Reflecting On What Ben Witherington Might Say to Lady Gaga – Part 2

To my new readers, thanks for taking the time to entertain some of these thoughts. To long-time readers, know I’m grateful for your continued clicks. My web-traffic has been increasing as of late so I’m trying to make some changes here.  Know that I am grateful for your time – hope some of these posts are helpful to you.

As some of you may know, I have an appreciation for theology and pop-culture, and I admittedly, I get a little nerdy when the two intersect (or when I make them intersect). This is the second post in this series based on a lecture on I attended of Ben Witherington at Gordon Conwell Seminary this past fall. As he lectured on the topic of “humanity being created in the image of God”, I thought of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”. [Read more…]

Reflecting On What Ben Witherington Might Say to Lady Gaga – Part 1

“It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M
Just put your paws up’
cause you were born this way, Baby”

A couple months ago, I got to hear Ben Witherington lecture at Gordon Conwell Seminary about humanity being created in the image of God. As you would expect, it was an excellent presentation but halfway through, I started thinking about Lady Gaga. It’s not that Dr. Witherington’s outfit resembled one of hers (your welcome for that mental picture), it was that as he was sharing of the high place that humanity is set, it reminded me of “Born This Way.”  I find myself thinking about that again.

As you may know, I find Lady Gaga compelling. In fact, my last sermon at Montvale was entitled, “What Jesus Might Say to Lady Gaga.” It was awesome, our church organist got all dressed up and ascended from the baptistry (just kidding, we don’t have a church organist).  Anyway, there are several reasons I find her compelling, all would likely sound petty to insert them here and so I’ll spare you from that. But like her or hate her, she has captured the attention of millions and it’s not just for the spectacle. For many, Gaga inspires people to be themselves.  In some sense, what’s not to like about that?

I love theology and I love music and I’m always fascinated when the two overlap each other. Christianity places such a value on the place of humanity and a careful reading of the Genesis account tells us that humanity is the pinnacle of creation.

[Read more…]

A Meditation on the Nature of Sacrifice Part 2

Primary Audience – To Those That Want to Understand Basic Christian Theology
Secondary Audience – Skeptics, Agnostics, The “Over-Churched”

Last post asked the question, “Why does Jesus have to die?”
“Why can’t Jesus just stand in the temple and say, ‘New deal – confess you are a sinner, put your trust in me, I’ll forgive you, enjoy the abundant life right now and for all eternity?'” No blood, no cross, no need for a resurrection, So why the drama, why the violence?

What escaped me was the doctrine of sin and holiness. Being raised in church, I of course knew what sin was – it was pretty much everything ;) I understood sin as any a moral failure of some sort or the fancier definitions were any thought, word, deed contrary to the will of God, etc. Then there was the because we were sinners, Jesus needed to die. Which if you walk into the story for the first time, you are not really sure why anyone really has to die. Again, why not a Messianic announcement of a “new deal”?

To understand this, I needed to understand that sin was more than simply a moral failure (or the fancier definition). I really needed to see that sin was a separation from God and death was the greatest type of separation. So sin/death was separation. How can the separation be eliminated? For years, we evangelicals drew this “chasm” between God and humankind, and used Jesus as the bridge that we could cross over. This was all well and good but for deconstructionists and newbies to the story, we all knew by now that there were so many different types of bridges, why only Jesus? The answer came back pretty fast – Because He was sinless, the perfect sacrifice and so on.

God gave me an imagination that I refused to hand over upon entering adulthood – Why couldn’t the all-powerful Jesus pick us up and jump over the chasm with us? Or just toss over to some soft-mattress or have the angels catch us. Why this persistent need for death?

What Do You Give the God Who Creates Everything?
The answer came in a question, “What does God want from me?” Unless I am willing to treat the question superficially, the answers get pretty intense quickly. The other question is “How do you demonstrate to God that you are sorry?” When I offend a family member or a friend, I express that I am sorry. When I get a speeding ticket and “offend the law”, I pay a fine. When I offend creation, I don’t do anything really except perhaps make a mental note to consume less, recycle more, be a better steward. Why is God not satisfied with words, money, future conscious effort? God is a God of life. This was His currency. I needed to give up life as a sacrifice.

