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

Yonder Breaks – The Hope of Christmas In a Weary World

Originally posted on CalvaryChapel.com

One of my favorite Christmas carols is “O Holy Night,” mostly because I love the first verse:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining, 
‘til He appeared and the soul felt its worth. 

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, 
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

THE WEARY WORLD

If there is one word that accurately describes the feeling in the world right now, it is probably “weary.”

We are weary from two years of pandemic. We are weary of restriction and new variants. We are weary of our friends and family members getting sick, and even dying. We are weary from the divisiveness in society. We are weary of inflation, tragedy, tension, and strife. 

But, as this song reminds us, the coming of Jesus into the world is good news for the weary world. It gives us weary people a reason to rejoice. Why? Because it tells us that, “yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

THE DAY DAWNS

One of the greatest metaphors the Bible uses to describe where we are at currently in the big picture of human history is: Dawn.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. – John 1:9

Dawn is an interesting period; *it is a time when night and day, darkness and light, exist simultaneously in the same space, yet neither are in full force*.

At dawn, the darkness that formerly ruled the night is broken by the light, but it is still dark out … though not as dark as it used to be. However, at dawn, even though light has come, the light is not yet present in its full form, because although the light has appeared, it has not yet broken over the horizon to fully dispel the darkness.

Peter expressly uses this metaphor of dawn in his second letter:

We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until *the day dawns* and *the morning star* rises in your hearts. – 2 Peter 1:19

THE MORNING STAR

Jesus is called “the morning star.” The “star” known as the morning star is not actually a star, but the planet Venus. The reason it is called the morning star is because it is the last “star” that is visible in the sky once the dawn has come.

The meaning and message of Christmas is that the true light has come into the world, and the dawn has begun. The beginning of dawn is an irreversible occurrence; once the first light of dawn has broken the darkness of night, it is only a matter of time before the sun crests the horizon, totally dispelling the darkness, bringing about the full light of the new day.

We live in a time right now where there is darkness in the world. It touches our lives, and we groan, along with all of the fallen creation, under the weight of the curse of sin and death. And yet, with the coming of Jesus into the world in His first advent, dawn has come: The light of life has come into our world in the person of Jesus Christ. We have the light of God’s Word to guide us … as we wait with eager expectation for Jesus’ second advent when He comes again!

For our world, covered in the shroud of darkness, a darkness which permeates even our own hearts, the message is clear: The advent of Jesus is the death knell of darkness and the guarantee that a new day is on the horizon.

Let us look to the morning star to give us hope until that day comes!

Is God a Cosmic Killjoy? – Christian & Islamic Perspectives

Some people view God as a cosmic killjoy: one who sits in Heaven with a frown on his face, looking down on the world to make sure anyone down here isn’t having too much fun…

The fact is, for many of us, our view of God is shaped not only by the Bible, but by interactions we’ve had with other people, including those who claimed to be Christians, authority figures, peers, etc. The result, is that for many people, our view of God is not wholly biblically formed, and we can pick up assumptions about God that are actually inaccurate.

Consider the following verses:

“You shall rejoice before the Lord your God…” (Leviticus 23:40). “Shout for joy!” (Psalm 32:11). “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion” (Zechariah 2:10).

An Islamic Perspective: “There is No Humor in Islam”

For comparison, here’s a quote from Ruhollah Khomeini, the grand ayatollah of Iran.

“Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious. Islam does not allow swimming in the sea and is opposed to radio and television serials. Islam, however, allows marksmanship, horseback riding and competition.”

Peter Hussein, Islam in Its Own Words (Morrisville: Lulu Self Publishing, 2018), 16. cited in S.E. Zylstra, The Weary World Rejoices (The Gospel Coalition, 2021)

In contrast to that, consider Isaiah 65:18: “But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” Furthermore, the Israelites’ “mouths were filled with laughter, [their] tongues with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:2).

Rather than being a cosmic killjoy, humor and friendship are part of God’s design.

The First of Jesus’ Signs

Something unique about the Gospel of John is that John refers to Jesus’ miracles as “signs.”

The nature of a sign is that a sign points to something beyond itself. Thus, what John is telling us, is that Jesus’ miracles weren’t just cool things that Jesus could do, but those miracles were actually signs which pointed to something beyond themselves.

This is significant when you consider that Jesus’ first sign was that he turned water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana in order to prolong the party.

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.

John 2:11

They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. So it’s interesting that Jesus would choose this to be his first miracle: turning water into wine, so a celebration wouldn’t have to end.

In the ancient world (and even today), wine was a symbol of merriment and joy – of celebration and festivity. And so, if the wine ran out, the party was over.

