Why We Should Care (and Talk) About Mary

“And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’” — Luke 1:28

Author and podcaster Michael Hyatt, a former Protestant and current deacon in the Orthodox Church, states in one of his podcasts* that in Protestantism, Mary is “eerily absent.”

“I don’t think I ever heard, as a Protestant, a single sermon about Mary,” he says. Outside of the Christmas narrative, Mary is not talked about much. Having been raised in the Evangelical church, this was certainly true of my experience. If Mary was ever discussed in my Sunday School classes or from the pulpit, it was to emphasize how normal she is —  presumably as a way to distance themselves from Catholicism, the churches I grew up in presented Mary as just like the rest of us. That’s the impression I was left with, at least.

It’s true that Mary is not divine like God, and she should not be worshipped or thought of as such. Redemption and salvation come only from Christ. However, that doesn’t mean we cannot benefit spiritually from a proper understanding of his mother. To diminish or even dismiss Mary —  also referred to as the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, or the Theotokos (Greek for “God-bearer”), among other titles —  is to miss out on some deep and incredible theological realities about God, humanity, and womanhood.

Now, there is truth to the sentiment that Mary is just like us: she is a human being in need of a savior just as much as anyone else, a fact she herself acknowledges (Luke 1:47). But she is an example for all Christians because she fully submits to and obeys God. In fact, her humanity makes her actions and responses to her circumstances all the more outstanding and inspiring.

Dn. Michael calls Mary the “prototypic Christian” because her humility and acceptance of God’s will for her life is a model for us all. Her humility, he says, “is a huge shift…from the way we think about ourselves as Americans in the twenty-first century. We think we’re entitled. We deserve better. And even as Christians we sometimes think that…why didn’t I get a different life? Why didn’t I get an easier life?…But not Mary.”

After hearing Gabriel’s announcement that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit, Dn. Michael points out that Mary calls herself the maidservant of the Lord, and says, “Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) “She knows who she is and she’s content to obey,” explains Dn. Michael. “And she puts herself fully at the mercy of God’s word.” This is central to Mary’s significance to Christianity; Dn. Michael continues, “To me, whatever else Mary is for us as the Theotokos, she’s also the proto-Christian. The first Christian. The best example of what it means to receive Christ, not just with lipservice, but in our hearts, and to abandon ourselves completely to God.”

Further, we learn from her words in the Magnificat that “[Mary] begins with God…in verse forty-six: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord.’ (Luke 1:46) This is the essential feature of Mary’s life. This is why she is the protoypic Christian. This is why she’s a worthy example for all of us…Mary understands: it’s not about her…it’s about [Christ].” Mary demonstrates the proper Christian posture toward God: one that is marked by humility, acceptance of God’s will, and Christ-centeredness.

Another important reason we should care about Mary is that through her, womanhood, motherhood, and unborn life are redeemed and sanctified.

Christ redeems all of humanity. There seems to be, though, a special redemption given to women through the Mother of God. What does it say about God that the way he chose to redeem humanity was to become human, and the way he chose to become human was to be carried by and born of a human woman? God chose to be born and to have a mother who nursed and nurtured and raised him. This says that God values and esteems unborn life, women, and motherhood.

Through Mary, womanhood was redeemed: as Eve disobeyed, Mary obeyed. Through Mary, childbirth and motherhood were redeemed: as Eve was cursed to bear children in pain and suffering (Genesis 3:16), Mary was blessed to bring forth Christ and to be the vehicle of salvation and life. Christ is the second Adam. Mary has been called the second Eve.

Abortion is, to say the least, a tragedy for the unborn children who lose their lives, but it is also a tragedy for the women who lose or even willfully deny a part of themselves that is, in a way, divine. I am not suggesting that women who don’t bear children have an incomplete or lesser identity, but generally (and biologically) speaking, childbearing and motherhood are uniquely female things, and they therefore are part of the female identity. Because Christ was conceived and born and has a mother, the ability to conceive and bear children and the role of mother will forever be linked with the incarnation. Just as dismissing Mary is to dismiss a rich aspect of Christian theology (of which I’ve really only scratched the surface here), dismissing childbearing and motherhood is to dismiss a deep and sacred aspect of what it means to be a woman as well as what it means to be human.

