Staying Current

This unique issue of Dedicated allows you to hear what’s on the mind of some of Corban’s ministry professors. This past November, three School of Ministry professors had presentations accepted for the national meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society. With over 2800 evangelical scholars attending, it is the largest gathering of evangelical scholars each year. The theme for the conference was Marriage and Family.

Dr. Gary Derickson addressed the needed yet uncomfortable subject of family priorities and ministry responsibilities. How do we follow Jesus in the “hate-our-own-families” way (Lk 14:26) and love family in the “give-yourself-up-for-them” way (Eph 5:25)? Dr. Tim Anderson presented research from his current book project on believers’ intimacy with God. His paper focused on changing the scripts of the shamed in our culture (of which we once were) to scripts of the God-adopted. I joined a panel with Dr. Walter Kaiser and Dr. Ron Allen to address Proverbs and the family. My presentation grappled with the delicate issue of preaching on corporal discipline in an age of abuse.

To further help you stay current, we also offer three reviews of influential books. Dr. Allen Jones reviews Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff. It will help you see how love lives each day. Garrett Trott reviews Theology of Work Bible Commentary, Volume 1: Genesis through Deuteronomy. This unique commentary concentrates on business and work applications from the Scripture. Mark Jacobson reviews American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism by Matthew Avery Sutton. This book explores how preaching on the return of Christ shaped the history of American Christianity.

I hope you’re blessed by the reviews of these important books and by sitting in to listen where our Corban ministry professors are thinking and researching.

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Sacrificing Family: Does Jesus’ Teaching on Discipleship Invalidate the Modern Emphasis on Family before Ministry?

Abstract

The now popular idea that one should not neglect family for the sake of ministry is an American cultural value, not a biblical value. A survey of the modern evangelical view of family and ministry reveals its emphasis on not allowing ministry to cause one to fail to meet his or her family’s needs. The problems that result from a husband and father’s neglect of his wife and children has motivated this emphasis and influenced the interpretation and application of certain biblical passages related to the family. The result has been a hierarchy of commitment: first God, then family, and then church (ministry), even for pastors. However, Jesus’ teachings on discipleship conflict with our modern emphasis. Those worthy of Him sacrifice all for Him, including family. Jesus was not speaking hyperbolically in these instances. The conversations that follow indicate otherwise. Jesus was very serious about the level of commitment He demands of us. The challenge this creates for the modern church involves such things as pastors, elders, and deacons failing to meet clear biblical standards because their children rebel in response to neglect, or their testimony to the lost world around them is harmed by the impact of neglect on their families. However, the impact of our modern approach has harmed the church more than helped it. It has led to a weakened view of commitment to Christ that has expressed itself in a reduced commitment to the life of the church. The weakened church has subsequently lost its willingness to do those things necessary to reach the lost world around it with the gospel. Can we follow Christ the way He wants us to and still preserve our families? Maybe not. However, there are principles and practices taught by Jesus and the authors of the New Testament that makes it possible, though not a guarantee. Even so, the risk of suffering should never deter one from serving Jesus, even when it includes those we love.

Introduction

How important is the family when its “needs” conflict with ministry? Is serving Jesus a legitimate excuse for neglecting family? The answer to these questions has changed over time and needs to be addressed once again. Failed marriages and rebellious children have driven the American church to reevaluate its expectations of a pastor as well as its members. Positively, there is the desire to protect the family. However, negatively, our churches may be encouraging the very opposite of Jesus’ expectation for those who would follow and serve Him.

In this paper, first, the issue will be examined and the church’s response discussed. Next, Jesus’ teachings that directly impact this issue will be examined. This will be followed with a discussion of whether there is a legitimate way to balance Jesus’ demands with the husband and father’s responsibility to his wife and children that is also clearly taught in Scripture. Finally, the biblical mandate and how to live it out in a way that is obedient to Christ will be addressed.

The Evangelical Quandary

No one doubts that men and women have neglected their families to “serve” Jesus. This is not just true of pastors, but of lay people as well.[1] The failure is depicted often in the behavior of “preachers’ kids” who rebel in order to gain the attention of their father. His absence from the home to attend meetings and visit members, or potential members, is blamed for the problem. When pastors lose their children, they subsequently become disqualified to continue serving because they cease to meet the qualifications of an elder (1 Tim 3:4-5). Further, the testimony of the church is hurt in the community and the gospel is maligned.

The response of the church to this problem has been to encourage their ministers to focus more on their families, even to the neglect of ministry at times. [2] This can be seen in the writing of such people as James Dobson who began placing the family before ministry.[3] He describes the problem, using himself as the model of the problem of over-commitment, and then anecdotally shows how his putting his family first proved more beneficial to his ministry.[4] Barnabas Piper describes the evangelical perspective well. “What happens when the calling of pastor is elevated beyond where it ought to be is that he gains both the freedom and the expectation to be and do things others ought not. Since the pastor is seen as doing ‘God’s work’ in some unique way, it becomes okay for him to work seventy- and eighty-hour weeks, even though such excess would be frowned upon and maybe even rebuked if the bond salesman did it. … Pastors are expected to be available to their congregation at any time of day or night—dinnertime, their daughter’s soccer game, school open house, moving their son to college. Missing a day of work, which might mean not preaching on a Sunday, is seen as dereliction of duty rather than simply what it is: family time or vacation.” Piper blames the mindset in part on the church as well as the pastor.[5] He then gives his solution. “What pastors need to realize is that their first calling is to their families, not the church. Yes, the church is a calling too, and balancing the two is enormously difficult. As in many other industries, the job does sometimes demand attention in a way that cannot be ignored. But when someone marries and becomes a parent, those people—the family—must come first. It is wrong, sinful, to put us on the sidelines and treat pastoral ministry as if it is the ‘primary’ or ‘real’ calling. Pastors must keep the dual calls in proper relation to one another, as difficult as that may be.” Finally Piper concludes: “The pastor’s family needs the best of his time and energy.”[6]

Frances and Lisa Chan reject this mindset. “We all have callings from God, and those callings are bigger than our marriages. Seeking His kingdom must be our first priority, and if we’re not careful, marriage can get in the way. … Can you really call your marriage ‘good’ if your focus on your family keeps you from making disciples, caring for the poor, reaching out to the lost, and using your talents and resources for others?”[7]

It is clear that lines have been drawn, at least by some. But how does one answer the question of commitment and family? Begin by looking at what Jesus says.

Jesus’ Teaching

Though the Gospels contain Jesus’ instructions on divorce and children, they say little else about family and family relationships.[8] On the other hand, when the question of family obligations arises, Jesus’ response is instructive. What can be learned about family obligations comes from Jesus’ response to men who wished to be His disciples. His basic response to every request is that following Him must be the first priority, the only option, for anyone who wishes to be His disciple. This can be seen in His response to four requests.

Matt 10:34-39

In Matthew 10:34-39, the context is conflict within the family resulting from following Christ.[9] After identifying the various relationships that could be damaged by such a decision, Jesus calls for commitment with the warning that those who do not give Him absolute loyalty are “not worthy” (οὐκ ἄξιος) of Him. [10] This is said in the context of a culture that placed family loyalty above all else.[11] However, Jesus clearly demands to be first and warns that anything less will cost His follower everything he or she seeks to find in Christ.[12] John Nolland addresses the problem of modern interpretations well.  “The discomfort of these challenging words is often softened by placing an emphasis on readiness to put God ahead of family, and then establishing a context of expectations in which God is seen as so pro-family that such a possibility remains only hypothetical.”[13] However, Jesus’ words are not hypothetical. It is not a question of readiness, or of “balance.” His demand for loyalty is absolute.[14] Craig Blomberg understands Jesus’ point well. “Devotion to family is a cardinal Christian duty but must never become absolute to the extent that devotion to God is compromised.”[15]

Luke 14:26-33

Luke 14:26-33 places the words of Jesus following an incident in which He was invited into a Pharisee’s home for dinner on the Sabbath and healed a man with dropsy after being asked if it was lawful to do so. After a few more questions and answers, Jesus departs and is followed by multitudes. It is to these followers that Jesus turns and challenges them to count the cost of following Him. Jesus speaks to them in terms of willingness to die for Him. Anyone unwilling could not be His disciple (οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής). However, what He says about family is not a question of willingness, but an expectation. Jesus uses the verb for “hate” (μισέω) to contrast their loyalty for Him with their love for family members, and even for their own lives. For Jesus it is not a question of degrees, but of opposites. One may argue that Jesus is speaking in absolutes that He knows are impossible, using hyperbole, and so not to be understood or applied literally. However, the point He makes has to do with levels of commitment. Μισέω (hate) is used to communicate the idea that they are to “esteem” their family members less than they esteem Jesus.[16]  Additionally, His subsequent charge to “count the cost” (vv. 28-32) before committing to follow Him clarifies that His use of hyperbole does not change the fact that Jesus is demanding a permanent mindset that chooses Him over family and life. In fact, Jesus demands one “forsake all his possessions” (ἀποτάσσεται πᾶσιν τοῖς ἑαυτοῦ ὑπάρχουσιν) to follow Him, and so moves the discussion beyond family.

Matt 19:27-29; Luke 18:28-30

In Matthew 19:27-29 Jesus promises to reward those who sacrifice their families in order to follow Him. For the apostles, it means reigning over Israel when Jesus returns as its King. For others, it is a hundredfold reward in this life and a full future life. The significance of these statements is that Peter had willfully chosen to leave his family behind to accompany Jesus. Jesus does not chide him for it, but promises to reward Peter instead. The promise to repay a hundred times over indicates further that God knows what it costs us, and our families, to follow Jesus. Otherwise He could not reward us accordingly.

Matt 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-27

In Matthew 16:24-27 Jesus demands that His followers “deny” themselves and “daily” take up their cross while following Him. “Daily” (καθʼ ἡμέραν, Luke 9:23) indicates a consistent pattern of behavior, not occasional or when it does not conflict with family plans. This command of Jesus was so important that it was included by all three synoptic authors. They quote Jesus almost word-for-word, with just a few additions. Luke’s account seems the most basic. Matthew adds, “He will reward according to his works” with respect to the one who denies himself and “comes after” Jesus. This “coming after” (ἀκολουθείτω μοι) is a present active imperative and indicates that following Jesus involves a lifestyle choice rather than a single incident. These works involve personal sacrifice and so necessarily include family. Mark adds “ashamed of Me and My words” and warns that the Son of Man will be ashamed of him. Jesus equates an unwillingness to sacrifice one’s desires, the sense of desiring to “save” one’s life, will in actuality be an act of dissociating oneself from Jesus. In this sense he or she will be “ashamed” of Jesus. The result is a similar rejection by Jesus for the one unwilling to follow Him absolutely. Jesus makes clear that there is no room for partial followership. Additionally, Jesus defines this partial followership as allowing anything or anyone to get in the way of following Him. But can there be exceptions? Jesus’ answers to requests for exceptions to His demand should guide one’s understanding of the priority He gives service to Him over family obligations. This can be seen in His interaction with one potential disciple and a second person identified as a disciple.

Matthew 8:19-22

In Matthew 8:19-22, after telling a scribe who wishes to be Jesus’ disciple that he must count the cost, Jesus rejects the request of another who wishes to put family obligations first. This passage recounts Jesus’ interaction with two potential disciples, both saying they are willing to follow Him. His answers to each are quite instructive. The first, who states his desire in absolute terms is called upon by Jesus to consider the cost. The implication is that the man has not thought through the significance of his decision. Jesus does not apologize for the difficulties he will face. He just makes sure the scribe understands at least one of the hardships his commitment will entail. Matthew includes this as a reminder to count the cost of following Jesus.

The second potential disciple appears to have been asked by Jesus to follow Him. This can be seen in the way the disciple expresses his request and the way Jesus answers him.[17] Again, Jesus does not compromise or apologize, but rather dismisses his request, a request that would not be considered unreasonable in Jewish society in the first century. In fact, it would be considered a righteous request. It was a son’s moral obligation to both his father and his family.[18] Generally it is suggested that his father had not died yet. And, Matthew does not indicate whether he was close to death or just aged. More recently, it has been proposed that the disciple was referring to what is considered a second burial that occurred a year after the initial burial. In this burial the father’s bones would be gathered into an ossuary and placed in a slot in the tomb.[19] However, whether his request is seen in the context of his father’s imminent death or the approaching second burial, what is certain is that his request would be considered reasonable with either option. The importance of this filial duty can be seen in the Mosaic Law’s provision for priests to bury their parents (Lev 21:1-2) and its mention in Jewish literature as well (Tobit 4:3; 6:14).[20] He is being a good, father-honoring son.[21]

Jesus’ response is the exact opposite of what would be expected within the first century world, whether within Jewish or Gentile society.[22] Jesus’ demand is completely counter-cultural and would be viewed as shocking as well as offensive by His listeners. [23] Jesus is demanding that he dishonor his father by neglecting his filial duties toward him to remain in the company of Jesus as His follower.[24]

Luke (Luke 9:60-61) adds another disciple’s request that was just as “reasonable” on one hand, but less demanded by custom. He simply wants to say goodbye to his family, something that probably would only require a short pause in following Jesus. Nonetheless, Jesus rejects him for making such a request. This would be the sense of His response that going home to say goodbye made the disciple “unfit” for the kingdom of God. Elisha made the same request of Elijah and was granted permission by him (1 Kings 19:19-21).

What can be seen in all of these incidents is Jesus’ rejection of what is considered, rightly, requests to meet family obligations. None of these men are rejecting Jesus. They all clearly desire to follow Him. They are not trying to come up with excuses to justify not following Him. They each just feel that they have one more obligation to meet before they can follow in good conscience. They each feel that their requests are reasonable. Jesus says otherwise.

The Example of the Disciples

What can be known about those who left their families behind to follow Jesus?[25] It cost them and their families. And, nothing in Scripture indicates that their families especially appreciated it. How they likely felt may be seen in the interactions between Jesus and His family members. In Matthew 12:46-50 Jesus dismisses His family when His mother and brothers seek to speak with Him while He is teaching.[26] In John 7:1-9 His brothers tell Jesus to go to Jerusalem and do miracles there. John tells us that their comments came from unbelief, and were not words of encouragement for their eldest brother. The sarcasm of their statement cannot be missed. Through this, we get a glimpse at their resentment. Why would they be resentful? It would have been Jesus’ duty, as the eldest son of Joseph, to lead the family, including finding work for them and caring for their mother. Instead, Jesus had left her in their care, left the family business, and wandered around the country living off of people’s generosity and pretending to be an itinerant Rabbi.[27]

Scripture says very little about the families of the disciples. For most of them, nothing is said about their families. A little can be known about Peter. He was married, owned a home (Mark 1:29-31) and at least one, but maybe a couple of fishing boats (Luke 5:7).[28] This would indicate that he was somewhat wealthy when compared to the average Jew.[29] Peter would be what we would consider a part of the Jewish middle class. He would, to some extent, have the financial means to follow Jesus and still provide for his family. John 21 indicates that he did not sell his business to follow Jesus since the disciples went fishing in his boat. Peter likely already has employees working for him when Jesus calls him, and they continue to operate his business for him and provide him a steady income. Very likely, when Jesus is ministering in and around Capernaum, and staying in Peter’s home, Peter would be interacting with his employees and managing the family business. Thus one might dispute Peter’s understanding of the extent of his personal sacrifice in following Jesus. Jesus recognizes and acknowledges the sacrifice made by Peter and the other apostles.

In Matthew 19 Jesus is approached by a “rich young ruler” who chooses to keep his wealth rather than follow Jesus. After Jesus speaks about the difficulty that the wealthy have in entering the kingdom of heaven, the disciples ask who can be saved, if the “blessed” wealthy Jew is excluded. Following Jesus’ response that it is only possible with God, Peter asks the question that was likely on every disciple’s mind. He says “we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” (Matt 19:27). Jesus responds with a promise of rewards. He follows this with the Parable of the Laborers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16), by which He reminds Peter and the apostles that it is He who will determine rewards and not them or their view of fairness. However, it should be noted that Jesus acknowledges their sacrifice and promises to reward them for it. Further, Peter’s statement is correct. Peter has not given up all, just left it behind (ἀφήκαμεν).[30]

So, what price does the families of the apostles pay while they “leave all” to follow Jesus? For the unmarried apostles, their father’s household lost a source of income. In the case of James and John, their father would have had to hire men to replace them. For those who are married, their wives are left on their own to manage the household and raise the children. They also face the economic hardship that results from their husbands wandering across the countryside and not working. Children have an absent father. Granted, Jesus spends much of His time ministering in Galilee. Very likely they would have seen their spouses and children on a regular basis. However, they would still be accompanying Jesus, not going home each evening and rejoining Jesus each morning.

Following Jesus clearly supersedes familial obligations along with every other commitment one might have in life.[31] All of Jesus’ disciples had to “neglect” their families to follow Jesus.[32] Ultimately we should too, at least at times, if that is what it takes to fulfill a responsibility He has given us.