God in His mercy knew this was not practical for humankind. The sacrificial system was created (you can read Leviticus if you want the details) and obedient Jews abided.

But to God, this was always a temporary system until He descended in the form of a man, Jesus, and became our substitute. He was the perfect sacrifice for humanity, paying the price for humankind’s sin/separation/death. In the words of theologian John Lightfoot, “Our redemption must answer the fall. Christ must fullfill the law as we had broken it.”

It wasn’t until college that I understood it wasn’t God’s high-maintenance that was the problem. I was the problem. Sin/death/separation needed to be solved and while the chasm metaphor was helpful, I needed another way of understanding it. What helped me was understanding that I was infected, I was being quarantined, I needed a cure.

But He did more than die, He defeated death. How does one actually defeat death? Money, negotiation, even not dying will not defeat death. You defeat death by actually dying and then resurrecting to life again. This is the victory, the answer, the cure. And this is why Jesus needed to sacrifice Himself on the cross – so that we could live the way we were intended, in peace with our God in this life and in the life following this one.

This is what makes the Easter story so powerful, one worth sharing. Each year, I hope to see the Resurrection story with new eyes and may the same be true for you – thanks for reading.

Recapping The Rob Bell Controversy

Primary Audience – To those of you who keep saying, “What’s going on with this whole …?”
Secondary Audience – Evangelicals.

A few of my friends have asked for my thoughts on the Rob Bell controversy.  Like so many, I too have a lot of thoughts and to be honest, though this last week was pretty drama-crazy, I think there’s a lot of good to see here.

But before I post those and because everything is contextual (and spiritual :), this is the recap from where I sit.

On the Saturday (2/25) before the Grammy’s Rob Bell released this video to promote his new book to be released March 15th Love Wins. Here’s the book description from the publisher Harper One: In Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith–the afterlife–arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and hismessage is decidedly optimistic–eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.

Sunday night, (Feb. 26), John Piper, Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist, author, etc. made this tweet and included a link to Justin Taylor’s post.

No joke, #Rob Bell was a twitter trend alongside on Grammys, James  Franco and Justin Bieber.


Justin Taylor blogs for the Gospel Coalition. This post, entitled “Rob Bell, Universalist?” was clicked thousands of times and went viral.

Thousands of tweets, FB status updates, blog posts, and conversations ensued.

Among the best posts I read were Scot McKnights “Waiting for Rob Bell Part 1″ and “Part 2″.  I think it’s also worth noting that Relevant Magazine used McKnight’s posts for their blog.  Also, in Part 1, Scot includes a brief overview of how his college students generally see ideas of the afterlife/universalism.  As a youth pastor, just this mention was of great interest to me.

Jason Boyett had an excellent post, “Thoughts About Rob Bell, John Piper, and Justin Taylor”

Tony Jones offered his two cents and asked if Bell was the Jason Bourne of Evangelism in “What’s Up With Rob Bell?”

My friend Evan made some excellent points in his post, “Rob Bell – The Belle of the Universalist Ball

Last week the NY Times had an article … on the front page.

My thoughts? I hope to express them Christianly (as so many actually have) throughout the week. Last week I was really irritated with the backlash from those that hadn’t read the book.

My wife and I are also going to go see Bell in NYC. Join us – Here is the ticket link and if you don’t live in the area or unable to attend, it will be streamed here.


Sorry it has taken a while to post the second half of this post (and there’s so much more to do), but it seems some of my drafts got lost. I must not have uploaded them properly to WordPress.

Here are my notes from the second half of NT Wright’s first lecture (Friday night 4.16.10). Read at your own risk though, I may not have heard it all correctly and he is a bit of a wordsmith so keep that in mind. This is for the skimmers who don’t have time to listen to the complete audio. This is also intended for newbies who are curious about NT Wright’s work but have not been able to read much. I suggest that you read a few books of his before passing a verdict.


It’s the western church that he has invented another Jesus and put it on top of the cannon.
(A Non-canonical Jesus)

The Traditional Church has invented Jesus’ and substitute of the cannon

When we read the canonical gospels (all 4, he inserted. For those who don’t get that, Jesus and the Victory of God only uses the Synoptics, Matthew, Mark & Luke) they are not through the identity of Jesus but through Jesus’ inauguration of the Kingdom of God.
The message bringer has been screened out the inaugural of God’s kingdom – forgetting what he was saying heaven on earth as it is in heaven.

