Thinking about the “This” in “This do in remembrance of me.”

It was written on the table at the front of the church I grew up in and chances are it was the same for you. I always thought the wording was strange — Why “this do” rather than “do this”? — but it is a part of my tradition.

But one thing we often forget is that communion or the Lord’s Supper is a complete construction. Originally a part of the Jewish tradition of the Passover meal, the bread and cup had specific roles to play in the meal. The Lord’s Supper that many evangelicals today practice is a far cry from that: It’s not a meal, the bread is as small a piece as you can get — sometimes it’s a wafer, the cup is also as small as you can get. There is no hope of eating too much or getting drunk — practices we are warned against in 1 Corinthians‬ ‭11:20-22‬‬‬ but are in no danger of doing today. We commonly practice it once a month but the original passover was a once-a-year occurrence. So when Jesus commands us to do “this” until his return what is the “this” that he is referring to?

It got me thinking of how we shape memories and recollections in our lives. The Lord’s Supper was derived from the Jewish Passover. I wonder what other corporate memories other cultures have that are equivalent to Passover?

I guess what I am really asking is this: Is it possible that other cultures have ways of remembering Christ’s death until he comes in as powerful a way as communion? If so, what elements would be needed?

There would need to be some sense of inclusion in the collective memory of the people group in question. The passover was one of the big events in the history of the children of Israel. It was when God physically saved his people from slavery and oppression by preserving (or passing over) their houses and eliminating those of their oppressors. This lead to their Exodus from the land of Egypt back to the Promised Land. To be of Israel meant that one had experienced the Passover.

There would also need to be some symbol of salvation. This is closely connected with my previous point in that the experience of the Passover was an experience of salvation. Jesus use of the symbols of the Passover connects the Exodus event near the beginning of the Bible withthe salvation Jesus would enact later on.

It would also need to be include some hope for the future — “until he returns.” The Passover was more than just a historical event. It also pointed ahead to the Passover that would occur in the end when God returned to judge the living and the dead. What God had done in the past would be repeated for his people in the future. Once again, Jesus’ use of these symbols connects his salvation into the future salvation of the world.

It would also have to be as powerful symbolically as “bread” and “cup.” Both of these are powerful words in the Bible. Of course, they often simply refer to food or a drinking vessel. But they also have symbolic meanings. Bread is used so symbolise the abundant life in God’s Kingdom (Luke 14:15; John 6:31). Cup tends to refer to wrath and suffering in the Bible. Drinking of the cup means to accept the suffering associated with Jesus (Mark 10:38-39).

But some cultures value other things higher than bread or the cup. The various Philippine languages, for example, have hundreds of words normally translated as “rice” in English [palay, bigas, kanin, kakanin, tutong, etc.]. The opposite is true for the Tagalog word tinapay — there are probably hundreds of English equivalents [bread, cookies, cake, crackers, pizza, etc.].

Apart from foods, smells and sounds make me remember. They can be so powerful that when I smell or hear them I have no choice but to remember. When I was in university I only had to smell diesel smoke to be transported back to where I finished High School. When I broke up with my girlfriend (now my wife) for a couple of weeks the sound of the telephone was the most horrible thing I could hear. Too many memories that (I thought) I would never have again.

What kinds of things elicit memories for you? How can you utilise them to help you remember Jesus death until he returns?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

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Essentials vs. Non Essentials Revisited

A number of years ago, I wrote a couple of posts (here & here) in response to a discussion we had at our SEATS School of Missions regarding the quote from Rupertus Meldenius, “in essential matters, unity; in non-essential matters, liberty; in all other matters, charity.” The post went on to basically dissect the various meanings of “non-essential” after merely brushing along the surface of “essential.” I stated, “Other than certain foundational theological truths that we can’t mess with, we are surrounded by a vast amount of stuff that can be classified as personal preferences.”

Of course, the kind of stuff that was in my mind for this section was stuff like who Jesus is, who God is, the importance of the Bible, etc. Stuff that is really non-negotiable; stuff that Christians must agree on. 

But what if those very theological foundations of my faith were not so much foundations as they were constructs of my culture and mind? 

Enter Andrew Walls. I had the privilege of attending a couple of seminars by this great church historian from Scotland. To be honest, I had never heard of him until two days before the event, when I received an invitation to attend two days of lectures on Christianity and culture hosted by the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture and Asian Theological Seminary. What I heard and experienced during those two days shook some of my fundamental theological understandings to the core!

According to Walls, the early Jerusalem Christians[1] were in fact Jews through and through. They worshipped in the temple, they offered sacrifices, and they followed Moses’ law to the letter. They even didn’t engage in missions to Gentiles! It wasn’t until persecution scattered those early followers of the Way that the message jumped from being something Jewish to being something also understood and accepted by Gentiles. It is here where my mind was blown. In Acts 15 we read the account of the first Council of Jerusalem, which was convened to discuss this new situation that had arisen – how do Gentiles fit into the whole scheme of things? The answer is surprising. The Jewish church leaders in Jerusalem basically said to the Gentiles, “You don’t have to follow Jewish customs.”

