Can You Fast From Things Other Than Food?

In a recent podcast episode, I spoke with Conor Berry on the topic of fasting. You can listen to that episode here: The Purpose and Power of Fasting

In response to that episode, we received a few follow-up questions.

Conor and I sat down to discuss some of these more nuanced points on the topic of fasting. You can hear the recording of our conversation here (or in the embedded player below), but here is one of the questions we received:

Can you fast from things beside food?

Nick: My initial assumption had been that the answer is, Yes – you can probably fast from things other than food. This came from my background growing up with the practice of Lent, where you often hear people say things like, “I’m fasting from chocolate, I’m fasting from Netflix, I’m fasting from, running,” (and then it turns out that they weren’t actually a runner to begin with!).

But now, having looked into it, I’ve actually come to the conclusion that abstaining from things other than food may be a good thing to do, but fasting itself is actually a practice which is specific to abstaining from food for a set period of time.

Conor: Yeah, it’s interesting: We categorize fasting as a spiritual discipline, and when we think of the word discipline, we think of how Paul talks about disciplining my body so that I wouldn’t be under the power or the authority of anything, except the sovereignty of God.

And so we can say, “For the 40 days of Lent, I’m not going to eat chocolate, or I’m going to stay off of social media or Netflix, etc.” Yet, if we say that we only have Scripture as our defining cause for the topic of fasting, Scripture only shows that fasting has to do with not eating food or water for a specific period of time.

Once again, bringing the definition from Scot McKnight, that fasting is the natural response to a grievous or sacred moment, we choose not to eat as a means of inducing hunger. And so, my perspective on this is that to say, “I don’t want to eat chocolate, or I want to put social media aside to focus on God,” while that’s a wonderful thing, I would consider that to be under the category of “abstinence,” but not true, scriptural fasting.

Nick: One verse that comes to mind is in 1 Corinthians 7:5, where it says that a husband and wife should not withhold sex from their spouse, except for a time, for the purpose of prayer and fasting. That’s interesting because it doesn’t say that abstaining from sex is a form of fasting, rather it’s distinct from fasting. It’s not called “fasting from sexual intercourse,” it’s called abstaining from it – so that you can fast and pray.

Conor: I agree with you, it’s distinct from the discipline or act of fasting, but it has great application for our desire for holiness and intimacy with God.

All throughout church history, there have been ascetics, people who have devoted their lives to asceticism in order to find transcendence with God, and the act itself sometimes becomes the identity of the person rather than Christ. People are in awe of their discipline and assume the holiness of the person based upon the act, but that sometimes becomes the person’s identity, and not Christ. So there’s a danger to this as well.

Nick: Do you think there’s something unique about food that makes it the focus of this spiritual discipline?

Conor: Absolutely. Because the experience of food and the enjoyment of feasting is something that we’ve enjoyed even before the fall. When we think of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Lord said, “This whole place is for you and for your pleasure,” so it’s not just for nourishment, it’s also for taste. And food plays an essential role, not only in our vitality and nourishment, but in our pleasure with God. Even taking the two elements of Communion, we’re using effectually food given by God as a means of worship and thankfulness to him. So yeah, food holds a particular significance.

Nick: When it comes to the idea of abstinence, someone might say, “I have. Improper relationship with this thing I’m doing, so I need to abstain from it, maybe for the purpose of breaking the control this habit or this practice has over me.” But with food, although overeating can certainly go to that extent, and that’s what we call gluttony, it’s also possible to have a healthy relationship with food, and it’s the regularity of eating and its necessity for our existence which makes it unique.

Conclusion

So, in summary: there are times when it would be right and good and advisable to abstain from something if you feel like maybe it’s gotten its claws into your heart, and you want to dedicate more time to seeking the Lord – but don’t call it fasting. Call it abstinence or abstaining, and let fasting be fasting.

Conor: I completely agree. In our previous episode, we looked at church history and the different motives people have had for fasting, and one was to individually fight against temptation. Augustine said that it’s good to fast as a means of developing a hunger for God that would be sovereign over the hunger for some of the temptations in your life.

Should you abstain from social media if it becomes an addiction? Absolutely, but I would be so bold as to say that you can abstain from it along with a time of fasting to say, “I’m abstaining against the temptation, and I’m fasting for more of a hunger for God at the same time.”

