Listening in on a Discussion of the Coronavirus and the Church

What some might see as a threat to the vitality of Christian community, others see as opportunity to advance the kingdom of God.


I am reading through the Bible chronologically this year and paying attention to themes that sweep from beginning to end. One great theme is the promise to Abraham and his descendants, that God would bless him and make of him descendants that would be too numerous to count, and by them God would bless all the nations of the world.

I just got done contemplating why, when God entered the world as a human being and came to “His own” His own people didn’t recognize or receive Him. They had developed their own expectations that were very focused, understandably, on the nation of Israel and the promised land, and Jesus didn’t meet the expectations they had. (See What We Can Learn from Expectations about What God Is Doing.)

Expectations are good. It’s good to be expectant about what God is doing, but the danger is that we anchor those expectations in our own perspectives, which are unavoidably limited. Our expectations should be shaped by Scripture and relationship to God alone, but (being human) we tend to superimpose our own personal, community, societal, cultural and philosophical models on top of that foundation. Sometimes we even import biblical principles on top of a foundation that is not biblical.

American Christianity is no different than any other cultural expression of Christianity in that regard. Perhaps, American Christianity is even super-sized in that tendency, however, because of our historical sense of manifest destiny and extreme confidence in the rightness of the great American experiment in Democracy, capitalism and constitutional framework that has allowed the United States to thrive and become the dominant country in the world.

Because of the human tendency to filter everything through our unique perspectives and miss what other people with different perspectives can see, I spend time listening to and reading Christians and people with other perspectives from other parts of the world. For that reason, I listen to many of the episodes of the Unbelievable? podcast with Justin Brierly, a British Christian, who interviews people from various parts of the world from various viewpoints, including Christian and non-Christian worldviews.

The coronavirus pandemic has created a confluence of varying viewpoints in the Church global, the American Church, and communities in and out of the Church and societies all around the world. That global pandemic has, perhaps, heightened the degree of angst that comes to bear on other issues in the world and locally, such as the current racial tensions in the US and particularly acute response that we have experienced as events have unfolded that have opened and exasperated old racial wounds that have not yet healed.

How we respond to these things as Christians is critical. It affects the effectiveness of our mission to carry out the Great Commission – the marching orders Jesus gave to His followers to spread the Gospel throughout the world. The pandemic means that we can no longer carry on “business as usual”. Indeed, God often used catastrophic and extreme measures to accomplish His purposes throughout Scripture and (certainly I believe) continues to do so today. There is opportunity in these times to adjust with what is happening, listen for what God is saying to the Church and advance His kingdom.

I think of these things as I listen to the recent interview by Justin Brierley of three Christians talk about the coronavirus: Mark Sayers from Australia, AJ Roberts from Los Angeles, Ruth Jackson from Great Britain. Continue reading “Listening in on a Discussion of the Coronavirus and the Church”

What We Can Learn from Expectations about What God Is Doing


“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ[i]. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
    that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

(Luke 2:25-32)

“Belief in the eventual coming of the mashiach [Messiah] is a basic and fundamental part of traditional Judaism”; though [m]odern scholars suggest that the messianic concept was introduced later in the history of Judaism, during the age of the prophets. The messianic concept is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible)”[ii], but an expectation of the coming of an Anointed One, Messiah (Christ in Greek) developed in the writings of the Prophets, and it reached the height of expectation shortly before the time of Jesus.

“The term ‘mashiach’ literally means ‘the anointed one,’ and refers to the ancient practice of anointing kings with oil when they took the throne. The mashiach is the one who will be anointed as king in the End of Days.”[iii] This is the belief of traditional Judaism, going back, at least, to the Prophets, with expectations building up to the time of Jesus.

This is where Judaism, as it continues to be practiced today, and Christianity diverge. The Jews had very specific ideas of what the Mashiach would do when he appeared, and Jesus didn’t fit their expectations.[iv] They did not expect the Messiah to be God who became man to sacrifice Himself to save the world from sin. Though Jews today still expect the coming of a messiah, they don’t even use the term, “messiah”, anymore because Christians have associated it with Jesus.