Throughout the Bible: in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, Heaven is described as being like a wedding feast; it’s the ultimate party, which never ends.

Look at how the Prophet Isaiah describes what Heaven will be like: 

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 25:6-7

This first of Jesus’ miracles wasn’t only a cool thing he did, it was a sign, pointing to who Jesus was and why He had come. That first miracle at Cana was a glimpse, a preview, a foreshadowing of the Kingdom which Jesus came to bring — a Kingdom there will be joy and celebration forever, without end.

Sin is the ultimate joy killer, and in this sin-tainted world we will have tribulation, but we can take heart because the hope of the gospel is that the Kingdom or eternal joy will indeed come.

You can be sure that God is not a cosmic killjoy, but the author of joy, whose ultimate joy is that we would experience joy in His presence, both now and forever.

What Did Jesus Mean When He Said “You Must Eat My Body and Drink My Blood”?

Currently playing episode

Recently I had the opportunity to be a guest on the Basics of Life Podcast with Rob Salvato.

The Basics of Life is not only Rob’s podcast, but the episodes are broadcast on KWVE Christian radio in Southern California.

Rob is currently doing a series on that podcast on “the hard sayings of Jesus,” and he asked me to tackle John 6:52-55, which says:

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.

John 6:52-55

Not Cannibalism Nor Communion

When people originally heard Jesus say these words, they thought he was talking about cannibalism – but he most certainly wasn’t!

Many readers since that time have assumed that Jesus is talking about communion, i.e. the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist. This assumption is understandable in light of the fact that Jesus called the elements for the Lord’s Supper his “body” and “blood” – and yet, that is not what he is talking about here either.

What Jesus is talking about here can be understood by reading the passages which come before and after (context is king!). I share what Jesus is talking about in the conversation with Rob, which is linked below.

Why Be Cryptic?

And yet, even if it can clearly be derived from the context what Jesus was referring to, the question remains: Why did Jesus speak in a way that was cryptic or hard to understand? Didn’t he want people to understand what he was saying? Why would he speak in a way that people could misunderstand, and perhaps even choose to not follow him because of their misunderstanding?

I answer this question in the podcast episode linked below, but this is something we see Jesus did on more than one occasion! For example, we see this from Jesus in John 9 and Matthew 13, where Jesus speaks in a way that those who want to understand will lean in and seek to understand, but those who weren’t willing to lean in and seek the truth could misunderstand or easily miss.

Clearly Jesus is communicating that a desire to understand is a prerequisite for spiritual understanding.

Listen to the Episode Here

Listen to the episode in the embedded player below or by clicking this link: The Basics of Life Conversations: Nick Cady | Jesus said to “Drink His Blood”?

Nick Cady | Jesus said to "Drink His Blood"? The Basics of Life Conversations

Pastor Nick Cady joins Pastor Rob Salvato to talk about what Jesus meant when He thinned out the crowds after the feeding of the five thousand. 

Rob Salvato

Pastor Rob is the lead pastor of Calvary Vista, in San Diego County, California. Calvary Vista is my wife Rosemary’s home church, which sent her out as a missionary to Hungary years ago. Later, after Rosemary and I met in Hungary and got married, Calvary Vista became our home base and one of our main supporting churches. We love Rob and his wife Denise, and he has been a faithful pastor over that wonderful congregation for many years. Right now the church is experiencing a time of growth and a real move of God. Pray for them during this exciting time!

Missional Ecclesiology: What is the role of the church in the mission of God? – with Kellen Criswell

In this week’s episode of the Theology for the People Podcast, I am joined by Kellen Criswell.

Kellen Criswell is a pastor, ministry leader, and former missionary who holds and MA in Global Leadership from Western Seminary and is currently working on his doctorate. He is the Executive Director of Calvary Global Network and has a heart for the mission of God and the global church.

After a brief discussion about Kellen’s favorite music and the fact that he is from Utah (AKA “Colorado Jr.”), we dive into a discussion about Missional Ecclesiology, which is a way of understanding the identity, purpose, and function of the church within the Missio Dei (the love-motivated, self-sending, mission of God into the world to save, redeem, and restore).

One more thought about Utah: If you have to tell people (on your license plates) that you have “the best snow in the world,” you probably don’t. It’s kind of like using the world “Real” in a title. If you have to say that something is “real ______” – it probably isn’t. And also, what Margaret Thatcher said: “Being a leader is like being a lady: If you have to tell people you are one, you probably aren’t.” Same with the snow, Utah…

But I digress…

Ecclesiology is the discussion of what the Church is called to be and to do – including its nature, purpose, hopes, structures, and practices.

