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 on social media to convince this country of those origins and to hold on to them. In my opinion, we has moved past those Christian origins, and I am not sure we will ever go back short of a revival of 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 oppressive. 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 being 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 other people 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 the 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 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 is building is that Christianity needs to be toppled from it superior position.

Indeed, Christianity has enjoyed a long and enduring influence in the west, unlike most other areas of the world. Christians are considered the “privileged” who are now on the defensive as the “others” renounce that privilege 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 growing fastest. While the Church in the United States is losing ground rapidly to “the nones”, Christianity is growing fastest and gaining ground in countries most 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 religious Pharisees. 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 as 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”

Thoughts on Christian Persecution


The blasts that rocked Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday 2019 sent shockwaves all over the world that reached the United Stated. Finally, the targeted persecution of Christians was reported in the mainstream news. The tsunami of reaction, if we can call that, even led to a Newsweek article acknowledging that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today, and the targeted hostility is on the rise.

The news is not that persecution of Christians around the world is on the rise. The news is that mainstream news reported it. Not that it could be ignored. The numbers were too big. They were too big to ignore, unlike the ongoing killings in Nigeria, and India, and Pakistan and arrests in China and burning and demolition of churches that occur increments that are easier to let slip by.

But, let’s be real here. Christian pleas for recognition and sympathy, as was shown for the killing of Muslims at Christchurch or institutionally marginalized people in our own culture who are rising on the shoulders of the Christian notion of the exaltation of the weak and oppressed is largely falling on deaf ears. And Christians aren’t happy about it.

Let’s be even more real here. Christians are not persecuted in the United States and never have been. That the tide of popular opinion about Christians and Christianity is turning, has turned, is not the same as persecution. That Christians are seen as the oppressors, the privileged and the keepers of the gates to be stormed by the cultural elite who have secured themselves in the cultural command center does not equate to persecution… yet.

But, we need to be careful here. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus. We need to follow His lead, and not react out of our flesh. We need to maintain the right perspective. The perspective of people for whom Jesus has made a place with Him.

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Of Church Heretics and Heroes

Who are the William Tyndale’s in modern culture?

The Tyndale Monument, Gloucestershire, UK was built in honor of William Tyndale, a translator of the Bible, who was born nearby.

I listened recently to the Unbelievable podcast on the subject of William Tyndale. (Unbelievable? Why William Tyndale’s Bible changed the world: Melvyn Bragg and Ben Virgo) Tyndale lived from 1494-1536, during a time in which illiteracy was the rule, not the exception. The Bible was read only by the educated elite.

The 1600’s was also a time of great corruption in the church itself. The church was the largest employer in the land. It had great power, and it was corrupt. The vast majority of people, including clergy, were ignorant of Scripture. According to the experts on the Unbelievable podcast, many clergymen didn’t even know the 10 commandments. This was a very dark period in church history, the culmination of centuries of church/state alliance that twisted the Gospel to serve the power of kings and popes who lived like kings.

Tyndale was influenced by Martin Luther who also a rebel that opposed the church consensus and power structure of the day. Tyndale was influenced by John Wycliffe who a century before had translated the Bible into middle English, but the church opposed the “unauthorized” translation and rejected it. The church even declared Wycliffe a heretic after his death, and many of the Wycliffe Bibles were burned and not widely distributed.

Tyndale made it his life’s mission to translate the Bible into English for the common man. Though Wycliffe had already done that, the Bible was still virtually inaccessible to the vast majority of people, and even clergy were ignorant of it. He suffered exile for his efforts and was eventually arrested, jailed, convicted of heresy, executed by strangulation, and his body was burned at the stake.

We celebrate Tyndale now as a martyr for the faith who took up his cross and followed Christ even unto death, a leader of the reformation that led believers out of the corruption of the organized religion of his day.

He and other “rebels” paved the way for the Bible to be made available worldwide in every language spoken on earth. Tyndale now is the name of a major Christian publishing company. Luther is the namesake of a major church denomination. Wycliffe is the name of the organization that translates the Bible into the rarest languages of the farthest flung tribes of the world.

Just as Jesus opposed the Pharisees and Sadducees in the 1st Century, Tyndale opposed the popes and bishops in the 16th Century. Just as the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to stop Jesus and had him arrested, tried, convicted and executed for spreading the Gospel, the popes and bishops tried to stop Tyndale, had him arrested, tried, convicted and executed for translating the Bible including the words Jesus preached into English.

The main opposition to Jesus, and Tyndale, came from the religious leaders. Those religious leaders employed the power of the state to oppose the spread of the Gospel (in Jesus’s case) and the spread of the translation of the Bible into English (in Tyndale’s case).

When Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify [Jesus]?”, the chief priests said, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15) I think about these things in light of the current religious and cultural climate.