They believed the Mashiach would be “well-versed in Jewish law, and observant of its commandments (Isaiah 11:2-5), … a “charismatic leader, inspiring others to follow his example.”[v] These expectations are consistent with Jesus in the New Testament, but other expectations were not. They expected a “great political leader descended from King David[vi]”; a “great military leader, who will win battles for Israel”; a “great judge”; and, most of all, he would be completely and only human. Jews believe the Mashiach will bring people back to Israel and restore Jerusalem, establish the center of world government in Israel, rebuild the Temple, re-establish worship in the Temple, restore the religious court system and establish Jewish law for the world.[vii]

These things are all consistent with what we read in the New Testament about the way the Jewish leaders did not receive Jesus. John 1 says that the Word (Jesus), who was with God in the beginning and through whom God made the universe, came to his own, and his own did not receive him. (John 1:1-11) He didn’t meet their expectations. The religious leaders, the ones who interpreted Scripture and set the expectations for the Messiah to come, rejected Jesus because of the way they interpreted Scripture and perceived what the Messiah would be like.

Continue reading “What We Can Learn from Expectations about What God Is Doing”

On Being Ready to Give an Answer

Being ready means being in ready relationship


The article I link here, How an Ex-Christian And Counter Apologist Came Back To Jesus – Q+ A With Theologia Apologia, has a lot in it to chew on. Erik Manning is one of my favorite “apologists” on the Internet because he keeps it real. He comes from the other camp (atheism), and I think that always provides fresh perspective.

I put apologists in parentheses because many people, including Christians, don’t really know the term. An apologist is a person who studies and presents evidence defending faith (simply put). The term comes from the Greek word, apologia, which is used in 1 Peter 3:15 when Peter encourages people to “always be prepared to give an answer [apologia] to everyone who asks for the reason for the hope you possess.” (NIV)

I had not really focused on the part about “everyone who asks” before, but I think it’s relevant to the article and the message I hear in it. Maybe we spend too much time trying to convince people who aren’t asking us about our hope, people who don’t care, people who aren’t asking questions or seeking answers.

At the same time (speaking from my own experience), we miss opportunities when people actually ask us those questions! One of the problems with “apologists” is that we prepare for audiences that we choose to “walk into” with all of our memorized and canned responses, but we may not always be sensitive to the Holy Spirit speaking to us in midst of the audiences we encounter throughout our daily lives.

On a related matter, I see Christians posting things along the lines of not being ashamed to say they are Christians. (See also Christians on Social Media) Certainly, if the Holy is convicting a person about the fear of man and the need to “come out”, do it. But, that kind of statement is usually lost on the world, generally, and not very effective (it seems to me) in spreading the Gospel message.

As for the article, the interviewee was a new Christian when he went off to seminary, and he was ill-equipped to face the challenges he encountered. He wasn’t grounded in his own faith. He says, “It was hard for me to have intimacy with God when I was devoting a lot more time to reading and studying about the Bible for a class than I was to reading and studying the Bible devotionally, or when I wrote 10-page papers about a biblical theology of prayer while my personal prayer life was scarce.”

He came from a “seeker-sensitive” church that didn’t deal with the meaty subjects he encountered in seminary, and he “felt lied to”. Bitterness and disillusionment set it. He began to develop suspicion and skepticism about the surface level faith with which he was familiar when plunged into the deep end.

This is where the article speaks to me. This is here the lessons lie.

Continue reading “On Being Ready to Give an Answer”

For the Shame of the Gospel

We have gotten away from the pure and simple message of the cross, that Jesus came to die for sinners and give them salvation.


We live in interesting times. We have taken for granted for a long time in the United States that we are a Christian nation. Christians are fighting through political means and social media to convince this country of those origins and to hold on to them. This is a fight that began in my memory back in the 80’s, and maybe even before that.

In my opinion, we have moved past those Christian origins. Perhaps, the minute we had to start fighting to preserve that legacy we had already lost the fight. I am not sure we will ever go back, short of a revival orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.

Current attitudes in popular culture and among the intellectual elite in the US view the Christian heritage negatively, to the extent that people admit we have a Christian heritage. People view Christians as privileged, wielding power and oppressors. This is the cultural Marxist dialectic that has been playing out since at least the 70’s and maybe before that. We are losing the cultural war.

The positive connotation that went with the word, Christian, in our past has been replaced with a negative. This has largely happened in my lifetime.

Christians have not always deserved the positive connotation that unquestioningly followed the reference, Christian, in the past. Neither do Christians deserve the negative assumption that is evident today. While people may have previously distinguished the errors and failures as departures from the actual message of Christianity, that “nuance” (not that it is very nuanced) is largely lost today. Moderns increasingly equate Christians with those errors and failures. The exceptions have swallowed the rule.

We (Christians) need to be mindful in this realization that we can be guilty of the same failure to recognize the distinctions and nuances in “others” as well. Most Muslims, for instance, are not terrorists. Most feminists, gays, transgender people and others who do not see the world as we do are just trying to find meaning and purpose, healing from their pain and happiness in life. They aren’t the enemy. They are people Jesus died for.

