Someone needs to hear this: God is love and God loves you.
Some of you were taught otherwise and it shows. The myopic view of God as a spiteful, rage-filled deity has discouraged many from seeking God.
Many of us grew up in faith communities that spoke bounteously about God’s punitive justice (abatement of evil) and sparingly about God’s reparative justice (restoration of good(s) lost in the sinful state).
And God’s justice is not punitive alone as many of you have been taught to believe. (Hellfire and brimstone preaching, anyone?)
Here is Timothy Keller on Herman Bavinck’s interpretation of divine justice:
“In his magisterial work on God’s attributes, Herman Bavinck argues that in the Bible, God’s justice is both retributive and reparative. It not only punishes evildoing, but it restores those who are victims of injustice. Yet interestingly, “God’s remunerative [restorative] justice is far more prominent in Scripture than his retributive justice.” God stands against “perverting the justice due the poor… slaying the innocent and righteous… accepting bribes…. oppressing the alien, the widow, and the orphan…” God “raises them to a position of honor and well-being… Doing justice with an eye to the needy becomes an act [also] of grace and mercy.” And therefore, God’s restorative justice “is not, like his anger, opposed to his steadfast love but is closely akin and synonymous with it.” His justice is “simultaneously the manifestation of his grace (Psalm 97:11-12; 112:3-6; 116:5; 118:15-19).”
One of the reasons why some of us hold hostile notions toward organized religion and suspicious sentiments toward communities of faith is because our understanding of God’s love and justice was twisted by nescient individuals within these institutions whose goal was to enslave us, not liberate us with the gospel message.
Our receptivity of God’s love for us is either amplified by a healthy understanding of God and His word or crushed by men (and women) who improperly use that same word to control people.
God reassures us that justice is a great thing. Especially when that justice is meted out to thwart and abate evil. God’s justice is also reparative in the sense that it is necessary to restore dilapidated souls, relationships, families, and communities.
God is not only in the business of neutralizing evil in the human heart. It is just of Him to stop evil. We need God to stop evil ‘out there’ in the world, physical and metaphysical, and, His grace allowing, ‘in here’ in reference to our community and also to the human heart.
God is love and this love demands that justice must exist and that it must be effective in a fallen world. We’re taught that sin breeds evil and that sin is entrenched in every heart thus postulating that every person has the propensity for evil.
Justice demands that sin be excised and abolished because its ramifications if left unchecked, spreads in the heart of the individual and in his community thus producing sinful structures.
Sin is destructive to the self and it creates systemic evils.
God’s punitive justice demands the sin in us be abolished but that sin is so engraved in our nature that to destroy sin God would have to destroy us. That’s normally what many of us know about the gospel and about redemption. Outside of the substitution of the cross, we are left on this earth as the receptacles of the full weight of God’s punitive justice; deservedly so.
That’s all some of us know. That’s all some of us were ever taught.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Learning about God must entail we learn as much as has been made available to us about God, meaning, learning more about divine justice being both retributive and reparative.
Meaning, God’s justice is set in motion not only to confront evil, which is actually an amazing thing, but also to restore that which was lost, stolen, hijacked, kidnapped, and ruined in us by sin.
Imagine a court is set in motion to hold criminals accountable for their crimes, which is a necessary aspect of a civilized society. But we must also remember that the judicial system exists to restore that which was stolen, pay back that which was sifted, repair that which was broken, remunerate where and when possible in accordance with the law.
Our earthly courts have demonstrated just how problematic it can be to only exhibit one form of justice whilst ignoring the other.
Take, for example, an innocent man wrongly convicted and forced to serve a twenty-year sentence for a crime he did not commit. Someone falsely accused him of something, his public defender was too over-encumbered with other cases to take him seriously, he was offered a plea deal to lighten the time spent behind bars, evidence was falsified against him by law enforcement, and the jury was biased against him because of the color of his skin.
Imagine fifteen years into his sentence he is exonerated. His name is cleared by his initial accuser, who still walks about free. The court does not apologize for its missteps. His public defender abandoned him years earlier. The police officers who falsified his confession have since retired with hearty pensions, without consequence. And this exonerated soul is set free into a different world from the one he left once he was incarcerated and he has no money or land to his name.
The courts did right by punishing evil (or at least it thought it did by punishing someone for a crime) but it failed to restore and repair that which was broken once the truth came out.
Justice must punish wrongdoing and at the same time, it must repair the breach the initial wrong caused.
Divine Justice is equally retributive and reparative.
What would make this case end on a brighter note is to imagine the man exonerated, his accusers jailed and tried for falsifying evidence, statements, perjury, and fraud. And also, that the court apologizes for its initial mistake and then repays the man the millions and millions of dollars owed to him for the harms he suffered behind bars all those years and as a means by which he can restart his life with something rather than nothing to his name.
The police officers involved must then lose their pensions for falsifying evidence. This seems extreme but perjury is a crime that deserves a consequence.
Justice is set in motion to hold wrongdoing accountable and deliver the victim of these wrongs into a place, a state of being, an identification of being restored by the systems set in place to restore righteousness to the land.
Justice is righteous, you know.
The cross is where punitive and reparative justice intersects to benefit us spiritually and physically.
Christ is punished for our sins and Christ is also the avenue by which we are restored not only to God but also to one another.
“Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelations 21:5 is not indicative of just the new heavens and the new earth, but of a new people, transformed into the likeness of Jesus, living, breathing, operating, and working to live as He did on earth.
So, in light of this renewal, this indwelling, this transformative Person guiding us through life, we must walk as He did, restoring, repairing, and restituting wherever possible.
This is hope-inspiring for victims of abuse, mistreatment, violence, terror, and all categories of wrongs. It is refreshing to know that God is bent toward justice and He seeks not only to obstruct evil but also the infrastructure created by sin on which evil travels.
God’s justice abates evil and repairs brokenness.
If you are a victim, a destitute soul who has been harmed by a sinful world, seek God’s justice, not just in this life but the next.
To rectify wrongs and heal wounds.
Thank God we can seek both.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
What am I to you, World, but a passing stranger? A vagabond hitchhiking through your darkest corridors, going about shining the light of my Master. What have I to offer you World? A corpse. That’s all. Have I brought gifts; absolutely. Invitations really, to the greatest of all festivities, the grandest of all banquets; yes, even the largest supper you’ve ever witnessed, dear World. But, the truth is you will not accept this invitation from above, no, you will willingly crumble under the sins of past and present; oh yes, even the sins yet to be committed. Tell you what, soon to be destroyed World, the Lord is gracious and has promised to make you new as well. Did you really think the Creator would only focus on us humans? Absolutely not! Yes, your hopes are up even though you endure intense pains. Despair not World, for as a flower is crushed a perfume is made. With your death and destruction, a new place will be made and you will be new just like in the beginning. I cannot wait to meet you then and enjoy your beauty.
I launched this blog one year ago today. It began as a medium by which to better understand a craft, understand how I think and how those thoughts come out on paper (or on-screen), to better develop my prose, and practice just enough to the point where I don’t feel miserable when writing my first book.
By the way, I’m almost halfway through that first book. More to come about that in the future.
Looking back I am so happy that I started this page. It helps me think and perhaps it confuses me even more. Tackling history, church history, theology, faith, and relationships often lead the inquirer to more questions than answers.
And from time to time, that’s okay.
We were never to have all the answers all to ourselves. We learn best in a community and we grow better in a healthy community. And this blog is one of many communities.
I hope to improve my craft not only for myself but for you, dear reader, as well. Stories shape us. Great stories encourage and inspire us. I hope to inspire not just you but my girls. So that one day, when they decide to read their dad’s shenanigans they can understand the man I am, the man I was, and the man I aspire to be, through my writings.
108 posts down. Here are some of my favorite ones since Olivet Theory officially launched one year ago today!
The “Gospel+” Movement: Why Simplicity Matters
“The simpler the gospel becomes the closer we are to it. Whenever we add an idea, belief systems, a depraved ideology or rules by which to attain that which Christ has already accomplished we are lightyears away from the truth.”
MTD vs Christianity Proper
“MTD isn’t a religion, like Islam or Judaism. It is more of a disintegration of one particular faith, namely Christianity, that melts into ideals that have been spiritualized and inculcated into American religious circles.”
Marital Advice for the Uninitiated
“Far too many problems arise in marriage because people want so much to live like, behave like, be empowered by, attain the same level of status like, promote a sense of stability like and be unimaginatively in love like power couples they see on social media or in their community.”
How “Policy Over Character” Destroys Our Christian Witness
“White evangelicals within the United States have lost their witness to the world by voting for a vile and abusive bully who paid a porn star hush money to keep his affair a secret.”
Avoiding Extremes: A Word of Caution From a Former Fundamentalist
“Therefore, an extreme effort was undertaken by the male-led authoritarian ministers’ caste to shame, denounce, vilify, and destroy people into submission to modes and methods to separate the church from the world.”
Giftedness vs Fruitfulness: The Hidden Dangers of Following Gifted Church Leaders
“Check and see if what you seek, who you follow, and what you promote is reflective of the biblical Christ or if it is but a dim and dreary shadow of our savior poorly illustrated by gifted leaders.”
My Top Ten Rules for Girl Dads
“Love, be patient, listen, play, and yes, mess up from time to time so that she can see that dad is human and that dad knows how to humble himself enough and apologize for his mistakes.”
“We cannot allow truth to die in darkness for fear of losing influence and money. That was lost the day we decided to trust in the influence and giftedness of man over the eternally restorative and transformative power of Christ.”
A Painful Rediscovery: A Look Into Where My Heart & Mind Are Today
“Mumbling some sort of prayer up to God, not sure if I asked for forgiveness for my feelings, my words, my rage, or if what I felt was a fear of these words making their way on to the screens of the very people who had hurt me. In my fear I wanted to avoid offending them, for having offended me.”
The Burden of History & The Curse of Heritage
“It is easier to remove a commandment from the law of God than it is to distance Southern Baptists from their southern heritage of racism, hate, and evil.”
Olivet Theory’s Bad Advice Series: Chapter 3 – How to Talk About Race and Racism
“Disregard those notions. Go ahead and say what you have to say however you want to say it. Interrupt their conversation and speak as loud as possible. Do it all without the slightest urge to listen to anything they might have to add to this discussion.”
I Am A Neo-Evangelical
“I am a neo-evangelical and God has rescued me from fundamentalism and delivered me from stagnant middle-stance, middle-class centric Christianity that accomplishes much while it accomplishes nothing in mainline evangelicalism.”
Here Is Why We Left Mill Creek Christian Assembly
“t would be foolish to think that racism was the sole reason behind my family leaving a white church. It was a lack of compassion that led me to an irrevocable decision. A decision that brought me angst.”
Here’s to another year of blogging, story-telling, craft-development, book reviewing, and trouble-making!
Growing up in a Brazilian offshoot of the Assemblies of God taught me so much about the Bible, Biblical characters, faith, prayer, church community, developed in me a fervency for social reform, the temperance movement (anti-alcohol consumption), the holiness movement (high ethical standards and separation from what is deemed sacrilegious), the pentecostal movement (continuationist belief of spiritual gifts such as, speaking in tongues [glossolalia], new revelation [prophecies], interpretation of tongues, healings, miracles, signs, wonders, gift of discernment and etc.).
I grew up in a church of diverse people groups, both wealthy and impoverished, white and black, mixed, even. Former drug and alcohol abusers and users. Former sex trafficking victims. Former wife beaters. Former battered wives. Abuse survivors, really. Former drug kingpins and cartel leaders (some from within my family). I grew up listening to the story of one of my family members exchanging gunfire with police officers, surviving the firefight, although not unscathed as some of them would show me bullet wounds. One family member still has bullets lodged in his body, deemed non removable by surgeons lest they risk his life mid-operation.
Many of the drug users and criminals within my family became laypeople. Some went on to become clergy, holding pastoral roles after kicking the drugs and crime, the life of substance abuse and homicide (probably), to become emancipators and heralds of the gospel. Reaching their impoverished and crime-ridden communities for Christ. Feeding the poor and preaching a message of holiness, hope, and societal change.
I witnessed various transformations in my family and it was a sure reminder that what we believed was what everyone believed. Or at least what everyone else should have believed. Who wouldn’t want drug addicts to kick drugs after attending Christian para-ministry-funded halfway homes and rehabilitation centers? Who wouldn’t want criminals to ditch the life of drug peddling and then take on honest work to support their families? Who wouldn’t want to see a community focused on caring for the poor, gifting children with toys, homes with food, and families with sustenance?
We were part of a movement that promoted pastors into politics and politicians to the pulpit. There was no divide. Pastor so-and-so would preach at our church on Sunday and after the sermon, we would give him an offering to help his political campaign. Next Sunday we would host a politician who had a Christian bark but an adulterous bite. Men who wanted votes would sweat on stage to deliver barely substantive Christian messages of hope, love, and political party lines, for the sake of political dominance in our municipality.