What struck me was that the Jerusalem followers of the Way still followed these Jewish customs. Their whole faith was built around Jesus fulfilling a specific set of prophecies, completing a complex legal systems, and being a part of the chosen people. The council in Jerusalem didn’t throw that out, they merely said that there are other valid ways of expressing the centrality of Christ. It was the first “Essentials vs Non-Essentials” debate and what is surprising is that the entire Jewish system is declared to be a non-essential! Note that this isn’t just a discussion of what kind of music to use in worship or what language to use when preaching – this is a complete overturning of the basic fundamental theological and social system of God’s people.

The Jews who followed the Way discovered that their Way was not the only way and that the Others’ Ways were sometimes polar opposites to what they knew and believed to be true in their hearts!

Of course the exciting thing is that God allows such diversity among his followers without being threatened.[2] How can we do the same thing without being threatened ourselves?

The key for Walls is the role of the Holy Spirit in the process. We often focus on the power aspect of the Holy Spirit. Could it be that the “counsellor” role of the Holy Spirit is counselling us on how to do church in relevant and understandable ways?


[1] In fact, according to Acts, followers of Jesus were not called Christians until a group formed and became known in Antioch. “The Way” was the term used to describe those who followed Jesus. 

[2] A discussion of Walls assertion that the church has never ever been unified – and that’s ok – will have to wait for another time 🙂


Feedback is always welcome.

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3 Types of Evil: Part 2

Part 1 of this post proved very popular on Facebook. If you haven’t read it yet, head on over to get caught up. Lots of good questions and discussion. In light of that I thought it might be a good idea to flesh out some of the ideas in that post and try to answer any questions that arose.

What should be obvious from part 1 is that evil is a complex subject. For sake of clarity I am using evil as a catch all for everything bad that is in the world. I base this on the statement God repeatedly makes in Genesis after creating stuff: “Everything is very good.” For me that means that if something is bad then it isn’t a part of the original creation. Jumping off on this, I think that our theologising is misguided when we start from the concept of original sin since Adam and Eve were created with original righteousness. So my conceptualisation of evil includes death, sin, suffering, sickness, injustice, rebellion, and self-righteousness/self-trust and anything that causes these things. 

I actually expected most of the comments to be about structural evil since that is a huge topic in the church today. However, as it turned out, most comments related to personal evil and natural evil. 

Any discussion of evil has to start with Genesis 3 where we see the story of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden of Eden. It’s interesting to look at the three types of sin that are talked about in this passage.

Personal Evil. We begin with the curses that are placed upon Adam, Eve, and the serpent for their personal sins. It is important to point out however, that even though Adam, Eve, and the serpent sinned personally, the bible treats their personal sin differently that our personal sin because their personal sins had an effect on everyone else.

As Saul Samante asks, “Is it safe to conjecture that these three evils are not really separate entities but deeply connected with each other? Let me put it this way: Personal evil (Adamic sin), gave rise to cosmic and systemic evils. Prior to the fall, everything was perfect and harmonious. After the fall, cosmic harmony disintegrated and human structures or systems became oppressive.”

Romans says that death entered through Adam’s sin. This is significant for the rest of our conversation because a large part of our understanding of natural evil is connected to death. We will expand on this below.

Structural Evil. We also see Adam’s sin as it affects his family namely Eve and their unborn children. So here we see that Adam’s personal sin has an effect upon the structures of the day, in this case family but of course eventually expand on to become greater structures in society. As Mike Swalm points out,

“Your examples of systemic evil, for instance, could they stem from some of the systemic curse language (your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you/enmity between woman and serpent etc)?”

Mike is on the right track. The language used in these two phrases is significant in that we see linguistic parallels between this passage and the account of Cain’s sin a few chapters later. Take a look:

In Genesis 3:16 God says to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

In Genesis 4:6, God says to Cain, “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

These simple words set the stage for the battle of the sexes. They set up a struggle of evil desires that each party will have as a result of sin. The woman will desire to control her husband in the same way that Cain’s sin desired to rule over him. On the other hand, the husband response is to rule over his wife.

Of course God had already told us what the relationships should be: a “helper who is right for him,”taken not from his head nor from his feet but from his side. It is a statement of equality, of companionship, of working together, of partnership.

Natural Evil. We also see in the in the curse on Adam that his curse will impact the ground or the environment around him and this is a curse as it exists upon the natural world. Whereas prior to this the ground would give up its riches willingly to him, after the sin he would have to work for these riches with the sweat of his brow and his work would be less than productive. 

Lex Ely Aspiras asks, “In natural evil, what makes natural phenomena evil? It is easy to understand that when people suffer because of typhoon Ondoy, this indeed is evil. Somewhere in the world, a storm is raging without affecting any human being, is this also evil? An earth-size storm is raging in Jupiter for centuries, is that evil? Sunspots adversely affect life on earth, are sunspots evil? Beyond earth’s atmosphere up to the edge of the observable universe, everything appears anathema to life as we know it, is this “everything” evil?”

