Tuesday, November 13, 2012

21st Century Theologians of the Cross: Workshop Proposal (alpha stage)

Hello my dear readers,

Within the next few months I will be teaching a workshop at a Youth Ministry convention and I want to share my course proposal with you all. Below, you will find my initial proposal of the questions and topic of focus, I invite you to provide your feedback and thoughts on the questions. Over the course of the next weeks and months, I will beta test my workshop content with you in order to craft the best final product for the audience. 


If you’ve read recent books and articles about churchgoer statistics, or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, you may be feeling a little discouraged. Whether the Church is the loudest voice within culture or it’s losing steam, we have theology with a powerful point! Christ died for us and God is found at the cross. Today, we have more than a few options, we can ignore MTD and the decline of church attendance, we can fight the changes, we can join the trends, we can accept fate, or we can teach the next generations something real and relevant.

In this workshop, we’ll explore questions such as:

What does it mean to be Lutheran?

Why does Lutheranism matter for youth today?

How does good theology change lives?

Who needs the Theology of the Cross, anyway?

When am I ever going to use this boring theology stuff?

Where do we go from here?

In a culture of challenging church trends, youth and Youth Workers are faced with some tough questions about the relevance and effectiveness of theology. The Lutheran Theology of the Cross has powerful answers to these 21st century questions, and even more powerful questions for us.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Simon Says Christians Don't Actually Read Leviticus: A Survey of the Book of Leviticus

The book of Leviticus is an explanation of the priestly laws for the people of Israel. Today, there are people who think the Leviticus text has little to no relevance for the Christian faith life (after all, it’s a Hebrew text written for a specific people, and a specific occasion). However, taking such logic to its natural conclusion would lead most if not all scripture to be irrelevant (which ought to be a concern for people of faith).

The contexts of the Levitical Laws are not as irrelevant as some might think (myself included, at one point in time). The Levite priests held authority over the people of Israel religiously, medically, and judicially. They were the governing tribe of Israel before the time of the Judges. What makes this relevant to a modern culture? If your priest was your doctor, your lawyer, your judge, your educator, and your religious authority, wouldn’t you pay attention to what they were communicating to you?

The point is there’s more to the book of Leviticus than most people know about and it’s all right there in the text. Perhaps, my background in biblical scholarship allows me to catch things most readers don’t (but I think there’s more to it than that). Context is everything. The book of Leviticus is known for prohibiting same sex relations (18:22; 20:13) but contextually it’s not talking about “homosexuality.” Those famously prooftexted (pulled out of context, misused, eisegetical) verses are talking about things done in the practice of idol worship to other gods. The law of the Lord was for the people of Israel to be set apart from other nations and devoted to their God.

Idolatry was the crux of Original Sin – it’s what makes us sinners – it’s the most alienating and relevant aspect of human nature. No matter what we keep or trim out (all Christians do this with one biblical text or another) the book of Leviticus is super relevant. In it we are told to love our neighbor (19:18), to respect the authority of the Lord (18:30), not to oppress immigrants (19:33-34), to engage in religious celebrations and services (23:4-8), to share our provisions with the poor (23:22), and to remember what the Lord has done for the people of God (20:23-24).

Remembering the work of God is central to the Pentateuch (Torah) and to the Leviticus text, as the text indicates how exile in Babylon 586 BC/BCE affected the people’s appreciation for the work of God (26:34). It’s also a great reminder that whether it’s Jesus in the New Testament or the priests in the Old Testament someone is reconciling the people to God because we are unable to redeem ourselves (Lv. 15:30).          

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Humans Bent on Evil while God is Mysterious in Mercy: A Survey of the Book of Exodus

After my survey on the book of Genesis, I decided to read through the book of Exodus and write another survey. A survey of a biblical text is one of the first steps in exegetical practice and biblical scholarship. In the survey process one reads the text and records initial thoughts, reactions, and questions. Now, I shall do so for the book of Exodus.

The Exodus narrative begins the story of Moses and tells the events of how the people of Israel were delivered form the land of Egypt. Unlike the book of Genesis, the book of Exodus focuses primarily on one central figure (Moses) and how he interacts with God, the Israelites, the Egyptians, and the Pharaoh.

The story of Exodus is a battle for the first born son (whether that be Egypt or Israel). One thing is very evident in this text the LORD (the “I AM THAT I AM”) is in control. God has a plan and Moses, a simple man, was chosen to be the face of this plan to the people of Israel. In this narrative, God is seen as so powerful that no one can see the divine face and live. Usually God is veiled behind a cloud when communicating with Moses.

As literature, I found the Genesis story more engaging than the Exodus story, but this might be due to the fact I can’t help but see images of Charlton Heston whenever I read the book of Exodus. However, some very interesting things develop in the book of Exodus. The Israelites wander in the wilderness of Sin (which I suspect has influence on the origins of how we use the word “sin” today, but it had a specific significance to its context). Another striking observation, I saw in this most recent reading of Exodus, was the fact that Moses instructed the people not to offend the Egyptians with their sacrifices to the LORD (8:26).

The book of Exodus (while not my favorite biblical text) establishes at least two major elements of the faith, the Law and tradition (namely Passover). On one hand we have the Law (in the form of the Ten Commandments and their explanations) which illuminates the brokenness of humanity and on the other hand we have the Passover, which celebrates the deliverance of God’s people by the work of the Lord.

Friday, June 1, 2012

R-Rated Beginnings: A Survey of the Book of Genesis

The book of Genesis is like, dysfunctional family story hour. The text is not lacking any form of malice, deceit, debauchery, or violence. I say family dysfunction because the Genesis story is one tale of a broken home after another. It’s fratricide, upon deception, upon some funky familial relations.

When it comes to the Genesis text, I tend to side with scholars who segment it into two forms: metanarrative and historical narrative. Usually, I place the metanarrative around Creation and Fall, but a recent reading of the text has me leaning towards a larger segmentation (Ch. 1-11). This leaves the historical narratives consisting of the Patriarchs and their Jerry Springer like, family stories.

The myth (tradition/legend) of the giants and sons of gods consorting with female humans (Ch. 6) contributes to the metanarrative, which explains the fallen nature of humankind, as does the Flood, as does, Cain and Able. In this metanarrative, we have the makings of two crucial covenants (Noaic and Abrahamic) One where the Lord promises not to destroy people and the other where the Lord promises the growth of a people. In short, through legend and history, the book of Genesis depicts the bonded will of humanity.

The basic gist of the book of Genesis, humans are inclined to do messed up things. There’s everyone’s favorite Sodom and Gomorrah, where the townsmen want to “get to know” the angels a bit. There’s the split of Jacob and Esau (Israel and Edom) who were at odds throughout the Primary History (Genesis-Kings). Not to mention, Lot’s daughters (Ch. 19).

Frankly, the book of Genesis is R-rated for violence and disturbing sexual content. Lot’s daughters and their freaky relations may be the most unsettling to modern readers. But, Abraham (you know, the father of many nations) married his half-sister Sarah (20:12).

As I reread Genesis today, the text brought out some interesting questions. I wondered how any Christian could believe in Free Will (if they’ve read Genesis in its entirety). I wondered how we’ve managed to convey many of the stories as fantastical children’s tales. I wondered how anyone could find it boring (whether they treat it as sacred or not). If you haven’t read the book of Genesis, I encourage you to read it, not so the Lord convicts you (or whatever spiritual motive you may favor), and not in order to disprove its legitimacy. Read it for the story, where copious amounts of human brokenness are met by a divine covenant of grace.

(I listened to this on vinyl today)

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Pro-Jesus, Anti-Jesus-Freak Gospel

Public image is an interesting vexation. It’s no secret that I’m open about my faith or my service in ministry, but I get the sense, all the wrong folks think I’m a “Jesus Freak” or a good sinner. I believe in Jesus and I love God, but the God of the cross is not some cliché, image-conscience, lifestyle-driven deity. I assure you the “Jesus Freak” mentality is a symptom of our broken world.

I believe in a living, loving, and gracious God whose redemptive work of the cross will only cease to be relevant if we live in a perfect world; therefore, it will be relevant until its completion. Being a Christian doesn’t mean believers are better than others; it means we’ve received the gift of God’s grace for being the sinners we sometimes forget we are – grace which all are afforded through the work of Christ.

Faith in Christ is life changing, but it isn’t about lifestyles. It’s an encounter with the living God, who died even for great sinners like me. To anyone who reads this, who can’t stand Christians, who’s been offended by my more moralistic brothers and sisters (or myself) know this, whatever you heard slandering you in the name of Jesus was not and is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel is this, Jesus lived and felt every ounce of human suffering, Jesus died taking on all our burdens, and Jesus resurrected in victory over the brokenness of our human world. This is our hope, this is the Gospel, and this is what mends the brokenness of all people (myself included).

God’s peace be with you all on this day, now, and forevermore. Amen.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer” (Dietrich Bonheoffer).