A few belated thoughts on the gay marriage issue.

We have been traveling but I had wanted to write down a few thoughts that have come to mind in response to much of what I have read in response to the Supreme Court’s decision regarding gay marriage.

I don’t offer these comments as a dogmatic position but as ideas to consider and to perhaps offer a slightly different perspective. It seems there are two different aspects to the issue: the civil and the religious.

The first is the civil aspect and I am fully in favor of granting equality in marriage to any couple that desires to commit in marriage. Too many people believe that the sexual morality of consenting adults is an area that should be legislated according to certain religious views but it seems they are struggling against the reality of what it means to live in a pluralistic society. As a generalization, history has demonstrated that the Christian Church has wasted resources, energy, etc., on fighting culture wars: teaching creationism in schools, prayer in schools, 10 commandments in public spaces, nativity scenes in public places, just to name a few that come to mind. I am aware of probably all the main reasons that some Christians would disagree with me on the civil issue but from all the reading I have done I remain unconvinced that these culture wars are worth fighting particularly since they distract the Church from issues of justice and mercy. However most of what I wish to comment on is the religious aspect to this argument. Can we conceive of gay Christians committing to each other in love and being accepted in the Church?

Much of what I have read appears to rely specifically on Paul and his so called “vice” lists (i.e. Rom. 1:26-31; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21) and it reinforces what I have noticed in my years in the Evangelical church world: much of what drives our view of right and wrong is influenced more by Paul than by Jesus (more on this below). In the interests of brevity, but at the risk of being misunderstood, I will offer a few observations.

Accommodation: This is the term commonly used in biblical studies to describe how God could “allow” and in fact appear to sanction activities or attitudes that have come to be considered as going against the overall grain of Scripture (to borrow a phrase from Stanley Hauerwas). Here are a few of the more obvious from the OT.

Treatment of women: assumes women are property, not equal in value to men—God accommodates and the laws are “humane” but still work under the cultural assumptions.

1 If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. Exodus 21:7
2 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. Deuteronomy 22:28-29

Treatment of slaves: assumes slaves are property and again, just as in the case with women, the laws are humane but still work under the cultural assumptions

Lev. 25:44-46-44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life,

Even in the NT there are instructions for Christian slave owners. (Interestingly in American history, those who argued in favor of slavery had all the proof texts while the “liberals” opposing slavery had to argue about the overall picture of who God is and his desire for humanity.)

Multiple wives as well as using the slaves of your wives to produce more children: There are enough examples in the OT of men with multiple wives who were also considered righteous for us to assume that this is yet another issue of God accommodating himself to cultural norms. Such a sinful practice does not constitute a “break” from God. Consider this non-exhaustive list: Abraham, Jacob, Elkanah (Hannah’s husband), David, Solomon and every other righteous king of Judah. Particularly in the case of the wives’ slaves this is yet another example of women treated as property. Hagar would have had no say in the matter of having sex with Abraham; she simply had to obey Sarah.

War/”Total” war/Individual Violence: Through Jesus, God is most clearly, most completely revealed. Jesus embodies and teaches that violence against enemies is against God’s desires and that love is the better way. Yet in the OT violence is “mandated.” Once again God accommodates to a culture in which possession of a land can be conceived of in no other way than through means of war/annihilation. Even the personal violence of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, just to name a couple, is narrated with no comment and assumes their actions were justified.

What about today in America?

Divorce and remarriage: Is there any doubt that God does not desire divorce? Is there any doubt that God does not desire remarriage if there is a case of divorce? Scripture is clear on this issue yet it is such a part of our culture that it is extremely difficult to imagine “enforcing” the intent of Scripture.

Christians in military and the use of violence: Is there any doubt that Jesus taught that violence is not the way to follow? For the vast majority of American Christians the thought of joining the military and taking on a combat role is not an issue. There are also many Christians who would see nothing wrong with using a gun to protect their private property. There are even some Christians who would see nothing wrong in taking up arms in revolution were our government to cross some hypothetical line; in fact our country was birthed in this very idea.

