REVIEW: JESUS MANIFESTO BY LEONARD SWEET AND FRANK VIOLA Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, published by Thomas Nelson. Jesus Manifesto brings Jesus to the front and center. Sweet and Viola seek to highlight Jesus’ sovereignty and supremacy. This is a great little text that is worth the read. I found it to be very devotional and it met its goal of bringing Jesus front and center. It is always good to be reminded of the centrality of Jesus to the life of the believer.

This not a book that wows you. There is nothing controversial or new. It is a book that you read and then you find yourself thinking about an illustration from it. It is a book you read and then find yourself mulling over some description of Jesus. It is a book you read and then find yourself quoting it to someone else in conversation.

The only thing that twinged me as a downside was from the introduction. The comment made there is, “So what is Christianity? It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. (xxii)” I agree that Jesus is central to the Christian. However, to say that Jesus is the full sum of the Christian faith is not exactly accurate. I would suggest that this be edited to highlighting his centrality. This statement by Sweet and Viola I think pushes down toward the problematic view of “me and Jesus” that is predominant in our post-modern world.

Overall: grab the book. It’s always worth the time remind ourselves how incredibly great Jesus is.


It has been difficult to post recently as life and ministry have been very busy and margin continues to get swallowed up. However, writing is a necessary output for my own spiritual formation, so I am taking some steps to build this into my schedule. Thanks to all of you who have inquired as to the missing blog posts in your RSS feeds. It does my heart good to know that both of you are reading this blog.

Infant baptism has fallen by the wayside in much of evangelical Christianity. So, when you post about this topic you get some good conversation via tweets and different formats where some great questions are asked. I wanted to answer these objections and questions in a post.

  1. What about those kids who get baptized and don’t walk with God? That’s a very good question. I think that the first thing is to realize that God is on a different time frame than we are. Just because someone has not yet responded to the gospel does not mean they won’t. The sacrament is not a guarantee to faith. Infant baptism provides an opportunity for the people of God to walk along and trust him to save this child. This is about God not about us. Finally, the sacrament is also to show that the child of believing parents is a member of the covenantal community and that we can look forward in hope that they will publicly profess their faith. (This is edited, thanks to Laura who helped clarify some poor logic in the comments below.)
  2. I heard that infant baptism is believed to actually give salvation to the infant, is that true? This is true or false depending on your tradition. The two major divisions are catholic and protestant. The catholic understanding of the sacraments is very different than that of the protestant tradition. The catholic understanding of the sacraments is that they procure grace for you. The protestant understanding is that the sacraments are a means to experiencing grace. This means that in the protestant tradition salvation is not procured by infant baptism. It is an external promise that will some day become an internal reality. It is a marking that the children of believing parents are members of the covenant community of faith. In baptist traditions children are not part of the community of the church but are viewed as outsiders until they “make profession of faith”. This is in stark contrast to what we see in the Scriptures where children have always been included in the community of faith. So, infant baptism does not secure salvation but inclusion in the community of faith with the promise of future salvation.
  3. Should I get re-baptized now that I have trusted Christ and am no longer a part of a tradition that does infant baptism? I would say, “By no means!” Why? This is because the day you were baptized there was a promise made over you by God. He has made good on this promise. If you choose to re-baptize then you are saying that you do not care about the fact God has made good on his promise. I would argue that you should praise God for his faithfulness and rejoice with those around you about how God saved you and did so in covenantal faithfulness to you.

I am sure there are more objections. These are the one that seemed to come up the most. Please post others in the comments so that we can dialogue about them.


I remember the day well. It was a Friday night, November 2001, the night before Michigan was to play the evil Ohio State Buckeyes. Ethan, our firstborn, was reclining in the stroller and I was chatting it up with other college missionaries. Then it slipped (well it did not actually slip, I was waiting for just right the time), we had baptized Ethan, AS AN INFANT! It was pretty funny when almost everyone within about a 30 foot radius (maybe I said it a little louder than I anticipated) stopped talking and stared at me with a dumbfounded look. I think it might have been a world record for chins on the ground at one time.

In the world of parachurch ministries the idea of infant is relatively foreign. It is akin to saying that you are going to sew a third arm to your baby. Why? I think it’s because the dispensational and baptist movement has become quite pervasive in many parts of American Christendom. Presbyterianism, Methodism, Lutheranism, and other American denominations that practiced the historic sacrament of infant baptism moved toward liberalism and removed themselves from the public life of the church. Their conservative counterparts are small and as a result lost influence in the general Christian world.

This has resulted in a loss of covenantal theology and the biblical doctrine of infant baptism. This is one of the great tragedies that the church has faced. This loss is tragic is because it means that there is a loss of vision for the emerging generations. They have simply become a missionary object as opposed to valued members of the community who need to be discipled and cared for.

Why did we baptise our kids? We baptized them because they are members of the community of faith. We baptized them because we believe that God is going to draw them to himself. We baptized them because we believe that this promise is visionary for their life. We baptized them because we believe that the people of God are part of our family and that they have a responsibility to be a part of these kids lives.


It’s been about two weeks since I last wrote. I have missed the discipline of writing and thinking but I simply have not had the margin to write. Tonight it is quiet and I have been thinking about baptism, covenant, and the blessing that God gives. To that I end I want to begin my series of posts on baptism with some discussion of covenant because I believe that it informs our understanding of baptism.

What is a covenant? This is a bad question. We are talking about covenant in a very specific sense and not in a general way. We are not talking about covenant between people and people or even god to god. No, we are talking about God covenanting with his people. So, what does this divine covenant look like? It is in its most basic understanding a suzerain treaty. You can read a fantastic description here.

What is unique about the divine covenant is that God’s covenant of grace is one way. He sets the requirements and meets the requirements in himself. In the covenant of works man was required to merit favor and ultimately failed. God was gracious and provided the Law to act as a guardian for his people (Galatians 3:24) until Christ came and fulfilled the conditions of the covenant of grace. He was the embodiment of the people of God and his faithfulness as our federal head is given to us.

So, there are two covenants. The covenant of grace and the covenant of works. Both are gracious in that they are implemented by God to provide a means for his people to have relationship with him. In Hebrews 7 and 8 we find that the people of God failed in their responsibility in the covenant of works but Christ was faithful in the covenant of grace.

Baptism then must be understood in light of this reality. A few of the questions that I want to explore in future posts are how does baptism function as a means of the covenant of grace? What are the effects of baptism? What is the role of baptism in the identity of formation fo the people of God?


One day not very long ago my son and I were sitting in the gymnasanctatorium at our church readying for worship to begin. That particular morning was a communion sunday and the table was front and center and covered. For a 6 or 7 year old boy anything covered with a sheet is instantly mysterious and requires investigation.

“Dad, what’s under that sheet?”

“Communion son.”

“What’s communion?”

“It’s when we celebrate Jesus dying on the cross and rising again.”

“Yeah, but what’s under the sheet?”

“Juice and crackers.”

“Really? Do I get some?”



“Because the juice and crackers are symbols for Jesus’ death and resurrection and the only people who get to eat them are those who believe in Jesus.”

“I believe in Jesus.”

“You do?”

“I do.”