Stay Tuned for the Next Question: Eating Disorders and Fasting

In my next post, I will share our discussion on the question of whether it is advisable for someone with past or present struggles with eating disorders to participate in the practice of fasting. Are they disqualified from participating in this practice? What advice can we give to people struggling with this question?

That post is up next, so stay tuned.

Listen to the Discussion Here

Fasting Q&A Podcast Episode

Fasting Q&A: Eating Disorders & Alternative Forms of Fasting Theology for the People

In this Bonus Episode, Conor Berry and I discuss some questions we received regarding our previous episode on fasting: Can you fast from things other than food? What about people who have present or past eating disorders? Can they, or should they fast? Conor also mentions another resource in this episode on the topic of feasting: The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capon If you find this episode interesting or helpful, please share it with others and leave a rating and review on your podcast app, as that helps other people discover this podcast and its content. Make sure to visit the Theology for the People blog at nickcady.org 

Sin Makes You Weird

Several years ago, I remember talking with my pastor, Tom Stipe, and discussing something I had observed: Sin makes you weird, but walking with Jesus makes a person increasingly healthy and “normal.”

Who Defines What is “Weird”?

Some people might bristle at the terms “weird” and “normal,” wondering whose definition of “normal” we should use, but in this case I use it in the sense of the healthy standards for behavior and attitudes that are laid out in the Bible, and which have shaped global society in a pervasive way.

For more on that, see Tom Holland’s incredible book, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. Holland is not a “Christian author” per se; he is a historian who has spent most of his life studying history as relates to other topics, but he has admitted that his research for this book profoundly impacted his life and faith personally. I read it last year and would recommend it.

So, when I say “normal” in this sense, I am referring to virtues which are not only biblical, but which are affirmed by the majority of cultures worldwide. Things such as goodness, kindness, charity, graciousness, and the like – in contrast to abuse, usury, envy, pride, and so on.

Brain Scans

My conviction that “sin makes you weird” is not new to me, but it has been verified through the ever-increasing use of brain scans which show how certain behaviors affect brain activity.

One of the chief among these, and most reported on, is the use of illicit drugs, including marijuana, and pornography.

This article published by Inverse is just one of many on this topic which give empirical proof that pornography usage has negative effects on brain function and produces problematic behavior, as it changes the way a person thinks, views others, and relates to the world. THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON PORN: Casual porn watching changes the brain a lot more than you’d think.

Do Other Sins Make You Weird? What’s the Solution?

I would venture to guess that other behaviors have similar affects on behavior, outlook, and the brain, such as lying, jealousy, and other attitudes and actions.

Here is a discussion I had with Pastor Michael, our Worship Pastor at White Fields Church about this topic, in a follow-up to a sermon from John 15:1-11 called Jesus Is: the True Vine.

In it, importantly, we talk about the solution to the problem, which is: abiding in Christ, which Jesus defines as living in abiding relationship with him, by obeying his commandments (John 15:10).

Here’s the video of that discussion:

Palm Sunday Points Us to the Heart of the Gospel

Originally posted on CalvaryChapel.com

On our wedding day, as my wife was walking down the aisle, she looked at me intently, and the big question in her mind was, “Is he going to do it?” Her friend’s husband had done it at their wedding, and she wondered if I would too. But much to her dismay, I did not cry when she walked down the aisle. She asked me later on why I had not cried. “Why would I?”, I asked. “That was a moment to celebrate, not to cry!”

And yet, the Gospel of Luke tells us, that on Palm Sunday, when everyone else was celebrating and rejoicing, Jesus was crying. Why? The answer draws us into the heart of the gospel.

GOD’S PROMISE OF A TRUE KING

Israel had many kings throughout their history, but, as we see in the books of 1-2 Kings, each one was a disappointment. Some were better than others, but none of them fulfilled their potential, and all left the people hoping for more. 

God had promised that one day, He would send them a true king, who would rule in righteousness. He would be a liberator, who would set the people free from all oppression and establish a kingdom of peace and justice, which would have no end. And yet, no governing administration ever produced what they hoped it would. 

JESUS, THE TRUE KING & PROMISED MESSIAH

Rumors had been swirling for years that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the true king, but Jesus had refused to allow people to revere him as such, until Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday, with the city of Jerusalem full of people who had come to celebrate Passover, Jesus affirmed publicly that he was indeed the Messiah, and he rode into the city on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.

