For those unaware, the house of House of Representatives is voting on the Equality Act, which would expand the 1964 Civil Rights Act to forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. For those with a conservative bent, both politically and religiously, the concern is not only about the role of sexuality in modern discourse but the fact that, according to Rabbi Avi Shafran, “it would override the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration act, which gives people a way to challenge government requirements that they feel impinge on their religious rights.” Many conservative Christians have been weary of encroaching sexual ethics because of their religious and spiritual convictions, and the Equality Act is one more nail in the coffin.Continue Reading…
Deconstruction is all around us, not merely with physical buildings, but with cultural, philosophical, and theological worldviews. It seems that every month, another piece of cultural heritage or identity is torn down or deconstructed due to the perceived offense or insensibility to a particular bent. But what happens when a culture is fueled by deconstruction yet lacks contractors to sufficiently rebuild what they are destroying?
For those unaware, what exactly is deconstructionism? Deconstructionism is not a new concept but rather, one that has risen to a prominent spot in the cultural West. Those who adhere (and even those who unaware that they adhere to its tenets) believe that we have a responsibility to critique, challenge, and if necessary, remove (or deconstruct) any form of philosophical system, hierarchy, physical memorabilia, or quite frankly, anything at all, particularly those things that are offensive, insensitive, or out-of-touch with modern society.Continue Reading…
Many a Christian apologist and evangelist can be seen standing above their opponent—either physically shouting down at people or intellectually snubbing one another in arrogance veiled in defending the truth. Too often, apologetics and evangelism are done in a tone and posture that is inconsistent with the Gospel and the God that they proclaim. Is this the only way to do evangelism? Is this the only way to engage a skeptical world with the good news of Jesus? What do I mean by this?
Apologetics, rather than being a place where we meet non-Christians in their doubts, is a place where we merely proclaim the truth of the Christian faith. Attached with this can be an attitude of, “We are right, you are wrong. Believe what we believe.” While objectively we can say, this is a true statement, it fails to capture the nuance and complexity of human life, especially viewed from the angle of common grace.Continue Reading…
For many students of the Bible, and particularly of the New Testament, 1 Peter 3:19-22 stands as one of the most difficult passages to interpret and understand. Christians and scholars throughout church history have struggled with various interpretations surrounding what exactly happened to Jesus after he was crucified. In fact, the great Reformer Martin Luther once said about this passage, “A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.”
While we cannot be certain and dogmatic of any position, we can give our best exegetical analysis of what is happening in this text. The purpose of this paper is to bring clarity to the predominant issues in the text.
Two problems arise from a cursory reading of 1 Peter 3. First, what does it mean that Jesus went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison? Who are these spirits? What does it mean that Jesus “went”? How does the death of Jesus relate to the story of Noah? Second, what does it mean that Peter says, “baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you”? How does the story of Noah provide a typology for water baptism in the New Testament? How does baptism intersect with salvation? In order to fully argue my position on these two issues, a holistic approach must be taken, meaning that we will examine each issue exegetically, theologically, and historically.Continue Reading…
Many of us are ending the year tired, weary, exhausted, and hopeless. The global pandemic has caused a multitude of losses: friendships, time with family, jobs, opportunities, graduations, rituals. The ‘”New Year, New Me” facade is glaringly absent as the hopelessness continues on for another year. Even for some of you who are seeking to turn over the new year leaf, eventually we have to come face-to-face with the trauma and suffering that we have endured this year. If you do not have the language of lament, you will be woefully deficient in dealing with the multiple heartbreaks from the last year.
Thankfully, God has not left us alone in our pain and sorrow—God has given us language to deal with our trauma: the language of lament. In fact, the wisdom literature is primarily comprised of lament language, which gives the people of God freedom to express their grief and sorrow towards God and to one another. Because of the effects of sin on the world, part and parcel of being human is dealing with pain and suffering. Lament gives you language to properly grieve the loss while at the same time trusting God in the pain.Continue Reading…
Every year, I work through a slough of books; some are good, some are great, some are poor. Outside of reading the Bible, reading good books is one of the primary ways that my affections are cultivated for Jesus. Furthermore, reading good books not only cultivates my relationship with God, it helps me make sense of the world that we live in, gives me language for the emotions that I am feeling, and stimulates my intellect in a way that only books can. Without further adieu, here were my favorite books in 2020 (in no particular order).
Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund
For many Christians, Ortlund’s latest book will be on their best of list for 2020. In fact, World Magazine called Gentle and Lowly “the most accessible theology book of 2020,” which is no surprise to me at all. Dane Ortlund does an amazing job of combining both theology and practice in a book that is both warm and pastoral, while also retaining its challenging and convicting tone. I found myself awestruck of God’s love for me in Christ as I turned from page to page. This book drained my highlighters as I could not stop underlining the nuggets that seemed to be endless. If you are to read one book in 2021, please pick up this book.
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman
Carl Trueman does an excellent job of showing the progression of thought that has taken place since the 19th century to the present cultural moment. How did Western society move so radically to be a culture dominated by sex and a progressive interpretation of sex? For those who have been completed confused by the drastic cultural changes surrounding sex, look no further than Trueman’s book for your answers. Carl Trueman is both scholarly and approachable in this slightly intimidating book. Furthermore, I found the tone gentle, compassionate, and understanding; there was never a hint of condescension or arrogance. While for the average reader, this book may be challenging in its philosophical arguments, it is nevertheless one of the most important books of our age.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
One of the greatest gifts of 2020 was the release of the broadway musical Hamilton on Disney+. My children can testify: the soundtrack has been playing all year long. As a history buff myself, I found Chernow’s work fascinating, engaging, and inspiring. For those who are interested more in the life of Hamilton, you will not be disappointed by this lengthy but enjoyable read of his life.
1 Peter by Karen H. Jobes
As I preached through 1 Peter this year, I found Karen H. Jobe’s commentary so helpful. In fact, I found it so helpful that I would recommend laymen to read the book as devotional content. Jobes, like any scholar would, dives into the weeds of academia at times, but the majority of her commentary is spent in rich, Christ-centered content that would encourage any Christian. For those preaching through 1 Peter soon or for those looking for book that will help you take a deeper dive into one specific book, Jobes’ commentary on 1 Peter is the one for you.
The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson
Peterson models the type of pastor that I want to be: gentle, compassionate, humble, present. Peterson’s book gave me freedom to admit one thing: to pastor and to write are two sides of the same coin for my calling. Peterson shows through his own life how he was called and formed as a pastor. One of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.
The Care of Souls by Harold Senkbeil
Senkbeil’s work on pastoral ministry is by far one of the best books I’ve ever read on the calling of a pastor. In an age where pastors are busy building their platforms and the pastorate is filled with celebrities rather than shepherds, this work is undervalued in a culture that does not value pastoring as it used to. What should a pastor be doing week-in and week-out? Caring, praying, discipling, encouraging, visiting. Senkbeil hit it out of the park with this one.
Serving as a pastor is one of the most rewarding and difficult tasks that I have ever been faced with. On the one hand, I am one of you – I am a fellow disciple learning to love God in a broken world. I am a sinner in desperate need of the grace of God alongside every one of you. I am a sheep. On the other hand, I am your leader, your shepherd. I stand above you— not in a prideful or arrogant sense—but in a sense of leadership. I must watch fervently where we are headed, to observe the roadblocks and dangers coming our way. I must bear the load of our collective safety as we navigate a world full of spiritual enemies. This, of course, is done under the guidance of the one True Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
Due to my humanity, God has uniquely created me to shepherd in a way that suits my gifts and desires. For many pastors, relational conversations are the medium they want to utilize to shepherd their people; for others, it is primarily the pulpit. Personally, I discovered early on, that I need to lead primarily through preaching and writing. Like Eugene Peterson, I will not and cannot drive a wedge between being a pastor and a writer – they are two sides of the same coin. In other words, in order for me to pastor well, I must write.
