Category Archives: Theology and Ethics

The Reason for and the Result of Evangelism

One of the membership vows new United Methodists take is to support the church with their witness. Hal Knight explained why we seek to do this (and that “why” is not the answer usually given) in an article that I’ve been meaning to share for a long while. Here’s an excerpt the summarizes the article:

the primary argument for the gospel is lives and churches who in their relationships, their life together, and their outreach to others is motivated and characterized by love. It is both the reason for and the result of evangelism. [1]

I encourage you to head over and listen to the whole thing.


[1] Henry H. Knight, “Great Commandment Evangelism,” Catalyst Resources, April 6, 2016, section goes here, accessed December 01, 2017,

Take a Deep Breath

I wrote this post yesterday. I’ve calmed down some, and in the big scheme of things this is not a matter of life and death, but I’m posting it because the potential blasphemy in the service of patriotism disturbs me deeply.

The following appeared in a story at and was backed up by an article at the Sports Illustrated website:

“Before the performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at today’s [Sunday, October 1, 2017] game between the Ravens and Steelers, the P.A. announcer at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore asked fans to join and “pray that we as a nation embrace kindness, unity, equality, and justice for all Americans.” When players knelt to observe the prayer, a cascade of boos rained down upon them from the stands.” [1]

To the fans who thought this was another protest of the national anthem because they didn’t hear the announcement, I say: “Take a deep breath, pause, and make sure you don’t inadvertently commit an offense against God.”

To the fans who heard the announcement, knew the players were kneeling to pray and booed anyway I say: “Repent and believe the Gospel.”

To the fans who missed the whole thing because they were at the concession stand or in the bathroom because the lines are shortest during that national anthem, I say: “That’s the America I know and still love.”

[1] Nick Greene, “Fans Booed NFL Players Who Knelt to Observe a Prayer,” Slate Magazine, October 01, 2017, accessed October 03, 2017, See also: Chris Chavez, “Ravens Fans Boo Players during Prayer before National Anthem,”, October 01, 2017, accessed October 03, 2017,

The National Anthem Brouhaha, Part 2

A friend and clergy college of mine, Heather Hensarling, wrote the following as an introduction when she shared my post from yesterday. I want to share the meat of it with you. I especially want to share the sentiment of “No judgment here, folks. I promise.”

I first met my friend, Reverend John Collins, at Licensing School in York, NE, 1994. … I’m sharing his blog on The National Anthem Brouhaha (always wondered how to spell that word). It strikes at the heart of what I’ve been feeling as I witness the amount of angry energy church members exert over “a game player” taking a knee during the National Anthem…yet somehow feel no amount of loyalty themselves to remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy. I.e., come to church. I’m not thinking of anyone in particular. I’m thinking of everyone in general who call themselves followers of Jesus, yet somehow muster up more energy about taking a knee on NFL game day than they do about taking a seat on Sunday. No judgment here, folks. I promise. The only shoes I walk in are my own. Just curious, that’s all. …

The National Anthem Brouhaha

I’m feeling prophetic this morning, and that means that there’s a pretty good chance that what follows is going to offend someone. To avoid possible confusion, let me state at the outset that I’m not writing to argue against standing for the national anthem, I’m writing to argue for weekly worship attendance. I welcome your feedback via email, a phone call, or a face to face conversation.

The current brouhaha over standing or not standing for the national anthem at the beginning of a for-profit sporting event has left me slightly bemused. Here’s why.

I think that there is an analogy to be drawn between the singing of the national anthem at the beginning of a sporting event and the weekly service of worship at the beginning of the week (remember the New Testament refers to Sunday as the first day of the week), but it is an unequal analogy. What I mean by an unequal analogy is this: whatever honor and respect we owe to the country in which we live pales in comparison to the honor and respect we owe the Almighty. After all, it is God who formed the earth upon which we live, the air that we breathe, and without whose continuous grace all that exists would cease to be.

The extent to which many people have gotten upset over the fact that a few professional athletes are refusing to stand for the national anthem is surprising when you consider how everyone takes it in stride when a much larger percentage of the population stays away from the weekly worship service. My country has given me a great many things; my God has given me even more and without the God who made all that is, my country would have nothing to offer me. Any argument that can be made for the importance of standing for the national anthem can be made even more forcefully for attending worship. But despite that fact, we get very upset about any neglect of the first no matter what the reason while being sanguine about the most flagrant violations of the second for any old reason at all.