The people waved palm branches (John 12:13), laying them on the ground, along with their cloaks, before Jesus to create a “red carpet” for the rightful king. The significance of this act is found in 2 Kings 9:13, when Jehu became king of Israel, overthrowing the wicked dynasty of the Ahab and Jezebel. At that time, the people laid their cloaks on the ground before him. Additionally, some 200 years before Jesus was born, in the Maccabean Revolt, Israel had successfully cast off their Syrian overlords and gained their independence — at which time, the people celebrated with a parade, in which they waved palm branches. The palm branch, stamped on Jewish coins, was a symbol of deliverance from oppression.

JESUS GOES TO THE TEMPLE, FAILING TO MEET THEIR EXPECTATIONS

And yet, upon entering Jerusalem, instead of going to the Antonia Fortress to put the Romans on notice, Jesus went to the Temple, where he drove out the money changers and healed the sick (Matthew 21:12-14). Clearly, many of the people were disappointed that Jesus did not give them a political solution that day. Perhaps some of the same people who shouted, “Hosanna,” on Palm Sunday were even amongst the crowd shouting, “Crucify Him,” on Good Friday, having been disillusioned that Jesus hadn’t done what they expected him to do.

Perhaps they should have read Zechariah’s prophecy again. “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he” (Zechariah 9:9). Jesus, the true king, came to meet our greatest need. The unrighteous, the Bible says, will not enter the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Jesus, the only truly righteous person who has ever lived, came to meet our greatest need: so that through his life, death, and resurrection, we might be justified by his grace, and thereby be saved from judgment!

GOD’S PLAN: BETTER THAN WHAT THEY HOPED FOR

The people in Jerusalem had an expectation of what Jesus was going to do for them, but when Jesus didn’t do what they expected He would, some of them turned away — and yet, what Jesus was doing for them was better than what they had hoped for, and was what they truly needed! 

May that be a lesson for us this Palm Sunday, so that we would walk with God by faith, trusting in His character, His love, and His plans. Rather than a genie in a bottle, who always gives us what we want, we have a Father in Heaven, who loves us and gives us what we need — and that is infinitely better!

Jesus Wept With Us So That One Day We Might Rejoice With Him Forever

In Luke 19:41, we read that as Jesus was riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, as the crowds were cheering, Jesus was crying. 

Shouldn’t He have been reveling in receiving the recognition that He rightly deserved? The reason Jesus cried is because, as He looked over Jerusalem, He knew that the current enthusiasm would not last, and He would soon be crucified as a criminal by the people He had come to save.

Yet, with tears streaming down His face, Jesus continued into Jerusalem. Why? Because, Hebrews 12:2 tells us of the joy that was set before him. 

Jesus wept with us for a moment, so that one day, we might rejoice with Him forever.

In the Book of Revelation, we are given this preview of Heaven: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with “palm branches” in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).

PALM BRANCHES – THE SYMBOL OF DELIVERANCE, AGAIN

In Heaven, we see palm branches, the symbol of deliverance from oppression, because Jesus, the true king, has liberated us from that which is at the root of all oppression! Whereas on Palm Sunday, people shouted “Hosanna!” (“Save Now”), the great multitude in Heaven declares that Jesus has saved them.

Palm Sunday points us to the heart of the gospel: The true King came to meet our greatest need, and He wept with us so that one day we might rejoice with Him forever.

Will We Really See Our Loved Ones In Heaven?

When someone is sick or dying, or when a loved one has passed away, it’s common for people to comfort each other by telling them that they will be reunited with that person in Heaven.

But does the Bible actually teach this, or do we just say it because it is a “sweet little lie” that makes us feel better?

Clearly the Bible does teach about Heaven and eternal life for those who believe, but does the Bible actually teach that we will be reunited with people we knew on Earth? Are there any passages in the Bible that teach that we will recognize each other and hang out in Heaven?

Reunited and It Feels So Good

In 2 Samuel 12, when David’s infant son was sick, David fasted and prayed. When his son then died, David’s servants were afraid to break the news to him, thinking that if he was so distraught over his son being sick, surely the news of his son’s death would send him over the edge…

When David saw his servants whispering, he realized his son had died. Rather than being distraught, David was at peace – much to the surprise of his servants.

David explained his response by pointing out that since his son was dead, there was now no more he could do; praying for his son’s recovery wouldn’t help at this point. Instead, David went to the house of the Lord and worshiped, explaining to his servants that he was at peace, since, he said, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23)

David clearly took comfort in the knowledge that he would be reunited with his son in the life to come.

