Does God Love Christians More?

I’ve heard many preachers and teachers say something like this:

“God loves us! You see, God loves the whole world—but there is something special about the way that God loves his Church. He’s saved us! So, his love for us is greater than his love for others.”

There are various scriptures that people use to justify a statement like this. My question, though, is this: does God actually love his people more than he loves everyone else?

My answer is a resounding no.  Continue reading “Does God Love Christians More?”

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I Believe Jesus is Actually a Woman (Or, a Lesson in Christian Linkbait)

Why? Because I love Jesus.
And Jesus loves me.
And, I mean… I’m not attracted to guys.
And, I mean… neither is Jesus.

So, I mean, I don’t believe Jesus  is actually a woman, which my title may suggest, but he’s basically kind of like a woman.
Because I love him, just like I love women, and not guys.
That’s lame, you say?
Either way, the title got you here, right?
So I win. Continue reading “I Believe Jesus is Actually a Woman (Or, a Lesson in Christian Linkbait)”

In Favor of Women in Ministry

Of course, there’s a continuing debate on whether women should be preachers, pastors, evangelists, etc. Is this just a role that’s set aside for men? Or is it a role that is gender inclusive? I used to be a part of the camp that thought this kind of role should only be for men. After all, Paul said for women to keep quiet and not to have authority over a man! Also, the requirements for a deacon and elder are in the masculine, not the feminine! That’s surely enough, right? Actually, it’s not. While I’m not going to get into those arguments, I think it’s clear that Jesus supports women preachers, teachers, evangelists, and the whole nine yards.

It’s interesting that whenever Jesus rose from the dead, the first person to witness it was a woman. Mary Magdalene was the one to whom the news of Jesus’ glorious rising from the dead was first entrusted. She ran to tell the rest. This is also pretty good evidence that the gospels weren’t fabricated. You see, people generally saw women as inferior. Who in the Jewish first century would fabricate something that had a woman being the first one to experience an important event?  Especially if the author wanted people to believe it was true! However, it is true and a woman was the first to witness it. This isn’t by accident either. It was to challenge the misogynistic atmosphere in the Jewish culture during Jesus’ time and shoot it to the ground. If a preacher’s job is to announce the gospel, the news that Jesus has died, was buried, and then rose for our sins, isn’t this is exactly what Mary Magdalene did? And she was the first person to do so! If that doesn’t rest the case for you, here’s a little more fun facts.

In Acts, the record of the early Church, there were women involved with all of the crazy things that were occurring. Acts 8:3 and 9:2 record both men and women being persecuted for being a part of “the Way”. They were also baptized and considered full members of the kingdom of God. Acts 8:12 records, “But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” Whatever the Church was experiencing, whether growth, persecution, etc., there were always women along every step of the way, spreading the gospel and sharing in the sufferings of Christ.

Phoebe, a woman mentioned in Romans 16:1-2, was considered a “deacon” or a minister at the church in Cenchreae. Paul spoke highly of her and she is actually the one who he commissioned to deliver the letter to Romans, arguably Paul’s greatest letter. Usually, the person who delivered the letters would be the first ones to read the letters aloud to the church and then answer any questions that they may have concerning it. So, in reality, Phoebe was probably the first person to not only read Romans aloud, but the first one to expound on and preach  that great letter from the apostle Paul. Women were definitely essential in the early Church as preachers of the gospel.

In fact, later on in that chapter of Romans, another woman is mentioned. Her name is Junia and Paul says in verse 7 that she and Andronicus were “prominent among the apostles”. This doesn’t simply mean that the apostles knew a lot about them, but that they themselves were apostles. So, Paul considers Junia, a woman, to be an apostle of the Lord, and a prominent one at that. For a woman to be a leader in a “Jewish sect”, as some thought of it, was unheard of to a lot of the people around that time. However, following in Jesus’ footsteps, the early Church did an incredible job of breaking down the misogyny that had infiltrated the culture of that day. Junia would have been preaching and teaching a lot if she was considered an apostle.

To me, that makes it clear that women definitely had the authority in the early Church to preach and teach the gospel. Even the things that seem to contradict this position has to be interpreted in light of these things. If it was the case in the early Church, why do we marginalize women today? Why do we withhold from them the office of preacher, pastor, evangelist, etc.? That’s not something the Church did back then. And it certainly wasn’t something that Jesus did. If we want to mirror Jesus, then I believe we should allow the full inclusion of women into the ministry of the Church.

