Could you worship a God who makes Himself nothing?

[This is the first synchroblog of our new blogging collective The Despised Ones addressing the question of power and authority in the light of Philippians 2. Check out other synchroblogs on our facebook page and like it while you’re there!]
What does the cross say about God’s nature? Not just Jesus, but God — all three members of the Trinity, including the Father. When Jesus says to Philip in John 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” how do we apply that statement to the cross? If Jesus “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a slave and being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7), does that tell us something about what God is like or is Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion only a very specific tactic that God used which reveals nothing about how God really is? Continue reading

The Despised Ones: A Bloggers Collective

316243_10152853452075077_756394589_nYou may have noticed that an eery looking emblem recently appeared on my blog with some Greek and Hebrew along with a reference to 1 Corinthians 1:28, one of my favorite verses in the Bible: “He has chosen the despised ones and those who are not to bring to nothing the things that are.” Several nights ago, I got into a casual conversation with my blogger friends Zach Hoag and T.C. Moore. We decided to join forces in some fashion under the banner of “The Despised Ones.” We made a logo and invited some friends to join us, whatever it is that we will end up doing. Continue reading

Talking atonement with the confirmands

Our youth pastor invited me today to talk about atonement with our confirmation class. As you know, I am very passionate about offering a better explanation than the Four Spiritual Laws of how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection reconcile us to God. I’m not very good at turning confirmation lessons into silly activities with cotton balls and papier mache. So what I offered them was pretty simple: a single sheet of paper with a brief description of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection at the top and then seven different concrete problems that Jesus’ atonement provides a solution for (realizing that’s not an exhaustive list). I gave them scripture passages to read and had them try to answer based on the scripture how Jesus’ atonement addressed the stated problem. Continue reading

From fear and trembling to refuge (Psalm 2)

I have always had a particular attraction to Philippians 2:12, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” partly because it creates a crisis for evangelicals with a formulaic “decision for Christ” account of salvation. I do believe that justification by faith is a core part of our salvation, but I also think that δικάιοω (justify) means “make just” more than “declare just” in a way that the English language screws up with the word “justification.” Though we need to have Christ’s justification declared to us to wrest us free from self-justification, it is a means to the end of the Holy Spirit’s sanctification by which we are made just. And God doesn’t need to have the results of an act that He authored “declared” back to Him through some contrived performance of feigned ignorance. You can call the trust that God instills in us a “decision” if you need to, but it’s a decision that must be remade over and over again, and furthermore it’s a surrender, not the product of dispassionate rational deliberation (sorry Bill Bright!). In any case, I was reading Psalm 2 in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament this past Monday. It may have been what Paul had in his head in writing Philippians 2:12 because it talks about “fear” and “trembling” and how they relate to the refuge that God offers to humanity. Continue reading

Submission As Leadership, Marriage As Mutual Servanthood

Few verses in the Bible have been more damaging historically to women in Western civilization than Ephesians 5:22 — “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” This has been a go-to verse in the argument against giving the women the right to vote or letting them have careers outside the home; more drastically it has been used to counsel women in abusive relationships not to leave their husbands since they should submit to them even if they’re violent. It was because of this history that my wife Cheryl and I decided to tackle this verse in the first sermon that we preached together seven years ago at our wedding, also because the passage from which it’s taken — Ephesians 5:21-33 — has beautiful wisdom to share about marriage when the social and Biblical context for the passage is properly understood. This past weekend at Burke United Methodist Church, we preached together on this passage again, washing each others’ feet while the other one spoke in order to model our understanding that submission is the form that Christian leadership takes. Continue reading

God’s love in 4-D: Ephesians 3:14-21

This weekend, I preached on Ephesians 3:14-21, which talks about the “height, length, width, and depth of God’s love.” I have no idea what Paul actually had in mind with these terms (neither do any of the commentaries), but it gave me an opportunity to be creative in talking about different aspects of God’s love according to geometric dimensions. I decided that I would interpret the “depth” of God’s love as the way in which God zeroes in on every detail of creation with infinite intensity, which is what I tried to capture in the diagram to the left. I found scriptures that talked about each of these four dimensions of God’s love. And I explained why this love requires the cross of Jesus Christ in order to perfectly fulfill itself. Continue reading

Persecution and epistemic closure

Epistemic closure is a recently defined philosophical term that describes someone who is so thoroughly encased in the echo chamber of their own ideology that they are completely immune to considering other viewpoints. The term is derived from the Greek word pistis which means faith or trust. When people live in epistemic closure, they are immune to integrity because they only trust people who already agree with their ideology. They scan potential sources of information for the presence of code words that indicate whether or not the speaker can be trusted as a member of their own ideological tribe. As a pastor communicating in our “post-truth” environment of ideological tribalism, I try to be very attuned to both the code words that make me trustworthy and those that instantaneously discredit everything I have to say. Continue reading