Living Out Unity in Christ

July 22, 2023

This lesson is based on Ephesians 4:1-16, delivered at the Northwest Christian Convention in Turner, OR, on July 30, 2023.

God Chose Us In Christ

July 17, 2023

This is lesson was delivered at the Northwest Christian Convention in Turner, Oregon, on June 28, 2023.

The message is based on Ephesians 1:3-14.

“I Desire Mercy, not Sacrifice”–At Matthew’s House and New Wine for New Wineskins

June 23, 2023

Text: Matthew 9:9-17

Jesus uses Hosea 6:6 to critique the criticism of some who objected to his eating with “tax collectors and sinners.”

The point? Jesus pursues mercy for the sake of healing, and this is at the heart of kingdom living. It is pouring new wine into wineskins.

Moffitt: Rethinking the Atonement

May 15, 2023

I have now read the fifth of twelve books suggested by FB friends. This one was recommended by Michael Asbell. This is my summary.

David Moffitt, Rethinking the Atonement: New Perspectives on Jesus’s Death, Resurrection, and Ascension (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2022).

While the term “atonement” is most often used to describe the cross of Jesus as the focus of God’s atoning activity, Moffitt suggests that “atonement” is more inclusive than the cross itself.  Rooting his argument in the homily we know as Hebrews, the work of atonement involves not only the cross but Christ’s resurrection and ascension.  God reconciled the world through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Messiah. This is a more wholistic picture. I have argued this myself in several places (including in this summary, though I don’t have an emphasis on ascension that belongs in this picture as well).

Moffitt argues that Hebrews, while proclaiming the death of Christ as the sacrificial slaughter for our sins, focuses more attention on the ascension of the resurrected Christ into God’s holy sanctuary to present the blood offering and to take up residence in that holy space as the high priest who presently and continually intercedes for the saints. His point is that in addition to the cross, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus are “themselves fully and robustly salvific” (p. 5). All of these events in the life of Jesus are atoning. God saved us through the death of Christ “but even more by rising, ascending, and now interceding for them at the right hand of the Father” (p. 6).

Hebrews patterns the work of Christ on the model of the Levitical sacrificial system, though Christ is actually the archetype and Leviticus is the type.  The sacrifices were slaughtered, the blood was poured at the altar, and then the blood was taken into the most holy place and sprinkled on the ark of the covenant. Through the blood offering, the high priest interceded for the people.

The preacher in Hebrews understands the work of Christ in this way. Jesus is slaughtered on the cross and poured out at that altar, but then the resurrected Jesus ascends to the most holy place (the heavenly sanctuary) to present the offering before God. As high priest, Jesus remains in the presence of God to intercede for the people. Though Jesus could not be a priest on earth because he was from Judah and not Levi, he is a priest in the heavenlies according to the order of Melchizedek continually interceding for the people. In this way, Christ’s atoning work continues in the presence of God, and Christ is present to God as the embodied resurrected Messiah, our high priest. Consequently, the church lives with confident boldness as it journeys through the wilderness of life because it knows that its heavenly high priest stands before God as its intercessor.

Typically, the cross is understood as the singular place where Jesus offered himself as a bloody sacrifice and on the cross presented himself to the Father. Moffitt, based on Hebrews as well as a few other texts, wants to understand those two movements in a sequence. Christ first shed his blood on the cross and thus offered himself as one who bears the sins of the people, and then the resurrected Christ offered himself in the heavenly sanctuary when he ascended to the heavenly sanctuary. Hebrews teaches “Jesus is the one who died as the sacrifice, rose as the sacrifice, and ascended into the heavenly tabernacle to offer himself to God as the sacrifice” (p. 65).

Moffitt rejects claims that Jesus is the object of divine wrath. The function of the shedding of blood is not about turning away God’s wrath. Rather, the sacrifice suffers the covenant curses for the people, and so did Jesus. He suffered as a representative in solidarity and identification with the people. Jesus was the obedient representative of the people who renewed Israel’s covenant with God through the sin-bearing function of his death, and gave this renewed covenant eternal meaning through the presentation of his offering in the heavenly sanctuary as an eternal high priest, the resurrected Jesus, the Son of God.

While the Son came to earth to bear sins (as in bearing them away), he will come again without sin and for full salvation. The work of reconciliation (or atonement) is not done until Christ returns and fully deals with sin in all its consequences.

Through the lens of Hebrews, Moffitt’s book is a welcome acknowledgement that atonement is a fuller concept than simply the work of Jesus on the cross. Jesus is both victim and priest, both sin-bearer and intercessor, both the offering and the offeror.  

