Which Voices are Shaping You?

Doctors tell us that children in the womb are able to recognize their mother’s voice and differentiate it from the voices of others. Even though they’ve never seen their mother, they know and respond to her voice.

How are babies able to differentiate their mother’s voice from other voices they hear? Because their mother’s voice is the voice they hear and listen to most often.

What voices are you listening to the most?  

Right now, more than ever before, there are a lot of voices out there vying for your attention. It used to be that everybody had an opinion, but now everyone has a platform.

Mobile devices are designed not primarily for creating content, but consuming it.

If you don’t think that you are being shaped by the content you consume, think again. So choose wisely!

You can spend your time listening to the voices of political pundits, reading all kinds of articles, you can spend your time listening to the voices of everyone on social media…

The content you consume not only conveys information, it has a teleology, in other words: it aims to lead you somewhere. To use a biblical term: they seek to make you disciples of their beliefs and attitudes.

Just like a baby in its mother’s womb: whose voice do you want to be most familiar with? Whose voice do you want filling your ears and shaping your thoughts the most?

Many people today are being discipled more by social media, politicians, and influencers than by Moses, Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus.

May I encourage you instead to spend more time listening to the voice of God than to all those other voices?

As you immerse yourself in the Word of God, it tunes your heart to God’s voice and it familiarizes you with his voice.  As you read and study the Bible,  you get to know God’s voice and God’s heart, and you become familiar with the kinds of things God says.

Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd, and he said that his sheep know his voice and will not follow the voice of another. (John 10:4-5)

When it comes to hearing God’s voice: the most reliable, most certain way to hear God’s voice is to immerse yourself in the words of Scripture.

Let me encourage you to make His voice the voice you listen to the most. He alone has the words of eternal life, and everything that pertains to life and godliness.

Here is a recent message I taught at White Fields Church on the topic of hearing God’s voice:

A Biblical Discussion of Current Politics and Where Our True Citizenship Lies

My friend Nate Morris is the pastor of a great church: Mountain Life Calvary Chapel, which has campuses in Edwards and Carbondale, Colorado, serving the communities of the Vail Valley and the Roaring Fork Valley.

Recently Nate started a podcast: the New Day Podcast, which aims, in his words, “to talk about the topics which you shouldn’t talk about around the dinner table,” such as religion, race, politics, and so on.

I was honored to be a guest on his podcast; you can check out our discussion here: Special Guest: Pastor Nick Cady – A Biblical discussion of current politics and where our true citizenship lies.

In the episode, we talk about how my decade as a missionary in Hungary has affected my views on politics, as well as my concerns and hopes for the church in our current political and social situation.

Check it out the episode and leave a comment on this post with your thoughts and reactions, and make sure to subscribe to the New Day Podcast with Pastor Nate Morris!

A Word for Christians in a Politically Divided Culture

The COVID-19 crisis has been a major disruption worldwide, affecting the lives of nearly every person on the planet. Movement has been restricted, jobs have been furloughed or ended, businesses have suffered, not to mention the emotional stress it has put on the population. Almost universally, church gatherings have been limited in an effort to slow the spread of the virus and protect the vulnerable.

As the crisis has continued and stay-at-home orders have been extended, the situation has become increasingly divisive, and since the responses in different areas are determined by local authorities, it has also become political.

The discourse has also shifted from simply questioning the actions of authorities, business owners, and other civilians, to questioning their motives and accusing them of everything from indifference to malice.

Christians have not been exempt from this. Differing views on the motives of everyone from government authorities to church leaders have led some Christians to view each other with suspicion or even contempt. In a highly politicized and media-heavy world it is very easy for Christians to get caught up in social and political divisions to the point where their views on these issues become their primary source of identity, and they begin to view those with whom they disagree with enmity.

The Apostle Paul’s words to the Ephesians are particularly important for Christians to hear and take to heart in these times:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:1-3 NASB

Paul later warns the Ephesians not to “give the devil any opportunity” (Ephesians 4:27 NASB). As David Guzik explains,

The devil’s work is to accuse and divide the family of God, and to sow discord among them. When we harbor anger in our heart, we do the devil’s work for him.