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

God’s Election: What It Is and Is Not

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the doctrine of election. When I first started looking into it, I hated it. Who would spend so much time learning about a useless topic! But, then, I began to study it more, particularly the Calvinistic and Reformed understanding it, and I began to love it. How amazing that God would choose me to be in Christ based not anything in me, but solely in his love and grace! Then, as I began to reform my beliefs and depart with Calvinism, I began to hate it. I didn’t see it as lining up with the picture of God that is revealed in Jesus and the Spirit, but I didn’t know how to explain what they meant. Then, as I did more research on it, looking at a wider range of commentators, theologians, and pastors, I began to love it again. And I simply want to show why the election of God should be a doctrine that is not something we should hate or be embarrassed of. It is a beautiful doctrine that should incite praise and worship and, maybe surprisingly to some, move us to act in a deeply subversive, kingdom-of-God manner.

When it comes to election, it’s important to look at the metanarrative of Scripture. Too many times, people start with some verses in Paul’s epistles and try to prove a certain, presupposed framework with that. But, we have to take the entire story found in the Old Testament, along with the New Testament, into consideration. Because, when encountering OT texts, one finds that words like “election” and “chosen” appear a good bit. And so the question that has to be asked is: how was election understood throughout the OT narrative?

Genesis 3-11 gives an overview of the fall and its effects. Because Adam and Eve fell, sin, murder, immorality, and separation have occurred. The “goodness” that was found in Genesis 1-2 had been devastatingly lost and things had gone terribly wrong. Genesis 12 comes along and God approaches Abraham (Abram) and tells him that he is going to bless him and bless all the families of the earth through him (v. 3). This covenant is repeated to him in Genesis 15, 17, 22, and elsewhere, saying that he was going to make his offspring a great number and give them a great land. In other words, God was setting apart a man through whom a great people was going to come. God would not only bless this people, but he would use this people to bless the world.

We see this calling fleshed out later on. The line continues through Abraham’s son, Isaac, and then onto Jacob. Jacob’s family eventually moves to Egypt, where his son, Joseph, was made second in command, and his family begins to multiply. However, after being there 400 years, Jacob’s descendants, the people of Israel, are subordinated and oppressed as slaves by the Egyptians. Moses rises up and leads these people, God’s chosen people, out of Egypt to inherit the land that God had promised them. As they are in the wilderness, Moses reminds them of their vocation:

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. (Exodus 19:5-6)

In other words, God was reminding Israel that they were his people. In addition, all of the earth is his and they had a certain role as his chosen people while they were in the world. They were a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Their being a kingdom of priests meant that they were to have dominion over the earth, reflecting God’s wise rule all across the land (the kingdom part), and to act as God’s representatives on earth, reflecting his character to the other people of the earth (the priest part). In fact, this echoes the first humans original call. They were told to have dominion over the earth as well (Genesis 1:26) and were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26 as well), which was a priestly vocation, to represent and reflect God and his character here on earth. This was the purpose of God’s election of Israel. And he would set them apart by giving them a certain set of laws (given in the next chapter, the Ten Commandments), thus making them a “holy nation”. So, not only had he saved them out of Egypt, but they were going to be the vehicle through whom God was going to undo everything that Adam had done and bring salvation to all.

However, Israel was failing at her vocation. God was constantly rebuking them for not fulfilling their call to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Israel begins to see their election as a sign of their own superiority. Instead of doing their work for the nations, they became to focused on themselves. God reminded them of the basis and purpose of their election in Deuteronomy 7:6-8:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

It turns out that the people called to reverse the affects of Adam were, too, in Adam. The body that God had called as a vehicle to save the world, too, needed to be saved. They needed someone, a faithful Israelite, to fulfill the vocation of Israel, defeating the enemies of sin and its consequence, death. The person that was going to do this began to be known as the Messiah. The idea that this anointed One would embody Israel as a whole appears in Isaiah.  Notice in chapter 41, God calls the corporate body of Israel as his servant:

But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
(Verses 8-9)

But in the next chapter, this corporate body of Israel is described as a single person:

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
(42:1-3)

Thus, this “Israel-in-person” figure, this one whom we identify as the “suffering servant”, was put in direct contrast to Israel and was going to fulfill the role that Israel could never fulfill.