“And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” — Luke 1:41-42

*quotations are taken from episodes of At the Intersection of East and Westa podcast of Ancient Faith Radio. The episodes quoted here are “Mary — The Prequel,” “Mary — The Annunciation,” and “Mary Meets Elizabeth.”

You should be especially nice at church: an examination of Galatians 6.10

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6.10)

This verse strikes me as being counter-intuitive. First of all, shouldn’t we do good to everyone equally? Secondly, if we are to do good “especially” to some, shouldn’t they be nonbelievers? The church is a place where people already recognize the goodness of God. I often think that since a person is saved, they are secure in their knowledge of the goodness of God, and there is no pressing need for my actions to serve as a reflection or reminder. On the other hand, I often feel a compelling need to point nonbelievers to God’s goodness by my actions, so that they too can become secure in God’s goodness. I can recall many times in which I have been more inclined to do good to a nonbeliever than a believer, simply because I want to win the nonbeliever over. When we see a world full of hurting, hopeless people, it becomes easy to be apathetic regarding your behavior around Christians and be more concerned with doing good to those who are lost. Yet, this way of thinking and accompanying behavior is not quite right.

To make sense of this command and readjust our way of thinking, we should start by examining the verse more carefully and then considering it in relation to Paul’s other teachings. The beginning of this verse, unfortunately, is easily overlooked. Paul writes, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone”. Paul is not calling us to neglect anyone in our good deeds. Paul is calling us to live with a mindset that leads us to do good to everyone whenever the opportunity arises. This verse is at the end of Galatians – a letter which emphasizes justification by faith and not by works. Paul teaches that we are not saved by good works. It is futile to try to save yourself or another by doing good. The reason we do good is because our Father is good, and we are created in his image. In other words, we ought to do good because we have been created to do so. When God use a good deed to be a reminder or a reflection of his goodness, then it is bonus.

With the proper reason for doing good in mind, let us consider Paul’s teachings on the church in 2 Corinthians. Paul’s letter indicates that church, as a whole, must be the starting place for the expansion of the Kingdom. Throughout the epistle, he discusses of the church’s obligation to share. The church must share in sufferings, forgiveness, and even material wealth.
In the context of sharing material wealth, Paul writes:

>Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. (2 Corinthians 9.14)

This is a tangible example of the sort of good that needs to be done within the church. We “do good” when we provide for our brethren; this could mean bestowing forgiveness, loving-kindness, or tangible goods. Likewise, our brethren ought to “do good” to us as well and provide in the places where we are lacking. When the church family does good to one another there is fairness and fulfillment. If we take Galatians 6.10 seriously, then members of the church should feel complete in forgiveness, love, and strength. Then, we can better serve to be a light in the world. Think of a stone lighthouse, in which the stones are the members and the whole structure is the church. Each stone lends its strength and stability to the others. Together, they make the structure strong, and are able to provide light to those out at sea. It is necessary that each stone is present and lending all of its strength.

As we consider Paul’s command to do good, we must keep in mind the proper reason for doing good. We bear the image of the Highest Good, and our actions should manifest this. However, by the grace of God, our good actions can also serve to transform those around us. This is what Paul is getting at in the latter half of Galatians 6.10. Ultimately, we do good because we can and should. However, when we do good especially to those in the household of faith, we are being used by God to form the beacon of faith that shines out into a world of lost souls.