But this begs a question: When David would see his son, who died in infancy, would that child be an infant perpetually, for all of eternity? That question finds answers in some other passages in the New Testament, which we will consider next.

Recognizing…But Not Right Away

The gospel accounts in Luke 24 and John 20 tell us that when Jesus resurrected, three days after his crucifixion, some of his disciples met with him, but they did not immediately recognize him. After they realized it was him, however, they did recognize him.

This is an important detail for several reasons. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul the Apostle explains that Jesus was the “first fruits” of those resurrected from the dead to eternal life. Other people had been raised back to life, but those people all subsequently died again, that time for good. Jesus was the first to raise to never die again – the fate which awaits those who believe in Him.

As the “first fruits” of those raised from the dead to eternal life, Jesus’ resurrection body is a prototype of what our resurrection bodies will be like. So what was Jesus’ resurrection body like?

We know from John 20 and Luke 24, that Jesus’ body was physical, for he ate food and people touched him. Yet, his physical body also had properties which were different than our moral bodies; he entered a locked room without using a door, for example.

Furthermore, Jesus’ appearance was, on the one hand, recognizable, and on the other hand, different enough that his closest friends didn’t recognize him – until they did.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul the Apostle mentions that over 500 people saw Jesus at one point after his resurrection, and those people all recognized that it was Jesus. When Jesus appeared to Thomas, who doubted that he had actually risen from the dead, Thomas recognized him, touched him, talked with him, and believed.

For these reasons, we can conclude that our bodies, in the resurrection and eternal life will be:

  • Physical, yet with unique properties that our mortal bodies do not possess.
  • Recognizable, yet somewhat different than the way you look now. (It seems reasonable to assume that infants will not be infants forever, and that these new bodies will be free of infirmity or other limitations related to age). It will truly be you, and will be recognizable as you, but will not be identical to your current appearance.

For more on the resurrection body, check out this message on 1 Corinthians 15:35-58.

The Transfiguration

In Luke 9, we read about Jesus’ transfiguration, when his closest disciples were allowed to see a glimpse of his divine glory. During the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus before their eyes, and it says that the disciples recognized them.

This is interesting, because the disciples had never seen Moses nor Elijah, since they died long before the disciples were born. The disciples were able to recognize them somehow, possibly by interacting or speaking with them, or though their personalities.

Either way, it’s an example of long-deceased people being recognized as who they were. The implication is that in the life to come, people will be recognizable, and interact with those who have passed away before them.

That Weird Story about the Prophet Samuel and the Witch of Endor

Another story in which we see an instance of a deceased person interacting with and being recognized by someone they previously knew in this life, is found in 1 Samuel 28:8-17, where King Saul asked a necromancer to summon Samuel the Prophet, so Samuel could give him advice.

In this story, it seems that the necromancer is genuinely surprised that Samuel actually appeared. Her usual practice, in other words, didn’t produce that result. It can be assumed she was a charlatan, and that the deceased do not usually interact with the living, yet on this occasion, God allowed an exception, in order to teach King Saul an important lesson.

Reunited in the Sky

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul encourages the Thessalonians, and us, regarding the fate of those believers who have died prior to the return of Jesus. For the first Christians, who expected Jesus to return in their lifetime, they were genuinely surprised by and confused about the death of other Christians who had died Jesus had returned.

Paul encourages them by telling them that when Jesus returns, those who died in faith will be resurrected, and we who are alive will be caught up and we will meet Jesus and those who passed away before us in the sky. Paul then tells us to encourage each other with these words.

The Rich Man, Lazarus, and Abraham

In Luke 16, Jesus tells a story about two men who died, and what happened to them after they died. One was an unnamed rich man, the other was a poor man named Lazarus.

The irony of the the reversal is poignant: a man who had “a name” on Earth, and a “nameless” beggar – yet in eternity, the beggar has a name and the rich man is nameless.

These men find themselves in Sheol, a place of waiting, which is divided into two parts, with an impassable chasm between them: Abraham’s Bosom – a place of waiting for the redemption promised in the Messiah, and Hades – a place of waiting for the ultimate judgment.

For more on Sheol, Abraham’s Bosom, and Hades, see: Did People Go to Heaven Before Jesus’ Death & Resurrection?

Interestingly, these two men not only recognize and interact with each other, but they recognize and interact with Abraham – yet another example of people in the afterlife interacting with and recognizing each other.

Eden Restored (and then some)

The Bible begins with God placing the man and woman he created in a garden paradise in Eden, and charging them to be fruitful and multiple. Sin, however, comes into the good creation, leading to death and destruction. God immediately announces his plan of redemption through a savior, but the effects of sin are pervasive.

In Revelation 21, we see that after God has redeemed the world and defeated evil, Satan, and death, that there will be a new Earth. In this new Earth, we see a scene strikingly similar to Eden; people dwell with God, and there is a special tree: the Tree of Life, which hasn’t been seen since the garden paradise of Eden back in the Book of Genesis.

There is a difference, however: whereas Eden was a garden, this new place is a garden city. This place, in other words, isn’t just Eden restored, it is Eden fulfilled: it is what Eden would have become if sin and death hadn’t entered into the world.

The reason this is important for our discussion, is because it shows that Heaven will not be an ethereal place where we will float on clouds, or live in mansions. (The word “mansions” in some English translations of John 14:2 is a poor translation. The word monai should rightly be translated “rooms.”) Heaven will be a physical place, similar to the world we currently live in, but – just like our resurrection bodies – with important differences, and free from entropy and decay.

Conclusion

With all these thoughts together, we can be fairly confident that for those who are “in Christ,” who have put their faith and trust in him, we will indeed be reunited with our loved ones in eternity.

For further reading, I recommend Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven.

My Book Is Now Available for Purchase + Book Signing This Sunday

My first book, The God I Won’t Believe In: Facing Nine Common Barriers to Embracing Christianity, is now available for purchase in paperback and Kindle formats. 

We have paperback copies of the book for sale in our church’s bookstore, and it will be available in other churches and through book distributors soon.

If you would like to get copies for your church or group at bulk discount, contact us here.

Click here for more information and to purchase online.

Here’s a List of the Chapters

Each chapter begins with the phrase: “I Could Never Believe in a God Who…”

  1. A God Who Hasn’t Proven His Existence
  2. A God Who Gave Us a Faulty Bible
  3. A God Who Condoned Genocide in the Old Testament
  4. A God Who Creates Hateful, Hypocritical Followers
  5. A God Who Suppresses Women and Minorities
  6. A God Who Sends People to Hell 
  7. A God Who Says Some Love is Wrong
  8. A God Who Lets Bad Things Happen to Good People
  9. A God Who Doesn’t Answer My Prayers

Book Signing This Sunday

For those who are within driving distance of Longmont, Colorado, this Sunday I will be signing copies of the book after each of our 3 services at White Fields Church. We will have copies for sale on site. If you can make it out, I’d love to see you there!

My Flight to Ukraine Was Cancelled…

This coming Sunday, I was scheduled to fly to Kyiv, Ukraine, where I and some others were going to be speaking at a seminary and then leading a conference for Calvary Chapel pastors and leaders from all over the country.

We were notified this week that Lufthansa and KLM cancelled our flights to and from Kyiv because of the escalating tensions with Russia.

We are tentatively planning to reschedule the conference for later this year, in the spring, hoping that things will have calmed down by then.

I am grieved by Russia’s attacks against Ukraine, and what it means for the Ukrainian people. I long for the day when righteousness and the knowledge of God will cover the Earth like water covers the sea, and people will beat their weapons into plowshares and wage war no more. (Habakkuk 2:14, Isaiah 2:4)

I have many friends all over Ukraine, and our church supports several missionaries there.

Please join me in praying for the safety of the Ukrainian people in general, and for our friends and missionaries in particular, especially those in the city of Kharkiv, which is very close to the Russian border.

Pray for their churches to be havens that people flock to, for the believers to shine the light of the knowledge of Jesus in this dark time, and that they would be beacons of the hope of the resurrection and the good news of the gospel.

What is the Role of the Holy Spirit in Eternity?

There is a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics

Recently someone submitted this question:

Both God the Father and the Son have distinct and obvious eternal roles that we see played out in the Bible, with Jesus being more obvious, but as I was thinking through the role of the Holy Spirit in eternity, I couldn’t come up with anything concrete.
Could you give a brief overview of the roles of the triune persons of God as it pertains to eternity? I’m mostly interested in the Holy Spirit, but would love a pastor’s perspective on the other two also.

The “Ontological Trinity” and the “Economic Trinity”

There are two fields of discussion when it comes to the Trinity. The “ontological” and the “economic.” “Ontological” refers to who God is, i.e. that which pertains to being, whereas “economic” refers to what God does.

