Thought Question: Hospitality and Islam

jummahChallenging post from Jason Micheli at Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog. I’m still hiatusing (not a real word, but it should be). Here’s a key quote, but do take the time to read the whole thing.

Several years ago the church I serve opened the doors of its youth wing to welcome the members of a local mosque. Their own facility was undergoing construction and they needed a place to offer their Friday Jummah prayers. Even though many of the Muslims who came to pray in our building were the same people who drove cabs in our neighborhood, owned the service stations that inspect our cars, cared for our aging parents in the nursing homes, and cleaned our locker rooms at the gym, many from the community greeted the worshippers with fear.

As the Other.

As the enemy.

The members of my church council voted unanimously to show hospitality to our Muslim neighbors; the gesture was not so unanimous in the larger congregation. Many church members and families left over the decision.

Here’s the question: What do you think?

If you were an elder at a church that received such a request, what decision would you make?

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On Hiatus

hiatusI think I’m going to take a break for a few days. I need to work on my Pepperdine presentation, and I’ve been a little distracted lately.

Maybe it’s because I know that after the A-Day game Saturday there will be no college football for a seeming eternity until September. That’s a long time to go without football.

But Pepperdine, Malibu, and seeing friends from around the country will help.

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The Politics of Gay Marriage (Democracy)

pogoWe imagine that the Bible does not address Christians in a democracy because democracy was invented by America. Not so. Athens was a democracy (of sorts) going back to 507 BC. However, it only lasted until about 460 BC.

Rome itself was a republic, governed by a Senate, until Julius became Caesar. By the time of Jesus, Octavius (Augustus Caesar and adopted son of Julius) had established himself as absolute ruler of the Empire, and yet the Senate continued to meet and make laws — subject to the Caesar’s approval. That is, the Senate was a sham.

Before the American Revolution, various experiments in democracy may be found, including England’s Parliament and its House of Commons. Like Rome, however, the king or queen had ultimate authority, and yet in England the Parliament was given considerable power. In fact, it can be fairly argued that the United States rebelled to gain their rights as British citizens — insisting that living on the other side of the Atlantic did not deprive them of rights under the British Magna Carta, Constitution, and Bill of Rights (not to be confused with the American documents of the same names).

The American Revolution led to the US Constitution, which led to such prosperity and freedom that the US was likely the wealthiest nation in the world per capita by the end of the 18th Century. Christian Americans thought they might live to see the Millennium established, things were so good — unless you were a slave. And the “unless” part soon brought an end to such optimism. Continue reading

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The Politics of Gay Marriage (God gave them up, Part 2)

pogoRichard P. Hays explains the theology of Rom 1 in more detail —

Homosexual activity, then, is not a provocation of “the wrath of God” (Rom. 1: 18); rather, it is a consequence of God’s decision to “give up” rebellious creatures to follow their own futile thinking and desires. The unrighteous behavior catalogued in Romans 1: 26– 31 is a list of symptoms: the underlying sickness of humanity as a whole, Jews and Greeks alike, is that they have turned away from God and fallen under the power of sin (cf. Rom. 3: 9).

When this context is kept clearly in view, several important observations follow:

  • Paul is not describing the individual life histories of pagan sinners; not every pagan has first known the true God of Israel and then chosen to turn away into idolatry. When Paul writes, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie,” he is giving a global account of the universal fall of humanity. This fall is manifested continually in the various ungodly behaviors listed in verses 24– 31.
  • Paul singles out homosexual intercourse for special attention because he regards it as providing a particularly graphic image of the way in which human fallenness distorts God’s created order. God the Creator made man and woman for each other, to cleave together, to be fruitful and multiply. When human beings “exchange” these created roles for homosexual intercourse, they embody the spiritual condition of those who have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie.”
  • Homosexual acts are not, however, specially reprehensible sins; they are no worse than any of the other manifestations of human unrighteousness listed in the passage (w. 29– 31)— no worse in principle than covetousness or gossip or disrespect for parents.
  • Homosexual activity will not incur God’s punishment: it is its own punishment, an “antireward.” Paul here simply echoes a traditional Jewish idea. The Wisdom of Solomon, an intertestamental writing that has surely informed Paul’s thinking in Romans 1, puts it like this: “Therefore those who lived unrighteously, in a life of folly, [God] tormented through their own abominations” (Wisdom of Solomon 12: 23).

Continue reading

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The Politics of Gay Marriage (God gave them up, Part 1)

pogoI always get in trouble when I make this argument (like that’s anything different), but I’ve yet to hear a counter-argument other than “I don’t like this result.” I don’t like it either. But it is what it is.

In Rom 1, Paul presents an argument showing that the pagan Greco-Roman world displays all the marks of having been abandoned by God.

Now, this is not familiar thinking because we tend to think of God being all about love and loving his enemies as well as his own children — which is true. But Paul says that those who abandon God will eventually be abandoned by God. Continue reading

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The Politics of Gay Marriage (Powers, Part 2)

pogoSo what is the Christian to do with these powers, rulers, and authorities? Serve them or defeat them?

Richard Beck offers a third alternative based on his reading of Hendrik Berkhof’s Christ and the Powers (translated by John Howard Yoder).

To begin, Berkhof makes the argument that the mere existence of the church is an act of defiance and resistance to the Powers. Resistance occurs where there are people confessing Jesus as Lord of all in the face of the Powers. Berkhof:

[T]he very presence of the church in a world ruled by the Powers is a superlatively positive and aggressive fact…All resistance and every attack against the gods of this age will be unfruitful, unless the church is resistance and attack, unless she demonstrates in her life and fellowship how men can live freed from the Powers.

Continue reading

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The Politics of Gay Marriage (Powers, Part 1)


This brings us to the obscure but important NT teachings on principalities and powers.

(Rom. 8:37-39 ESV)  37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Eph. 1:20-23 ESV)  20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,  21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,  23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. 

(Eph. 6:12 ESV)  12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 

(Col. 1:15-16 ESV)  15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him.

(Col. 2:9-10 ESV)  9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,  10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 

The words “rule” or “ruler,” “authority,” “power,” “dominion,” etc. can be used of earthly rulers as well as spiritual or demonic powers, and Paul is not at all careful to distinguish the two — likely because he sees little difference. The man who rules on behalf of Zeus and Zeus himself are equally enemies of God. Continue reading

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The Politics of Gay Marriage (Exiles)

pogoA major theme of 1 Peter is that Christians are “exiles.”

(1 Pet. 1:1-2 ESV)  Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,  2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. 

(1 Pet. 1:17-19 ESV)  17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,  18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,  19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

(1 Pet. 2:11-12 ESV)  11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 

“Exiles”? From where? Continue reading

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The Politics of Gay Marriage (Citizens of heaven)

pogoNext, we need to consider some teachings of the Bible that we tend to ignore. You won’t find many sermon outlines based on these passages in Church of Christ sermon books — or in evangelical literature generally.

We begin with —

(Phil. 3:20-21 ESV)  20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,  21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. 

To grasp Paul’s meaning, we need to know a little history. Rome planted Roman colonies across the Empire. This was usually part of the pension given to a retired Roman soldier. A soldier might not be from Rome at all, but if he survived to retire, he’d be granted Roman citizenship and a plot of land in a Roman colony. Philippi was just such a colony.

If the colony was well placed, with good farmland and on a trade route or two, the town would prosper and people from all over the Empire might move there. But the oldest families would be retired Roman soldiers who receive their pensions and their land from Rome. And if there ever was an insurrection, the soldiers still had their swords and could be called into active duty, much like our Army Reserve. And the Romans knew how to train soldiers to kill. This was an Empire based on the ruthless assertion of governmental violence against all dissent.

Therefore, for Paul to declare Christians “citizens of heaven” is to declare their loyalty, their king, and their duties. N. T. Wright explains,

‘We are citizens of heaven,’ Paul declares in verse 20. At once many modern Christians misunderstand what he means. We naturally suppose he means ‘and so we’re waiting until we can go and live in heaven where we belong’. But that’s not what he says, and it’s certainly not what he means. If someone in Philippi said, ‘We are citizens of Rome,’ they certainly wouldn’t mean ‘so we’re looking forward to going to live there’. Being a colony works the other way round. The last thing the emperors wanted was a whole lot of colonists coming back to Rome. The capital was already overcrowded and underemployed. No: the task of the Roman citizen in a place like Philippi was to bring Roman culture and rule to northern Greece, to expand Roman influence there.

But supposing things got difficult for the Roman colonists in Philippi. Supposing there was a local rebellion, or an attack by the ‘barbarian’ tribes to the north. How would they cope? Their best hope would be that the emperor himself, who after all was called ‘saviour’, ‘rescuer’, would come from Rome to Philippi to change their present somewhat defenceless situation, defeat their enemies, and establish them as firmly and gloriously as Rome itself. The emperor, of course, was the ruler of the whole world, so he had the power to make all this happen under his authority.

That is the picture Paul has in mind in verses 20 and 21. The church is at present a colony of heaven, with the responsibility (as we say in the Lord’s Prayer) for bringing the life and rule of heaven to bear on earth. We are not, of course, very good at doing this; we often find ourselves weak and helpless, and our physical bodies themselves are growing old and tired, decaying and ready to die. But our hope is that the true saviour, the true Lord, King Jesus himself will come from heaven and change all that. He is going to transform the entire world so that it is full of his glory, full of the life and power of heaven. And, as part of that, he is going to transform our bodies so that they are like his glorious body, the body which was itself transformed after his cruel death so that it became wonderfully alive again with a life that death and decay could never touch again.

Knowing this will enable Christians to ‘stand firm in the Lord’ (4:1); and now we can see more clearly what that means. It doesn’t just mean remaining constant in faith. It means giving allegiance to Jesus, rather than to Caesar, as the true Lord. Paul has described the church, and its Lord, in such a way that the Philippians could hardly miss the allusion to Rome and Caesar. This is the greatest challenge of the letter: that the Christians in Philippi, whether or not they were themselves Roman citizens (some probably were, many probably weren’t), would think out what it means to give their primary allegiance not to Rome but to heaven, not to Caesar but to Jesus—and to trust that Jesus would in due time bring the life and rule of heaven to bear on the whole world, themselves included.

Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 126–127.

American Christians are under the delusion that our savior is the government. Why would I say such a thing? Because we things go badly, we want to fix it via the government. We want to elect the right representatives and president. We want the right court decisions issued. And if we could just get a filibuster-proof Senate and our preferred presidential candidate, our problems would be solved. And this is pagan, godless thinking.

Citizens of heaven recognize the Messiah as King, and they look to their King for salvation. And when things go wrong, it’s not a government problem but a failure of God’s citizens to be loyal soldiers.

But the benefit of thinking like pagans is that we get to blame others for the decadence of our society. If we admit that we were charged by God himself to help God heal the brokenness of the world by bringing the lost the Jesus and by serving those in need, well, we’d have some very guilty feelings to deal with. Far better to blame the Democrats. Or Republicans. Or people who didn’t vote. Or the Supreme Court. Anybody but us.

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Book Recommendations?

bookshelfI get emails —

Dear Jay,

I was hoping that you might have a few moments to help a young preacher find some good books. I am trying to build my library with some of the greatest books available; the books you consider to be MUST reads for the growing Christian. Would you be so kind to list 10 of your favorite classic spiritual books and 10 of your favorite contemporary spiritual books? I am interested in a variety of topics (missiology, leadership, preaching/public speaking, spiritual formation, the cross/atonement, and grace). My goal is simply to increase my knowledge and love for the Lord. I would greatly appreciate your help. I understand if you don’t have the time to reply. Thank you, brother.

I’m posting this because there are so many excellent books. I’ve not read them all, and I’ve forgotten some pretty good ones, I’m sure. So I figured the readers would have some excellent recommendations to share. Continue reading

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