Honestly, it felt as if we had monopolized morality, politics, and social work. In a way, we had. At least in my mind, we had. We looked down at Baptist denominations as spiritually dead churches. We thought of the ‘Four Square’ denominations as culturally errant because they did not dress as modest as we did. We thought Presbyterians were theologically compromised because they sipped whiskey, drank beer by the barrel, and smoked Cuban cigars or any make of cigars they could get their hands on. Little mention was made of Methodist/Wesleyan and Episcopalian denominations because our beef was primarily with interdenominational Pentecostals and majority protestant groups, namely, Baptists and Presbies. Baptists because they called us heretics for speaking in tongues and beef with Presbies because they also called us heretics for speaking in tongues but they were drunk when they did so.
We chided Catholics, priests, and nuns as non-Christians because they hailed Mary, worshipped saints, and shunned the Holy Spirit’s spiritual gifts. Not just that, but because they were Catholic and were by definition a morally depraved collective for following every beck and call of the Pope and allowing the Papacy to exist for as long as it did.
We were at war with a culture that perhaps didn’t even know the church, our church, had declared war against it in the first place. Brazil at that time was predominantly religious, most adherents attributing their faith to Catholicism and later Pentecostalism, primarily to the Assemblies of God.
Hate was never named from the pulpit but it was definitely disseminated to anyone who failed to fall in line with our perception of Christianity and holiness standards.
Granted, what the Assemblies of God had in doctrinal prowess and social reform it lacked in clarity of theological thought, compassion, and common sense. I thank this denomination for existing and evangelizing Brazil at the start of the 1900s. White men coming from the North to preach Jesus to Catholics and disenfranchised addicts and impoverished blacks in the Americas. What could go wrong with a Eurocentric theology in a predominantly colored South America?
Anywho, the Assemblies of God espoused love for God, doctrine, holiness standards, and literature. Well, as long as the literature in question was not antithetical to the Bible. Our ministry, as part of the Assemblies of God, was called Assembleia de Deus, Ministerio Belém. Assembly of God, Bethlehem Ministry.
This is where I spent most of my church life. Where I studied scripture, I met pastors who wore the robes of politicians and politicians who covered themselves in sheeps wool to pass as pastors. This is where I developed a love for theology, unaware of what kind of theology it was I was falling in love with, but, nevertheless, a love for God. Here is where I met church friends who made up most if not all of my social circles for years to come.
‘Murica – We Ventured North
Once we immigrated to the United States and settled in Florida, we began to attend church six nights a week. It was community forming and community building. People helping each other out. We spoke Portuguese only because the community was made up of Brazilians with a few scattered Latinos and the rare white American soul who ventured into the building. These Anglophonic individuals came either out of curiosity produced from the loud music we played or because they were dating one of our church members.
Either way, Brazilians in America were opening up churches and ministries for Brazilians. And, the same assiduity that was so fervent in Brazil for doctrinal purity, denominational clarity, focus on spiritual gifts of glossolalia and prophecy, and holiness standards were present in the Brazilian Assemblies of God in the United States.
The small and budding community of the Brazilian Assembly of God, Bethlehem Ministry teams were spreading like wildfire in Florida, Massachusetts, California, and beyond. (As of today, there are Bethlehem Ministry churches in Dallas, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Pittsburg, Columbus, and more spread throughout the United States of America. In the Pacific, there are churches in Honolulu, Kanalui, Wahiawa, Christchurch, Queenstown, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Rockhampton. In the European continent they can be found in Madrid, Almeria, Barcelona, Paris, Orleans, Geneva, Lausanne, Bern, Zurich, Basel, Munich, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, Rome, Bristol, Cardiff, and London. Just to name a few spots. And in the African continent, Mozambique.) Wherever Brazilian immigrants or tourists land, there, in that city, we would open a church and rotate ministers through them so as not to develop independent churches. But the pastor rotation rodeo situation a whole different post.
But in America, (North America), we did not see as many disenfranchised souls as we did in Brazil. In the US., everyone was hyper-individualistic, unlike the community-centric vibe found in the motherland. We could not see the impoverished because we rarely ventured out of the church to evangelize and minister to our communities. And ‘evangelism’ in America simply meant reaching Brazilians in America. Not white Americans. That wasn’t our focus just yet. We wanted nothing more than to grow the Bethlehem Ministry brand by finding and dragging (nicely) as many Brazilians in Orlando, Ft. Myers, Miami, Lighthouse Point, Ft. Lauderdale, Pompano, Vero Beach, Sarasota, Kissimmee, and beyond into our churches as possible.
And we did.
Churches blossomed and swelled from ten to twenty adherents in some parts and in the hundreds and hundreds of members, yes, not just attendees and participants, but members in other parts.
My family first moved to Orlando from Campinas, São Paulo. Well, my dad first moved to Boston with a pastor/politician guy to help the ministry start a church there. When the call to restart a ministry in Orlando, Florida was made, this pastor/politician fellow decided to take my multi-talented instrumentalist dad down to Florida with him. And it is here where we are to arrive to meet up with my dad. In Orlando, we partook in a ministry that grew well and because the ministry was fond of rotating pastors from one church to another they then opened another church in Naples, Florida and that’s where we went next.
The pastor/politician fella didn’t last long in this ministry and was later moved to another church, for reasons unknown or unmentioned, I don’t know because much of it was hush-hush, as is the status quo in churches these days. But my family settled in delightful old Naples, Florida and it is there where we spent most of our time in the US.
Again, evangelistic outreach was an attempt to reach Brazilians in America (North America) for Christ. English-speaking Americans were handed little pamphlets outside of bars, clubs, and large buffets where they would later use them to wipe their nose or just throw them away. We weren’t sure what to do with English speakers other than inviting them to sit through simultaneously translated sermons. Not many members of our church community were able to wield the English language well enough to bring English speakers into our community so we didn’t focus on them that much or at all. This would change but not yet. They would show up, hang out, watch our singers sing, then our worship bands worship, in Portuguese, of course. And towards the end of the service, they would sit through a poorly translated sermon where the minister half-spoke in tongues and half-ministered about hellfire and brimstone. After service, we would have our comes e bebes (coffee, tea, food, and treats; it was a fraternization period) where English speakers were adored, welcomed, and greeted, but few were the church members who actually spent time with them or time getting to know them because we barely spoke their language and they didn’t know a lick of Portuguese. There are Americans we’re talking about here. They barely spoke English well enough.
And remember, this was initially a Brazilian pentecostal ministry in America (North America) with the sole focus of evangelizing unchurched Brazilians and heresy plagued Brazilians who had run off to worship God in pagan centers like Baptist churches.
We wanted nothing but Brazilians and that’s what we got.
Again, in Brazil, evangelism was primarily focused on the poor, disenfranchised, destitute, addicts, and socially oppressed but in North America, we saw abundance, wealth, and lucre. Of course, impoverished families were everywhere but not as visibly so as in Brazil so we had to change our strategies.
As we adapted our youth (myself included) to the culture, assimilating and learning the language, the ministry began to build up new leaders to lead and pastor bilingual church services.
Our initial success paled in comparison with this second wave of evangelistic outreach as our predominantly Brazilian-led services took on Colombian, Venezuelan, Mexican, Argentine, Bolivian, Honduran, Costa Rican, Puerto Rican clergy to lead services in both Spanish and in Portuguese. Because we lived in Florida you can imagine how our Latin American ministry blew up.
The more we integrated with the surrounding culture the more people we managed to bring into the church.
But nowhere was there a higher shift in our evangelistic outreach and ministerial identity than when we focused on the American culture surrounding our churches.
It was here that the fundamentalist aspect of our ministry peaked its head high and above the rest.
You see, American Evangelicalism, in its matured stage in the 1990s and early 2000s had become hyper-political with the rise and prominence of the Moral Majority and the religious Right. Ronald Reagan, Billy Graham, Bob Jones University, Jerry Falwell Sr., Liberty University, Fox News, and a plethora of conservative white evangelicals led us to believe that as we reached out to English-speaking North Americans we ought also to join in the culture wars of the land.
Mind you, we were already involved in political power struggles in Brazil, hosting and supporting political candidates from the pulpit. But in the US, in the land of the American Dream, culture wars were nefarious, dangerously close, impending doom was imminent, and the end of our Christian witness and religious liberty was on assault on the daily, causing us to battle Leftist Liberals and theological liberalism anywhere we could.
We weren’t just attacking Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Catholics, Baptists, drunk Presbies, and backsliding Pentecostals. No. Now were bent on explaining to our churches (which consisted of undocumented immigrants with lapsed visas, living in the country illegally, or having entered and remained in the country illegally) that we should fight the culture wars of America.
I can recall seeing three to four flags flailing from our pulpits every single Sunday. The star-spangled banner flag was almost always center stage. Some pastors joked that if immigration officers burst through the back doors with deportation orders in hand and saw our predominantly illegal immigrant group praising the American flag then they’d turn away and leave us alone. Besides that flag, we would have the evangelical flag-waving about freely. I would later see January 6 insurrectionists bull-rushing the US Capitol waving this same flag. Little did I know, that flag was more about Christian Nationalist ideals than Christian virtues and ethics. Either way, we also carried the flag of Israel with the star of David in the middle. Being a fundamentalist meant you loved everything about Israel and hated everything Arab or Muslim. And lastly, we had the Brazilian flag. We were a Brazilian ministry in the United States of America.
Our evangelistic outreach moved from the disenfranchised people groups to political culture wars.
My evangelical development began as a neo-fundamentalist evangelical. And I was oblivious to it.
You must understand that these religious movements operate in complete invisibility to their adherents and work in frameworks that make everything outside of them or opposed to them satanic, devilish, godless, pagan, spiritually oppressive, occultic, evil, and more. This mindset in its fundamentalist rage would later help elect Donald J. Trump to office in the United States of America because he promised evangelicals religious liberty and freedom, the destruction of abortion rights, exclusive privilege in the White House, and favor toward the nation of Israel against Arab nations and Palestine. He told them he loved and served God. It was near orgasmic for North American evangelicals when Trump actually won. And also a reason for suicidal ideations when he lost. Some still think he won the 2020 election.
This same neo-fundamentalist segment of our church mentality helped the far-right Trump of the tropics, Jair Bolsonario, become the president of Brazil. He ran on the same ticket as did Trump. Hate for left and left-leaning Brazilians, he loved evangelicals and even prayed in public, attended church services. His vitriol against political opponents was unhinged in parts, making Trump sound domesticated. The man was a military lifer turned politician turned religious right hero turned president of a 211 million inhabitants nation. His downfall came through his misogynistic tropes, his islamophobia in equating Arabs with ISIS, and his disdain for liberal politics, his vitriol, and yes, just as with Trump, Covid-19. Jair Bolsonario questioned the validity of vaccines and thought they altered human DNA/mRNA thus postponing Brazil’s access to life-saving vaccines. Now that Brazil has reached well over 400,000 covid complications-related deaths, his popularity, as did Trumps, has faltered.
But how did I come to understand that I was once part of neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism?
We spent a great deal of time with the Assembly of God, Bethlehem Ministry, but once we received a recalcitrant, malcontent failed former lawyer turned pastor as a pastor of our member bleeding church, something clicked and then broke in me when the man would not stop bashing other pastors from our very denomination. Remember, bashing outsiders and apostates was acceptable but our own? It was too much even for my pharisaical heart. He had a knack for calling them monges (monks) because monks, according to him, were religious hypocrites.
He did this so often that during one of his diatribes at one of our weeknight bible studies I stopped him mid-sentence to ask him to desist from such nonsense.
I don’t believe a man of his stature and prominence had ever been confronted by a church member before. Less so a black one who was not clergy but mere laity and part-time voluntary treasurer for the ministry.
The man lambasted me for being ignorant, young, foolish, and a dunce. This all happened in front of the church. I then called him morally corrupt, immature, disqualified from ministry until he could seek reparation and reconciliation with the people he hated.
His son was present and his son said his father, the then pastor, had trouble controlling his words and tone. This poor man, the pastor’s son, even admitted that he tried time and again to correct his father’s problematic ways for years but to no avail.
This waltz of verbal assault and abuse between me and this pastor went back and forth for weeks. Every interaction we had, in front of anyone and everyone, he would call me a pejorative name and I would reciprocate. Never. Never had I had more disdain for a religious leader than I had for that man. Not because of his conduct which is normal for an unrepentant and impenitent man, but for a pastor of a holiness movement, holiness standard church to behave that way was way off for me.
Eventually, my family decided to leave the Assembly of God, Bethlehem Ministry we helped found, build, and advance in Naples, Florida.
We then joined the Assembly of God, The Vine Ministry, just a few hundred meters down the road.
Our leaving that ministry went without issue. The pastor in question and I shook hands, hugged, and said our pleasantries before parting. Whether he saw me as just another monk or not I do not know but that’s not the case here. We left as Christian brothers who knew we could not serve God in the same building anymore.