My hope is that you may invest the time to read, not because I need an audience, but because I hope writing will be one of the main ways that I pastor you. Personally, I can communicate complex truths in a more helpful manner via writing than speaking. My hope is that as we journey together as sheep, God may use my writing to equip you to do the work of the ministry, here in Las Cruces and to the ends of the earth. Soli deo Gloria.
A Secular World
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word secular? For many—particularly for those from a Christian background—think in terms of secular versus religious. For example, there are secular schools and religious schools. Perhaps others consider anything outside the religious system. For many, secular conveys that which is wrong or evil with the world. Yet, we should not abandon the word or simply use it in a negative context. This is where Charles Taylor is incredibly helpful, the most prominent modern philosopher.
Charles Taylor is a trained philosopher by trade, a Roman Catholic by profession, and the author of one of the best philosophical works in recent generations entitled A Secular Age. Many have attempted to slay Taylor’s magnum opus but have failed. Not only is Taylor’s work long, it is philosophically dense. Thankfully, men such as James K.A. Smith have undertaken the task to translate and modernize Taylor so that the average person can understand the meat of his arguments. In 2014, James K.A. Smith published How (Not) To be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, which gives a philosophical primer to those looking to dip their toes in waters of Charles Taylor.Continue Reading…
Everyone is a philosopher. The common American may not often think deeply about works of philosophical reflection but everyone functionally lives a philosophy of life every single day. In other words, every single human is pursuing their version of “the good life” (for more reference to this subject, please see James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love). We make plans, set goals, pursue hobbies, and conform our life around a particular vision of what will bring us satisfaction and delight. Perhaps one of the most prominent philosophical systems that most Americans orient their life around is expressive individualism, yet few would actually use the proper term. So what is expressive individualism? A survey of popular slogans illustrates just exactly the ethos of this way of life:
- You do you.
- Be true to yourself.
- Follow your heart.
- Find yourself.
These slogans reveal what Westerners chiefly value: individual freedom to decide what is best for oneself. Our highest good is to be true to our selves and thus, if we were to deny ourselves certain impulses, desires, or loves, we would be denying that which is ultimately good. As Americans, we are hard-wired culturally to see ourselves as individuals who “isolate themselves from the mass of his fellows and withdraw into the circle of family and friends” (Robert Bellah, Habits of the Heart). What does it mean that as individuals we must express ourselves? Yuval Levin in The Fractured Republic is helpful:
That term suggests not only a desire to pursue one’s own path but also a yearning for fulfillment through the definition and articulation of one’s own identity. It is a drive both to be more like whatever you already are and also to live in society by fully asserting who you are. The capacity of individuals to define the terms of their own existence by defining their personal identities is increasingly equated with liberty and with the meaning of some of our basic rights, and it is given pride of place in our self-understanding.
A culture that values expressive individualism is a culture dominated by people yearning for fulfillment through the definition and articulation of one’s own identity. Your identity does not come from any external factors, rather, it is a call to bend yourself inward, to discover what is most true about yourself. But then, you are not only called to find your identity inwardly, but you must express it to the rest of the world. To hide your true identity or values denies your right to self-understanding.
Therefore, any culture, religion, or ethical system that imposes rules, regulations, identities, or expectations on an individual is seen as threatening and oppressive. If I am my own authority and if my identity is found by finding “the true me” internally—a community of faith, a government, or a hobby group that asks me to conform to their way of life not only infringes upon my rights to self-understanding but also places me under bondage so that I may not experience my true identity.
20th century Roman Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor calls this Western phenomena the “age of authenticity.” For Taylor, authenticity is less tied to integrity and honesty but rather is set against conformity. In this way, your purpose of life to find your deepest self and then express it to the world. You are to forego what those around you say, you must pursue what feels right to you. In respect to our current age of authenticity, Taylor notes:
I mean the understanding of life which emerges with the Romantic expressivism of the late-eighteenth century, that each one of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live out one’s own, as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from outside, by society, or the previous generation, or religious or political authority.