Enduring Word commentary, Ephesians 4

As Christians our identity is found not in our opinions about politics or current events, but in Christ who gave his life for us to make us new people individually and “the people of God” collectively. A powerful example of this can be seen in the example of the people Jesus called to become his closest disciples.

Disciples from Opposite Ends of the Political Spectrum

In Matthew 10:1-4 we have a list of the 12 disciples. Two names in the list are particularly interesting: Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot.

Tax collectors were Jewish people who worked with and for the occupying Roman government to collect taxes from their fellow countrymen, which not only took money away from individuals, but was used to support the Roman occupation and its military. For this reason, tax collectors were seen as sell-outs and traitors by more nationalistically minded Jews, who despised them.

The Zealots were a political action group of far-right nationalists who were willing to use violence in resistance to the Roman occupying forces. Zealots reportedly carried hooked knives under their cloaks with which they would seek to wound or assassinate Roman officials and their collaborators as they walked in public places.

Political divisions are nothing new; they existed in Jesus’ time as well. Simon the Zealot was someone who would have killed someone like Matthew the tax collector because of their differing political and social views.

However, Jesus called both these men, from opposite ends of the political spectrum, to follow him and become his disciples. He gave their lives a new direction and a new purpose. In Jesus, they received a new identity and a new community.

Apart from Jesus these men would have been enemies, but because of Jesus they became brothers, and they set aside their differences for a higher calling and a greater allegiance: not Rome, not Israel, but the Kingdom of God.

As Christians today in this politically divided climate, may we be those who are “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” “showing tolerance for one another in love,” as we have been called together in one body and given a new identity and purpose in Christ.

Is the Term “Evangelical” One We Should Embrace or Avoid?

man wearing black crew neck shirt reading book

In a recent post, I reviewed Christian Smith’s book, The Bible Made Impossiblein which he takes aim at “biblicism,” which he claims is particularly prevalent amongst evangelical Christians.

This brings up an important question: What exactly is an “evangelical”?

Popular Usage

Recently a friend from church approached me before service one Sunday morning. He pointed out an article in the New York Times about evangelicalism in America, and asked what exactly an evangelical is, and whether our church was evangelical.

Another friend recently posted online about two Christian leaders who had written a book about their support for a particular political issue, and my friend’s comment was that the divide between evangelicals and Jesus is widening all the time.

Obviously my friend is speaking of evangelicals as if they are a single, united group of people, who for the most part do not only hold certain religious beliefs, but also certain political and social positions.

Again, it begs the question: what exactly is an “evangelical”?

Origin of the Term

The word “evangelical” means “of the gospel” or “about the gospel.” It comes from the Greek word evangelion, which means a proclamation of good news.

See also: The Gospel of Caesar Augustus, & What It Tells Us About the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The gospel, which is the proclamation of Jesus Christ and what He has done in order to save us, redeem us, and reconcile us to God, is the core message of Christianity. Thus, an “evangelical Christian” simply means: a Christian who is about the gospel, or a gospel Christian.

Co-Opting of the Term

Since the gospel is the core message of Christianity, one would assume that all Christians would be people who are about the gospel! Unfortunately, some political groups have attempted to co-opt the term evangelical to give the impression that theologically conservative Christians all agree with particular political, social, and economic positions and support certain political parties.

This has led some Christians to feel that they should abandon the term evangelical, as they feel it is no longer helpful in identifying them because the term may be associated in some people’s minds with certain political positions, thus creating an unnecessary barrier for some in approaching Christianity.

So what is an evangelical?