After that, none of the ministers and leaders from the Bethlehem Ministry that we had come to love, adore, and they love us and adore us ever reached out to us again.
We simply disappeared from their radar. It took nearly ten years for some of us to visit my parents place and some of them had also left the ministry.
What you have to understand is that it’s just a natural thing within the neo-fundamentalist evangelical circle to ostracize anyone who abandons not Christianity or Pentecostalism, but those who dare leave our particular ministry. Outsiders and backsliders who venture out of this Bethlehem Ministry.
So outside of this, we met new friends with The Vine Ministry, rebuilt lost or broken friendships with other Brazilian friends who had also fled the Bethlehem Ministry years earlier. People who had been traumatized by our authoritarian structure and fled for their lives. They escaped years of spiritual abuse. God bless them.
It was great to worship God and serve one another at The Vine Ministry but then my wife and I moved to Canada in search of financial stability and a future for our family.
Canada – Land of Apologies and Snow
In Canada, we joined a Slavic-Canadian pentecostal church that was stuck between modernity and early 1900s Communist Ukraine.
Having recently joined the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada the church had to shift its services from their regular hybrid of Ukrainian-Russian speaking services to English-speaking services only. This was great because I wanted to understand what in the world they were singing about in their songs.
This church, being outside of the Brazilian paradigm of poverty and social issues and outside of North American hyper-capitalist, hyper-individualistic, and culture wars framework was primarily focused on religious consistency and discipleship, more than anything else. Minor struggles and disagreements surrounded what style of worship songs we should sing, whether we should stick to hymns or play to the tune of Hillsong, Planetshakers, Jesus Culture, or Elevation music. Some members dawned jeans and t-shirts while others, the Slavic grandmas in particular, dawned head coverings and skirts from their motherland.
Evangelism here was inner-centric. More about preaching Jesus to former communists and people who had survived communism as Christians but still struggled with legalist understanding of the gospel.
We wanted to teach the bad Christianity out of ignorant Christians. And it was working. Our community grew. Our youth group developed from a bunch of kids who were at first scared to ask tough questions to a group of Christianized hooligans willing to think for themselves. They went on to lead worship and lead services, participate in plays, mission trips (not on my part but still, awesome incentive on their part), pursue baptism, get married, and more.
Because this Slavic community was so removed from the neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism I was raised within in Brazil and in America (North America) I was able to see my faith a little clearer.
But before we proceed on how I went from neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism to neo-evangelicalism I must define and categorize evangelicalism as understood through the North American perspective. And because I’m not a scholar I will allow a scholar named Michael Graham, a writer for As In Heaven and the executive pastor at Orlando Grace Church to explain these categories for you.
In writing for Mere Orthodoxy, Graham states that there are six iterations or rather categories of evangelicalism so far. Here is Graham:
“The 6 Categories
As I have surveyed the evangelical landscape and discussed with pastors all around the country, evangelicalism seems to be fracturing into at least 6 different subgroups. Three of those groups (#s1-3) still have at least some connectivity to evangelicalism and the other three have cut ties (#s 4-6):
Neo-Fundamentalist Evangelical– Neo-fundamentalists are those who have deep concerns about both political and theological liberalism. There is some overlap and co-belligerency with Christian Nationalism (a syncretism of right wing nationalism and Christianity) but neo-fundamentalists do so with more theological vocabulary and rationality. Concerning threats within the church, they have deep worries with the church’s drift towards liberalism and the ways secular ideologies are finding homes in the church. Outside the church, they are concerned by the culture’s increasing hostility to Christianity, most prominently from mass media, social media, and the government.
Mainstream Evangelical – Historically this term has been Protestants who hold to the Bebbington Quadrilateral of conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism. The emphasis for this group is on the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Concerning threats within the church, they share some concern for the secular right’s influence on Christinaity, including the destructive pull of Christian Nationalism, but are far more concerned by the secular left’s influence and the desire to assimilate since the world still remains so hostile. Outside the church, they are likely uncomfortable with the rhetoric Trump and other conservatives use but view this direction as the lesser of two evils.
Neo-Evangelical – People who would see themselves as “global evangelicals” and are doctrinally “Evangelicals” (w/ some philosophy of ministry differences) but no longer use the term “evangelical” in some circumstances in the American context as the term as an identifier has evolved to be more political than theological. Within the church, they are highly concerned by conservative Christianity’s acceptance of Trump and failure to engage on topics of race and sexuality in helpful ways, but they have not totally abandoned evangelical identification and likely still labor in churches with the broadest spectrum of these groups. Outside of the church, this group feels largely homeless in today’s world. There is equal concern, or slightly more either way depending on the person, at the threat the left and the right pose to Christians seeking to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness.
Post-Evangelical – People who have fully left evangelicalism from a self-identification standpoint and reject the “evangelical” label yet are still churched and likely still agree with the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed. They are more deconstructed than neo-evangelicals and they are more vocal in their critiques of 1s and 2s than 3s would be. Some remain firmly in Protestant circles and others have crossed over to mainline, catholic, or orthodox traditions while still holding to the basic creeds. Concerning threats within the church, they are focused on abuse, corruption, hypocrisy, Christian nationalism, and the secular right. Outside the church, they are primarily concerned with the matters of injustice, inequity, the secular right, and to a lesser extent the radical secular left. Many 4s are 4s also because their experiences with predominantly white evangelicalism have been so difficult and strained that physical distance seemed to be the only conclusion.
Note – there is likely a halfway point between 4 and 5 known as ex-vangelicals that don’t neatly fit either 4 or 5. This group is difficult to parse as the meaning that this group has taken on has evolved even this year. We did not want to exclude the group from this typology but given the evolving nature were hesitant to pin it down too precisely at this juncture. Some of these folks have actually dechurched, some have deconverted, yet some remain in the faith but are quite vocal on their critiques of the movement. In time this category might evolve and/or swallow up category 5 below or it might fizzle like other labels.
Dechurched (but with some Jesus) – People who have left the church but still hold to at least some orthodox Christian beliefs.
Dechurched and Deconverted – People who have left the church and are completely deconverted with no vestigial Christian beliefs.”
I transitioned out of neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism in Brazil and later in the United States of America thanks to distance but I moved away from mainline evangelicalism in this Slavic community due to racism and anti-intellectualism. What do I mean? The racism I experienced in this church setting was new to me, because, remember, the Brazilian church was very racially diverse. It was ethnically one but racially, we had white ministers, black ministers, ministers with Japanese ancestry, and Latino ministers, ministers from the African continent, and so on. Racism wasn’t acceptable in our racially diverse neo-fundamentalist evangelical churches.
But racism in this mainline evangelical Slavic church? Well, what did you think would happen when a black man walked into a Euro-centric church ministry that operated in Canada… of all places?
Anywho. The racism part I am still writing about and discovering as I am still dealing with it to this day. My experiences with racism in America came from outside the church. My experience with racism in Canada came from within the church. But I’ll write more about that later.
But the anti-intellectual aspect here, and by anti-intellectual I refer to historian Mark A. Noll’s work, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind delves into a group that is hyper-aware of intellectual works concerning construction and other vocational works but when it comes to Christian intellectual works they are limited. Quite limited. The exploration of theology, expositional preaching, exegesis, Christian church history, doctrinal history, and social issues were all lacking. Knowledge surrounding biology, archeology, anthropology, anatomy, physiology, psychology, philosophy, psychiatry, and science, in general, was lacking. No wonder there is a hyper-resistance toward vaccines and virology in the Slavic-Germanic mainline evangelical community here in Canada. Much love for God and holiness standards but a hell of a lot of ignorance surrounding the world around them. The very world God created.
During my last few weeks in membership with this mainline evangelical church, I witnessed an uptick in members spewing their support for Donald Trump. I mean, we’re in Canada, people. Canadians are too nice to support an orange man like Donald Trump. But our Slavic community tossed all brain and heart out the window and promoted pro-Trump rhetoric against immigrants, racial justice, and any issues pertaining to brown people. The irony was there but the masks had come off. I saw some of them for what they were. Racist Christians. The Christian part of their identity was debatable but their racism consumed the air around them. Around me.
It was no wonder that whenever the Black Lives Matter movement took shape in the political sphere and some accused it of Marxist ideologies our Slavic church shut its doors down on the topic. Period. There was no talking about race, racism, or harms done against black people and people of color because the unresolved trauma of Marxism was looming high and mightily in their repressed subconscious. If BLM was Marxist then everything they talked about or fought for was atheistic and diabolic. They were unwilling to consider that the fight for black equity spanned back hundreds of years. But fear triumphs over reason and they capitulated their witness on the altar of ignorance.
And short of my exit I picked up this book by professor Noll and devoured it. Strange thing is that I pulled this book from the church’s library, which no one ever frequented. I could have stolen the book and I don’t believe anyone would have noticed. But I read it, made notes, made connections between the idiocy in evangelical history to the idiocy I witnessed in my church, yes, my church because I was part of it too. And I was broken. I left not long after when the racism became too painful to deal with and far too many higher-ups from the church were spewing it for me to confront it alone.
Being one of two black people in the church stymies one’s aspirations for change, you know.
A short conversation with the pastor, an honest one, revealed just how intellectually and socially limited this environment had become or perhaps had always been.
We left and what was left behind was in fact my mainline evangelical faith.
I was comfortable there until I realized that racism and religious-political syncretism was still very much alive and well there, just not as angry as that within the neo-fundamentalist evangelical circle of my earlier years but it was still there.
I’ve since progressed to a neo-evangelical landmark. I’ve reached the precipice of evangelicalism. Behind me is a horrid trail of trauma and a history of evangelical evils and issues. And before me lies a pit of tenebrous open-theistic worldviews that have robbed Christ of His Deity.
I’m comfortable as a neo-evangelical because I’ve realized that my faith supersedes denominational lines. I can learn so much more about different philosophies without being guilted into thinking I’m a heretic for simply studying different thinkers. I appreciate the social ramifications of liberation theology and I love the fine-tuned nature of big-God/near-God orthodox theology. I love my transcendent Lord but He is also an eminent God. He strengthens my heart out of religiosity that damns the intellect and He pushes me into a wholesome religion that loves God and neighbor. I’m hostile to the idea of marrying religion and political ideologies. I hate poor theology but I love and am patient with people who are ignorant of good theology. They’re teachable you know. My most biting words are reserved for my friends who are still stuck in neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism. I’m patient with my friends who are on the wall between mainline and fundamentalist evangelicalism. You shout too loud and they’ll become extremists and if you whisper too much they’ll forever stagnate in mainline circles.
I’m comfortable being labeled a ‘global evangelical’ as I worship and serve Christ wherever I go. I’m not limited to national superpowers like the United States of America or Israel. Today I’m comfortable condemning Israeli terrorism against Palestinians. Before I would have spat at the mention of these poor souls. Today I favor a democratic society that espouses a higher ethic that values the civil rights of all people, not just Christians.
My views about abortion are the same. I’m pro-life through and through, not just pro-birth. But even there, I fall and lean on pastor Skye Jethani’s idea, preferring a world where abortion is legal but morally wrong and unwanted than a world where we repress laws and allow for the fruition of back-alley abortions to persist. A world where people risk death to seek out an abortion because birthing the child will be the end of their lives and that of the baby.
I prefer to look to the root causes in society leading women to believe they need an abortion. What leads them to that state of mind? We’re so focused on the clinical procedure, which is horrific and barbaric, but seldom do we focus on the social, financial, and mental issues that precede this decision. I’m in favor of leading a whole nation to destroy the structures that make women think they have to end their pregnancies to work, pay rent, buy groceries, be financially stable, get a job and keep it, graduate from school, apply for school, and have medical care.
Like… why aren’t pro-lifers, mainly pro-birthers from neo-fundamentalist evangelicals tackling those issues as well? They’re more in favor of a big military instead of big health care. I’ve figured that it’s because the left and left-leaning churches and groups are focusing on these issues, therefore, by affiliation, these things are wrong to even consider.
As a neo-evangelical, I still believe in the Bebbington Quadrilateral definition of evangelicalism, namely, biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionsim, and activism by which to spread the first three.
But in my biblicism, I am no longer a biblical literalist. I read the Bible with wisdom, with new tools by which to help me investigate the text, the author’s meaning, his intent, his audience, the culture it was written within, the principles, laws, and religious rules and laws of the time of writing. I consider the geo-political struggles of the time of writing, surrounding nations and their writers and philosophers. I understand metaphors, historical narrative, prophetic literature, poetic literature, wisdom literature, apocalyptic or eschatological writings, pastoral epistles, and the gospels. I rely on the Holy Spirit for clarity and trust Him when I’m told to use the many tools of study available to me. Outside of these tools, I would be a literalist and an idiot. Like the idiot I was in neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism thinking America was at the top of the world and everything around us was the Mark of the Beast and the antichrist. Putin, Hussein, Osama, North Korean dictators, and whatnot. One of them was bound to be the antichrist, I guessed.
I cursed homosexuals and chided Muslims. I damned atheists to hell and mocked them. I understood little of the difference between theistic satanism and atheistic satanism and thought they were both one and the same. This ignorance and arrogance stunted my approachability.
I’ve condemned friends to hell. I’ve ostracized friends by referencing dreams of them wallowing in hell-fire and their immediate need to convert otherwise they would be doomed for eternity. This is how conversations about faith, Jesus, and the Bible went between teenage me and my teenage friends.
I was relentless in assuming everyone’s eternal condition after five minutes of debating them online or in person. Why would I leave any room for doubt when I knew more about them than God did?
Either way, the extremist ways of neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism destroyed my intellect, heightened my fear of non-Assembly of God Bethlehem Ministry Pentecostals, and ruined so many of my friendships thus tarnishing my witness of Christ.
Mainline evangelicalism taught me that so many believers can worship Jesus with their hearts, accept Him into their soul, worship Him and pray to Him in their quiet place, and then live morally duplicitous racist lives in the church and outside the church. Even the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke against moderate mainline believers who spoke so highly of Christ but turned a blind eye to Christ’s creation, namely, black people during the Civil Rights era.
But in neo-evangelicalism, I can seek Christ, preach about the cross, about death, about resurrection, about sin and redemption, and the next advent of my Lord. And in neo-evangelicalism, I can confront the plight of my neighbor, assist them in their troubles, challenge structures and systems that have been set up to oppress instead of emancipate. I can challenge local bodies, both religious and secular entities, to work together, ecumenically, to help everyone everywhere.
But if you think I’m naturally progressing through Graham’s stages of evangelicalism toward post-evangelicalism or apostasy, be assured, I am not.
I have escaped neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism and walked out of mainline evangelicalism, by God’s grace, but I am nowhere close nor am I attracted to post-evangelicalism.
I follow websites and threads written by exvangelicals, post-evangelicals, and former Christians, and depending on their motivation to deconstruct evangelicalism I have found that their results are bleak. They end up destroying their faith instead of deconstructing the cultural colonization of their Christianity. It’s sad to watch people punch holes in the boat that’ll carry them across the lake. They ought to fix their sails, not tear them to shreds. Their faith compass needs recalibration but many of them are shutting their airs and trusting fate to guide them to safer shores. Some have jumped ship altogether, having lost faith in the boat’s ability to keep them above water. And this without a safety vest.
At times I have found more people leaving evangelicalism out of hurt and trauma and in other instances because they prefer to live within an antinomian framework. A framework sapped of moral attitudes and ethics. They want Christ as God of the world but not as Lord of their lives. Meaning, everything goes as far as sinful patterns inasmuch as they can read their bibles to conform it to their momentary pleasures.
In that case, I’d say some of them have moved from monotheism in Christianity to therapeutic moralistic deism. It feels good, must be right, and God or gods is out there, in the ether, somewhere, maybe watching.
Post-evangelicalism can work if one deconstructs not from faith and Christ but from cultural Christianity. Namely, Brazilian-centric or United States of America-centric Christianity. White Christianity. Euro-centric Christianity. Pan-African Christianity. Etcetera.
But if you’re moving away from biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionsim, and activism, then what are you moving towards? I ask myself that same question from time to time. If I abandon the word, the cross, regeneration, and the work that goes into disseminating this message, then what am I moving into? What have I moved away from?
Is this not the gospel? Does the gospel supersede the Bebbington Quadrilateral of evangelicalism?
But does the gospel have to be post-evangelical? It can be. It was before the term was even coined and its meaning as we understand it today solidified.
But I am comfortable utilizing my brain, my soul, God’s Holy Spirit, His Word, the beauty and horror of the cross, and my giving up of myself for my family and my community.
And listen, that community is not and does not have to be a believing community.
Loving God with all my heart, soul, and mind, and my neighbor as myself does not mean that my neighbor needs to be a conservative Right-leaning Christian for me to love, serve, and possibly even die in service for them.
I Am A…
I am a neo-evangelical and God has rescued me from fundamentalism and delivered me from stagnant middle-stance, middle-class centric Christianity that accomplishes much while it accomplishes nothing in mainline evangelicalism.
I am not out of the clear until I reach heaven and that’s why from time to time I converse with my pastor, interacting with him about ideas, what comes next for evangelicals, what ideas, good or bad, will be sucked into the vacuum created by the absence of evangelicalism in our cultural sphere.
What happens when we remove Eurocentric theology from our schools and vernacular? What happens when we burn slave-holding Christian theology to ash? What happens when we begin to listen to the voices that have taken a backseat in literature and theology for the last five hundred years? Who are these voices? Are they white, male, wealthy, and western? Are they French, German, English, Swedish, Scottish, Irish, Dutch, or Swiss?
Are these voices evangelical at all?
These thoughts and questions plague my mind every time I venture to read scripture for my personal development and the development of my church community.
I am comforted by the continual presence of this voice of inquiry because it was absent for most of my life. I thank God for the inquisitive pull in my heart. Not the cynic and skeptic. My faith is firm and sound on the Rock of Christ but the in-betweens that have dimmed my understanding for so long are still to be discovered and challenged.
I need these thoughts and questions to dominate my headspace otherwise I’ll recrudesce to fundamentalist fearmongering and that’ll be the death of my intellect.
This cannot happen.
I am too conservative for my liberal friends and too liberal for my conservative friends. I’m politically homeless. A political vagabond moving from one political railroad car to the next, exploring the goods, acknowledging them, sharing them, and then leaving it for the next. Wherever I find errors and wrongs I attempt to address them with Christic love and when that fails I’m booted forward or backward into another car. Whither this train travels I know not but that it travels forward is without question.
The final station is of less importance to me because no matter where this train of political ideology stops it is still flawed and filled with holes, carrying broken people from one place to another, ever full and ever empty.
I love my Lord, I love my wife, I love our girls, and I love the Church of Christ. The Catholic (universal) Church of Jesus is not held nor constrained by walls and windows and doors. Nor denominational lines.
Are you not sure where you fall on this spectrum and you want to take a quick quiz to find out, hit this link. Towards the end of the page you will find the Evangelical Assessment Tool. Share your findings!
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Because I’m in a relationship where love abounds. Now, don’t misunderstand me when I say that love abounds and nothing else. What I mean is that in this environment of love, kindness, care, appreciation, communication, and compromise, we also experience challenges induced by fatigue, lack of sleep, poor sleep, busyness, miscommunication on things as simple as: is this plate clean or where is the soundbar remote?
These trivialities are abundant within a healthy relationship. A couple that does not disagree or perhaps does not experience friction does not spend time together at all.
I am loved where I live and where I live I give love. Love can be demonstrated in various ways. It can be received and understood in many others. From gifts to affectionate gestures, time spent together, romantic or eros, philo and friendlike, paying attention to your spouse and whatnot. Too many ways and far more ways into which these methods intertwine and intersect.
Therefore, in expressing love and giving love, you must give it in as many ways as possible and be in sync with your spouse on how you best receive it. Also, how they would like to be loved.
Living in an environment where love is absent but commitment is present is a delicate and painful compromise.
What do I mean?
There are couples, married couples, who have lived together for ten, twenty, possibly, thirty years together in holy matrimony, with multiple kids (or no kids) and careers well behind them, friendships developed around them, and a community of known-ness between them and all who know them.
But… these couples lack love. What do I mean? Is not the longevity of their marriage a sign of lovingkindness and affectionate endurance?
No. But yes. But no. (Canadian expression).
It can be, but it isn’t always.
Longevity can be accomplished by simply enduring and repeating something without much thought given to it.
Also, a marriage that subsists in this environment does so out of duty. Consider religious cultures where shame rules their community and to divorce a spouse you do not love or are not compatible with is a sure sign that you will be ostracized by that community.
Shame culture is real and it is an ugly reality. If you live and move within a shame-based culture, please, for the love of your sanity, your spouse, your children, and your friends, leave it.
But people who endure their marriage, they perform certain aspects of it out of a sense of duty, almost, honorific duty so as to gloat or find pride in their suffering through this relationship.
Sorry, not a relationship, this exchange of bodily property for (x) number of years.
But living in this environment of duty and honor instead of an environment of love, commitment, and compromise can be destructive to a person’s well-being and emotional development.
The sensual aspect of this relationship is there. Granted. It doesn’t take much for a person to merely ‘enjoy’ an activity. The enjoyment is there. But the fruition from it, the connection and chemistry developed, not just on a physical level but an interpersonal and emotional level is tantamount to a healthy love-filled relationship. Couples who simply bond over this act to exchange pleasantries rather than continually build their relational affections are engaging in business matters rather than life matters.
It’s merely transactional behavior.
What I’m trying to say is that love is not a required factor for a couple to enjoy sex.
There are plenty of miserable couples out there that have better sexual encounters than we can surmise but their interpersonal connectivity and relational development are as poor as the glass cup from which Donald Trump had to use two hands to drink.
I know. It’s sad.
So, if you’re in a loveless relationship, be in a serious one that might lead to marriage or in a marriage that has sailed away from the docks of single-dome years ago, understand that you are not without hope.
It all starts with communication. First, communicate to yourself that you do not feel loved. Two, discover why you cannot give love. Three, you need to share these sentiments freely and fearlessly with your significant other.
If you’re afraid of being open with your significant other then by all means understand that there are more issues surrounding this love loss than anything else.
Ask yourself when it was that your love for them faded. Was there a stressful situation at work, home, in your social sphere that halted your emotional development? Are you overwhelmed by responsibilities or depressed by your unfulfilled dreams? Open up about these things. Journal about them so your thoughts are on paper and clear, clearer to you.
Ask yourself when it was that your loved one stopped or slowed in expressing their love to you. What happened in that season. Before that season. You’re not to blame unless you know 100% that you are responsible for something. Namely, cheating, gambling family funds away, cheating emotionally, lying, being emotionally repressive or oppressive, voting for Donald J. Trump, gaslighting, abuse; physical, verbal, emotional, and spiritual. But if the blame isn’t yours, don’t allow your brain to trick you into thinking it is because then you’ll both be stuck in an emotional stalemate. Discuss these things with your partner and allow them to open up to you gradually, understanding that they may not entirely understand their own feelings yet. And even if they do understand them they might have a tough time verbalizing them. So listen up to what IS said but pay attention to what is left UNSAID.
Think About It
If you are in a loveless relationship you do not have to stay in it.
But here’s the catch. I do not mean that you have to leave it either.
What I mean is that both of you can work together to make it a love-filled relationship again.
Make Relationships Love-Filled Again!
Maybe we should throw that on a hat and make it our war cry.
That won’t work.
But you get what I mean.
To leave a loveless relationship does not mean you leave your partner. In fact, you both leave the loveless environment together and explore what it means to love and be loved, together, again.
This post is not meant for individuals who are in abusive relationships. If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek professional help immediately, for your safety and the safety of those in your household.
GoodTherapy. Hit that link. Click other links. Then delete your browsing history.
If your spouse or partner is abusive, contact law enforcement as soon as possible.
You are loved by a community you do not even yet know. You are more than your abuse and your hurt and your pain. You might only understand this once you leave and are free to heal, feel, and yes, be loved and love, again.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
I cannot emphasize this enough therefore I will allow the words of the King to re-emphasize it for me: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
Fox News opinion casters have been re-demonizing Muslims and Christians from Afghanistan because there’s an unfounded theory that undocumented brown refugees will begin to flood into the United States of America because of this Taliban crisis.
Most of the people who watch Fox News adhere to some form of a Christian or Judeo-Christian moral framework where they believe that God exists, Jesus walked this earth, that we should live by high ethical standards, sexual standards, and respect our neighbors.
Something like that.
But at the same time, these same viewers will swallow a building-sized gnat of hatred that Fox News spews against, you named it, immigrants.
And the darker their complexion the spicier the vitriol gets.
I don’t care if you watch Fox News to further numb the dead or dying heart inside of you. I don’t mind if your soul is so dark that the only thing that brings you warmth is watching millionaires discuss their hatred for the disenfranchised, poor, colored, and immigrants but if that’s the case I hope you’re not at the same time ascribing to a worldview that espouses love, kindness, redemption, and holiness.
The crisis in Afghanistan is so complicated and the United States of America’s participation in the formation and the financial backing of the Taliban in previous proxy wars has only made things worse. The United States does not walk out of this situation with clean hands.
I understand that this crisis is more complicated than we dare admit, collectively speaking. Some of us will blame Muslims for the bloodshed. Others will blame Russia. Others yet will blame Americans. And Americans will blame the Afghani people for not developing quickly enough to defend themselves against an insurgency like the Taliban.
The blame game works itself into a wheel spin that is hard to slow down once it’s in full steam. I’m concerned with the catalysts, yes, I’m concerned about the agencies that led this nation and its surrounding communities to such dire straits. Insurgents only become insurgents because every other way of life has been taken from them by bombs dropped by other insurgencies or government agencies.
American ones included.
It’s perfectly fine to feel overwhelmed by not knowing what to do or how to do what needs to be done in a situation as problematic as this.
We’re all on the same boat when it comes to this stalemate, this uncertainty surrounding Afghani lives still in Afghanistan, who, at any moment, might be massacred for whatever reason by Taliban foot soldiers.
We’re in agreement there! We’re all worried about these vulnerable people.
But what disturbs me greatly is the ever virulent diatribe that ebbs and flows from Fox News and like-minded news stations about these unfortunate souls.
If 30 million (the actual number is somewhere around 2.5 million) Americans watch Fox News every day and they believe half of the stuff that spews out of that channel then we have 30 million Americans who have little to no compassion for immigrants seeking refuge in America, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Turkey, and so on.
We begin to see people as animals and from there we then view them as insects. It isn’t far fetched to then believe that their decimation and massacre at the hands of Taliban terrorists is equal to that of cockroaches under our boots.
The rhetoric surrounding immigrants, especially brown immigrants coming out of Fox News, Newsmax and One America News pundits or whatever other hyper-nationalist news stations are is a rhetoric of hate.
Hate the immigrant. Say you’re sorry for their demise. Tell them they’re not welcome in your country and then smack their backside as they move on to another humanitarian crisis camp that you will call dirty, filthy, and deserving of the people who settle there.
And then go on about your life telling everyone how much your country needs Jesus because Jesus is love, kind, just, merciful, and holy.
People, for the love of God, love one another.
Love the men who are fleeing for their lives so they don’t fall under gunfire or the sword. Love the women fleeing for their lives so they do not become breeders for a terrorist organization and their sex-deprived lunatic foot soldiers. Pray for the children, boys, and girls, who are petrified and will possibly be traumatized for life because of it.
Love them. Love them because they are people.
Instead of complaining about immigrants coming into your country to take your jobs look at them, not through them, as extended family members who need rescue and help.
Canada is a nation large enough to possibly fit the population of the planet in it twice over. Just don’t send people to the North West Territories because there’s nothing up there but land, bears, moose, and the occasional horror story stalker.
But fill Canada with people who need help. The United States of America, too.
Why we’ve come to think of them as undeserving of our resources because they were not born here is insane and cruel. I understand nations have national sovereignty and borders but we’re all on the same planet, sharing the same air, eating the same foods, and drinking the same water, albeit, cleaner water in some places than others.
We’re all one race stemming from one place. People with an intrinsic value whose worth supersedes international and national borders and laws.
We need to love our neighbors and help them in their time of need. Not because one day we’ll need them; because we might, but because it’s the right thing to do.
We cannot settle for news stations whose personas non grata proclaim faith, liberty, freedom, the pursuit of happiness, humanity, love, and yes, supposedly, a Christian faith, but then say and report everything contrary to it.
Love your neighbor.
Be on the side of compassion and empathy. Gun powder and sword are great at making soldiers of children but love and compassion are better at making people of character, principle, and morals.
If we want to see fewer insurgencies then we might try and start by extending a friendly hand to our neighbors.
Even when that love isn’t reciprocated, we love them. We love them well.
I’ve placed a few photos of Afghanistan in this post. Bucolic settings, breathing taking ones, just to remind the reader that there’s more to a land when it is not constantly bombarded with terror attacks. More to it when it isn’t portrayed as a forgotten wasteland occupied by dirty brown immigrants who worship a different god. (I’m talking about you, Fox News).
Afghanistan is an extension of our land and our land an extension of theirs. Same planet, beautifully full and fully beautiful in all of its parts.
An argument can be made that there is an unhealthy level of hypocrisy in the pro-life movement concerning its response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Now, to our western mind the portmanteau pro-life means that the person values life from conception all the way through to the grave. Conception through birth, through life, and so on.
And there’s disagreement on why some of the most adamant pro-lifers fail to appreciate life as much once the person is struggling to pay bills, find lodging, facing eviction notices, in need of healthcare, education, unemployment assistance, and whatnot.
That’s not my argument here. That hypocrisy is evident in these areas and more before all. I needn’t argue the case there.
My beef is with pro-life American and Canadian Christians who use their faith and their freedoms during the COVID-19 pandemic to promote a lifestyle that is antithetical to a God and neighbor honoring ethic. They use their faith and rights to promote unwise habits which lead to the death of others.
“The Christian motive for hygiene and sanitation does not arise in self-preservation but in an ethic of service to our neighbor. We wish to care for the afflicted, which first and foremost means not infecting the healthy. Early Christians created the first hospitals in Europe as hygienic places to provide care during times of plague, on the understanding that negligence that spread disease further was, in fact, murder.”
Again, in his words, understanding that negligence that spread disease further was, in fact, murder.
I am shocked by every news article or tabloid post that informs the general public that another Covid denier, Anti-Vaxxer, and anti-establishment extremist with a Bible in one hand and the American constitution or the Canadian charter in the other has passed away from Covid related complications.
Stone, again, reminds us of just how far Christians and their Christ-centric ethics have come through the years whenever faced with moral or natural evil:
“During plague periods in the Roman Empire, Christians made a name for themselves. Historians have suggested that the terrible Antonine Plague of the 2nd century, which might have killed off a quarter of the Roman Empire, led to the spread of Christianity, as Christians cared for the sick and offered an spiritual model whereby plagues were not the work of angry and capricious deities but the product of a broken Creation in revolt against a loving God.
But the more famous epidemic is the Plague of Cyprian, named for a bishop who gave a colorful account of this disease in his sermons. Probably a disease related to Ebola, the Plague of Cyprian helped set off the Crisis of the Third Century in the Roman world. But it did something else, too: It triggered the explosive growth of Christianity. Cyprian’s sermons told Christians not to grieve for plague victims (who live in heaven), but to redouble efforts to care for the living. His fellow bishop Dionysius described how Christians, “Heedless of danger … took charge of the sick, attending to their every need.”
Christians have often been at the forefront of disaster without the push from government entities, without the assistance of political agencies, without funds from wealthy corporations and yet they ventured past the green zone and into the circle of death to assist those most vulnerable, motivated by nothing more than love of God and neighbor.
The history of altruism found within Christian communities is so imitable. Their love for the destitute, the sick, the broken, the diseased, without much care for their own well-being was quite the example to follow. This nonpareil altruistic movement is what attracted so many, to the faith to begin with.
The difference, however, is that something has shifted our Christian witness. We have gone from petitioning for the sanctity of life to petitioning for the rights and freedoms of selfish living, which, in turn, and as a direct consequence of, has caused the spread of the coronavirus in so many communities that could have gone without it if we had been more Christ-like to begin with.
In ancient Israel, in the book of Leviticus in particular, the Jews required anyone with an infectious disease to quarantine away from the camp for seven days or more. Some, having a very infectious disease, would live outside the camp indefinitely so as to preserve the wellbeing and life of both parties.
And somehow, somewhere along with the development of the western Christian mind, this altruistic selflessness has gone out the window, and with it, compassion and empathy for neighbors.
Modern medicine has shown us how diseases work, how they spread, how they affect the body, disrupt certain bodily functions, and from there, how some of them can lead to death. We now know chemists can develop antibodies in the form of a vaccine to counteract the spread of diseases or the damage these pathogens wreak on society.
And one of the mechanisms we have developed over time and learned how to use better is the victimless tool of quarantine; which helps reduce the rate a pathogen transfers from one person to another by isolating and caring for the sick. On top of that, we have been blessed with access to masks, which have also proven to reduce the transmissibility of infectious diseases.
Social distancing and masks.
These are the two crosses we have been asked to bear by our society and even these have become steps on which we tread to cause the death of others.
Distance and face coverings are too heavy a burden for us to carry.
How does that make any sense?
In the onset of Christian monasticism, in the era in which Christian converts would disappear into the desert to seek God, and once there they would form communities that would open their doors to assist and house outcasts. It was there that many relinquished so many rights and privileges just to help their neighbor.
They would give up wealth, give up status, give up work, and yes, even safety to wander through the unknown for days and nights to reach a place where trauma existed, where abused and bruised souls needed refuge, a place where so many had lost family and friends and found a new family and new friends.
Christians for years upon years had given so much from their lives and personal comfort even if it helped someone else just a little.
However, the tides have shifted and today we’re trying to take as much for ourselves and even the little that would have gone to our neighbor and their stability in life as possible.
Had we been asked to give blood, relinquish the rights to our bank accounts, leave our jobs, turn in our citizenship and residency, face deportation and exile for the sake of Christ and the betterment of life of our neighbor we would.
But a vaccine shot, social distancing, and masks are too many steps too far.
Our pro-life stance is only pro-life when it deals with the rights of the unborn but let us not be challenged to protect the life and well-being of our neighbors who are already here.
Apostle Paul asked the first-century church in Galatia a question that I ask of our generation today:
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? […]” Galatians 3:1 NRSV
He confronted a church that began with the salvific gospel and ended up with traditional legalism. Paul was curious about where and who tricked them out of the gospel and seduced them into a religion of works.
I, too, ask the same question of our fellow western Christian minds today.
“You foolish Americans! You foolish Canadians! Who has bewitched you?”
Who has sapped your Christianity of empathy? Who has taught you to reduce your neighbor to a number on a board? Who has asked you to see dollar signs instead of the elderly? Who has robbed you of love for your neighbor and taught you to believe that minor inconveniences like social distancing and mask-wearing are persecutory aspects of a democratic society?
You’re living with a persecution complex in a hedonist society. You’re more in love with and entrapped by comfort and rights than you are with Christ’s character of selflessness.
If you’re asked to carry your brother’s burdens you not only refuse to lend him a hand but you castigate your brother for being in the predicament they’re in, to begin with. And, at times, you’re the direct cause of their troubles.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 NRSV
We see so many people pass away from Covid and much of that spread is due to our gross negligence of brotherly and sisterly love.
Christianity has thrived through thousands of years of strife, persecution, famine, war, social ostracism, pestilence, and plagues and we have shown outsiders time and again just how much love God has placed in our hearts as we care for our neighbors.
But something happened. Something went wrong somewhere and we’re too unbothered or too preoccupied or too distracted to stop and think about what and why went wrong.
Stone compares our gross negligence in spreading a pathogen we could have helped combat and stop a year ago, saving countless lives in the process, as gross negligence equal to murder!
And I agree!
There are pro-lifers committing murder. Either as direct agents of death or co-conspirators with it.
When we fail to help our world through a time like this… through a pandemic like this one… we help kill it.
An image is circulating the net depicting a contrast between a white-washed Jesus and a middle-eastern, possibly East Indian-looking Jesus. Under each image, there is a list of items or dogmas that each Internet Jesus supposedly promotes. I believe these images are set up to give our modern technologically advanced and literarily duncified generation a better understanding of the historical Christ whose image and persona have been distorted by a Eurocentric version of the Jewish resurrectionist over time.
Today, I would like to list and better explain and critique these problematic ideas so that there is no confusion or misrepresentation of the Savior revealed in the pages of scripture.
Middle-Eastern Brown Skinned
This is a given, yes, he was born in Bethlehem, Judah, Israel. A middle-eastern man who might have been constantly exposed to sunlight. Not only was he born in an area where people have a bit more pigmentation than their European counterparts and a bit less than their Ethiopian ones, but it is also safe to conclude that Jesus was neither white as we understand the word nor was he black as we understand the word today.
He was middle-eastern. Jewish. Brown-skinned, baby. He was a brown man.
Of course. This does not mean that him being Jewish his followers are to support and follow the sacrificial customs of Judaism. No. He was born a Jew, lived in a Jewish society with Jewish laws and customs, with Jewish religious doctrines and dogmas but his very existence was to display that God superseded traditional borderlines. Christ came to give access to people from all walks of life a way of redemption in Him. That’s why His followers are called Christians, not Judaizers.
Colonized by Rome
This is historically accurate. Jesus was born in Judea, which at the time, was conquered and governed by Rome. Not sure what the author wants to allude to here. This empire was as corrupt as any other so it doesn’t mean we are to petition Christians to be okay with living under immoral institutions but to promote and celebrate moral and lawful ones. Christ does not call for insurrections. Keynote.
Justice Through Restoration
Justice through death, really.
“ For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21
We can only be restored once we are righteous and our righteousness only comes through Christ’s expiatory sacrifice on the cross. Outside of Christ, restoration, wholesome and effective, long-lasting restoration, is impossible.
