Category Archives: Theology and Ethics

God is Like Jesus

I think this one speaks for itself:

“The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God [the Father]. It is far more radical than that. It means that God [the Father] is like Jesus.” — Elton Trueblood


Elton Trueblood, cited by Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again (Nashville, Tennesee: Thomas Nelson, 2018), 55-56.

Of Aid for Immigrants and Romans 13

Yesterday, a parishioner asked Jenny and me if there was a United Methodist Organization working with the refugees and asylum seekers who are being detained and separated from their children. Indeed there is, please see the link below.

On the related issue of the interpretation of Romans 13, which has been cited to defend the current administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents, I’ll just follow the lead of another pastor and point out that the man who wrote Romans 13 was executed by the state for his steadfast refusal to submit to the governing authorities when doing so was in conflict with his obedience to Christ.

Link: http://njfon.org/donate/

Some Things That Need to Be Said

Last Thursday (May 24, 2018), a diverse collection of older clergy (they refer to themselves as elders, but that’s a bit confusing because it’s often a technical term meaning different things in different churches) put out a declaration at a public worship service and the website reclaimingjesus.org. I recognize that said declaration is not perfect and that it represents only one perspective on our current situation. Nonetheless, it contains many things that I think need to be said. I don’t want to stray into partisan politics and I fear that sharing this link will be seen as doing just that, but I feel that my position as a preacher compels me to offer this as a much-needed affirmation of some core gospel teachings.

Here’s the link: http://www.reclaimingjesus.org/

If you prefer to read things when they are printed out there is a link to the declaration in PDF format at the bottom of the page.

What do you think? Feel free to let me know what you think at john@revcollins.com.

New iPhones and Life in the New Creation

In the past, I’ve tried to explain the continuity between our present bodily selves and our bodily selves in the new creation with a computer analogy from N. T. Wright. The analogy was as follows: when we die, God uploads our software to God’s hardware until such a time as God will give us new hardware on which to run our software. Seeing puzzled looks, I tried to elaborate and used the example of a time when I got a new iPhone. Adam Hamilton has a new book out in which he has done the same thing. Here’s his version:

How is it that our essential self continues when the brain, which seems to serve as our hard drive and central processing unit, no longer lives? And how does such a transfer from our physical body to whatever spiritual body God has prepared for us actually occur? I use an iPhone. My phone was several years (and three models) old and starting to run a bit slower, the charge wasn’t lasting as long, the memory was full, and the phone seemed to need to restart from time to time. So I purchased a new one. The new phone came with upgraded features. It was faster and had more memory and new capabilities. I opened the box, powered it up, and logged in using my e-mail and password from my old phone, and voilà: my pictures, songs, videos, e-mail, texts, apps, and files— all of my memories— on my previous phone showed up on my new phone, having been stored in “the cloud.” As I watched my new phone come alive, with all my old data on it, it struck me that this process was analogous to what Christians believe happens in our death and resurrection: everything that makes us us— our thoughts, memories, personality— will continue to exist, albeit in an imperishable (upgraded!) body, a spiritual body, with God.

 

For those of you who are Android fans, I’m sure there’s an Android equivalent, I just don’t know what it is.


Adam Hamilton, Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times (New York: Convergent, 2018), Kindle, 212.

Why Are We Even Talking About Homosexuality?

I don’t remember who it was exactly, but in one of the first two appointments I served, a parishioner, commenting on the discussion of the issue of homosexuality at Annual Conference, asked: “The Bible is so clear homosexuality is wrong, why are we even talking about this?” It’s a question that deserves an answer. Especially in light of the fact that we have already had people leave our congregation over this issue and that a special called session of General Conference will gather to discuss and debate removing the Book of Discipline’s prohibitions on the ordination and marriage of gay and lesbian men and women in 2018.

Jenny and I are not looking to change your mind about this issue. We believe that we seldom change our minds on significant issues like this based on a discussion, a debate, or even a book study. But we do want to help those who hold to a traditional interpretation of the biblical teachings on homosexuality understand how others who claim the name of Jesus Christ can affirm gay and lesbian persons. For those who are on the other side and affirm gay and lesbian Christians, we want to help them understand how they can hold this view without merely relegating the Bible to the status of an ancient and notably dated, book to be gleaned for inspirational quotes but otherwise ignored.