We saw above that Romans says that death entered through Adam’s sin. This is significant because a large part of our understanding of natural evil is connected to death. It seems that prior to Adam’s sin, there was no death. That means that because death is a direct result of sin that things that cause death are also a part of the evil that pervaded the universe after Adam. Following this along further, events that seem normal in today’s world — typhoons, earthquakes, floods, pandemics — may have existed in the past but they certainly didn’t cause death.

One question we need to ask is, “What is the cause of these weather patterns?” Certainly they are natural but are there also other causes for them? The Bible pretty explicitly says that some weather patterns such as storms, pandemics, and famines can be caused by sin. I have written about that here

There is actually some evidence that weather patterns prior to the flood were different that the weather patterns we have now. Genesis 2:5-6 says there wasn’t any rain but that a mist or underground water watered the earth. This seems to imply that the rains that came before the flood were something unique and unknown during those days. All that to say that storms may not have existed prior to Adam’s sin.

Where do the Spiritual Powers fit into all of this? Another aspect of evil emerged from the online discussion, particularly by Rei Lemuel Crizaldo and Rene del Barrio. “What about,” some asked, “The evil associated with spiritual powers?” We do see within the story the reality of spiritual powers because the serpent, who we later discover is the Satan, is in fact a spiritual power. Because of the curse we see that his power is limited through this encounter because he can no longer walk upright but must crawl on the ground dragging his belly. The question remains as to where these spiritual powers fit into today’s world.

Ultimately the question associated with this is, “Is Satan responsible for causing some of the evil in the world, too?” Many stories of people’s encounters with spiritual evil exist. I have heard stories of people being freed from spiritual oppressions that have caused mental illness and even death. The Bible also has countless examples of Jesus freeing people from unclean spirits. It cannot be denied that spiritual powers exist and are active in the world.

One thing the Bible does say about spiritual powers, however, is that their power is limited. Statements like “Don’t give the devil any opportunity to work,” “Resist the devil and he will run away from you,” and “Put on all the armor that God supplies” mean that it is within human power to not be overcome by Satan. 

Jesus, in the direct context of a discussion of whose power he is using — Satan’s or God’s — says that he needs to “tie up the strong man.” The strong man in this case is the devil.

The Book of Revelation speaks of the end of all kinds of evil, including the end of rebellious spiritual powers — Satan ends up cast into the bottomless pit and the lake of fire. Evil is eventually eliminated from creation and we get a glimpse of what life will be like without any evil.

So it seems that if we give permission or opportunity for these powers to exert themselves then they will. And it appears that if we do not give permission or opportunity then these powers cannot act.

So what then of Job? While it is true that God and Satan do have a conversation or two about Job it’s also important to note that it is in fact God who brings up the subject, not Satan. God clearly lays out the rules of engagement for how Satan is to tempt Job and in the end it is God who is glorified, and Job who is vindicated. Satan is by no means the hero of the story. Also note that Job’s trials were implemented through structural evil (bandits & enemies attack on his flocks), natural evil (a windstorm destroys his kids’ house, fire falls from heaven and consumes his flocks, and boils cover his body), and personal evil (Job prayed for them that God would forgive any sins his kids may have committed). So the tripartite theology of evil is even seen here.

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

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Is it possible that my understanding of the Bible is wrong and if so how am I supposed to find out?

“When I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came to these people. This was the same thing that happened to us in the beginning. I remembered that the Lord had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit.’ When they believed, God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. So who was I to interfere with God?” When the others heard this, they had no further objections. They praised God by saying, “Then God has also led people who are not Jewish to turn to him so that they can change the way they think and act and have eternal life.”‭‭ Acts‬ ‭11:15-18‬ ‭GW‬‬

In Acts 1011 some incredibly significant changes happen in the early church. Here we read that the good news of Jesus Christ is expanded to include proselytes to Judaism and non-Jewish peoples. 

In Acts 11 some people complain about Peter’s encounter with Cornelius saying, “You went to visit men who were uncircumcised, and you even ate with them.” Peter then goes into a lengthy explanation of what had happened,  repeating every detail of the events of Acts 10. He says, “When I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came to these people. This was the same thing that happened to us in the beginning. I remembered that the Lord had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit.’ When they believed, God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. So who was I to interfere with God?”

Once the complainers heard this “they had no further objections. They praised God by saying, ‘Then God has also led people who are not Jewish to turn to him so that they can change the way they think and act and have eternal life.'” 

The argument seems to be based on shared experiences. Jesus promised that they would be baptised with the Holy Spirit and so if anyone else shares in that baptism then that is a good thing. 

It got me thinking about issues that we face today. Issues where we know that we are right, not simply because of our opinions but because the Bible tells us that we are right. Is it like that for us today, too? Is this a model of how to make determinations in these issues? Are there things we are absolutely convinced about that the HS may have a different opinion on? How would the HS make that known to us?