The Seventh Day

“To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money…is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for man’s progress than the Sabbath?” – Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath


This past summer, I found myself in a lot of cathedrals. I traveled to Switzerland, France, Spain, and England, and in each place I saw tall turrets and brilliant glass windows. I quickly learned that experiencing the outside of a cathedral is not the same as experiencing the inside of a cathedral. The outside is colossal and glorious and allows you to see where the cathedral exists in space compared to all that exists around it. The inside is colossal and glorious in a different way. It is darker, holier. In it, your senses adjust to the sacredness of the space. The scents and sounds are different, the air is cooler, and there is no direct sunlight. Rather, all sunlight is filtered through stained glass windows wherein you see your Savior and His story. He is brighter than you, and you are aware of it. When you are in a cathedral, you are in a sacred space: a space built by man but dwelt in by God. This is the Christian tradition.


While the beauty of sacred spaces can be appreciated in itself, sacred spaces only fully affect us if the time within them is sacred as well. Abraham Joshua Heschel, Jewish rabbi and activist of thetwentieth century, speaks about the sacred thing that God built before man ever built the cathedral. In The Sabbath, Heschel points out that there was a designated sacred time before there were sacred spaces. This sacred time was the seventh day, the only thing God created in the beginning that He called “holy.” Sabbath—or Shabbat, as it’s called in the Jewish tradition—is like an incorporeal cathedral. It is a sacred architecture assembled not in space but in time.


During Shabbat, it is the participant who decides to make Shabbat holy. This is very different from sacred space. The sacred spaces we gather in (like cathedrals) are, in part, designed to help us adopt the right posture towards God during sacred times of worship. Yet in holy spaces, I fidget and my mind wanders if I have not learned to regard time correctly. Although sacred spaces invite you into sacred thoughts, if you have not learned to value time as sacred as well, you likely will not feel the need to actively give up your internal quarrels or evil thoughts. We can enter into sacred spaces while hiding these profanities so that they are invisible to everyone else. However, it is much more difficult to enter into sacred time while harboring profane thoughts. For Shabbat to occur, the participant must actively give up enemies, quarrels, and work. Worry is laid aside; war ceases. Shabbat is an internal commitment to keep the seventh day sacred, and it is this internal commitment to sacredness that enables us to fully experience the affect of external sacred spaces.


Shabbat celebrates time, not space, teaching us how to have a proper relationship with time. The result of the fall is a broken relationship between man and himself, God, and all of creation. We must learn how to correct our relationship to all aspects of existence again, including time, which is an aspect of existence that we often misuse. Driven by our desire for success, Americans often consider rest as merely a means to increase productivity throughout the week, failing to see rest as an end in itself. To Heschel, however, Shabbat “is not an interlude but the climax of living.” When we enter Shabbat, we enter into a glimpse of eternity, or as Heschel calls it, “eternity in disguise.” During Shabbat, we cannot pick up our worries and quarrels as we would on a normal day. We are commanded to enter into rest, and that rest reminds us that our earthly cares are just that—earthly. They cannot follow us into eternity, and if we enter Shabbat correctly, they cannot follow us into Shabbat, either. Shabbat is peace in action among man and everything else. For one day, we do not fight the earth, fellow man, or God. The only thing we fight during Shabbat is our own desire to do, a desire that often stems from the idea that doing is what makes us worthy or whole. Once we fight ourselves out of doing, we can realize that just by being—being God’s child, an heir to the kingdom, a new creation—we are worthy. Work is important to the Christian life, yes. But we must remember that it is God who makes us worthy and whole, not our work.


The cathedrals I found in Europe are merely one testament to how much we’ve done to preserve historically sacred spaces. We have done much less to preserve the ancient practice of sacred time. Imagine if the number of sacred places on earth were converted into sacred days during which we could experience the peace of the kingdom of God. Rest and peace can happen outside of a cathedral. We can fill the entire world with the sacred peace of Shabbat.


“And When You Fast:” Thoughts on Food in Preparation for Great Lent

‘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. – 1 Corinthians 6:12

As we approach Great Lent every year, a common question pops up in online articles, during coffee hours after Sunday services, and in casual conversations among Christians and non-Christians alike:

“So, what are you giving up for Lent?”

Some may give up an activity like engaging in social media or watching television. Others may pick a single food item, such as candy, or soda, or french fries. It’s good to try and purge things from your life that are unnecessary or overly time consuming, even if only for a temporary period.

