a 30-something speaks on spiritual gifts, redux: strange gifts, indeed

In Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, Paul names some specific kinds of gifts God entrusts the church with. It seems to me that he never meant these lists to be exhaustive, for they do not recapitulate one another. It also seems to me that multiple, complimentary gifts can coincide in one agent. Further, it seems perfectly reasonable to me that sometimes a gift that Paul named might come with articulations and expressions that make it difficult for us to see the gift for what it really is. Sometimes the gifts God gives the church are strange, indeed. Let’s pray for enough discernment not to throw them away. Because it also means throwing people away.

“The ability to be what we are and yet go on”: thoughts on penal substitutionary atonement and discipleship

The gospel is the narrative that gives us freedom by allowing us to interpret our story. And it is not a story about someone else being your whipping boy. It is a story about God’s refusal to let our murdering of his Child finally determine our relationship to him. It is a story about his rejection of our rejection of him through the Cross–of his not allowing that Cross to have the final word, but undoing it in resurrection. And it is a story about God continuing to invite us through his Crucified-and-Resurrected-Child to come be reconciled to him. The Cross and Resurrection is a narrative that subverts and reinterprets all the stories we have been told, and continue to tell ourselves.

Can Ezra-Nehemiah be reclaimed?

For years I have rejected any application of Ezra-Nehemiah in the church, other than a stern warning not to imitate them. The racism and sexism that justified their decision to have Israelite men desert their foreign wives and children reflects an appalling lack of concern for the vulnerable; and care for the vulnerable is at the core of what it means to be God’s holy people. But can these Scriptures be reclaimed for use in the church? In this post, I explain again why I think Ezra and Nehemiah set a terrible precedent for God’s people; but I also point out a few helpful applications from these texts for the church.

The politics of killing and dying

The conversations we have about big issues like war and capital punishment; about abortion and euthanasia; about economic inequality and food justice–they are all carried out in terms of rights and sanctity. I suspect that one reason we do this is that it tends to make us think that by so arguing, we are elevating serious discussions to their appropriate level of seriousness. But I also deeply suspect that we do so in order to place these discussions into the metaethical realm, where they don’t have to be taken sufficiently seriously–as if they had real consequences for the world or anything. Once we have framed issues of dying and killing as metaethical abstractions, we have turned them into topics fit for polite conversation–a diversion that lets people know that we really do, after all, believe in something, even if it is of no practical consequence. After all, it’s not worth dying over But it seems that a society that is premised upon the idea that there is very little worth suffering and dying over, ironically has little trouble finding things that are worth killing over.

Muddling through the claim that Jesus died for our sins with Arrested Development

When introducing their 1992 song “Revolution,” hip-hop group Arrested Development’s front man Speech mentions those in previous generations who were tortured and killed for the freedom and dignity of generations to come. “They died for me, and they died for you,” he concludes. Might this expression shed some light onto the Bible’s claim that Jesus died “for us”?

The Sermon on the Mount and the Church: the creative Word of God

Matthew’s Jesus tells the church, “You are the light of the world.” John’s Jesus proclaims that “I am the light of the world.” How can both be true? Because Jesus continues to be present in his church. Paul’s idea of the church as the body of Christ is not simply a crafty metaphor for the division of labor in the church, as most interpret it. Rather, it is an ontological description of our existence, character, and especially, our vocation. The Church is what happens when the creative Word of the Sermon on the Mount becomes flesh.