Obviously, we cannot coerce sincere faith in God by mandating weekly worship attendance any more than we can coerce true allegiance to our country by making everyone stand for the national anthem, but shame on us for being so concerned about the latter and so untroubled about the former. It’s almost a textbook case of idolatry. May God have mercy on us.

Please do not confuse my failure to discuss the reasons for taking a knee for indifference to them. Regardless of the efficacy of their protest, I consider the matters of injustice given by those taking a knee to be of grave concern.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

I’ve been trying to keep up with the news of the escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States, but I don’t have much insight to offer or advice to give. I am reminded of all times I have watched controversies escalate to an extreme that neither side wanted in local churches I served. In those instances, both sides spoke and acted rashly and hastily. I pray that won’t happen here, the stakes are just too high.

Still, God is at work in the world and hope is not lost. All that most of us can do concerning this particular crisis is to pray, but that is enough. I am praying, and I invite you to join me. Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers.” May we pray (and thus work) for peace (not only with and in North Korea, but for God’s all encompassing peace in the larger world) and may we pray and work for that same peace in the little corner of it that we inhabit and exert influence over.

Arrogance Posing as Humility

I’m re-reading When Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church in preparation for the Breakfast Club this coming Saturday. In the chapter on prayer, Lillian Daniel talks about the need not only to pray for the high minded things that we would be happy share with other people but also to pray for the little things that are unique to us, the prayers that we suppress because we feel that they are unworthy.

That kind of thinking, that reluctance to ask God for what we really want, is arrogance posing as humility. It seems humble to not ask God for our own desires, and to put other larger matters first. But doing that seems to imply we have power in all this. As if by asking God to cure diabetes before asking for a raise, we might actually affect God’s priorities. Do we honestly think that if no one asked for anything trivial, and everyone got focused on world peace, God would finally see that we had reached some quota and say, “Right, now that four billion and one people have asked for it, I will make it happen. But don’t anybody ask for a cottage by a lake right now, or I’ll get distracted.” [1]

There is a fail-safe system built into prayer. Prayer is not the monkey’s paw. [2] God’s not going to do something that not in our best interest just because we were stupid enough to ask for it. Lillian continues:

Sorry, but I just don’t think our prayer requests have that kind of power. So why pray then? Prayer is about connecting with God, about having a relationship with our divine creator. God desires that with us, and because God loves us so much, God actually cares about our trivial wants, our big dreams, and our petty grievances. This is humbling news indeed. We can come to God with anything, and God will work with it. [3]

So ask away. Take whatever you have to God in prayer and let God work with it and on you.

[1] Lillian Daniel, When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church (Grand Central Pub, 2013), 39-40.

[2] “The Monkey’s Paw,” Wikipedia, July 22, 2017, accessed July 27, 2017,

[3] Lillian Daniel, 40.

In What We Do and Who We Are

In his book of Lenten devotionals, N. T. Wright offers the following prayer:

Sovereign Lord, help us to meet the scorn of unbelievers with the evidence, in what we do and who we are, that you are indeed alive. — N. T. Wright [1]

Perhaps it’s a product of my occupation, but I haven’t met all that many scornful unbelievers. Instead, I’m more likely to encounter what we might call “discouraged, doubt plagued, believers.” Either way, Christians and churches who demonstrate their faith by “what we do and who we are” are the best argument for the risen Christ.

[1] N. T. Wright, Lent for Everyone: Mathew, Year A: A Daily Devotional (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 147.

Genesis and Evolution

I’ve long been planning to preach on the intersection of faith and science this Sunday, but I don’t plan to preach on the two accounts of creation found in Genesis 1.1-2:4 and 2:4-25. For that reason, I want to share a few points with you here:

  • Genesis tells not one but two creation stories (Genesis 1.1-2:4a and 2:4b-25).
  • Taken literally as if they were scientific accounts these two stories are in conflict.
  • Taken non-literally (as intended) they mutually reinforce the understanding of a benevolent God who created all things, a good creation, and humanity’s special place in it.
  • Therefore, while they are true and they convey profound truths about God and humanity, these accounts should not be taken literally.
  • Therefore the hypothesis/theory of evolution and the creation accounts in Genesis are not necessarily in conflict.