But I want to speak of my personal experience in the practice of significant dietary fasting and why I’d like to encourage evangelicals (and all Christians) to consider a somewhat larger-scale food fast this year for Lent.

(Of course, everything I say here is based on my personal experience and should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice. Anyone who wants to try fasting or make any significant change in their diet should first consult with their doctor and consider their personal medical and dietary history and needs.)

I was raised in an evangelical tradition, and while I grew up accustomed to the notion of fasting, the extent of my experience with and knowledge of fasting and other Lenten practices was limited to my observations of Catholic acquaintances. I knew that people commonly gave something up for Lent, and many of my (Catholic and non-Catholic) friends talked about giving up something specific and limited, like their favorite junk food. Chocolate was a popular choice.

I didn’t try fasting until I was in college, and I went pretty large-scale, compared to the kind of fasting with which I was familiar. For Lent during my freshman year, I gave up all animal products: meat and dairy, essentially. This is the fast I have kept (not without slip-ups, of course) for Lent since then.

Fasting has taught me some important lessons about my relationship with food. I’ve learned that I use food to to self-medicate, to improve my mood, and to indulge myself when I’m having a rough day.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that when it comes to food, easily and often, I am not in control: rather, food controls me. When I suddenly can’t reach for my favorite comfort foods, I get frustrated, sometimes depressed.

The tagline of many Snickers commercials is “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” with the implication that eating a Snickers bar will help you feel more like yourself. But is it really good for us to believe that we are somehow not ourselves and out of control unless we can always immediately satisfy our cravings and fill our bellies the instant we feel the pang hunger?

An acquaintance once responded to the idea of fasting by saying, “I don’t need to fast because I’m free in Christ to eat whatever I want.” But it’s not good to always eat, or do, or say, or think whatever we want. Acting on every impulse and desire is not freedom.

I’ve also heard people balk at the notion of giving up food in any sense because they simply “love” food too much. If the only reason a person resists fasting is because they truly cannot fathom giving up certain foods, or they enjoy certain foods too much to abstain from them even temporarily, that is no mark of freedom, either. It is more like gluttony. Fasting has taught me that I far too easily turn food into an idol, something I worship and rely on in order to feel satisfied.

I never knew how much of a slave to food I was until I tried fasting.

Another benefit I’ve realized from fasting this way is that it enhances the celebration of the resurrection at Easter. Fasting, followed by feasting, enables us to celebrate with all aspects of our being. Humans are not merely intellectual or emotional creatures; we are physical as well. I think many people like to believe that our bodies are not really part of who we are, or they are at least a lesser part of who we are, but that’s simply not true. God created us spiritual and material, and He cares enough about our bodies to redeem them through Christ’s incarnation and restore them in the resurrection we are promised after death.

After all, if our bodies weren’t an important aspect of who we are, fasting would be no big deal.

Further, by indulging in certain foods out of celebration rather than out of necessity (because we “can’t” give them up), we practice mastery over our food instead of letting food master us.

Fasting also inspires thankfulness by reminding us of the true purpose of food, on its most basic level: survival. When food is no longer about what I want or what sounds good and is instead just about nourishment, I am reminded on a visceral level to be thankful for such nourishment, even when it’s as simple as a bowl of rice and beans or a piece of fruit.

It’s also crucial to keep in mind that fasting is not about maintaining perfect abstinence in order to make ourselves “worthy” to receive God’s grace. It’s about freeing ourselves from any unhealthy relationship we may have with food (or anything else) and finding our satisfaction in God alone.

Food, Faith, and Fasting, a podcast hosted by Rita Madden (a Registered Dietician who also holds a Master of Public Health degree), is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about fasting and spirituality, as well as gaining some practical tips on the topic. She has some good thoughts on the relationship between hunger and spirituality during a fasting season:

Now it’s important to mention something here, because when hunger goes up, frustration goes up. So when we feel hungry, we also get frustrated. Blood sugar goes down; irritability goes up. So be aware of that: there are going to be times when you’re going to feel frustrated more. Turn to prayer…When you’re feeling hungry, and you turn that hunger into prayer, whether it be at a service or in your prayer corner at home or just taking a five-minute break and just clocking out of your workday and having prayer, this is a good thing. This is how this tool of fasting can help us to deepen our prayer life and our walk in faith.