“Well, you have to meet with Pastor Doug and talk to him about the fact that you believe in Jesus and what that means.”

“I do?”


“I can’t do that, I would be too scared.”

“Well, then you’re not ready for communion.”


And so began a conversation about Jesus that lasted a few months until Ethan was ready to proclaim his faith and take communion. It was a remarkable period of time. Communion is a means of grace. The very act of taking communion leads us to the place where we actually talk about what Jesus did. In our tradition we “fence” the table and encourage those who don’t know Christ to allow the elements to pass. This is purposeful. It opens the conversation.

Why use a tract alone when the table is set and ready?


I am often times amazed at the fact that when the early followers of Christ came together they always gathered around a table. This table was where they would eat and enjoy the presence of one another and Jesus. It is remarkable when you think about the difference that most of us find ourselves in when we gather with other followers. Too often the discussion turns to an us versus them situation where we are worshiping our proper understanding of theology as opposed to the risen Christ.

What I love about the mystery of the Lord’s table is that it shapes us and reminds us of our in-Christness. When we fellowship at this table it is for the one who claims Jesus as Lord. When we gather the walls melt between us. We are caught up in the mystery and beauty of grace. We are found out to be sinners who need a savior and we are found to be a part of a community of forgiven saints.

The table reminds us of our identity, of who we actually are. Consider the words that St. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 11:23–26,

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

How does these brief words of institution shape us?

  1. They remind us that Jesus suffered (he was betrayed and his body was broken).
  2. They remind us that Jesus suffered for us (his was for us).
  3. They remind us that Jesus offered a new covenant (one of grace, mercy, and forgiveness).
  4. They remind us that Jesus calls to a proclamation of his death.

Consider communities of people in the way of following Christ who grabbed hold of these truths and lived them daily? What would that look like? How might that bring transformation to themselves (1–3) and those near them (4)?

The supper reminds us that we are a people who for whom one suffered, died, offers a new way, and sends us to invite others in. This is us. This is a piece of what it means to be in-Christ.

When is a meal not a meal? When it’s a transformer.


The first Sunday of every month is our community’s traditional time to celebrate the Lord’s Table. It probably looks like any other communion celebration, but it does not sound like any other I have been a part of. As a church leadership team we found that there were a growing number of people who could not participate in communion due to gluten allergies. One of our resourceful volunteers found gluten-free “communion wafers”.

I love these things. They crunch like it’s nobody’s business and it is BRILLIANT!

Why? Quite simply when we take the “bread” and eat you know you are doing it with everyone else. Our Gymnasanctatorium has painfully bad acoustics and so when 150 or so people go crunching into the gluten-free wafer it ignites a sound that you feel in your chest. You know that you are not alone. You know that you are with others and they are with you. It is an audible reminder that sharing the Lord’s Supper is something you do in community.

We live in a day where community is a buzzword as opposed to a reality. We have air conditioning, TV, and attached garages, all of which are designed to keep us apart from other people in the name of “comfort”. It is comfortable because when I, the chief of sinners, interact with other people I make mistakes and I say things that hurt them. Isolation protects me from this. It is comfortable.

The communion table is supposed to draw us out from isolation into communion with one another. It is a time for us to be caught up in the spiritual mystery and grace of the supper where we remember Jesus and what he has done for us. It is a time for us to celebrate together the beauty and magnitude of the grace we have in Jesus. It is to shape us and mold us and change our identity and help us remember anew the reality of our being in-Christ together.

A gluten-free wafer — The sound of community and communion.


The early church was accused of being cannibalistic. They were thought to be such because they feasted on the body and blood of Jesus the Christ. This was an unthinkable ritual and act. It was seen as barbaric and it was a stumbling block to the world around them. The Eucharist split churches in the 1700s and was a cause in Jonathan Edwards being released from his position in Northampton.

Today communion is a mundane and humdrum ritual that nobody really notices. This is a tragedy.

The celebration of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Table, the Lord’s Supper, Communion is one of the most beautiful acts that we as Christians get to participate in. When we do we experience the presence of Christ and join with the great of cloud of witnesses in a spiritual act that bonds us as the body of Christ. How can this astounding and beautiful means of grace become something that is largely ignored?

My senior year at Central Michigan University as new church was planted in Mt. Pleasant, MI. This church was unlike any I had ever seen. It met in an airplane hangar. Yes, that’s right an airplane hangar. The seats were couches and plastic chairs. The room was dimly lit and cold in the winter. There was nothing routine about this church. It was determined that the celebration of the Eucharist would occur whenever it seemed right to “us and the Holy Spirit.”

The first time that Amy and I celebrated communion there we were amazed. I was moved to the core of my being and changed that evening. The bread was homemade without yeast and the juice was in a 64 oz containers next to a stack of 12 oz cups. Barry, the pastor, stood and read 1 Corinthians 11:23–26. Then he said (atleast this is how I remember it), “This was supper. It was a meal that was shared. Jesus is not stingy in his grace or his mercy. Come, take, eat to your fill and drink till your thirst is quenched. Seconds, thirds, fourths, whatever you need Jesus will provide. Come, taste and see that the Lord is good.” We partook and we were filled.

I was left in wonder and awe. This was a far cry from the thimble of juice and crumb of bread that I was used to. We celebrated together the beauty and wonder of the crucifixion and resurrection. We marveled in the grace of God. We were a community perfectly united in a feast of grace. The bread was warm and smelled wonderfully. The juice was cold and refreshing.

I was changed.

I was left in awe.

I got lost and found in the mystery and limitlessness of God’s goodness.

I feasted that night on the body and blood. That night I became a cannibal and was forever changed.

Are you a cannibal?


I am a sports guy. I love Sportscenter and follow the NFL, MLB, and NHL. I have always admired the way that the Pittsburgh Steelers have handled their business. I am becoming more and more impressed with the way that Roger Goodell the commissioner of the NFL is conducting his.

Unless you have been living under a rock you know that Ben Roethlisberger has been suspended by the NFL under its player conduct policy. Many of the sports talking heads are decrying this as “legislating morality”. I think that there is a different issue here though. This is the first time that the NFL has suspended someone who has not been brought up on criminal charges. The letter that Goodell sent was direct and clear. The behavior of this player falls outside the standards that the NFL desires to hold its players too.

I think that what we have in this instance is not a “legislation of morality”. It is simply a private company stating that it believes working for it is a privilege and that there is an expectation of a certain standard of behavior. Accountability is something that has been largely in our society at large. We are offended by the concept because it assumes that there is a right way and a wrong way to conduct oneself. This then requires that there is a standard or an authority by which we will be judged. To be judged is immoral.

The hypocrisy of the talking heads is amazing. When a religious leader is found to be immoral the culture screams for punishment. When an athlete is found to immoral the culture screams for forgiveness. It seems that what we need is integrity in our judgment of public figures.

Roger Goodell is doing things right. It is an honor to play a boys game for millions of dollars. Those who work for the NFL should be held to a higher standard and that standard is rightly determined by the league.

What about the church? Are we doing things right? What can we learn from Goodell and the NFL? I think that we can learn much if we would just open our eyes. Hit me up in the comments with thoughts about what the church can learn, if anything.