The Importance of Shared Relationships

From Rachel Held Evans:

One of the most destructive mistakes we Christians make is to prioritize shared beliefs over shared relationship, which is deeply ironic considering we worship a God who would rather die than lose relationship with us. — Rachel Held Evans 1

The above quote reminds me of Abilene First United Methodist Church, where I’ve witnessed deep, profound relationships across diverse sets of beliefs. We are not unified by a set of identical beliefs, we’re unified by our love for God and each other.

1 “My Parents,” Rachel Held Evans, accessed April 19, 2017,

Forgiveness As a Great Strength

In light of our proximity to Easter Sunday, it seems appropriate to share the following:

Resurrection and forgiveness belong together. Both are the direct result of the victory won on the cross, because the victory won on the cross was won by dealing with sin and hence with death. Resurrection is the result of death’s defeat; forgiveness, the result of sin’s defeat. Those who learn to forgive discover that they are not only offering healing to others. They are receiving it in themselves. Resurrection is happening inside them. The wrong done to them is not permitted to twist their lives out of shape. Forgiveness isn’t weakness. It was and is a great strength. — N. T. Wright 1

“Forgiveness isn’t weakness. It was and is a great strength.” May God grant you the grace and the courage to be strong.

1 N. T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2016), 386.

An Earth-Shattering Understanding of “Faith” and “Belief”

Disclaimer: The post below is theologically and biblically wonkish. I don’t know if anyone else is interested or not, but I am, so I’m writing it. If you’re not interested, feel free to skip this entry.

I’m currently reading a mildly Earth-shattering book called Salvation by Faith Alone by Matthew W. Bates. He’s addressing an issue that has long troubled me: what is the best way to understand and translate the Greek word pistis into English. The two most popular words for translating pistis are faith and belief, but they never were exactly interchangeable with the Greek term and their meaning has shifted over the centuries and a lot of nuance and detail has been lost. 1 Bates summarizes much of my learning on this issue in one sentence:

the word pistis (and related terms) has a much broader range of meaning. This range includes ideas that aren’t usually associated in our contemporary culture with belief or faith, such as reliability, confidence, assurance, fidelity, faithfulness, commitment, and pledged loyalty. 2

As a result, the words faith and belief don’t entirely fit the context of the biblical writings in which we find the term pistis. They fit sometimes, but not always and their use with contemporary understandings of their meaning introduces unnecessary incongruity and tension between different parts of the Bible. (E.g. the Gospels and Paul’s letters) So how should we speak of pistis?

With regard to eternal salvation, rather than speaking of belief, trust, or faith in Jesus, we should speak instead of fidelity to Jesus as cosmic Lord or allegiance to Jesus the king. This, of course, is not to say that the best way to translate every occurrence of pistis (and related terms) is always or even usually “allegiance.” Rather it is to say that allegiance is the best macro-term available to us that can describe what God requires from us for eternal salvation. It is the best term because it avoids unhelpful English-language associations that have become attached to “faith” and “belief,” as well as limitations in the “trust” idea, and at the same time it captures what is most vital for salvation— mental assent, sworn fidelity, and embodied loyalty. But we do not need to avoid the words “faith” and “belief” entirely. 3

Before you burn me at the stake for heresy, reread that last sentence. I’m not seeking to get rid of faith and belief, but I do think they need to be folded into and seen as components of allegiance. There is more to pistis than faith and belief, but certainly not less.

All of this comes only five pages into the book. I’ve been exploring this issue for a long time, but have only been able to find snippets in various books and short articles up to now. I’m excited about an entire book devoted to the subject and the depth of biblical exegesis that Bates is providing. There’s probably more to come, I’ll keep you posted.

1 We’ve tried to regain some of this nuance by using the terms “I commit myself,” “I set my heart upon,” and “I place my trust in the Holy Spirit” in The Apostles’ Creed.

2 Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 3.

3 Ibid., 5.