In Acts 10-11 we see two ways that these kinds of changes happen: 

1. Sometimes God intervenes directly and tells people where they need to change. God directly tells both Cornelius and Peter that change is coming.

2. Sometimes people act on their own and God blesses their actions. One could argue that the people from Cyrene who first shared the good news with the Greeks of Antioch were simply following Peter’s example. But we also read that there was another discussion held in Jerusalem about the issue that resulted in the statement of Acts 15 regarding how non-Jewish followers of Christ needed to act. 

Andrew Walls, in The Gospel as the Prisoner and Liberator of Culture, says of theology, “It is therefore important, when thinking of African theology, to remember that it will act on an African agenda. It is useless for us to determine what we think an African theology ought to be doing: it will concern itself with questions that worry Africans, and will leave blandly alone all sorts of questions which we think absolutely vital. We all do the same. How many Christians belonging to churches which accept the Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith could explain with any conviction to an intelligent non-Christian why it is important not to be a Nestorian or a Monophysite? Yet once men not only excommunicated each other, they shed their own and others’ blood to get the right answer on that question. The things which we think are vital points of principle will seem as far away and negligible to African theologians as those theological prize fights among the Egyptian monks now seem to us. Conversely the things that concern African theologians may seem to us at best peripheral.”

What Walls is saying is that theology is developed around questions that are important for people in societies and because there are a variety of societies in the world, sometimes the issues in one society are unintelligible to the people of another society. 

For example, clearly the NT people saw no problem with the prominent role that women played in the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ. From the women who supported Jesus and the 12 financially, to the women who first announced the resurrection, to Saphira who, with her husband Ananias, taught Apollos the ways of the gospel, to Junias who was numbered among the apostles, there were many women who were involved in ministry at the highest levels! If this is indeed the case, why do many have such big issues with it today? 

Justice is also a key biblical issue. When Ezekiel says, ”Put a mark on the foreheads of those who sigh and groan about all the disgusting things that are being done in the city” (9:4) he is telling us that it’s a sign of connection to God to complain about injustice. If justice is so important to God, why is social criticism that is a part of movements such as Critical Race Theory, Black Lives Matter, and #metoo often rejected by the church?

When writing this post I had a lot of issues in my mind that I think others get wrong. But the real question I need to ask myself is where am I getting it wrong? Where do I need to hear the voice of God and change my deeply held convictions and move into conformity with his will? 

Feedback is always welcome. 

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Robert Ruggiero on Unsplash. 

How can the church partner with the world while maintaining its identity? By imitating Jesus’ Changing Water into Wine. Lessons from Thomas Aquinas.

“All truth is God’s truth.”

I can’t tell you how many times I heard this while I was in seminary. And that was a good thing because I needed to hear it. I had spent the years leading up to seminary developing my understanding of truth that was pretty much limited to what the Bible (or at least my interpretation of the Bible) had to say. Any claims to truth outside of the Bible were suspect for me.

I even remember a time in a class I took at USask on Religious Perspectives on Death and Dying when I had to comment (in a test) on the validity of the fictional Death of Ivan Illich to my understanding of death and dying. My reply was that since it was fiction it wasn’t true! Wise Professor Robert Kennedy pointed out that truth can be found in a variety of areas of life including fictional accounts.

And it appears this debate isn’t all that new. The other day I took a look at Mitchell Atencio’s interview Why Nathan Cartagena Teaches Critical Race Theory to Evangelicals with Nathan Cartagena on Sojourners and saw a great idea from Thomas Aquinas.

In 1261, a few years before I went to seminary, Thomas Aquinas wrote a commentary on Boethius’ On The Trinity. Apparently some agreed with my early ideas — that blending God’s Truth with rational truths somehow muddies the mixture. Article 3 of Super Boethium De Trinitate by Thomas Aquinas answers this question in a very interesting way:

“5. It may be said: No conclusive argument can be drawn from figurative speech, as the Master (Peter Lombard) says. Dionysius also says in his letter to Titus that symbolic theology has no weight of proof, especially when such interprets no authority. Nevertheless it can be said that When one of two things passes into the nature of another, the product is not considered a mixture except when the nature of both is altered. Wherefore those who use philosophical doctrines in sacred Scripture in such a way as to subject them to the service of faith, do not mix water with wine, but change water into wine.”

Part of the problem that I faced in the early years of my theological formation was that I somehow believed that the world was divided into two parts: Sacred and Secular. As as young Christian I was warned about the dangers of the world — the danger that I would become worldly. This came out in many areas, including concepts like Christian music, Christian schools and colleges, and Christian bookstores. There was also the idea that people needed to leave the world and join the church. Interestingly there was never an idea that through my influence the world would become holy.