Over the next handful of days I want to tease out some thoughts on the sacraments. In the Protestant tradition we have two sacraments: baptism and the eucharist. I think that these two means of grace are essential for the church today and that they have been largely ignored or abused. The sacraments do not bring salvation. They are however means of grace.

This means quite simply that we experience something beautiful, authentic, and Christ-centered in their celebration. In an age where we talk about “multi-sensory” preaching and object lessons it is as if we have forgotten the beauty and raw power that is to be found in these ancient acts that tie us to “the great cloud of witnesses”.

A couple of years ago I wrote a few posts on these issues. One of them was an argument for paedobaptism and I would encourage you check it out. I also wrote a post on communion that lays out some initial thoughts and in the comments a friend suggested that I dig deeper. I hope these next days my metaphorical shovel will reach a new depth.

Before writing in earnest I want to say thanks to Eugene Peterson (not that he’ll ever read this). His text, Christ Plays in 10,000 Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology has been really helpful in shaping some of my thoughts about both baptism and communion. When possible I will give him credit but so much of what he has written has become a part of my own views and sometimes I may not be sure where his thoughts begin and mine end.

To kick things off, I am curious do you remember your first communion? What was it like? Did it mean anything to you?


“Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.” — Eugene Peterson

The refrain, “It’s my right!” rings our everywhere today in our culture. Whether it’s in demand of entitlements or freedom from regulation. Regardless, our “rights” are something that we constantly demand. The quote from Peterson is actually 1 Corinthians 6:12 from the Message. This verse will be the final one that we look in our conversation about freedom and the law. It is used almost always to support the freedom of a person and their use of freedom. Based on Peterson’s rendering we are left scratching our heads as to “why?”

Well, consider the traditional translation from the ESV, “”All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.“

So, when we read this often we think, “Yes, I can do anything!” This leads us to a place of license. However, Peterson’s rendering provides us with the correct sense. There are things that we should not do because they harm us spiritually. 1 Corinthians 6–9 is a fascinating section of Scripture where Paul lays out many issues regarding freedom. To work through all of it would be too lengthy. So here are a couple of bullet points:

  • Paul wants the Corinthians to realize that there is more to life than what they see. Their bodies are going to be resurrected and bought with a price. Freedom is limited by the statement, “So glorify God in you body. (6:20)”
  • Freedom is determined by knowledge of God (8:1–2).
  • Freedom is limited by concern for the brother’s conscience (8:12)
  • The freedom which Paul is directly dealing with is in regards to food laws (6–8)
  • Freedom in relation to personal association is doggedly protected (9:19–23)
  • Freedom is determined by ones own understanding of the gospel (9:19)

In short, we have no “rights”. We cannot do anything we want because we are constrained by love for our brothers. We cannot do anything we want because we are constrained by love for our Savior. We cannot do anything we want because we are constrained by our desire to glorify God.

However, we are also free to love well. To enjoy the creation. To engage the culture in all its fullness. We are free to “become all things to all people” without fear of condemnation. We are free to speak the language of the common man and to enter into his world.

I think that as we close this conversation about freedom and law we must realize that in Christ we are free. The measure that we use this freedom is direct correlation to our understanding of grace. If we are free, really free, then we can also choose to protect the weaker brother. We are also to help one another grow in knowledge and experience of the gospel.


Our journey through freedom and the law is coming to a close, for now. I think this is the second to last post on the issue before we turn our attention to Baptism and Communion. The passage that I am interested in today is Romans 14. This is where we find the famous, “Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (Romans 14:13).

This is a section that I think has been done great harm and violence in Christian circles because it is so often read through a grid of legalism. Where do we begin? First, the core issues that Paul raises here are those of food laws. It seems that what we had in Rome was a church comprised of a variety of different people as one would expect in a cosmopolitan city. This caused great tension within the community as they bumped into one another’s understandings of how they were to interact with God and what it meant to live all of life in a way that brings honor to God.

Paul finds that there were two camps, the weak and the strong. The weak only ate vegetables (as these were safe from being offered to idols) and the strong ate anything. Paul in verse 3 argues that neither are despise the other. Pauls says in verse 5 that “Each one should be fully convinced his own mind.” He drives the point home in verse 12, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” It is with this context that we arrive at verse 13.

Many of the commentators argue that 13b (decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother) is pointed at the “strong”. The reasoning comes from the fact that verse 15:1 says, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak.” I think that this is accurate. The question then becomes what is the scope of the passage? Is Christian freedom to be held to the lowest common denominator across the board?


First, Paul argues on behalf of the strong. He desires for all to become strong and leave weakness behind. The reason for this is that these issues are faith issues. Paul’s desire is for the people of God to fully engage in all that God has made clean in faith. He says, “Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he [God] approves (22).”

Second, Paul changes the issue. He says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men (17–18).” Paul is telling them that their focus is off base. These issues of food and festivals are silly compared to the work of the kingdom.

Finally, Paul calls for the strong to “bear” the “failings” of the weak. This is language that drives one to realize that Paul’s desire is for change. The term “bear” is βαστάζω and is understood as “be able to bear up under especially trying or oppressive circumstances (BDAG).” This is insightful. Consider what Paul is saying. The weak are “especially trying” in their “failings”. Paul gets that those who would rob the strong of their freedom are “trying” and even “oppressive”. His desire is for them not to stay that way. He wants them to become strong. But, until that time the strong are love well and not judge.

What is the take home then? It means that those who see Christians exerting their freedom ought not pass judgment (14:3) and realize that they are weak (14:2) and ask the strong for help that they might not stay in that state. It also means that the strong must hang in there in the midst of the frustrations that come from the weak and love well. They must not flaunt their freedom or force the weak into living freely until they can do so in faith.

Paul says it well, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)”


I think that some of my favorite moments in the Bible are when the apostle Paul gets worked up. As you read you can almost feel the juices flowing inside Paul. I imagine his forehead sweating and his face turning red. I can see him pacing and flailing his arms as if he would be mute without them. Then the climactic moment comes and his hands go to the forehead, veins popping, eyes clenched, and BOOM, a statement and a torrent of questions exploding!

This is the image I get as I read Romans 5 and 6.

What concerns us today is Romans 6:15–23 (The Message):

15–18So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!19I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing — not caring about others, not caring about God — the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?

20–21As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.

22–23But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

I like the way that Peterson’s translation renders this passage because I think that it gets down to the heart of the matter. Verse 15 is rendered like this in the ESV, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no mans!” Paul is anticipating his detractors. He is assuming what they are going to say before they say it. Remember, Paul did not physically write this letter, he dictated it to Tertius. I imagine that Tertius played the proverbial devil’s advocate for Paul so that there could be a give and take. This was meant to be a conversation not a treatise.

Consider here what Pauls is doing. He is preempting the person who would say that the radical grace that he is describing thus far is will lead to license. Paul argues quite the opposite. He argues that as a result of the freeing from the curse of the law there will be new found freedom to truly live the way that a person was made to live.

I love how Peterson puts this, “But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.” There is delight and joy in living the life of hearing from God.