With those goals in mind, We’re currently reviewing God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines. Early in his book, Matthew writes:

Like most theologically conservative Christians, I hold what is often called a “high view” of the Bible. That means I believe all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life. While some parts of the Bible address cultural norms that do not directly apply to modern societies, all of Scripture is “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NRSV). [1]

Nonetheless, Matthew has come to the conclusion that:

Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. [2]

That’s the view we’ll be trying to explain, and in the process, we hope to answer the question: “Why are we even talking about this?” Again, we’re seeking only to promote understanding, not to change minds (see the second paragraph above). The reason we won’t be studying and discussing a book on the traditional view: we all grew up and are already familiar with the traditional view.

We’ll have more on this possible book study soon. In the meantime, please don’t go anywhere—we would miss you just as we miss those who have already left.


[1] Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-sex Relationships (New York: Convergent Books, 2015), Kindle, 2.

[2] Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-sex Relationships (New York: Convergent Books, 2015), Kindle, 3.

Praying for Palestine, Israel, and Us

I try to keep this blog focused on the life and faith of our local church, but sometimes that same faith compels to say something. Now, with yesterday’s violence in Gaza strip, is one of those times.

My understanding of the United States’ decades-long, previously bipartisan, approach to moving our embassy to Jerusalem was that it would come at the end of the peace process when the age-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians had been put to rest. Under this approach, the moving of the embassy was a “carrot” to encourage the peace process. Now without the conflict being resolved, the embassy has been moved to Jerusalem, a blatantly pro-Israel move that prompted Palestinian protests.

So far, 60 Palestinian civilians have been killed and thousands wounded. I pray for the Palestinians, I pray for the Israelis, I pray especially for the Christians in their midst, a small minority under intense pressure. I fear that the United States will never again be seen as an honest broker for peace and I pray that we can somehow regain our standing and again be able to do some good.

The idea, held by some American Christians, that the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will hasten the coming Kingdom of God is so ludicrous, that I have nothing at all to say about it. I pray for the eyes of those who believe that nonsense to be opened.

Abuse is Grounds for Divorce

I’ve always viewed abuse (either physical or emotional), as grounds for divorce but had difficulty succinctly explaining why. A few days ago, in a series of tweets, Rachel Held Evans shared a pithy explanation that I’ll be referencing from here on out:

First of all, Jesus’ teachings on divorce were intended to protect women from exploitation, not create new laws that would further exploit them.

Second, Jesus’ whole posture toward the law was that its purposes are thwarted when it is used to perpetuate human suffering. This is why he healed on the Sabbath. It’s why he stopped the religious leaders from stoning the woman caught in adultery.

I truly see no difference between sending a woman back to an abuser “because the Bible says so” and surrounding a woman for a stoning “because the Law says so.” And I have no doubt that Jesus would prioritize a woman’s life over a legalistic interpretation of Scripture again. — Rachel Held Evans

The only thing I would add is that the abuser is sometimes a woman and the abused is sometimes a man.


Rachel Held Evans. Twitter post, May 4, 2018, 11:56 a.m. to 12:01 p.m., http://bit.ly/2I30QH8.

A Follow Up on the Way Forward

In response to the last post, I was asked: “Is this direction good or will be more division?” My answer is twofold, I think that in the long run, this will be a good direction, but in the short run, there will be more division. There is already a great deal of division, and we are already losing people on both sides of this debate. In my experience, those who want to uphold the traditional interpretation of the Bible tend to leave loudly in anger, while those who want to be more affirming of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters tend to leave quietly with sadness. For this reason, to merely continue to hold onto the status quo is not really feasible. Something needs to be done, and the way forward that the bishops have chosen maintains the vital unity of the church (something for which King Jesus himself prayed).

We have been through this before. In 1844, the church split over the issue of slavery and was then reunited when, after the civil war, all the biblical citations that could be mustered in slavery’s defense become moot points. More recently, we argued about how closely we would adhere to Jesus’s strict teachings on divorce—I have a colleague who was encouraged to surrender custody of his child so that the churches he might be appointed to would not guess that he was divorced—but that is no longer a live issue. We all seem to have arrived at the understanding that regardless of Matthew 19:3-12 and Mark 10:2-12, divorce does not disqualify someone from full participation in the church. Until 1956, we disagreed over the ordination of women, with many citing 1 Timothy 2:12 to support their opposition to the practice, but, at present, I know of only one United Methodist who even questions it.

I give the examples above because they are reminders that we have had fierce arguments over divisive issues in the past, but a new consensus always eventually emerged. I think the same is true of the issue of homosexuality. This proposed way forward makes space for a new consensus to emerge.