The cannon was trying to say this (the inaugural of the Kingdom)

The Gospel does not say Jesus is divine, though He is. They are saying Jesus is bringing the kingdom. (This part confused me a bit and will need to re-listen and try to understand. Confusing bc I thought it was both. Of course I would, I love plurality).
His humanness was his Jewishness.
He mentioned that the Council of Chalcedon de-Judahizing (he tends to make up words) Jesus and Israel.

Jesus is Israel’s God coming to his kingdom and to his world.
Much more powerful than simply saying Jesus is God.
(he did miracles, said great things. … reading through the Bible you will see many people doing amazing things but it does not mean they are God. They may not be divine).

We need to retrieve the canonical Jesus of Israel.

It matters because this stuff actually happened once.
If you don’t have the historical rootedeness , you will turn the message of Jesus into your own version of the truth – how you can have a particular spirituality.

We shrink the story of God and of Israel

We shrink the power of the cross (or the kingdom).
Many churches are kingdom churches but don’t know what the cross is there for.
And many churches that are cross churches that don’t know what the kingdom is there for.
Some people say odd things about Jesus like,
“What a shame his career was cut short .. he was a roll with that stuff.” haha

Some atonement theologies do not affirm the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

It’s not that Jesus was just walking around doing stuff aimlessly and the evangelists were the brilliant theologians adding value and brilliance to it.
Jesus was the brilliant innovator, the disciples were the witnesses doing their best to describe it. Anything else should be counter-intuitive.

Jesus is both sovereign and vulnerable.
There is not directly the proof of Jesus.
It first demonstrates that He is Israel’s Messiah.
Do not short circuit the Israel dimension
Which means his death is the messianic death
He was doing the messianic thing that had enslaved Israel

Resurrection means a new creation.
Jesus is raised bodily from the dead, therefore he is the Messiah, therefore God’s new creation has been launched.
It is not that we just have a future heaven.
Jesus has been raised from the dead, a new creation has begun, and therefore we have a job to do (proclamation).

When Jesus wanted to convey the Kingdom he didn’t give them a theory, he gave them a meal.

Frustration with Barth is that he does not allow any natural theology.
It only works in a closed charm system. No point of contact outside of it.
No point of connection with reality.
Thus, Paul should have even bothered with the Areopagus (Acts 17)

We need to be transformed by the resurrected Jesus
There is an epistemological bridge
For Thomas
For Peter. Each time he asks Peter if he loves him, he uses a lesser intimate word. Jesus comes to Peter on his level.
For us.

NT Wright at Wheaton Conference Notes Post 1

As mentioned on my here and on my Facebook page, i have the good fortune of being at the Wheaton Theology Conference. This year’s focus is the theology of NT Wright and he has been joined by his friends (llike Richard Hays, Syliva Keesmat, Brian Walsjh and many more) to share, add, critique and discuss on great theological matters. It would take an enormous amount of time to summarize all of today’s comments so this post will just focus on tonight’s session which was entitled: “Jesus and the People of God: Whence and Whither Historical Jesus Studies and the Life of the Church”

He began by picking up from an earlier conversation that stated it is better to engage in the historic theological study of Jesus than not to. He then added that we as a church have been content to live with a split level of reality and that has led to a split level view of Jesus. He mentioned the work of Rudolf Bultmann and while he sharply disagreed, he enjoyed reading him. But one thing was for sure it is/was time to get back to genuine history.

What so many people like about the great theolgians is that they can inspire and discuss great theology and the great ones can make it pastoral. He mentioned that it used to be said, that it is not enough that we know who Jesus is the Savior but is he the Savior for you and me? Tonight he wanted to reverse that thought and say that it wasn’t enough that Jesus was the savior for you and me but further, who is Jesus and what he really come here to do.

