When words mean more than they seem, or not

I like those optical illusions that are really two pictures in one. Some people see a saxophone player, others a woman’s face. But, the truth is that the picture contains both. It has semantic “depth,” containing multiple legitimate meanings at the same time.

Words function much the same way. Rarely does any particular term support only a single meaning. Instead, words are “polyvalent,” rich with multiple possible meanings, simply waiting for an author to select one of those many meanings in any particular act of communication.

But, that depth of meaning also contributes to significant ambiguity if it’s unclear which of these several meanings the author intends. And, at times, the difficulty of choosing between multiple possible meanings leaves the reader wondering if the author may actually be playing with more than one meaning at once. Is it possible, that rather than choosing between A, B, and C, I’m supposed to see all three in the same text? If so, how would I know?

These are the questions that James DeYoung addressed in the paper that he presented at the NW meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, “Origen’s “Beautiful Captive Woman,” Polyvalence, and the Meaning of the “Righteousness of God” in Romans 1:17“. (Dr. DeYoung is Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Western Seminary.)

The specific focus of the paper is the paper that Frank Thielman presented at last year’s national ETS conference. Thus, DeYoung begins his paper by summarizing Thielman’s two key arguments and the main lines of evidence used to support them. First, Thielman contended that “righteousness of God” in Romans is polyvalent, including at least three basic ideas: (1) the saving activity of God, (2) the gift of acquittal, and (3) an attribute of God. All three of these are in play throughout Romans, so we shouldn’t try to limit Paul’s meaning to any one of them. Second, Thielman argued that analysis of both biblical and extrabiblical information suggests that the specific attribute in view is God’s fairness and equity in how he distributes salvation.

What follows this summary is really a series of thoughts sparked by this way of understanding Paul. DeYoung is particularly concerned about the implications of finding such polyvalence in the text. Although he affirms that texts may have a surprising depth of meaning, and he’s cautious about identifying the meaning of the text directly with any particular interpretation of that meaning, he rejects the idea that an author (in normal discourse) intends more than one meaning at the same time. And, he suggests that such moves toward polyvalence are implicitly attempts to move away from authorial intent as a guiding hermeneutical objective.

DeYoung is also troubled by the emphasis that Thielman places on extrabiblical literature in the discussion. Although DeYoung recognizes the importance of such secondary literature, he thinks that the biblical context, particularly the OT background and worldview, of NT terms/phrases should have preeminence.

So when does the interpreter appeal to secular usage to interpret a biblical text? It should be done to confirm a biblical definition, or to explain a term that is a hapax legomenon (occurring only once in the literature), or when it adds meaning that the Bible would also support.

Several of DeYoung’s arguments relate to the fact that he remains ultimately unconvinced by Thielman’s argument for “equity” as the attribute under consideration. DeYoung thinks that Thielman mishandles some of the evidence and overemphasizes others.

So, to conclude, DeYoung offers his own understand of the phrase in question.

So what is the “righteousness of God” in Romans 1:17? It seems best to define it as follows. In the gospel, proclaiming the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, God is revealing his nature as upright. He is upright or just because the gospel is God’s power to save everyone (v. 16) who believes it. Or, because the gospel (proclaiming the atoning, substitutionary death of Christ and his resurrection) is God’s power to save everyone (v. 16) who believes (v. 17b), God reveals that he himself is just or upright regarding the need to punish sin by what he has done right in the work of Christ at the cross and in the resurrection. He vindicates himself as just by  what he did at the cross and by how he can accept the guilty.

(This is part of a series highlighting papers presented by several faculty and students from Western Seminary at the 2011 NW regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. You can see the rest of the posts in this series here.)

4 Myths about the Crusades Debunked

Thanks to Stuart for pointing out this excellent piece on Four Myths about the Crusades.

The verdict seems unanimous. From presidential speeches to role-playing games, the crusades are depicted as a deplorably violent episode in which thuggish Westerners trundled off, unprovoked, to murder and pillage peace-loving, sophisticated Muslims, laying down patterns of outrageous oppression that would be repeated throughout subsequent history. In many corners of the Western world today, this view is too commonplace and apparently obvious even to be challenged.

The author, Paul Crawford, goes on to identify four common myths about the Crusades. He provides a nice discussion of each myth, so you’ll want to read the whole post. But, here are the four misconceptions he engages:

  1. The crusades represented an unprovoked attack by Western Christians on the Muslim world.
  2. Western Christians went on crusade because their greed led them to plunder Muslims in order to get rich.
  3. Crusaders were a cynical lot who did not really believe their own religious propaganda; rather, they had ulterior, materialistic motives.
  4. The crusades taught Muslims to hate and attack Christians.