Specifically applied to the Trinity, study of the “ontological Trinity” is focused on those parts of the Bible which communicate that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet these three, while distinct persons, are one God. Study of the “economic Trinity” is focused on the passages in the Bible which tell us what each of these three persons does as their role in “the Godhead.”

So, ontologically, it is important to point out that eternality is part of God’s nature. God is eternal, and each person of the godhead is eternal. So, the role of God in eternity is merely a continuation of who God has been until now, and who God will forever be.

However, the question above is about the economics of the Triune God after this present age is over, and we have transitioned into what the Bible calls “the new heavens and new Earth.” What will the functions of the three persons of the Triune God be in “the age to come”?

The Role of the Son in the Age to Come

The Son, we are told, is currently seated at the right hand of the Father, and for eternity he will reign and rule as king over all of redeemed creation. (See Revelation 22:3)

Currently, Jesus is making intercession for believers, advocating for us, and is seated on a throne, but for eternity, all we really know is that he will be an eternal sovereign, ruling over a kingdom of righteousness and peace which will never end.

The Role of the Father in the Age to Come

Along with ruling over the redeemed creation from a heavenly throne, revelation tells us that God (not necessarily just the Father) will be a source of light, which will preclude the need for the sun to illuminate, since God himself will be our light.

The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Age to Come

The one thing that sticks out about the Holy Spirit’s role in eternity, is that, whereas the Father and the Son have a throne in the New Heavens and New Earth, the Holy Spirit does not (Revelation 22:3).

Beyond this, I can’t think of any verses which speak specifically about a role of the Holy Spirit in the age to come – but that is not surprising, and here’s why:

What we read regarding the economic Trinity mostly has to do with the work of God to redeem human beings. Remember, the Bible is a book about Jesus: who he is, and how he saves us.

Since the Bible is focused on the story of the salvation and redemption of humankind, it does not tell us very much about what God did before creating the world, nor does it tell us much about what God will do after the redemption of the world is complete.

“The Great Story Which No One on Earth has Read”

This reminds me of the final paragraph of C.S. Lewis’ The Final Battle, which is the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, which is full of allegories about biblical passages and teachings.

C.S. Lewis poetically describes “the age to come” in this way:

“…but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about what the three persons of the Trinity will do in eternity, because that is not the story which the Bible exists to tell.

God Will Do What God Did Before

Prior to the creation of the world, it is important to remember that God existed from eternity past. Without human beings to rescue, sanctify, and redeem, what did God do?

What we can be sure of, is that God was neither bored nor lonely.

From eternity past, the one God, who exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existed as a mutually edifying and glorifying community unto himself. Creation, was God inviting us to join in the “perichoresis,” the eternal relationship which exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, sometimes referred to as “the dance of God.”

In other words, in eternity, we can expect that God will do what God did before: delighting in himself, with each person fueling this mutually edifying and glorifying relationship.

Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic

If you have a question or would like to suggest a topic for me to address here on the blog, click here: Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic

Book Review: Jesus and John Wayne

Several months ago I read Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.

I found the book to be an interesting history of some parts of American evangelicalism. I emphasize that the book is about some parts of American evangelicalism, because the author focuses her writing specifically on a particular corner of the evangelical Christian world: a particular subculture within American evangelicalism associated with Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority, and militant masculinity. This part of evangelicalism has less to do with the core evangelical beliefs and convictions, and more to do with a culture propagated by certain people.

For this reason, while I found Kobes Du Mez to be an excellent writer, and found her book to be an entertaining read, I also found it incredibly frustrating because it feels that she paints evangelicalism with too broad of a brush, and in some cases she seems to misrepresent certain groups and events in an attempt to bolster her main thesis that Christianity in America has been coopted and altered by men, who have changed it into something it was never meant to be, namely: militaristic, and a tool for white male hegemony.

Not My Evangelicalism

Here’s the thing: Kobes Du Mez isn’t completely wrong in this thesis. However, it must be noted that her scope is very limited.

The fact is: evangelicalism is not monolithic. Evangelicalism is a movement which began in Germany in the 16th century, and is about restoring the place of the Bible to its rightful place of primacy in our theological method, and about “religion of the heart,” AKA: a personal relationship with God.

The word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion (gospel). An evangelical Christian is a “gospel Christian.”

This definition from Wikipedia is cobbled together from different sources, but accurately summarizes what evangelicalism is, and what its core values entail:

Evangelical Christianity is a worldwide trans-denominational movement within Protestant Christianity that maintains the belief that the essence of the Gospel consists of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, solely through faith in Jesus’ atonement. Evangelicals believe in the centrality of the “born again” experience in receiving salvation (see Jesus’ words in John 3:3), in the authority of the Bible as God’s revelation to humanity, and in spreading the Christian message.

It is important to note that Kobes Du Mez is a Christian, and admits that she herself would be categorized as an evangelical. What Kobes Du Mez takes issue with in this book is a particular subculture which developed within American evangelicalism. She rightly points out that many of the behaviors of those in this subculture differ from the teachings and heart of Jesus.

British evangelicalism, the setting in which I did my theological studies, embraces the core values listed above, without the cultural trappings of this particular corner of American evangelical subculture which Kobes Du Mez criticizes.

Furthermore, the particular churches I have been a part of in the United States have not aligned themselves with characters like Jerry Falwell, or many of the things which Kobes Du Mez talks about in her book. Part of the reason why I found the book interesting was because much of the what Kobes Du Mez talks about, which she portrays as normative for evangelical Christianity in the United States, was foreign to me and my experience.

I would challenge Kobes Du Mez to keep in mind the fact that evangelicalism is not an American phenomenon – neither in origin, nor in majority. Most evangelicals in the world are not American. Where anyone has created an aberrant form of Christianity, it should be called out. This applies to evangelicals, and it also applies to all other movements and groups. This is, actually, the heart of the Reformation, the adherents of which were the first to call themselves “evangelicals”!

Stretching It…

One of my biggest qualms with the book is the number of ways in which the author attempts to strengthen her point by using examples which may sound convincing to the untrained eye, but which are actually a bit misleading.

For example: Kobes Du Mez critiques evangelicals for using sports and military analogies to describe and explain Christianity. The problem with this critique is that the Bible itself uses military and sports analogies to describe the Christian faith! (See: Philippians 2:25, Philemon 1:2, 2 Timothy 2:3-4, 1 Corinthians 9:7, Ephesians 6:10-18, 2 Corinthians 9:24-27, 2 Timothy 2:5, and others)

Kobes Du Mez dedicates an entire chapter to the Promise Keepers movement of the 1990’s. She seems to only reluctantly admit that this evangelical movement contradicted her entire thesis about American evangelicalism, in that it emphasized servanthood, love, and kindness over militarism and dominance, and focused on racial reconciliation. At one point, in what seems like a desperate attempt to find something wrong with the Promise Keepers, Kobes Du Mez states that at the height of the Promise Keepers in the 1990’s, only about 10% of their members were African American. What she doesn’t point out is that, at the time, African Americans made up 12% of the US population. In other words, Promise Keepers’ membership closely resembled the ethnic makeup of the country at the time.

Additionally, Kobes Du Mez criticizes American evangelicalism for seeking to reach men with their messaging, by trying to show that following Jesus isn’t contrary to being masculine. Having spent over a decade in Europe, where many churches are small and made up mostly of elderly women and girls, I have to say that I don’t see anything wrong with seeking to reach men by showing them that following Jesus isn’t contrary to being masculine. I remember hearing from many men in Hungary that “religion is for women and the weak.” I don’t believe this is true at all, and countering this narrative is simply a form of apologetics and evangelism.

The author also claims that the focus on Jesus as a warrior is a uniquely American evangelical aberration of Christianity, and that it would be better to focus on other aspects of Jesus instead. Once again, the problem with this is that the Latin term and concept of Cristus Victor has a long history, predating the United States of America, and even the Protestant Reformation. Misguided militarism in the name of Christianity has cropped up at various times in history, such as the obvious example of the Crusades, and is not an American evangelical invention. Furthermore, the Bible itself, in both the Old and New Testaments, foretells the time of “the great and terrible Day of the Lord,” when God will come to wage war against those who do evil and oppress. This is not an American concept, it’s a biblical concept, and highlighting it is not an American novelty, but has much historic precedent.

A Question for the Author

My question for the author would be how much of her thesis is shaped by biblical concerns, and how much is shaped by current popular discourse in American culture?

Conclusion

In conclusion, I will say once again that I found the book to be an enjoyable read, in that it introduced me to a part of American evangelical subculture that I had only heard about from a distance, but with which I was not very familiar. I agree with many of the author’s critiques, and think they are necessary.

However, I would not encourage others to read this book, because I feel that too much of what Kobes Du Mez writes is potentially misleading in its tone, and what it seeks to imply. It’s not so much what she says, it’s what she leaves out, which I think makes the book unhelpful.

What Does It Mean When It Says “You are gods” in Psalm 82 & John 10?

There is a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics.

Recently someone wrote in asking about the meaning of John 10:34-36, where Jesus, having been accused of blasphemy for claiming to be God, responds by saying:

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

John 10:34-36

There are two schools of thought on this, which are related and are not mutually exclusive.

Viewpoint #1: “gods” = judges

First of all, this passage is interesting because it shows that Jesus had a high view of the Old Testament scriptures. He says that it is written in the “Law,” but then proceeds to quote from Psalm 82:1 & 8, showing that He believed the Psalms to be the inspired Word of God in the same way as the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible). Some people at this time, e.g. the Sadducees, only accepted the Pentateuch as the inspired Word of God, but Jesus spoke of the Psalms as being part of the canon of Scripture, and just as much “the Bible” as the Pentateuch.

Jesus’ main argument is that he should not be accused of blasphemy for calling himself the “Son of God” (see: What Does It Mean that Jesus is the “Son of God”?) since God himself had used the word “gods” to refer to the Jewish people in His inerrant Word.

The word “gods” (Elohim in Hebrew) can also mean “judges.” An example of this is found in Exodus 21:6 & 22:8, where the word translated “master” in English (because it refers to a human master), is actually “Elohim” in the Hebrew text… but since it is referring to a human master, it is understood that though the word for “elohim” is used, it is not talking about Yahweh, but about human “masters.”

E.A. Blum explains, in his commentary on the Gospel of John:

“Psalm 82 speaks of God as the true Judge (Ps. 82:1, 8) and of men, appointed as judges, who were failing to provide true judgment for God (Ps. 82:2–7). “Gods” in Psalm 82:1, 6 refers to these human judges. In this sense, God said to the Jews, You are gods. In no way does this speak of a divine nature in man. Jesus was arguing that in certain situations (as in Ps. 82:1, 6) men were called “gods.” The Hebrew word for God or gods is ’ělōhîm. This word is used elsewhere (e.g., Exodus 21:6; 22:8) to mean human judges. Since the inerrant Bible called their judges “gods,” the Jews could not logically accuse Him of blasphemy for calling Himself God’s Son since He was under divine orders and sent into the world on God’s mission.”

Blum, E. A. (1985). John. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 312). Victor Books.

Viewpoint #2: “Living like gods”

C.G. Kruse explains another viewpoint, based on the rabbinic exegesis of Psalm 82:6-7:

The full text of Psalm 82:6–7 reads: “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.”

The statement ‘You are gods’ was understood in later rabbinic exegesis to be God’s word to the Israelites at Sinai when they received the law. God said to them, ‘You are gods,’ because in receiving the law and living by it they would be holy and live like gods. But because they departed from the law and worshipped the golden calf while still at Sinai, he said to them, ‘you will die like mere men’. The opening words of Jesus’ argument, ‘If he called them “gods”, to whom the word of God came’, suggest that he interpreted the quotation from the psalm in relation to the Sinai events as did later rabbinic scholars.

Jesus used the exegetical methods of his opponents to show they had no grounds for accusing him of blasphemy. 

Kruse, C. G. (2003). John: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 4, pp. 240–241). InterVarsity Press.

What Jesus is Not Saying

Jesus is not saying here that all human beings are divine – we are not.

Jesus is not downplaying his own divinity – he affirms it multiple times and in various ways throughout the Gospel of John.

Jesus is not saying that Psalm 82 was incorrect – just the opposite: he references one of the most confusing passages for modern non-Hebrew literate Bible readers, in order to make us dig in to seek understanding of that passage!

What Jesus was Doing

Jesus was masterfully diffusing a situation by using the very Scriptures and exegetical methods of his attackers, to show them they they were being inconsistent in their theological method.

For more on theological method, see: Theological Method: Sources of Theology and Why People Arrive at Different Conclusions About Matters of Faith & the Bible

At the same time, Jesus consistently claimed to be divine, in his seven “I Am” statements, for example.

Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic

If you have a question or would like to suggest a topic for me to address here on the blog, click here: Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic