Something Positive To Watch This Morning!

Google Hangout Tonight: Is Your Faith Relevant?

relevant faithTonight I’ll be interviewing two Enerigon authors, Drew Smith (Reframing a Relevant Faith) and Lee Harmon (The River of Life: Where Conservative and Liberal Christianity Meet) about what their faith means to them, especially in the context of the holidays.

You can watch the event right here, using the viewer below, or you will be able to watch a recording later. If you watch live, we’ll have the Q&A application active so you can ask questions of the panel. You can also join via the event on our Google+ page.

Against Torture

I think it’s as simple as that. I’m against it.

Energion author Bob Cornwall writes about it, and I agree.

I saw one question that disturbed me, not in that I don’t know how to respond, but in what else it may suggest. The question is whether I’d support torture if an individual knew where a kidnapped loved one was held and wouldn’t reveal that location.

Here’s my response. I’m a weak man who loves my family. It is quite likely that I would advocate all kinds of stupid and/or immoral things if a member of my family were kidnapped. That’s why we don’t have people under those circumstances making the rules. I might advocate this out of weakness, but in the end, I would not want to become the bad guy myself. As Christians, I would think we would understand this approach. I am happy that we have laws to direct how we behave in such situations so that the decision is not made in the emotion of the moment.

I can make many utilitarian arguments against torture, but I think the moral argument supersedes all. This is not the type of people we want to be. It is sad that we have compromised ourselves so much for so little gain, but that is not the reason it’s wrong. That just makes a moral wrong more tragic.


Helping One Another Change

I just extracted a note from Dave Black’s blog to The Jesus Paradigm. (That site supports his book by the same name as well as a few others that don’t have their own domain name.) In it Dave talks about admonishing, encouraging, and upholding. You’ll have to go read the post to find out what these are about.

For my purposes here, they are all ways in which we help one another change for the better. In my view, there’s too little helpful activity of this nature in our churches today. We don’t want to get into each other’s business, and often we’re in congregations that are large enough that we don’t really know one another’s business enough to be helpful. In my own congregation I know that one of the considerations whenever we discuss greeting people is that there is a risk of approaching a life-long member as a new visitor. If I can’t be sure a person is a part of the congregation, how can I possibly respond to them in a helpful way about anything else?

But I think that even in groups small enough to do so, we would have a hard time doing it. We seem to move too easily from neglect to condemnation without taking the necessary steps in between. Dave points out the different ways of handling different people. In order to interact with someone in a helpful way, whether correction or encouragement or any other approach, you have to know them pretty well. One big difference between correction and condemnation is simply the relationship between giver and receiver.

I “correct” my wife’s use of the computer on a regular basis. I know more about computers than she does, she knows that, and so it generally works. Even so, it still won’t work if I am condescending or impatient. But if I both understand her starting point and work to help her get to where she wants to go, things work extremely well.

She, on the other hand, corrects my work in the kitchen. It turns out that in the same set of circumstances, I can actually produce a meal with her direction. The things I don’t know how to do she does. The things I might ignore, like precisely which position the oven shelves occupy, she encourages me to get right.

So here we are in the church. Let me just list some things we might need to work toward in our churches so we can truly help one another change.

  1. We need to know one another better, whatever that takes. If that means more home churches, great! If you can find a way in a large church to get some sort of accountability as a group, great!
  2. We need to understand forgiveness. I hear someone saying that we’re talking about correcting, not letting people off the hook for their misdeeds. That attitude is precisely the problem. Correction that comes with condemnation isn’t generally going to be mutual. We are all sinners together looking to Jesus. We abuse this in two ways. First, we decide we’re all sinners, so we can just forget about trying to change. Second, we can decide that some sinners are more equal than others. I think the call of Jesus is to mutuality. We are all sinners. We all press toward the mark.
  3. We need to ditch our pride. Ouch! Just about anything we do, even what is normally good, will be spoiled by pride.
  4. We need to know the difference between essentials and non-essentials. Too often when we correct others, we are asking them to follow our traditions instead of theirs. If you want to successfully show someone a better way, it helps if the way you’re showing them actually is better.
  5. We need to let love reign in us. All of 1 John is filled with excellent material, but 1 John 4 is particularly important on this point. Note that there is some help here defining love as well as applying it.

We definitely need to get past the point where the only encouragement or exhortation in our churches comes from the pulpit, and is therefore easily ignored by those in the pews.

Let us pay attention to each other, so as to stir up of love and good works … (Hebrews 10:24).

12Therefore restore the weakened hands and the disabled knees, 13and prepare straight paths for your feet so that the lame might not stumble but rather might be healed (Hebrews 12:12-13).