How can we apply Aquinas’ concepts of changing water to wine to the whole sacred-secular debate? The sacred-secular debate keeps the two worlds apart because of fear of contamination — but a contamination that always goes from good to bad. Aquinas says that in order for two ideas to mix that they both need to change. When it comes to God’s truth however, the end result is not a mixture of good and bad but a transformation of the bad into good, much in the same way that Jesus changed water into wine.

So, that brings us to current issues where this can be applied. I can think of three examples. When I was younger the bad guy was psychotherapy. Psychotherapy was bad for reasons that I can’t remember. Fortunately today I have personally benefitted from people who have been successful in blending the truths of God that can be found in psychotherapy with the truths of God found in scripture and have applied those truths into my life.

Christians have also had a love-hate relationship with science throughout the years. Some have suggested that vaccine hesitancy among some Christians is a direct result of the religion-science debate. The argument seems to go along the lines of, “Science promotes evolution that directly goes against the creation accounts of the Bible. If then scientists tell us that vaccines are ok that must mean that they aren’t ok.” What we as Christians often forget, though, is that the early scientists were in fact men and women of faith who desired to know more about God’s creation and started an in-depth study of it.

There has been a lot of talk of late in the church about Critical Race Theory. And that is in fact with the Nathan Cartagena interview is about. The main objection appears to be something like, “CRT is bad because it is Marxism.” Once again the fear of the world influencing the church rather than the church influencing the world rears its ugly head. What we often forget is that justice is one of the key aspects of the Kingdom of God but since it has been neglected so much by the church we need the expertise of those who have thought about justice issues in depth.

Of course I am not advocating an uncritical approach to these issues. As Aquinas himself tells us to “subject [rational philosophies] to the service of faith.” But what I am advocating is that Christians tap every resource available as we seek to turn the water of the world into the wine of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, establishing the values of the kingdom of God, serving God and neighbour, and testifying to God’s truth.

After all, Jesus promises that “the gates of hell will not prevail” against the church. Why should we act as if it already has?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

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Of Governments and Hope: Where should I look for hope?

The Bible doesn’t really have all that great a view of governments. Certainly we are to obey governments but that’s not what i mean. The bible’s best option for human governance is always presented as being God.

We see this throughout the story of Israel in the Old Testament. Israel is freed from Egypt because Egypt’s government had enslaved them. God then led them through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

We see this in the story of Israel’s first king — Saul — a move that God saw as being a rejection of his rule, and even the most cursory of reads of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles shows us the failure of this system.

We also see this in the choice of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to use the term “gospel” when identifying their story type; gospel or good news being the term Roman Emperors used to describe their own ascension to the throne. The four are in essence saying, “Jesus is a better emperor than Rome’s!”

That’s why government in the Bible is often referred to as an animal (most translations maintain the archaic expression “beast,” but as I’ve said here and here that that leads to strange interpretations). What this means is that we shouldn’t be surprised when the government tears us to pieces. The example in Canada at the moment is the whole Indian Residential School system (which I have written about here, here, and here) but I am sure we can come up with countless other ways governments around the world mess things up. Some organisations —such as Transparency International, Amnesty International, and Wikileaks — exist merely to evaluate the level of mess that governments make. Of course in the Biblical examples we also see some animals that have fatal wounds but don’t die, perhaps indicating domesticated governments who aren’t as powerfully bestial.

This is of course the danger of identifying any human political theory or system with God’s way. One recent Facebook conversation I had highlighted this. My friend pointed out the abuses that more leftist firms of government were guilty of, including the top echelons becoming rich while the rest remained poor. Of course the same could be said for rightist governments and their billionaires. Apart from this there are the similarities between parties on a vast range of issues — their differences are often highlighted but their end policies often end up being the same.

Regardless of the level of wildness in government, it is clear that something else is needed. So what’s the solution? I see at least two:

Lamb of God. The Bible describes Jesus as being more like a lamb than an animal. Certainly He is also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, but in the context of the animal or beast language used in some parts of the Bible, Jesus as lamb is contrasted. No one in the created world — animals included — is found worthy to get God’s plan rolling: “” Eventually it is the lamb who was slain who is able to open the seals.

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will rule as king forever and ever.” It’s the phrase “has become” that I would like to focus on. How does this process happen? There are some that view eschatology as something God does at the end of time. Our only tole as humans is to be the cause of the end because of our unbridled wickedness.

But I wonder if that is indeed the way things are meant to happen? If our wickedness brings about the end, is it possible for us to work together with God in the transformation of the kingdom?

Certainly God has included humans in his plans. Jesus did after all commission his human disciples (including us) to make disciples of all nations. Whose disciples are these to be? Jesus’ disciples of course. What will these disciples do?

Disciples are filled with the spirit, whether that means being empowered to do the work of God, to a way to cope with the troubles of the world without using addictions.

Disciples reconcile people to God and to each other. Paul talks about the ministry of reconciliation that we have on earth. This reconcilition imitates what God through Jesus began. He then says that “has given us this ministry of restoring relationships” as well.