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-19
Killed by Church and State
This is empirically true. Jesus was falsely accused of blasphemy by the Jews and tried by the same under their kangaroo court. This sin, according to Jewish law, requires the individual guilty of such a crime to be punished by death, preferrably, stoning. But because Jews under Roman rule could not put people to death they appealed to the Roman empire and called for an even worse, or in fact, the worst method of execution available for Jesus: crucifixion. This was such a request that even Pilate, the officiating judge on this case, seemed shocked that such death or punishment for that matter, would be required of a man he believed innocent. He did this to avoid a riot.
“Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”
But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)
Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”
But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.” Luke 23:13-25
Friend of Sinners and Outcasts
This is absolutely true. Jesus was often seen hanging out with the most hated people in society. Tax collectors, drunks, prostitutes, and lepers, but not once does the Bible or the gospels state that Jesus was comfortable with their sins. Time and again he tells them:
“Go and sin no more.”
Liberates the Oppressed
Yes. This is absolutely true. Christ is a deliverer, liberator, savior, and redeemer. What we cannot forget is that liberation begins in the soul. Christ’s first advent was for the forgiveness and redemption of the sinner, who, after being saved, could go and preach the same message to others. A society governed by regenerate born-again Christ-loving and serving people will not stand idly by as oppression takes place. It was a difficult task in those days as the Roman Empire subdued and razed any opponent but with time Christians accumulated enough grace from governing bodies to build monasteries, orphanages, hospitals, and communities to help the most destitute and unwanted people in society. They produced laws that would protect human life, no matter how fragile or unwanted. A society forgiven of its sins and sealed with God in its heart go forth and liberate.
“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
‘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,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:14-21
Critiques Religious People
Well, we have to define what this means. “Religious People” is so broad. Jesus never defamed religious people because He instituted the Jewish religion. Jesus denounced religious hypocrites. The gospel of Matthew saves an entire chapter just to itemize Jesus’s words against self-righteous clerics who used the faith to demean, oppress, and further enslave its adherents.
Jesus doesn’t critique good faith and religion, He denounced bad religion. There’s a difference and know it, through this nuance dogma, helps us better understand Christ.
Yeah. No. Not really. Just was accused of being an insurrectionist by the Jews but Pontius Pilate rebuffed their claims by stating several times that there was no wrong in the man.
This idea of “subverting empires” is stamped in the mindset of feudal religionists who want nothing more than to destroy physical opponents.
This is antithetical to the person and character of Jesus who went to His death without once lifting a finger. When being arrested he chided his disciples for pulling swords to defend him.
“Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.” Matthew 26:49-56
Homeless Man and Child Refugee
Correct on both cases.
“Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 9:58
“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’”
Jesus was the original itinerant minister but compared to our contemporary sort, Jesus was often left with no place to sleep but the outdoors. And he was such an advocate of children that He opted for the most severe punishment on whoever harmed little ones. (Mind you, when Jesus says ‘these little ones’ who stood before him but also there is a double meaning to that terminology. He means not only physical little children but also adults who come to faith in him).
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6
Had Half Siblings
Yes. And I’m not sure what the Internet author alludes to with this. Christ was born of a virgin, the first son to his mother, and later, Joseph and Mary got busy having more kids.
“Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him.” Mark 3:31
This does not mean that having half-siblings is bad. Usually, it is a sign of a broken relationship or in Christ’s situation being the fact that He was conceived via a miracle. He never denigrated or mistreated his family. Scripture does not support people chiding and mistreating family members because we are all bound as a family under Christ.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
This one is tricky. Yes, Christ’s mission on earth was to be a sacrifice for the redemption of mankind.
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Isaiah 53:7
Christ was not a violent man as we understand. He did turn tables over and pulled out a whip to run money changers out of the temple. That was the only case where we see Jesus intimidating corrupt officials out of a sacred place. It does not merit the possibility that our life should surround this particular incident because Christ’s mission was more than just one moment.
What the Bible does allude to is that Christ is a knee-capper. A time will come where He will bring our fallen world and its fallen structures and leaders to a violent end.
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11
And that at the end of time, everyone who stood in contrast to Christ, refused his sacrifice, will be “tossed” into the place of their proper belonging.
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:11-15
So there is a difference between man to man violence that is usually done out of hatred, selfishness, narcissism, sexual depravity, envy, pride, and add to the list.
But the violence that Christ will enact will be pure, holy, just, and done out of a clean heart to set things right, once and for all.
Anyway, this has been my observation of the Internet Jesus craze that is sweeping social media with confusion about the character of Christ.
If you want to know more about the historical Christ, the biblical Jesus, simply read the Gospels, read materials written by his disciples, and then compare what you’ve read with the behaviors enacted in the last one thousand years.
You’ll find that Jesus is Jesus and the rest, well, the rest is the rest.
An image is circulating the net depicting a contrast between a white-washed Jesus and a middle-eastern, possibly East Indian-looking Jesus. Under each image, there is a list of items or dogmas that each Internet Jesus supposedly promotes. I believe these images are set up to give our modern technologically advanced and literarily duncified generation a better understanding of the historical Christ whose image and persona have been distorted by a Eurocentric version of the Jewish resurrectionist over time.
Today, I would like to list and better explain and critique these problematic ideas so that there is no confusion or misrepresentation of the Savior revealed in the pages of scripture.
Now, this is a given. Jesus was not white as we understand the term today and possibly as the term was understood then. He was not caucasian as one who belongs to the nations above the Caucasus mountain area. He was not European. He was born in Bethlehem, a small town belonging to the nation-state of Judah located in modern-day Israel-Palestine.
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Luke 2:1-7
It sounds like the creator of this list didn’t understand what he was writing about. The term Christian means someone who follows Christ. Christ-following himself seems redundant. Christians are mini-Christ’s. Disciples, students, followers of Jesus. This one proves to be way too redundant and unnecessary a claim.
“And when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Acts 11:26
Now when we think of patriotic our mind either goes to Mel Gibson or paintings of George Washington on a boat or something. Perhaps, we imagine American bald eagles hovering about, F-16 jets flying over football stadiums, American flags waving to and fro, and so forth. No. That’s idolatry. Jesus was not idolatrous. He honored his nation-state because He instituted it thousands of years before in the patriarch Abraham. Jesus followed the customs of his religious state to the point where no one could accuse him of being anti-Jewish or anti-statist. Mind you, a good Jew was a Jew who followed the civil, moral, cultural, and religious laws of the Jewish state. Jesus was very much the perfect citizen. (note: there’s a difference between being patriotic and being a nationalist.)
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17
Justice Through Retribution
I’m not so sure what this means. Justice means doing the right thing or being right within. Retribution means giving back. Jesus, as mentioned above, was no lawbreaker nor was he immoral. I believe this dogma wants to portray the idea that Jesus might’ve been an antinomian cleric, a ruleless derelict, whose purpose was to allow wrongs to go on being wrong. He not only supported retribution but those who came into contact with him were either convicted of their morally problematic lives or outright ignored his call for setting things right.
“But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’” Luke 18:8
Died For Your Sins
Wow. Now if this isn’t a misunderstanding of the biblical Christ I don’t know what is. Listen, I will quote one of the most known verses in all of biblical literature. Get ready for this one.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
And this one:
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16
And this one as well:
“ But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
Sends Sinners To Hell
No other person in the Bible spoke more about damnation and hell than Jesus. But I believe the author of this Internet Jesus Phenomenon is not very well versed in biblical literature. Let us first determine why ‘hell’ or judgment in the afterlife was instituted in the first place.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matthew 25:41
Jesus explains to his disciples whilst standing outside the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, not long before his eventual death, that ‘hell’ is a place of God’s justice against fallen and villainous spirits. People who join these fallen spirits in this judgment are people who deny Christ’s call for purification of their souls from sin.
Silent In The Face of Oppression
This is misleading. We all understand that Europe sought to use Christianity to conquer the world (i.e., crusades and the doctrine of discovery). I do agree to an extent with the idea that the biblical Christ was misconstrued to support many forms of abuse and neglect, violence, and death. But later, when European and Colonial Christians came to their senses, they used the same scripture to abolish these institutions. This is a slippery slope argument on the use of Christ on the subject of oppression. It requires a more in-depth study of scripture and understanding of Christ.
No brainer. This point illustrates a world where sin goes unpunished and that it is better for God to recant His holy character to allow sinful people to go without justice. That isn’t justice. That’s antinomianism. That’s anarchy. Lawlessness. But, to better understand the dogma I will cite this:
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” John 2:17-21
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23
“As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:11-13
We’re all already condemned. Can’t sentence a man on death row to death twice.
Endorses Church and State
So, this one is misleading as well. Jesus, again, was not an anarchist. He was not even an insurrectionist zealot. He lived according to the Jewish customs and laws, never breaking one of them. Christians believe Jesus is God incarnate and God is the creator of laws. Mind you, God instituted the Jewish state which functioned first through a theocratic system and later through a theocratic monarch in King’s Saul, David, Solomon, and so forth. Christ, God in the flesh, is very much in favor of rulership where people in civic leadership are in tune with their Creator.
The problem is that in the Old Testament, pre-incarnation, flawed men ruled in theocratic governments. In the New Testament, post-incarnation, flawed men still ruled in the same, but the issue here isn’t church/state clauses but who is in control. Christ promises a coming Kingdom where He is the King and Ruler of all things. Only God can govern and rule righteously because only He is Righteous enough to properly weigh the scales of power and oppression.
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Romans 13:1-7
There’s a difference between a Christ-run state and a religious man or woman-run state.
Really? The word Christ is Greek for Anointed One, whereas the ancient writ and people called this coming King Messiah, which also means Anointed One. This ‘anointing’ only took place when crowning a new king. I mean, the whole of the book of Zachariah speaks on this.
“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zachariah 9:9
“God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” 1 Timothy 6:15
Lest we forget, when Christ was crucified the Romans wanted to mock him and the bitter Jews surrounding the cross by slapping a sign over Jesus’s head that read:
“Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is Jesus, the king of the jews.” Matthew 27:37
I mean, a bit of reading surrounding Jesus and the Roman Prefect who sentenced him to death by crucifixion, Pontius Pilate would be enlightening enough:
“Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” John 18:33-38
Again, Jesus is King but Europe and Colonial America(s) distorted His coming kingdom for a temporal one here on earth through which they could destroy others.
Upholds Tradition Family Unit
Again, a faulty understanding of scripture leads to this faulty assertation. Jesus is God incarnate. God relays to us what a “traditional family unit” is and why. In the Old Testament, a family was made up of fathers, mothers, children, aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, which, put together, formed communities. Jesus was born into such communities and never called them into question but spoke against the distortion of such.
“He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh.” 19:4-5
Christ is in no rush to deconstruct the family but to promote a healthier understanding and example of it in His own life and sacrifice for His people.
Endorses Holy War
Again, the European crusades were in direct contradiction to the teachings of Christ. European Christians had come to such numbers that they influenced Roman will and power, later making themselves rulers of the Roman empire. This deadly union (man-run church/state) led to horrendous crimes committed by the church. I agree that a European-centric exceptionalist christ (small ‘c’) is not Christ at all but imperialism under the guise of Christian virtues.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of The Case Against the Internet Jesus….
Rachel covers the rise of “traditional values” taking over the American Christian culture in the 60s and 70s as a reactionary effort to combat the explosion of sexual liberation and the spike in sexually transmitted diseases. What began as an effort to stave off unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, financial instability, broken families, and homes ended up becoming a culture of virginity idolization, shame, sexual repression, and sexual misinformation that to this day continues to harm men and women within religious circles.
She covers the rise of purity rings and abstinence pledges, the idolization of virginity, female responsibilities, and male purity and the rhetoric of lust. These topics are covered in the first four chapters alone.
Purity Rings and Abstinence Pledges
Rachel makes mention of the proliferation of purity rings and abstinence pledges that swept the teen and youth markets, as youth leaders and itinerant panelists collected pledges from unassuming adherents as if they were trophies. Mind you, purity rings and pledges were made so that adherents, teens, mind you, could pride themselves in abstinence in hopes of making it to marriage without dipping their fingers into the cesspool of sexual depravity (my words). Teens found greater spiritual comfort in the ring on their hand than in the words of God and the grace afforded them through the efficacious work of Jesus on the cross. One woman reported that after getting married and bedding her husband she took her ring off, only to feel impure and unclean from removing the ring and resorting to wearing it again as if it were some mystical talisman that kept her spiritually clean. The ring and the pledge are what kept her spiritual purity intact.