Flotsam and jetsam (4/4)

  • I leave town for a few days and people start questioning whether the Trinity is an essential Christian belief. Brian LePort has a good roundup of the discussion.
  • Daniel Kirk discusses what to do when your seminary training makes it hard to enjoy sermons.

My advice to seminarians (and self-educated theologians) is this: cultivate the spiritual discipline of applying and growing from lessons that you would never teach yourself, from “exegesis” that you would never get yourself, from true ideas that are nowhere to be found in the texts from which they allegedly come.

Another reality to acknowledge is that the assumptions of much of American culture are not Calvinistic. So you would do well to fight against three things: the tendency to turn leaders into heroes, minimize the importance of institutions, and divide over secondary issues—all the while recognizing the pervasive influence of the dominant culture on religious life.

. . . The right view returns magnificently in Newman’s DREAM. There, if I remember it rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer “With its darkness to affront that light.” Religion has claimed Purgatory. Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy?” Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.” “It may hurt, you know”—”Even so, sir.”

….we have created an ecclesial climate in which it is hard to elect bishops who have the gifts of an Augustine and nearly impossible for them to live like Augustine—even if they do possess those gifts and get elected. That needs to change.

  • I don’t mean to distract you from important spring responsibilities, but here’s a post from Lifehacker explaining how to get a month of Hulu Plus for free. You do have to use IE 9 briefly, but it might still be worth it.

Saturday morning fun….25 Years of Pixar

Zephaniah as the link between Babel and Pentecost

Exegetes and theologians have long argued that Pentecost should be seen as a reversal of Babel – the scattering of the human race through the proliferation of languages healed through the unifying power of the outpoured Spirit. But, if these are two events are key bookends in redemptive history, doesn’t it seem odd that relatively little is said about this in the intervening narrative? Does the OT have any concept of Babel as a problem in need of resolution, or is this a brand new theme suddenly tossed into the mix at Acts 2?

These are the questions that Paul Pastor raised in the paper he presented at the NW meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Paul is an MA student at Western Seminary, and the paper was a summary of his MA thesis, “Echoes of ‘Pure Speech’: An Intertextual Reading of Gen. 11:1-9; Zeph. 3:8-20; and Acts 1-2.” Paul has graciously allowed me to upload the complete thesis here.

The basic thrust of Paul’s argument is that Zephaniah 3:8-20 provides the intertextual link between Babel and Pentecost. As  he summarizes:

Pentecost as a reversal of Babel has been widely seen by exegetes since the early days of the Church. However, these two stories are by no means simple “bookends” with empty narrative space between them. Rather, it shall be shown that an extremely significant instance of textual connection comes from the often overlooked text of Zephaniah.

It will be argued that the Babel narrative of Genesis 11:1-9 is accessed and developed by Zephaniah 3:8-20; and that that text in turn provides a guiding paradigm of Babel-reversal that is utilized by Luke in the Pentecost account of Acts 2. Seen in this way, Zephaniah’s prophecy provides an indispensable link between the two texts of Genesis and Acts; simultaneously looking back into the seminal history of the covenant community and forward to the radical in-breaking of the Spirit at the harvest feast of Pentecost.

Intertextual “echoes” of themes and motifs will be traced at length through the three texts, noting linguistic parallel, narrative similarity, and intertextual dependence for the developing trans-biblical narrative.

The thesis that follows is a fascinating example of intertextuality in biblical exegesis. After a brief summary of his intertextual method, Paul argues that the Babel narrative itself is “incomplete,” leaving the reader in suspense as the story never comes to satisfactory resolution. Paul then argues Genesis forms the clear backdrop for much of Zephaniah, setting the stage for identifying further intertextual connections between the two books.

The heart of Paul’s argument comes in the third part of the thesis, where he identifies a number of textual connections between Gen. 11 and Zeph. 3. In my opinion, intertextual linkages like this always bear the burden of proof as they need to establish real textual connections rather than mere linguistic or thematic similarities. And, Paul does a remarkable job of identifying and defending the connections at work, though you’ll have to read the thesis for yourself to follow all the different lines of argument that he offers.

Finally, Paul turns his attention to Acts 2, arguing that Acts 2 bears many of the same textual markers as the first two passages. Given the strong thematic and linguistic connections, Paul concludes that Luke intends for his readers to see Acts two as the conclusion of a narrative arc that begins in Gen. 11 and runs through Zeph. 3.