The atoning, or reconciling, work of God in Christ by the Spirit is the full story of the gospel: incarnation, life, cross, resurrection, ascension, intercession, and return.   

Pentecost: Renewal (Restoration) of Israel

March 22, 2023

Texts: Acts 1:6-8; 2:16-21, 37-41

Days 56-58 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

The prophet Joel promised Israel, who at the time was suffering a great national tragedy, a time when God would restore its fortunes. They would never again be same and all who called on the name of the Lord would be saved (Joel 2:25-3:1).

Peter announced in Acts 2, “This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16). Whatever was happening on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 was a moment to which Joel pointed. It was the beginning of the restoration of Israel.

The question the disciples asked in Acts 1:6-8 about the time when God would restore Israel was not a bad question. They were, however, too anxious about the timing. Jesus told them to wait, and the Spirit would come. When the Spirit came, the restoration of Israel began.

Just as Joel foretold, God poured out the Spirit upon Israel through the newly enthroned Messiah. This pouring, however, was not limited to an individual or even to a specific group. Rather, it was poured out on “all flesh,” including Jew and Gentile, women and men, and enslaved and free. On that day, the Spirit testified to the reality of the kingdom secured at the right hand of God by the resurrected Jesus.

Just as God had gathered Israel at Mount Sinai, so now God gathered renewed Israel at Mount Zion. Through repentance and baptism, they became a newly gathered people who would continue the mission of Israel as a light to the nations. And they would inherit the promise God made to Abraham–experienced through the gift of the Spirit—to continue and purse that mission by scattering missional communities devoted to Jesus across the world.

Revival – Historical Comment

February 19, 2023

“Revival” is sometimes used quite specifically, and at other times it is used rather broadly. It can mean anything from one’s own personal spiritual awakening to the impact of a culture-shaping movement of God across churches, regions, and even nations (e.g., the First Great Awakening). It can also refer to a spontaneous local congregational event (e.g., Jonathan Edwards in 1734-35), a planned series of meetings across several congregations (e.g., Cane Ridge was one in a series of communion festivals in 1801 Kentucky), or a spontaneous movement of congregations in a region (e.g., Welsh Revival in 1904-5).

The word can refer to many different things depending on who is using it, and it means something a bit different in different traditions and contexts. This is one reason we see some back-and-forth in social media about the significance of the Asbury “revival.”

In the present moment, I think we can discern three sorts of revivalistic practices or experiences that are linked to historic traditions within Christianity. I do not intend for the list below to restrict overlapping or expansive practices, and neither is it exhaustive. The distinctions are often fluid, but there are discernible traditions. These generalizations may be somewhat unfair as a typology, though it does offer a way of seeing a bigger picture.

1. One stream focuses on conversions, and this is strong in Presbyterian and Baptist traditions (especially in the 1700-1800s). Generally, these revivals focused on preaching, teaching, and convicting sinners and/or nominal Christians for the sake of their authentic conversion. This was often the function of protracted meetings or Gospel Meetings among Stone-Campbell congregations, and often they were intended to plant a congregation. Conversion (often including rededication) was the focus, and the preaching of the Word was the primary means.

2. Another stream focuses on igniting the fire of holy living, and this is primarily the concern of the Holiness Movement (1850s and beyond). Generally, these revivals focused on deep contrition, repentance, mourning, fasting until awakened by the Spirit through intimacy and encounter. The primary manifestation of this intimacy was expressed in worship and holding on to that presence. This is similar to what we are seeing at Asbury, whose roots are in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition. Sanctification was the focus, and worship was the primary means.

3. Another stream is represented by Classic Pentecostalism (1900s-1920s). Because Pentecostalism, at least in its origins, is closely linked to the Holiness Movement, much of what is present in Holiness revivals is also there in Pentecostalism. However, it is more expectant that the outcome will be speaking in tongues, miracles, and extraordinary expressions of the Spirit. These will result not only in personal and communal awakening but also serve the mission of God as a witness to their neighbors. Sanctification was the focus, and the tangible presence of God through extraordinary gifts was the evidence.

I am grateful for the Asbury revival. It is a rather classic example of Holiness Revivalism. That does not mean everything is simply psychological as if manufactured by the human spirit. God is no mere spectator when God’s people assemble. Quite the contrary, it appears (I can only speak from a distance) God has come to Asbury in the mode in which Asbury’s tradition is both seeking and expecting, and God is gracious.

Revivals are traditioned. They exist within traditions (as the three types outlined above indicate). There are historical precedents and models. They do not easily transcend the traditions in which they are nurtured and practiced. That does not make them bad or inauthentic, just different. One is no more “revivalistic” than the other as all of them experience spiritual awakening through their traditions, habits, and practices. God uses all these traditions, and the Spirit is the active agent in all the good fruit they produce.

These different traditions, however, are helpful to the body of Christ due to the different circumstances, personalities, cultures, etc. present in the world. We need all kinds for all kinds of people. Ultimately, what we need, however, is the work of the Spirit in our hearts and communities.

In addition, the historic church–the liturgical tradition, in particular–has not generally been regarded as revivalistic in the modern sense of that term (especially in light of the evangelical revivals of the 17th-20th centuries). Nevertheless, it seems to me, that the goal of revivals is present in liturgical contexts as well.

If the assembly is a moment where we encounter God, and the Spirit is active there to form people into the image of Christ, liturgy is also a means that the Spirit uses. This is most particularly true of the sacraments, which are not typically the focus of evangelical revivalism (with some notable exceptions, like Wesley himself). Yet, God is able to revive the soul and community through its assemblies for worship, sacraments, and service to God.

“Revival” comes in many ways but always by the Spirit of God. Authentic revival transforms. This can happen in a recovery group, a small group Bible study, a coordinated Gospel Meeting (e.g., Hardeman Tabernacle Sermons in the 1920s Nashville), chapel services, or churches.

Though initiated and led by the Spirit (since only the Spirit can sanctify us), revivals have traditions and traditioned practices. There is nothing wrong with that.

However, we must be careful that we don’t make a particular tradition of “revival” a one size fits all, or assume a particular tradition of “revival” is more authentic than another. Instead, let us celebrate every way in which the Spirit encounters us and give thanks for the fruit the Spirit bears in our lives and in the lives of others, even if it comes through different practices, traditions, and settings.

Sola Dei Gloria

What Does God Do When We Assemble?

February 18, 2023

Thoughts in Light of the Asbury “Revival”

On February 8, a rather routine chapel service at Asbury University developed into a continuous worship and nonstop prayer meeting where God has responded to the prayers for inner healing, deliverance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. According to what I’ve been told and the reports I have read, this continuous assembly of worship is student-led and is primarily worship in song with occasional testimonies and brief lessons from Scripture. An ordinary student chapel service grew into a “revival.” (I don’t use “revival” in a technical sense but in the sense of an awakening, a transformative encounter with God.)

I understand the skeptical voices; I can sense that in myself as well. Should not revival mean the poor have good news preached to them, the oppressed are liberated, and people are treated fairly and with dignity? Some might suggest that is true revival (or true fasting, to use Isaiah’s language in chapter 58). Others might insist that revival only comes through the preaching of the Word so that hearts are convicted by the gospel. Nevertheless, I think people assembled to love on God and receive God’s love is the most basic form (perhaps the starting point) of revival.

It is a both/and. Revival gatherings like the one at Asbury are means of grace through which God works for transformation. And they are invitations to embrace the whole mission of Jesus, including sharing Jesus with others, caring for the sick, sharing resources with the poor, and advocating for justice.

In my understanding, God is doing something every time believers assemble, whether in chapel, campground, home, or a church building—no matter where they assemble.  Every assembly has the seed of revival because of God’s own initiative. When the people of God gather to seek God’s face, God is present. God has promised an active loving presence, though sometimes that loving presence becomes a word of confrontation with those who use the assembly as a “den of robbers” (Jeremiah 7:11).

When we approach assembly as a “den of robbers” (“we are God’s people,” so it doesn’t matter whether our lives are transformed), or as a pep rally (we are here to pump you up and create a spiritual high for you as if this were a concert), or as mere duty (part of checklist to avoid Hell), then we miss the fundamental meaning of assembling. What is that? When we assemble as a community in the Spirit, God is present for us, with us, and in us to encounter (meet) us for the sake of communion with God and each other as well as the transformation of our lives into the image of Christ.

The assembly gathers as a community of believers to love on God, and God loves on us. More accurately, God takes the initiative by calling us and gathering us into assembly to love on us, and we respond to God by loving on God and each other. This circle of love, a mutually indwelling love from the Father through Son by the Spirit, is the most significant and fundamental dynamic within the assembly, though it is often scarred by pettiness, hatred, exclusion, and discrimination. The circle of love, however, is the dynamic that drives revival or awakening when we experience it.

God transforms us through encounter, which may come with a tangible sense of God’s presence, a quiet spirit, or many other descriptors. The Spirit of God is always active when we are assembled, creating space in our hearts to know God. We may experience this inwardly through mourning, repenting, lamenting, rejoicing, or praising. We experience this communally as believers share prayers, longings, songs, testimonies, Scriptures, and the Lord’s table. We are transformed by the work of God’s Spirit within us and among us. This inner revival is a gift we receive with gratitude.

An authentic encounter with the loving and holy God also calls us into the life of God. We are invited to participate in the communion of Triune God where there is shalom. Many seek peace and security in other things, including sex, drugs, consumerism, alcohol, nationalism among many other things. The high levels of anxiety in Western culture create a deep need for encounter with transcendence. A worshipping assembly can be an occasion for such an encounter. I know have experienced it many, many times. This is, in part, what many see in the work of God at Asbury—an anxious generation seeking peace in God’s love.

Moreover, an encounter with the loving and holy God calls into God’s mission. When we experience God’s transforming grace and holiness, our response is not only gratitude but participation in the mission of God. With Isaiah, we say, “Here I am! Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). This mission is wholistic, including not only leading others to that encounter but also sharing shalom with others through hospitality, generosity, and advocacy. If revival stops with inner renewal (as wonderful a moment as that is), it fizzles out without the embrace of God’s mission. The embers of revival will die out without participation in God’s mission. This calls for endurance and persistence.

I am not a skeptic of revivals because I believe assembly is one place where God has promised to revive us. At the same time, I do apply discernment and wisdom (as best I can) to give thanks for the good fruit and to identify the bad fruit. Though God is present in every assembly, we are still human beings, and human beings bring with them not only their genuine search for God but also their self-interested baggage, including their consumeristic expectations.

What we yearn for, I hope, is a moment to genuinely bring our hearts before God and for God to transform our self-interested, consumeristic baggage into the image of the Son, both in communion with God and on mission with God.

That is my prayer every time I gather with the people of God, and when God does something more surprising than I imagine, I hope to receive it without deconstructing it.

The Grace of Generosity: A Sermon on 2 Corinthians 8-9

February 5, 2023

[Sermon begins at the 55 minute mark.]

How do you persuade a wealthy congregation in Corinth to share their resources with an impoverished and ethnically different group of people in Jerusalem almost 1,000 miles distant?

When they shared from their resources with the Jerusalem believers, Paul wrote, they would “glorify God by [their] obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ” (2 Corinthians 9:13). But Paul did not command them to share (2 Corinthians 8:8). Rather, he probed whether they truly believed the story of God in Christ.

If they believe that they have been made rich by the grace of God’s Son, who though being rich became poor for our sakes, then the Corinthians should share their blessings with those who are poor (2 Corinthians 8:9-10).

In other words, the Corinthians were not commanded to obey a rule, but invited to participate in the story of God. And when they participated, they would then obey the gospel (or conform themselves to the image of Christ).

Gender Ideology: “What is a Woman?”

January 9, 2023

Situation: the rise of trans people, especially among children (e.g., adolescent girls)

In 2007, there was only one pediatric gender clinic in the US; now, there are 300+ gender clinics (plus some services, like Planned Parenthood, dispense testosterone, depending on state laws, to minors without parental permission or a therapist note). Britain has seen a 4400%+ rise in incidences of gender dysphoria among adolescent girls (mostly teens) since 2014. This is called “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” (ROGD, teen girls with no prior history of gender dysphoria).

Gender Dysphoria: Severe discomfort with one’s biological sex.

  1. Classic/Typical Dysphoria:  appears in 1 in 10,000 (0.01%), overwhelmingly in males, begins in early childhood (2-4 years), persistent insistence on possessing the “wrong body,” and most experience same-(birth)-sex orientation. Typically, 75% become comfortable with their sex (most identify as Gay), while others transition to their desired sex (socially and/or medically).
  2. Social Contagion: “Trans Kids” (recently, they are mostly adolescent girls who have a long history of sharing their pain through self-harm, eating disorders, and anxiety about their bodies that is exacerbated by affirmation from authorities and social media influencers). In 2018, 2% of High Schoolers identified as transgender. Transition follows this form (not all fully complete it): (a) Self-identification and social transition (changing names, pronouns, gender expressions); (b) Puberty Blockers (when they have not yet gone through puberty); (c) Cross-Sex Hormones (androgens/antiestorgens; estrogens/antiandrogens); (d) Medical Transition (top surgeries; bottom surgeries).
  3. Activists: reshapes culture through the lens of gender ideology so that trans people are not only legally protected from harm but culturally affirmed and given space to flourish (e.g. sports, etc.).

Recommended Printed Resources

Abigail Favale (Roman Catholic), The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory.

Helen Joyce (atheist), Trans: Gender Identity and the New Battle for Women’s Rights.

Abigail Shrier (Jewish), Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters.

Mark Yarhouse (evangelical), Understanding Gender Dysphoria.

Debra Soh (atheist), The End of Gender: Debunking Myths about Sex and Identity in Our Society.

Preston Sprinkle (evangelical), Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church, and What the Bible Has To Say

Recommended YouTube Lectures/Podcasts Abigail Shrier lecture Abigail Shrier and Jordan Peterson Helen Joyce Helen Joyce Helen Joyce Helen Joyce and Abigail Favale Abigale Favale and Preston Sprinkle Abigale Favale Abigale Favale Mark Yarhouse Lisa Littman (Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria) Debra Soh

Question:  What is “gender”? How is it related to biological sex?

  • a social construct that varies from culture to culture;

therefore, gender is a fluid state without objective boundaries.

  • a matter of self-identification based on a sense of self;

therefore, gender is grounded in a subjective sense of self (even “innate”).

  • a fixed biological reality;

therefore, gender is grounded in and tethered to one’s biological sex.

Gender Definition

Gender is a comprehensive word that includes (a) social elements (which are culturally fluid in so many ways) and (b) struggles to identify (as some wrestle with their discomfort with their bodies and their self-image), but (c) ought to include biology as its objective ground and basis.

Much of current discussion excludes the body from such grounding or collapses the body into social construction or self-identity (e.g., male brain in a female body). Yet, binary biology is part of the ground of gender, and social constructs mimic this to one degree or another across cultures.

Lovingly, we may care for and accompany adolescents who are caught up in this “social contagion” (just like female adolescents have been caught in other contagions exacerbated by social media, like cutting [self-harm] and eating disorders) in ways that compassionately and sympathetically address gender dysphoria. While there are genuine experiences of gender dysphoria (the classic cases), there is also such a thing as “social contagion” that rests on social constructions for gender fluidity and encourages adolescents who are uncomfortable with their bodies to reject their body’s sex and identity as another gender (nonbinary, trans, etc.).

We can lovingly process this dysphoria with people while, at the same time, affirming the biological grounding of gender in their embodied sex. It is a difficult decision to reject the reality of one’s body; I cannot imagine that struggle. I know it is terrifying for those who experience this struggle, and they want some peace about how to relate to their bodies. As people of peace, we listen, dialogue, and offer a vision of the gospel that heals wounds rather than creating them.

Theological Claim:  There are only two sexes (“male” and “female” per Genesis 1:27).

Biologically, male and female are binary because a body either has one type of gamete or another (sperm or egg). No known human being has ever produced fertility through both. This biological reality is affirmed in the Genesis identification of human beings as “male or female” as well as in the biology of creation itself. All mammals are either male or female. Intersexed persons (0.02% of the population) are not a third sex but variations within male and female sexes. There is no third sex. Some people (0.002%) are born with both ovaries and testicles, few are functional and never both.

Without biological grounding, “gender” (and even sex itself for some) becomes an internal sense that is expressed through social conventions or expressions. Consequently, not only gender but sex itself becomes a fluid category. As a result, there is no definition of male/female except one’s own internal sense of identification. Biological sex, then, is folded into gender such that “sex” is “assigned” at birth rather than a given, a gift from God.

People who transition, whether driven by classic dysphoria or by social contagion, sometimes detransition. Some who transition regret their decision; others happily embrace it. Whatever the case, the church may pursue a welcoming and healing strategy rather than exclusion, derision, and hate. The church must prepare for how it will help trans people and nurture them in the faith.

1 Timothy 2:11-12 – May Women Teach Men?

December 26, 2022

In January, 2021, Bammel Road Church of Christ in Houston, TX, asked me to share my understanding of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 with them. This is the ZOOM video for January 31, 2021.

This presentation suggests that Paul is addressing a confused situation in Ephesus where some deceived women were influencing the whole church, and consequently Paul encourages them to learn before they teach. These women had been deceived just as Eve had. This is not a universal prohibition against women teaching men. Rather, it is Paul’s response to a specific situation where Paul uses Eve as an analogy rather than as the basis for some kind of created order that ranks the authority of men and women in the church.

The Powerpoint slides are available here.

Another video on 1 Timothy 2:12 (“Three Problems with a Soft Complementarian Reading of 1 Timothy 2:12”) is available here.

For a summary of my perspective, see this essay.

For a more extended presentation of my understanding, see my book: Women Serving God.