Disciples bear fruit. We often interpret this to mean make disciples but fruit in the Bible more often than not refers to a personal transformation. This is best exemplified in lists of comparisons, most famously enumerated in Galatians 5, but also found elsewhere.

Disciples continue Jesus’ Isaiah 61/Luke 4 tasks of proclaiming Good News, forgiving others, giving sight to the blind, and freeing the captives.

Unfortunately the church hasn’t always been successful at fulfilling these tasks. What’s also unfortunate is that I have not always been successful at fulfilling these tasks. We have a lot to work on, both corporately and as individuals, in the process of working together with God for the transformation of our societies.

I wonder what we should work on first?

Feedback is always appreciated.

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“Why are you kicking against the goads?”: How do I know when God is trying to get me to change?

A few weeks ago we needed to vaccinate some calves against black leg. It was quite the process. First we had to round up the cows and calves in the pasture and gather them in a temporary corral. Then we had to move them through the farm yard and across the road into another corral — this one with three sections. We then had to separate the cows from the calves. The final step was to run the calves through a chute four at a time (a process that involved a lot of shoving). At the end of the chute they were locked into a smaller space so that they could be vaccinated. Eventually they were all released into another pasture to continue on with their lives.

None of this would have been possible without a goad.

I actually had to take a look at my Oxford Thesaurus of English to get an equivalent modern word for “goad.” Here are a few: Stimulus, incentive, encouragement, stimulant, stimulation, inducement, fillip, impetus, impulse, spur, prod, prompt; incitement; motive, motivation.

Basically, a goad is a tool used to get cows to move.

We had a variety of goads. Some were long thin whip-like instruments made of fibreglass. Others were old hockey sticks with the blades broken off. The most scary of the bunch, for the cows that is, was a plastic shaker that made noise when moved. All of these tools are used to make sure the cows go where you want them to go.

Jesus used the word “goad” in his encounter with Paul on the Damascus Road when he asked, “Why are you kicking against the goads?” (Acts 26:14). It was him saying, “I have been trying to get your attention for so long. Why are you not listening?” The way the question is asked implies that God had been trying to get Paul’s attention for quite some time.

What were the goads that Jesus used to convince Paul? While the list is not explicit in scripture, I could think of these possibilities:

  1. Paul knew the scriptures and the scriptures point to Christ — road to Emmaus. yet Paul didn’t see this yet. 
  2. Paul heard Stephen’s testimony about Jesus, but still approved of his death. 
  3. Paul knew the teachings of the Jesus followers, which is why he persecuted them. 
  4. Now Jesus takes matters into his own hands and personally appears to Paul in a very dramatic way!

We can be grateful that Paul finally yielded to the goads and chose to follow Jesus but the real question is, “What goads am I kicking against?” And perhaps, “How do I know when God is trying to convince me of something?”

[I thought about including a list here but then that might be goads you are kicking against and not ones that I am kicking against!]

Feedback is always welcome!

Image by Ekrulila on Pexels.

3 Types of Evil

The years leading up to the pandemic have exposed a variety of bad things in the world — things that perhaps in the past were not as noticed by people not directly affected. These issues include the #metoo movement, racism including Black Lives Matter, Critical Race Theory, Asian Hate, and Residential Schools, and violence such as the militarisation of the police.

One area of dispute is the extent of evil in the world. Some people simply say things like, “I am not racist so racism isn’t real” or “I have an indigenous/black/person of colour friend who hasn’t experienced racism so it isn’t really an issue” or the kicker “Once people accept Jesus they are no longer sinners so things like the mistreatment of others will just disappear.”

These various approaches view evil as being something personal and so provide personal solutions to it. And this isn’t all that surprising given that the default message of the evangelical church over the years has been, “Invite Jesus into your heart and your sins will be forgiven.”

Evil, however, is much more complex than simply being personal. In fact there are three types of evil, or sin, that are discussed in the Bible: Personal evil, natural evil, and structural evil.

In this post we will take an introductory look at each of these types of evil with the hope that a renewed understanding of these will lead to justice and change in society.

Personal Evil.

Personal evil has been the central way that people in recent times have understood evil. There are three ways to approach how the Bible understands personal evil, each one from a different cultural perspective.

Guilt to Innocence is the most common understanding of personal evil, largely due to the predominance of western Bible interpretations. It uses a courtroom as its motif. This understanding has led to popular gospel presentations such as the Four Spiritual Laws, Evangelism Explosion, and the Roman Road to salvation. The emphasis to this approach is that all are guilty of sin and are thus in need of righteousness. This perspective is common among individualistic societies.

Shame to Honour is another perspective on personal evil. In recent years, students of culture have seen that many peoples on the earth do not see things in light of guilt and innocence. Some people better understand a proper relationship with God through concepts of honour and shame.[1] Shame to Honour emphasises relationships and how they can be restored. This perspective is common in communal societies.

A third approach to understanding personal evil is Fear to Power. In recent years, students of culture have seen that many peoples on the earth do not see things in light of guilt and innocence. Some people better understand a proper relationship with God through concepts of Power and Fear. Jesus overcame the power of Satan and death on the cross and gives power to those who are afraid.

