Lord, Let Me Be Anything But Relevant

Over the last few months, as I have been discerning this whole church planting thing, I have taken the time to look at the other churches in my area. A common theme among many of them, especially for non-denominational and younger churches, is to be relevant and contemporary.

Of all the kinds of Christianity out there, this is the type that I am most familiar with. It was this type of contemporary, conservative evangelicalism that I found myself in when I first started to explore Christianity. Personally, I like to consider it “Mark Driscoll Christianity” because it is almost always complementarian, Reformed (Calvinist), charismatic, and tirelessly working to appeal to young people. With very good reason, people often call this type of Christianity “young, restless, and Reformed.”  Continue reading

“Vanity of Vanities,” Says the Preacher

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that my career is Christianity. At some point, I decided that I was going to be a professional Christian. Currently, it is only a voluntary labor of love, and so I have a day job. However, my vocation and passion is Christianity. Everyone knows this, and I even had a friend in high school who called me “pastor Kevin” from time to time. I have to say, it is interesting seeing what people expect of me once they know my vocation. My father is a good example of this.

My father always passes Christian things onto me when he finds them. Recently, he gave me this large, fancy King James Bible. The Bible is absolutely beautiful, but it is an example of how he thinks of my faith. For him, it is something very superficial. Christianity, and especially ministry, is about pretty religious objects, credentials, and American culture; it is not about following Jesus or having a good approach to theology or biblical interpretation. Continue reading

The Social Upheaval of the Kingdom

Recently, I started rereading Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. It’s been a long time since I have read Paul, and the last time I really read him, I spiritualized him. By that, I mean that I made Paul’s words the words of an Anglo-Saxon Puritan. Coming from a Protestant (Reformed) background, it is really easy to see Paul’s talk of election in the meaning Calvinists give to it, and it is easy to see Paul as some modern German theologian in the tradition of Martin Luther. I was easily able to look at the material, political, and societal implications of Jesus’ teachings, but Paul was harder for me, due to that connection with Reformed Protestantism.

Going into First Corinthians anew, I learned that Paul’s epistle was written to a very special community of believers. Corinth was a deeply Roman and deeply cosmopolitan city. It was really the entire Greco-Roman world present in one place. This means that the Corinthian church was diverse, and part of that diversity involved Paul having converted both rich and poor, elite and common. The division of rich and poor in the Corinthian church was one of the reasons Paul wrote the letter. For example, in 11:17-34 we see Paul rebuking those were were treating the poor unfairly in communion. A passage that is particularly important in discussion these class relationships is 1 Corinthians 1:26-2:5: Continue reading

American Christians and Community of Goods

Brian Zahnd is a nondenominational pastor I have been following. Though he is part of the mega-church culture I have come to reject, he has a unique voice that makes his sermons and articles interesting. Not long ago, he shared a quote from Ambrose of Milan, a church father and mentor to Augustine, “You are not making a gift of your possession to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.”

This is one the the quotes from the church fathers that deeply inspires me, and I have have a page devoted to very similar quotes from the early church. Ambrose’s statement is nothing too special, but what is mentioning is how some people reacted to this quote when Zahnd shared it.

First of all, there was a comparison being made to the policies of Barack Obama, which just seemed strange. Secondly, and more importantly, there was condemnation of this teaching because it was seen as “involuntary” or that wealth was someone not really that bad. This second reaction is one that I often see in the American church, especially ones that are conservative and/or influenced by the prosperity gospel. Continue reading

Thomas Merton: When Religion Becomes an Opiate

Of course it is true that religion on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the “opium of the people.” And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with him. When religion becomes a mere artificial facade to justify a social or economic system—when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandist, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for a purely secular ideological program, then religion does tend to become an opiate. It deadens the spirit. . . This brings about the alienation of the believer so that his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism. His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith in his own nation, class or race. His ethic ceases to be the law of God and of love, and becomes the law that might-makes-right: established privilege justifies everything, God is the status quo. (Merton)

Hospitality to Strangers

This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on Missional Spirituality for the month of February. MennoNerds is exploring through this event Spirituality through an Anabaptist lens and what it means concerning participation in the mission of God.

When I was younger, I remember hearing a lot about Sodom and Gomorrah. I was a part of conservative evangelical churches, and this story was often used as an example of extreme sexual immorality. Obviously, it was not uncommon for the story to be used to condemn homosexuality. Then, I cannot remember when, I realized that the common reading today didn’t make sense. From the rape of angels to Lot’s incestuous relationships, reading the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a sex manual just didn’t make a lot of sense. Later, I realized that the story was about hospitality. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were hosting angels and did not realize it. They were inhospitable, and it was their doom (Hebrews 13:2).

Hospitality is a common theme in Abrahamic religions. There are various verses in the Law, the prophets, and the New Testament concerning the care for strangers (as well as widows and orphans). For example, Deuteronomy 24:17 states: Continue reading

A Criticism of the ESV

My all-around favorite and most trusted Bible translation is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), but for the last six months, I have been giving the English Standard Version (ESV) a serious looking-over. Of the Bibles that I have read, the ESV is perhaps one of the more untrustworthy that I have come across. Before I explain my reasoning, I think it is important to give a little bit of history concerning contemporary Bible translation.

Up until the mid-twentieth century, there were only a handful of Bible translations that people actually read, and a handful of obscure ones that nobody ever hears about. By the 1950s and ’60s, two translations dominated American Christianity: the King James Version (KJV) and Revised Standard Version (RSV). The KJV has always been a favorite among traditionalists due to its historical status, but it was also a favorite of fundamentalists because it was easy to proof-text from. The RSV, however, became the standard for most academics and became widely accepted by the major denominations of American Protestantism, and even Catholic and Orthodox Christians had a lot of support for it. Even today many Catholics and Orthodox continue to use it. To put it simply, the RSV was ecumenical and scholarly. They also tried to keep much of the poetic-sounding language of the KJV tradition so that it even appealed to traditionalists.  Continue reading

Thy Kingdom Come: The Christian Call to Social Action

This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on Missional Spirituality for the month of February. MennoNerds is exploring through this event Spirituality through an Anabaptist lens and what it means concerning participation in the mission of God.

It is no surprise that activism is something that I am passionate about. Usually, I have expressed my activistic impulse by allying with socialist and communist parties and organizations, but recently this has started to change. For a long time, I thought of religion, politics, and economics as largely separate categories. For me, my religion was Christianity, and my politics and economics were socialist, but as I developed in my Christian faith, as I continued to read, I realized that these categories were all interconnected and interdependent.

I started discovering and reading about the Social Gospel, Liberation Theology, and other such movements, and I looked at my own views on politics and economics, and they were firmly rooted in my faith. In fact, I received my faith and my politics at the same time. I remember it all very well. I was having tea with my grandmother in Rhode Island back when I was in middle school, and we were discussing Eastern religions, which is what I was interested in at the time. Eventually, for whatever reason, we started talking about the Sermon on the Mount, which I was not yet familiar with. Discovering that text started me down a path that continues to this day, and during that same conversation, my grandmother taught me about Karl Marx.  Continue reading

Rethinking Peter and the State

I recently wrote about Romans 13 and the state. I mentioned that I did not believe that text was even about the Roman government. I believe, based upon the evidence I have seen, that Romans 13 talks about reconciling Jewish and Gentile Christians in relation to the religious, community authorities. Tyler Tully picked up on this and wrote a far more detailed analysis of this here and here, which I strongly recommend reading.

Today, another questionable text in regards to the New Testament and the state has been brought up, this time from Peter instead of Paul:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV) Continue reading