Again, the practice of fasting helps us master our hunger instead of being mastered by hunger. Instead of turning to food in our hunger, we can turn to God.

This year, I encourage Christians who have never practiced a Lenten fast, or who have never practiced it on a larger scale, to consider doing so by giving up something significant in your diet. Of course, one beauty of the fast is that there is no “right” way to do it; consult with your pastor or priest (and your doctor) to discern what is appropriate for you. It’s okay to start small, especially if you’ve never fasted before.

Try and choose something that will be difficult to give up, because it is largely in the daily work of the fast that the greatest blessings are revealed and that we are reminded to look to God alone for our true satisfaction and sustenance.

What Kind of Faith Do I Have?

There seems to be a disconnect in my life between my absolute faith in Christ as the Savior of the world and of my soul, and my sometimes-less-certain faith in his guidance of my everyday life. Of course, in my head I absolutely believe that he will provide for me every second of every day. But sometimes my heart does not believe this as securely as my head. I feel like the man whose child was possessed by a demon and in desperation, cried out to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Matt. 9:24) I don’t like uncertainty—I want to know what is ahead and how I should act or react. I want to know, but most of the time, God’s only reply is, “It’s ok to not know; you must trust me.”

I’m not very good at that.

So there seems to be two kinds of faith in my life: first, the grand, overall faith of Jesus as my Savior; and second, the plodding, grinding faith of Jesus as my daily guide. I know how my faith works in the eternal part of the story: I believe; Christ saves me; I die and go to heaven instead of hell. It’s the nitty-gritty details of what happens tomorrow that I struggle with. I graduate from college in less than nine months—what will happen then? Will I be able to find a job in my chosen career? Where will I live? Can I be successful and make my family proud? When God says, “Have faith in me,” about these kind of things, I struggle more to say, “Yes, Lord,” than when he asks me to trust in him alone for my salvation.

Somehow, I don’t think there are supposed to be two different kinds of faith in the Christian’s life—and neither does John Wesley.

Wesley was preaching in England at a time when many were concerned with the issue of assurance—how we can be certain that we are saved. This concern came as a result of Calvinism, in which many insisted that no one can be sure of salvation (although Calvin does not expressly say this himself). Wesley was very concerned with the salvation of his congregation, but not only as a distant event that would take place only after death. Instead, he spoke of saving faith as something that is very present, and should influence every action of a Christian’s life:

Whatsoever else it imply, [salvation by faith] is a present salvation. It is something attainable, yea, actually attained, on earth, by those who are partakers of this faith…a salvation from sin, and the consequences of sin, both often expressed in the word justification; which, taken in the largest sense, implies a deliverance from guilt and punishment, by the atonement of Christ actually applied to the soul of the sinner now believing on him, and a deliverance from the power of sin, through Christ formed in his heart. (Standard Sermon One, Salvation by Faith)

Not only does faith save us from hell sometime in the vague future, but our faith saves us from sin now. This is what Wesley means by deliverance from the power of sin. The Christian who believes in Christ for his eternal salvation also believes in Christ for his everyday needs, and relies on Christ to guide him in doing good works. There should be no disconnect between our saving faith and living faith—it is all one faith.

This is the same idea that the Apostle John teaches in his first epistle:

 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:3-6)

John’s idea of abiding in Christ and following his commandments is the same as Wesley’s idea of the present, daily saving faith. As Christians, we cannot only believe in Christ for our salvation after death—we have to believe in our salvation now, on earth.

It’s hard for me to “not be anxious about anything,” and instead, have faith in Christ to help me lead the kind of life that will glorify him. I am so eager to try for righteousness on my own. I only have one life; my tendency is to think that it might be messed up if I let the Lord take control. But in reality, he’s in control anyway. I may as well sit back and enjoy the ride.

Lark News: Evangelicalism’s Finest News Source

Lark News truly is evangelicalism’s finest news source. It is like an onion, with many layers to its journalistic excellence. I recently discovered it after a friend on Facebook linked to an article about a church cutting non-essential members who do not give and do not volunteer. Every article carries hard truth that speakers and writers might either be afraid to address directly or that they might not address tactfully and effectively. They address issues like how churches treat youth pastors, the quality of Christian radio, and evangelical withdrawal from American society.

Satire done well is a beautiful, beautiful thing, and Lark News plays it straight. The great thing about satire is that being quick to get the point makes readers look silly. I am used to The Onion, which is a satirical treatment of general news, and I sometimes figure that others will catch satire when they see it. However, Lark News is good enough that I have seen people get taken in by what they do, much like foreign newspapers mistake The Onion for real news. Satire does not call the reader to be quick enough to jump on a bandwagon but rather to be slow enough to watch where it is going. There might be a fine point to a bit of satire: “You’re right, but you’re doing it wrong!” There might be a grand and sweeping attack: “This whole thing is wrong! Get rid of it!” It is regularly shocking, demonstrating how the abuse of a good idea or the use of a bad idea becomes horrible and absurd. It shows rather than tells.

Lark News forces Christians to reexamine issues that they might not otherwise consider. The articles that I have seen so far attack self-righteousness and legalism, the adoption of business methods into church practices, and unrealistic expectations put upon pastors. One article features a couple who not only practiced abstinence during their courtship but also carried it two years into their marriage. For another, the title says everything: “Church franchise a hit, but hostile take-overs rattle congregations“. Yet another describes how a church completely lost faith in their pastor’s competence as a religious leader after he opened a Twitter account. Even when harmful church practices receive intelligent and sympathetic criticism, they do not always change. Satire offers another way to say the same thing again but in a way that does not only pass through the head.

When people laugh at themselves and come to realizations on their own, changes in personal character are more permanent than when people are ambushed with a sermon. Writing good satire is like parkour for the mind. It takes a bit of flexibility to understand, but to write it requires leaps and twists connecting things that do not belong together in the same path. Sermons are pretty great, but they are easy to make, and even when they are poorly composed, there is no great loss. Poorly written satire, however, comes off as childish or bitter mocking and reduces the likelihood that readers will give an author a second chance. It is good to see someone out there having a go at the ridiculous points in evangelicalism but doing so skillfully, leaving something left for compassion to work on when the whips and scorpions of satire are done. There is much to love in evangelicalism, so it is encouraging to see someone who cares enough to run it through the satirical wringer.

On Non-denominationalism and Tradition

Last week I wrote a post about doctrines that people feel to be wrong, and I included non-denominational churches as an example of something that I did not feel right about. A reader indicated that I took a very broad swipe at non-denominationalism and that my language was unduly harsh. I agree with that reader’s assessment. I wish to apologize for the unfairly general attack that I made on non-denominational Christianity and more carefully give my views on non-denominationalism and its relationship to theological tradition. Continue reading On Non-denominationalism and Tradition

Experiencing Joy in Leviticus

God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. Before time came into being: I AM. After the world has passed away and Satan is cast into the lake of fire: I AM. God will never change, never be imperfect, never sin. He is the Creator, Ruler, Judge and Savior of all creation.

Yes, yes, you say. I am a Christian. I know all of that.

Yet our reading of the Bible often does not reflect this knowledge. Many of us read the New Testament over and over again, and stay clear of the more ancient books. If we do read from the Old Testament, we read books like Genesis or Esther or Psalms—maybe even Job or Ecclesiastes. Not the prophets; not Lamentations; certainly not Leviticus or Numbers. Those books seem to contain nothing but doom, gloom, instruction and destruction. The excuses we list to get out of reading and studying these books are endless: They are boring. I do not understand the intricacies of ancient Jewish culture. I cannot pronounce that Hebrew name. I am not an Israelite. Is God seriously telling them they are forbidden to eat bacon?!? And the real kicker excuse: They were written before Christ, so they are not relevant to me as a Christian.