Natural Evil.

Natural evil includes things like famine, drought, disease, wild animals, floods, storms, and disease.

Floods: God brought “a flood of waters on the earth” (Genesis 6:17).

Thunder, hail, lightning: God “sent thunder and hail, and fire came down” (Exodus 9:23).

Destructive Wind: God sent a “great wind” that destroyed Job’s house and killed his family (Job 1:19). Earthquake: By the Lord “the earth will be shaken” (Isaiah 13:13).

Drought and Famine: God will shut off rains, so neither land nor trees yield produce (Leviticus 26:19–20).

Forest fires: God says, “Say to the southern forest, ‘I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree’” (Ezekiel 20:47).

These events affect people all over the world and the results are often not good. A super typhoon went through the Philippines a number of years ago. In a small coastal town many lives were lost as logs from the mountains were washed through the town. Those logs were seen as a curse. About a week later, a small island community was awakened by cries of, “Thanks be to God. He has provided these logs for us. Now I can build a house/boat/business.” Those same logs cursed a week earlier in another place were now seen as a blessing.

It’s important to point out that these natural evils started with the curse in the garden of Eden, where, because of Adam’s sin, the ground was also cursed. It is this curse that leads to the examples listed above.

Structural Evil.

Structural evil is a system or pattern of beliefs or activities in an organization or culture that hinders or opposes the advance of God’s kingdom in this world. There are structured evils rooted in society’s prevailing religious, social, economic or political systems. The key element of structural evil is that it is organizational, a pattern or network that opposes the Kingdom.

Examples of structural evil include things like tax evasion, caste systems, dowry, sexual mutilation, slavery, racism and apartheid, colonialism, and bribery or governmental corruption.

Key elements of structural evil include the existence of a wicked power or spirit. Structural evil is also corporate, either organizational or institutional. It is systemic, with patterns, networks of activities or parts. It has a multiple nature including laws, law enforcements, culture, taboos, attitudes, beliefs, lack of alternatives, and repressive rule. It can be social, political, economic, or religious. It aims to create chaos, division, injustice, human suffering or natural damage. It opposes advance of Kingdom of God.

The good news for structural evil is that at the cross Christ defeated sin, death, and Satan. These now have no hold on believers. All authority is given to Christ … He is far above all and every other name. The Church as His Body shares this authority over Satan & evil spirits. In Christ the believer is given the authority to disciple nations.

Conclusion.

The church needs to further develop its theologies of evil so that we can both acknowledge the extent of evil in the world, and also find better ways to deal with it. Emphasis needs to continue, of course, on repentance from personal evil, but we also need to incorporate ways to repent from both societal and natural evils.

What do you think of this 3-part framework?

Feedback is always welcome!

Notes:

1 Other great sources of Honour-Shame based theologies include works by Jackson Wu, Jayson Georges, and Werner Mischke.

Image by Paulette Vautour on Unsplash.

What should be my place in the church’s pecking order?

My wife and I have spent the past week on a farm and one incident reminded me of the common saying, “Pecking order.” There were a bunch of eggs in the incubator waiting to be hatched and our arrival at the farm was the due date. One by one the little chicks pecked their way out of their shells and began the next phase of their lives. Which is when we noticed an interesting occurrence. Those chicks who hatched first began to peck at the chicks born later. This is the famous pecking order that determines who gets to peck whom?

It’s the most basic form of relationship and while I can’t begin to try to understand the way a chick’s mind works it does illustrate the way some relationships are oriented around power and domination.

Sometimes the same thing happens when people come to faith. Those who come to faith first set the rules for the next who come to faith. There are countless examples in the Bible, perhaps the most famous being the Pharisees and the prodigal son’s older brother.

Acts 15 is a great example of how the pecking order was challenged and a new way of relationship was hatched. Apparently some of the early Jesus followers decided that non-Jews also needed Jesus and so they began to proclaim Jesus to others. The first stage was Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, who was a Jewish proselyte. Others, however, went further and began to talk about Jesus with people with an entirely different worldview. This of course created turmoil in the early church as people accused both Peter and these other Jesus followers — now called “Christians” — of violating God’s laws.

Peter’s rebuttal is simple: The same Holy Spirit that guides us also guides these new Jesus followers.

The result was the order issued by the early church leaders that is recorded in Acts 15 that outlines how these new Jesus followers could be folded into the church.

This was a reversal of the pecking order concept where the old timers get to set the rules. Now the newcomers could create their own rules. In fact, it was the very rules themselves that lost their ability to shape culture. Rather, the Holy Spirit would somehow intervene in the lives of these others and help them to reshape their own cultures for Jesus.

Jesus says, “Be the one who gets pecked. It’s ok to be pecked because I have been pecked, too.”

So what other pecking orders exist within the church? What does the Bible have to say about these pecking orders?