But, one may ask, are there extenuating circumstances? Are there ways to balance the priorities? For example, Marshall Shelley argues for a freedom to adjust priorities. “Perhaps the greatest problem with the ‘God first, family second, career third’ perspective is that real-life situations can’t be quite so neatly arranged. Responsibilities simply don’t line up first-second-third. At different times, God, family, and career must each be given our full attention. The issue becomes: When does God deserve my full attention? When does my family deserve my full attention? When does the church deserve my full attention? In practice, priorities can’t be stacked like blocks.”[33] This sounds good in theory. But is that the biblical perspective? Are there other New Testament passages that might indicate that Jesus’ words should not be understood absolutely, but only in principle. To answer this, what Paul has to say about the family, and the father/husband’s responsibility, should be examined.

The Example of the Priests

High priests sacrificed their families emotional needs while on duty while still providing for their physical needs. The priest’s portion in certain sacrifices would be sent to his household and was designed by God to meet their physical needs. However, while on duty he was expected to keep himself ceremonially clean. This meant that he stayed in the temple complex while his family stayed home (Lev 21:10-12). He was what many call today “an absent dad”! Further, he could not meet certain other needs while on duty with the “anointing” on him. For example, sex with his wife would make him temporarily unclean. He could not bury family members.[34] He was to do nothing that might even temporarily render him ceremonially unclean.

This might explain the problem of Eli’s sons. As High Priest, he would have spent more time at the tabernacle than at home. One might argue that their wickedness might be traced back to neglect that led to an inability to influence them, evidenced by his failure to get them to stop sinning (1 Sam 2:22-36). The text says their unrepentant attitude came from God as part of His judgment. Nonetheless, God held Eli accountable for his son’s conduct even as He does elders (and thus pastors) for the conduct of their children.[35]

Absolute or conditioned?

Is Jesus’ demands absolutes, or do relevant passages provide exceptions to what appears to be absolute commands? With respect to self-sacrifice, one might ask if Paul’s words in Philippians 2:4 may appear to allow some measure of placing personal needs ahead of the needs of others. Granted, no one can serve the way Jesus demands unless he or she considers the members of the body of Christ to be more important than oneself. However, Paul does not command that all personal interests be set aside. He does not say everyone must look out exclusively after the interests of others. Rather, one should be meeting both. So, since believers are permitted to pursue meeting personal needs, are there other passages that address this issue?

Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7

Paul addresses a problem with marriage as it relates to serving God. He warns the Corinthians of the consequence of choosing marriage over singleness. Married people have divided loyalties. Devotion to God is impacted by the needs of one’s spouse. He applies this primarily in the area of sexual needs (vv. 3-6), but extends it to other areas by implication. In this context Paul does not condemn the divided loyalty, but states it as a reality of marriage. This creates a tension within the person when the issue of suffering for Christ comes along. The reality that Paul addresses is that more than just the individual (husband or wife) is affected by the choices made. He is being very realistic when discussing the tension his readers will face. Paul’s solution is singleness that allows a singleness of devotion to God. The context of Paul’s words is “the present distress” (v. 26) the Corinthians faced in their day. They were living in the shadow of persecution. The instructions of Paul are given in that context.[36]

Does Paul’s instructions on marriage mitigate the absoluteness of Jesus’ demand? No. It acknowledges it. Paul’s solution is to avoid getting into a position where a choice has to be made. But, what about once the choice to marry has been made? Paul says it’s not sin (v. 28). It just adds another dimension to the question of serving Christ.

Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5:25-33

What about the husband’s role in marriage? This passage commands self-sacrificial love, like Christ’s for the church. How can a man love his wife in this way and sacrifice her for serving Christ? Put another way, how can a husband love his wife sacrificially and still serve and obey Christ unconditionally? What if God leads him into a situation that requires so much of his time and energy that he cannot meet his wife’s needs? Evangelicalism today says a godly husband puts family first. To neglect the family in order to serve God is wrong, even sin. Finally, God will not put him into such a position where he has to choose.

Jesus says the opposite of evangelicalism. A danger of misinterpreting or misusing this passage results if one does not recognize that Paul is giving generalized commands, broad principles, without dealing with extenuating circumstances. Ephesians is hermeneutically disconnected from Jesus’ statements in the Gospels. Nothing with the passage indicates that Paul is responding to, or connecting with, the issue of devotion to God as it relates to the family. Rather, the point being made by Paul is that love moves a husband to guide his wife toward spiritual maturity. Paul does not address food, clothing, shelter (physical issues). That is why he concludes with speaking of Christ and the church. In Jesus’ relationship to the church, does He meet our every physical or social need? No. This is not just an issue of persecution. Christians live in poverty, experience want. Yet, Jesus loved us sacrificially (sacrificing Himself) and still loves us intensely. His provision is for what matters, and material things do not matter. They are part of the temporal and passing world.

The commands of Ephesians apply to routine living, not sacrifice or persecution or special calling. A balancing passage for Ephesians is Colossians 3:1-4. There believers are commanded to set their minds on things above, namely their heavenly destination. This accords with Jesus’ words that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:31). One’s values and focus must be directed toward one’s eternal destiny not our temporal world. Everything should be measured by that, including a family’s needs. This command fits better with Jesus’ demands. In a sense it reveals the mindset needed to follow Jesus unconditionally. However, Paul is not saying that a loving husband does not provide for his family. He does. Even so, the statement that whoever does not is “worse than an unbeliever” is given in the context of caring for widows, not wives and children, though they can be included in the statement by principle. The issue is physical needs, not emotional. American culture has added the emotional element. A person can provide for the physical needs of his family, even his extended family, and “neglect” them in terms of time and availability. The “needs” in view in 1 Timothy 5:8 are physical needs, financial support. They are not emotional or self-actualization needs. No more should be read into the passage than God intended. That being said, in serving Christ, every husband should still meet the physical needs of family. It is an obligation. As a church in a culture that is self-focused and has defined happiness as a right, we need to be careful that we do not elevate “wants” to “needs” based on American values. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs should not be elevated to a biblical command for husbands and fathers.

Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1

Do the qualifications of elders and deacons soften Jesus’ demand? Both offices require men who are faithful to their wives (Tit 1:6; 1 Tim 3:2, 12) and “manage” (προΐστημι) their households well, including their children (1 Tim 3:4, 12) such that they cannot be accused of incorrigibility or insubordination (Tit 1:6).[37] Failure in this area disqualifies a man from serving.

One might argue that since neglecting the family to serve the church may lead to children acting out rebellion in order to get their father’s attention, Pastor’s must take care of their children’s emotional needs first. And, before someone says that elders were “older” and so would have grown children, it need not be true of deacons, then or now. In fact, διάκονος does not imply an age category in the same way that πρεσβυτέρος does. Again, if a man cannot meet both church and family obligations, he should not serve! However, biblical obligations should be distinguished from American cultural expectations.

Shepherds or Hirelings?

Peter’s command to overseers to “shepherd the flock of God” (ποιμάνατε τὸ ἐν ὑμῖν ποίμνιον τοῦ θεοῦ) alludes to the responsibilities of shepherds in the first century world (1 Pet 5:2-3). Shepherding was a twenty-four hour a day, seven days a week responsibility.[38] If he had a large enough flock and sufficient resources, he might hire an assistant shepherd. However, ultimately the care of the sheep still lay with him.[39] Unless the sheepfold was situated proximate to his house, or he had a hireling who could guard them at night, he would spend his time with the flock. Even on his child’s birthday, a shepherd could not leave the sheep unattended to go home for even an hour. The sheep’s needs trumped those of his wife and children. And, they understood.

When Jesus calls someone to be His under-shepherd, responsible for one of His flocks, He expects total devotion to the task. When one of Jesus’ sheep needs a shepherd’s care, whether in the hospital, grappling with the news of a death, comfort for a sick child, or some other legitimate need, Jesus expects His under-shepherd to meet those needs immediately. He is Jesus’ physical comforting presence in that moment of need. That church member has emotional and spiritual needs that Jesus wants met then, not after the game is over or when it is convenient for the pastor and his family. And, yes, that does mean leaving the family and going to the person who needs comfort and encouragement. The family will have to wait.

Meeting the needs of Christ’s flock does not mean indefinitely postponing meeting one’s family’s needs. To obey Christ’s commands to the husband and father, Jesus expects his under-shepherd to return home and care for his family as well. Compensation will need to be made. Explanations will need to be given. Love will still need to be communicated. The family will have to understand and accept their place in the hierarchy of devotion. They must accept that devotion to God means doing what matters most to Him in each moment. For them, devotion to Christ, putting Christ first, must necessarily mean giving up things so their husband or father may be fully devoted and fully faithful to his Lord.

The Unwilling Family

What does one do if the rest of the family is not willing to be “sacrificed” for Jesus? They have real needs. So, what is the answer? All service to Jesus requires sacrifice of some kind, whether it is time, energy, money, emotions, relationships, or family needs. God knows the price that will be paid before He calls someone to His service. Can one fall back on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7 and expect Jesus to “understand”? When he or she stands before Jesus at His bema seat judgment, the excuse of “my kids needed me” or “my wife needed a break” will be rejected and burned away as the stubble it is (1 Cor 3:12-13).

The obedient Christian will serve in spite of his or her family’s objection. Following Jesus always trumps family, including any obligation one has to it. That being said, serving Jesus is not an “excuse” to neglect family or feed egos. The command to respect and sacrificially love wives and discipline children fairly should be included in the list of things done in service to Christ. That is a part of obedience to Him as Lord and Master. However, when one must sacrifice, it should be viewed as a necessary sacrifice, preferably temporary as well. That does not mean, following the sacrifice, effort should not be made to compensate. Birthday parties can be held a day late, or early for that matter. That trip to the beach can be postponed. Time with the family can still be had, just at a different time than originally planned. Meeting the family’s need should not be postponed indefinitely. However, serving Christ should never be postponed, even for family.

Conclusion

Serving Christ… It is Him and what He is doing. His rule, His program, His desires are all that matter. Our calling is to serve Him and that means Him and what He is doing. If I serve willingly, He will reward. If not, Paul tells us, He changes it to a stewardship (1 Cor 9:17). Jesus does not view the ministry He has given us as optional or something to be done at our convenience. In that light we must remember that He is first over our families, our ambitions, our hobbies, our lives. If He calls us, He calls us to service and that service always involves sacrifice. Every call of Jesus costs us, whether it be time, energy, money, emotions, friends, family, jobs, or ambitions. If we are not willing to pay the price, He has no use for us. Let’s not claim to be His disciples. Pastors, if you are not willing to sacrifice, get out of the ministry. You’re not fit to follow Him.

[1] In this case “pastors” includes all full-time ministerial staff in a church.

[2] Marshall Shelley, The Healthy Hectic Home: Raising a Family in the Midst of Ministry, vol. 16, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1988), 67. He observes, “Currently, the most sacrosanct reason for refusing church responsibilities is that ‘it would take away time that I need to give to my family.’ Say that, and who can argue? End of conversation. The danger is that we can become selfishly myopic, turning our hearts toward home but our backs to the needs of the world.”

[3] Even Christian politicians have jumped on this “band wagon.” For example, Mark Hatfield (Leaders: Learning Leadership from Some of Christianity’s Best, vol. 12, The Leadership Library, Harold Lawrence Myra, ed., (Carol Stream, IL; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Books, 1987), 53), the former governor of Oregon says, “Our first priority is to God. The Bible teaches us to “love the Lord thy God with all thy strength, mind, and heart.” … Our second priority is to our family, because they are the gift of God to us; they are the joint effort of God’s creating authority working through us. … Our third priority is our profession, and if we put our job any place higher than third place, we have our priorities askew.”

[4] James Dobson, “Keys to a Family-Friendly Church,” in Building Your Church through Counsel and Care: 30 Strategies to Transform Your Ministry, vol. 3, Library of Leadership Development (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1997), 130. He writes: “I put my family first, and the Lord did the rest. What I thought was the end turned out to be the beginning. Even our Focus on the Family radio ministry grew out of that decision, and it now reaches more people than I could have spoken to in a lifetime of travel. But most importantly, I now have the memories of my children as they walked through the teen years, which would have been lost to me otherwise.

The problem of balancing career, church, and family is a constant struggle. It is rarely possible to realign priorities once and for all. An imbalance can occur in a matter of days. The moment I relax and congratulate myself for having practiced what I preach, I tend to say yes a few times when I should have said no—and suddenly I’m overworked again.

Nevertheless, I am determined to fight the dragon of overcommitment [sic] tooth and nail.”

[5] An example of this approach is Earnest White, “The Crisis in Christian Leadership,” Review and Expositor 83, no. 4 (1986): 580.

[6] Barnabas Piper, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2014). Chapter 6: “Pastor and Child.” John A. Huffman Jr. agrees (The Family You Want: How to Build an Authentic, Loving Home (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2001), 57) and ranks areas of commitment as Jesus first, then your mate, your children, and finally your ministry or job (“work”).

[7] Francis Chan and Lisa Chan, You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity (San Francisco, CA: Claire Love Publishing, 2014).

[8] Parallel passages are Matt 19:3-15; Mark 10:1-16; and Luke18:15-17. Jesus’ instructions about forgiveness of one’s “brother” was in response to Peter’s question. In this case “brother” might mean any Israelite rather than a family member. Still, as applied in the home, Jesus calls for a commitment to forgive but says nothing about other aspects of family relationships. Paul says far more.

[9] D. A. Carson et al., eds., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 917-18. William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, vol. 9, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 475. Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett Falconer Harrison, eds., The Wycliffe Bible Commentary: New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), Mt 10:34.

[10] Roger L. Hahn, Matthew: A Commentary for Bible Students (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007), 143; Hendriksen and Kistemaker, Matthew, 476.

[11] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Mt 10:37. John Nolland, “Preface,” in The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005), 441.

[12] Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., “Matthew,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 43; Iain D. Campbell, Opening up Matthew, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2008), 67.; Richard B. Gardner, Matthew, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1991), 178. Donald A. Hagner (Matthew 1–13, vol. 33A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 293) states this truth well. “‘Finding one’s life’ (εὑρὼν τὴν ψυχήν) in v 39a refers obviously to the affirmation of life on one’s own terms within one’s self-centered framework apart from allegiance and discipleship to Jesus. ‘Find’ here means ‘to obtain’ or ‘find for oneself’ (BAGD, 325). This person will in the end lose his or her life, i.e., will not inherit the life of the future kingdom. On the contrary, the one who loses his or her life ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ, ‘for my sake,’ i.e., in the self-denial entailed in the taking up of one’s cross, which might mean even martyrdom (vv 21, 28; cf. Rev. 12:11), is ultimately the one who will ‘find’ it, i.e., in a degree of fulfillment in the present age but preeminently in the age to come (cf. John 12:25; for a Jewish parallel, see ʾAbot R. Nat. II[2], 36a). For the sake of Jesus, and thus the gospel, the disciple is called to follow after Jesus in unqualified obedience to the will of God, even to the point of death itself, which becomes for the disciple the entry into life. ψυχή can mean either ‘soul’ (cf. 10:28) or ‘life’ in its more inclusive sense (e.g., 6:25). Since literal martyrdom is not required to “find life” (though it may be the lot of some), losing life and finding life are here taken in the extended sense of meaningful existence, fulfillment, purpose, or identity. There is no real life in this sense apart from relationship to Jesus.”

[13] Nolland, Matthew, 441. (italics his)

[14] Stuart K. Weber, Matthew, vol. 1, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 149. Because of the circumstances of Jesus’ declarations, He cannot be viewed as speaking rhetorically with absolutes that were not intended by Him to be absolutes. He was not using these absolute demands merely to communicate the seriousness of following Him and not intending to be taken literally. When examining the details of the passage we do not find any literary or rhetorical indicators that He is intending to speak hyperbolically or in any other way than literally. These are responses to questions, not part of a teaching session (like the Upper Room) where He is instructing His followers and uses absolutes to spur their thinking. Rather, it is better to see Jesus plainly.

[15] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 181.

[16] Ethelbert W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (London; New York: Eyre & Spottiswoode; E. & J. B. Young & Co., 1898), 426. This would be the same contrast as God’s choice of Jacob over Esau when He said “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” (Mal 1:2-3), which Paul applied to God’s choice in election (Rom 9:10-12).

[17] Leon Morris (The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 203) notes, “If the present tense is to be pressed, it means ‘keep following me,’ that is, do not let even family obligations stand in the way.”

[18] Carson, France, et al., eds., New Bible Commentary, 915; Hahn, Matthew, 120; John P. Lange and Philip Schaff, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 160; Hendriksen and Kistemaker, Matthew, 408.

[19] Keener, Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Mt 8:21–22.

[20] Morris, Matthew, 202. We see the practice in such OT passages as Gen. 25:7-10 (Abraham by Isaac and Ishmael); 35:29 (Isaac by Jacob and Esau); 49:29-30 and 50:12-14 (Jacob by his sons); 1 Ki 13:31 (prophet of Samaria). Tobit 4:1-4 reads, “On that day Tobith bethought himself of the money which he had deposited with Gabaelus in Rages of Media; and he said in his heart, Behold, I have asked for death; why not call Tobias, my son, and inform him of this money before I die? And he called his son Tobias, and he came to him; and he said to him, My child, when I die, bury me respectably; and honor thy mother, and leave her not all the days of her life; and do what is pleasing in her eyes, and grieve not her spirit in any single thing” Tobit 6:14-15 reads: “I am my father’s only child, [I am afraid] lest I die and bring down the life of my father and my mother, with grief on my account, to their grave; and they have no other son to bury them.” (John P. Lange, Philip Schaff, and Edwin C. Bissell, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Apocrypha (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 149,151).

[21] Nolland, Matthew, 367.

[22] Keener, Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Mt 8:21–22.

[23] Carson, France, et al., eds., New Bible Commentary, 915.

[24] Keener, Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Mt 8:21–22.

[25] This would include not just the twelve apostles, but the others who were not chosen to be in the inner circle but still followed Jesus throughout His ministry. Our best examples of this group are Joseph (Barsabas) and Matthias who were identified as following Jesus from the time of His baptism till His resurrection (Acts 1:15-26). They would have made the same sacrifices as the apostles.

[26] Repeated in part in Mark 3:31-35.

[27] Mark tells us (3:21) that his family became convinced that Jesus was insane, at least at one point in His ministry.

[28] We are not told anywhere that he had children, though it is quite likely he had several.

[29] Another indication of his financial status is the presence of his mother-in-law in his home (Matt 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-39). Even if his wife were her oldest daughter, it would be normal for one of his mother-in-law’s sons to take her into his home and provide for her.

[30] The sense of ἀφίημι here is “to move away, with the implication of causing a separation; to leave, to depart from” (BDAG, 156).

[31] Barbieri, “Matthew,” 38; Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, vol. 3, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), Mt 8:18.

[32] In later years Peter and other apostles’ wives accompanied them when they traveled and were provided for through their ministry (1 Cor 9:4-10).

[33] Shelley, The Healthy Hectic Home, 70.

[34] Regular priests could (Lev 21:1-4).

[35] One might also point out that Samuel’s sons did not turn out any better, being accused of taking bribes after he had appointed them as judges (1 Sam 8:1-5).

[36] The military understands this principle. Single men die better than married men. They are more willing to risk their lives, even go on suicide missions, than married men. Married men have a wife and children waiting for them at home, a family that needs them to return alive.

[37] The sense of προΐστημι is both to “exercise a position of leadership” and “to show concern for, to care for” one’s family (BDAG, 870). NKJV translates it as “rule.”

[38] I.J. du Plessis, “The Social and Economic Life of the Jewish People in Palestine in the Time of the New Testament.,” in The New Testament Milieu, ed. A.B. du Toit, vol. 2, Guide to the New Testament (Halfway House: Orion Publishers, 1998), 1136.

[39] Ralph Gower and Fred Wight, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987).

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God our Father as a Script of Intimacy for the Shamed

Introduction

Many struggle to approach God and Christianity because of the shame they experience due to past sins and violations and current attractions (homosexuality, alcoholism, etc.). The church, and especially pastors and ministry leaders, can help those who struggle not only to entrust themselves to the transformative work of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ, but also to give themselves over to new and much healthier ways of understanding God and the church. Current psychological research shows that people who often wrestle with negative memories and immoral impulses and habits need new “scripts” (like a play or movie), alternative ways of thinking about foundational issues. One negative script is the shame narrative, and in one sense, feelings of shame are normal when experiencing guilt from sin. We call those without this moral compass sociopaths. However, the church may give the former sinner or current struggler a script that God is merely an angry judge who hates what they have done and detests them for the urges they may still feel. In short, the church may give the impression that they should be ashamed. But believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot find relational intimacy with God when continuing to feel such shame. In his work with homosexuals and the church, Dr. Mark Yarhouse, professor of psychology at Regent University and director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity, for example, has suggested Christian leaders need to provide other Biblical scripts beyond the very limited concept of shame. In particular, people need to know God as a good Father, which—as a script—undercuts simplistic notions of God as an angry or disappointed judge.[1]

This paper will develop the script of God as our good and intimate Father, which should influence our perceptions and pursuits of intimacy with Him. This script is an invitation to an ongoing, patient, kind, firm, attentive close relationship with God. Before I clarify this relationship, however, I will first need to explain the concept of “script” in the context of “script theory”, which includes ideas such as “cultural scripts” and “life scripts”. Additionally, two major concepts of shame will need to be clarified by way of understanding the roots of the “shame script” that so many believers follow today. All of this, I hope, will shed new light on shame as it relates to the Bible and the idea of God as the good and intimate Father.

Script Theory and its Applications

The concept of the “script” has emerged out of behaviorist studies into motivation, memory, personality patterns and attachment theory. Silvan Tomkins has posited that human responses to stimuli are biological/emotional, which are followed by our cognitive awareness of the initial action. He has said that a “scene” or a sequence of events linked together by the affects or biological/emotional responses to it have patterns, and so he has described them as a person’s over all “script”.[2] These scripts go on to influence human behavior by maximizing positive effects and by minimizing negative ones. Thus we find ourselves living out storylines that are deeply emotional and even physiological.

Can these scripts be changed? That is the question of psychologists concerned with education. Kollar, Pilz, and Fischer argue that scripts are not only individual memory structures that guide our understanding and actions, but they are also flexible and heuristic.[3] Thus, for example, interventions into student instruction and learning spaces with this understanding of educational script theory can create new and more holistic ways of engaging the learner. Yet these theorists also recognize the challenges of introducing a new script into the lives of students.

We must distinguish between a secular and a theological sense of how scripts function. While secular script theory has been useful in establishing key terms and contexts, they have overlooked the most important key term, from the standpoint of a biblical worldview: God. For example, the social constructionist work of Gagnon and Simon back in the early 1970s on Sexual Script Theory (SST) has had a big impact on sexual self-definition.[4] A person’s subjective understanding about their own sexuality is a very significant determiner of their sexual actions and their subsequent qualitative assessments of those actions. However, Jones and Hostler provide a very helpful means of integrating the SST for Christian counselors and therapists.[5] Specifically, they delineate a biblically-rooted Christian script, and they also reveal SST’s constructivist and pragmatic limitations at the same time. Thus while the key elements of Script Theory focus on human behavior as the biological affective response as well as the cognitive produced actions, the main problem with secular script theory is how it is applied. While scripts are subjectively and pragmatically created, they do not create what is true or right. That is why an objectively true script from the Creator of all humans must direct all human scripts.

“Life scripts” demonstrate personal and culturally shared expectations. In terms of the personal, scripts are not only shaped by biological/emotional responses to stimuli and the subsequent cognitively driven actions, but they are shaped by memories of past events. They are shaped – in part – out of emotionally charged biographical memories from childhood,[6] as well as certain phenomena, events and experiences.[7] Often these memories are idealized and become the prototypical timing and “order of life events” in ones life course (e.g., “A man should become a father by the time he is . . . ”, “My relationship with my father consists of . . .”, etc.). These then become shared “cultural life scripts” (CLS),[8] shaped both by emotionally positive and negative experiences, “life moments”.[9] And the key to these incredibly strong and influential scripts is that they often produce interpretations of a person’s current and future events. Therefore, if people take the time to understand the particular scripts under which they function in society and how they influence their very thoughts, then such understandings can help them be able to change or transform false, immoral, inadequate and harmful scripts.[10]

Before tackling the shame script, personal and cultural “father scripts” demand some attention. First, attachment theory has shown that one’s father script (either referring to one as a father or to a son about their father) is a significant affectional bond. John Bowlby’s seminal research on the child’s tie to their mother delineates elements of attraction one has for another.[11] This bond includes the desire for individuals to be near to their attachments, their return to them as safe havens, their view of them as secure bases of operation for venturing out into the world, and absence of or separation from their attachment creates anxiety and even distress.[12] All this demonstrates how significant and powerful the affectional bond and attachment is for children with their parents, and for our purposes, children with their fathers.

From a Christian standpoint, Limke and Mayfield effectively show that attachment to fathers predicts attachment to God.[13] In their study, they use the Experiences in Close Relationships scale (ECR) to measure levels of attachment-related anxiety and avoidance with romantic relationship partners. To assess levels of attachment-related anxiety about abandonment by God and avoidance of intimacy with God, they use the Attachment to God Inventory (AGI). At the same time, to assess religious and existential well-being, they used the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWS). They found strong support that attachment to God is similar to (vs. opposite from) attachment to fathers.[14] In fact, attachment to fathers and not to mothers predicts attachment to God. They recognize that this is supported by the Christian view of that God is a “heavenly father” and that their study also furthers the recent research in attachment studies which emphasizes the important role fathers have on the development of attachment relationships.[15]

Many will question the relevancy and even appropriateness of perpetuating the fatherhood of God script in light of bad fathers.[16] Rather than welcoming intimacy with an ideal good Father, memories of their absent and abusing father prompt anger, fear, pain and avoidance.[17] An emotionally gripping example of a negative father script is Pierre M. Balthazar’s reflection on the Lord’s Prayer “our Father” through the experience of a neglected child.[18] This father does not live up to his responsibilities, but ignores the mother, regularly comes home late at night, and abuses them physically, sexually, and emotionally. Only when the child has some success in life does the father call them his own. In order to find comfort, the child adopts other people as fathers in order to attain any affective expressions to resolve their feelings of uncertainty. However, even with access to surrogate “fathers”, the child may be on a quest to know their biological father because fathers represent freedom, excitement and individuation.[19] Given all this, is it even possible to enter into intimacy with a divine Father?

Reintroducing intimacy and relatedness is a means of redirecting the bad father script. Balthazar reminds us that even our initial interpersonal knowledge is imperfect; but it is inevitably a mixture of isolation, loneliness, fear, awe, love and intimacy. Nevertheless, certain steps forward must be taken or there will be destructive consequences. Refusing to enter or reenter into intimacy is detrimental to our health. Cultivating prejudicial attitudes toward unfamiliar intimacy may lead us into a life of distant isolation. However, intimacy can lead us beyond our barriers and can destroy our exclusiveness. It can help us understand others and bring us closer to them. This pursuit of intimacy does not mean avoiding or forgetting the anger toward the bad father. It also does not mean there cannot be any sense of differentiating oneself from their bad father and the subsequent script. It does entail several steps. It means a willingness to approach the pain of separation, identify the sources of memories that trigger mistrust, confusion, neglect, alienation and/or despair. They must grapple with the need for moving past the psychological and spiritual stagnation to forgiveness in order to find freedom. They must be willing to explore the idea that God can be identified as father, and enter into some sort of relatedness, moving toward intimacy with Him.[20]

In sum, scripts are important personal and cultural motivators that integrate memory and personality. They presuppose what life is supposed to look like, how one should feel about it, and how one should respond to life’s circumstances. They influence relational attachment and affection. So at this point we can seek to unfold shame, one of the most significant and powerful cultural scripts. Shame needs to be clearly understood in order for it to be transformed by the Biblical script of God as a good and intimate Father.

Shame

What exactly is shame and how is it a script? It is impossible to do adequate justice to defining shame or to summarize the research (past and/or current) on it. However, some general comments can be made. First, shame is something that everyone experiences. It is a sub-set of universal social emotions, alongside others like humiliation and embarrassment.[21] Second, if both psychological and sociological perspectives of shame are taken into consideration, then most agree that shame is a negative state and feeling that arises out of ones realization of a failure to live up to someone’s expectations or ideals, whether ones self-image or a social-image.[22] As a result, shame functions both a concrete personal and cultural script as well as a script about the failure to live up to aspects of such scripts. In other words, one’s very acceptance of the notion that failure to conform to a script results in shame, that is, the loss of one’s honor, purity, strength, and right-ness, demonstrates that shame in itself is a script. Third, shame is part of what shapes our identity. It is an element of the “spiral of reciprocal perspectives” that shape the very image we have of ourselves (“my image of you, my image of your image of me, my image of your image of my image of you, and so on, in sequence”).[23] Fourth, the world in which the Bible was written had a thoroughgoing understanding of shame and its relationship to honor/dishonor. God is honorable as Creator and Covenant-maker, whereas sin is at minimum a failure to honor God. It results in the shame and dishonor that Christ took upon Himself to satisfy God and to remove our shame.[24]

In general, Western cultures tend to have stronger elements of a guilt-oriented culture whereas Eastern cultures (at least those of the 10/40 window[25] and the Far East) tend to have stronger elements of a shame-orientation. Many have argued that shame-based cultures stress group identity and external social pressures behind shame. Andy Crouch summarizes this well: “In a shame culture, you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you. By contrast, in a guilt culture, you know you are good or bad by how you feel about your behavior and choices.”[26] Recently researchers are nuancing this by adding that the external group need not even be present for the internalization of shame. Thus there are no known cultures that are exclusively shame-based or guilt-based.[27]

Guilt is often associated with shame. Guilt is both objective and subjective. Objective guilt is the state of having broken a law or failure to live up to a certain standard. Subjective guilt is the painful negative feeling of being in the wrong, an “internal sense of moral failure”.[28]

From a Christian perspective, shame and guilt are the natural emotions that arise out of the conscience or heart indicating God’s objective standards and that His personal desires have been violated. These violations are often connected to other individuals and the community as a whole. The Great Commandments to “love the LORD your God” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” profoundly and simply encapsulate God’s design of relationships (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18; Matt 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34). Therefore, one’s relationship to God and neighbor are strained at best, and intimacy is severed. In other words, shame and guilt are produced. However, when shame and guilt become the script in human hands for “shaming” the sinner, like what the Pharisees were doing to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-5), unnecessary and often hopeless paths back into favor with God and the community are created. An equally biblical script to shame and guilt is the path back. For them, God our good Father provides intimacy with Him and with His people.

God our Father: Intimacy for the Shamed

The script of God as our good and intimate Father is so central to Christianity that it may be deemed a Christian control belief. It is a broad and significant biblical topic that is not simply an analogy for God, but an essential part of His personhood.[29] For this study we will need to focus on its intimate elements without ignoring its redemptive foundation.[30] At the same time, Western culture’s traditional family roles influence our views of intimacy with God as Father.[31] However, again this script is significant for those who struggle with certain Christian identity scripts that heap shame on those who do not conform and do not provide an alternative except for being “that kind” of Christian. People will find a positive identity in what they feel is safe, secure, and good. The Bible presents just such an identity for the believing sinner. In short, the Bible presents intimacy with God as our good Father with a focus on His being the one who intimately meets the needs of His children. He does this in adopting us and meeting our basic life needs, all the while revealing His motivations of love and compassion.

Adoption: We Need Him to be Our Father

The Bible’s script of God as our Father begins with the reality of our human existence as a fatherless people gladly parented by Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44). However, out of all the peoples of the world God adopted Israel as His chosen children as an act of redeeming them out of slavery (Ex 4:22-23; Rom 9:4-5).[32] Thus Israel is the prototype of what all humanity needs because of their slavery to sin.

A closer look into background of the New Testament adoption script is important at this point. The Greek term for adoption is only used by the Apostle Paul (Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal 4:5; Eph1:5). Since the term huiothesia is not found in the LXX or in the literature of Second Temple Judaism, Paul was more than likely drawing on the commonly known Greco-Roman practice. The particular features of their laws of adoption enlighten Paul’s script.

(1) that an adopted son was taken out of his previous situation and placed in an entirely new relationship to his new adopting father, who became his new paterfamilias; (2) that an adopted son started a new life as part of his new family, with all of his old relationships and obligations cancelled; (3) that an adopted son was considered no less important than any other biologically born son in his adopting fathers family; and, (4) that an adopted son experienced a changed status, with his old name set aside and a new name given him by his adopting father.[33]

That Jews and Greeks would connect with Paul indicates the implications for their relationship to God is through Christ. This new but familiar concept is a game-changer. An examination of Paul’s three major references to adoption will fill out this important aspect of God as an intimate Father script.

The adoption script references of Paul share the common essence of God’s adopting believing sinners as His children. Yet each reference has a nuance that when added together provide a fuller view of this intimate relationship.

In Ephesians 1:3-6, Paul positions the believer’s adoption within the grand scheme of God’s salvation of the church.

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

When we were desperate, He chose us to be His children out of love, grace and kindness. In 2:1-3, our need for adoption is clarified and it is morally revolting.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Like filthy, traumatized, psychologically damaged, rebellious, thieving, violent street children, or like self-satisfied and self-righteous kings, God adopted us out of our desperate need and state. He did all this so we could be a part of His close-knit family. In His Son, He has blessed us with everything He could have by choosing us out of His great love, kind desire and unmerited grace to be pure and blameless in His presence. We are now truly clean and healed children, loved, accepted and cared for by a good Father. Grasping this is a necessary first step in replacing ones shame script.

In Galatians 4:1-11, Paul positions our adoption within the context of freedom from slavery to legalism.

Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under [the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sonsBecause you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

When the Galatians were slaves to serving legalism of the OT Law or the laws of other gods, God the Father purchased them out of slavery by paying for it with the death of His very own Son and adopting them as His very own children. This is a call to every Christian to draw near to Him in love rather than serving Him out of legalism. He intimately knows us and we now know Him.

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.

So we must not revert to a slave/master mentality in order to earn His favor.

In Romans 8:12-17, Paul develops our adoption within the context of the new life generated by justification by faith and the leading of the Holy Spirit toward godly living. The flesh is a harsh task master.

“So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit [or “the Spirit”] of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”

While we live in a sinful world of temptations and suffering, we have hope because we have been adopted as God our Father’s children. Being adopted as God’s children is about our position or status and not our performance. In other words, our relationship is not based on the righteous or perfect moral performance we can never achieve. This will produce the nagging fear of rejection and shame. Yet God our Fathers’ adoption of us is intended to produce a new mindset that we should consciously remember our position as His children granted by Him and remember our dependence on Him in love and gratitude.

Adoption is intimate. We can call Him, “Abba, Father.” This Aramaic term is one of endearment and intimacy, as well as respect and loyalty. Here, the needy and humble believer cries out “Abba, Father” in prayer. In Mark 14:36 Jesus used it in beseeching His own Father. It is true that the word “Abba” is a familiar term of the home of a little child. However, excessive familiarity not bounded by a healthy respect is not the case here. Before we transfer our “Papa” or “Daddy” to this term, in that day the head of the family was a somewhat imposing and dignified figure. “The Roman paterfamilias still had the right to put members of his household to death, even if the right was used rarely; cf. Gen 38:24.”[34] God is at the center of this family affectional bond. The Spirit of God confirms with our spirit that we are His children, but as Morris incisively observes, “The Spirit does not cause us to cry ‘I am God’s son’, but ‘God is my Father.’ The believer looks at God rather than contemplating himself.”[35]

Thus our adoption as believers represents our permanent legal standing as God our Father’s children. This new relationship results in intimate peace, security and privileges that only children can enjoy.

It is important to note the parallel dynamics of human adoptions. Paula Fitzgibbons recounts “20 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Adopting,” and some describe a negative shame script that competes with the intimate adoption script.

  1. No matter how simple or rosy your adoption might seem, all adoption is predicated upon loss.
  2. Some people will treat you like you are not a real family.
  3. Before even beginning the process, know this: You are in this for the long haul.
  4. At some point, no matter how much you have reinforced positive adoption language, your child, most likely a ‘tween, will scream for their “real mother/father” when angry with you. It will sting. [36]

It appears that God our Father feels and experiences these issues with His own children. The church must reinforce and incorporate the truth of the Bible’s adoption script.

Family Fellowship: Our Family Privilege

It must be added at this point that the relationship that comes with God’s adoption provides open access to Him. The Apostle John says in 1 John 1:3 the gospel itself declares this. We have deep and abiding fellowship with God our Father, with His Son and with each other. “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” The fellowship is koinonia, the having things in common. This is so radically different than a script of shame. All believers have mutuality with God our Father and His other children.

In Matthew 6:6, Jesus claims that being one of God’s children assumes the ability to have intimate fellowship with Him. “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” We can and should have private conversations with Him. Those who base their relationship with God upon their performance have to put on a show of right standing with Him before the world. Insecure and legalistic, they do not have true intimacy. They have to pretend. They arrogantly shame sinners who have not performed like they have. Yet Jesus argues that God the Father will have none of this. His Father invites His children to draw near and communicate in secret.

Life Needs: We Need Him to Provide Our Basics

There is much more to the intimacy of the God Our Father script than a new relationship status. We are not to think of this as simply marking the different option from “rebellious orphan” to “Child of God” on our Facebook page. This script is lived out in the real world of our basic needs. We have a real Father in God, a real Father who intimately takes care of us.

Our Provisions

As needy children, God our Father has intimate knowledge of our needs. Jesus knew this well, and recognized that badgering religious prayers of those who do not think of God as their Father devolve into something more along the lines of a business transaction.

And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him (Matt 6:7-8).

Jesus follows this teaching by giving His disciples the Lord’s Prayer, a pattern of communication with God as their Father in heaven. He is the kind of God who, like a good Father, knows exactly what our daily bread should be, what sins we need forgiven and what the Evil One is trying to get us to do at any given moment. This aspect of the script is His cure for our worry.

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? (Matt 6:25-26).

Orphans anxiously wonder if they will have enough food to fill their growling stomachs on a daily basis. They shiver in the cold because of worn and inadequate clothing. However, God the Father is trustworthy to provide for His children their basic needs because they are more valuable to Him than the other creations He obviously provides for. A deep-seated peace should come to the shamed with this aspect of the script, but even more so with further understanding of what God the Father furnishes His children.

Our Direction

God the Father provides intimate involvement in the direction of our lives. He has done this throughout history. He acted as a loving Father to His rebellious people in their wilderness wanderings and rebellion. In Deuteronomy 1:31, Moses reminded them to remember all the times “in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place.’” He carried them to where He wanted them to go and protected them from their enemies.

Paul entrusted himself to God His Father for clarity and protection to get to the persecuted Thessalonians. We must remember we can and should entrust ourselves to God’s intimate involvement in our ministry paths. “Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you” (1 Thess 3:11). As sovereign God, He shapes the very direction of our lives to get us where He wants us to go with the least amount of resistance. Solomon states in Proverbs 3:6 that God “will make your paths straight.”

Our Comfort

God our Father also provides comfort. Paul committed the persecuted Thessalonians to this. “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, 17 comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word” (2 Thess 2:16-17). Amidst persecution, false teaching, and struggle, God our Father will give us comfort, hope and strength to continue on with what He has called us to do and be until His Son returns for us. Hearts weakened by trials may give out, and the person no longer moves forward. The Father’s comfort and strength touch our fragile hearts, the center of our being and intimately provides just what we need to keep going on being the kind of people that honor Him and minister to others in His family as well as outside of it.

Our Discipline

God our Father also provides discipline. The writer of Hebrews reminds believers of the discipline process in Hebrews 12:5-9.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.” (from Prov 3:12)

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

How can a father’s discipline be intimate? Here it is clear that the process of restoring closeness is through the training of a child’s character through negative consequences. Human parents may employ spanking, time-outs, grounding, withholding of certain privileges, and/or extra responsibilities to achieve this desired result. God our Father will discipline us for sins in this context like bitterness and immorality. He lovingly does this for our good so that we may be like Him, holy and righteous.

Without moral consequences, we cannot draw near to Him. Undisciplined children do not ultimately feel close to their parents, but ultimately resent them for not caring about them. Their consciences want resolution to their guilt and shame. Consequences of disobedience, while unpleasant, produce “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” which allows for restored intimacy with the parents.[37] God is not a permissive parent, who allows His children to mock Him by their attitudes and behavior like Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas. God provides discipline for His own children in order to resolve and draw them in. Children respect and respond to that.[38]

His Motivations: We Need His Love and Compassion

The shamed may be asking at this point in the delineation of this intimacy with God as our Father script, “Why would He meet my needs? Does He simply do it out of duty? Is some higher court requiring Him to pay child-support?” As we have seen, shame scripts are not replaced easily. Besides providing reminders of God’s choice of us when He adopted us, His motivations as our Father are foundational to this script.

God our Father’s Intimate Love for Us

Love is clearly the motivation behind God becoming our Father and acting as our Father. John is nearly overwhelmed by this fact and calls all Christians who read his letter to

“See [“Behold, Look in amazement”] how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1). It is exclusive for God’s own children. This is why “the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” It sets us apart from everyone else on our planet. We are God’s children. He is our Father.

Jude makes it clear that being God’s loved children is simply who we are. 1 “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.” He called us to salvation and provides for us on earth for Christ’s return. Jude includes this truth as what should be an accepted script for churches which are being infiltrated by pretenders who creep in to steal away believers to follow them into immoral behavior. He not only greets them with the truth of God’s love for them as their Father, but later calls them to save others from these cancerous fakes with this truth (vv. 20-23).

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

Is God’s Fatherly love only found in His what He does for us or merely in the fact that He condescends to communicate with us? Does He feel anything for us? Theologians and philosophers of the past have argued that God is without emotion, impassive. If He had emotion, He would be susceptible to change when He interacts with others outside Himself. Can God’s Fatherly love be emotionally sidelined by calling it a mere anthropopathism? It is true that Psalm 103:13, “As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him”(NKJV), uses “as” and is a figure of speech. However, God still has pity, which is prompted by His will to move to meet the need of another out of His care and love. It also does not help to draw upon the flawed word studies to claim that God’s love is different than ours because His love is agapao, a self-sacrificing emotionless choice as opposed to phileo, a brotherly fond affection.[39] He loves and cares for His children with great feeling as much as He judges His enemies with His wrath.

God our Father’s Intimate Compassion on Us

Compassion is another clear motivation of God’s relationship to us as our Father. There is perhaps no clearer illustration of this than in Luke 15:11-32 and the deeply profound parable of the Prodigal Son . . . the Lost Son. A full-scale exposition of this parable is not necessary in order to grasp how significant this window into God’s intimate compassion for His children is for replacing shame and guilt. However, it deserves some substantive reflection on the context, elements and implications of the Father’s compassion.

Shame and guilt are woven into the gritty context of this parable. Like many who function out of a shame script, the Pharisees and Scribes claim Jesus should be ashamed of Himself. He has become too relationally close to sinners (hamartoloi, 15:1-2). When Jesus was asked this question in Matthew 9, He framed His response with a focus on compassion for the sick. “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (9:12). He frames His answer in Luke around lostness (apollumi), separation and distance (the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and then Lost Son). From a wide-angle lens to a microscope, Jesus leads them to intimacy with God the Father.

The narrative of the parable stresses the physical and relational distance created by the prodigal son. His selfish choice was to go “on a journey to a distant country” (15:13). This is picked up again when his return home is described as “but while he was still a long way off” (15:20). He was truly lost and distant. He burned his bridges by not only bringing shame upon himself, but on his family, and especially upon his Father. His father had to liquidate a large portion of his assets—he did not just go to the bank to withdraw cash. He went around to all those who could buy his assets. He had to sell off a portion of their land, livestock, etc. The dishonor he demonstrated to his Father was indeed shameful. The son would later realize this for himself: “Father, I have sinned against . . . and in your sight” (15: 18, 21) underscoring that this is a key to Jesus’ thrust. The turning point is in the prodigal son’s return. His plan is an attempt to save-face.[40] “So he got up and came to his father” (15:20). The relational distance is about to be narrowed, but in an unexpected way.

The shame-oriented cultural script demanded restoration of honor to the Father. If the son returned, appropriate demonstrations of shame were to be heaped on him and accepted. At the village or city gates, the elders of the city would remind the son of his selfish shaming of his father and family. The son would then approach his father’s home only to have to wait outside until his father allowed him to take audience with him. His father would eventually grant it only to receive his son’s apology. One possible avenue of “reconciliation” would be that the son would then be expected to move to a neighboring village in order to take an apprenticeship with which support himself and rarely if ever return to his father’s home again.

The radical reversal in the son’s restored intimacy comes in the culturally unexpected display of the Father’s motivation . . . compassion, not shaming justice. Jesus carefully draws out the Father’s increasing levels of intimacy/closeness. The Father had been looking for His prodigal . . . “but while he was still a long way off his father saw him” (15:20). Then his true motivation is revealed . . . “and felt compassion for him” (splagchnizomai). This term is associated in part with a visceral reaction of deep sympathy, care, kindness, mercy and love. There is no indifference, bitterness, disgust or humiliation here. This Father is clearly God, the one Who has consistently shown this kind of compassion to prodigals in Biblical history. His response to adulterous Israel, like Hosea’s response to his adulterous wife, Gomer, is one of the most counterintuitive examples of all time.

“I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, And I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they will say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hos 2:23; cf. also 11:28).

Luke has already recorded Jesus’ counter-cultural example of compassion of the “good” Samaritan that would also shock His hearers who thought of them as a shameful people (Luke 10:30-37).

The Father’s compassion prompted Him to respond in more ways that would contradict the shame-orient script of his culture. Jesus communicates this masterfully in three simple phrases: “and ran,” “and embraced him,” “and kissed him” (15:20). It is well-known that running (dramov) for an aged eastern man was not only unusual but undignified even when he was in a hurry.[41] The embrace is literally “fell on his neck” (epipipto). This action coupled with kissing is for overwhelmingly emotional celebrations of unions and reunions. This is reminiscent of Laban’s running to embrace Jacob after his gracious assistance to Rachel at the well (Gen 29:13), of Esau’s reunion with Jacob (Gen 33:4), and Jacob/Israel’s blessing of the sons of his long lost son, Joseph (Gen 48:10). This was not merely a hug, but the embrace of the part of the body closest to the center of the countenance (vs. feet, hands, head, etc.) and gives the Father the ability to kiss (kataphileo) his long lost son. He was lost and now is not only found, but returned to the intimacy that fathers and sons are supposed to have.

However, the script of shame and dishonor rears its grotesque head. The elder son’s motivation or attitude toward his shameful prodigal brother is palpable. He represents the cultural script imbedded and propagated by the shepherds of the community, the Pharisees and scribes. These religious watch dogs for religious and cultural purity and precision of adherence to God’s “expressed” prescriptions for righteousness serve an important purpose for any community. But when they arrogantly and hypocritically institutionalize their spiritual roles and segregate “sinners” (past or present) from “the holy” with their power of shame, they create a parallel and yet counterfeit Christianity.

The older son’s reaction is a “missing climax”.[42] His personal and cultural script of shame processes the Father’s mercy differently, to say the least. While the prodigal experiences restoration to intimacy with his Father, his elder brother has been off working, being the only responsible child in the family. After a full day of labor in the field, he approaches his house only to hear something strange. One of the family servants provides an apt summary of intimacy restored. “Your brother has come . . . because he has received him back safe and sound” (15:27). Again, the missing climax. He got angry (orgizo) or enraged, which stopped him in his tracks. His deep-seated shame-scripted anger that flowed emotionally, volitionally and physiologically barred him from going in to even see his shamefully irresponsible brother, let alone feel or join in any celebration. It is Thanksgiving dinner, and the first thing that comes to mind is, “Why is he here?!” Bailey is indeed correct in his assessment of this situation. “For certain types of people, grace is not only amazing but infuriating.”[43] This shows that this brother’s shame script defines his relationship with his Father as one of a servant to his Master.[44] He underscores that he has been “serving you,” and that he has “never neglected a command of yours” (15:29). However, this cannot produce any real closeness, any genuine love. He claimed that, despite the favor he should have earned, “yet you never let me celebrate with my friends” (15:29). In this claim, the little phrase “with you” appears to be conspicuously absent. At the elder son’s party, and thus the worst of the shame-oriented script, is that the Father would not be invited.

Depicting His own Father, Jesus passionately seeks to provide a substitute and more accurate personal and cultural script for His audience. Again He reveals His Father’s compassion even for the shamers with the element, “His father came out and began pleading with him” (15:28). With the few if only tender words Jesus utters to the Pharisees and scribes,[45] the Father reiterates intimacy. “Son, you have always been with me, and all I have is yours” (15:31). So it is beyond logical that “we had to celebrate and rejoice,” because intimacy has been miraculously restored like a resurrection from the dead.

Hopefully, by this point the basics of the script of God as our intimate Father have come into clearer focus. This biblical theology depicts God our Father as the Ultimate One who intimately meets the needs of His children. He does this in adopting us as His children with all the privileges that come with it. He can be trusted to meet our basic life needs of provision, comfort, direction and even discipline. There is nothing that we need that He not only knows about before we even ask Him, but nothing that He will not supply. All of His providing is clearly motivated by His deep love and merciful and kind compassion. Internalizing and practicing this real script should inspire the Christian to be full of profound gratitude for this family privilege and a strong desire to draw near to God our Father in vulnerable trust and peaceful security. Even more, Christians have work to do with counteracting other unhealthy and counterfeit scripts like the shame-oriented one.

Implications of the God as Intimate Father Script and Shame

Mary Magdalene and Zaccheus could have experienced some projections of the shame script from others as they sought to follow Jesus. Due to their past sins and potential and/or current temptations and attractions, they may have felt unworthy of God’s continued acceptance because of the script that personally and culturally motivated them. It was deeply integrated into their memory and personality. Their relational attachment and affection to God and others could have been placed in jeopardy by “well-meaning” believers whose place in the Christian community was to be watch dogs for religious and cultural purity and precision of adherence to God’s “expressed” prescriptions for righteousness. They could have been held suspect and not really accepted as truly God’s children. Who in the history of Christianity would ever fail to celebrate the life change of these two sinful people by the power of God in Jesus Christ? Yet many struggle with incorporating people just like these two, who have sinful pasts and may continue to struggle.

What are some steps we can take to deal with this? First, we need to ask a series of probing questions both of ourselves and of those around us. What script is being lived out? Is there a struggle with shame on some level? Is God thought to be constantly disapproving of them and they can never measure up?[46] Do they think He is distant and indifferent to them?

Furthermore, research into script theory has shown that our “father script” is pivotal to our view of God. We need to have tools by which we can assess what the view of their own father is. Many have inadequate or even abusive fathers. While terrible and inexcusable, the Bible is replete with fatherly failures: Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Jephthah, Eli, David, Solomon, etc. Yet Biblical revelation does not retract from establishing and proclaiming God’s nature and character as Father. Thus in sharp contrast stands God our Father.

There is only one good Father who is always patient, kind, firm, close, attentive.[47] He is the one who is trustworthy to intimately meet our foundational needs. We have been adopted by Him. He is our Father now. He meets our needs and does so out of love and compassion for us. We must push on to determine where we find our intimacy. With what or whom do we pursue the close, safe sharing of ourselves? As one of God’s creatures and as one of His children, our closest vulnerable attraction should be to God our Father first. This profoundly real script should be a part of a truly biblical theology of God, every believer’s life, and the church’s proclamation, discipleship and pastoral counseling. We must hold as a deep conviction that it is more than a mental script passed on merely by rote. It should be a part of the evangelical church’s culture, psychology and even physiology.

Furthermore, the biblical theology of God as our good and intimate Father carries with it not just the reality of intimacy for His children, but certain relational and ethical responsibilities as well. Mawhinney is indeed correct in his analysis of adoption and its popular version. His revision in light of the data is helpful.

Adoption as sons means both encouragement and obligation. In fact both of these flow from the single notion of intimacy. Paul’s thought moves easily from ethical obligation to sonship to absence of fear to the fatherly presence of God through the Spirit. It can do so because this intimacy with Paul’s God is both a demanding and encouraging relationship. Such intimacy is not limited to the cradle. The believer does not live his life as a perpetual infant. Intimacy grows as the son matures and comes to know his Father ever more closely, as the son’s heart becomes more in tune with the Father’s, as the son comes to appreciate his Father more and more, and as the son comes to think and act more like his Father. Sonship means blessings and responsibilities.[48]

His children should go on to reflect the Father’s compassion and love as it flows from a thoroughly internalized script. Seeking to meet needs, not just welcoming but incorporating “sinners” into the very bosom of the church.

This is especially needed by all of the divorced, addictive, abused, damaged people who come to the church hoping for some relief from the personally and culturally shared script that holds them captive to shame. We must assess how the God-as-Father script is affecting our attachments or affections with “sinners”. How are we really doing with sinners? Is our personal and corporate psychology governed by compassion or anger? This compassion does not excuse sin. It is and should be disgusting to us. However, can we see past that to the sinner who is made in God’s own image and a trophy of God’s grace to be celebrated every time we see or think of them? Those who have yet to come to the God who reaches out to sinners, need to experience His adoption, provision and compassion.

More research needs to be done in applying this script. Churches have been venturing into this realm. Tim Wright in his The Prodigal Hugging Church has recognized the value of acceptance of prodigals into the Christian community. However, his approach is focused more on relating to the culture of the prodigal than a focus on God as their Father. Still, he does ask some insightful questions in regards to evaluating the risks of this approach. For example, he states,

Interacting with culture the way Jesus did is filled with risks and dangers. The first risk is alienating, angering and scandalizing faithful church members. As you move forward as a Prodigal Hugging Church, how will you care for and love the “older siblings”?[49]

He makes some assumptions about faithful church members that need evaluation. Is it helpful to cast such a wide stereotypical net over “faithful church members” that in Luke 15 are recalcitrant shaming legalists?

He goes on to add another risk assessment that is actually quite insightful.

The other risk is subtler. In our attempts to embrace, welcome, celebrate, affirm, engage, use and serve culture, we risk losing ourselves by condoning culture, being absorbed by it, or being tainted by its values.[50]

This is a critical process to navigate. In our Western culture, churches may view the sins of sinners in a variety of unbiblical ways from sin as disease, as only personal faults, as addictions, as unforgivable, as morally relative, etc. These views need careful theological scrutiny without which the sinners are either encouraged to move past their sin as quickly as possible without ever grappling with what it actually is before God and others, or are encouraged to remain in the guilt and shame of their sin until due penance has been achieved before God and the community. Neither of these options is Biblically acceptable.

Finally, other Biblical scripts can be used to aid the acceptance and assimilation of “sinners” into the Christian community. Theological analysis should begin with the transparent and more obvious longitudinal themes of the Bible. Creator/creature relationship, God’s kingship and humans made in His image, the lamb of God and substitution, reconciliation of enemies, loving loyalty to the only true God amidst tribal and ancestral spirits, and others.

May Christians fully internalize the real script that God is our intimate Father who in adopting us releases us from our shame to participate in His love and compassion in our secret places as well as the public ones. May we see God our Father like Billy- age 4, when asked what love is, he responded that it is “when someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” This is found in numerous locations on the internet. There is no way to know whether it is a real statement of a child named Billy, but ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.[51]

[1] He gave this charge when addressing pastors and ministry leaders in Salem, Oregon, in October of 2013. See also Mark A. Yarhouse, Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors and Friends, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).

[2]Silvan, Tomkins. “Script Theory,” The Emergence of Personality. Edited by Joel Arnoff, A. I. Rabin, and Robert A. Zucker. New York: Springer Publishing, 1987, 147–216.

[3] Ingo Kollar; Florian Pilz; and Frank Fischer. “Why It Is Hard to Make Use of New Learning Spaces: A Script Perspective,” Technology, Pedagogy and Education, Vol. 23 No 1 (2014), 7-18.

[4] John H. Gagnon and William Simon. Sexual Conduct: The Social Sources of Human Sexuality, (Chicago: Aldine, 1973).

[5] Stanton L. Jones and Heather R. Hostler, “Sexual script theory: an integrative exploration of the possibilities and limits of sexual self-definition,” Journal of Psychology and Theology, (Summer 2002) 30:120-130.

[6] Steve M. J. Janssen “Is There a Cultural Life Script for Public Events?” Applied Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 29 Issue 1 (Jan/Feb2015), 61-68. Shamsul Haque and Penelope A. Hasking, “Life scripts for emotionally charged autobiographical memories: A cultural explanation of the reminiscence bump,” Memory, Vol. 18, Issue 7 (Oct 2010), 712-729.

[7] Jonathan Koppel and Dorthe Berntsen, “The cultural life script as cognitive schema: How the life script shapes memory for fictional life stories,” Memory Vol. 22 Issue 8 (Nov2014), 949-971. Richard G. Erskine. Life Scripts: A Transactional Analysis of Unconscious Relational Patterns, (London: Karnac Books, 2010).

[8] Steve M. J. Janssen, Ai Uemiya and Makiko Naka. “Age and Gender Effects on the Cultural Life Script of Japanese Adults,” Journal of Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 26 Issue 3 (Apr 2014), 307-321. Christina Lundsgaard Ottsen and Dorthe Berntsen. “The Cultural Life Script of Qatar and across Cultures: Effects of Gender and Religion,” Memory, Vol. 22 Issue 4 (May 2014), 390-407.

[9] Justin T. Coleman, “Examining the Life Script of African-Americans: A Test of the Cultural Life Script,” Applied Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 28 Issue 3 (May/Jun2014), 419-426.

[10] Sarah Wilson, “The Meaning of Life Scripts,” http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/mar/08/life-scripts, Accessed: 11/7/2015. Azriel Grysman; Janani Prabhakar; Stephanie M. Anglin; and Judith A. Hudson, “Self-enhancement and the life script in future thinking across the lifespan.” Memory, Vol. 23 Issue 5 (July2015), 774-785.

[11] John Bowlby, “The Nature of a Child’s Tie to His Mother,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39 (1958): 350-73; A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development (London: Routledge, 1988), 99-157.

[12] John Bowlby, A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development (London: Routledge/ New York: Basic, 1988), 99-157.

[13] Alicia Limke and Patrick B. Mayfield, “Attachment to God: Differentiating the Contributions of Fathers and Mothers Using the Experiences in Parental Relationships Scale,” Journal of Psychology and Theology, Vol. 39, No. 2 (2011); 122-29.

[14] Limke and Mayfield, “Attachment to God,” 126-28.

[15] Ibid., 127.

[16] There was a relative neglect of the father in psychological and sociological research from the 1940s on. Most studies were matricentric and focused on the child-rearing assumptions of Western industrialized society. See John Nash, “The Father in Contemporary Culture and Current Psychological Literature,”

Child Development, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Mar. 1965), 261-297.

[17] William Carroll, “God as Unloving Father,” The Christian Century, March 6, 1991, 255-56. Carroll, a homosexual and an ordained minister, has viewed God as an unloving Father. He states, “Some of the greatest pain gays experience is rejection by immediate family members. Ironically, this happens even though many gay people were considered wonderful children . . . This makes the rejecting father even harder to understand” (255). Gay and lesbian people have come to think of God as the unloving, rejecting father “for our perception of God is shaped by an unloving church” (255). “I am beginning to recognize that my image of God as unloving father is the distortion of an unloving church that claims to speak for God” (255).

[18] Pierre M. Balthazar, “How Anger Toward Absentee Fathers May Make It Difficult to Call God ‘Father’,” Pastoral Psychology 55 (2007): 543-49.

[19] Balthazar, “How Anger Toward Absentee Fathers May Make It Difficult to Call God ‘Father’,” 546.

[20] Ibid., 549.

[21] Carlos Guillermo Bigliani, Carlos E. Sluzki, Rodolfo Moguillansky. Shame and Humiliation: A Dialogue Between Psychoanalytic and Systemic Approaches, (London : Karnac Books. 2013), 66.

[22] Nicolay Gausel, “What Does ‘I Feel Ashamed’ Mean? Avoiding the Pitfall of Definition by Understanding Subjective Emotion Language,” in Psychology of Shame: New Research, ed. Kevin G. Lockhart, (Nova, 2014), 159-60. See also G. Davies, “Shame,” New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology, Edited by David J. Atkinson, David F. Field, Arthur Holmes, Oliver O’Donovan, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1995), 785.

[23] Bigliani, Sluzki, Moguillansky. Shame and Humiliation, 66.

[24] A wealth of material is available on honor and shame in the Biblical text and world. See for example, Bradford A. Mullen, “Shame,” Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, edited by Walter A. Elwell, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996 (2000)), 735; Jayson Georges. “From Shame to Honor: A Theological Reading of Romans for Honor-Shame Contexts,” Missiology: An International Review, Vol. XXXVIII, no. 3, July 2010, 295-307; G. B. Funderburk “Shame,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 5, General Editor, Merrill C. Tenney, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 372-73; Sam Hamstra, Jr., “Honor,” Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, Edited by Walter A. Elwell, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996 (2000)), 355; Jerome H. Neyrey. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, Louisville: Westminster, 1998.

[25] Roland Muller. Honor and Shame: Unlocking the Door, (Birmingham, UK: Xlibris, 2000), 18.

[26] Andy Crouch, “The Return of Shame,” Christianity Today (March 2015), 37.

[27] Timothy C. Tennent. Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 79.

[28] Ibid, 79. Tennent has a very good section in this work on the theology of shame in the Bible on pp. 83-91. See also, David J. Atkinson, “Guilt,” New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology, Edited by David J. Atkinson, David F. Field, Arthur Holmes, Oliver O’Donovan, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1995), 425.

[29] H. Wayne House effectively argues, “The use of Father, in contrast to other terms such as Rock or King, is an essential part of his person- hood rather than merely a description of how he acts or even relates to us. He is the eternal Father, even as the Son is the eternal Son. In the relationship of Father and Son, the Son, as is characteristic of a son, is subordinate to the authority of the Father; and the Father, in some sense, is the eternal producer, begetter, of the eternal Son.” “‘God, Gender and Biblical Metaphor’ (Ch 17) by Judy L. Brown,” JBMW 10/1 (Spring 2005) 69.

[30] Numerous authors have written on the Christian’s relationship to God as father. Cf. Floyd McClung, Jr., The Father Heart of God: Experiencing the Depths of His Love for You, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2004); Lisa Cline, To Know God As Father, (Mobile, AL: Axiom Press, 2011); Michael R. Phillips’ allegory, A God to Call Father: Discovering Intimacy With God, (Tyndale, 1994), etc.

[31] David Guretzki, “Does Abba mean Daddy?” Faith Today 27:36 (Jul/Aug 2009); Gregory C. Cochrane, “Remembering the Father in Fatherhood: Biblical Foundations and Practical Implications of the Doctrine of the Fatherhood of God,” JFM 1.2 (2011), 14-24. Cf. also, Ken Canfield, “The modern fatherhood movement and ministry to Fathers in the Faith Community,” JFM 1.2 (2011), 26-33; Stafford Betty, “Motherliness Should Be Included in the Godhead,” National Catholic Reporter, Beb. 6, 2009, 21; Jack Frost, Experiencing Father’s Embrace, (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2002); John Eldredge, Fathered by God: Learning What Your Dad Could Never Teach You, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009).

[32] A sampling of this topic may be found in Svetlana Knobnya, “God the Father in the Old Testament,” EJT (2011) 20:2, 139–148; Gottfried Quell, “pathvr The Father Concept in the Old Testament,” TDNT, ed. by Gerhard Kittel, trans. by Geoffrey Bromiley, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 5:959-74; Gottlob Schenk, “pathvr,” TDNT, ed. by Gerhard Kittel, trans. by Geoffrey Bromiley, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 5:975-1022; C. L. Crouch, “Genesis 1:26-27 as a Statement of Humanities Divine Parentage,” Journal of Theological Studies, NS, Vol 61, Pt 1, April 2010, 1-15; Scott Hahn, A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture, (Cincinnati: Servant Books, 1998); Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing God the Father Through the Old Testament, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2007).

[33] Richard N. Longenecker, “The Metaphor of Adoption in Paul’s Letters,” The Covenant Quarterly (2014) 72, no. 3-4: 72.

[34] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, (Downers Grove: IVP, 1988), 316.

[35] Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 316.

[36] Paula Fitzgibbons’ “20 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Adopting” https://www.scarymommy.com/things-i-wish-i-had-known-before-adopting/, Accessed: 11/13/2015.

[37] Donald F. Walke and Heather Lewis Quagliana, “Integrating Scripture with Parent Training in Behavioral Interventions,” Journal of Psychology & Christianity 20, no. 2 (Summer 2007): 122-131.

[38] See Wade R. Johnston, “Spare the Rod, Hate the Child: Augustine and Luther on Discipline and Corporal Punishment,” Logia 20, no. 4 (January 2011): 11-16. Both men experienced excessive corporal punishment as children but also knew their parents meant the best for them.  Therefore, they argued for discipline in love.

[39] D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 29, 45-64.

[40] Kenneth E. Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal: Luke 15 through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005), 49-62.

[41] Roger David Aus, “Luke 15:11-32 and R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus’ Rise to Fame,” JBL 104/3 (Sept 1985), 457.

[42] Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal, 81.

[43] Ibid., 82

[44] Timothy Keller, “Basis of Prayer: ‘Our Father’,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqxXABgRhVo, Accessed: 11/15/2015.

[45] John Piper, “A Tender Word for Pharisees,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuREA32ktIU, Accessed: 11/15/2015.

[46] When one of my colleagues, Dr. Ryan Stark, read a bit of this paper, he readily agreed, “The idea of the good Father is obviously right, but it is also a useful reminder that things like shame, etc., can get blown way out of proportion if we do not see God as a good father but rather as an angry volcano god who requires virgin sacrifices every year.”

[47] “Father, Fatherhood,” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, general editors: Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit and Tremper Longman III, (Downers Grove: IVP, 1998), 274.

[48] Allen Mawhinney, “God as Father: Two Popular Theories Reconsidered,” JETS 31/2 (June 1988), 189.

[49] Tim Wright, The Prodigal Hugging Church: A Scandalous Approach to Mission for the 21st Century, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001), 52.

[50] Ibid, 52.

[51] “Quotes: Love, as Perceived by Some Children 4 to 8 years-of-age,” http://www.religioustolerance.org/love_is.htm, Accessed: 11/14/2015.

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Book Review: Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World

Any person who has listened to, read about, connected with, or been influenced by Bob Goff will know that his personality speaks louder than any book review could.  Any person that has not heard of Bob (it’s how he prefers to be addressed)…well, they should start with one of his stories.

The September 11 tragedy had recently struck, so Bob and Sweet Maria (his wife) brought their young children together to help them make sense of what had happened.  After talking through the events, Bob and Sweet Maria asked their children what they would like to say, do, or ask if they could meet with the world’s leaders.  His youngest explained that they should invite the leaders to spend the night at their house.  His middle child suggested that they ask each leader what they hoped for.  The oldest said, if need be, the family should go to the world leaders (just in case the sleep-over didn’t fly) and make a video interview of each leader’s response to the hope question.  So, Bob took them seriously.  He had the kids write a letter to each of the world’s presidents, prime ministers, and dictators (names and addresses gratefully discovered on the CIA’s public website!) asking for an audience – hundreds and hundreds of letters.  As you might expect, Bob’s children received numerous, wonderfully official and polite sounding no-thank-yous.  That was the pattern.  That is, until the State House of Bulgaria broke the pattern with an equally official invitation to the national palace.  Shortly after, the prime minister of Switzerland invited the children to Bern.  Then an invitation arrived from the president of Israel in Jerusalem.  All told, the children received 29 invitations to meet with heads of state from around the globe – even one from the Russian government!  And, again, Bob and Sweet Maria took their kids seriously.  They had made a promise that if any of the leaders offered to meet, the family would accept.  I won’t ruin the rest of the story, but suffice it to say, there are a number of world leaders who now hold keys to the front door of the Goff house, and some of these keys have been used.

I tell this story from Bob’s life for two reasons.  First, if you have never met him or heard of him, you now have a glimpse of what is literally, his everyday life.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, you also now have an introduction to Love Does and the message that Bob seeks to share.  Each of Bob’s 34 short chapters starts with an equally engaging story as the one above, and in the final few pages of the chapter, Bob enters the narrative to explain that this – whatever story he has just told – is another facet of what love does.  You may be adventuring on a humanitarian mission in Africa, or working through the aftermath with the person who nearly killed you when they T-boned your car, but wherever your day has taken you, Bob would like you to know that, in the name of Jesus Christ, love does.  It dreams.  It dares.  It reaches.  It goes.  Love does.

