How the despised ones bring everything to nothing (1 Cor 1:28)

“He has chosen the lowly things of this world: the despised ones and those who are not, to bring to nothing the things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:28). It isn’t just my heart’s tattoo; I really believe it’s one of the most important prophecies of the Bible. Jesus was the ultimate despised one, a king whose reign is defined precisely by his utter social rejection. When we are truly saved, we become despised ones with Jesus, being “crucified together with Christ” so that “it is no longer [we] who live but Christ who lives in [us]” (Galatians 2:19-20). What are we saved from? Legitimacy, which is “friendship with the world [and] enmity with God” (James 4:4), since it is a declaration of independence from God. How do the despised ones that Paul describes “bring to nothing the things that are”? By destroying the categories of legitimacy constructed by the normal majority (a.k.a. “the world”) as a substitute for reliance on God’s mercy.

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Total providence or total depravity? (John Cassian as a remedy for Augustinian nihilism)

In a recent post, John Meunier writes, “You cannot speak intelligently about Wesleyan theology if you discard the doctrine of Original Sin.” He shares a statement in the Book of Discipline which says, “We believe man is fallen from righteousness and, apart from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is destitute of holiness and inclined to evil.” I agree that we need to know we’re sinful in order to recognize our need for Christ. But is the Christian gospel really unintelligible unless we believe that every non-Christian around us is “destitute of holiness and inclined to evil”? I wanted to offer a different way to narrate this, with the help of 4th century saint John Cassian. I ultimately think a doctrine of total providence is more faithful to John Wesley’s vision than total depravity.

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Ugliness Into Beauty #6: Proof of God’s Mercy

There’s an elephant in the room when we talk about the cross. The cross is indeed solidarity with the crucified, the victory of God’s truth over Caesar’s power, the introduction of nonviolence into the world, a means of reconciling enemies, and a pouring out of sacred life blood that removes the curse of sin from the Earth. Jesus’ crucifixion also pays a price that needs to be paid for my sin. For many Christians, this sixth blessing of the cross is the only blessing it offers; ugly misrepresentations of this blessing have polluted our discourse, causing many other Christians to reject this dimension of the cross altogether. Regardless of that, we need to be justified by the punishment Jesus suffers on our behalf because only people who know that they are unjustifiable and entirely dependent on the mercy of God can enter the kingdom. Otherwise, we are a danger to the communion of all who live in the vulnerable safety of God’s mercy.

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God’s grace in 4 stick figure drawings

We had the first session of our new member class today. During the first class, we do introductions and give a primer on Methodist theology. We had the fortunate problem of having too many people in the class so our introductions took up all but 15 minutes. I didn’t want us to leave having only done introductions, so I tried to explain in 15 minutes and 4 stick figure drawings the three kinds of grace we talk about in Methodism: prevenient, sanctifying, and justification, along with the Christian perfection that God’s grace draws us toward. The way I’ve illustrated it is a bit individualistic (which of course I would have criticized if someone else had done it ;-)). I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions for improvement. Continue reading

Is God a capitalist? (John Locke and the Romans Road)

One of the theories Doug Campbell advances in The Deliverance of God is that the “Romans Road” account of salvation which has dominated American evangelical Christianity for the past half-century cannot really be blamed on Martin Luther or John Calvin. The Romans Road is paved through the reconfiguration of the Reformers’ theology to fulfill the “decision for Christ” salvation formula of Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and all the sidewalk pamphleteers of the Four Spiritual Laws, who are more indebted to the 18th century political and economic philosophy of John Locke (and others like him) than the Reformation itself. In other words, the debate is not where we think it is: John Calvin vs. Jacob Arminius over the question of free will. They have both been repurposed according to a set of 18th century British presumptions about capitalism, rationalism, individualism, and liberal democracy. Continue reading

A law unto themselves: virtuous pagans in Romans 2

I’ve been struggling through the beastliest book about the beastliest book in the Bible: Doug Campbell’s 1000 pager on Romans called The Deliverance of God. Campbell has been pummeling the exegetical claims of the Four Spiritual Laws gospel of Bill Bright (aka “decision for Christ,” “sinner’s prayer,” “getting saved,” etc) that has become such a brilliantly successful commodity in the evangelical salvation industrial complex that most of today’s evangelicals cannot really imagine any other purpose for Christianity. What’s interesting is that to Campbell, Calvin and Luther are not the problem behind the disaster of the evangelical gospel; the problem is the 18th century British empiricist/rationalist lens (Hume, Locke, et all) through which Calvin and Luther are studied and interpreted. I’m only about a third of the way in and only that far because I skipped a hundred or so pages. But one of the hugest potholes in the Romans Road I’ve discovered is the presence of virtuous (perhaps even heaven-bound?) pagans in two places in Romans 2. Let me share the passages and briefly reflect on them. Continue reading

What I taught the confirmands: the sea of wrath and island of mercy

For the past two years at our church’s confirmation retreat, I’ve shared a message based on Ephesians 4:14-16 that summarizes the way that I understand Christ to save us from sin by incorporating us into His body. I have often described my dissatisfaction with the popular evangelical account of salvation in which sin is understood solely as an offense against God’s honor which is “paid back” by Jesus’ blood on the cross. The problem with this predominant account is that it allows little recognition of the cross’s role in addressing the spiritual imprisonment sin creates as a powerful social force. In any case, the way I explained to our church’s confirmands the problem that Jesus’ cross resolves was by using the metaphor of a sea of wrath that we can only escape through an island of mercy created by Christ. Continue reading