Intergenerational pecking orders. But Jesus said in Matthew 19, “Don’t stop children from coming to me!” and also a few verses earlier in Matthew 18, “I can guarantee this truth: Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me.” What does this mean? Sometimes people whose faith is fresher have a better approach to faith.

Favourite Bible Translation pecking orders. It is interesting that most of these debates are about English translations of the Bible, even though English is not one of the original languages. It doesn’t make sense if we are happy accepting other language translations but are only happy with one English one. What is important is that God says in Isaiah 55, “My word … will not come back to me without results.” What does this mean? God’s word works.

Favourite preacher pecking orders. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 — “some of you say, ‘I follow Paul’ and others say, ‘I follow Apollos,'” — talks about the teamwork involved in church ministry. What does this mean? Be a team player when it comes to church. Listen to a variety of voices. Engage in conversations rather than monologues.

Theological pecking orders. People love to fight about theology. I can remember to this day some of the theological arguments that I had more than 30 years ago — and I loved debating because I knew that I was right! That is the problem with theological debates because the goal is to find out who is right and who is wrong. The bible advises us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). What does this mean? Be prepared for the reality that you may not always be right!

Hermeneutical pecking orders. Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation and for many years one hermeneutical system has reigned supreme: the grammatical-historical method. The problem is that this isn’t necessarily the default hermeneutical system used either in the Bible (eg. take a look at how Peter interprets scripture in at the end of 1 Peter 3) nor in various parts of the world. What does this mean? Sometimes other people know how to make sense of things too. It’s best to dialogue with them rather than condemn them.

Where is your place in the pecking order? How can I embrace being pecked rather than pecking others?

Note: A few days later I happened to see all the chicks huddled together because it was cold. I guess a common problem is more important than pecking each other! Is that why persecution sometimes makes the church stronger?

How can we move our way towards a lamb-like government rather than a wild-animal one?

“In my visions at night I, Daniel, saw the four winds of heaven stirring up the Mediterranean Sea. Four large animals, each one different from the others, came out of the sea.”

Daniel‬ ‭7:2-3‬ ‭God’s Word‬‬

Sometimes we are disappointed with the political leaders we have trusted. We suddenly discover that they don’t entirely embody the values we thought they did. People lauded Justin Trudeau when he first got elected Prime Minister of Canada but then the SNC-Lavalin affair, Aga Khan, and WE charity scandals came out and we realised that he was not all that different from other politicians. Or take the the whole Democrat-Republican divide in the USA. Regardless of where a party is on the political spectrum there are still a variety of issues that face leaders of all stripes that are more nationalistic rather than political, ala this tweet by Mark Charles:

I have been reflecting on a video I saw a few weeks ago from the Bible Project on Daniel. We just finished a study in Daniel where there is a series of visions that feature animals. Some animals have small horns and others large horns, representing presumably their varying levels of animal nature. These themes continue on in Revelation as well. One idea they had that has stuck with me until today is that governments tend to be animals and the only way that these beastly governments are defeated is by the “lamb who was slain.” Note that the difference between “wild animal” and “lamb” is significant.

It got me thinking about the “mark of the animal” and I wondered if having the mark on your forehead and right hand is in essence having faith in government as gospel rather than Jesus as gospel? The gospel genre in the Bible is, after all, a political genre developed by the Roman Emperors to show how great they were. Ratzinger, in his Jesus of Nazareth, pgs. 46-47, has this to say about “gospel:”

“This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, & redeemers of the world…. The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message … a changing of the world for the better.

“When the Evangelists adopt this word … what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here – a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk but reality…. the Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save & transform.

“Mark speaks of the ‘Gospel of God,’ the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word & deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place. For here it is the real Lord of the world – the Living God – who goes into action.

“The core of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

This is why Mark begins his account of Jesus’ life with “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God.” Another place we see this is in Mark’s account of Jesus temptation in the wilderness:

“At once the Spirit brought him into the desert, where he was tempted by Satan for 40 days. He was there with the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.”

Mark 1:12-13 God’s Word

If Pope Benedict is right and Mark chose to call his account a “gospel” based upon the political meaning of the word, then it is not unreasonable for him to use the terms “animals” in the context of Jesus’ temptation.

If the gospel is performative and not just informative, how can I daily perform Jesus as gospel in a world where most place their trust in wild animals?

If the gospel is performative and not just informative, how can I daily perform Jesus as gospel in a world where most place their trust in wild animals?

A good start in performing the gospel is to focus on four areas: Kerygma, Koinonia, Diakonia, and Marturia. In other words, we should focus on proclaiming Jesus as Lord of the Universe, on developing the values of Jesus’ Kingdom, on serving God & serving others, and on bearing witness to the Truth.

A good start in performing the gospel is to focus on on proclaiming Jesus as Lord of the Universe, on developing the values of Jesus’ Kingdom, on serving God & serving others, and on bearing witness to the Truth.

Only then will our desire for the wild become a love for the Lamb.

Image from https://unsplash.com/@quinten149