We discuss how this concept works out practically, including a discussion of “foreign missions” and how they fit into this understanding. Furthermore, we discuss what the past nearly two years of pandemic has revealed about ecclesiology, and why there is hope as we move forward.

Listen to this episode in the embedded player below or by clicking this link: Missional Ecclesiology: What is the role of the church in the mission of God? – with Kellen Criswell

Missional Ecclesiology: What is the role of the church in the mission of God? – with Kellen Criswell Theology for the People

Kellen Criswell is a pastor, ministry leader, and former missionary who holds and MA in Global Leadership from Western Seminary and is currently working on his doctorate. He is the Executive Director of Calvary Global Network and has a heart for the mission of God and the global church. In this episode we discuss Missional Ecclesiology, which is a way of understanding the identity, purpose, and function of the church within the Missio Dei (mission of God). Ecclesiology is the discussion of what the Church is called to be and to do – including its nature, purpose, hopes, structures, and practices.  We discuss how this concept works out practically, including a discussion of "foreign missions" and how they fit into this understanding. Furthermore, we discuss what the past nearly two years of pandemic has revealed about ecclesiology, and why there is hope as we move forward. Bibliography and recommended resources: Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating Apostolic Movements. Goheen, Michael. The Church and it’s Vocation: Leslie Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology.  Stetzer, Ed. Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply. Newbigin, Leslie. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.  Van Engen, Charles. Transforming Mission Theology.  Wright, Christopher J.H.. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Bosch, David. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission.  Hooker, Paul. "What is Missional Ecclesiology?"  Make sure to check out the Theology for the People blog at nickcady.org

Make sure to check out some of the books and papers listed below for more information and study on this topic.

  1. Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating Apostolic Movements.
  2. Goheen, Michael. The Church and it’s Vocation: Leslie Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology.
  3. Stetzer, Ed. Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply.
  4. Newbigin, Leslie. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.
  5. Van Engen, Charles. Transforming Mission Theology.
  6. Wright, Christopher J.H.. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative.
  7. Bosch, David. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission.
  8. Hooker, Paul. “What is Missional Ecclesiology?”

Do You Have a Theology of Glory, or the Theology of the Cross?

Do you have a theology of glory, or do you follow the theology of the cross? Here’s an easy test: honestly ask yourself the question, “Do you seek God primarily because you consider him useful, or because you find him beautiful?” 

There are many things about God that are useful; He is omnipotent and He is able to answer prayers, do the miraculous, help in time of need. But do you seek Him primarily for what He can do for you, or do you seek Him primarily because of who He is? 

Martin Luther and the Theology of the Cross

A theology of glory, as Martin Luther explained, most famously in his Heidelberg Disputation (1518), views God primarily as useful to you. A theology of glory, as Luther used the term, is really a theology of man’s glory. Rather than focusing on and seeking the glory of God, a theology of glory is focused on seeking your own personal glory — with Jesus as your self-help guru, who gives you a “boost” or a “shot in the arm” to help you achieve your goals and reach your potential. 

The theology of the cross, on the other hand, states that it is ultimately by looking at the cross that we learn who God is and who we are (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2). For example, the cross of Christ shows us that, as human beings, we are completely unable to save ourselves — this is why the Jesus’ death on the cross was necessary. Furthermore, it is through the cross that we come to known the depth of God’s love for us. 

The theology of the Cross understands that Jesus is your savior, not your side-kick or personal assistant. The cross causes us, as Paul the Apostle puts it in Philippians 3:3, to “glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,” i.e. our own abilities or goodness to justify ourselves or earn God’s blessings.

As we come to see the beauty and depth of God’s love, displayed for us in the most ultimate way on the cross, it compels us to respond by surrendering our lives to Him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). This transforms us from being people who seek to use or leverage God for our own power or glory, and who instead take up our crosses and die to ourselves, that Christ might live in us (Galatians 2:20). We do this, remembering that Jesus surrendered himself to the will of the Father, even unto death on a cross, after which God highly exalted Him (Philippians 2:8-9). Therefore, we also know that if we, rather than seeking to exalt ourselves, seek to exalt Jesus and surrender our lives to Him, God will exalt us in the end as well (1 Peter 5:6).

Useful or Beautiful?

Do you seek God primarily because you consider him useful, or because you find him beautiful? How you answer that question will have big implications for how you view God, and how your faith weathers the storms and trials of this life. For example, if you seek the Lord primarily because you find Him useful, what will happen if there is ever a time when you feel that following Jesus isn’t useful? What if God doesn’t answer your prayer in the way, or within the time frame you expected, or hoped?

If, however, by looking at the cross, you become acutely aware of the beauty of God’s heart and the depth of his love, you will have a faith that is able to weather any storm. 

By looking at the cross, we are made aware of who God is and who we are. May we look to the cross, and rather than putting confidence in our flesh, may we glory in Christ Jesus. As we look to the cross and see the beauty and love of God on display, and may it compel our hearts to live not for our own glory, but for Him who died and was raised for us.

Bible Stories Gone Wrong in the Louvre

After our recent trip to London for my masters graduation, we took the train to Paris, and during our time in Paris we spent a day at the Louvre museum, which (along with the British Museum in London) is full of items of biblical relevance.

However, in the extensive Italian painters section, I came across several famous paintings which depict biblical scenes, albeit incorrectly.

The Wedding at Cana

This famous painting by Paolo Veronese is one of the highlights of the Louvre, and is held in the same room as the Mona Lisa. It depicts the famous scene from John 2 in which Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding in the town of Cana.

The only problem with this painting is that it is set not in a small Jewish village in Galilee, but in a large Greco-Roman city reminiscent of Athens. Cana was a small town, a village even, right north of the border between Samaria and the region of Galilee.

I like this painting though, especially how there’s a ton of interesting stuff going on in it, and Jesus is just chillin’ in the midst of it.

The Pilgrims at Emmaus

This is one of my favorite stories in the Gospels, and a key passage in understanding Christ-Centered hermeneutics, as Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the Scriptures, showing them how all of the things written in the Books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets (i.e. the entire Old Testament) was about him (see Luke 24:13-49)

However, you might notice the beautiful Alps in the background of this painting – which would make sense if Jesus had been in northern Italy rather than in Jerusalem. Apparently, although Titian was a great painter, he had never been to Israel, because then he would have known that there are no snow-capped mountains visible from the Judean desert near Jerusalem.

This is of course not to mention the anachronism of the servant’s clothes, which were not in style until at least 1000 years after the events recorded in Luke 24.

Saint Stephen Preaching in Jerusalem

This painting by the Italian master Carpaccio, is one of my favorites, because it shows that it’s possible to be good at painting, but bad at history.

It depicts the story found in Acts 7, in which Stephen, a deacon in the early church, preached to a crowd in Jerusalem right before they stoned him to death for his faith in Jesus, making him the first martyr of the Christian faith.

However, you might notice that Carpaccio’s depiction of Jerusalem has it filled with minarets: towers attached to mosques from which the Muslim call to prayer is heralded. Furthermore, notice the many people in turbans, the traditional dress of Muslim men in the Middle East.

At the time of Carpaccio, Jerusalem was indeed full of mosques and muslims. However, Islam wasn’t invented until over 600 years after the events which took place in Acts 7! In the 1st Century A.D. there were no muslims and no mosques in Jerusalem!

Sometimes people criticize Christian pop music and movies as being subpar, but these paintings show us that it is possible to make great art that is quite inaccurate from a biblical perspective.

A Theology of Music: Discussion with Jon Markey and Michael Payne

Jon Markey and Michael Payne are accomplished musicians, songwriters, and producers, and in the latest episode of the Theology for the People podcast, I sat down with them to talk about the theology of music.

Michael is the Worship Pastor at White Fields Community Church in Longmont, Colorado. Prior to coming to Longmont, he spent 21 years as a worship leader and missionary in Hungary, and prior to that he served in the US Marine Corps.

Jon is a pastor and missionary in Ternopil, Ukraine. He moved to Kiev, Ukraine with his family in the 1990’s, when he was 5 years old, and earned a masters degree from the Ukrainian National Tchaikovsky Academy of Music.

Jon has been a guest on the podcast before, in fact his episode is the most-listened to episode on the podcast to date: If “It’s All Gonna Burn” Then What’s the Point? – How the Resurrection Gives Meaning to Work & Art

We recently had the pleasure of having Jon and his family visit Longmont and lead worship at our church, and while he was here, I got to sit down with him and Mike to discuss what the Bible has to say about music: its purpose, uses, and significance – including the “song of creation,” and how it serves to counteract pagan origin narratives, as well as Jubal: the first human musician, mentioned in Genesis 4, as well as other practical discussions which have modern application.

Check out Jon’s ministry: Room for More music on YouTube and his church: Calvary Chapel Ternopil (Ukraine)

Check out Michael on Spotify: Michael Payne and you can watch him on the White Fields Community Church YouTube page.

The book mentioned in this episode is Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity by Michael Card

A Theology of Music: with Jon Markey & Michael Payne Theology for the People

Michael Payne and Jon Markey are accomplished musicians, songwriters, and producers, and in this episode they talk with Nick about the theology of music. Listen in to this discussion of what the Bible has to say about music: its purpose, uses, and significance – including the "song of creation," Jubal, and practical discussions for today. Check out Jon's ministry: Room for More music on YouTube and his church: Calvary Chapel Ternopil (Ukraine) Check out Michael on Spotify: Michael Payne and you can watch him on the White Fields Community Church YouTube page. The book mentioned in this episode is Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity by Michael Card Visit the Theology for the People blog.

The Offense of the Cross: Cicero, the Early Christians, and Us

Boulder County & the Flatirons

The symbol of the cross is universally recognized today as the symbol of Christianity; for many in the Western world it is familiar and welcome. However, in the ancient world, in the first century AD, when this symbol was first used by early Christians, it was downright scandalous.

Paul the Apostle refers to the message of the cross as foolishness to the Greeks, a stumbling block to the Jews, and an offense to all. (1 Corinthians 1:22-23, Galatians 5:11)

The reason is because, for people in the ancient world, the cross was a terrible instrument of torture and execution. 

The thing that made crucifixion so terrible is that it didn’t kill you right away; it was designed to make a person suffer as much as possible, for as long as possible. And for this reason, crucifixion was reserved for only the very worst kinds of criminals.

Because of how terrible crucifixion was, the Romans did not allow their own citizens to be killed by crucifixion, no matter how dastardly their crimes; only slaves and those without rights were allowed to be crucified, since it was exceedingly inhumane. 

Cicero, the Roman statesman and philosopher said that crucifixion was so horrible, that the word “cross” should never be mentioned in polite society.

Let the very word ‘cross,’ be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens, but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears.

Cicero, 106-43BC, Pro Rabirio Postump 16

For the Jewish people in particular — to be crucified on a cross was considered a fate worse than death, because according to the Jewish Scriptures, anyone who was killed by being hanged upon a tree was considered “accursed”. (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)

And so, just imagine if you told someone back then that you were a follower of Jesus — a man who had been crucified… That person would have thought: “Whoa… Even if he was innocent, that’s probably something you should keep to yourself! That’s not something you want to go around advertising, because: that’s humiliating!”

But: here’s what’s interesting: for the early Christians, the fact that Jesus had been killed upon a cross was not something they tried to hide. Instead, the symbol of the cross became the main symbol they used to identify themselves – which is surprising, because the cross was generally consider to be the ultimate symbol of humiliation and defeat.

Furthermore, the message that the early Christians embraced and wanted to share with the world was what they called, “the message of the cross,” and “the good news of Christ, and him crucified.”

Paul the Apostle knew that the message of the cross was difficult for many people to accept. For the Jews, the idea of a crucified Messiah was a stumbling block. For Greeks, the idea that you could be saved through the death of an executed Jew seemed ridiculous. The idea that God would come to Earth and allow himself to be beaten, mocked, rejected and crucified, seemed completely unreasonable. They couldn’t wrap their heads around it. The Greek gods made humans serve them; they didn’t serve people – and they would never sacrifice themselves to save guilty people. 

Just as the message of the cross ran contrary to popular thinking back then, the message of the cross also runs contrary to popular thinking today.

The message of the Cross requires you to admit that you have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that you are powerless to save yourself. This is why Paul talks about “the offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11)

The message of the cross offends our sensibilities and our pride by telling us that we are sinners who need a Savior, and that we cannot save ourselves. In order to receive this salvation, you have to humble yourself before God.

Another part of the offense of the Cross is that the message of the gospel is exceedingly simple. Many people in Corinth seemed to believe that in order to “find God,” you had to be really smart, or exceedingly “good.” And yet, God chose to bring salvation to the world in a way that was so simple that even  even a child could understand it, and in a way that it was available to people who had lived immoral lives. 

Another part of the “offense of the cross” is that God says that His reason for saving you was not because you are better than other people. Salvation is simply an act of God’s grace: completely undeserved and totally unearned. You can’t take credit for it. The message of the cross leaves no room for pride or arrogance.

And when you really embrace the message of the cross, on the one hand it forces you to be incredibly humble, but on the other hand it fills you with an incredible sense of confidence – because the message of the Cross is that God loves you, and He has acted to redeem you, and if you have put your faith in what Jesus did for you, then God has sealed you and made you His own: He has adopted you as His Child, and placed His Spirit inside of you — and therefore you can be incredibly confident, knowing that you have nothing to fear in life or in death because God has promised that He will cause all things to work together for your ultimate good and for His ultimate glory.

For more on the message of the cross, see this sermon titled, “The Message of the Cross & the Power of God”