Recalling his undergraduate and seminary days, he mentioned that he studied under numerous theologians who were on the one extreme and really did not believe in the historical Jesus.
They taight their students/seminarianas that Jesus could not have said this or that. Many clergy either turned off their mind and just preached a very simple gospel (which is better than nothing) and others conveyed these dangerous and terrible ideas to their congregations and asked them to help reconstruct bits and pieces of Jesus. Quoting Gazeman(?), he said, We must do the history of theology otherwise the church can be deceived.” Even more brilliant was the line from Calvin – “The human mind is a constant machine of creating idols.” This also led to the result of the Nazi’s Jesus. German theologians started creating a theology for the state, created a non-Jewish Jesus, and the bible represented their ideologies.

Oddly enough, he revaled that one of the biggest things that got him interested in the Historical Jesus literature was Jesus Christ Superstar – 1971. He was fascinated and everone in the room (like 1500) tried to picture Tom Wright not just watching JCS but loving it!! Who would have thought but it’s a good story. But this eld to the first time that he asked the question what was Jesus actually thinking about? Before considering that, he saw Jesus more like a super-natual root.

It’s a false dichotomy to go behind the text and reconstruct it and assemble a Jesus that

Not a private individual who hid away from the world. It’s not a form of gnosticism. It’s creational theology – God is coming to rescue and create it!

More later.

Ask Not if Pete Rollins Believes the Resurrection, Ask If he’s Made a Good Point.

Pete Rollins was asked if he believed in the resurrection during a time of presentation and discussion at Calvin College (which by the way, I think it’s great that Calvin invited him).  He blogs his answer and many are still talking about it.  Like many, I read it on my RSS Feeder and my first thought was, “Here we go again”,  second was, “He really does this paradox thing well.”  I loved Thomas’ (who just had a post picked on The High Calling blog) post about it yesterday and it’s been brought to my attention a couple of times now too (and I suppose I may have brought it to a few people’s attention as well).

Thomas got me thinking though.  After the Mid-Atlantic Conference he sat in my living room and we conversed and he was gracious enough to listen to my questions.  I’m not name-dropping here, he talks to anyone.  Anyway,  to one he responded, “I think it’s crazy if people take me too seriously.  I’m just trying to add a point here and there …”  Now maybe that was an understatement, but I appreciated that he didn’t say something like, “People need to wake up and listen to what I am saying …” and act as if he had it all figured out.  Because he writes/speaks from that humble posture, I think it’s wise to, at the very least, consider the point he’s trying to make.  Like the point that Bono was making when he dressed up as MacPhisto (the devil-character he created on the Zoo TV tour, he wasn’t endorsing the devil but quite the opposite).  In fact, if Rollins has a problem is that this thought is not original though he just does a great job in echoing it today.  Paul says in I Corinthians 13, that “…  but have not love then I am but only  a clanging cymbal.” 

I do not know really the context nor the person who asked the question.  For all I know, it could have been Sam Harris or John McArthur or Brian McLaren or a student  or professor.  It could have even been one of Pete’s friends planted in the crowd to give us something to blog about it.  In my history of attending conferences, numerous times there has been the person that wants to “expose” the speaker as a heretic. Then there’s the guy who needs to ask these questions in order to trust the speaker.  I’ve been that guy, may we be given wisdom for the journey.  But to the former, I remind you to be careful that you do not resemble the Pharisees that were trying to trap Jesus (like in John 8).

Now I’m told that Pete does believe in the literal, physical resurrection (so there are two of you reading this that are relieved), but what if he didn’t believe or stops believing it one day or stops one day and believes it again on another?  While I want to say that it would be an utter shame if he didn’t believe it, I think another shame is to miss this point.

Regarding his statement, I believe his argument is valid.  What point is it to believe in the resurrection if we don’t believe in all the words of the One that was raised?  What point is it to believe in the One that encompassed perfect love if we don’t share it in witness in the forms of words and action?  What point is it to believe in the abundant life, if we ignore those barely living and dying around us? 

I believe the Spirit uses that answer even if Pete denies the resurrection to promote the resurrection!  Let me ask it in this way. Can we not gain from his point? I say from my perspective he’s wrong on that point while he may be right that I neglect the needs around me, thereby demonstrating his point!

Let’s forget about this hyper-caffeinated, Irish philosopher for a second.   How important is the resurrection to us as believers?   We may be quick to say that it’s the central tenant of our faith but is it? Here’s something interesting to me, I wonder how many more people would believe in the resurrection if we did in fact care more for the marginalized in the many, many ways they appear.  Is this not a great conversation?

Reclaiming Paul Conference – Panel Discussion – Post 5 #evpaul08

Disclaimer:  I’m editing this at O’hare Terminal.   While I should be doing my work for my seminary class tomorrow, I realized that I packed the book (The Historical Books, Nelson) I needed in my suitcase which is checked in.  So, I’m trying to edit some of the notes I took.  If you attended the conference and your memory/notes differ to mine, please feel free to comment/email/whatever. 


If you are a critical soul and are looking for ammunition to use against “whatever it is that you are against”, here are a couple things I’d like to mention:

1. Welcome.  I invite you to travel along with me.  I always enjoy sojourning with those who love Christ and love others.  However, since I mentioned the critical soul part, let us imitate our Savior in His humility and love.  I think you know what I mean.

2. Please remember that these are just notes that I took while talking to my friends, checking out the book table, and setting up my fantasy football team (my spiritual gift is multi-tasking.  It’s true, I took the spiritual gift inventory test and on the 78 page read out, it said that was one of my top three.  Right next to sarcasm and irreverence.)  Where was I?  Oh yes.  These are just notes; they are not meant to be a historical account of what took place because this is a blog and I edited this in 15 minutes sitting at an airport terminal.


Following Steve Fowler’s presentation, a panel discussion and talk-back followed.

Kathy GriebAgreed that Paul can be easily misunderstood if you

          don’t understand where he is coming from

– Follow me as I follow Christ

Tim Keel – This is something we hesitate to urge our congregations  because we are afraid of the problems of us stumbling through. 

– Paul says he is the chief sinner but asks do you see anything wrong with how Paul says follow me as I stumble through


Ross Wagner – agrees and points out the pressing on part.

                he will boast bc of God’s strength  – must be active! 


Steve – Paul has an enormous confidence in the gospel.

 said that Paul said that this work is God’s providence.

 – This enables Paul’s boldness. 

Mike Gorman – the difference between this age and the first century. 

Discussion of similarities and differences of first century and our own time.  Great discussion.  Find the audio if you are really interested. 

Tony Jones – suspect of all the talk of this as well.

– Perhaps Paul may not have recognized his own teaching at work with the some traditional mentalities.

– Some are not really living with a focused telos

Tony appreciated what Steve said regarding the apprenticeship versus student.  Another big discussion here.  Probably the part that interested me the most.

Narratives are shaped by practices that form it. 

practice as opposed to identity.

we categorize people more by content …

Steve – said that he asks his students who taught them how to read (parents, teachers) then asks who taught you to watch tv?  (no one)

– discussion that led to Christianity requires discipline. 

– later during the talk-back, a young man mentioned that in a sense, we do teach our children how to watch tv.  He may have been taking the illustration further then Steve intended but nevertheless, it was worth considering.

Kathy – reflected on the current economic status

where people thought they had retirements and savings, and wealth built up but now have discovered they don’t.

Paul says this on a spiritual aspect.  Thinking he had what was saved up and realized he didn’t.

Tony – recalls a student Daniel that went to fight in Afghanistan.  (this is in New Christians).

       wrote a long letter about his struggle with his faith.

       Tony felt that he and his parents didn’t adequately teach him how to grow in his faith.

       Perhaps he was being too hard on himself but it brought into question how we as a church, student ministries, etc, train our children.

– It’s not just about piety but communal spiritual disciplines.

– so we don’t come together to pray but to learn how to pray.

– Forming a communal narrative




– We do teach our kids how to watch tv in a way. Like how, etc. 

Don Heatley – explains that his church is largely un-churched.  Where do they find masters for apprentices?

If we are truly creating new disciples (and not just recycling people from other churches), what wisdom do we have in creating these models of masters and apprenticeships?

Tony  – there is a ubiquitous availability of great Christian writing. 

used the example of Trucker Frank  (TF – self-trained).

primarily bc of the availability of so much resources

perhaps some kind of  local church – monastic theological   training.