And, to wrap everything up, Paul offers a few closing words on how a study like this can impact the life and praxis of faith communities:

It is my sincere hope that this study may also impact the thinking and practice of our local churches and communities of faith. I believe that when scripture is seen with the literary intricacy and vitality that a study of this type highlights, it is compelling and powerful for those who cling to the scriptures as the word of God. The narrative excellence in view here, the thorough intentionality, and the development of a single coherent narrative across the span of centuries and as the product of three very different communities of faith should capture the attention and imagination of modern believers.

Here are a few brief ideas for what the practical and responsive outworkings of this study could look like: Our thoughts about national and international unity should be profoundly influenced by the paradigm offered in these texts. True unity is only possible across ethnic, social, lingual bounds by the power of the Spirit and for the purpose of a shared service and worship of God.

This study is a reminder that truly, “All scripture is profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16, ESV). The Hebrew Bible is frequently under read by Christian readers, and the Latter Prophets even more so. This section of our Bibles is rich with powerful imagery, concept, and nuance, coloring our theology and worldview. It ought to be increasingly read.

In addition to this, it ought to be increasingly taught and preached. Our pastors and teachers ought to carefully interact with this literature both for its compelling content, as well as the dramatic role that it plays in the over arching scriptural meta-narrative.

(This is part of a series highlighting papers presented by several faculty and students from Western Seminary at the 2011 NW regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. You can see the rest of the posts in this series here.)

Augustine and the Problem of Free Will

Picture in your mind something that you think is a really bad idea. (I’m picturing a cat.) Now imagine someone using something that you wrote many years ago to defend this heinously awful idea. How would you feel?

That’s exactly what happened to Augustine. By the latter part of his life, Augustine had developed a clear reputation for defending divine sovereignty, predestination, original sin, and the “bondage” of the will. But when he was younger, Augustine had written some things, particularly in De Libero Arbitrio (On Free Will), that sounded to many like he used to believe something very different. Indeed, some of statements sound very libertarian. And, much to Augustine’s chagrin, his critics used these earlier works against him, contending that they were just saying what himself he used to teach.

That had to have been annoying.

And, it raises a key question: Did Augustine have a consistent position on free will throughout his life, or were his opponents correct that his later position was a dramatic departure from what he wrote in his earlier works?

Those are the issues that Billy Cash dealt with in the paper that he presented to the NW regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society last month, “Augustine and the Consistent Trajectory of Compatibilism“. (Billy is a Th.M. student at Western Seminary and a regular contributor to this blog.) And in the paper, Billy contends that Augustine’s early writings are consistent with his later writings, and that we should understand Augustine to be a consistent compatibilist throughout his life.

Billy starts things off by arguing that although Augustine does sound libertarian at times in De Libero Arbitrio, he is still operating from a largely compatibilist framework. Two arguments in particular ground this conclusion:

First, in book three of On Free Choice of the Will, Augustine asserts that the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden consigned all men to a life of “ignorance and difficulty,” a life in which they would find themselves unable to choose the good….

Secondly, although the grace of God is not center-stage in this particular treatise, it is not absent.  In his Retractions, Augustine reminds his readers that he does in fact claim in On the Free Choice of the Will, “that anything good in a human person, including any goodness in the will, is a gift of God.”

So, although there are some differences between Augustine’s early and mature writings – differences that can be partially accounted for by the Manichean controversy that Augustine was addressing in his earlier writings – there is enough continuity to conclude that there is a clear and consistent “trajectory” leading from the one to the other, rather than a marked “departure” in the later writings.

In the last part of the paper, Billy turns his attention to an interesting argument presented by Eleonore Stump, which she calls “modified libertarianism.” I won’t go into the details of the argument here, but the essence is that Stump is looking for a way to understand even the later Augustine within the broader framework of a libertarian view of free will. And, although she presents a creative argument, Billy contends that her position is ultimately incoherent (or at least inconsistent).