Greed that leads to injustice: Is there any doubt that America is a greedy nation and that our desire for cheap goods (oil, clothes, electronics, etc.) has a direct link to the injustices perpetrated in the workplace? Is there any doubt that our insatiable appetite not just for cheap products but for more, better, newer products also fuels economic injustice?

The point of this list is not to point accusatory fingers but to admit to the truth that God is an accommodating God. We don’t presume on grace but at the same time we recognize that in spite of our desire to follow God we end of being guilty of “cultural” sins.

Selective Use of Scripture:

The admission that we all can see ourselves as sinners leads to a consideration of at least two of Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus teaches we should be careful not to point out the speck in someone else’s eye while ignoring the beam in our own.

Jesus also teaches that he who is without sin should cast the first stone.

It is not an issue of saying “How much sin can we get away with?” but rather it is a recognition that there are cultural issues that become accepted that God would not prefer but at the same time do not place a person participating in the practice outside the realm of being righteous. To place gay marriage as beyond the pale seems to fail to recognize that we all participate to some degree in practices that God does not prefer but that are such a part of our culture that we almost can’t conceive of how we can live according to God’s desires while still being American. Truth be told we all, if we reflect on what God desires, struggle with this tension of not wanting to justify ourselves but at the same time recognizing that God has always to some extent accommodated himself to us.

I also find a problem with the idea that somehow homosexual sin is worse than any other sin. This is specifically where it seems too many Christians wish to elevate Paul over the rest of Scripture. If there is a biblical basis for creating a hierarchy of sin one might wish to begin with the seven things God hates from Proverbs 6:16-19. Also if one wishes to argue simply from the amount of biblical material related to sin one would have to conclude that broadly speaking, any activity that creates or participates in the sin of injustice is at the top of this list (read the prophetic books and Jesus for starters). Admittedly an argument from silence, but Jesus never even comes close to mentioning homosexuality. To claim that homosexuality is a sin like no other seems to be an arbitrary argument that cannot hold weight unless we view Paul as the final or most authoritative word. Even then it is dubious exegesis to say that Paul claims homosexuality is a sin like no other. It seems extremely inconsistent to claim that homosexual marriage is a sin that cannot be tolerated in the Church while to some extent tolerating a whole host of other sins the Bible mentions.

Another aspect of articles I have read that I cannot agree with is the argument that assumes that a homosexual is not a Christian. Too many articles mention something along the lines of: “we may not agree with their behavior, but we still need to love them.” Clearly to assume that one cannot be a Christian homosexual is extremely judgmental. Not to mention the fact that historically speaking the Church has completely failed to love the homosexual population, which explains why the vast majority of homosexuals want nothing to do with organized religion. We have demonstrated that we are unloving and judgmental. This is sadly ironic when the Church is called to manifest the love of God shown most clearly in the life of Jesus.

Empathy: One of my Dad’s most admirable characteristics that I have attempted to emulate is empathy, trying to understand what it might be like to be “that” person, whoever they may be. I can still hear him saying if I complained about a particular person in one of his churches: “If you knew what they have been through you would understand better why they are like they are.” There is a good reason why our culture uses the phrase “come out.” There is still a good chance in our culture when you “come out” you run the risk of being ostracized or even being a target of violence especially if you are a man. The Church has paid lip service to the mantra of “hate the sin but love the sinner” but as I said above, collectively the Church has utterly failed.

Conclusion: Again, I repeat that these are thoughts related to the debate that make me wonder if perhaps our arguments about homosexuality and gay marriage are valid. I realize I will struggle my entire life to understand and live out what it means to love like Jesus did but I have decided I would prefer to accept gay marriage and live with the tension. I would have the same wish for a homosexual couple that I would for a heterosexual couple: live in a loving, committed relationship. Personally, I am not willing to condemn them without wondering if I am condemning myself.


The Road to India

Apologies up front: this is longer than blogs I read and I’m sure I’ve transgressed blog etiquette.