A Way Forward: The One Church Plan

The Council of Bishops has met and endorsed “The One Church Plan.” According to the summary on umc.org:

To find a way forward on the denomination’s homosexuality debate, bishops are recommending the church allow more freedom at the conference and local church levels.

Under what the Council of Bishops calls the One Church Plan, decisions about whether to ordain LGBTQ clergy or to officiate at same-gender unions would be made closer to the congregational level.

The plan would remove the restrictive language against the practice of homosexuality in the Book Discipline, the denomination’s policy book. The plan also adds assurances to pastors and conferences who in good conscience cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy that they don’t have to do so. [1]

Our understanding (Jenny’s and mine) is that if this plan is approved by General Conference (a big if) it would leave individual annual conferences to decide whether or not to ordain LGBT folk and individual congregations and pastors to decide whether or not marriages between same-sex couples would be performed in a local church. Bishop Saenz has a pastoral letter here: http://bit.ly/2jtP3qw.


[1] United Methodist Communications, “Bishops Propose Plan for Way Forward,” The United Methodist Church, May 04, 2018, accessed May 04, 2018, http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/bishops-propose-plan-for-way-forward.

 

The Gospel As Royal Summons

I recently stumbled upon a quote that ties quite nicely into my coming sermon on the Ascension:

It [the Gospel] is a royal summons to submission, to obedience, to allegiance; and the form that this submission and obedient allegiance takes is, of course, faith. — N. T. Wright

The Greek words pistis (a noun) and pisteuo (a verb), translated into English as faith and believe, would often better be translated as allegiance. This ties into the meaning of “gospel” in the time of Jesus and Paul as the announcement of the reign of a new Emperor. Understanding the word “gospel” in the way it was used in Roman times makes it clear that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not primarily good advice we might want to follow, or an opportunity for a wonderful religious experience, or even a proffer of salvation, but rather a proclamation of the news that Jesus Christ reigns. Understanding “gospel” this way makes it easier to grasp the nature of the required pistis and pisteuo as an allegiance that subsumes belief and trust.


N. T. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul” in Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978-2013 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 278.

The nature of the gospel as news is discussed in at length in Wright, N. T. Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good. New York: HarperOne, an Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2017.

A Theological Point and a Historical Fact

An important theological point and a fun historical fact:

Dionysus the Insignificant constructed a dating schema for the whole world based on the (supposed) birth date of Jesus. The fact that this scheme is still in use more or less worldwide despite abortive attempts such as that of the French Revolutionaries to supplant it came briefly to notice a few years ago at the time of the millennium but is largely ignored.3 Like a great church bell ringing out over a sleepy town, every time someone puts a date on something it speaks of the lordship of Jesus, whether people listen or not. — N. T. Wright

The point Wright is making is an important one. Nonetheless, it is the fact that the name of the person who created our current method of dating events is named “Dionysus the Insignificant” tickled me so much that I had to share it.

Please note that Wright does not doubt whether or not Jesus was ever born, but is instead referencing the fact that our schema may be about 4 to 6 years off. Dionysus seems to have miscounted, Jesus was probably born about 4 or 6 B.C. (Given that he lived from 470 – c. 544 AD. I’m willing to cut Dionysus quite a lot of slack. Furthermore his name was probably a reference to his humility—at least according to Wikipedia.com)


N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 260-261.

“Dionysius Exiguus,” Wikipedia, April 14, 2018, accessed April 19, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dionysius_Exiguus.

The Strife is O’er, the Battle Done

I’ don’t think we can pull off the hymn, “The Strife is O’er, the Battle Done” in worship, but the lyrics are too good not to share somewhere:

The strife is o’er, the battle done;
the victory of life of life is won;
the song of triumph has begun:
Alleluia!

The powers of death have done their worst,
but Christ their legions hath dispersed:
let shouts of holy joy outburst:
Alleluia!

The three sad days are quickly sped;
he rises glorious from the dead;
all glory to our risen Head!
Alleluia!

Lord, by the stripes which wounded thee,
from death’s dread sting thy servants free,
that we may live, and sing to thee:
Alleluia!

You can find it as number 306 in the hymnal. According to said hymnal, the words were written (in Latin) in 1695, but the author is unknown. If you disagree and think we could pull this off let me know.


“The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done” in United Methodist Church, The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville, TN: United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 306.