Tyndale was viewed as a rebel and, a renegade, a heretic. He opposed the status quo, including the status quo within the church. He was despised. He was opposed by the church. He could not even return to his homeland, England, for fear of his life, and he eventually lost his life to the church and state authorities of his day

Today, the church and state are no longer joined in power as in Tyndale’s day. Many modern Christians in the United States rue the loss of power and advantage, while modern secularists would like to negate completely all influence of religion on society. If Hilary Clinton had been elected, instead of Trump, most Christians feared an incremental loss of power and influence in the affairs of our nation. Christians have embraced Trump as the man to fight the tide of growing secularism and maintain Christianity in that position of power and influence.

But is that a good thing? We all know of the challenges, difficulties and even persecution of the church that result from state government that is opposed to the church, but history suggests that the confluence of state power with church governance leads to corruption of the church. Would we rather accept corruption in the church to avoid challenge, difficulty and persecution?

Listening to Tyndale’s story, makes me wonder, “What about the church today is like the church in Tyndale’s time?” What influence lingers or has crept in to modern Christianity that will cause future believers to look back and wonder at the corruption of the 21st Century church?

Who are the heretics of our time who will be hailed as heroes in future generations?

The Roots of Modern Ethics in the Ancient Near East

Of the origins of monotheistic religion and ethics.

Jerusalem: The Temple Mount from the time of the Second Temple

When I was in college, the first class I took was World Religions. Though I graduated with an English Literature major, I also had enough credits to be a Religion major. I didn’t need the dual major. I only took the religion classes because they interested me.

I also became a believing Christian during my college years. It was a transition that took place between that World Religion class and the summer between Sophomore and Junior years. It’s a long story that I might tell in detail some time, but the point for now is that I did a lot of reading and thinking about these things in those years and in the decades since. It doesn’t make me a theologian, but I have more than a passing interest.

Early on I learned that the creation story and flood story in Genesis, among other things, have counterparts in other religions, including other religions in the same area of the world – the Ancient Near East. Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians, and other people groups had similar myths that have been uncovered from that general time period.

Zoroastrianism, in particular, was said to share many attributes similar to the ancient Hebraic view of the world, including the idea a singular creator God, a dualistic cosmology of good and evil, the ultimate destruction of evil, judgment after death, etc. The conjecture when I was in college was that Zoroastrianism may have predated Hebraic thought and influenced it.

It occurred to me at the time, not having any reason to doubt that speculation, that Abraham may have been particularly open to his encounter with God if, indeed, he had lived in an area of the world and in a time in which there was this kind of influence. It made some sense. He was the right guy in the right place with the right influences setting the table for an encounter with God, the Creator of the world.

Recently I did a research on Zoroastrianism. Wikipedia acknowledges that Zoroastrianism has “possible roots dating back to the second millennium BC”, though “recorded history” of Zoroastrianism only dates back to the 5th Century BC. (Wikipedia). Obviously, dating the roots of Zoroastrianism back to the second millennium BC is only conjecture if records of Zoroastrianism only date to the 5th Century BC.

If we date the accounts of Abraham and his descendants according the biblical chronology and references, that history goes far back into the second millennium BC, but a loose consensus of modern archaeologists and theologians reject that dating in favor of first millennium BC dating. (See Wikipedia, for example) Modern scholars don’t take the Bible at face value. In fact, they presumptively dismiss it for its face value.

This aren’t the end of the scholarly views of course. Not by a long shot. Some notable evidence and analysis exists that the modern consensus is wrong about the timeline for the life of Moses, the Exodus and other things. (See for instance Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy) The Patterns of Evidence conjecture is that historians and archaeologists who assume a particular timeline for certain events are not apt to see the evidence for those events if they occurred in a different timeline.

The Patterns of Evidence thesis is that evidence for the events described in the biblical narrative is there if we peer through the lens of the right timeline and look for them in the right time periods. Specifically, the biblical accounts of Moses, the Exodus and entry into the land of Canaan are apparent in the archaeological record and historical data on the biblical timeline (second millennium BC), not in the first millennium timeline applied by modern, skeptical scholars.

Certain archaeological finds, like the Ebla Tablets, also raise questions about the modern scholarly consensus. The importance of “looking” in the right places according to the right timelines is explored in Timing the Walls of Jericho.

Back to Abraham, though, he was reportedly from the area of Ur (southeast Iraq), which is quite a distance from the area of Canaan (later Judea) where he ended up – about 1600 miles in fact. In Ur, he may have come in contact with Zoroastrians and other influences. That intrigued me in college, and so I revisit that thought journey again today.

Continue reading “The Roots of Modern Ethics in the Ancient Near East”

On Acknowledging and Transcending Evil – A Message to the Church

The Nazi party came to power in a Christian nation, and church leaders participated in the Rwandan genocide. How do we deal with that?

CIRCA 1933: Rare German vintage cigarette card from the 1933 Der Staat der Arbeit und des Friedens album, Part 2, Picture 155.

As often happens with me, disparate things I have read recently gel together in ways that provide insight. One of those things I read a number of weeks ago. It was a piece written about the effect of Christianity (or lack thereof) on Nazi Germany. I don’t have a citation anymore.

The other piece I read today, I Met the Man Who Killed My Entire Family, by Katelyn Beaty, Christianity Today (Aug. 2017), summarizing an interview with Immaculee Ilibagiza about her experience with the Rwandan genocide. Aside from the harrowing details and utterly transformative reality of real forgiveness, this statement jumped off the pages at me: “United Nations tribunals have found many church leaders guilty of murdering neighbors or aiding Hutu in hunting down Tutsi and moderate Hutu.”

How could that be?! About one million people were killed in Rwanda, a country about the size of Maryland, and “the Church” was not only complicit in the killings by looking the other way; it was directly involved!

That is a hard reality for believers to accept, but we need to grasp the reality of it. Church leaders, not just people who sat in the pews, were directly involved in the Rwandan genocide.

We might be tempted to discount the conclusions of the United Nations, which is not a particularly faith-friendly institution, but I think that is a mistake. I felt the same way reading the account of the Christian influence in Nazi Germany.

To be sure, some of the conclusions of the author of the article about Nazi Germany were unfair and (I believe) misinformed, but that doesn’t mean there was no truth in it. I came away having to acknowledge that I can no longer claim that the Nazi influence in post-World War I Germany was grounded solely in atheism.

Reality is more complicated than that, and we (the church) need to be careful of glossing over painful realities that don’t fit into how we see ourselves. The recent exposure of the problem of sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches is another example. We can’t turn a blind eye to evil in the church just because it doesn’t line up with the way the church ought to be.

If something doesn’t line up with the commands of Christ to love others as ourselves and the litmus test, “they will know us by our love”, we should be all the more vigilant to acknowledge the short falling and quick to respond appropriately – especially if the failure arises in the Church!

I think part of the danger, as we might learn from Nazi Germany, is that we see ourselves as the “good” people. We tend to think that evil is “out there”. Other people are evil. The church is just as susceptible to this thinking as anyone… maybe even more so!

I believe the Gospel message is hurt more by our silent refusal to acknowledge evil, even when it might arise “in the church”, than it would be by quick and candid acknowledgment and appropriate responses. I think we do the Gospel a disservice when we fail to acknowledge evil that arises in the church, and by failing to acknowledge it we become complicit with it.

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Perspective and Worldviews

We should not hold on so tightly to our own perspectives that we cannot be molded by God’s eternal perspective and gentle hand.


It’s always interesting to listen to people who come from outside our own circles. I have become a religious listener of the Unbelievable Podcast hosted by Justin Brierley in the UK. The difference of perspective that is driven by our different experiences, individual, familial and cultural, is the subject of this piece.

Two recent podcasts come to mind. The first included two Christians, one with an egalitarian view on women and the other with a complimentarian view on women (Unbelievable? #MeToo and the Church: Egalitarian vs Complementarian • Natalie Collins & Phil Moore). The egalitarian position is the progressive view, and the complimentarian position is the conservative view. That seems obvious enough. What interested me was not only the difference in opinions, but the influences that shaped those opinions.

The other podcast (Unbelievable? Render unto Caesar – Should the church keep out of economic politics? Andy Walton vs James Price) involved two more Christians, one with a view that the church should speak to politics, and another with a view that the church should not speak to politics, but should stick to theological things. These guys, being from Great Britain, turn the American views of these things on their heads. Thus, a difference in perspective that prompts me to write this blog piece.

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The Intersectionality of Jesus Christ

Intersectionality is the focus of my Christmas thoughts this morning.


A recent podcast hosted by Justin Brierley, Debating the Statement on Social Justice – Jarrod McKenna and James White, sparks my thinking this morning. One might wonder what social justice has to do with Christmas Eve that I should be thinking about it. Quite a lot actually.

Before tying up that loose end, though, I feel the need to comment on the discussion. James White was a drafter of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. The express purpose of the Statement is to clarify the meaning of the Gospel in order to guard against false teachings creeping into the Church through modern “sociological, psychological, and political theories”. Certainly, concern over false teachings and false gospels is a theme we find as far back as the Gospels, themselves, and the Pauline letters. We are right o be concerned.

On the other hand, as I listened to the discussion, another concern occurred to me. Yes, we are not of the world, but we are in the world, and the world is our mission field. Jesus left the 99 to search for the one lost sheep. Paul was a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks, becoming all things to all people so that he could reach them with the Gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) Though Paul was concerned about false gospels creeping into the Church, he was also concerned about relating to the lost world.

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