But, I digress.

Christians are the most oppressed religious group in the world today, but you wouldn’t know it in the United States. It isn’t the kind of news that gets published (often) or that anyone wants to hear. It doesn’t fit the current narrative on Christianity that has developed in the west.

It may be that people don’t want to hear it because Christians have had it pretty easy. Christians in the US are viewed as the reigning social oligarchy. The consensus that has building for some time is that Christianity needs to be toppled from it privileged position.

Indeed, Christianity has enjoyed a long and enduring influence in the west, and especially in the US, unlike most other areas of the world, but Christians are now on the defensive as the “others” renounce allegiance and demand recompense. It seems to defy common understanding in the United States to consider Christians an oppressed group.

That privilege doesn’t exist in most other parts of the world where, ironically, Christianity is now growing fastest. While the Church in the US is losing ground rapidly to “the nones”, Christianity is growing fastest and gaining ground most in countries in which the environment is harshest and most hostile to the message of Jesus.

Maybe this is a reflection of the difference between the Gospel of Jesus and the institution of the Church – the difference between the simple message of the Gospel and the burdensome structure of religion. Just as “others” no longer understand the difference between the Gospel message and the errors and failures of the Church, equating and conflating the two, the Church in the US has largely lost its way, no longer shining like a bright light on the hill Jesus intended.

The vestiges of Christian power and influence are evident everywhere, but it is a blighted and obsolescent infrastructure that is crumbling and washing away. The cultural momentum that is gaining steam threatens to displace it altogether from its place of position in the social commonwealth. The current oligarchs in that marketplace of ideas threaten to oust the Christian voice and banish it from the public square.

As I survey the voices I hear, what I see that is being opposed is the voice of Christian power and influence. It isn’t so much the Gospel, but all the infrastructure that has been built up around it, that people are opposing. People don’t (very often) object to the simple message of the Gospel, They don’t even know or appreciate what it is! The message of the Gospel is effectively hidden behind the more public scaffolding of the Church.

Continue reading “For the Shame of the Gospel”

Sam Harris Podcast with Bart Erhman – Part 6 – Postscript


I have taken some time in previous blog articles to summarize my comments about an interview of Bart Ehrman by Sam Harris. Ehrman talks about his early induction into a fundamentalist Christian world and losing his faith. He talks about the issues with biblical interpretation that led him away from belief.  I provide some comment on issues that possibly factor into his loss of faith, and the most recent articles address a modern view of miracles that avoids wrestling with evidence of the resurrection, and an observation that I share with others: that atheists and fundamentalists interpret the Bible similarly (two sides to the same coin).

One way to summarize Bart Ehrman’s story is the rejection of a rigid, wooden Christianity that imposes (or tries to impose) a “literal” meaning to everything in the Bible.  For Erhman, this is an all or nothing proposition.  Either the Bible is all literally true, or it is all literally false.

This is a false dichotomy.  It fails to appreciate nuance, different genres in the Bible, the significance of symbolical, metaphorical and allegorical meanings, context, and many other things.  It is the position of someone insisting that the Bible be read in a certain way and read through a particular lens, rather than allowing the Bible to speak for itself.

When we approach the Bible, or any literature, with our own assumptions and presuppositions, we have already begun to dictate where we will end up. Ehrman originally approached the Bible with the assumption that it was all literally true (whatever “literally” meant to him and the people who influenced him). Ehrman now approaches the Bible with the assumption that it is all literally false, and that colors the way he reads it.

Harris’s reliance on Hume’s standard for determining the proof of a miracle comes back to mind.  If we set the bar “exceedingly” high, as Hume says we should, we rig the analysis, from the start, to discount every miraculous claim.  That the standard we have set is impossible to meet is the ultimate point. They don’t believe in miracles so they don’t take evidence of miracles seriously, whatever the evidence is.

This way of approaching a subject doesn’t seem very scientific or scholarly to me.  Yet, Harris is a scientist.  Erhman is a scholar.  While skepticism is a useful tool, it needs to be employed with a dose of humility, and the same skepticism should be applied to the “hermeneutics of skepticism” employed by the skeptic.

When the interview starts, Harris talks about people failing to use skeptical scientific tools.  Harris is, generally, referring to the scientific method. The scientific method is primarily a skeptical approach, demanding proof.  There is nothing inherently wrong with that approach.  The danger, however, is that we sneak all kinds of presuppositions into our scientific approach which, by their very nature, will dictate outcomes.  This really is not what the scientific method, in its purest form, is meant to be.

Continue reading “Sam Harris Podcast with Bart Erhman – Part 6 – Postscript”