Defining Evangelicalism

Theologian and historian Mark Noll says: “the groups and individuals making up the postwar evangelical movement unite on little except profession of a high view of scripture and the need for divine assistance in salvation.” [1]

Another definition states that evangelicalism is “a transdenominational movement that has sought to transcend its differences in order to work together toward certain common activities and goals, particularly evangelism, world missions, and ministries of mercy and justice.” [2]

Nathan Hatch explains that evangelicals cannot be spoken of as if they are one united group of people who all share the same core beliefs, nor is there one leader who represents or speaks on behalf of evangelicals as a whole. He states, “In truth, there is no such thing as one evangelicalism. [It is made up of] extremely diverse coalitions dominated by scores of self-appointed and independent-minded religious leaders.” [3]

Thus, for my friend to say that “evangelicals are moving farther away from Jesus every day” is to suppose that certain leaders speak on behalf of a movement which is united in both their theological and political views, which is absolutely not true. Nevertheless, many people obviously hold this opinion, partly because of “self-appointed” leaders who act as if they do speak on behalf of evangelicals as a whole, which is the reason why many Christians are considering whether it would be best to distance themselves from this descriptor.

Not an American Movement

One of the problems with associating the term evangelical with Christians who hold certain political positions is that it fails to recognize that evangelicalism is a worldwide movement, not an American one, and evangelicals around the world hold a wide variety of positions on social and economic issues. Even in the United States, evangelicals are not united in their political views or affiliations.

Should We Embrace It or Avoid It?

Words are only helpful until they are not. Furthermore, the helpfulness of words depends on context, because in different contexts, the same words can be associated with different things. If a word carries a lot of baggage in a particular context, it might be better to find a different word.

For example, in Hungary, where I pastored for several years, the word evangéliumi (literally: of the gospel) was a helpful and positive term which gave people a sense of who we were and what we were about. In England, where I have done my theological education, the term evangelical does not carry heavy political connotations, and is therefore helpful in describing a certain kind of Christian who is active in their faith, takes the Bible seriously, and is engaged socially. John Stott, an Anglican, is remembered in England as the face of the Evangelical Alliance, a group of churches that works together beyond denominational lines to further the gospel.

In the United States some Christians, including myself, have opted for using alternative monikers, such as “Gospel-Centered,” which retains the idea of being focused on the gospel, while not using a term which has come to be associated with many things other than the gospel in American society. As I often say: as a Christian, the only controversy I want to be known for is the controversy of the gospel.

Most Popular Posts of 2019

macbook pro beside spiral notebook

Thank you for reading and subscribing to this blog. 2019 saw continued growth in readership.

I wrote 101 articles this year, which were viewed 58,000 times, a 70% increase over last year. Subscriptions increased by 35%.

Most Popular Posts of 2019:

  1. The Gospel of Caesar Augustus & What It Tells Us About the Gospel of Jesus Christ

  2. Joaquin Phoenix is Playing Jesus, but Refused to Reenact One of His Miracles
  3. Did People Go to Heaven Before Jesus’ Death & Resurrection?
  4. Augustine & Disordered Loves
  5. Why is Satan Going to Be Released at the End of the Thousand Years
  6. Jordan Peterson & the Bible
  7. What Does it Mean to Live “Coram Deo”?
  8. Why Gossip is Like Pornography
  9. New Zealand, Nigeria & New York: Religious Violence, Refugees & Reporting
  10. Is Christianity About Denying Yourself or About Being Happy?

If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do!

Have a happy New Year, and may God bless you in 2020!

The Gospel of Caesar Augustus, & What It Tells Us About the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Image result for caesar augustusMaybe you’ve heard of “the gospel of Jesus Christ”, but have you ever heard of “the gospel of Caesar Augustus”?

An ancient inscription which bears that phrase gives us understanding into what exactly the gospel of Jesus Christ is, and sheds light on the structure and content of the biblical “Gospels”, i.e. the books which tell the story of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

What is a “gospel”?

In English vernacular, we have terms like “gospel-truth”, which means that something is absolutely true. However, in the Bible, the word “gospel” doesn’t mean truth.

“Gospel” is the English translation of the Greek word “euangelion” which means “news that brings great joy.”

When we hear this word today, our minds immediately tend to associate it with spirituality in general, or Christianity in particular, but originally, this word was political in nature.

In the Greco-Roman world, from the time of Alexander the Great and on into the Roman Empire, this word was used to refer to history-making, world-shaping reports of political, military, or societal victories.

Example 1: The Battle of Marathon

I am considering running a marathon this year, and one of the things that I always keep in the back of my mind is that the person who ran the first marathon ran 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles) to deliver a message, and upon completing this run, he DIED!

I feel like I still have a lot to live for, hence my hesitation… I have run a few half marathons, and after those I felt half-dead, so we’ll see…

The setting of that first marathon was a battle in 490 B.C. when Greece was invaded by Persia. Despite all odds, Greece managed to defeat Persia, and after the battle, Greece sent heralds to take the euangelion (proclamation of good news) out into every town and village in the country, to tell the people what had happened, and declare to them that they were free! Those heralds were “evangelists”.

Example 2: The Emancipation Proclamation

In the United States, when Abraham Lincoln signed the document which set the slaves in the southern states free, that news had to be taken and proclaimed in every city, town and farm in the South. Heralds were sent out who proclaimed to those slaves that something had happened, which would change their lives forever. They declared to them that because of what someone else had done, they were set free!

The Gospel of Caesar Augustus

An inscription found in Priene, in modern-day Turkey, referring to Caesar Augustus says:  “the birthday of [Augustus] has been for the whole world the beginning of the gospel (euangelion) concerning him.” (Priene 150.40-41)

This inscription is found on a government building dating from 6 B.C. Here is more of what it says, which gives us insight into how they understood the “gospel” concerning Caesar Augustus:

The most divine Caesar . . . we should consider equal to the Beginning of all things . . . for when everything was falling (into disorder) and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave the whole world a new aura;  Caesar . . . the common good Fortune of all . . . The beginning of life and vitality . . . All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year . . . Whereas the Providence which has regulated our whole existence . . . has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us (the emperor) Augustus . . .who being sent to us and our descendents as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order;  and (whereas,) having become (god) manifest /PHANEIS/, Caesar has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times.

The “gospel” of Caesar Augustus was what we call today the Pax Romana, the age of peace in the Roman Empire which came about during this time, into which Jesus was born.

Caesar Augustus in this inscription is declared to be: divine, savior, and the beginning of the good news for all people on Earth.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ: a Direct Challenge to the Gospel of Rome

When we understand this term “gospel” (euangelion), and how it was used in the ancient Greco-Roman world, we can begin to better understand the specific way in which the Christian gospels of Jesus Christ were written. They were written in such a way as to present Jesus as the true divine King, who had come to bring true salvation to the whole world, and they were written as a direct challenge to the so-called “gospel” of Rome and its peace which was enforced through brutality, and which did not provide any actual salvation.

“The beginning of the gospel (euangelion) about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1)

“Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel (euangelion) of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the gospel! (euangelion)” (Mark 1:14-15)

And this gospel (euangelion) of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel (euangelion), for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

The gospel is a message of a victory which has taken place, from which we benefit. We receive salvation, freedom and peace as a result of it.

The gospel, therefore, is good news, not good advice! It’s not about what you have to do for God, but it’s the news of what God has done for you in Christ to set you free.

Further Resources:

Check out this article from Marianne Bonz of Harvard University called: The Gospel of Rome vs. the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Check out this video Mike and I filmed about whether the gospel is political (hint: it is), and what that means for us as Christians today:

Video: Christianity and Politics

“The Gospel is an inherently political message.”

See what we mean by that in this episode in which Mike and I have a discussion about Christianity and politics, and we consider some guiding principles for how Christians should view and engage with this often polarizing and divisive topic.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject, so please leave a comment below.

You can also listen on Soundcloud, and don’t forget to subscribe to our channel on YouTube and Soundcloud so you’ll be able to get new content when it comes out.

