The Christian Witness to Misery
One thing, however, is sure: unless Christians fulfill their prophetic role, unless they become the advocates and defenders of the truly poor, witness to their misery, then infallibly, violence will suddenly break out. In one way or other ‘their blood cries to heaven,’ and violence will seem the only way out. It will be too late to try to calm them and create harmony.
– Jacques Ellul, French sociologist, via Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, pg. 268
When I came across this quote it struck me as deeply prophetic. The outbreaks of violence and rage which we have seen in the American context over race and other factors is something that Christians should oppose as stewards of Jesus’ application of the 6th commandment (Matthew 5:21-22).
But, I also believe that the American Christian church has failed in its prophetic witness to this suffering for a long, long time. The American Christian church was often complicit in slavery. It was often complicit in opposing racial reconciliation. It has often feared what it would mean to call for change. One must read no further than Rev. Martin Luther King’s ”Letter from a Birmingham Jail” 📃 to know that. We have too often failed to enter into the misery of others, to seek understanding, and to seek change even when it is difficult.
I’m not saying that you, reader, are complicit in this. I’m not calling you a racist. I’m not advocating for a critical race theory worldview. I’m not doing any one of a hundred things you may think I’m doing merely by writing about race. I am a white, generally politically and theologically conservative, evangelical Christian. What I am saying is that the American Christian church has become far too comfortable with political, worldly power for far too long. Perhaps we need to re-examine how we may be failing to be “little Christs” in how we follow His example of entering into the lives of the weak, poor, and oppressed. I know that I have been far too comfortable. I must do better.
Let’s move on to today’s links.
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Christianity Is True
Today, faith and reason are described as opposites. One must display faith in the face of reason. If someone seeks to understand something through reason, then there’s no room for faith. I cannot stress this more strongly: this is not biblical faith. A few hundred years ago a movement started to separate these concepts and place reason against and above faith.
Faith and Reason were brothers. More than that, they were friends—indeed, best friends. Faith and Reason loved each other deeply and did everything together. They wandered through fields and forests, embarked on great adventures, explored, learned, discovered, created—together. Always together.
…Well, not quite. One day a new friend moved into the neighborhood. His name was Enlightenment. Enlightenment was drawn to Reason, but Faith left him cold. Indeed, Enlightenment was threatened by Reason’s friendship with Faith, and he determined to unravel it. “You don’t need Faith,” he told Reason. “Faith is dangerous; he’s bad company, a loose cannon. Why do you let him lead you where he wants you to go? You need to assert your independence and call your own shots.” Reason listened to Enlightenment, and slowly he began to pull away from Faith.
I have yet to read a more entertaining explanation of this shift and how faith and reason should be understood from a historically Biblical perspective.
Explore the Scriptures
The BibleProject team, best known for creating animated explainer videos of Biblical books and concepts, has started a new project designed to go much deeper than their short videos can. Each BibleProject classroom class has a dozen or more hours of seminary-like content going deep into a Biblical book or topic.
I have finished the study on the book of Ephesians, and it’s excellent. If you’d like to take a deep dive into this important epistle, this is an excellent free way to do so.
Challenge Your Brain
In this podcast, Dr. Michael Heiser walks through one of the strangest passages in the Pauline epistles:
That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
1 Corinthians 11:10-15 (ESV)
Why does a wife need a symbol of authority on her head? What do the angels have to do with it? And what does this have to do with an uncovered head? Or long hair?
Dr. Heiser explains to us a proposal that feels even more bizarre than the passage itself. If it’s true, it certainly would explain the passage, but it just sounds so foreign to our own modern context that, for me, it’s hard to wrap my mind around. I don’t quite know what to make of it, and I’ll be interested to see if other scholars interact with this proposal in the future.
Consider Another Perspective
This is an something that I have mentioned in several previous issues. We must have the ability to be united with believers who don’t agree with us about issues that are important but not central. The Christian church of the modern west has spent far too long fractured over doctrines of importance but not eternal significance.
Dr. Albert Mohler wrote this article several years ago on the importance of triaging theological issues. He sees the ability to be united with believers we disagree with as a sign of Christian maturity. In other words, making mountains out of (relative) molehills in the Christian faith is a sign of Christian immaturity.