The Very Model of a Biblical Philologist

Too funny! (Hat tip: Jim West)

Recommending a New Blog: Across the Atlantic

My friend Thomas Hudgins is starting a new blog, which will have material from two radically different points of view. I’d love to see more of this sort of thing—people of substantially different views actually communicating! Check out Across the Atlantic.

Across the Atlantic

Being Subject to the Authorities

The Forum - from

The Forum – from

While I haven’t written anything on it myself, I’ve published quite a number of books regarding how Christians should relate to authority. These include Christian Archy and The Jesus Paradigm (David Alan Black), Ultimate Allegiance and Faith in the Public Square (Bob Cornwall), Rendering unto Caesar (Chris Surber), and Preserving Democracy (Elgin L. Hushbeck, Jr.). The last one isn’t primarily about the Christian’s relationship to authority, but it does deal with what the author believes are the legitimate functions of government, and ways in which the authorities can definitely be illegitimate.

As I was reading from Luke 12 this morning, and realized that Jesus was speaking to people who were likely facing persecution, sometimes from those very authorities, I started to think a bit about why we tend always to start with the “rendering unto Caesar” passage, and much less from Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17, or Acts 5:29. The first of those passages is quite frequently abused by those who believe that one must obey the government no matter what.

I’m not going to write an extremely long post on this today. I just wanted to bring the subject up. The one line I appreciated most in the commentary I read on these passages came from The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 2029, commenting on Romans 13:3-5.

Governing authorities derive legitimacy and serve God by punishing bad and approving good—that is, by implementing justice. The just purposes of government evoke submission by the ascent of conscience (v. 5) rather than by fear of punishment. An unjust tyrrany, by implication, would not qualify as an authority instituted by God.…

There are a couple of points in that passage that I believe are overstated, but I think the main point is correct. Paul here speaks of the government carrying out it’s legitimate functions, functions which the Roman government often did quite well. When, at other times, the authorities turned against the good, then one must obey God rather than human authority (Acts 5:29). A Christian would obey the legitimate authority even of an unjust government, where that is possible (often it is not), and would reject only the unjust actions. I think 1 Peter 2:13-17 implies this. Christians were to be model citizens wherever they could thus blunting accusations brought against them. When the state ordered them to do something they could not do in good conscience, then the authorities would be unable to say, “These people just ordinary lawbreakers.” Rather, they would only have the matter of conscience at hand.

Having government ordained by God cuts both ways. First, it gives authority and order a divine imprint, and becoming simply a rebel or an anarchist is precluded short of a complete loss of legitimacy. Second, however, it places human government under the divine authority. Note that I don’t mean by this anything at all like theocracy. I do not think theocracy is desirable, nor is it called for in this passage. Rather, what this means in practice is that one’s conscience controls. It should make me subordinate to all legitimate authority and limit when I can stand against that authority to cases when I would be required to perform an act that was evil or unethical.

The “government no matter what” spin that some have put on this passage tends to make Paul into somewhat of an idiot. Perhaps we need another rule of interpretation: If the way you interpret a passage makes the author look like an idiot, reconsider. Sometimes the God’s wisdom may look like foolishness to us, but so does actual foolishness.

I know I’ve left a huge number of holes in this discussion, but I’ll leave those for later discussion. It’s a blog post, and sometimes I have to write one that is less than 1000 words!

Three Little Pigs

With a hat tip to Jacob Cerone. I nearly died laughing.

Advent-Christmas Sale from Energion Publications

Christmas 2014 angel smallI want to let all my readers know that my company, Energion Publications, including all our imprints (Enzar Empire Press, EnerPower Press, eucatastrophe press, as well as our main Energion Publications) have all books on sale for 25% off with the coupon code Advent2014 at Energion Direct. Just enter the code at checkout and get 25% off your entire order.

We now have more than 125 books in our catalog by more than 50 different authors. We have come quite a long way in the last ten years. So look for gifts for pastors, theologians, and even some light reading!


Hangout Tonight: Truly Serving the Homeless

I’ll be hosting a Google Hangout on Air tonight discussing how we can truly serve and relate to the homeless in and around our communities. Authors Renee Crosby (Soup Kitchen for the Soul, The Fringe [forthcoming]) and Shauna Hyde (Victim No More, Fifty Shades of Grace, The Vicar of Tent Town [forthcoming]) will be giving practical answers. Both guests are people who believe in getting personally active. They will be answering questions such as: “What are the three stupidest things you can do/say about homelessness?”

You can view this using the embedded viewer below or via the Energion Publications Google+ page.