So, at the end of the day, Billy concludes:

Development in theology does not necessarily imply change, as seen in the early church’s development of doctrines concerning the divinity of Christ.  That Jesus was the divine Son of God was never denied by the Orthodox Church.  There was development, however, in how that divinity was to be understood, and this development led to a distinction between what was to be considered true or heretical.  Likewise, in Augustine’s mature theology he believed that the will of man was free to choose what it desired, but the desire of will to choose the good was enabled by the grace of God, prior to any choice or merit found within the individual.  Although his early theology was not as developed and Augustine did not give grace as prominent a position in influencing the will in On Free Choice of the Will, Augustine himself says that the grace of God was not absent, just not the focal point of his argument.  In light of the affirmations of the will found in his early writing, On Free Choice of the Will, it may be stated with surety that the trajectory of his argument was compatibilist in nature, and was not altered from early to later works, just more thoroughly developed.  Since this is the case, any attempt at construing a libertarian view of the will in Augustine is misleading.

(This is part of a series highlighting papers presented by several faculty and students from Western Seminary at the 2011 NW regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. You can see the rest of the posts in this series here.)

The Eschatological Voice of Romans 8:1-25

What is the future of this present earth? Will it be burned up and destroyed, or will it be renewed and redeemed? How does all of this fit into God’s overall plan for salvation?

These are some of the questions that Brian LePort wrestled with in a paper that he presented last month at the NW meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, “The Eschatological Voice of Romans 8:1-25.

Here’s how he sets up the discussion:

When the canonical choir sings eschatological songs we often give much attention to the passages with a higher pitch. Many books have been written on the otherworldly images of the Apocalypse. The cataclysmic vision of 2 Peter 3.10-13 results in “ooohs” and “ahhhs” as we hear of the earth being purged by flames. And what can we say when Jesus himself tells us “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mt. 24.35; Mk. 13.31; Lk. 21.33). There doesn’t seem to be much hope for this creation. It would appear that her end is devastation.

Yet in the Book of Genesis we are told that God thought his creation to be “good” (1.4, 10, 12, 18, 21, and 25) and when he added humans it became “very good” (1.31). This should cause us to pause. In spite all the passages that seem to indicate that creation is expendable we must ask if there are any passages that harmonize more directly with the creation account.

Before we claim to have heard the whole song we must give heed to the tenor of Pauline eschatology. Whereas the aforementioned passages, and others like them, seem to indicate a discontinuation between this world and the one to come, the contribution of the Apostle Paul is that he emphasizes some sort of continuation. In this paper it is my desire to draw attention specifically to the voice of Rom. 8.1-25 as we formulate a Christian eschatology. I will be asking for those who are in attendance to give a hearing to this passage because I believe that it contributes balance to the canonical witness regarding the future of this current created order. It is here in these verses that we will see an analogy between the transition which will occur during our resurrection and the “rebirthing” of all creation.

He goes on from there to argue that to understand Romans, you have to hear the “echoes” of Genesis that reverberate throughout the book. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to read Romans 8 in that context as the crescendo and climax of God’s plans for creation, which he began way back in Genesis 1.

So, he concludes.

In Rom. 8.1-25 we find that the relationship between God, humanity, and the created order will be made right in the age to come. Humans will reign and rule with the risen Lord Jesus Christ over the renovated earth being and doing for creation what Adam and Eve (and every generation since) has failed to be and do. Humans will point creation toward her Creator rather than worshiping the creation.This will be when the adopted children of God are resurrected with new bodies, overcoming death, setting creation free from the curse that came because of Adam and Eve in Eden. Creation will be set free from her suffering.

In LePort’s argument, then, Paul presents the future of this creation as one of redemption and restoration. Although there are elements of discontinuity between what we see now and the new creation to come, he sees important elements of continuity as well – continuity grounded in God’s creative purposes begun in Genesis and echoed throughout Romans.

(This is part of a series highlighting papers presented by several faculty and students from Western Seminary at the 2011 NW regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. You can see the rest of the posts in this series here.)

Papers from the NW meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society

Last month, the NW region of the Evangelical Theological Society held its annual meeting at Multnomah University here in Portland. The students and faculty of Western Seminary were well represented at that meeting, with several really good papers and presentations. So, I thought I’d take some time to present some of those papers for discussion here. We’ll get started later this morning with a paper from Brian LePort on Romans 8:1-25. And, then I’ll add another one every day for the next several days.

To kick things off, here’s the beginning of the devotional that I presented to open that meeting (reposted from here).

What are we doing here?

I’m sure we could walk out this building and, within five minutes, find any number of hurting people desperately in need of care and attention, longing for a meaningful conversation, needing to hear the Gospel. People who are cold, hungry, lonely, and lost — forgotten, neglected, and abused by a sin-fractured world.

Yet here we sit, ready to spend an entire day presenting papers, hearing arguments, and discussing abstract ideas apparently far removed from the real needs of everyday people. How does discussing epistemology, hamartiology, ecclesiology, or the intricate details of ancient historiography really help people come to Jesus and begin healing their broken bodies and souls?

Read the rest.

Here are the papers that have been highlighted so far in this series:

Please Don’t Look under the Bed!

I didn’t get along with the housekeeper very well.

You’d think having a housekeeper would be great. Floors vacuumed, bathrooms cleaned, and bookshelves dusted, all while you’re out having fun. You come home, and everything’s done. Does it get any better than that? But my parents had a housekeeper for a while when I was in high school. And, it didn’t take me long to realize that it’s not quite what you’d expect.

To begin, I never could understand why it was necessary to clean the house before the housekeeper arrived. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having a housekeeper? But every time, my mom would rush around telling everyone, “The housekeeper will be here any minute. Hurry up and clean the house.” Is there anything about those two sentences that makes sense?

And that wasn’t the worst of it. The real problem arose because the housekeeper actually cleaned…everywhere. Even the nooks and crannies. You know, those dark corners of your room with the layers of dust and debris that accumulate after weeks (years) of neglect. Most people have enough common sense and decency not to notice that these corners even exist. Or, if they notice, they know better than to say anything. But not the housekeeper. The housekeeper can’t help but see the dark corners. That’s what they do. They’re supposed to peer into the dark corners, spraying, wiping, and scrubbing until all the nooks and crannies are finally clean, probably for the first time.

The housekeeper sees everything.

Tip generously.

My problem was my bed. Or, more accurately, under my bed. As far as I’m concerned, the space under your bed is good for one thing and one thing only: cleaning your room. As long as your room has no visible junk, it’s clean. So, the fastest way to clean your room is to hide the junk. Under the bed. Technically you could also use your closet, but the bed usually works better because it’s more centrally located and you can push stuff under it from multiple directions. So, when mom would sound the air raid siren announcing the imminent arrival of the housekeeper, I’d head to my room and promptly stuff everything under my bed. That was my dark corner.

Everything was fine as long as she didn’t look under the bed.

She always did. Housekeepers are nosy.

We didn’t get along.

I have the same problem with God. For some reason, no matter how many times I hear the Gospel, I still don’t get it. Not all the way. There’s a part of me that still thinks it’s just too good to be true. God can’t possibly love me. Look at all this crap under my bed! And, as I lay curled up in the dark corner of my own shame, I begin to think that this is normal. This is the way it’s going to be. Sure, God may have great plans to transform me in the future, after I die. But for now, this is it. Everyone knows that real transformation is a myth.

The saddest part is that I know none of this is true. I have been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20), raised with him to a new life freed from my slavery to sin (Rom. 6:1-11), indwelt by the Spirit of God to be renewed and recreated in his image (2 Cor. 3:18), forgiven, loved, redeemed. That is the truth. I know it. But at times I struggle to feel it.

It’s like I have a phantom limb. That’s what they call it when a person who has lost an arm or a leg insists that they can still feel it. Although the limb is no longer there, the feeling of the limb is so real that they’ll even complain about it itching or hurting. It’s a mirage, but a powerful one. For the Christian, shame operates the same way. In reality, there is no shame. Jesus took our guilt and shame on himself and nailed it to the cross. Before God, we are naked. The shame is gone. But it doesn’t feel like it. We’ve worn our coats of shame for so long, that we can still feel its abrasive rub on our skin and smell the musty odor of long-kept secrets wafting from its pockets. We know it’s not really there. But, it’s hard to hear the quiet whisper of our heads over the terrified screaming of our hearts.

So, convinced deep down that there’s a part of me even God can’t love and won’t transform, not in this life, I hide. Stuffing my dirty laundry under my bed, quietly guarding my dark corners. And, in the process, I deny the Spirit’s power, God’s love, and Jesus’s death on the cross. I don’t mean to; but I do it anyway.

Instead, I need to keep living into the truth, daily throwing myself into this grand story that we’re telling, consciously denying the seductive allure of the darkness, intentionally gathering around myself faithful people who help me see the truth of Gospel instead of the phantom limb of shame. No easy solutions here. Only a lifetime of transformation.

The housekeeper is here. Don’t hide the laundry.

(You can read the read of the posts in this series on the Gospel Book page.)

I didn’t get along with the housekeeper very well.

You’d think having a housekeeper would be great. Floors vacuumed, bathrooms cleaned, and bookshelves dusted, all while you’re out having fun. You come home, and it’s all done. Does it get any better than that? But my parents had a housekeeper for a while when I was in high school. And, it didn’t take me long to realize that it’s not quite what you’d expect.

To begin, I never could understand why it was necessary to clean the house before the housekeeper arrived. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having a housekeeper? But every time, my mom would rush around telling everyone, “The housekeeper will be here any minute. Hurry up and clean the house.” Is there anything about those two sentences that makes sense?

But that wasn’t the worst of it. The real problem arose because the housekeeper actually cleaned…everywhere. Even the nooks and crannies. You know, those dark corners of your room with the layers of dust and debris that accumulate after weeks (years) of neglect. Most people have enough common sense and decency not to notice that these corners even exist. Or, if they notice, they know better than to say anything. But not the housekeeper. The housekeeper can’t help but see the dark corners. That’s what they do. They’re supposed to peer into the dark corners, spraying, wiping, and scrubbing until all the nooks and crannies are finally clean, probably for the first time.

The housekeeper sees everything.

Tip generously.

My problem was my bed. Or, more accurately, under my bed. As far as I’m concerned, the space under your bed is good for one thing and one thing only: cleaning your room. As long as your room has no visible junk, it’s clean. So, the fastest way to clean your room is to hide the junk. Under the bed. Technically you could also use your closet, but the bed usually works better because it’s more centrally located and you can push stuff under it from multiple directions. So, when mom would sound the air raid siren announcing the imminent arrival of the housekeeper, I’d head to my room and promptly stuff everything under my bed. That was my dark corner.

Everything was fine as long as she didn’t look under the bed.

She always did. Housekeepers are nosy.

We didn’t get along.

I have the same problem with God. For some reason, no matter how many times I hear the Gospel, I still don’t get it. Not all the way. There’s a part of me that still thinks it’s just too good to be true. God can’t possibly love me. Look at all this crap under my bed! And, as I lay curled up in the dark corner of my own shame, I begin to think that this is normal. This is the way it’s going to be. Sure, God may have great plans to transform me in the future, after I die. But for now, this is it. Everyone knows that real transformation is a myth.

The saddest part is that I know none of this is true. I have been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20), raised with him to a new life freed from my slavery to sin (Rom. 6:1-11), indwelt by the Spirit of God to be renewed and recreated in his image (2 Cor. 3:18), forgiven, loved, redeemed. That is the truth. I know it. But at times I struggle to feel it.

It’s like I have a phantom limb. That’s what they call it when a person who has lost an arm or a leg insists that they can still feel it. Although the limb is no longer there, the feeling of the limb is so real that they’ll even complain about it itching or hurting. It’s a mirage, but a powerful one. For the Christian, shame operates the same way. In reality, there is no shame. Jesus took our guilt and shame on himself and nailed it to the cross. Before God, we are naked. The shame is gone. But it doesn’t feel like it. We’ve worn our coats of shame for so long, that we can still feel its abrasive rub on our skin and smell the musty odor of long-kept secrets wafting from its pockets. We know it’s not really there. But, it’s hard to hear the quiet whisper of our heads over the terrified screaming of our hearts.

So, convinced deep down that there’s a part of me even God can’t love and won’t transform, not in this life, I hide. Stuffing my dirty laundry under my bed, quietly guarding my dark corners. And, in the process, I deny the Spirit’s power, God’s love, and Jesus’s death on the cross. I don’t mean to; but I do it anyway.

Instead, I need to keep living into the truth, daily throwing myself into this grand story that we’re telling, consciously denying the seductive allure of the darkness, intentionally gathering around myself faithful people who help me see the truth of Gospel instead of the phantom limb of shame. No easy solutions here. Only a lifetime of transformation.

Flotsam and jetsam (3/29)

So there is a sense in which the Christian faith is both conservative and progressive, and another sense in which it is neither. The Christian faith is inescapably political, but must not allow itself to be coopted by secular and unbelieving partisanship. But to reject partisanship is to reject compromises with secularists who want to hook up with an evangelical voting block.

I grew up in evangelicalism, spent most of my twenties arguing with it, and as I approach my 30th birthday, am ready to rebuild and move forward in my faith. While I can’t address these questions on behalf of all young evangelicals, I can speak from my own perspective, which I suspect is fairly common.

Christians are addicted to “answers.” For some reason, we think the ultimate favor we can do for the world is to explain the ways of God.

  • “Of the 5.9 million brackets filled out in the ESPN Tournament Challenge, only two accurately predicted the Final Four (Butler, Virginia Commonwealth, Connecticut and Kentucky).” (HT)