Mohler breaks theological issues down into three tiers. Central issues are those that are of utmost importance to the Christian faith, such as the true humanity and true deity of Jesus Messiah. Secondary issues are those which may divide us into different local bodies within the larger body of Jesus, such as styles of worship or the meaning of baptism. Finally, third-tier issues are those by which we may disagree but remain in the same local body, such as questions about the age of the earth.
Finally, Mohler illuminates the dual errors of fundamentalism—making third-tier issues into second or first tier issues—and hyper-liberalism—not believing that even first-tier issues are crucial to the faith.
Listen and Reflect
There are many good translations. The ESV, NASB, NIV, CSB, and more are good word-for-word or slightly dynamic translations. There are good dynamic translations as well, such as the NLT. The Message is even an occasionally interesting paraphrase (but please don’t use it for your Bible study). The Passion is not a translation—a translation attempts to share the direct meaning of a text from another language. At best, the Passion could be described as a sectarian paraphrase of the Bible.
The Remnant Radio crew interviews Mike about why he is a staunch opponent of The Passion Translation and its author. The author is one man whose primary translation credentials are that Jesus appeared to him in a dream to give him special revelation and translating ability. To me, this sounds suspiciously like the stories of Joseph Smith (Mormonism) and Muhammed (Islam). I’m not equating the Passion Translation with the works of those other religions because it is certainly more orthodox than those. But, I am saying that we must be very cautious when people claim God’s ability (and therefore authority) to alter the words of scripture.
Mike has also embarked on a project of having translation scholars review various books of the Passion Translation and offer their unedited thoughts, whether positive or negative. Mike then interviewed these scholars and has provided their papers for free. I have watched all the videos and read several of the papers. While the scholars usually try to be more diplomatic than Mike, I think it’s fair to say that they agree that the Passion Translation is “Bible Plus.” It’s “Bible Plus” the author’s own hyper-charismatic theology written into the text of the Bible. I have linked each of Mike’s interviews with a scholar below, and their papers are linked in the descriptions of the videos.
For Further Study:
- A Scholar Reviews The Passion Translation: Song of Songs | Mike Winger and Dr. Tremper Longman 📽
- What’s Wrong with Galatians in The Passion Translation | Mike Winger and Dr. Nijay Gupta 📽
- Painful Mistakes in Ephesians in The Passion Translation | Mike Winger and Dr. Darrell Bock 📽
- What Dr. Douglas Moo Thinks About Romans in The Passion Translation | Mike Winger and Dr. Douglas Moo 📽
- Dr. Craig Blomberg Reviews The Passion Translation Book of 1 Corinthians | Mike Winger and Dr. Craig Blomberg 📽
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Best with a Cup of Tea
In this article, historian Kate Bowler delves into her terminal diagnosis with cancer and how it relates to her more than a decade-long sociological study of the prosperity gospel.
On a Thursday morning a few months ago, I got a call from my doctor’s assistant telling me that I have Stage 4 cancer. The stomach cramps I was suffering from were not caused by a faulty gallbladder, but by a massive tumor.
I am 35. I did the things you might expect of someone whose world has suddenly become very small. I sank to my knees and cried. I called my husband at our home nearby. I waited until he arrived so we could wrap our arms around each other and say the things that must be said. I have loved you forever. I am so grateful for our life together. Please take care of our son. Then he walked me from my office to the hospital to start what was left of my new life.
But one of my first thoughts was also Oh, God, this is ironic. I recently wrote a book called “Blessed.”
Most of us have someone that we feel we could hardly bear to lose, and most of us have people that we don’t want to leave. Christianity provides the hope that Christ defeated death (1 Corinthians 15:55) and one day there will be no more tears nor death (Revelation 21:4). The question we must all face is whether that reality is always present in this lifetime or if it’s merely a partial reality now awaiting ultimate fulfillment in new creation. Dr. Bowler’s unique perspective on facing this question while near death is a heart-rending must-read.
I’ve read her book 📚 and it’s the clearest and best history of the American prosperity gospel, from its roots to its modern incarnations, that I’ve seen.
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
May the LORD bless you and protect you;
may the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
may the LORD look with favor on you
and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)