45629 bytes)The incredible deliverance of the Exodus was commemorated each year with the Passover Feast. The Passover celebrates how God saved the people and led them to the Promised Land in which they can dwell with God in covenant relationship.

The Last Supper, eaten on Passover, and the Lord’s Supper, that we do in remembrance of this event, celebrates that God saves us from sin and is leading us on the exodus to the Promised Land in which we can dwell with God in covenant relationship. Only our experience is grander and more powerful—for we have the Law written on our hearts.

Therefore, this Third Cup, called the “Cup of Blessing” in the Hebrew tradition, truly is the greatest blessing of all! It is the blessing of eternal life!

4. The Fourth Cup

After this, it was customary to sing the rest of the Hallel (Psalms 114-18) and then drink a fourth cup of wine.

And that is basically what we read in Matthew 26:30.

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:30)

We finish our time as a family singing whatever our favorite worship song is for that year!

Have a blessed Easter!!



The Image of God as Reflection

Imaging God: Incarnational Community Reaching 21st Century Generations

When I was a kid, my family would make summer trips to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. My very favorite destination was the “Upside-Down Funhouse.” As you walked through the funhouse, it gradually twisted into a tilted room, creating a strange feeling of not knowing which way was truly up. It also had a room that was completely upside-down and a rotating barrel, guaranteed to make you sick. At the end of the attraction, we would exit through one of three spiral slides. I also remember the funhouse mirrors. They were created to make you look so strange—one made you look long and skinny, another made you look round and stumpy, while another distorted your body to make it look like you were a character from a Dr. Seuss book.

As we meditate on the meaning of the imago Dei, we must remember that, as image bearers, we were created to reflect the glory of God. The reflection that God created in the Imago Dei was a glorious likeness. As God looked upon Adam and Eve, he said, “This is very good!” (Gen 1:31). After the Fall, that image in humanity looks like one of those funhouse mirrors – distorted. Distorted in such a way that all the wonder of the God that the mirror is supposed to reflect is warped. This is worse than if we were just some independent race that just does evil. We humans are meant to be the very reflection of glory!

As John Eldredge writes,

“Your story does not begin with sin. It begins with a glory bestowed upon you by God. It does not start in Genesis 3; it starts in Genesis 1. First things first, as they say. Certainly you admit that God is glorious. Is there anyone more kind? Is there anyone more creative? Is there anyone more valiant? Is there anyone more true? Is there anyone more daring? Is there anyone more beautiful? Is there anyone more wise? Is there anyone more generous? You are his offspring. His child. His reflection. His likeness. You bear his image.” (Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive, p. 77)

The fact that humanity is created with and destined for “glory” is simply another way of saying that we are created in God’s image.

When I consider your heavens,
__the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
__which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
__the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
__and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
__you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds,
__and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
__and the fish of the sea,
__all that swim the paths of the seas. (Psalm 8:3-8)

We are made “a little lower than the heavenly beings,” which in Hebrew is actually the word “elohim,” which could be translated “God.” There can be no doubt that the ancient Hebrew reader would have read this and embraced a very high assessment of humanity. David declares that we are “crowned” with “glory and honor!” These are the highest words that can possibly be said about us!

The New Testament word used most for what Christians are to do with our lives is “glorify.” The New Testament writers understood that humanity was created to be glorious. We are, after all, image-bearers! Like the moon reflects the brilliance of the Sun, we humans were always meant to reflect the brilliance of the Creator. The Greek word doxa (glory) became so heavily influenced by the Old Testament that it came to mean “radiance,” “magnificence,” and “reflection.” Therefore, it came very close in meaning to the Greek word eikon (image). Not only is God “the Father of glory” (Eph 1:17), God has created humanity to reflect this glory. The Gospel of Christ allows for “the riches of God’s glory” (Rom 9:23) to be displayed in those whom “he prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom 9:23).

We were always meant to be glorious reflections of the character of God. John Calvin defined the image of God in man like this: “He is to be regarded as a mirror of the divine glory.”

This is why whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we are to do it “all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). We were created to mirror who God is back to him as an act of worship and out into his creation as an act of service. He has created a race of beings that can mirror what theologians call his “communicable attributes,” that is, those characteristics of God that he has intentionally shared with us. While God has not given us certain “God-only” attributes (like omnipresence or omniscience), God has created us with the ability in reflect much of his character - like love, knowledge, mercy, justice, creativeness, kindness, peace, and joy.

We reflect God as we seek to do the right thing. We reflect God as we seek other people’s well being. We reflect God as we care for the creation. We reflect God as we enjoy the creation and rest in it. We reflect God as we ourselves create—art, architecture, or a good meal. We reflect God as we seek shalom peace (the universal flourishing for all in God’s creation). We reflect God when we are righteous and seek justice.

So, we were created glorious! Since God created humanity to reflect the Triune God, then glorious reflection is the very essence of what it means to be human.

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Understanding the First Chapter of God's Story

Imaging God: Incarnational Community Reaching 21st Century Generations

As I said in my previous post, evangelical Christians have been reading God's story of humanity by starting in chapter 2 (the FALL) instead of chapter 1 (the CREATION). The story has several chapters, and we misread all the other chapters without beginning at the beginning.

Before we jump to chapters 2-6, we must read and understand chapter 1. It all begins with God creating everything – the heavens and the earth. This creator God, as we learn from the New Testament, is Jesus Christ.

“For in him (Jesus Christ) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16, see also the opening verses of the Gospel of John).

So, when we read “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” in the first verse of Genesis, we must understand that the entire Godhead—that is, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—created everything. A case can be made that God the Father created through the Word (he spoke everything into existence—“Let there be…”—if you’ll remember Genesis), and this is exactly what Jesus is called in the opening chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus is the Word, and “through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3). And notice also that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” in Genesis 1:2.

Genesis 1 tells in poetic language how God created everything in an very orderly manner. God is the creator of light, of sky, of seas and land, of lights in the sky, of sea creatures and sky creatures, and then of land creatures. Each of these creative acts began with God proclaiming things into existence. But then, after God says, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds,” the kind of proclamation of creation shifts. All of a sudden, there’s a dialogue.

“Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26).

Let us? In our image? In our likeness? Whoa. Something has changed here. This particular creature is different from all the rest of the Creation. It has been a glorious process so far—God’s amazing creative power on display. Each of these parts of creation are amazing—light, sky, seas, land, birds, fish and other water creatures, animals on the land. But with humanity, there is a difference. God, speaking in the plural, talks to God…and says, “Let’s make human beings in our image, in our likeness.”

This is the beginning of the gospel. If we do not start here, the rest of the story does not make sense. We must understand the meaning of human beings being created in the image and likeness of God.

The image of God has several nuanced and inter-related aspects to it. Each aspect helps us understand the purpose of being human. I should have put “purpose” somewhere in the title of this blog post, since the image of God brings us to the very essence of what it means to be a human with purpose. The word “Purpose” sells books, after all! For all of us who want to have a God-centered life, a Christ-like life, and, yes, a purpose-driven life, here it is.

When God created human beings in the Triune divine image, God created us to Reflect, to Represent, to Relate, and to Redeem.

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Fun in the Snow

We had lots of snow here in Ohio.

Here's a picture of some terrible snow monster attacking the Robinson kids.

Starting with the First Chapter

Imaging God: Incarnational Community Reaching 21st Century Generations

It is always good to begin the story at the beginning. I once bought a book from one of those discount book shops, you know the ones that spring up for a month and then close again, with a big temporary banner over the door that reads, “DISCOUNT BOOKS.” As I lay in bed that night, anticipating beginning a great story of intrigue, I found that the first chapter was missing. I could have started reading this book, but the whole story would have been difficult to understand without the opening chapter creating the setting and purpose of the book. I later found it—pasted in the wrong place in the book! Once I found it, I was able to read that opening chapter (found after page 79 of all places!) and then go and read the rest of the story.

American evangelical Christianity has been struggling to understand the purpose of being human and our role in dealing with the brokenness of the world because we have not been reading the beginning chapter of the story. Sure, there is a lot of emphatic rhetoric about "Creation" in the debate about teaching evolution in schools, but that is where it usually starts and ends. When it comes to understanding what it means to be human we do not go to the first chapter of the story, the Creation, to find our essence, our purpose. We have been reading the story starting in chapter 2 instead of chapter 1. The story has several chapters, and we misread all the other chapters without beginning at the beginning.

The story of God, humanity, and the Creation begins with humanity being created in the image of God. That’s chapter 1. Chapter 2 tells us about the broken image, and how that broken image also shatters the entire created cosmos. Chapter 3 tells the story of God calling a special people to image God in order to redeem the world. Chapter 4 is the pinnacle of the story, the revelation of the one person who perfectly images God to redeem the world, the Messiah Jesus Christ. Chapter 5 tells of the new creation of a special people that will actually be empowered to image God by following Christ. The final chapter is the glorious finale — where the purpose of humanity finally comes to its fruition. The whole story has the God of Creation as its hero. The main characters are the human race. The plot of the story is how the Creator God does not give up on his creation and his most cherished part of that creation, humanity. There is conflict and struggle, but in the end, the Creator God is also the Redeemer God, successfully transforming the cosmos for the good.

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Barack Obama - On His Christianity, Same-Sex Unions, and Abortion

In Ohio last week, Barack Obama answered a question concerning his faith and how it pertains to certain faith-related issues. (See the video of the Q&A section of his Rally in Nelsonville, Ohio here - click on "Sen. Barack Obama Q & A" )

Here are his words:

In terms of my faith, you know, there's been so much confusion that has been deliberately perpetrated through e-mails and so forth, so just here are the simple facts.

I am a Christian. I am a devout Christian. I have been a member of the same church for 20 years. Pray to Jesus every night and try to go to church as much as I can when they're not working me. Used to go quite often. These days, you know, we haven't been to the home church, I haven't been home on Sunday for several months now.

So my faith is important to me.

It's not something that I try to push on other people. But it's something that helps to guide my life and my values.

My pastor is actually retiring this Sunday, Jeremiah Wright is retiring, and Otis Moss III, the son of Otis Moss of Cleveland, is the new pastor, and he's a wonderful pastor. I don't think my church is particularly controversial. It's a member of the United Church of Christ. It's got a choir. We read scriptures. You would feel at home if you were there. Jeremiah Wright has said some controversial things, calling for divestment of South Africa and things like that and he thinks it's important for to us focus on what's happening in Africa, and I agree with him on that.

I think what you may be referring to probably has to do with two issues, which is abortion and gay marriage.

Which has become, I think, how people measure faith in the evangelical community, and, you know, I think that there are genuine differences of opinion in this area.

I will tell you that I don't believe in gay marriage.

But I do think that people who are gay and lesbian should be treated with dignity and respect and that the state should not discriminate against them. I believe in civil unions that allow a same-sex couple to visit each other in the hospital or transfer property to each other. I don't think that it should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state.

If people find that controversial, then I would refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think, you know, is in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans.

That's my view. But we can have a respectful disagreement on that.

And on the issue of abortion, that's always a tragic and painful issue, and I think that if the past, we've made some mistakes, I think, people who are pro-choice, in not focusing on the fact that there's a real moral element to that. I think that's how it's experienced by women. It's never an easy decision. And I don't think women make those decisions casually.

I think it's always tragic and we should prevent it as much as possible, by making sure that young people are engaging in responsible behavior and we are encouraging the kind of good decisions that prevent unwanted pregnancy, that we are encouraging adoption as an alternative.

But in the end, I think women in consultation with their pastors and their doctors and their families are in a better position to make these decisions than some bureaucrat in Washington.

That's my view.

Again, I respect people who may disagree, but I certainly don't think it makes me less Christian.

What do you think?

1. Is Obama an authentic Christian? On what grounds would you deny the confession that he is making? I know of many evangelicals that simply deny it based on the fact that he is a democrat. What is the real test of whether one is really in the family of Christ?

2. Since Obama's pastor is controversial in his advocacy of a Black Liberation theology, should we therefore question Obama's theology as well? How will his theology affect his ability to be President?

3. Should Christians seek to stop homosexual unions as well as homosexual "marriage?" Or should we allow for the state to recognize same-sex unions as a gesture of mercy without condoning these unions by calling them "marriage?

4. Is Romans 1 an "obscure passage?" What does the Sermon on the Mount have to say about gay unions?

5. Do you applaud Obama's admission that abortion is "always a tragic and painful issue," that the pro-choice side of the debate has "made some mistakes...in not focusing on the fact that there's a real moral element to that" and that "we should prevent it as much as possible"? Or do you find that this is not worthy of notice since he says that "in the end, I think women in consultation with their pastors and their doctors and their families are in a better position to make these decisions than some bureaucrat in Washington"?

6. Have you read Barack Obama's very impressive keynote address at "Call to Renewal"? It was perhaps the most important address on faith and politics by a candidate since John F. Kennedy (and came over a year before Mitt Romney's speech on the issue). What did you think of it?


Is Our Gospel Too Small?

Oh, Scot!

Scot McKnight has offered the latest of The Christian Vision Project's essays. And it hits the nail right smack on the head.

The Christian Vision Project has been a three year venture to "ask big questions about culture, mission, and the gospel, and highlighting Christian leaders who model faithfulness, creativity, and commitment at a crucial moment in the history of the church." The essays are published in Christianity Today, and are available on The Christian Vision Project website.
  • In 2006, the focus was on CULTURE. The question posed to the best Christian minds was, "How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good?
  • In 2007, the focus was on MISSION. The question asked was, "What must we learn, and unlearn, to be agents of God's mission in the world?"
  • In 2008, the focus is on GOSPEL. The question that is being asked this year is this: "Is our gospel too small?"
I can think of a handful of great Christian thinkers that can help us grapple with that question. One of them is Scot McKnight, who says

"I sometimes worry we have settled for a little gospel, a miniaturized version that cannot address the robust problems of our world. But as close to us as the pages of a nearby Bible, we can find the Bible's robust gospel, a gospel that is much bigger than many of us have dared to believe:

The gospel is the story of the work of the triune God (Father, Son, and Spirit) to completely restore broken image-bearers (Gen. 1:26–27) in the context of the community of faith (Israel, Kingdom, and Church) through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Pentecostal Spirit, to union with God and communion with others for the good of the world.

The gospel may be bigger than this description, but it is certainly not smaller. And as we declare this robust gospel in the face of our real, robust problems, we will rediscover just how different it is from the small gospel we sometimes have believed and proclaimed."

Scot then offers a nice taxonomy of what a "robust gospel" looks like:
  1. The robust gospel is a story.
  2. The robust gospel places transactions in the context of persons.
  3. The robust gospel deals with a robust problem.
  4. A robust gospel has a grand vision.
  5. A robust gospel includes the life of Jesus as well as his resurrection, and the gift of the Spirit alongside Good Friday.
  6. A robust gospel demands not only faith but everything.
  7. A robust gospel includes the robust Spirit of God.
  8. A robust gospel emerges from and leads others to the church.
Check out the entire essay in this month's Christianity Today, or read it online here.

The Christian Vision Project has been a tremendous blessing to the evangelical church. It was initiated and is edited by Andy Crouch, columnist for Christianity Today (his column is called "Always In Parables"), a member of the editorial board of Books & Culture, a senior fellow of the International Justice Mission's IJM Institute, and the advisor for the Fermi Project. Crouch was once the head of re:generation quarterly, and I have an affinity with him since he was once a college campus minister (with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Harvard University).

If you haven't been following The Christian Vision Project you can catch up on the articles by following the links above.

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