Please don’t read this as an attempt to say “I’m right” or “I’ve arrived.” Do I think my views on the issues I’ll discuss are valid and thought out? Of course, however I hope not to the extent that I kill loving debate and honest conversation. To the extent that we meditate on Scripture and allow it to change us we all share the same goal. I share the same struggle as you in attempting to live out the truth of what I say I believe. Boil it all down and I’m just a guy trying to follow.

The Road that Led to “Today”

To say that in September of 2003 was when my life changed may seem may seem a little dramatic but because I remember the moment so clearly I can think of no better way to phrase it.

I will try to be succinct but a little backstory may be helpful. I had been raised in a Fundamentalist Baptist tradition but in seminary I grew to understand that much of what I had been taught and was being taught could not really be supported by Scripture. Linda and I moved to Dallas, TX so I could continue my education and we moved into a conservative but Evangelical church world, in many ways much different from how I grew up. However one basic issue did not change with my move from Fundamentalism to Evangelicalism: both taught that preaching the Gospel was specifically, better yet, only related to confession of sin and accepting Jesus so you went to heaven when you died. We called this salvation; preaching the Gospel was synonymous with preaching salvation. Anything else the Bible spoke about was ancillary, not essential to the Gospel message. In other words, any act the Bible commanded was part of sanctification, a process that kicked in at the “moment” of salvation but we stressed that these were two very separate concepts. In both church worlds sanctification was primarily related to issues of personal holiness. In all my years attending church, Bible College and seminary I can’t remember ever hearing preaching or teaching on the issue of justice, except perhaps as a personal application but never a corporate or collective application. This section may seem disjointed but hopefully will be become more coherent as the story unfolds.

Back to September 2003…during this time I had been restudying the Minor Prophets in preparation for a series I was going to teach in our church. I picked up the September issue of National Geographic and it contained an article on modern day slavery. I distinctly remember being amazed since when I heard slavery I thought American slavery and that ended (at least legally) in 1865. It truly was a “light bulb” moment. Since I am a reader I started reading books on modern day slavery and injustice. I started to make connections between my study of the prophetic books and the injustice on which much of the world’s economic prosperity is built. I wondered how I could have grown up and attended Bible preaching churches for my entire life and never heard a sermon on injustice. One OT scholar who was particularly helpful to me in seeing how injustice is pervasive in America was Walter Brueggemann.

An anecdote to demonstrate how the sin of injustice is not part of our thinking: Over the next couple years I was able to teach various groups on the Minor Prophets or Isaiah and I always began with this question to be discussed in small groups. What three sins are mentioned the most in the prophetic books? Not one group ever mentioned injustice. I also began to notice that when the prophets spoke of the glorious future that awaited Israel they almost always included not only forgiveness of sin but the also reversal of injustice and poverty.

Fast forward to our two years in China. I was given a two year leave of absence from my job and we moved to Chengdu, China in the summer of 2005 returning in the summer of 2007. I had the opportunity to teach some Chinese house church groups and was involved in the leadership of our international fellowship. However I also had many hours to study and write and finish my teaching notes for most of the OT. For much of my reading I focused on Jesus and the gospels. I had been an OT guy in seminary and almost all of my teaching had been on OT books. As it relates to the issue of injustice, it is easy to see how important the issue of injustice was to the OT but didn’t Jesus just come to save us from our sins? As I began to reread the gospels and study all Jesus’ talk of the kingdom of God/heaven began to make more sense when understood in their OT context. Jesus claimed that everything the OT looked forward to was to be understood in light of his coming. The gospel of the OT claimed that when Yahweh intervened in Israel’s history shalom would finally be realized. Shalom is an OT word that does not have a good one word translation into English but it contains the ideas of peace, justice, prosperity, long life, forgiveness of sin. In other words, when Yahweh intervenes he will bring life as it is supposed to be. So when Jesus appeared on the scene and started preaching the arrival of the kingdom he wasn’t just preaching to challenge his listeners to repent of sin although that was certainly included. It dawned on me that I lived in a church world that had reduced the full message of the Gospel down to simply one aspect…salvation from sin. Again, this is certainly an important element of the Gospel but it is not the Gospel from a biblical point of view (N. T. Wright and Scot McKnight’s books were very helpful). From an American church history perspective I know part of the reason for this was the overreaction to what became known as the Social Gospel that became influential around the turn of the 20th century.