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Book Review: Theology of Work Bible Commentary, Volume 1: Genesis through Deuteronomy

Often when thinking of a Bible commentary, one considers a work that might be used in constructing a sermon or a lesson plan.  One does not often consider a work that you would pick up and read from cover to cover.  While still a commentary, because of its uniqueness in content, tone, and applicable nature, one might want to make an exception for the Theology of Work Bible Commentary (TWBC).

The 212 pages of the first volume of the TWBC are broken up into five sections, one for each book: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  At first glance, each section is similar to what one might expect in a commentary.  TWBC goes through each major section of these five books, passage by passage and discusses the text and its modern day application.  Most will agree that this kind of work is typically used in a reference fashion, that is, one reads the commentary of a particular passage and puts the work down.  However, TWBC provides some remarkable insight into applying biblical principles into everyday life, making it a worthwhile read from cover to cover.  For anyone interested in learning how God can be glorified through their traditional weekday job, TWBC offers incredible insight on how to do so.

TWBC is composed by a unique international mix of biblical and theological scholars and business practitioners.  This mix provides an excellent blend of thoughtful application based on a firm exegetical framework.

A great example of this can be seen in TWBC’s discussion of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11), where the authors suggest that perhaps the tower of Babel can be seen as an example of a wrong way to handle power and authority.  The authors argue that the tower of Babel is an example where centralization brought about corruption.  They move on to argue that perhaps in some contexts, God is calling those who have authority and power to disperse, delegate, authorize, and train others, rather than doing it all by oneself.  It should be noted that the authors do not attempt to argue that this is the sole teaching of this passage, but in humility they suggest this as an application of some of the principles behind the tower of Babel.  This is just one, of several, ways that the contributors look at Old Testament narrative and apply it to work and leadership scenarios.

Excellent examples of applying elements of the Pentateuch to work scenarios continue to abound.  Another example occurs is Leviticus 19, which talks about gleaning, the process through which land owners harvested their land one time and left the remaining for the poor to utilize.  Most would agree that poverty is an issue in 21st century America.  Many governmental and social systems have attempted to resolve the issue with little to no success.  While gleaning is not as applicable today as it might have been in a more agrarian culture, the authors insists that “the gleaning system in Leviticus does place an obligation on the owners of productive assets to ensure that marginalized people have the opportunity to work for a living” (p. 128).  Intriguing application of a passage that is often ignored in modern day preaching.

The utility of this book expands with the Theology of Work web-site (to which they make reference in their commentary): https://www.theologyofwork.org/.  This web-site expands the utility of this work ten-fold.  All five volumes of this work are available online at no cost, making this remarkable work not only available to those who want to purchase a print copy, but to those who are simply intrigued with greater empathy regarding how an understanding of Scripture can impact their day to day work.

The web-site also provides additional resources to the text.  For example, in the commentary of Exodus 20:15, “You shall not steal,” the authors comment on how the concept of stealing goes beyond robbing someone.  It can include misappropriating resources or using deception to make sales.  The authors then note that there is further elaboration on this in the section entitled, “Puffery/Exaggeration” in Truth & Deception at www.theologyofowork.org.  This section adds further insight into the development of theological principles into modern day work.

Overall, this work provides excellent insight into how Scripture can be applied to modern day work.  The inclusion of the word “commentary” in the title of the TWBC should not deter businessmen or businesswomen from looking into this work to understand how God can be glorified through their day to day working.  Nor should the practical nature of this work discourage the pastor or scholar from looking at this fresh insight to the applicability of God’s word in the modern day.

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Book Review: American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism

“This book draws on a lively cast of characters and extensive archival research to document the ways an initially obscure group of charismatic preachers and their followers have reshaped American religion, at home and abroad, for over a century” (Ix). One might think, with this introductory remark, that American Apocalypse is just another history of early fundamentalism and the broader evangelical movement that followed it; this is not the case. The author, building on earlier histories of these movements, focuses on one theme that either has been minimized in earlier works (George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture by [1980]) or in need of updating (Ernest Sandeen’s The Roots of Fundamentalism [1970]). That theme is the centrality of apocalyptic thinking and preaching to fundamentalism/evangelicalism from the beginning to the present.

After introducing the theme of the coming Apocalypse as being central to fundamentalism (“Jesus Is Coming”) Sutton then traces this theme chronologically, beginning with WWI, then through the volatile 20s, the period of the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal in the 30s, the lead-up to WWII, the cataclysmic devastations of WWII, the post-war rise of the United Nations, the establishment of Israel in Palestine, the emergence of the new evangelicalism and its spokesman, Billy Graham, to the most recent expressions of apocalyptic fervor in the writings of Hal Lindsey (The Late Great Planet Earth) and Tim LaHaye (Left Behind series). In every time period the author documents how fundamentalists were able to find in the headlines of the world’s newspapers ample evidence of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Armageddon was always just around the corner; the Rapture was imminent.

Writing as a historian, not as a theologian, Sutton nevertheless treats the theology of premillennialism accurately, though with a broad brush. He does not make the distinction between Dispensational Premillennialism and Historical Premillennialism, nor does he bother to distinguish between various views of the Rapture—Pre-Tribulational, Post-Tribulational or the Pre-Wrath position. If he had done so, it would have unnecessarily complicated the simple concept of the soon return of Christ to rescue the righteous and judge the wicked. Sutton’s extensive use of original source material—letters, speeches, sermons, tracts, etc.—strongly supports his thesis that premillennialism, with its apocalyptic emphasis, can be considered as one of the main organizing principles of fundamentalism.

Apocalyptic preaching and teaching is not the only major thread that Sutton traces throughout the history of fundamentalism. To provide a cultural and historical setting for the development of apocalyptic thinking, the author brings politics and race into the discussion. Interpreting Scripture through the lens of world events, both overseas and also at home, fundamentalists at times sided with the politics of isolationism (WWI) and at other times with interventionism (WWII). This naturally caused fundamentalists, generally speaking, to side with whatever political party happened to be in line with their prophetic insights. The same was true with political developments at home, particularly with FDR’s New Deal, the rise of unions, the civil rights movement, etc. Sutton documents instances of racial prejudice in the writings of fundamentalists. Fundamentalism itself Sutton correctly describes as basically white and male. While African-Americans agreed with their white brethren on many issues, race wasn’t one of them. Their vision of the Millennium, including who was to be judged by Christ when he returned, varied dramatically from that of other fundamentalists. As to party affiliation, Sutton makes the observation that ever since the days of Herbert Hoover and FDR, fundamentalists have, for the most part, been happy to be identified with Republican Party.

American Apocalypse is not to be read in isolation from other histories of fundamentalism. While Sutton shows how the theology of premillennialism, with its apocalyptic fervor, was characteristic of the movement, the theological basis for fundamentalism’s response to late nineteenth, early twentieth century Protestant liberalism had as much to do, if not more, with liberalism’s rejection of the inspiration of the Scriptures, the deity of Christ (including the bodily resurrection of Christ) and the atonement than it did with the coming of Christ.

Sutton’s work should be welcomed as an up-to-date, refreshingly honest, though at times sobering, re-telling of the history of fundamentalism through the lens of apocalyptic theology. While not overtly judgmental of the movement, it does not gloss over some of the darker aspects of the movement. As such, it is a highly valuable addition to the standard works on fundamentalism that have preceded it.

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Preaching the Rod of Discipline in an Age of Abuse

Division of Culture

For many generations, corporal punishment remained an integral element of discipline. I remember Dad’s belt well. And at Grandma’s house, flies breathed a sigh of relief when she turned the attention of her swatter to my behind rather than to their window sill. Today, though, more and more parents choose or feel forced to choose discipline methods other than spanking.

The question of spanking divides American culture. Many parenting experts applaud the move away from corporal punishment as signaling the end to an outdated and abusive practice. In 2006, the Committee on the Rights of the Child approved the total prohibition of physical punishment including “any form of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse to include chastisement within the family environment.” The CRC declared corporal punishment as “violent and humiliating” as well as “cruel and degrading.”[1] Scholars such as Patrick Lenta call for criminalizing corporal punishment, even within the home.[2]At the same time, however, most Americans believe that corporal punishment is acceptable and at times needed. A Harris poll in August 2013 revealed that 81% of American parents consider that spanking is sometimes appropriate for children.[3]

The sharp divide on spanking carries over into the Christian community as well. Al Mohler asks: “Does the Bible instruct parents to spank their children? The answer to that must be an emphatic, Yes.” He argues that to ban spanking is to put “parental authority under assault.”[4] Popular parenting books such as Motherwise by Denise Glenn, To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl, and the classic Dare to Discipline by James Dobson all encourage spanking as a necessary part of parental discipline. Yet, other Christian experts demand parents stop corporal punishment completely. Nadin Block of the National Catholic Reporter calls for a total ban on paddling: “all corporal punishment of children should be ended, even in homes, through education and legal reform.”[5] Likewise, Eric Andrae, writing for Lutheran Forum, argues for parents to protect children from violence by avoiding corporal punishment.[6] Christianity Today takes a reluctant position:

Some Christian parents will advocate corporal punishment until the peaceable kingdom arrives. But such means should be employed miles short of abuse, without anger, and as an absolute last resort. Given the risks involved—children’s bodies are more fragile that an angry adult can fathom—we encourage parents to explore more creative and effective ways to train up our children in the way they should go.[7]

This sea of conflicting views swirls through the pews every Sunday. Pastors who seek to remain anchored in the Scriptures yet desire to launch out to reach our culture seemingly must choose between the two. If we faithfully preach the Word, do we demand or deny spanking?

Positions on the Key Biblical Texts: Corporal Punishment Absent from Scripture

Scholars like Eric Andrae argue that the biblical text never permitted corporal punishment. “There is no example of corporal punishment in all of Scripture.” “Rather, in light of the parental role of protection from violence, while still employing discipline, it is more legitimate to discourage and even avoid corporal punishment.”[8]

Andrae argues that the term for “rod” either refers to discipline broadly or is used metaphorically of divine discipline. The focus is primarily on Proverbs 13:24, 23:13-14, and Hebrews 12:6:

He who spares the rod hates his son,

but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. (13:24)[9]

Do not withhold discipline from a child;

if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.

Punish him with the rod

and save his soul from death. (23:13-14)

Because the Lord disciplines those he loves,

and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. (12:6)

Concerning the two proverbs texts, Andrae concludes that the use of the more general term “discipline” (מוּסָר) in the parallel lines determines the meaning of “rod” (שֵׁבֶט). Thus the rod refers not to corporal punishment, but to all parental discipline. He links the rod here with the use of שֵׁבֶט in Psalm 23:4 to describe the shepherd’s rod. He then translates Proverbs 13:24:[10]

He who withholds support from his son hates him;

But he who loves him is diligent to discipline him by instruction, training, nurture and care.

The metaphorical use of “rod” undermines corporal punishment support in Hebrews 12:6 and Old Testament divine judgment passages (Isa 10:5; Lam 3:1; i.e.), argues Andrae. Similar to the parallelism argument in the Proverbs texts, he posits that a figurative use eliminates any suggestion of a literal implication.

This view misapplies both the usage of parallelism and the significance of metaphoric language. Parallel term relationships comprise a range of complex categories. Adele Berlin demonstrates that the links between parallel terms fall into categories of morphological, syntactical, lexical or phonological.[11] Within each of these categories are many potential relationships between two parallel terms. Andrae chooses one term (discipline) to define the other (rod). Many other possibilities exist.

The “rod” likely symbolizes a method within a parent’s discipline. Keil and Delitzsch conclude in Proverbs 13:24, “the rod represents here the means of punishment.”[12] So in this saying, the rod represents a method of achieving discipline. This relationship matches the usage of the “rod” in 29:15 where “the rod of correction imparts wisdom” and the “rod of discipline” drives folly from the heart of a child (22:15). In 23:14, it is the “rod” that saves a child from death.”

A metaphoric use of a term does not eliminate its potential literal significance. If biblical authors use the “rod” figuratively of God’s or man’s judgments, that use does not eliminate its possible support of corporal punishment. Andrae argues that the “punishment” (μαστιγόω) in Hebrews 12:6 “must be understood metaphorically” as God’s discipline “which at all times points to something good and which He always works for our benefit. It is never a punishment.” However, though the term is clearly figurative here, it is used seven times in the New Testament. The other six are literal punishments.[13] The author of Hebrews here employs a term for physical punishment to describe a beneficial aspect of God’s discipline in believers’ lives. This punishment (μαστιγόω) is portrayed as producing temporal pain, but yielding long-term profit (12:11). This chastisement is meted out by a loving father (12:6). If Hebrews’ author opposed corporal punishment, why would he utilize this image as a positive description of a loving God?

Corporal Punishment Present but Fading in Scripture.

William Webb followed Slaves, Women and Homosexuals with Corporal Punishment in the Bible.[14] He attempts to employ the same Redemptive-Movement hermeneutic on corporal punishment texts as he did on gender texts in his previous book. Webb focuses on the Proverbs texts on the rod as well as the punishment texts of Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 25.

Webb begins his work by surveying how “two-smacks-max”[15] proponents have already moved beyond the biblical text. He highlights seven ways in which “pro-spankers” go beyond the “specific teachings about corporal punishment found in the Bible.”[16]

  1. Age Limitations.
  2. Number of Strokes.
  3. Bodily Location.
  4. Resultant Wounds.
  5. Instrument of Discipline.
  6. Frequency of Beatings.
  7. Parental Emotive Disposition.

In each of these seven areas, Webb claims that “pro-spankers” have invoked restrictions that are foreign to the biblical texts. He applauds their “intuitive sense of moral and ethical virtue” that moves “beyond the Bible biblically.”[17]

The thrust of his argument is that the Bible improved on the ethics of the unbelieving world around it. For example, Deuteronomy 25:1-3 limited beatings of guilty parties to forty blows. Egyptian texts of the time prescribed one hundred to two hundred blows for similar offenses.[18] So the Bible reflected a gentler and more dignified approach to punishment. For Webb, this biblical ethic is not the higher ethic believers should follow today, but is the start of a trend we must pursue. As the Bible improved on the ethics of the surrounding culture, so we should improve on the ethics of the Bible. He concludes that following this trajectory, “Christians are under a moral obligation to leave behind two-smacks-max and embrace an alternative-discipline-only option.”[19]

Though Webb’s approach raises broader hermeneutical concerns,[20] two key elements regarding corporal punishment must be addressed here. First, Webb wrongly combines proverbs concerning the judicial punishment of adults with parental punishment of children. He rightly argues that the Scriptures never assign a specific age limitation to corporal punishment. But then he fails to distinguish between the punishments meted out by the government to adults and the discipline carried out by parents for children. For example, he argues that if the rod of discipline is used to drive folly from the heart of a child (Prov. 22:15) and a rod is for the back of a fool (Prov. 26:3), then the punishment must be identical.[21] Further, he takes the forty-lash limit to direct judges in Deuteronomy 25:3 and the death penalty for the rebellious son in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 as assumed guides for parental discipline.[22] Deuteronomy 25 establishes the maximum flogging penalty for an adult criminal. Deuteronomy 21 describes capital punishment carried out by city leaders on a son who has established himself as unrelenting and rebellious. The text describes him as refusing all parental discipline. In both cases, civil leaders mete out the punishment. These are not parental discipline texts. The parental discipline texts in Proverbs will be addressed in detail below.

A second issue with the trajectory approach is a muddling of hermeneutical steps. Webb seems to build a straw man argument by confusing culturally-specific application statements with interpretation. As noted above, he accuses (actually praises) “pro-spankers” of going beyond the Bible by recommending age limits, stroke limits, bodily location, etc. He concludes their interpretation has already gone beyond the Scripture. However, a pastor preaching on the Lucan passages of Jesus’ prayer discipline may call on his congregation to commit to thirty minutes of prayer of each morning. That is a specific application within the bounds of the meaning of the biblical text, not the interpretation. When James Dobson recommends no more than two swats and suggests gradated frequency based on age, he is attempting application relevant to our culture and flowing from the meaning of the Scripture. To say that he has “moved beyond the Bible” is misleading. Webb, on the other hand, happily moves beyond the Word by arguing that the Scripture’s approval of corporal punishment represents a milepost on the way to rejecting it. Dobson specifies from the text, while Webb nullifies the text.

Corporal Punishment Passages All for Parenting

            Some who hold that the Scripture supports corporal punishment apply all Proverbs’ “rod” texts to parenting. Michael and Debi Pearl, founders of the popular parenting ministry No Greater Joy discuss in detail the reasons for and the practice of spanking. They build their case on the expected texts of Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14 and 29:15. However, they also include passages describing harsher punishment, such as 20:30:

The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil:

So do stripes the inward parts of the belly.[23]

This and similar passages seem to allow for punishment that would be considered abuse today. The bruises and scars describe a discipline that leaves long-term or perhaps even permanent marks. Similarly, Motherwise includes 20:30 as well as 26:3:[24]

A whip for the horse,

A bridle for the donkey,

And a rod for the back of fools.