The Silent Killer of Community
In this ideology, my highest good is finding my identity in myself and therefore, outside authority is a challenge to my vision of flourishing. But, the Bible paints a vastly different picture to this view. In the beginning, before there was any sin, humans were designed to submit to God’s authority while at the same time flourish, in the deepest sense of the word. Even now, we believe that the best life is not found in isolation from authority but in conformity to God’s authority. Therefore, the highest good that I can pursue is to find my identity outside of myself—to find it in God himself. While it may seem counter-intuitive or even flat-out wrong to find good in submission to authority, that is only because our lenses have been colored by expressive individualism and we are unable to see authority and submission without our presuppositional and cultural baggage.
If the average American believes that the fullest life is found by turning inward, shedding of cultural, religious, and political expectations, then unfortunately, the church will be seen more as an enemy than as a friend. But is the problem with the church/Bible or with the cultural presupposition? How then will Christians interact with one another if our primary philosophical presupposition is one of expressive individualism? How will we handle conflict? Disagreements? Put bluntly, expressive individualism left unchecked will be the silent killer in the church in the West. Because of the work of Jesus, we can now turn outward to those in need, giving our time, money, talents, and lives for the good of others. Our lives no longer revolve around ourselves but for they revolve around the good of others.
If the expressive individualist says that the highest good is individual freedom, happiness, self-definition, and self-expression, what happens when that expression goes against what the Bible says or leads to the harm of another person in the community? How can serve one another in love, humility, and service when our highest pursuit is ourselves? How do I consider others more significant than myself, if I believe the most significant thing in life is my own happiness (Phil 2:3)?
Much like the old adage of the frog slowly boiling to death, if expressive individualism is left unchecked, it will silently kill the health of a church. After all, as Americans, expressive individualism is the air we breath. Therefore, let us be vigilant in our analysis of our church culture, so that what we are reflecting is Christ and not a cultural phenomenon. Let us look to Christ, who did not bend himself inward but rather, extended himself outward on the Cross for you and I, so that our selfish hearts may in turn bend towards the needs of others.
Every year, thousands of books are published in the non-fiction Christian genre. Some are novel, others are republications of older works; most are not worth reading (remember C.S. Lewis’ maxim: read one old book for every new book that you read). Yet, every once in awhile, a modern author publishes an absolute gem that will serve the church for years to come. This year, Dane Ortlund, son of Ray Ortlund, has published one of the most helpful, encouraging, and needed books surrounding the person of Jesus for the every-day Christian. Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly seeks to answer the ultimate question that many of us wrestle with: How does Jesus really feel about us?
For many Christians growing up in the West, we are completely unaware of how our familial and cultural upbringing has shaped the way we view God and live in our Christian life. As a culture that values productivity, success, and hard-work, many times these mentalities bleed into our view of God. While we would not outright proclaim this, many of us functionally live our lives as if God is a boss rather than a father, a master rather than a friend, someone to appease rather than someone to enjoy. But, for those of who are in Christ, have our cultural glasses blinded us to the true character of Jesus towards us? Ortlund wishes to exchange your Western glasses with biblical ones, helping you to see that Jesus’s primary disposition is gentle and lowly.
Perhaps Ortlund’s book was so impactful for me because I felt like he was writing directly toward me: someone who is often “discouraged, frustrated, weary, disenchanted, cynical, and empty” (pg. 13). In the pit of despair, how does Jesus feel about us? While this sort of questioning may seem foreign to how we talk about God, Ortlund is unafraid to ask such bold and inviting questions. Through the use of biblical passages and puritan writers such as Thomas Goodwin, Ortlund beckons the weary Christian to the promise land of better rest in the biblical Jesus.