Another issue that crystallized for me during our two years in China was a growing belief that Christianity in America seemed more American than Christian; in other words we struggle to be Christians first and Americans second. Certainly every culture creates its own version of Christianity but America is relatively unique in its belief that it once was and perhaps still is a Christian nation. For too many Christians this creates the unwitting assumption that American values in many ways are Christian. This influences our view of war, capitalism, patriotism and consumerism just to mention a few. One of the cautions you are taught in understanding the Bible is that there is no such thing as an objective reading of Scripture. Everyone reads through a lens. Mine is white, American, male, moneyed, privileged majority (as opposed to a minority group), fundamentalist/evangelical church tradition to name of the few of the most prominent. So while I can never be totally objective it does help to be self aware of the lenses through which you are reading and it is beneficial to read others who don’t share all the same lenses. As you become more aware of the diverse ways in reading Scripture it helps you to wrestle with your views. Before we moved I had become increasingly aware of much of this but living in another country highlights the difference.

After we returned from China I began teaching once again in our local church but at the same time becoming increasingly frustrated with my Evangelical church world. The frustrations were primarily twofold. American evangelical Christianity, especially how it was expressed in right wing politics (not that I think the left wing is correct) and our reduction of the gospel to salvation from sin. However I noticed something in the evangelical publishing world. More and more books were being published on justice, environmental issues, the unique distortions of the faith that characterized American evangelical Christianity, the meaning of the gospel, etc. Fortunately for me I have many people in my life that I could voice my frustrations to. As much as I was frustrated with my evangelical world part of my frustration was directed inward. How do I practice my faith in a meaningful way in light of how my views on issues have changed? How do I teach in our church without being divisive or demeaning but also challenge assumptions about American evangelical Christianity?

Fast forward to our move to Richmond VA in September 2014. In the past year or so in MN I had begun to revisit my love of history with focused reading on the history of Christianity in America. I focused on two issues. 1. American Christianity and slavery/civil rights as well as the injustices perpetrated on the indigenous tribal groups and minority immigrant groups. 2. American Christianity and its wholehearted support of America’s foreign wars. My studying spurred some book or dissertation ideas and I wrote to an American history prof at Notre Dame who used to teach at Wheaton. He encouraged me that my topic was well worth researching for a book or dissertation and he recommended I contact a prof at Union Seminary in Richmond. I started thinking I would love to enroll in the PhD program at Union in the church history department. As it turned out the history prof at Union left for another school last summer and the PhD program was not taking applicants because it was considering cutting the program due to economics.

Turning the page…since that opportunity was closed to me I decided to return to my study of Jesus’ message of the kingdom and how it relates to our understanding of the gospel. Since we moved here I had written a bible study on justice as well as a 30 day devotional on justice for a Richmond non-profit. In both I tied the issue of justice to the OT and then linked it to the preaching/teaching of Jesus. In other words I attempted to demonstrate that a full understanding of the gospel must by necessity include justice since that is an integral part of the kingdom vision not only of the OT but of Jesus as well.

The main reason I am writing this “story” is what has transpired in the past month. It seems as though God is using the various threads of my studying over the past decade and weaving them together into an exciting opportunity. Three specific encounters in the past month have encouraged me to see how God is moving me towards an opportunity that unites my passions, gifts and understanding of the full gospel.