Wrong! Even in these books, the boring books, the ones we skip over because they are long and tedious and sad and scary, we can still find the “New Testament” attributes of God. He is still good, merciful, loving, patient. He is not different from the God who sent down his Son to die for our sins and save us from eternal death. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. If this is true—and it is—we should be able to find the awesome power of his love and mercy in any book of the Bible. There are amazing lessons for Christians to learn from the Old Testament, if only we will look.

I have recently been reading through Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations. Not happy circumstances—God warns Israel and Judah of the coming destruction and exile due to their sins, and when they refuse to listen, he follows through on his promises. Israel falls to Assyria; Judah falls to Babylon. Yet in the midst of reading about war and death, I was in tears while reading a portion of Jeremiah because of the love and mercy God shows to a single family as a result of their trust and obedience. God’s punishment is not cruel or uncompassionate; his mercy moves beyond justice. He is patient with Israel and Judah, even when they have rebelled against him for hundreds of years.

Far from being irrelevant to Christians, the Old Testament books shadow the cross. Israel’s cycle throughout the Old Testament is always the same. They make a covenant with God, they break their covenant—they sin, worship idols, intermarry, etc. God sends warnings through the prophets, asking, entreating, wooing Israel to return to him. They do not listen. God punishes them through destruction, exile, plague, pestilence and the sword. The people return to God, ask for mercy, and beg Him to deliver them from their dire circumstances.

The amazing part is that he does. Even knowing that the stubborn and unfaithful heart of Israel will turn away again, he still delivers them. This cycle repeats over and over, seemingly hopeless, until one day a star appears over Bethlehem and God sends his only Son to end the cycle and redeem the faithful once and for all. This is the great story of humanity. And the difficult Old Testament books are part of it.

I realize that this Old Testament aversion does not apply to every Christian—there are many of us who do study the law and the prophets. I also realize that the New Testament speaks more directly to us, because it was written after Christ’s birth. I am not suggesting we abandon the New Testament and study only the Old. I have read through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John many more times than Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, and that is probably correct. Yet as Christians, we should not ignore the first part of God’s epic story. Christ’s victory on the cross does not nullify the importance of those who waited eagerly for that victory.

So go read some Deuteronomy, 1 Chronicles and Habakkuk. Look for hints of the perfect character of God—the coexistence of his justice and mercy, destruction and restoration, love and anger. You will be amazed at what you find.

On Highbrow Christianity

Opera, classical music, wine tasting, craft beer, classical languages and literature: all these things exemplify highbrow taste. Highbrow interests require education and development of the ability to appreciate certain things, so arts that only developed agrarian or industrial cultures can produce (opera, classical music, literary culture) are relative marks of superiority. Anybody can brew and guzzle beer, but not just anyone can write and analyze a symphony. Anyone can become a Christian, but not just anyone can explain the differences between infallibility and inerrancy, read the New Testament in Greek, or compare modern cults to historical heresies. Theologians are more hipster than hipsters: they were highbrow before it was highbrow to be highbrow about being highbrow. Continue reading On Highbrow Christianity

Evangelical Denominations and Their Chieftains

Who is the chief of the evangelicals? Is it John Piper? Mark Driscoll? Joel Osteen? Rob Bell? All of the above are marked as evangelicals in one place or another. Two are Calvinists and two very clearly are not. In anthropology, we see two different kinds of chiefs, the war chief and the paramount chief: the war chief rules through charisma and persuasion to unite tribes for war, and his authority dissipates when the war is over or he dies; the paramount chief is the chief because of tradition, and his son or relative will inherit his authority when he dies. Denominations have paramount chiefs, but congregations may not know who they are. Evangelicals have war chiefs, but who is the paramount chief? Continue reading Evangelical Denominations and Their Chieftains