Question didn’t really get answered (which is ok at our gatherings but gave us something to think about and talk about throughout our time during breaks, dinners, etc.).

Daniel Kirk – (not sure if Daniel said this but I like this line and liked Daniel so …)

– If there were no resurrection – this story would not interest me.

I would not have believed this.  Neither would have Paul

he would have felt that it was a scandal at present scholars, 

   who refute the historicity of the resurrection.


Reclaiming Paul Conference – Post 4

As I am learning in seminary, sometimes the best (or a better) way to tell a narrative is to not necessarily use a the actual chronology.   So I am skipping a couple things but at least I’m biblical.  

It was tough to choose between the workshops but this afternoon’s second series of workshops found me at John Franke and Daniel Kirk’s presentation of “Jesus I’ve Loved, Paul I’ve Hated?”.

How could you go wrong really with those two and a title like that?  Part of the reason I wanted to attend this one is that I must confess, that I am not sure I see such a problem.  Sure, I see Paul as being tough, maybe harsh, and every now and then, the thought of, “I probably wouldn’t have written it that way” goes through my head but that’s a little arrogant of me.  I also understand the seeming contradictions between him, Jesus and the spirit of the Gospel but I have never not appreciated him.  So I went to find out more.

I appreciated John beginning the time by going around the room and listening to people’s frustrations about Paul. Though it sounds a little harsh to my ears, I needed to hear it articulated.

Here are some of my notes below:

JF – Working through the story also reveals the identity of God. 

DK – What is this God supposed to do?

       Take these people who are exiled and flawed and bring them    back to Himself. 

   This is one of the questions that Paul is wrestling with.

JF – The church resisted the move to put all 4 Gospels into 1.

            The gospel cannot be reduced into one singular account.

            But we tend to do that with harmonizing Jesus, the Gospels and Paul.

DK – must consider who they are ministering to

            Jesus is ministering to jews in jewish context as a jew

It’s not a simple come as you are.                       

There is a transformational in the embrace (like the lepers)

Paul, angry like in Galatians, arguing with the Jewish powerbrokers  – you need to let them as they are bc Christ as let them in.  He’s saying you can follow Jesus without becoming Jewish. 

But he also urges the gentiles (which he is frustrated by).

Perhaps some have trouble with Paul because of the propositional packaging that he comes in.  (over against Paul as a pastor).

            Perhaps some of the propositional theology needs to be neutralized.

Are some of us more like Paul then like Christ?

            * I should spend some thinking about this.

DK – 2 cor. is helpful bc Paul is interpreting his life in light of the resurrection of Jesus.


JF – Eph. 4 – call for unity.  While sometimes Jesus splits family.

            Titus 3 – put some out bc of their sin to preserve the unity of the Church.  Sounds exclusionary but Jesus did this too. 


Reclaiming Paul – Post 3

From Phil 3.

– Paul of what he can boast

– People can be grabbed by Christ and dedicated their lives in reaching back and grabbing at Christ.

– After encountering Christ, he still sees his life as participating in the ongoing drama of God’s salvation.

–    The World is God’s creation

         – not something that his pagan contemporaries would have agreed with.

–    The world is/was God’s shalom. 

                  – it didn’t last too long

                  – in some ways, creation is damaged

                  – but God is committed to redeeming it

         – So he calls Abraham and establishing an everlasting covenant. 

         – Paul connects Abraham to Jesus.  He asserts that Jesus is Lord.

What this means for the Philippians (and Paul’s audience in general)  learning to find and inhabit one’s place in the drama of redemption.  Then to live accordingly.

Thus, one needs to understand Christ and see what He has done.

You cannot do this (understand/live the way of Christ) by yourself – it requires community to travel with you.

To inhabit this narrative together.

If there is one sensitive on Paul on Philippians 1:27 – order your common life in a manner worthy of the gospel.

   This again requires community.

 – This requires you to be more of an apprentice then a student imitate others (like Paul) in your own particular way.

      ** – A lot of attention was paid here by Steve and then in the talk back which was very interesting to listen too.  Here is where the notes fail you as a reader but when audio comes out, this was a highlight for me that I look forward to listening to again and mediating on.