1. About a month ago our church had a guest speaker, a Bishop D’Souza from India. Because of my hearing problems I could not understand everything but I caught enough. His life changed when he “converted” from his partial understanding of the gospel to a full understanding of the gospel. He had started working with Dalit in India, a population of up to 300 million who have lived in virtual slavery in India’s culture for centuries because they are “untouchable.” It dawned on him that Jesus did not come preaching a “go to heaven when you die” gospel but a gospel that touched all aspects of life. His text was Jesus’ statement at the beginning of his ministry quoting from Isaiah 61: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free. His organization, Good Shepherd ministries, now has around 3500 Dalit churches and he actively works in India for recognition of their human rights.
2. This past week I was reading a commentary by a German Lutheran scholar, Ulrich Luz, on Matthew 8-20. He was commenting on Jesus’ parables of the kingdom and I’ll quote him at length since his comments were the impetus for me to pursue teaching in India. “Suffering people are able to conceive powerful images of health, justice, fullness, life, and of the kingdom of God. In the comfortable sitting room one cannot understand the hope for the kingdom of God…for many in the Western world it is only the active com-passion with people in true need that makes it possible for us to have such images. One cannot do justice to Matthean texts when one stands outside them.” Italics are the Luz’s. This became my devotional reading for the day. I got so excited I brought the commentary out into the next room and shared with Linda what it seemed to be God was moving in me to pursue.
3. Based on events 1 & 2 I shared with Linda that I felt God stirring me in a desire to pursue teaching opportunities in India with the Dalit. I sent an email to Bishop D’Souza’s US office in Virginia Beach as well as an email to an OT professor, Dr. Rajkumar Boaz Johnson, that Jenny had while attending North Park University. In today’s world of social media Jenny had connected us on Facebook since we shared common interests. Dr. Johnson emailed me back the same day. Here is what he wrote: Dear Dan:
This is very exciting indeed, and it nice to hear that you all are doing well.

I am getting ready to fly to India to teach a seminar, and participate in the Board of Studies of a PhD program at SHIATS. Perhaps, you would like to enroll in the program?

I am including, David Phillips and his wife Diana. David heads up the Rural Education program of SHIATS University. They are coming up with very exciting work. Perhaps, you can kill two birds in one throw- complete your PhD, and teach in the Rural Education program?

Prof. Boaz Johnson

I went online and here is the description of the university’s goals. The prospect of getting a PhD and teaching at this school that aligns so closely with my beliefs is hard to put into words but I’ll settle for incredibly exciting.

The Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology & Sciences is a united endeavor of the Christian community in India for promoting rural life and development in conformity with the Christian vision of human kind and the creation. The Institute is held in trust as a common ecumenical heritage by the Christian Churches and Christian Organizations of the country. It seeks to be a national centre of professional excellence in education and service to the people with the participation of students and faculty members from all over India. The University upholds and strives to achieve the following:

a) Responsible stewardship of the environment and its resources,

b) Sustainable development,

c) Linkage of learning and Research to the needs and life of the people,

d) Justice to the minorities, and other weaker sections of the Society, especially to women and the rural poor,

e) Holistic formation of the human person in, with and through the community for leadership instilled by Christian values,

f) National Unity and communal harmony,

g) International fellowship and cooperation in the educational and developmental ministry in the service of the LORD JESUS CHRIST.

In all of the above, the University helps the young and old without coercion or compulsion to deepen their commitment to a life of service as exemplified in JESUS CHRIST; by means of presentation of the Gospel through teaching, worship and witness in accordance with the Christian belief.

So our plan is that I will find out if I can get admitted into their PhD program and what the residence requirements are. I will also pursue the possibility of beginning to teach in their rural education program that is being developed. Linda would also be able to teach ESL as she has done for the past almost 10 years now. The University is located in the city of Allahabad in Northern India on the Ganges River. Once Hannah graduates we would start a yearly teaching stint of approximately 4-6 weeks. We’re excited for what the future holds and pressing forward in the present.

American Sniper

I decided to read the American Sniper autobiography after reading movie reviews and seeing some quotes from the book. Since I was not sure if the quotations were out of context or not I decided just to take a few hours and read it for myself. Here are a few thoughts/questions I have regarding the book. These comments should not be read as anti-military (I have close friends and family who either have been or are in the military) nor am I attempting to demonize the author, Chris Kyle. Nor is this a movie review. After reading the autobiography I am not interested in seeing Clint Eastwood’s interpretation, although I will refer to it since I have talked to some who have seen it (second hand sources I know). I am more interested in pursuing the question of what type of Christianity we have in America that can produce believers who see no inherent contradiction between the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and the aggressive patriotism lived out by Chris Kyle and supported by other patriotic Christians. Chris Kyle makes it very clear in his book that he understands himself as a Christian. These are ramblings of ideas that have come to mind so don’t expect a logical progression.

I can understand how someone with no interest in the Bible (although some of the reviewers who were troubled by the book make no claim to be Christians) but who is extremely patriotic could read American Sniper and come away saying, “Hell yeah!” For a person who strongly believes in America anything that our country asks its soldiers to do is only done in the interests of freedom, democracy, etc. This is the same logic that can justify the torture of alleged terrorists because of the information we needed. Maybe there has been polling on this but I would be extremely curious to know what percentage of people who identify themselves as Christian would have justified the techniques used on terrorists and alleged terrorists.

From what I have heard Eastwood’s artistic license has portrayed Kyle as somewhat conflicted about his sniper role. This Kyle is not in the book. From beginning to end he has no doubt about the legitimacy of his role. He is a killer; he takes joy in his role and everyone he killed deserved to die. He says, “I loved what I did. If my family didn’t need me I’d be back in a heartbeat. I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun (6).” Toward the end of the book he imagines dying and going to have his one on one discussion about his life with his judge, God. He says, “But in that backroom or what ever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I don’t believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die (376-7).”

I honestly don’t know if this is just Kyle talking or if this is how special forces people are trained. The people he is killing are all evil and deserve to die. Are all special forces taught to de-humanize their enemies as simply “targets” who deserve to be killed? In Chris Kyle’s case at least all his enemies are categorize as terrorists rather than wondering if some of them were simply defending their country against a foreign invader and they happened to be on the losing side.

Chris Kyle had to leave his Christianity behind (even though he would not admit this) or else he was raised with a Christianity that told him (implicitly probably) that whatever he was told to do as a soldier was permissible. These are just some of the blatant unChristian attitudes/actions that define him.

1. Revenge: the biography is full of revenge that goes far beyond what some might want to call justice. Aftermath of a story about how one of his team was shot, not killed but out of action… Hey a voice above me said. I looked up, it was Tony, my chief. You wanna go get some payback? He asked. Fuck yeah I do! I jumped to my feet. We planned our mission. I didn’t hardly have time for it though; I just wanted blood for my guy. (283)

2. Hatred:But I didn’t risk my life to bring democracy to Iraq. I risked my life for my buddies, to protect my friends and fellow countrymen. I went to war for my country not Iraq. I never once fought for the Iraqis. I could give a flying fuck about them. (194)

3. Violence: Our company logo and slogan, “despite what your momma told you violence does solve problems” (in pictures section)

4. Love of killing: On re-enlisting…and I missed it. I missed the excitement and the thrill. I loved killing bad guys (220)

5. Christians justified killing Muslims: New tattoos…”On the front of my arm I had a crusader cross inked in. I wanted everyone to know I was a Christian. I had it put in red for blood. I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting. I always will. “ (219)

So would I be satisfied with a kindler, gentler, morally conflicted sniper? No but at least I would have hoped that he could have seen the inherent contradiction between his identity as a follower of Jesus and his attitudes? Again, is Chris Kyle a normal American Christian that sees no tension between his faith and what he does for his country?

I see four basic positions:

1. I can’t because I obey God rather than man.
2. I can because my country tells me to; the enemy is evil. This is the basic just war position.
3. Jesus (Matthew 5), Paul (Romans 12), Peter (1 Peter 3) have nothing to say to actions when I am acting in a public role; they only speak to me as a private citizen. I am permitted to act in my public role in ways that I could not as a private citizen.
4. I should not but I do because I am choosing the lesser of two evils (Bonhoeffer). (I hesitate to include Bonhoeffer since he was a pacifist who finally after much struggle decided the evil of Hitler must be stopped.)