Put simply: Gentle and Lowly was by far the best book I read in 2020. My hope and prayer is that I may savor the words of Ortlund so that I may love Christ more deeply and also experience his love more often. For those Christians who are tired, discouraged, cynical, and frustrated, allow this book to be a balm to your wounded soul. To give you a simply taste of the healing you may encounter, please reflect deeply upon these words from the first chapter:
“His yoke is kind and his burden is light. This is, his yoke is a nonyoke, and his burden is a nonburden. What helium does to a balloon, Jesus’s yoke does to his followers. We are buoyed along in life by his endless gentleness and supremely accessible lowliness. He doesn’t simply meet us at our place of need; he lives into our place of need. He never tires of sweeping us into his tender embrace. It is his very heart. It what gets him out of bed in the morning.”Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly (pg. 23).
In the last few months, several members of Coram Deo (the church I pastor) have asked me about what they should do regarding this upcoming political election. For some, this is the most important political election they have ever witnessed; for others, they are discouraged and weary of the political division. Given that election day is three weeks away, I hope to write a series of articles that are primarily directed at the members of Coram Deo, while also applying to the broader Christian circle in which I am a part of.
A quick disclaimer: my approach to politics comes primarily from the perspective of Reformed Christianity, particularly in the realm of Kuyperianism in relation to culture. For those unaware, Kuyper was a 19th century theologian, politician, journalist, and a prolific writer of how the church should engage not only in the area of biblical theology but of culture and politics. I am aware that some of you may disagree with my perspectives, which is totally in your right to do so. My plea to you as you read and engage with other people in this season: extend the same grace that has been given to you in Christ.
Around this time of the year, I yearn for election season to be over, primarily so that the endless number of billboards and commercials will cease. Every four years, there seems to be endless promises, half-told stories of particular candidates, and the potential for doom if one candidate looses (particularly, the candidate that is NOT your candidate). Yet, something feels different this year. There is more angst, more animosity, more fear, and the Christian camp is not immune to this. Fear and anxiety have gripped the people of God concerning who will get elected in a few weeks.
While I do believe that Christians should be actively involved in the cultural and political moments of their time, I would caution us to remember that fixing our hopes and identity upon a political party or candidate will always lead to disappoint and angst, whereas fixing our eyes on Jesus, the True King, will always lead to rest and security. In other words, in this election season, church, remember Whose you are. Remember the first question of the New City Catechism: what is your only hope in life and death? That you are not your own but belong to God.
This means that regardless of what happens in the coming weeks, your eternal security and present comfort is found in God’s covenantal love for you in Christ and God’s preserving of the church for the ages to come. Rather than being a cheesy, cliche statement that Christians hold on to, you seriously need to remember that through all things, Jesus is still King. As King, Jesus promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Nothing can thwart God’s agenda in this world—and yes, not even your worst political nightmare.
EVERY SQUARE INCH
Even though Abraham Kuyper was Prime Minister of the Netherlands, he nevertheless retained his theological bent, believing that the state is a necessary good, while at the same time believing that the Kingship of Jesus reigns as supreme over all things. Make no mistake: the state is absolutely a necessary good in a world governed by corruption, but the state is limited. Government has been instituted by God (Romans 13:1) and have been instituted to restrain evil in society (Romans 13:3). In the throes of governing and politics, Kuyper never abandoned his chief concern in life:
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’Abraham Kuyper – Sphere Sovereignty
Kuyper believed, and we believe in his stead, that Christ, not the state, is the rightful ruler and king over all creation. There is nothing outside of his jurisdiction or control. There is never a moment of stress or angst in God’s heart as he governs and sustains the world right now. And the good news? God will never be dethroned. Your political candidate may win or loose in a few weeks but Jesus the King will remain King forever. Lest we get tunnel vision in our political vision, let us remember the end of history: all of the nations gathered together, bowing before Christ the Lamb, celebrating the victory of Jesus over all kings and rulers (Revelation 7:9).
So, Christian, go to the ballot box on November 3 with complete assurance and confidence, not in your political party or candidate, but in the fact that Jesus is the reigning and ruling King over all creation. Go in confidence to vote remembering that God has sustained his church through far more wicked governments. Go in hope to the ballot box, not in the promises of Trump or Biden, but in the promises of God found in the Scriptures.