 

Senator Ben Sasse’s Speech at the Gospel Coalition 2017 Conference

Take a minute to watch this short address given by Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska at the Gospel Coalition 2017 Conference a few weeks ago in Indianapolis.

Sasse is a graduate of Yale and studied in Oxford. He is a Christian and in this address he sounds more like a pastor than a politician. He has served as an elder in his church and on the board of trustees of Westminster Seminary California.

Here’s an article about him and his faith that was published in World Magazine: Ben Sasse: a Reformed reformer.

Here’s the video of his session: “What Does Washington Have to Do with Jerusalem?”:

Politics and Identity

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Over the past few weeks, I, like many of you, have been following the political developments in the U.S. In such a caustic and antagonistic climate, I would much rather be known for my stance on Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel than for my personal convictions about political matters. That is the drum that I will beat and the hill I will be willing to die on.

Why is it that the political climate is so caustic and people are so divided? According to many sociologists, philosophers and theologians, the issue is one of identity: namely, that one of the most common ways that people create identity is through “the exclusion of the Other.”

According to Zygmunt Bauman, “We can’t create ‘Us’ without also creating ‘Them.’ Social belonging happens only as some other contrasting group is labeled as the Different or the Other. We bolster our identity by seeing others in a negative light and by excluding them in some way.” (Modernity and Ambivalence, p. 8)

In other words: I can feel I am one of the good people because I know I am not one of the bad people. Therefore the “Other” must be degraded, excluded and/or vilified in order for me to have a sense of self-worth.

Croatian theologian and professor at Yale University, Miroslav Wolf, in his book Exclusion and Embrace, says that the reason we indulge in these attitudes and practices is that by denouncing and blaming the Other it gives us “the illusion of sinlessness and strength.”

One great example of this, Timothy Keller points out, is: “If I find my identity in working for liberal political and social causes, it is inevitable that I will scorn conservatives, and the same goes for conservatives regarding liberals. In fact, if the feelings of loathing toward the opposition are not there, it might be concluded that my political position is not very close to the core of who I am.” (Making Sense of God, p. 145)

In order to do this, Wolf says, we must “over-bind” and “over-separate”: To over-separate means to fail to recognize what we do have in common, and to over-bind means to refuse other people the right to be different from us.

This practice is common in many areas, not just in regard to politics.

Keller goes on to say: “If my identity rests to a great degree in being moral and religious, then I will disdain those people I think of as immoral. If my self-worth is bound up with being a hardworking person, I will look down on those whom I consider lazy. As the postmodernists rightly point out, this condescending attitude toward the Other is part of how identity works, how we feel good and significant.” (Ibid.)

Jesus himself gave an example of this:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14 ESV

Jesus is describing people who excluded, degraded and vilified others for the purpose of bolstering their own sense of self-worth, value and identity. However, much to their surprise, Jesus tells them that God does not play this game – in fact, he is very much opposed to it, because it is rooted in pride and self-justification rather than humility.

What then is the solution?

The solution is this: we must find our identity not in being better than others, but in who we are in God’s eyes, because of what Jesus has done for us. We need an identity which is centered on the Cross.

The fact that Jesus went to the cross to die for our salvation is both a profound statement of our sin and failure, and at the same time the greatest expression of love and of our value to God. In this sense, my identity and value is not based on me being better than other people – rather it does not allow me to see myself as better than others. I, like them, have sinned and fallen short. My value, according to the gospel, is that God loves me so much that he was willing to pay the greatest cost and hold nothing back; he is that devoted and committed to me.

May we be those who find our identity in Christ, rather than in our political or other affiliations, and may the way Christians express their political views not be a hindrance to the message of the gospel.

Five Scriptures to Read on Inauguration Day

  1. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

    First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

  2. Jeremiah 29:7

    But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

  3. Romans 13:1

    Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

  4. Philippians 3:20

    But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

  5. Psalm 47:6-9

    Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
    For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
    God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
    The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham.
    For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted!