Archive for the ‘Discipleship’ Category

Ecclesia and Ethics Conference–May 18 and 25

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

If you are interested in the life of the church, the moral life, and theological scholarship in service of both, consider participating in the international online Webinar Ecclesia and Ethics, May 18 and 25. Go to ecclesiaethics.com. You can also see online interviews with some of the speakers, including yours truly and Tom Wright.

Good Friday Reflections 2013

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Following is my annual set of brief statements about Good Friday, with some additions for this year:

What makes Good Friday “good”? Or, what is the meaning of Good Friday?

The first thing to say is that it is good only in light of Easter. Given the reality of Easter, it is good because it reveals the depth of God’s love and communicates that love to us in order to liberate us from Sin and Death and to give us life in abundance and life eternal.

Volumes have been written on this, including some by yours truly. Here are just a few reflections summarizing some of what I have written elsewhere at greater length:

1. The main purpose of Jesus’ death was to create the people of the new covenant, who would be empowered by the Spirit of God to resemble Jesus himself: faithful to God and loving toward their neighbors and enemies.

2. The cross is not only the source but also the shape of our salvation. This is the essential meaning of “cruciformity”–daily likeness to the self-giving, life-giving divine love manifested on the cross.

3. The cross reveals the love, power, wisdom, and justice of God, and it does so, paradoxically but powerfully, in weakness.

4. The cross is not only the signature of the Risen One (so Kaesemann), but also of the Holy One of Israel; that is, the cross is not only a christophany but ultimately a theophany–the ultimate divine self-revelation.

5. Thus cruciformity is ultimately theoformity; Christlikeness is Godlikeness; through participation in the cross of Christ, we are transformed most fully into the image of God. This is sometimes called theosis or deification.

6. The fact that Jesus died as the Jewish Messiah on a Roman cross means that his death contains within it a political theology and spirituality.

7. When the cross is used for anything that contradicts its character as divine love, power, wisdom, and justice displayed in weakness, it is being used blasphemously.

Finally: When I survey the wondrous cross, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

Christians and Politics

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

Here is part of the handout for my forum presentation at church Sunday. It will be preceded by an excerpt from the second-century letter to Diognetus and followed by Miroslav Volf’s values for voters.

Some Reflections on Christians and Politics

Some Preliminaries

1. Christians are first of all citizens of God’s kingdom, subjects of the Lord Jesus. Our first and ultimate loyalty is to that kingdom and to its politics and fellow-citizens. All other loyalties, allegiances, politics, political affiliations, etc. are subordinate and secondary to our citizenship in God’s kingdom. See Matt 6:33; Phil 3:20.

2. Before we start thinking about politics as state-crafting, we should think of politics as the public expression of our participation in the kingdom of God. Therefore, before we choose or construct a politics within a given country, we are given a politics—the politics (public life) of Jesus.

3. No human kingdom (i.e., state: republic, democracy, monarchy, socialist state, etc.) is or ever will be the kingdom of God.

4. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of humans will normally be in conflict.

5. As Christians we should therefore think of ourselves as people of another culture living in a host culture as a contrast-society and therefore, in a real sense, as exiles or resident aliens. See 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11.

6. Our primary political activity is to be the church: to worship God truly and to live out the demands of the kingdom of God and the lordship of Jesus.

7. Our political activity in the host culture/country/city should be an expression of our most basic Christian commitments such as (1) love of God, neighbor, and enemy; (2) prophetic concern for justice and shalom; (3) the call to be peacemakers. The basic purpose is to seek the common good, the welfare of the city, not to gain control or power. See Jer 29:7.

8. Religion and politics often use each other for what each perceives as gain, usually meaning either protection or power. Jesus said, it shall not be so among you! See Mark 10:43-45.

9. The bottom line in domestic and especially international politics is often self-interest. For many reasons, Christians must look beyond national self-interest.

10. Christians need to be especially wary about the use of God-talk by states and politicians, always asking, “What do they mean when they say ‘God’?” Which god do they mean? Most political God-talk, even in countries with some form of Christian heritage or presence, is not Christian faith but civil religion (nationalism in religious garb).

11. There is a variety of legitimately Christian ways to understand Christian political involvement in general and in particulars. This diversity ranges from being very active to withdrawing from some or even all aspects.

12. Christians should probably be suspicious of politics and politicians in general, because there is so much seeking, use, and abuse of power, so much lying, and so much death associated with politics.

Some Particulars in our Context

1. The United States is not a Christian country. It was founded by Deists on deist and Enlightenment principles. It is now a secular state with a religiously pluralist populace.

2. The United States is not God’s chosen people, the light of the world, the city on a hill, or the world’s last hope.

3. The dominant religion in the U.S. may well be “Americanism.” See Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics and Peter Leithart, Between Babel and Beast: America and Empire in Biblical Perspective.

4. Christians need to recognize the inherent realities and dangers of the country/culture in which we are located: the world’s lone “superpower” (empire?) with military bases in scores of countries; rampant consumerism; the deification of freedom and choice; and a sense of being specially blessed by God/god because of this military and economic might and this freedom.

5. Christians cannot escape being influenced by their host country/culture. But for Christians, some American values are not only wrong, they are idolatrous. Therefore the values we bring to politics and voting need to be examined and re-examined again and again.

For further reading: Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation. Michael Budde, The Borders of Baptism: Identities, Allegiances, and the Church. Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. David Gushee, Christians and Politics Beyond the Culture Wars. Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, Resident Aliens. Ted Lewis, ed. Electing Not to Vote. Ron Sider, Just Politics. Jim Wallis, God’s Politics. J. Philipp Wogaman, Christians and Politics. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus.

Revelation, Civil Religion, and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

I am assisting my pastor in a series of sermons on the messages to the churches in Revelation in connection with the lectionary reading from Mark for the day. So far it’s been a fascinating intertextual experience!

Last Sunday I preached on the message to the church in Smyrna:

8“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life: 9“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.


My main point was that in order to be ready to suffer faithfully, this church had escaped the temptations of the two cousins Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and Civil Religion. The former was documented as the religion of most American teens (and, I would suggest, adults) by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Of course I had to show how a form of this disease already existed in the first century in the sacrificial systems meant to keep the gods blessing us with fertility, prosperity etc. As for civil religion, that was the imperial cult.

In any event, the sermon was a sermon, not a lecture. But I think I was successful in helping people see the the gods and narratives that these ultimately non-Christian “spiritualities” depend on and embody:

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
There is a god who created the world, looks down on us from heaven with a smile, wants to bless us, wants us to be good to ourselves and kind to others, is there for us when we are in a jam, and promises us a place in heaven if we are good.

Civil Religion
There is a god who created the world, looks down on our country (fill in the blank) with a big smile, has blessed us more than any other nation, thinks our values are his values, wants to expand our influence around the world, wants us to be good to our friends but helps us defeat our enemies, and expects us to love our country as a way of loving God.

Revelation is a manifesto against TMD and Civil Religion.

On Misreading “Greater love…” (John 15:13)

Monday, May 30th, 2011

In my previous post, I counseled preachers not to apply John 15:13 to war-deaths. Of course I know it is done all the time. By coincidence, an old (very old!) set of friendships is being renewed on Facebook over this issue. Below is what has transpired in the last 24 hours among me (MJG), old friend #1 (FB1), and old friend #2 (FB2).

FB1: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13


This Memorial Day weekend, take time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, thank those who served and serve today to preserve that freedom, and pray “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

MJG: With all due respect, FB1, wasn’t our Lord in John 15 talking about his disciples abiding in him and imitating his radical love, rather than patriots??

FB1: ?”By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35. I choose not to dwell on the distinction between discipleship and patriotism at this time, but rather on the intersection of the same.

MJG: Once again, with all due respect, I would suggest that that is one of the most serious–and potentially dangerous choices–one can make. It’s worth thinking through again, IMHO.

FB2: Actually, Mike, Jesus was equating what he was about to do (willingly get crucified) as setting an example of the ultimate sacrifice one can exhibit. Whether for your country or your beliefs, willing offering your life still fits the example.

MJG: FB2, I would agree that Jesus is setting an example, but he is speaking to his disciples about their willingness to die for one another and for him, as disciples, in their mission in the midst of a hostile world. (See the rest of John 13-17.) He is not enunciating a general principle but articulating a potential consequence of being his friend in the world that killed him. Applying this to other kinds of deaths robs it of its meaning for mission and discipleship. Jesus is not creating a proverb (“dying for friends is a loving thing to do”) but borrowing and radically redirecting one.

FB1: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14

To expand upon my admittedly oblique point, I believe it is easier (the broad road) to compartmentalize our faith. In so doing, many have isolated themselves to some extent from the world and the issues of the world. But I make the more dangerous (narrow road) choice of integrating my faith with my life to the extent that God grants me courage, so that all of my words and actions may be brought under the Lordship of Christ. Thus, I focus on the intersection of my faith and my patriotism.

MJG: FB1, I certainly agree that our lives should not be bifurcated, and that all of life is to be brought under the Lordship of Christ. But as a good friend of mine says, “If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.” Or, to put it differently, the reign of God and the Lordship of Christ challenge all our other allegiances. More to the contextual point about the quote from John, I think Jesus is telling his disciples (and therefore us) that his kingdom is indeed worth dying for. But other kingdoms do not have the right to demand our bodies and ultimate allegiances, at least in part because their claim on our dying includes a corollary, inextricable, and ultimately unChristian claim on our killing. In other words, the church is called to make and honor martyrs, not soldiers.

The Significance of the Cross

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

One thing that the entire New Testament makes clear is that the cross is not only the source but also the shape of our Christian existence, our salvation. May those who preach tonight and tomorrow preach both sides of that coin, and maybe it will make this Holy Week’s activities a bit more faithful to the NT’s message.

“Reading Revelation Responsibly” is Out

Monday, November 8th, 2010

The good folks at Wipf and Stock/Cascade have miraculously turned my book around in record time. I got copies today for a talk and book signing this Friday. Here is the link to look at and order it. It is available now at 20% off, though Wipf and Stock may soon do a 40%-off email coupon to its regular subscribers. The official publication date is 2011, so don’t expect to see it on Amazon, etc. until some time in December.

The key to this book is the subtitle: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation.

I would post a photo of the beautiful cover here, but, alas, I can’t get images to work in WordPress, so you will have to go to the site.

If you are in the Baltimore-DC area, come out to St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore Friday evening at 7 p.m. More information is here.

BTW, the info about me on the Wipf and Stock web site is 9 years old, so it is about to be updated.

Richard Hays’s Installation Service and Homily

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Last Tuesday Richard Hays was installed as Dean of Duke Divinity School. I was privileged to go and offer support and congratulations to my colleague, mentor (from a distance; I was not his student), and friend.

It was a wonderful event, capped by a powerful homily by the new Dean—highly recommended viewing and/or reading.

The day was greatly enhanced by catching up with former students and colleagues from when I was a visiting professor at Duke in spring 2009, and by being with my son and his family, he in the choir and they with me.

Duke has posted the entire service, the video and text of his homily, and other items here.


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