Obviously, this person is Jesus. Jesus comes and fulfills the role of the royal priesthood and holy nation. He preaches a new, subversive kingdom of God (a royal term), shows us what God is really like compared to what rabbinic tradition had taught (as a true priest should), and defined what it meant to truly be set apart for God (being holy). Why did Jesus do this? To save the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike. Israel could not fulfill this vocation, being in need of salvation herself.

So, we see this elect body of people embodied in one person. In addition to being fully human and fully God, Jesus was also fully Israel. He was Israel-in-person. He, thus, became the Elect One. The Father calls him this at the transfiguration (Luke 9:35). Jesus is representative of Israel as a whole, and is, in that sense, “chosen” by God. Everything that Israel had been called to in her election, Jesus fulfilled. He was the faithful Israelite, doing what Israel could never do.

What becomes of election now, in the New Testament?

Jesus had inaugurated God’s kingdom, his sovereign rule over earth. And he did so in some radical ways that went against common perceptions at the time. One of these subversive new ideas was the fact that Gentiles were now included in this chosen people of God. This doesn’t mean that Gentiles could now be saved, because there were Gentiles saved in the Old Testament (think Rahab, and also Nineveh, where Jonah preached. The whole city of Gentiles repented!). After all, the promise was not only for the Jews, but through them! The new twist was that Gentiles were actually included into the covenant. What had once been for ethnic Jews was now available to all, by placing faith in Jesus Christ.

How was this so? Paul spends a lot of his time talking about how God can still be faithful to his word, his covenant, while including Gentiles into it. One big reason was because Jesus was, indeed, Israel-in-person. Israel wasn’t about ethnicity or Torah or circumcision or anything of that sort. Israel was now associated with one person and one person alone: Jesus. Now, if anyone is included in Jesus, that person is included in Israel. Because Jesus is Israel-in-person! He fulfilled all that Israel was supposed to accomplish. And now, through him, people of all ethnicities and backgrounds could be a part of this chosen people who find their common identity in Jesus.

Notice, though, that Paul doesn’t completely abandon Jewish theology. It’s still about being a part of Israel, but now, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Rom. 9:6). All of the things that were important to Jewish theology was still there, but simply redefined in Jesus, not anything else, like ethnicity. Those in the covenant still have to be included in Abraham, but “it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” and “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:7,29). Being a circumcised Jew is still an important idea, but now “a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom. 2:29). The law still needs to be kept, but now “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).

So, when we approach the language of election in the New Testament, we have to keep this corporate-body-identified-in-Christ framework in mind. Israel’s election was corporate, not individual. Election in the New Testament is corporate, not individual. Election in the OT was largely about vocation, the call to bring salvation to world. Israel was the body chosen for the vocation and everyone else was the ones who received the salvation. In the NT, the purpose of vocation and salvation have been fused together in one body. Our vocation is to bring the salvation of Jesus about to the world in order that they might join in our vocation to further spread this salvation to the world. Salvation is something that God does for the Church, but also through the Church, in order that more might be added to the Church.

Then we get to verses like Ephesians 1:3-6:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Notice the words I bolded. “In Christ” or some variation appears four times in those three verses. The reason is because when he speaks of election, Paul isn’t, for some reason, abandoning the Jewish framework of election he was all too familiar with. He was simply redefining it around Jesus. We are chosen, yes! But, we are chosen in Christ. Christ is the chosen One, the Israel-in-person. And if we are in him, then we are in Israel, the chosen people of God. Notice, it doesn’t say that God choses or predestines whether or not we’ll be in Christ. It simply says that for those who are in Christ, you are chosen, blessed, and predestined for wonderful things.

And the beautiful thing is that this intensifies our calling and our own vocation! Many times, theories of election end up doing something more like what happened in Deuteronomy 7. It makes people arrogant and leads them to see themselves as the ones who God specifically set apart. Even if it is by grace and love! There’s something about being individually chosen that boosts the ego and seems to stem from a culture of radical individualism. God chose ME. But God’s election isn’t about his choosing of any woman or man! It’s about God’s choosing a people and that people being embodied by Jesus Christ as the representative for us all. That’s the thing that both sides, Calvinism and Arminianism, seem to miss. Both are wrapped up as to how God goes about choosing individuals, but the reality is that election doesn’t speak to that at all! To read that into language about election is to commit a hermeneutical error. If one concludes that God has to choose individuals because of one’s view of divine providence, then that is simply a deduction, not an exegetical truth. Election is always speaking on a corporate level (which, of course, is comprised of individuals!), but not specifically of individuals.

Peter speaks of the Church in his first epistle and describes them as such:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

All of these things echo Israel. They were a chosen race, a royal priesthood (kingdom of priests), a holy nation, his possessed, corporate people. Jesus called on his listeners to be a “light to the world” (Matt. 5:14), something that Israel was called to do (Isaiah 49:6). We see Israel as a model of what God’s people were called to do, albeit a flawed model. And then we see Jesus as the fulfillment of that, God’s chosen one, King of God’s kingdom, the one who reflected God perfectly, the true Light of the world, and the beloved Son of God’s own possession. It is in him that we find salvation and it is in him that we are chosen and elect. Our being chosen should never be about us. We are chosen in Christ for the purpose of proclaiming the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light, in hopes that the whole world will be saved, restored, and find justice in him.

Completely, Absolutely, and Unquestionably Free from the Law

If you are still wondering what I am going to be discussing in the post, then my (probably unnecessary) overbearing title failed to fulfill its duty. So, when talking about Christians, the Old Testament law, and the relationship between the two, there are usually a couple of comments said. This is usually how the conversation goes.

Skeptic: “If you believe the Bible, then why don’t you have to sacrifice bulls and not eat shellfish and everything? You’re a hypocrite!”
Christian: “No, the Old Testament law does not apply to us anymore as Christians. We are part of a New Covenant.”

Awesome. But, then something else is added.

Skeptic: “Okay, then why do Christians use the Old Testament to back up certain moral laws?”
Christian: “That’s because, as Christians, we are still bound to the moral laws, but simply not the ceremonial laws or civil laws. Jesus fulfilled all of those so we don’t have to.”

And this is where it becomes problematic. There are a few problems with this line of thinking.

Continue reading “Completely, Absolutely, and Unquestionably Free from the Law”

“What is the role of LGBTQ+ individuals within the church?”

(This is reposted from a blog, “The Ecumenicals“, for which I wrote as a guest this week”)

Jesus, the One around whom the Christian faith is built, instructed his disciples to love one another. After loving God, this was the second greatest commandment. Unfortunately, people who claim to follow the teachings of this subversive revolutionary fail to follow this equally revolutionary command. This is made evident in mainstream Christianity’s history of oppression, hatred, and violence towards the LGBTQ+ community.

A message that started as loving, compassionate, and inclusive is tragically warped into a hateful, spiteful, and exclusive message. Much of the church has adopted an “us vs. them” mentality that goes against the very fabric of the kingdom which Jesus came to establish. People like Westboro Baptist Church (using both the term “baptist” and “church” loosely”) are among these hate groups which twist the message of Christ to perpetuate their own prejudices, hates, and fears.

So, when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, in the midst of all of this hatred and mishandling of the gospel, the question arises, “What is the role of LGBTQ+ individuals within the church?” I take the same position as homosexual Christian, Wesley Hill. His view is that the Church should openly welcome admittedly gay men and women (and others in the LGBTQ+ community). And I wholeheartedly agree with him. The Church has turned away these beautiful humans created in God’s image for too long.

However, Wesley Hill, being homosexual in orientation himself, believes that homosexuality is a deviation from God’s original design. Thus, he believes that all sexual activity should be between a biological man and a biological woman. He describes himself more accurately as a “gay celibate Christian”. While I think members of the LGBTQ+ community should be generously welcomed, Hill and I both share the conviction that sex was created to be fulfilled between one man and one woman.

This does not, however, mean that homosexual men and woman should aim to be straight or “pray the gay away”. Just like heterosexual celibate men and woman, Hill makes the point that all people are made for community and fellowship. Much of the American church has made marriage so important that they see all celibate people as second class Christians. This simply is not so. Paul even spends a good amount of time in 1 Corinthians 7 explaining how being single is something he wished more people would pursue. We all need love, and this is especially true for celibate brothers and sisters, both heterosexual and homosexual.

Thus, the Church should not only be welcoming and accepting of members of the LGBTQ+ community, but also make extra provisions to provide community, fellowship, and a loving environment in which the fellow members can do life together as they walk in celibacy. As someone who is not married and does not see getting a spouse as something happening anytime in the near future, celibacy may be a real option for me. I would love to be able to embrace someone of the LGBTQ+ community who shares my convictions and walk that path together.

For too long, the Church has been no place for the LGBTQ+ community.  But, if the Church wants to take seriously the commands of Christ, they need to refigure their approach to these individuals.

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For additional reading, check out Wesley Hill’s book, “Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality”