Category Archives: Worldview and Culture

The Church in Biblical Images: Kingdom Colony (Phil. 1:27-30)

I am sitting in the TV lounge in the dorm during my freshman or sophomore year. There is a cluster of couches in there, all facing the television, with a dozen or more guys scattered around the room. The couch I’m on is full and my friend George Ashok Kumar Das is sitting next to me.

At some point during the movie we are watching, Taupu (that was his nickname) takes my left hand in his right. I recoil. I have no idea that in his culture, as in much of Africa and the Middle East, men hold hands as a sign of friendship and trust.

Every culture has its own customs. In Thailand, if you drop a coin and, to stop it from rolling under your car, you step on it, you might cause great offense. The image of the king’s head is on that coin, and to step on his face is a dreadful insult.

In Vietnam, if you signal to a restaurant server to come to your table, she may pour the soup in your lap because you’ve just treated her as if she were a dog. If you are caught selling chewing gum in Singapore, you could do up to two years in prison and be fined $100,000. Kingdoms and countries have their own codes regarding what it means to be a good citizen.

Those codes are sometimes exported. For example, if you were in the Bangladeshi embassy in Washington D.C. and saw two men holding hands, it might mean something quite different from what it would mean if you stepped outside onto International Drive and saw the same thing. The culture inside the embassy has been imported.

The letter we are looking at today was written to people who lived, worked, and played in an exported culture. Continue reading

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Falwell and Evangelicalism’s Theological Confusion

Evangelicalism has a problem: Evangelicals. It is not a new problem. Evangelicals have been giving evangelicalism a bad name for years. The disconnect between the gospel proclaimed by prominent evangelicals and the lifestyle exhibited by them sometimes is impossible to … Continue reading

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A (Biblical) Look into the Future

When the biblical writers looked into the future, they saw “a new heaven and a new earth.” Many of us, schooled in a Platonized version of Christianity, find this confusing. We are comfortable with the heaven part but don’t know what to do with a new earth. It is hard to see any need for it.

We’ve been taught that we are destined for a heaven that is, in Spenser’s line, “unmoving, uncorrupt, and spotless bright.” What living in such a place might entail is quite beyond anything our imaginations can conjure up. Frankly, it sounds rather boring. Still, if heaven is open to us, why will we need earth?

Besides, doesn’t the Bible teach that earth will be destroyed by fire? St. Peter wrote, “…the earth and everything in it will be laid bare,” and “everything will be destroyed.” If everything will be destroyed and we will head off to heaven, what is the point of having a new earth?

But we need to go carefully here. When St. Peter writes that everything will be “destroyed,” he is using the same word he used a few sentences earlier when he wrote that the ancient world was “deluged and destroyed.” Though he says it was “destroyed,” he clearly did not mean the Great Flood had ended the planet, only that it ended human wickedness (for a time).

Likewise, the promised final “destruction” will not annihilate creation – the planet will not be obliterated. Rather, it will remove from it all evil and everything that opposes the Creator. The future will include an earth that is purified of every evil and made right.
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The New Humanity (excerpt)

…see the sheer enormity of God’s plan. It begins with two people groups who do not get along with each other and yet are the media in which the Divine Artist is working. To accomplish his purpose, to make his … Continue reading

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The New Humanity

We are thinking about the church, what it is, what it does, and whether or not it is important. I’ve noticed that when people try to answer that last question, even church leaders, they usually do so in terms of what the church can do for a person or a family. It educates our children. It provides us with friends. It encourages us to be faithful to Christ through sermons and teaching. Its music gives us an emotional lift.

Whether or not those things are so, the true importance of the church will never fit through the narrow window of personal benefit. To evaluate the church’s importance by the benefits I accrue is like saying, “Air is important because I couldn’t dribble my basketball without it.” The importance of air extends beyond my basketball and the importance of the church extends beyond the personal benefits it provides.

Today, we will be looking at the church as imaged in Ephesians 2, but before getting into the text, let’s do a quick survey of what Ephesians has to say about the church. I think we will see is that the church has a central and extraordinary place in the purpose of God for the world.

The church, as presented in Ephesians, is headed by Jesus himself. (That is Ephesians 1:22 and 4:15). There is no other organization on earth about which that can be said. The people of the church are God’s personally chosen, glorious inheritance. (That is Ephesians 1:18.) The church is a still-under-construction yet already functioning temple in which God lives by his Spirit. (That is 2:21-22.) Continue reading

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The Common Politic

My sons Joel (PhD, University of Aberdeen) and Brian (PhD, UC Santa Barbara) are starting an online magazine, The Common Politic. It is an ambitious project, meeting a need in the Christian community that has not hitherto been met. It … Continue reading

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Church as Family: Paul’s Letter to Philemon

Let’s step back for a moment and survey the first century landscape. The earliest church members were almost all Jewish. They were convinced that Jesus – the crucified Jesus – was Israel’s messiah and believed God had raised him from the dead. This was in accordance with their own Scriptures and it proved that Jesus was Lord of all.

Their confession of Jesus created a gulf between them and their fellow Jews. It isolated them from their communities and often separated them from their families. They were excommunicated from their synagogues. They lost so much, but they kept each other. The church became their primary family.

The older men were fathers. The younger men brothers. The older women were everyone’s moms. The younger women were sisters. They looked out for each other. Helped each other; were each other’s friends.

Then non-Jews started confessing Jesus as Lord and that threw a wrench into the works. As Jews, the church family had looked on non-Jews with suspicion. Gentiles were, and had always been, outsiders. Now these outsiders were believing in their messiah. What were they supposed to do with them? How were they to relate to them? Were non-Jews kingdom citizens or resident aliens? An emergency family meeting was called (Acts 15 tells the story) and it was decided to accept these people into full family membership. Never before had Jews and Gentiles related to each other like this.

Most of these new Gentile family members came from the lower socio-economic classes (1 Cor. 1:26) and many were slaves. This threw another wrench into the works. When someone with money confessed Christ and joined the family, they found themselves worshiping alongside poor people, even slaves – sometimes their own slaves! In fact, their slaves might even be leaders in the church – now their leaders!

In the church, people called each other “brother” and “sister,” but how could a rich landowner call a slave – especially his slave – “brother”? What would the rich man’s peers think if they heard that? What would the other slaves think? Wouldn’t they become presumptuous? Shouldn’t a line be drawn?
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Choose a Side That Does Not Divide Us

I feel like I am in a Doctor Seuss story – like we are all in a Doctor Seuss story – a story I know. My kids and grandkids know it too: The Sneetches.

In The Sneetches, Dr. Seuss presents a race of furry yellow, long-necked, narrow-footed creatures that are nearly identical to each other in appearance. The only difference among them is that some have a star shape on their bellies while others do not. By the third paragraph, we understand that the starred sneetches feel disdain for their plain-bellied cousins.

Into the story comes the ethically challenged grifter Sylvester McMonkey McBean. He sees an opportunity to use the sneetches’ self-righteous contempt for one another to his advantage. He builds a machine that can change a sneetch so that it looks like every other sneetch.

A sneetch, at a cost to itself, goes into the machine and comes out looking just like other sneetches. The grifter, of course, cares nothing for the sneetches, only for their money. He reshapes them for his sake, not for theirs.

Sylvester has reappeared. This time around, he has created a propaganda machine that imprints ideas rather than stars. All day long, people go into the machine – that is, into network, print, and social media – where they are made to look like every other person who accessed the machine through the same entrance. Continue reading

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The Costly Substitution of our Values

The author Max Lucado related the story of some clever thieves who were able to rob a department store in a large city without hiding any items in purses or clothes or taking a single item from the store that was not checked out by a clerk. They received a receipt for everything they stole.

The band went to the store, dispersed and, like other shoppers, quietly browsed through the merchandise. Unlike other shoppers, they furtively removed barcode tags from less costly items and swapped them for the tags on pricier items. They exchanged the tag on a $395 camera for the tag on a box of stationary. They put the price tag from a paper-back book on an outboard motor. Then they left the store without taking a thing.

When the store opened the next morning, there were displaced price tags everywhere. One would expect chaos to ensue but, surprisingly, the store operated normally for some time. A few customers (the thieves were likely among them) got away with steals while others, outraged by what they considered ridiculous prices, refused to make purchases. It took four hours before management noticed the mix-up.

Something is happening in the larger world that mirrors that department store. A hoax has been played on us that has been generations in the making. Price tags on values have been switched and few people have taken notice. Possessions are treasured more highly than people. Greater importance is attached to careers than to children. Fulfillment is esteemed above faithfulness.
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My Declaration of Dependence

The English colonies in America began with land grants made by James I to the London and Plymouth Companies, and developed as business entities managed by shareholders or proprietors in the pursuit of financial gain. Georgia, the last of the thirteen colonies to be chartered, proved to be the exception. Its founder envisioned it as a place where debtors and the “worthy poor” could flourish, though the Crown was more interested in its value as a buffer between Spanish-held territory to the south and its income-producing colonies to the north.

In the beginning, the American companies – whether the Massachusetts Bay Company or the Virginia Company or Lord Baltimore’s Maryland province – were in competition with each other. But as the decades (and centuries in the case of Virginia and the New England colonies) rolled by, their people increasingly recognized their common interests and bemoaned their common injuries.

When representatives of the thirteen colonies assembled in congress on July 4, 1776, they issued a very solemn Declaration of Independence from the British Crown. But before declaring the colonies to be “free and independent states,” the signers emphasized that they were in unanimous agreement as the “thirteen united States of America.”

The representatives recognized their own limitations. They understood that they could not successfully declare their independence from Great Britain without acknowledging their dependence upon one another. Independence from a greater power requires dependence upon another power, whether the collective power of individual states or the ultimate power of a divine being. The founding fathers acknowledged their dependence upon both. Continue reading

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