I hate money. It’s annoying and it preoccupies too much of my time and other people’s time. I remember when I first heard about budgets and I thought, “Ugh, that seems restrictive and annoying.” But, then my bride and I created a budget. You know what we discovered? It gave us freedom. Prior to a budget we did not believe that we could go on dates because we did not have money. Once we created a budget we found the freedom to date again.

I think this is how grace works. When we are living lives separated from God we look at the “good two shoe” Christians and think “Ugh, that seems restrictive and annoying.” But, then our hearts are captured by the radical grace of God and we find that we have freedom to live life to its full. We find that we can do all things to the glory of God and in so doing experience great freedom. Yet, this freedom is contained within the confines of grace and glory.

This weekend Tiger Woods returned to the links. He played well, no, he played really well. Consider though the pain and agony that he suffered and his family suffered while he “did whatever he wanted” and as some sports hosts put it, “lived every man’s fantasy.” I guarantee you that Woods would trade every one of his sexual escapades for the freedom of a happy monogamous marriage with Elin.

Freedom comes from living out the reality that we were made for good and for God. This is the beauty of grace and living in light of righteousness.


We had been walking for a week straight. The pace was incredible. We did not even feel like they had homes any more because we were always on the move. This is the way it always was. There was a constant pressure to move on to the next town and to continue proclaiming the “good news”. Saturday was always the hardest day. Usually there was no way to prepare and have extra food on hand so Saturday was a hungry day. Today, was especially tough though. Our travels took us through a grain field! It was excruciating. But, to our astonishment the Teacher grabbed the head of a grain rubbed it in his hands and ate the kernel. We looked at one another, confused, it was the Sabbath wasn’t it? But, the Teacher picked and ate. We did too.

Then “they” showed up. The religious, the high and mighty Pharisees. They were always around. They said, “Your disciples are breaking the Sabbath rules!”

The Teacher’s response was amazing, “Really? Didn’t you ever read what David and his companions did when they were hungry, how they entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat? And didn’t you ever read in God’s Law that priests carrying out their Temple duties break Sabbath rules all the time and it’s not held against them? There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant — ‘I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual’ — you wouldn’t be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he’s in charge.”

Then we went into the Synagogue for worship. When we got there “they” thought they had the Teacher trapped because there was a crippled man there. “They” asked, “Is it legal to heal on the Sabbath?”

The Teacher got them again, “Is there a person here who, finding one of your lambs fallen into a ravine, wouldn’t, even though it was a Sabbath, pull it out? Surely kindness to people is as legal as kindness to animals!” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He held it out and it was healed. “They” walked out furious, sputtering about how they were going to ruin Jesus.

(Based on Matthew 12:1–14, with a little help from the Message)

This is an amazing story. It’s really a central text for our question about freedom and law. The law said, “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work — not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days Godmade Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.”

The Pharisees were somewhat right in their questioning of Jesus and the disciples. In their minds they really were breaking the sabbath commandment. But Jesus response flips their understanding of the commandment on its head, “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath”. Brilliant! He even says that the disciples in this case are guiltless! He goes so far as to point out that they missed the point of the command when he quotes Hosea 6:6. In Hosea God has his people in the dock and calling them to account. The Pharisees would have felt the sting. Jesus was calling them out as heartless and completely disconnected from God himself.

In their quest to be faithful to God the Pharisees had missed God’s heart and his desire for them to worship. I think we are guilty of this. What are the rules that you have put in place to be faithful to God?

Maybe some of these ring true:

  • No R rated movies.
  • No secular music.
  • No smoking.
  • No drinking.
  • No dating.
  • No being a Democrat.
  • No being a Republican.
  • No being Pro-Choice.
  • No being Pro-Life.
  • No watching MSNBC.
  • No rooting for Ohio State University (OK, this is mine, I admit it. I think God’s OK with it.)

Freedom is about worship. Freedom is about coming to the God of the universe and being with him and with his people. There are no longer divisions. The boundary markers of in and out are changed they are now spiritual and communal. They are no longer based on law.

What’s your list? How does it need to change? Are you building barriers on behalf of God? Are you OK with God’s dismantling of barriers through the crucifixion of Jesus?


Tonight I heard Dr. Mark Noll say, “I think we should largely ignore talking heads on TV unless they are discussing a college basketball tournament.” Wise words. However, twice now I have had conversations relating to a previous post that I wrote on Glenn Beck’s discussion of social justice. Here is a more nuanced response to the issues including a little perspective on Rev. Jim Wallis too. I hope you find it helpful. (Also, I was under the weather today and was unable to write the next post for our discussion of freedom and the law.)

To hopefully bring some clarity to my position I want give disclosure of my political presuppositions:

  • I don’t adhere to a political party. Neither party is representative of the Christian worldview.
  • My primary allegiance is not to the United States, it is to Jesus Christ and his church. I live in this country only by the grace of God and I am very thankful for being a citizen of the US but my king is Jesus and the solutions to the problems we face are found in the context of the gospel and not on Capitol Hill, a savior there will never be found.
  • The Scriptures contained in the Older and Newer Testaments are the authority by which we are to live and ought to inform our understanding of any human document.
  • Any government or government agency that claims divine authority or claims to speak for God is inherently unbiblical for God reveals himself through the Scriptures and he alone is to be king.

As to the Glenn Beck situation:

  • I have watched only two episodes of Glenn Beck.
  • I have read his comments regarding churches and social justice.
  • My understanding is that his worldview is Mormon.

I understand the points that he has made regarding the use of the term “social justice” and “economic justice” by those in the liberal political wing. I agree with how he defines these terms from his perspective. Glenn Beck’s comments, however, were not in relation to the liberal political wing, they were in the context of the church. The church defines the term “social justice” and “economic justice” very differently.

First, “social justice” in the context of the church refers to the idea of bringing biblical justice at a societal level. The church has always participated in this kind of justice because it is the natural response of Christ followers to seek to transform the world around them with the gospel. The Older Testament speaks often of this kind of social justice, especially in context of the “jubilee”, this was the application of the Sabbath to all of society (Leviticus 25). These are commands, not suggestions. We also find in the Older Testament specific commands on how to deal with the widow, fatherless, and alien (Deuteronomy 27). Justice in the Older Testament appears 425 times in the Hebrew and close to 500 times in the Newer Testament. I believe it is safe to say that this is an important theme in the Bible and God’s people have always understood it as such.

Here are some historical examples of the church doing social justice:

  • Ending infanticide in the first century. Babies that were unwanted in the Roman empire were simply left on the side of the road. The church would pick them up and care for them as their own. This was done on such a large scale that infanticide was all but ended in the Roman Empire.
  • Abolition. It was the church that spear headed the abolition movement both in Europe and in the United States. This was accomplished through full force engagement in the political realm through electing abolitionist candidates along with preaching and writing.
  • Prohibition. The church at large determined that the consumption of alcohol was an unnecessary evil and again brought full political pressure to bear and was able to get alcohol banned. Thankfully, it was repealed as this was a wrong headed movement in the church.
  • Women’s suffrage. The church led the movement to bring about justice to women so that they could vote in the United States.
  • Civil Rights. The church led the movement to bring an end to systemic racism toward ethnic minorities in the United States.
  • Pro-life. The church has led the movement to bring an end to the destruction of millions of innocent lives through the practice of legalized abortion on demand.
  • AIDS relief. The church has led the effort to bring AIDS relief to Africa where AIDS runs rampant.
  • Urban and rural poverty. The church continues to be on the forefront of bringing relief to the urban and rural poor in the US.

These are but a handful of the historic social justice efforts of the church. So, when a church says that it is concerned with social justice they are moving out from the heart of God as commanded us by the Scriptures. This is because the Scriptures are concerned about bringing redemption to the whole of creation, not simply to individual lives as Mormonism teaches.

Two passages in particular speak to the necessity of the church to engage in bringing justice. First, from the Older Testament we have “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 ESV). The prophecy of Micah is deeply concerned with issues of justice as the people of God had moved away from dealing justly with one another and had become greedy and self-centered. They had abandoned the principles of mercy and justice. Micah 6:8 is a turning point in the book. The question is asked, “What does God want from us?” And the answer is simple: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Justice is central to the minimum requirements that God asks of his people.

The second passage is from Matthew’s Gospel:

““When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.””
(Matthew 25:31–46 ESV)

Here we see Jesus discussing the application of the gospel. If we know him then we will do certain things. We will respond to him by feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the poor, visiting the sick, and visiting the imprisoned. Those who take no concern of these things prove not to truly know Jesus. This is social justice according to Jesus.

In light of this, what do we make of Glenn Beck’s comments?

  • He does not understand that the Bible calls the church to engage with the world and bring justice.
  • His call for people to leave their church is at worst a veiled attempt by Mormonism to draw more people into their cult, at best, is ignorance regarding the role of the church in the world.
  • He is not a Christian and ought not to speak to Christians concerning what we believe since he does not hold the Bible as the authoritative word of God.
  • His position comes from a place of politics where he believes his political theory is able to save the world and for the Christian only Jesus Christ can do this.

In light of the Biblical teaching on justice what do we make of Jim Wallis’s position?

  • The government is not the means by which social justice is to come about but it is to brought through the local church.
  • If the government is taking this responsibility it means that the church has abdicated its responsibility to care for the poor and dispossessed and as a pastor he needs to be calling the church to action not handing it over to the government.
  • The church is to be socially active and politically active but is to find its hope in Christ alone and should not align itself with a political party.

I am fairly well connected within the church world. I have a pretty broad knowledge and in many cases specific knowledge of how churches engage in social justice. I know of none that are biblically sound who turn funds over to the federal, state, or local governments. This is against IRS non-profit law. They would lose their tax exempt status by doing so. I do know that under George W. Bush’s Faith Based Initiative that many churches received federal funding to carry out their social justice programs. This created great problems for many of these churches as they became tied into the federal government in such a way that was unbiblical and forced them to break their own principles regarding hiring of staff.

From a biblical perspective we are to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. I hope that tax deductible gifting will continue for non-profit organizations it is a blessing that our country has provided. However, churches will deal with what comes and the gospel will continue to go out meeting the spiritual and physical needs of people.

Finally, our responsibility as Christians is faithfully and purposefully engage in the political process. This means that we must do what is needed to bring about the election of men and women who will rule from a biblical worldview. This is why in the last presidential election I wrote in my vote as I did not believe the two parties provided me with a proper option. In my opinion this candidate was the only candidate that represented a Christian worldview. The other candidates espoused a secular humanist perspective.

In short, we deal with many of the problems we do because of the inactivity and idleness of the church. If we would engage as we ought many of these problems would disappear.

Here is push back to my position:

Here’s what Sojourners says “… social justice can only be achieved by the recognition that capitalism and the economic inequality it produces must be replaced by a “classless” society wherein all differences in wealth and property have been eliminated.“ Just a little bit different definition, huh? Their leader, Jim Wallis, called the USA ”… the great power, the great seducer, the great captor and destroyer of human life, the great master of humanity and history in its totalitarian claims and designs.“

Regarding Glenn Beck, yeah, he’s a Mormon. My dislike of that religion mirrors yours. But I think what he’s trying to accomplish is not some missionary event for the LDS, but rather warning all church members to be on the lookout for the use of the term “social justice” by their own church. If that church defines it the way you do, great, not a problem. But if the church’s definition more closely matches that of the Sojourners, then you ought to leave immediately. Basically, he’s telling people to do their homework. Churches are still ran by “men” which to me means there is always the possibility that they could go astray and that we should always be holding them accountable. Again, the Progressives have taken a term that sounds innocent enough and have perverted it into something completely different. Think about it this way, what if someone in your church was promoting a special collection to promote a project for “social justice”. Odds are, you wouldn’t have thought twice about it. After all, it sounds good enough. But now, I bet you would look into it a bit further, wouldn’t you? That’s really what Glenn Beck is saying, look deeper into what definition is being used. Mormon or not, I think it’s good advice.

My Response:

Yes, the definition of Sojourners is off base and I would argue is not scripturally supported. So, it seems that this is one of those times where maybe Beck has been a bit “sloppy”. I run across this often as I interact with people in the church realm who are in the spotlight. They take important and nuanced issues and reduce them to the point where they are saying things that they maybe they ought not to say.
I am beginning to think that this situation with Beck is someone doing just this. He has taken a nuanced issue and become overly reductionistic. The reality is that most of his audience does not attend the kind of church where this happens (I am guessing he is drawing from african-american, urban, pentecostal, liberation types) and this is why the backlash was so strong. This is all combined with the overly individualistic theology of his Mormon worldview and it translates into people like me who normally would find much in common with his position experiencing big red flags!
I will definitely be listening/reading him with a different, more generous, eye in the future as a result of our conversation!


I hope that by putting this snapshot of a conversation out there I can show that there are two sides to the coin. Both are concerned with big issues but both are coming from two very different perspectives. As a result we can talk past one another. This was a fruitful and helpful conversation where we both actually listened to one another.


We spent some time looking at Jesus’ discussion about fulfilling the law. Now, I want to look at another of the stories that bring to the forefront the issue of freedom and the law. This one is found in Matthew 8:5–13:

“When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.”

You might be asking “what does this have to do with freedom and the law?” I think that has everything to do with freedom and the law. A Roman Centurion, the very image of imperial power comes to Jesus, a backwoods, Jewish rabbi and asks him to heal his servant. The word “appealing” is παρακαλῶν and it really is pointing to an “urgent exhortation”. Eugene Peterson renders it, “came up in a panic”. I think that this is a great picture. How humiliating it would have been. Then this Centurion, this image of Rome’s great power and might did the unthinkable, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” Truly, a remarkable image for those standing around watching. Rome was yielding authority to a Jewish rabbi. Incredible!

Jesus’ comment is even more amazing! He uses this as an opportunity to teach that the Kingdom is open to people such as this: tools of the Emperor’s oppressive regime will be invited to table fellowship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! This is remarkable! The violent, oppressive Gentiles are invited to the table? The sons of the kingdom are thrown into outer darkness? How can this be?

Luke’s account gives us a bit more insight into the matter:

“After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.”
(Luke 7:1–10 ESV)

We learn now that the Centurion is a man who loved the Jews. He even built their synagogue. It appears that this Centurion was a “God-fearer”. Most likely he was a not a convert to Judaism or the Jewish Elders would have made that clear to Jesus. This was a man who believed in God. His faith was such that he could not bear to have Jesus enter his home. He was “poor in spirit” and he would come to inherit the kingdom!

Jesus was free to heal and forgive this man. He was free to invite him to table fellowship with the patriarchs. The law said otherwise (or one would assume so). Freedom is again found in the breaking down of barriers between people and God. This Roman Centurion had great faith and could happily receive the fellowship of the great cloud of witnesses without worry because, “for freedom Christ set us free.”

This Centurion was the very image of the world and all of its trappings. He had money, power, and authority. Yet, his humble faith found him a place at the table. Our freedom comes from humility and it is in this humility that we can sup with “the world”. It is with humility that we can be “in the world” and “not of the world.” We enter in with those around us freely because the table is open and any may come to it. Grace has bought a spot for any who would trust in the faithfulness of Jesus.


We have evaluated the great verse on freedom, Galatians 5:1 and now I want to go back. I want to look a the first in-breaking of freedom in the gospel of Matthew. We find it in Matthew 5:17–20:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17–20 ESV)

This passage is insightful for us to begin getting a sense of Jesus’s thoughts on the law and of freedom. This passage from Matthew is unique, it is not found in the other synoptics or John (Luke 16:14–17 might be considered parallel but is so different that this is unlikely). However, there is a very clear allusion to this passage in Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Paul’s epistle to the Romans came prior to Matthew’s writing of the gospel. Matthew was also very likely to be from Anitoch (which was Paul’s sending community). I think that we should be mindful of the influence of Paul and Matthew and Matthew on Paul. This reality will help us to determine in greater depth what is going on here in the narrative.

This passage is in the heart of the “Sermon on the Mount” and Jesus is speaking to the masses. Verse 17 is critical as it sets up the rest of the teaching, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” Why does Jesus say this? It is because he is setting the stage for what will follow where he says, “You have heard it said…But I tell you…” Jesus is making clear that he is in no way setting aside the Older Testament. He is taking it to the next level.

There are some disconcerting comments made in this passage. First, anyone who relaxes the law will be called least in the kingdom and to enter the kingdom of heaven you have to have greater righteousness than that of the Pharisees. This is an incredible statement! The Pharisees were amazingly righteous men. They had laws upon laws to make sure that they never broke a single law. The Pharisees fasted, prayed, and gave. They knew the Scriptures better than anyone (well except for Jesus, since he inspired them and all that! This is a hard teaching.

But, we have the rest of the story. Two key words that I want to point out: πληρῶσαι and γένηται these are the terms that we translate as “fulfill” and “accomplished”. These are key for us who have the rest of the story. πληρῶσαι is the Aorist Active Infintive. The aspect of the Aorist is a completed work. Jesus is saying that he will complete the fulfilling of the law and prophets. How can he do this? He can do this living a perfect life. He goes on to say that nothing will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished. All what? All the Law. Jesus did this. In himself he did all the law, he fulfilled it. In a singular moment he brought about the final and perfect fulfillment of the Law.

I hope the logic here is becoming clear. The righteousness that he talking about, the greater righteousness is his own. There is no hope of living the Law with perfection. One cannot do it apart from divine aid. The divine one, the God-man himself is the only one who can bring about this fulfillment. Therefore, as we trust in his faithful fulfillment we find our righteousness. Remember Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

The dawn is breaking. The Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in Christ. We move from here to begin to see this reality played out on the stage of life. But, that’s for the next post.




Yesterday we began exploring Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” We explored the historical and literary context a bit. Today, I want to draw some conclusions regarding freedom. The key word in the verse is “freedom”. It is ἐλευθερίᾳ in the Greek text in the dative. ἐλευθερία is a word that that at its heart means liberty in the context of becoming free from slavery. Why is it in the dative? What is the purpose of this case here? This is the dative of interest which is a subset of the indirect object (Wallace, 143). This means that Christ set the Galatians free “for the benefit” of freedom.

Think about this for a moment. Christ set them free. Why? He set them free so that they would experience freedom. This means that they were, at some point, not free. What were they not free from? To what were they enslaved? Remember Paul is discussing in Galatians what it means to be “in Christ”. How can someone know they are in the community as opposed to be outside of the community. The Galatian converts were confused and needed direction. They turned to the other community of “the Book” and were informed that they needed to follow certain rituals. These rituals concerned table fellowship, festivals, and circumcision. These boundary markers, that have been thoroughly discussed by Wright, Dunn, Schreiner, and others, are the very things that are causing Paul such consternation.

The Galatians were becoming enslaved to boundaries of in/out that were obliterated in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In chapters three and four Paul laid out the differentiation between the law and the promise. Now he brings them to the point of action where they must realize that these laws are not necessary for them to interact with God. They do not need to become Jewish to be in Christ. Christ has set loose the boundaries of who is in and who is out. There is now freedom to live as they are in Christ.

Freedom here, therefore, is a liberation from a law which mandated one identify oneself by doing certain activities. The community of the people is open and free, the boundary markers have been shifted (baptism and communion, another series of posts coming soon). The outworking of being “justified” is inclusion or exclusion from the community of God. One cannot be “in the camp” if they are not justified. Justification prior to Christ came through the law, the following of mandated requirements to show that one was in the community of faith. Christ’s coming freed humanity from this stricture because he himself fulfilled these requirements and provides a means by his crucifixion and resurrection to enter into the community by faith alone, trusting in his finished work.

Paul anticipates the critics, “Freedom leads to license!” Not so, says Paul. This freeing from the old boundaries frees us “through love to serve one another. (5:13b)” Why? The freedom from boundary markers that separate one people from another allows us to love all those that come across our paths. We no longer have to concern ourselves with the issues that drove Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan.

Summary idea: Freedom in Galatians 5:1 is the freedom for anyone to be in God’s community and for us to relate to God as who we are and to serve anyone regardless of who they are.


Whenever I think about freedom, I think about William Wallace. Is it because I have Scottish blood running through my veins? Maybe. Is it because of Braveheart (one of the greatest ‘guy’ movies ever)? Maybe. I like to think it is because the story of Scottish liberation from the tyranny of the English is powerful, beautiful, and thrilling. I like to think it is because the imagery of a small revolutionary movement, spear-headed by a single passionate leader is what I long to see happen in the church. I hope it’s also because freedom is something that is full of beauty, hope, and trust.

Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” This little sentence has been the cause of a great many problems even though it was meant to be the solution of a great many problems. You know the old saying, “Give them and inch and they take a mile”? This is how many feel about Galatians 5:1. Why did Paul give them an inch? Why did he not call the Galatians to follow the ten commandments? I think that this is a wonderful starting point in our journey about law and grace.

The problem with beginning at Galatians 5:1 is that it is near the end of the letter to the Galatians. To get a good sense of what is happening we must understand the context from which this verse comes, both historically and literarily.

Where do we begin? Let’s begin with the situation to which Paul was writing. There was a significant Jewish minority in the region of Galatia, stemming from the fact that approximately 2,000 Jewish families were forced to relocate to the region in the second century BC. As the Galatian converts, whether Jew or Gentile, were coming into contact with the large Jewish minority they were facing questions that needed answers. The key question being in reference to what it meant for a person to be included in the community of faith. 

This historical setting is critical to coming to an understanding of what is happening in Galatians 5:1. The community of faith wanted answers. These answers were not coming from the reality of the crucified messiah but from a Jewish tradition that did not always line up with grace. The general answer that this little group of Galatian converts were receiving was that to be in the community of faith you are to do certain things and not do certains things. This was a law that brought guilt, shame, and dishonor to most that sought to uphold it.

The literary context of 5:1 is also important. In Galatians 4 Paul has illustrated the difference of being under the law and under grace by comparing Hagar and Sarah. Following his brief discussion on freedom he moves on to look at the practical outworking of being a Christ follower in the second half of chapter 5 and chapter 6.

This issue of freedom is important because Paul is juxtaposing it against living under the law and equates is to living under grace. Therefore, we must grapple with what Paul is saying in 5:1 and come to some conclusions. We will pick this up tomorrow, so that the posts don’t get too long.

James S. Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era, (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 1999), 213.

Paul Barnett, Behind the Scenes of the New Testament, (InterVarsity Press: DownersGrove, IL, 1990), 175–177.


Now that we have finished our travels through Brian McLaren’s newest book I have been pondering what’s next. For a while now I have been chewing on the dual topic of freedom and law. What does Christian freedom mean? What is the role of the law this side of the cross? How does this affect our interaction with culture, religions, and one another? How do we know if we go beyond freedom and move into active disobedience? I am hoping that we can bring some clarity to some of these issues and also find some application for them over the next few days.

As we conclude the discussion on freedom and the law, we will then begin to explore the sacraments. I wrote a couple posts about this topic a couple of years ago but my thinking has developed a bit more. I am hopeful that we can engage in a dialogue surrounding baptism and communion that will help us to think about these two means of grace can help us engage with the world around us.

I am looking forward to the adventure. I hope that you will join me and that we can have some healthy conversations along the way. It’s much more fun when we do!


I saw this today and that it would be great to link these four posts for you. Emergent Village did an interview with Brian McLaren. So, if you are not reading his book you can at least hear him talk in his own words. I thought it was a good interview and will help give you more insight into his positions. While many of my own issues are not dealt with, he gives you more to think about.

Melvin Bray and Brian McLaren — Pt. 1

Melvin Bray and Brian McLaren — Pt. 2

Melvin Bray and Brian McLaren — Pt. 3

Melvin Bray and Brian McLaren — Pt. 4


This is the tenth and final post interacting with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Please remember that I cannot reproduce the book in these posts. I will do my best to summarize without being overly simplistic or reductionistic. Each post will be two parts. The first will be a summary of McLaren’s discussion and the second will be my reflections.

The What-Do-We-Do-Now Question: How can we translate our quest into action?

The final question that McLaren presents us with is really not a question that the Church is asking but is the question that the movement he is calling for needs to ask. This full out application, how do we move forward in light of the answers given to the previous nine questions? To answer this question McLaren turns to historians to help frame his answer. Specifically he calls on the macro-historian to help us understand where we are in the human quest. He labels each movement of humanity with a color of the rainbow.

  • The Red Zone: The Quest for Survival: This is where all humanity begins. We have a need for food, water, shelter and look to the gods or God to provide this for us.
  • The Orange Zone: The Quest for Security: We look to the gods of God to be our Warrior, Protector, Provider in relation to other clans. Current example: Current examples: Prosperity Gospel Churches and Pentecostals.
  • The Yellow Zone: The Quest for Power: We developed city-states and needed God to ordain them as good to keep the people in line under the authority of kings and emperors. Current examples: Fundamentalists and Hyper Calvinists.
  • The Green Zone: The Quest for Independence: We found the earthly kings to be oppressors and so we needed God to become a judge who mandated laws and punishment. Current examples: Those developing systematic theology.
  • The Blue Zone: The Quest for Individuality: Thanks to law and judgment based on rationality we are now free to pursue God’s “blessing” on our plans and salvation became individualistic. Current example: Mega-churches.
  • The Indigo Zone: The Quest for Honesty: We realize that through our rampant individualism we have done great harm to the creation and one another in the name of God and we call for an honest re-assessment. Current example: Emergent Church Movement.
  • The Violet Zone: The Quest for Ubuntu: Once we have come to the place of honesty where we are humbled we begin the seventh quest for healing. This is the peace, shalom, or ubuntu: embracing one-anotherness, common-goodness, and interconnectedness.

In light of this, McLaren argues, that we need to have “indigo” Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and others come together to create a “violet” zone where healing and unity can take place. This zone,

“…challenges us, then, to learn to see in a completely new and unpracticed way, to forgo seeing previous stages in the old dualistic terms of good/evil or right/wrong. As we get acclimated to the violet zone, we learn to see all previous zones as appropriate and adequate for their context, just as we consider infancy, childhood, and adolescence as appropriate and adequate in their time, not bad, evil, or wrong. Similarly, the new stage into which we are growing isn’t right; it’s simply appropriate and adequate for the challenges we now face. (237)”

To support this religious evolutionary mindset McLaren argues from 1 Corinthians 13:11–14:1:

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”
(1 Corinthians 13:11–14:1 ESV)

It is here that McLaren sees Paul calling for an evolution in our understanding. He argues that Paul is calling for a consistent move away from exclusive faith to an inclusive faith because in so doing we find greater wholeness and ubuntu.


I appreciate McLaren’s desire to bring some closure to the discussion. I am thankful that in this chapter he has laid his cards on the table and allowed us to fully understand his presuppositions. I also think that his use of other disciplines is warranted and appreciated. It is always helpful for us to think through our faith from the macro-historical level.

I read this chapter and my breaking heart finally broke. I found so much in this work that I appreciate but this heart broke me because in it I found that McLaren was not calling for a new kind of Christianity just an old kind of religious pluralism. I felt as though I was reading John Hick from nearly fifteen years ago. McLaren could have just pointed us to a Newsweek article on how we are all becoming Hindus and made it easier on himself.

The treatment of 1 Cor 13:11–14:1 does not do justice to the passage and ignores it’s immediate context. The problems that the Corinthians had was in-house. This passage is in connection to the worship service and is followed by chapter fifteen’s description of the resurrection and its centrality to the faith.


To close these posts I want to say that I recommend a reading of McLaren’s text. The reason is that it provides a good dialogue partner. McLaren raises many questions that need to be answered. In the near future I will seek to give my own perspectives on these ten questions. Some of the answers are better than others. Some of the pendulum swings are necessary and good. However, at the end all of this is left wanting because Jesus the crucified and resurrected God the Son is strangely absent. His uniqueness is set aside in the name of “peace”. Yet Paul in his letter to the Romans is quite clear, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”


This is the ninth post interacting with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Please remember that I cannot reproduce the book in these posts. I will do my best to summarize without being overly simplistic or reductionistic. Each post will be two parts. The first will be a summary of McLaren’s discussion and the second will be my reflections.

The Pluralism Question: How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?

McLaren begins his chapter on pluralism by setting the stage with this statement:

“If we want to get on the right side of the life-and-death divide, we need to start with some sober, serious, old-fashioned repentance, starting with this admission: Christianity has a nauseating, infuriating, depressing record when it comes to encountering people of other religions (and a not much better record when encountering people of other brands of Christianity either). (208)”

The question he determines to answer is, “how do we find a better approach to the religiously other in our quest for a new kind of Christianity?” This is in contrast the various genocides, abuses, and oppression that Christianity has perpetrated over the course of the centuries. The answer is straightforward:

When I’m asked about pluralism in my travels, I generally return to Jesus’s simple teachings of neighborliness such as the Golden Rule, “Our first responsibility as followers of Jesus is to treat people of other religions with the same respect we would want to receive from them. When you are kind and respectful to followers of other religions, you are not being unfaithful to Jesus; you are being faithful to him.” Then I ask them how they would want people of other religions to treat them. They typically say things like: “I would want them to respect my faith, show interest in it and learn about it, not constantly attack it, find points of agreement that they could affirm, respectfully disagree where necessary — but not let disagreement shatter the friendship, share about their faith without pressuring me to convert, invite me to share my with them, include me in their social life without making me feel odd,” and so on. After each reply, I generally say, “That sounds great. Go and do likewise.” (211–212)

McLaren goes on to discuss John 14:6, “And Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father but through me.” First, he argues that the context is talking about the Temple and not heaven. John 14:1–3 reads:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.And you know the way to where I am going.”

Here he argues that the phrase “Father’s house” is in reference to the Temple because the last time the phrase is used in John’s gospel is when Jesus “cleansed the Temple” in John 2. McLaren argues that unless it is explicitly stated otherwise we should assume continuity in the terms. However, Jesus has said that he is changing the rules from an earthly temple to his body. Therefore, he is calling them into a “new-people-of-God-as-temple”.

He goes on to state that the disciples concerns are not in reference to others but themselves. They want to know where he is going. They do not understand. Therefore, the words that Jesus states in verse 6 in response to Thomas’ question about what to do after he dies. McLaren argues that Jesus is saying, “Thomas, you know the way, the truth, and the life. It’s me. Just remember me and do what I did and you will find your way into my new temple, my peaceable kingdom here on this earth.” The “no one” then of verse 6 is the disciples, only. That if you look at Jesus you see the Father and all is well. This alternative understanding of John 14:6 should make us realize that the Christian faith is in no way calling for a soul-sort between other religions, but to serve, love, and respect them.


I appreciate that once again McLaren is able to bring to the surface again a huge issue that makes many Christians squeamish. I am also thankful that he calls the institutional Church to the dock and finds them guilty of great horrors in the name of Jesus. I think he is right that we as the corporate body of Christ needs to continue the process of repentance for our ancestors and own them as part of our history. I also agree that we are called to treat people of religions with respect, charity, and grace.

Unfortunately I think that he has done violence to the text of John. Let’s take a moment and look at this. First, the context of John 14 is Jesus’ preparation of the disciples for his death and what comes next. In chapter 13 Jesus washes their feet and tells them about his betrayal and Peter’s denial. But, he wants to raise their understanding from the immediate circumstances to the bigger picture.

We come to John 14:1 and Jesus’ comforting words that proclaim his preparation on their behalf in his father’s house. The most likely and simple understanding of this is that he is referring to heaven. Why? Because the context is his death. There would not be place for him to prepare for his disciples anywhere else. Then he refers to his return and his calling the disciples to himself.

Thomas asks the “what’s the way” question. Jesus responds with “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” How do they get to the Father’s house? They get there by embracing Jesus. There is no other way. It seems here that Jesus is making a point here by repeating the article three times (which would have been unnecessary in the Aramaic and is unnecessary in the Greek). To come to the Father there is but one way.

I agree with McLaren that the key to the passage is not John 14:6 but John 14:9b: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” This points to the divinity of Jesus and his uniqueness.

The argument that “Father’s house” relates to the earthly temple does not jive. Jewish understanding of the Temple was that it was a shadow of heaven. Therefore, it makes sense that Jesus is turning their understanding upside down. It is no longer through the sacrificial system that people get right with God but through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, God the Son. The earthly Temple is replaced by full entrance into the real Father’s house. No longer would his people be worshiping in shadows but in spirit and truth (John 4:23–24).

If we really love people then we must call them to faith in Christ. Again, McLaren leaves us wanting more. If a man is about to drink poison we can respectfully ask him to stop. But, at some point there is a necessity to stop him from killing himself if we really love him.

I think that Penn Gillette said it well, “How much do you have to hate someone to not proselytize them?”


This is the eighth post interacting with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Please remember that I cannot reproduce the book in these posts. I will do my best to summarize without being overly simplistic or reductionistic. Each post will be two parts. The first will be a summary of McLaren’s discussion and the second will be my reflections.

The Future Question: Can we find a better way of viewing the future?

McLaren now sets to go to work on dispensational eschatology in his third question regarding the application of a new kind of Christianity. He paints a humorous and relatively accurate picture of the dispensational premillenial understanding of eschatology. McLaren sees in this understanding of the eschaton the inherent willingness to destruction and war because Jesus is coming back and will be setting the world right through massive bloodletting in the war of the apocalypse.

If this is the old way of understanding the future, then what is the right way? We are to understand the eschaton not from a perspective of a “fixed end point toward which we move, but rather a widening space opening into an infinitely expanding goodness. (195)” We are to reject the “soul/sort” universe where people are eternally sorted into eternal bins marked “redeemed” or “damned”.

No, the future is un-doomed (195). Jesus, by inaugurating his peaceable kingdom brings resurrection, liberation, reconciliation, and salvation. Judgment is the forgetting or destruction of things which are deemed unworthy and the good things of a person’s life will be saved, remembered, brought back for a new beginning.

McLaren argues for what he calls a “participatory eschatology” where we participate in God’s work and we anticipate it’s ultimate success (20o-201).


Anytime that the predominant dispensational premillenialist view of the eschaton is brought into question I am grateful. This understanding of Christ’s return is damaging and does violence to the text. It indeed brings about the concerns that McLaren highlights. Much of what is said in answering this question is to be commended.

I do find that there are two key problems that need to be highlighted (McLaren also does a poor job of handling the term, “parousia” but responding to that would make this post too long!). First, the issue of judgment from McLaren’s perspective is problematic in that it does not take into account the text. It is not that someone foisted the idea of “soul-sort” onto the text. Jesus describes the time when when he will sort the sheep from the goats. This is not simply a “forgetting” of the things that Jesus did not appreciate. This is a casting out from his presence. McLaren simply goes too far and is wrong.

The second problem is greater than the first. The second problem is that there is no sense of an actual end a “telos” if you will. The eschatology that McLaren proposes does not include an ending of time where we see a real redemption of all things. We do not see any understanding or description of the life to come. What we do have is a works based, faithless, evolutionary understanding of Christian religiosity.

I would encourage McLaren to spend some time reading and understanding fully amillenialism. This perspective handles his concerns and remains true to the biblical text.