So does the Christianity of America justify Kyle’s actions or not? Obviously I cannot answer that question with any statistical evidence. My anecdotal evidence based on what I have read and conversations I hear say “yes.” They may be uncomfortable about Kyle’s enthusiasm for killing but they see no inherent Christian moral dilemma in being a sniper. If I am correct is it possible that our public Christianity is really Americanism and our “real” Christianity is relegated to our private lives (at least as much as possible)?

Christianity and Power

reflections on Richard Fletcher’s The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity

It seems clear from what Jesus said his kingdom would/should have nothing to do with spreading the kingdom message through the normal means in which empires spread their kingdoms/cultures/empires. Jesus’ dream of kingdom building was predicated on the attractiveness of bands of his followers living in unity, loving one another and living the other one another directives found primarily in Paul. This was the “evangelistic strategy” of the early church; they lived out this dream and testified of the resurrected Lord of this kingdom. “In house” doctrinal debates were carried on vigorously but with no power to enforce majority opinion other than some form of excommunication.

From the conversion of Constantine and increasingly onward, the kingdom of God was advanced and doctrinal conformity increasingly controlled with the threat of or the reality of the sword. Accordingly from the time of Constantine and the last days of the Roman Empire and consequently the Holy Roman Empire Jesus’ kingdom was advanced hand in hand with a powerful culture. As Barbarian Europe was Christianized each tribal group, Goths, Franks, Angles, Saxons, Irish, Danes, etc. were converted primarily at the edge of the sword. Once tribal groups were conquered churches were built but their safety was provided for by political power. It is clear that the spread of the faith was in no sense a “grass roots” movement but a top down affair. Princes and tribal leaders were converted by war or by the enticement of being allied with the conquering power. In turn their “court” or underlings would have followed suit with the decision of their leader and then of course the inhabitants under their control. In that cultural milieu it would have been almost impossible for the conquered to make a distinction between their conquerors and the faith they brought with them; they were by in large one and the same.

In contrast, those who opposed initially or later on rebelled against this culture. Unfortunately, priests and others were killed in these rebellions because there were simply considered part of this culture. They were not killed for their faith per se but were collateral damage so to speak.

The enticement of being allied with power was communicated by an old version of what we call today the health and wealth gospel. Conquered tribal leaders were encouraged to convert because their God would grant them victories over their enemies and they would enjoy increased prosperity. It is impossible to see the kingdom message of Jesus in this form of “evangelism.”

This does not mean the Spirit was not at work. A biblical truth is that God’s purposes are not thwarted by human sin. Certainly there were and are horrible consequences when the “gospeling” culture is also the conquering culture but the Spirit works in spite of that not because of that (this idea needs expanding but I’ll save that for a later time).

Missionaries to Muslim countries face the hurdle of communicating the kingdom message of Jesus and not having themselves associated with Muslim dislike/hatred of the cultural hegemony of the West and more specifically America and the cultural Christianity it represents.

To say that we’ll never know if Christianity would have spread without the power of the sword and the enticement of power is in one sense true but in another it is not. Until the conversion of Constantine the kingdom dream of Jesus was spreading without being allied with political power or protection. No one would disagree that there are not benefits that come from having faith protected by political power but history has demonstrated over and over the lethal combination of faith and power.

blog intro

If you know me well you know I love to read.  Given time to myself I would rather read than do anything else.  Because I am a teacher most of what I choose to read is chosen because of its potential value to contribute something to my teaching.  It was also conversational fodder when interacting with friends.

We had attended the same church since we built our house in Woodbury in 1999 and I was able to teach there for years.  Also since we lived so long in Woodbury we had a large network of friends with whom it was natural to have meaningful discussion beyond weather and sports. Now that we have moved to Richmond VA I am primarily without those two outlets for communicating/discussing my ideas.

Writing articles is something I have wanted to do for a few years but between work, family and writing my teaching notes on the Old Testament I had not taken the time.  I’m not sure how often I’ll post something but I would love feedback/discussion.