The Idolization of Virginity
Then comes the idolization of virginity. How many of us are still struggling with the visuals of flowers being crushed, a sheet of paper being crumbled and then ripped to shreds, or a clay vase being shattered, as visual examples of what we would be like if we lost our virginity before marriage. We are all delicate creatures whose virginity must remain intact, pure, undefiled, and if we so much as submit to the heat of intercourse our lives are from there on blemished and our worth tainted forever. Like bruised roses, our beauty is dimmed. Like a ripped sheet of paper, our utility is lost. Like a shattered vase, we are forever deformed, even when put back together our life is deformed forever. And under this guise, teens and young adults went to lengths to engage in every form of sexual activity for extended periods of time to alleviate the tension of youthful sexual awakening inasmuch as they did not engage in intercourse itself. From manual stimulation to oral gratification, everything went, inasmuch as intercourse was left out of the equation. The idolization of virginity created a duality within Christendom where boys and girls who remained virgins until marriage were considered pure and holy, whereas those who had relinquished theirs were depraved and lost souls who no longer deserved a healthy and fulfilling marriage. People were not classified as saints saved by Christ and made righteous by His work. They were classified as holy and coveted because of their virginity. A culture of shame and ostracization bloomed in this era, making millions of sexually and spiritually uneducated youth feel like the possibility of having a successful and fulfilling marriage was gone because they had premarital sex. Being a virgin until marriage was the only way for one to be sexually fulfilled and maritally successful. No other metric is needed.
Female Responsibilities and Male Purity and the Rhetoric of Lust
Rachel delves into the disillusioned and harmful mindset that festers within this culture where a woman has the responsibility of controlling a man’s desires and lust. She must dress a certain way, independent of how robust and curvacious her God given body is. Her modesty and purity, and her male counterparts’ purity is dependent upon how she looks and behaves. Hence, whenever a woman is a victim of sexual violence and rape at a university campus, a train station, at home, a church, or anywhere in the world, the generic and demonic question usually is: What was she wearing?
Rachel states that within this culture, a woman has to dictate to a man what is and what is not acceptable, sexually speaking, within a relationship. She must dress modestly, whatever the culture, usually run by men, dictates is modest enough for her to wear so as not to tempt men. And here, men are seen as savage sexual beasts who have no control or restraint over their sexual appetites and women are to prevent and control this animalistic side in them. Therefore behaving seductively is prohibited because such behavior is an invitation for sexual assault. Women are not to tempt men. Women are to set boundaries. Women this. Women that. There’s an unforgiving weight of responsibility placed on women and women alone to be the pillar of a man’s sexual purity or the sole responsible agent of sexual assault.
What. The. Hell.
Not just that, but women are to be sexually rigid vessels, frigid and cold to the thought of sexual activity until their honeymoon where they are to know everything a man wants, unleash themselves as often and liberally to whatever her husband wants, protect him from seeking sexual gratification outside the home by offering herself up as a sexual opiate to him as much as possible, even if there is pain, exhaustion, dissatisfaction, and no pleasure derived from the act.
A woman is to be like a light switch, sexually inactive for the better part of the first two to three decades of her life and at a moment’s notice, without her consent or understanding, become the most sexually active being on the planet.
She is a machine and at the same time a princess on a pedestal. Her worth is valued by her virginity before marriage and by her sexual prowess and promiscuity with her husband once married. She is not allowed to think freely about what healthy sex life is like before marriage because thinking like that gets her tagged with unmentionable monikers.
Girls aren’t supposed to talk about sex before marriage. That’s uncomely of them. If they do then their sexually active, depraved, and filthy.
All this without evidence, of course.
Rachel explains that within purity culture, a man is an animal who struggles with insatiable sexual lusts that can only be tamed by a wife and if she is unavailable for any particular amount of time he will be forced to seek that gratification through pornography or adultery. And the person left with the blame of the husband’s infidelity is the wife for not, as Rachel states, “being sexually available enough.”
Purity Culture creates an unbiblical and psychologically damaging atmosphere where our worth is dictated by our sexual choices, whereas, a virgin is pure and someone who is not a virgin is sexually filthy and spiritually sick. We’re measured not by our stance before a Redeeming God but by a Christianized Culture’s idea of what purity is: virginity.
Rachel does not dismount or dethrone the bible but she elevates its worth when it comes to sex and sexuality. She amplifies how the bible speaks that a man should not withhold sex from his wife and vice versa. That sexual fulfillment goes both ways. Both men AND women are sexual beings who truly enjoy and find peace in fulfilling sexual experiences within marriage. She dismantles the idea that women are but vessels of man’s gratification. A place where a beast goes to alleviate its ramped-up hormones and then moves on to its more mundane tasks, returning to a civilized state until it needs sex again.
This is dismissive of God’s true intent in human sexuality.
And purity culture has done more damage to Christian youths and adults today than the sexual revolution ever did in the 60s. Millions of people thought that all they had to do was hold out until reaching their honeymoon and voila, they have a successful marriage, but so many have found that this purity culture was all a lie. They were cheated of a healthy education about what true biblical purity really is, what sex is supposed to be like, what body autonomy really is, what God says about sex, and etc.
Thinking that if they got the ring, made the pledge, set boundaries, dressed appropriately, behaved correctly, and then suddenly became sexually available for their husbands/wives in the blink of an eye once married that they need not worry about anything else, ever again.
It’s a myth. An unbiblical myth. It’s ungodly and unChristian teaching that creates an aura that praises and elevates legalism and self-righteousness within the body of Christ.
I’m only four chapters into this revelatory book and I’m hellbent on writing more about this topic because I’ve lived in and through, and thankfully, survived the purity culture. I was there. I took the ring. Made my pledge. I always thought the girl I was dating or pursuing had to set our sexual boundaries. I believed that we could reach every base on the field inasmuch as we did not consummate our relationship with intercourse.
Thanks to Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye (which he has since denounced, divorced his wife, and abandoned Christianity) millions of teens and young adults avoided dating because the concept of engaging the opposite sex romantically was deemed an unholy venture. Holding hands, exchanging kisses, hugs, discussing a future together whilst dating was deemed unchristian and millions of people entered marriage without any sort of social or relationship skills thinking that their absence from the dating scene early in life would accentuate their marriage in the future. Little did they know is that they entered into a lifelong commitment with someone they were and are incompatible with, whose temperant is childish, whose maturity is nonexistent, whose ability to communicate, disastrous and here, in this holy union they are bound to shame, guilt, and ungratifying sex life.
I’m not saying this to make the reader believe one should be as sexually promiscuous as possible before entering marriage for the sake of acquiring sexual “skills” whatever that means, but that there are two extremes to this topic, and Christians were taught to believe that purity culture was not an extreme when in reality it was just as harmful as having no boundaries whatsoever in one’s dating and sex life.
The difference between the sexual revolution of the 60s and the Purity Culture that began in the 70s and continues to this day is that one of these extremes is supported, unbiblically so, by bible-believing Christians.
I cannot wait to finish Talking Back To Purity Culture to further understand how proof-texting the Bible and adhering to cultural standards of purity, instead of biblical standards of purity, sanctity, and righteousness, is one of the greatest blemishes of the 20th and 21st-century church.
We must recoup a healthy biblical and psychologically healthy understanding of the beautiful and complex bodies God has given us and how they are made for procreation but also sexual gratification. We must not shy away from the beauty of intercourse but we mustn’t destroy this divine gift by exploiting it either.
There is danger in exploitation as much as there is in repression.
The sexual revolution was but the reaction of repressed people rediscovering sex in the public square. The purity culture was but the reaction to the sexual revolution. If we keep on being reactionary about sexuality we will get to a point in history where we no longer know what normal sexuality even is.
We can do better. We should.
One healthy hermeneutic at a time.
Read Rachel’s book, people! Read it and weep! Weep from the joy that you’re free from an ungodly purity culture and free to serve God, forgiven, renewed, righteous, and made in His image.
I’ve had the privilege of participating in a preaching masterclass offered by our church’s executive pastor, Rohan Samuels, M.T.S.; ThD (cand.). I’m thankful for the course because it brings out the validity and technicality of what preaching can be. The weight of transferring that which is plainly visible on the pages of scripture onto an audience is immense. There are dangers in this task, as the poor methods, modes, and interpretations of scripture and preaching have led to all sorts of evils from chattel slavery, superiority complex, mistreatment of women, and mass suicide and murder.
So why is it so important that we understand that preaching is perhaps one of the most humbling ways we can both understand and communicate God’s revealed word to listeners?
It’s important because God has bestowed us, simpletons, finite creatures, humans, incapable of fully grasping the eternality of God and existence, with this task of furthering and preserving this beautiful text and its message to current and future generations.
Its ultimate message, of course, is consummated in the incarnation of Christ for the redemption of humanity. Forgiveness of sins, the regeneration of our fallen state, and the ultimate hope of an afterlife are revisited time and again via scripture. Creations reunification with its Creator. That’s the consummate message. Redemption. Love. The cross. Salvation.
But the in-betweens are where things get tricky. Not just that but the process through which we go about getting through these lesser-known or exaggerated areas tend to be misused or abused by people poorly trained or people who intentionally distort and perverse the text for their benefit.
Therefore, I wanted to share with you or whoever ends up reading this, the rudimentary terms I’ve learned or relearned through this highly recommended course offered by FLC’s (Freedom Life Church) leadership: Preaching Masterclass.
Mind you, revealing the entirety of it is a disservice to our teacher and this course therefore I will keep this information as bare as possible. That way the reader can develop an appetite for further learning in this area to better understand the styles of preaching and also the dangers of ignoring the structure in preaching.
“The communication of a biblical concept derived from and transmitted through a historical-grammatical and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher then through him to hearers.”
“To interpret a text by way of a thorough analysis of its content. When you do exegesis, you are an exegete who is exegeting the text. What you are doing is described as being exegetical. In its most basic Bible-relevant meaning, exegesis means finding out what the Spirit originally was saying through its author in that Bible passage.”
“A process where one leads into study by reading a text on the basis of pre-conceived ideas of its meanings. It is rare for someone to be called an ‘eisegete’, because eisegesis has a well-earned negative reputation.”
“The term homiletics comes from the word homily, which basically means “a sermon.” Homiletics is the art of preparing sermons and preaching. Those who study homiletics seek to improve their skill at communicating the gospel and other biblical topics. The discipline of homiletics falls under the umbrella of pastoral or practical theology.”
The Tantamount Necessity of a Preaching Masterclass
The terms defined above by numerous sources are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to approaching and understanding scripture. Not just that but teleporting the church to the passage in question, within its appropriate context, meaning, audience, intent, and purpose.
When a minister is unfaithful to this preaching and study etiquette they are subject to all sorts of aerobics to bend the Holy Writ to their will in support of various egregious ideas and philosophies that strangle the life and freedom out of people.
Therefore, this simple review of the terminology we have covered so far in our preaching masterclass is a reminder that reading scripture and being blessed by the content and context of the divine writ are two completely different things.
Dr. Steven J. Lawson gives us a vivid and wholesome illustration of what healthy preaching can be. Please read an excerpt from his article from Expositor Magazine called, Embracing Exegesis:
“Diving for Pearls
An illustration would be helpful. Exegesis may be compared to the work of a pearl diver who plunges deep below the surface of the ocean. To find the valuable pearls, he must submerge and swim to the bottom of the ocean. He must carefully gather up the precious jewels that lie on the ocean floor. He will never find these ivory-white gems in the shallows along the shoreline. Neither will he discover them floating on the surface of the water. To secure these pearls, he must plunge deep to the bottom of the ocean.
Once these precious gems are in hand, the diver must bring the pearls to the surface. No one can benefit from them as long as they remain on the ocean floor. He must swim to the surface with them and take them to market. He must give them to a jeweler, who can string the pearls onto a strand, making a beautiful necklace. This collection enhances their luster and makes them attractive and desirable to their observers.”
We do ourselves and our fellow believers, not to mention God and His word a disservice when we live with the superficiality of scripture reading and an errant and erroneous man-centered view of the Bible.
Let us abandoned this sickly view of God’s word and give people the treasures and gems found within the beauty of scripture, within context, of course.
Can’t wait to see what else we’ll learn from our preaching masterclass and how to best apply these truths to my next sermon.
You’ve read a passage from the Bible. Great. You feel as if God is speaking to you from that passage. Greater yet. But is He?
Was it God or indigestion? Not sure? Let’s find out together.
Expository preaching genius, Dr. Steven J. Lawson defines exegesis this way:
“The word is a transliteration of the Greek word exegesis, which means an explanation or interpretation. […] It is a compound word, combining hegeomai, which means ‘to lead,’ with the prefix ek, meaning ‘out of.’ Literally, it means ‘to lead out of.’ The idea is to lead the meaning out of what has been said.”
Whenever we approach the Bible and we read a couple of verses or chapters, the tendency is to apply all of the wonderful things we read to our lives and attribute all the bad things to someone else. Especially, people, we do not like.
But we have to quiz ourselves on how we interpret scripture. How we understand the words we read and how our minds work when reading them.
Out of the passages listed below, tell me which ones you believe apply to you and which ones do not.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11
“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors youI will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3
“No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn.” – Isaiah 54:17
Take a breather. How we doing? 3-for-3 so far?
Feeling good? Are you sure? Cool. Let’s keep going.
“When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” – Genesis 4:12
“‘Ah, stubborn children,’ declares the Lord, ‘who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin;’“ – Isaiah 30:1
“Woe to you,[…], hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. […] Youserpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” – Matthew 27-28, 33
But that ain’t talking to me tho!
How did you do on our mini-quiz? Were you six-for-six or three out of six in applying these verses to your own life?
Why do we hold on to these beautiful verses and disregard the sad and gloomy ones?
I believe it’s because we’re interpreting scripture with an eisegetical approach (eisegesis, the interpretation of a text as of the Bible by reading into it one’s own ideas). This is a misleading practice, contrary to exegesis, where we bring the text out. We should not infuse ourselves into it.
Like, instead of placing our head through a window to look into a house to study the contents therein (please don’t do this, it’s trespassing and super creepy) we look at a house from a distance and make assumptions of what’s inside, who’s inside, and how the layout of the house is without ever stepping a foot inside. We believe everything in that house belongs to us. We claim its possessions for ourselves.
Like a man who claims to be a certified and experienced diving instructor but has never left the comfort of his home and computer to physically experience deep-sea diving. He studies the animals only from a limited and distanced approach, unaware of how these creatures move, how they feel, or how they react to divers. He is unaware of the temperature drop in these depths. His scuba-diving skills, expertise, and history are limited to a glass screen with very limited information. He may have studied the intricate network of coral reefs and their effect on the eco-system but he does not understand the awe and marvel of swimming with the creatures that live there.
We tend to approach the Bible in the same way. But why?
I believe it’s because, one, we’re selfish. I mean, come on, who doesn’t want all the promises, blessings, and booties of God’s marvelous works on earth? Shoot. I do! But it’s a selfish way to approach God’s divine book. Thus, it’s a limited way of reading scripture.
And two, we were never taught how to truly exegete, interpret, study scripture, and correctly apply the words or principles of the Bible to our lives.
Too many of us fail to realize how many layers the Bible really has and this limitation has left us wanting or with a distorted understanding of a biblical text.
Dr. Steven J. Lawson illustrates this best in his article on Embracing Exegesis (emphasis added by me):
“[…] the exegete must also take into consideration the cultural background of his passage. Rightly understanding its meaning requires that he know something of the customs in the ancient Middle East. Without the knowledge of the manners and customs of the ancient Jews and the surrounding empires and nations, it will be hard, if not impossible, for him to grasp what many texts actually mean. Consequently, it is incumbent upon the expositor to view Scripture in light of how the different aspects of daily life were conducted long ago.
This requires an understanding of life on many different levels in Israel, Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, Asia Minor, Europe. This means researching the political environment of the day. This includes a knowledge of kings, pharaohs, caesars, tetrarchs, and centurions, such as understanding their jurisdiction and how they operated. There must be the knowledge of ancient social customs such as banquets, parties, meals, betrothals, weddings, and funerals. There must be insight into ancient economic policies such as banking practices involving loans and interest rates. There must also be an understanding of ancient military procedures, including battles, chariots, shields, swords, helmets, and the like.
In addition, the exegete must have a working knowledge of the climate conditions and weather in the Middle East. He must have background information concerning the agricultural procedures of ancient farming such as sowing seed, tiling soil, pruning branches, gathering grain, and enduring famines. He must know about the various native flowers of Israel such as myrrh, aloes, and cassia. He must also be acquainted with the minerals indigenous to Israel- brimstone, miry clay, mire, flint, gold, iron, and silver.
Bridging the cultural gap also requires a basic knowledge of zoological life in ancient Israel and the surrounding region. This includes accessing information regarding bees, dogs, badgers, doves, sea monsters, eagles, flies, foxes, sheep, horses, and more. He must also research shepherding practices in ancient Israel, attending to the importance of a flock, fold, gatekeeper, rod, staff, green pastures, still waters, wolves, and the like. In addition, he must know about hunters in the ancient world, who used bow and arrow, sling, snare, net, pit, and more.”
You’re probably wondering who invests this much time into biblical studies? Ha. Not many of us. But is it important? Absolutely.
I mean I cannot emphasize how important it is from laity to clergy, from church visitors to a doctor of biblical studies to invest this much sweat, brain thought, time, and rigor into their biblical studies.
When we fail to properly exegete, or rather, intepret scriptural texts we attribute certain passages of scripture to ourselves that God never intended for us in the first place. When scripture is taken out of context it becomes a promoter of all things and nothing at all.
We distort scripture we promote slavery.
We distort scripture to control women.
We distort and decontextualize passages to abuse those under us and promote a culture of secrecy where predators reign supreme.
We distort scripture we elevate prosperity preachers to millionaire status.
We distort scripture to promote genocide, infanticide, matricide, patricide, homicide, and good-television-shows-icide.
We distort the simplicity of a text to validate poor conduct in public office, sear our conscious to overlook character flaws, and feign repentance when we’re proven wrong but go on in our error.
We distort scripture to rationalize sin, downplay its effect on us, the potential for the collateral damage it has on our family and community, and use it to soothe our egos.
Jeremiah 29 was intended for a generation that was destined for exile because of their progressively insidious sins against God, God’s Laws, and against their neighbors. God first promised them a swift and complete judgment. God also promised them a future, posterity, and that He would redeem them from the nation to which they would be exiled.
Still, we willingly attribute that promise of prosperity, security, and goodwill to ourselves, disregarding the setting it was made in, the verses and chapters that precede that verse, and the verses and chapters that proceed it. We disregard the cultural, political, religious collapse, and Jeremiah’s ministerial purpose in Judah.
But of course, reading a verse like this, right before going to bed or right before a worship song in a Sunday morning service or right before taking that exam you didn’t study for brings you comfort, right?
When we remove the time in which a passage was written, who the author was, his audience, the surrounding conflicts, both military and religious conflicts we then violate the text and decontextualize it to mean just about anything we want it to mean.
This is dangerous.
How, then, should we study the Bible? How do we read our Bibles and know when God is speaking to us or when He was speaking to someone else?
Well, let’s consider the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, for example. When you open your bible to this book I assume you already know at least two things about it before ever reading a single word from it.
It’s a book from the bible.
It’s in the Old Testament.
Now, we must understand who Jeremiah is and where his book fits in the biblical canon. Join me, in the breakdown of the image below:
The author of the book is Jeremiah, and later in the book, we realize Jeremiah has a co-author, named Baruch, the son of Neriah. So first, it is very helpful to know who the author or authors of the book you are reading are.
We know Jeremiah is the son of Hilkiah. This helps us differentiate between Jeremiah the prophet and any other Jeremiah’s mentioned in the Bible. Imagine meeting Jake or Lisa in your new job and later finding out there are six Jake’s and three Lisa’s who work there. You learn to distinguish them on paper by their last names. Easy. But back then, men were distinguished by their father’s name and women by their father or husband’s name.
Jeremiah is the son of a priest. This gives us context into the household Jeremiah was born into. Imagine being raised by a religious man who upholds high moral standards, cares for his family and community, is surrounded by holy texts and scrolls, and takes prayer and worship seriously. The context of Jeremiah’s upbringing is crucial to understanding his tone and message.
Jeremiah wrote this book because of what God told him to say. So this is not a journal of his own thoughts. It’s what God has commanded him to say.
Jeremiah’s ministry as a prophet began during the reign of King Josiah (circa 640 BC). Imagine the geographical makeup of Israel 600 years before Christ. Imagine the great empires of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon on the horizon. Think of the clothing, the jewelry, the food choices, the desert, the mountains, the heat of summer, or the chill of winter. Think of the wealth of a post-Solomon empire and the poverty in which peasants who were forced to make their residence outside Jerusalem’s walls have to live with. Consider these things as you read this book.
Understand that Israel was a united kingdom under its first monarch, King Saul, then King David, and lastly King Solomon. After King Solomon’s death, Israel split into northern and southern kingdoms. The north, named Israel, with its capital city, Schechem, was reigned by an insurrectionist named Jeroboam. The south, named Judah, its capital city, Jerusalem, was reigned by King Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. The politics! The drama! The divided kingdom! This is Game of Thrones’ turf! There’s too much here to ignore!
Jeremiah began his ministry during King Josiah’s reign (c. 640 BC) and prophesied to the southern nation of Judah until the destruction of Jerusalem, by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (c. 587 BC). So Jeremiah ministered, preached, and prophesied fresh into his youth and well into his old age, where after the destruction of Jerusalem he sought refuge from the Babylonians in the neighbor nation of Egypt.
That’s an introductory view of the first three verses of the book of Jeremiah, folks! When we grasp the reality of these individuals, their upbringing, their cultural realities, the fears and threats of annihilation they faced every day, and the political, cultural, religious, and geological struggles they faced we can better understand the context of a passage and the book we are reading.
If we approach every passage we read by diving into the book as one dives into the sea to explore a life rich coral reef, we can indulge in the beautiful life and principles of scripture.
But when we stand on a boat and only squint at what may be at the bottom of the sea we miss out on so much. Our perception of what is down there is skewed, limited, distant, glassy, and murky.
We must dive into the text to meet the author of that book, the recipients of that prophecy, psalm, blessing or curse, and how God is glorified by the words written in that passage.
And what is more important than knowing the author of a book in the Bible is knowing the God of the Bible, who inspired these writers to pen these books in the first place.
Why should God be the focus of every passage we read in the Bible? Because we can learn more about His character, His conduct, His personality, His motives, His goals, and His ultimate purpose for creation: salvation.
Take Jeremiah 29 and read it within the context, the historical time frame, and the cultural significance is was written in and you’ll understand that God used the prophet Jeremiah to warn the southern nation of Judah that Babylon was going to destroy Jerusalem and take her citizens into captivity for seventy years. And here, in the twenty-ninth chapter of Jeremiah, God reminds the Jews that even though they will go into captivity He will not abandon them for He has a greater plan for this nation; a plan for their welfare, their future. As their city burns to the ground, along with their prized temple of Solomon and the walls that surround it, God reminds them that even though all hope is lost for them He will not allow this nation and people to be wiped from the face of the earth.
When we read this passage, within context, it makes more sense and it glorifies God!
And sure enough, seventy years later He kept His promise. Read 2 Chronicles chapter 14, then Daniel chapter 9, and then Ezra chapter 1.
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.“
“In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.“
“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:
“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”
Notice the continuance of prophecy, promise, fulfillment, and progression. There’s a linear pattern to how scripture progresses through time and God is both outside and inside that timeline. He steps in at times to hint on things to come. All in all that timeline ultimately focuses on the person of Jesus. From Genesis through to Revelation, all sixty-six books point to one person: Christ.
Not to us.
So the rule, well, not the rule but my personal suggestion for approaching scripture is the same I would advise someone who wants to scuba-dive. There better prepared you are to dive the better you can explore the oceans seabed.
Don’t stick to the surface of a text and apply whatever blessing you read to yourself and whatever curse you find to your cantankerous neighbors.
Explore the author. His audience. His world, geographically, archeologically, politically, religiously, topographically, romantically, prophetically, physically, spiritually, and wholly.
Take larger junks of text. Instead of settling for one or two powerful verses, spend time reading the chapter before and also the chapter after for context.
Sometimes we miss the meaning of a passage or who the audience is because we land in the middle of a story. We can’t truly appreciate the end of a story if we start in the middle of it.
God is greater
And discover the God who inspired that text. It is true that Jeremiah 29 may not be directed at you, specifically, but it’s comforting to know that our God is a Holy God who does not allow sin to go unpunished and at the same time He is a merciful God. He keeps His promises to His people. And when you read texts like Genesis 12 or Isaiah 54 you realize that God is greater than the blessings He bestowed on Abraham and He is greater than our suffering should we encounter it. We are not dependent upon blessings and comfort to understand and appreciate God’s redemptive story for mankind.
Through scripture, God gives us a front-row seat on how He works to redeem mankind to Himself through Jesus Christ.
So next time you’re wondering if that passage about milk and honey, blessings on blessings on blessings, the hedge of protection, and a prophecy of wealth is intended for you, well, spend more time researching the context of the passage you’re reading than trying to make that verse or concept about you.
This will help you understand if God is speaking to you from His character, which is revealed through scripture or if you’re just experiencing indigestion.
That warm and fuzzy feeling in your gut may just be the burritos you had for dinner last night. Not the voice of God.
Studying the Bible this way, with proper and contextual interpretation, will help you appreciate passages like the one below, much more:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” – John 17-20-23
“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” – John 20:29
And these verses:
“And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:9-11
And finally these:
“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” – Revelation 22:12-13
With that in mind, with God in mind, with His face in focus instead of what His hands can give, you will better appreciate the Bible when you read it in context, of course.
Dive deeper than before. Read more than before. And look to the character of God. The Person of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
And only then will you know if God is speaking to you or not. When you get to know Him personally.
Questions to consider
Why is it important that you feel protected? Does God promise everyone protection at all times?
Which book in Bible do you find hard to properly exegete/interpret?
When reading the Bible, are you an Exegete or an Eisegete? Which of the two do you think glorify God best?