This passage clearly uses the rod terminology, but does not specify a parenting discipline context. Compiling all proverbs with the term “rod” without considering potential contextual distinctions may prevent one from discerning wisdom for parents from that for civic leaders.

Just as Webb wrongly combines passages on slavery with wisdom texts on parenting, so this view blends disparate categories within wisdom literature itself. It jumps to conclude that if a passage includes the rod, then it must refer to parental discipline.

The book of Proverbs contains wisdom for many life contexts. Its wisdom reaches from our businesses to our bedrooms, and from our finances to our friendships. It offers a host of proverbs for both parents and princes.[25] A term in one context may signify something quite different in another setting. For instance, crown terminology figuratively describes the blessing of a faithful wife, grandchildren and gray hair (Prov. 12:4; 16:31; 17:6), yet also describes the passing nature of a leader’s power (Prov. 27:24). The shift from family to leadership context shifted the usage of the term. Similarly, the “rod” may represent two distinct types of punishment within Proverbs.

Proverbs uses “rod” and similar terms as means of punishments in two different realms. The harsher punishments do not belong to parenting. A closer look at these sayings reveals that Proverbs describes a different rod for a parent than for a magistrate.

Toward a Solution: Differentiating Parental Discipline and Civil Punishment

A superficial reading of all proverbial sayings on corporal punishment might lead one to conclude that Proverbs supports brutal parental discipline. That is the argument of Webb and the unintentional implication of many parenting programs. However, when this collection is examined, a pattern emerges of two separate settings. The following proverbs clearly specify a parental context:

He who spares the rod hates his son,

but he who loves him is careful to discipline. (13:24)

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,

but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him. (22:15)

Do not withhold discipline from a child;

if you strike him with the rod, he will not die.

Strike him with the rod

and save his soul from death. (23:13-14)

The rod of correction imparts wisdom,

but a child left to himself disgraces his mother. (29:15)

The following proverbs also describe a physical punishment, but do not specify a parental context.

Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning,

but a rod is for the back of him who lacks judgment. (10:13)

A fool’s talk brings a rod to his back,

but the lips of the wise protect them. (14:3)

A rebuke impresses a man of discernment

more than a hundred strikes a fool. (17:10)

It is not good to punish an innocent man,

or to strike officials for their integrity. (17:26)

Flog a mocker, and the simple will learn prudence;

rebuke a discerning man, and he will gain knowledge. (19:25)

Penalties are prepared for mockers,

and beatings for the backs of fools. (19:29)

Blows and wounds cleanse away evil,

and beatings purge the inmost being. (20:30)

A whip for the horse, a halter for the donkey,

and a rod for the back of fools. (26:3)

The two groups of proverbs share two very common terms: “rod” and “strike.”[26] However, the second group contains statements of severity not found in the parenting sayings. First, Proverbs 17:10 uses brutal hyperbole to show the moral inertia of a fool. The Law limited lashes to forty (Deut. 25:3), yet a hundred fail to move a fool. Second, the use of “back” is found only in the second category. “Back” (גֵּו) is found elsewhere in contexts of harsh punishment:

I offered my back to those who beat me,

my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;

I did not hide my face

from mocking and spitting. (Isa 50:6)

I will put it into the hands of your tormentors,

who said to you,

Fall prostrate that we may walk over you.

And you made your back like the ground,

like a street to be walked over. (Isa 51:23)

Third, in Proverbs 20:30 the terms “blows,” “wounds” and “beatings” all portray severe retributions. “Blows” (חַבּוּרָה) is “one of several terms relating to serious tissue trauma described as wounds, in which the skin was ruptured, blood was lost, and organs or limbs were disabled or destroyed.”[27] This family of terms includes the other two terms of harm in the saying (פֶּצַע and מַכָּה). Fourth, Proverbs 19:29 pairs “beatings” (מַהֲלֻמוֹת from הלם) with “penalties” (שֶׁפֶט). The root הלם describes actions such as a trampling by horses (Judg. 5:22), the nailing by Jael (Judg. 5:26) and the smashing of the Temple (Ps 74:6). All connote severity. Another distinction is the use of civil language in this category of sayings.

The term “penalties” in 19:29 (שֶׁפֶט from שפט) is the common term (found 202 times throughout the OT) signifying civil judgment. Its other four uses in Proverbs clearly point to government settings:

By me princes govern, and all nobles who rule on earth. (8:16)

If a wise man goes to court with a fool, (29:9)

If a king judges the poor with fairness, (29:14)

Speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor, (31:9)

To sum up, the parental chastisement proverbs focus on punishment as an element of discipline and correction. They share the broad terms of “strike” and “rod,” but do not incorporate the harsher terms found in the second group of sayings. This second group, while also employing “rod” and “strike” terminology, intensifies the punishment with terms of much more severe beating. They also connect more clearly with civil punishments than with parental discipline.

Proverbs, then, describes parental corporal punishment in general terms lacking the language of severity found in civil punishment, and in a setting of broader corrective discipline. In order to clearly grasp the role of corporal punishment, one must understand this broader discipline in parenting.

Corporal Punishment as an Aspect of Parenting in Proverbs

Spanking is not parental discipline. It represents a single element within a broader strategy prescribed in Proverbs.

Parenting in Proverbs builds on several central truths. The goal of parenting, positively stated, is to train children in the way of wisdom and righteousness (10:1; 23:25, 24). However, folly, deeply rooted in a child’s nature, throws obstacles into the path of wisdom (22:15). Left unchecked, that folly will drive a youth to disaster, perhaps even premature death (19:18). So parents must employ a variety of strategies to instruct and guide their children. Those strategies must shape but not break the child’s spirit (17:22; 18:14).

Positive Instruction: The foundational element of parenting is that they must first build their training on the positive way their children should go. The instruction of mothers and fathers serves as an adornment to the lives of offspring (1:8-9). Wise parental instruction leads a child to a reverential knowledge of Yahweh (2:1-5). Receiving that teaching yields a long and prosperous life with an admirable reputation (3:1-4). Section One in Proverbs’ parenting manual is positive impartation of the virtues comprising biblical wisdom (4:1-7).

Indirect Warning: Part of parental guidance comprises indirectly warning children by pointing out negative examples. The classic example is the father and son observing the demise of the simple in the arms of the adulteress (7:5-23). The son sees the seduction as well as the devastation. Ideally, the child matures to the point of self-learning from the mistakes of others (i.e. 24:30-34). These warnings by examples often incorporate direct warnings as well.

Direct Warning: Parents also provide direct warnings about life. Financial mistakes must be corrected immediately (6:1-5). Drunkards and gluttons with their wanton dissipation must be avoided (23:19-21). Fathers and mothers guide by calling children to seek virtues and to avoid ungodly vices.

Rebuke: Proverbs contains many references describing the benefit of rebuke. Verbal correction can open a child to receive instruction (1:23, 25; 25:12). It also serves as the preceding intervention before physical punishment.

Corporal Punishment: The next to last step of discipline is physical chastisement. Chastisement stems from a loving parent (13:24) who refuses to allow neglect to ruin a child (29:15). Rather than sharing the severity of civil punishment, it actually serves to prevent the loss of a life to foolishness (23:13-14). This loss of life may result from the natural consequences of foolishness (11:19; 13:14) or from capital punishment.

Civil Punishment: Civil authorities mete out harsher punishment than parents. Punishment had to match the crime (Deut. 25:3), but included up to forty lashes or even death (cf. Gen 9:6). If a child had spurned all parental discipline and demonstrated an incurable rebellion, parents were to submit the child to the city elders. The elders then could stone the rebel to death (Deut. 21:18-21).

So then, corporal punishment is far from the only method of parental discipline. It is one of the later resorts in a range of strategies. It also falls short of the severity of civil punishment for criminals.

Conclusion

The rod of discipline cannot be removed from Proverbs’ description of parental guidance. Proverbs affirms it as an integral element of child training. Hermeneutical approaches that argue that corporal punishment was never a part of Scripture or was intended to be rejected by later generations fail to adequately represent the Word. Physical discipline is affirmed by the use of it to describe God’s loving correction in Hebrews 12:6.

Hermeneutical approaches must also distinguish between the parental discipline proverbs and civil punishment sayings. The failure to see this difference opens the door to misunderstanding parental discipline as abusive. Only the government has the authority to mete out the harshest punishments.

Physical chastisement must also be understood in the broad context of parenting. Parenting comprises so much more than spanking. Spanking should come only after other methods have failed.

Application to Preaching: If Proverbs includes spanking in parenting, then how does one wisely preach the practice? With child abuse filling the news, we cannot risk miscommunication. Three suggestions help us speak with clarity on this crucial issue.

Paint the Whole Picture: As noted above, spanking is only part of parenting. Preach it all. And start with the call for parents to be righteous themselves. Love should always fill our parenting (Prov. 3:3). Anger should never accompany discipline (29:11). Righteousness should serve as the goal of discipline (Prov. 11). Our parenting should be “nurture and admonition of the Lord” and should not “exasperate” our children (Eph. 6:4; Col 3:21).

Preach with Discernment: The picture of the drunkard flailing a proverb like a thornbush (Prov. 26:9) ought to remind pastors that even the truth can wound the congregation if preached foolishly. Expositors ought to know their congregational parents well enough to communicate the truth of loving discipline in ways that will prevent child abuse.

Address Abuse: One way to prevent parental discipline from degenerating into child abuse is to address the damaging presence of abuse today, even within Christian families. Take news reports of abuse as opportunities to clarify what loving discipline looks like versus when punishment turns abusive.

As ministers enslaved to the Lord to declare His Word and to love His Family, we ought to preach corporal punishment administered with the grace and mercy we have received.

[1] Committee on the Rights of the Child (Forty-second Session. Geneva, May 15 – June 2, 2006), Articles 19, 28, paragraphs 2 and 37.

[2] Patrick Lenta. “Corporal Punishment of Children.” Social Theory and Practice (October 2012): 689-716.

[3] The Harris Poll of 2,286 adults surveyed online between August 14 and 19, 2013 by Harris Interactive. Results published at www.theharrispoll.com September 26, 2013.

[4] Albertmohler.com. June 22, 2004. Should Spanking Be Banned? Parental Authority Under Assault.

[5] “Catholics Should Take Lead in Banning Paddling” National Catholic Reporter (March 27-April 9, 2015): 4A.

[6] “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child? Spare Me! Lutheran Forum (Summer 2014): 12-16.

[7] “Where We Stand: Thou Shalt Not Abuse” Christianity Today (January 2012): 55.

[8] Andrae, 13, 15.

[9] NIV (1984) is used throughout Scripture quotations.

[10] Andrae, 14.

[11] Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism, rev.ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans): 1985.

[12] C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 6: 287.

[13] See Matt 10:17, 20:19, 23:34; Mark 10:34; Luke 18:32 and John 19:1.

[14] William Webb, Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic) 2011.

[15] His pejorative phrase used throughout the book.

[16] Webb, 28.

[17] Ibid.

[18]Webb, 80.

[19] Webb, 137.

[20] A full discussion of Webb’s troubling hermeneutic is beyond the scope of this paper. See Wayne Grudem, “Review Article: Should We Move Beyond the New Testament to a Better Ethic?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (June 2004): 299-346; and Gary Derickson, “Book Review: Women, Slaves and the Gender Debate” Dedicated (March 20, 2015). Accessed via http://blogs.corban.edu/ministry/.

[21] Webb, 31.

[22] Ibid, 34.

[23] Michael and Debi Pearl, To Train Up a Child (Pleasantville, TN: No Greater Joy, 1984) 46. Note: This book has gone to twenty printings as of 2010, selling more than 650,000 copies.

[24] Denise Glen, Motherwise: Wisdom for Mothers (Houston: Winning Walk Family, 1997) 230-1.

[25] For government leader proverbs, see for example, Prov. 16:10; 17:7; 20:8, 26, 28; 25:2-5; 28:15-16; 29:4, 12, 14.

[26] “Rod” (שֵׁבֶט) is used 190 times in 178 passages to describe instruments including a shepherd’s rod (Psa. 23:4), soldiers’ weapon (2 Sam 18:14) and a king’s scepter (Gen 49:10). “Strike” (נָכָה) is used 500 times in 461 passages to signify concepts such as physical striking (common), contracting a disease (1 Sam 5:12), and clapping hands (2 Kgs 11:12).

[27] חַבּוּרָה in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997) 4.

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Made New

Kintsugi. The story is told that in the early 15th century a Chinese ruler broke a treasured bowl. The hackneyed repair with ugly staples angered the shogun. He commissioned his craftsmen to develop a means of repair that would reclaim and enhance the original vessel. They created a method that mixed lacquer with gold to seal and repair the cracks. Kintsugi became so popular that repaired vessels sold for more than the unbroken.

Kintsugi

We live in a broken world. Yet, the work of Christ to renew and repair us makes us better than new. Cracks of hurt and failure are filled with His grace. We revel in the renewed vessels we are and long for the glorious vessels we will be someday.

This issue of Dedicated focuses our attention on the work of God to make us and our world new. Mark Jacobson captures the past, present and future works of redemption from Scripture. Mike Fleischmann reveals the practical motivation of redemption to move us to faithfulness.

On redeeming culture, Kent Kersey wrestles with what our expectations should be in redeeming culture. Jim Hills reflects on the perspective believers should have on free speech and Christian speech. Sam Baker presents a model for redeeming our youth in a frenzied technological era. Our two book reviews also reflect on redemption. Allen Jones reviews The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church by Michael Frost. Garrett Trott reviews Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling by James Sire.

Helping us to rejoice in God’s work, Collette Tennant captures our joys in her two redemption poems.

Made new and being made new.

Greg Trull, Editor

Dean, Corban University School of Ministry

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Made New Poems

Good Friday Meditation to Christ Our Lord

The day You died, Your blood poured down,

a mighty fugue,

arpeggios streaming from Golgotha,

counterpoint of loss and salvation,

obligato of redemption,

crescendo and decrescendo,

a chorus of love from the cross.

 

A Scherzo of Stars

. . .in which you shine

like stars in the universe.

Philippians 2:15

 

In tidal pools, stars

the color of pomegranates

cling to the same rock

to the same ledge on the cliff

their chapter and verse appetites

satisfied, satisfied, satisfied

while their brilliant sisters

swing through the night,

performers who have

put the score away –

free now to glory, glory,

glory in the son.

 

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Made New!

With tears we cry for it;

with broken hearts we yearn for it;

frustrated we beg for it—redemption.

Maybe every generation of Christians feels it at some point, that point where injustice, cruelty, bigotry, suffering and indifference intersect with such force and such regularity that we think to ourselves that things can’t get any worse, that there is no answer to the evil in the world but the return of the Lord. So we fervently pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”[1] That kingdom seems, in our best moments, far away; in our worst, a make-believe alternate reality. For the present we are caught in the whirlpool of humanity’s sin, our inherent imago dei damaged beyond recognition, our relationships ruined, our hope almost gone.

Last year’s theme at Corban University was “Picking Up the Pieces”, reflecting the devastation of the Fall in our lives. This year’s theme is “Made New”, which celebrates the biblical theme of redemption. Yes, the good news is that we have been redeemed; we are redeemed. But if we are redeemed, how is it that we still cry out for it? Why do we feel so helpless in the face of evil? If ever there was a biblical doctrine that expressed the already/not yet scheme of God’s salvific plan, this is it. In this article I will briefly set forth the biblical doctrine of redemption—past, present and future—concluding with an appeal to persevere in hope until that day when God’s redemptive plan will be complete.

Redemption Past

Redemption is one of the many metaphors used by biblical authors to showcase particular features of our salvation (itself a metaphor). However, it did not mean to them what it means to us today. Current, popular ideas such as justice finally being enacted (“the victims of the crime finally had their day of redemption”), or of personal revenge, in which a wrong is made right, intersect with the biblical concept only marginally; they do not express its heart. Redemption has to do first and foremost, with God; it has to do with sin and the Fall; it has to do with the utter helplessness and hopelessness of sinners in their fallen condition. At its heart, it has to do with what God has secured through the death and resurrection of humanity’s Redeemer, the Lord Jesus.

The biblical metaphor deeply resonated with audiences in the Ancient Near East (Old Testament) and in the first-century Roman world (New Testament) due to the pervasiveness of slavery. Being purchased and then set free from bondage is the reality behind the biblical metaphor. In the Old Testament, the metaphor came to define Yahweh’s relationship with his people, Israel; he redeemed Israel out of slavery to Egypt (Ex. 6:6; 15:13; etc.). Ever after that seminal, climactic event in Israel’s history, the Israelites were known as a people set free by Yahweh; he was their Redeemer. While Yahweh chose Abraham and his descendants 400 years before the time of Moses, with Israel’s redemption out of Egypt they would henceforth think of themselves as the elect nation, a people of God’s choosing.

In the New Testament, the same metaphor is applied individually to those whom God has purchased and set free, not from physical slavery, as in the case of the Israelites in the days of Moses, but from slavery to sin. The metaphor is expressed in a number of ways: “slave to sin” (John 8:34; Rom. 6:17; 7:14); “bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:21); “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Gal. 4:3); “enslaved to those that by nature are not gods” (Gal. 4:8). The price paid for our redemption, to extend the metaphor, is said to be the death of Christ (Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19 [the “precious blood of Christ”]). Skirting the theological debate of Particular Redemption vs. Unlimited Atonement, we can safely say that only believers experience redemption in its fullness, since only believers enjoy the present benefits of being redeemed and being able to look forward to a future redemption.

Present Redemption

With the present and future dimensions of redemption, the biblical metaphor diverges even further from current, popular understandings of it. Still retaining the idea of slavery, the theology of redemption includes the idea that the sinner who has been redeemed through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection is not turned loose—freed—to live life in any way the person sees fit. On the contrary, those who have been set free from slavery to sin become slaves of Christ. That is to say, after the sinner has been redeemed, he or she belongs to God as his purchased possession (1 Cor. 6:19, 20; 7:22, 23; etc.).  We become the bondslaves of Christ. It is only an apparent contradiction to say that in such servitude the Christian finds real freedom, but this will need some explanation.

To understand the biblical concept of redemption, one needs first to understand the biblical doctrine of freedom. In a scriptural context, freedom is hamartiological and soteriological, not anthropological. Put another way, we’re not entering the philosophical debate of determinism on one side, libertarianism on the other, with compatibilism somewhere between the two. This debate can take place apart from any assumption of theism. When the Bible talks about freedom, it does so as with any other topic, from a God-centered point of view. It speaks of freedom within the parameters of a person’s relationship to sin. Negatively, non-redeemed people are not said to be free; they are bound, enslaved to sin (see references above). Jesus somewhat proverbially stated, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Paul developed this thought in his letter to the Ephesians, in which he stated that his readers prior to their salvation “were dead in trespasses and sins . . . carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:2, 3). Any time the New Testament authors spoke of the inability of sinful people to please God, the same idea was expressed (e.g., “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” in Rom. 8:8). Bottom line: People who are yet to be redeemed from their sin are not free. That is, the non-redeemed individual cannot do anything of a righteous nature before God; they do the will of their master—sin.

The good news is that when sinful people are redeemed, they gain the freedom to do what humans were originally created to do—righteous deeds that please and honor their Creator. This becomes their burning desire, and they are free to fulfill it. This, then, explains the apparent contradiction in the sinner being set free and, at the same time, being made a doulos—a slave—of Christ. The biblical concept of freedom is not the ability to do whatever you want to do, whether good or bad, but it’s being able to do, finally, what we were created by God to do—please him. This is what we were made for; this is what gives us the greatest delight; this is the ultimate in personal fulfillment. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). But this begs the question, what does it mean to have been freed from sin?

Romans 6 contains one of the clearest, and yet potentially most confusing, descriptions of the believer having been freed from sin and made a bondslave of Christ. “We know that our self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom. 6:6, 7). The potentially confusing part is how to understand the “old man” of Rom. 6:6 (NASB; ESV “old self”), and what it then means that “the body of sin might be brought to nothing.” Both can be explained in a way that advances Paul’s leading rhetorical question in 6:2: “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” and the idea that we were once slaves to sin but now are slaves to righteousness (6:18). Simply stated, the “old self/man” is all that we were before we were saved, not the sinful nature that still resides within us. The old self is our former, unredeemed life in sin. That old life is dead and gone; we’re not going back to that life of slavery to sin. The destruction of the “body of sin” is the consequence of the death of the old self. The confusing phrase is best understood as the “body enslaved by sin”. The former sin-body connection, in which whatever we did was sinful in the eyes of God, has been forever severed, “done away with” (NASB) or “brought to nothing” (ESV). In other words, for the first time in our life, because we have been redeemed from our slavery to sin and made slaves to righteousness, we can not only say no to sin but we also can do works that please God. Yes, we can still give in to sinful temptation (the sinful nature is still alive and well!), but now that’s our choice to make; we are no longer compelled, by nature, to sin. We are no longer enslaved to sin.

This redemptive act of God on our behalf—releasing us from slavery to sin to become slaves of righteousness—thus defines the new normal for those who have been redeemed. Doing what is right and what is pleasing to God, overcoming sinful desires, and, in general, living a godly life are what is expected of us; this is normal Christian living. As we consider the failures within us and within our Christian communities, it might not be average Christian behavior, but it’s normal Christian living. We ought not to confuse what seems to be the average with what is expected, what is normal. This is what Paul tries to explain to the Romans when he tells them that they have now become douloi of Christ, slaves of righteousness. It’s to be expected that a slave does the will of his master. That was the case with sin before redemption and it’s still the case after redemption. We are expected to be obedient to our new master. As pointed out earlier, redemption has resulted in new ownership. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). Glorifying God in our body is not merely good advice; God demands it of us.

We need to keep in mind that this change of masters, from sin to righteousness, results in a very happy state of affairs for those redeemed by Christ. In fairness, the idea of being enslaved to anything or anyone does not normally elicit positive emotions, especially in those influenced by Western cultural values of individuality and independence. At this point Paul’s metaphor of slavery can be misunderstood. It’s possible he could have used a better metaphor to describe the resulting state of those who have been redeemed, but it worked well for his day and time. Paul must have been conscious of this, for his emphasis is as much, maybe more, on the freedom that the believer now has and the benefits it brings. Freedom in bondage? It sounds strange, even contradictory. “But now that you have been set free from sin and becomes slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (6:22). Living now in the Spirit (7:6), producing the wonderful fruit of sanctification, possessing eternal life—what can be more fulfilling and joyful than this? As observed earlier, we finally get to do what we’ve been created to do, which is to love God and obey him. This is ultimate fulfillment and happiness. Or, I should say, it’s the penultimate state of fulfillment and happiness; the climax of redemption is yet to come.

Redemption Future

We don’t have a clear vision of anything that lies ahead for us. Part of the reason for this is that not much is revealed, at least not in any detail. Paul had about as clear an insight into the eschaton as any of the New Testament authors did, but he cheated. God allowed him to see “Paradise” (2 Cor. 12:1-4), but he wasn’t allowed to tell anyone what he saw, which isn’t very helpful for the rest of us. Something of the glory of that final day, however, is expressed in Romans 8:18-25, in which we read things hard to believe. In this passage we discover the future dimension of our redemption.

Redemption is far more than being purchased by Christ and released from the tyrannical rule of sin over our lives. If it were only this, of course it would be more than enough. But redemption is holistic in that it includes everything that pertains to humankind. Believers anticipate the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23), a reference to the resurrection. This is a good reminder to those who have unintentionally given pride of place to the soul of a person in salvation, leaving the body as an afterthought. God created Adam and Eve with body and soul. While, as a result of the Fall, it has become apparent that the soul can exist apart from the body, this separation was never the ideal and is only temporary. Yes, it is fine to emphasize that a sinner is saved upon believing in Christ, and that upon death the believer goes to be with Jesus in heaven, but our salvation is not complete until the entire person—body as well as soul—is saved. That will finally take place at the resurrection. We have been redeemed; we are redeemed; we shall yet be redeemed. Redemption will not be complete until the entire person—body as well as soul—has been redeemed. But the idea of redemption being holistic extends even further, to include creation itself.

In this same passage, Rom. 8:18-25, Paul very matter-of-factly informs the Romans that the entire cosmos is scheduled for divine redemption. He tells them and us that creation is suffering from its bondage to the Fall, but will be released from it at the moment that God will raise us from the dead. At that time we will revealed to the world for the first time as the people we really are—the sons of God (Rom. 8:19-23). Every time I read this I am amazed at not just what Paul reveals about the future of the cosmos, but the “For we know that” that prefaces it in v. 22. This is supposed to be something that is common knowledge? How would the Romans have known this? How would we know it? The word “incredible” comes to mind. We generally don’t think on this large a scale. It seems from this statement that the entire universe, or at least the part where we live, was in the past “subjected to futility” (8:20), which Paul then restates as in “bondage to decay” (8:21). Indeed, we know from the account of the Fall in Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve’s sin had a profound, direct, negative effect on their environment. Is this what Paul is talking about? “Creation” seems more expansive than this, but it’s at least the soil that Adam was to work. Whatever the extent of creation, creation seems to be very much aware of us; it knows our identities. It’s now suffering along with us, and we are told that the suffering creation is presently enduring will cease when our bodies are raised from the dead. When we are completely made whole—redeemed in body and soul—that’s the time when creation will be completely restored.

Paul’s theology in Rom. 8:18-25 is informed by the Genesis creation account. The planet Earth and humans are inextricably linked; our fortunes are intertwined. This shouldn’t be surprising to us. God created us to rule over his creation. This is stated initially (Gen. 1:26) and then immediately repeated: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Thus, from a creation perspective, the fact that human beings live on this planet is no mere coincidence, a result of blind time and chance. Creation was made for us; we were made for creation. Our fates are forever intertwined. Apparently, something happened to creation as a result of our sin that led Paul to describe the present cosmos in terms of bondage to decay and subjection to futility. That’s the bad news. The good news is that likewise, when our bodies are freed from their bondage to decay, the creation will be set free from its bondage. Paul personifies creation, likening it to a mother-to-be suffering the pains of childbirth. She can’t wait for the baby to come! Creation has been waiting a long time for us finally to be revealed as the people that creation knows us to be—the sons of God.

This synergistic dynamic between the cosmos and humankind is also a reminder to us to talk about our future hope more biblically, and thus more accurately. As a child growing up in a fundamentalist church, any time “heaven” was mentioned, which was a lot, it was always portrayed as the ultimate hope of the Christian. “Going to be with Jesus” when we die was the start of an unending existence in heaven. Various visions of how we would spend eternity were imagined, all having to do with being with Jesus and our loved ones already with him, in a place somewhere far removed from the earth. As stated before, our entering heaven to be with Jesus when we die, though true (cf. Phil. 1:21-23), is not our final destination; our salvation is not yet complete. Being with Jesus and our loved ones in heaven is a temporary state of affairs necessitated by the entrance of sin into the human race. We were never meant to be separated from our bodies. Salvation will be complete when our bodies are raised. At that point, although this isn’t explicitly stated in Romans 8:18-25, humans will fulfill their initial contract to rule over creation. Heaven is many things in the Bible; ultimately it is redeemed humans living on, and ruling over, a redeemed earth. This is part of the reason why our bodies, not just our souls, need to be redeemed and set free from sin. Disembodied spirits are hardly suited for the physical work required to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26).

As a side note, this is why the theme of redemption, while vast in its scope throughout the text of Scripture, should not be considered as the single, all-encompassing, over-arching motif of the Bible. To be sure, the theme extends from Genesis to Revelation, but not all of Genesis and not all of Revelation. The theme of redemption does not surface until after the record of the Fall in Genesis 3, while the last two chapters of the Apocalypse follow the climactic, end-time judgment of everyone who has ever lived (the “Great White Throne Judgment”). What precedes the Fall in Genesis and what concludes John’s Revelation has to do with God’s kingdom, a kingdom on earth governed by his redeemed people. To rule God’s creation is what we’ve been created to do; this is the ultimate “heaven.” This is our hope, according to Paul. “For in this hope we were saved” (Rom. 8:24) and “we wait for it with patience” (8:25).

Conclusion

That no scientifically verifiable evidence exists for this future reality is Paul’s point: “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees?” (Rom. 8:24). OK, so we get it; this is something that’s not supposed to be easy. But for most of us most of the time, this hope Paul talks about seems far, far away and nothing real.

Why is it so difficult for us to envision this glorious future? Part of our problem is that we work from a baseline that is itself a product of the Fall. As a result, we have little way of knowing how far we have fallen; fallenness is all we’ve ever known. If you want someone’s opinion on what it means to be free, you don’t ask someone who’s been in prison all their life. Try as we might to orient our thinking to the hope that Paul describes, we are products of the Fall and bound in our thinking by a worldview shaped by it. Like any worldview, we take it for granted. For example, everybody knows that a nation has to protect itself from hostile nations. The question is how large the defense budget should be. We know we will all die; the hope is to die with dignity. That we can put “death” and “dignity” in the same sentence and not see the absurdity of that reveals what we have become used to in our fallenness. That in the aftermath of the Ferguson riots a year ago President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder had to explain to us white folks why black parents feel the need to have “the talk” with their sons has been a painful reminder that racial inequities continue to be a fact of life in America. Yes, there has been progress, but everybody knows that this is a problem that will never go away.

Sometimes I feel full of hope; other times I struggle to grasp the hope that Paul talks about in Rom. 8:18-25. The sermon is on Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55); it’s the Sunday before Christmas. The theme of the Advent season has been “The Hope of Restoration.” It made me look at this text in a slightly different way than I have in the past. Every time I have read this passage, I have wondered how Mary, who hadn’t made the study of the Tanach a long, lifetime endeavor (wasn’t she a mere teen?), was able to recite from memory various Old Testament prophetic texts. It’s not just the fact that she knew the texts; she knew the metanarrative of Yahweh’s redemptive purposes for Israel that gave meaning to these texts. It’s as if she was expecting these promises to be fulfilled. That’s the thought that strikes me now—she really did believe in the hope of redemption. I then thought of how unlikely that was, given the state of Judea at that time.

Many times throughout Israel’s history the hope of Yahweh fulfilling his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been lost by all but a few (e.g., Simeon and Anna, Luke 2:22-38). Mary’s day was such a time. Jews of the Second Temple era still thought of themselves in exile, even though they had returned physically centuries previously to the Land. Yes, the nation had somehow managed to survive the Syrian wars of the Maccabean era, but how was being under the dominion of Rome anything but continued imprisonment and exile? Herod’s extravagant, newly rebuilt Temple complex in Jerusalem was a thing to behold, but any Torah-minded Jew saw it for it was—an attempt of a ruthless, ego-maniac to make himself look good and appease his Jewish subjects. With people like the Sadducees in charge, and to a lesser extent the Pharisees, rapprochement with hostile Rome was viewed as the lesser of two evils, the greater evil being the legitimate fear, expressed by the Sanhedrin, that “the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48). Things were so bleak, so dark and so without hope in Mary’s time that I am amazed at how the announcement of Gabriel by itself was able to ignite so powerfully the hope that is expressed in the Magnificat. It must have been already been hot, waiting for the spark. Obviously, God knew what he was doing in choosing this young woman to bear the hope of the world. I am ashamed to say that I would not have qualified. How many of us today would?

The opening lines of Psalm 126 so well express the joy that the redeemed feel today:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,

we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,

and our tongue with shouts of joy;

Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done

great things for them”;

The Lord has done great things for his people;

we are glad!

It’s not possible to overstate the great things that God has done for us through his Son, and the joy that we have as his redeemed people. Our sins have been forever forgiven; we are new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17)! As amazing and wonderful as this is, it is just the beginning; the climax of redemption has yet to be reached. That’s the truth that faith must grasp and hold onto when our present, fallen world tempts us to despair and lose hope. Yes, it’s hard, but that’s the way of redemption. “But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Rom. 8:25, NASB). It will be worth the wait!

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, biblical quotes are from the ESV.

 

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Should We Expect Cultural Redemption?

Introduction

Many evangelicals are angry and frustrated about cultural and societal changes. Anger and frustration are frequently the result of unmet expectations. Could it be that the anger and frustration felt about our American society are based on unmet expectations about our culture?

Evangelicals are angry about America’s slippage into immorality. We expect better. However, should we expect cultural behavior that is fully in line with our Christian ethics?

Evangelicals expect better behavior because we have been working off of a model that predicts the realization of cultural redemption. Our culture, according to this way of thinking, used to be more redeemed than it is now. Also, if the proper conditions are met, it is possible for our culture to become more redeemed in a Christian sense.

This paper will try to position the expectations of cultural redemption in an historical and theological context. This paper will argue for a model of Christianity and culture that strives for Gospel representation without the expectation of complete cultural redemption.

“Christ Redeeming Culture”

There are many ways of thinking about redeemed culture. For the purpose of this paper, however, I would like to propose a specific model.

Richard Niebuhr’s classic 1951 book, Christ and Culture describes five historical models for understanding how the church has traditionally understood, and worked out, the tension between Christianity and culture.1The following discussion doesn’t fully represent Niebuhr’s nuanced details, but offers simplified models are offered as a possible diagnosis of evangelicalism’s anger and frustration regarding the American culture.

John Stackhouse suggests that evangelicals have inhabited all of Niebuhr’s models over time.2 Nieburh’s first type is Christ against culture. The classic example of this model would be the Amish horse and buggy. The GARBC’s penchant for separation, however, could be an example of this view as well.

Stackhouse suggests that Niebuhr’s Christ of culture paradigm has been seen in evangelicals “whenever we have closely associated God and country and assumed that our nations are Christian, or ‘almost,’ so that with enthusiasm and effort we can realize that ideal.” 3

The Christ above culture model, according to Stackhouse, might be seen in apologists who link certain non-Christian thinkers like Plato or Aristotle to an intellectual understanding of God’s truth.

The last two categories: Christ and culture in paradox (hereafter “paradox”), and finally, Christ redeeming culture (hereafter “redemption”) are the subject of the following paper. These two categories currently represent two differing visions of how the church relates to the culture at large.

The following discussion doesn’t fully represent Niebuhr’s nuanced details, but offers simplified models are offered as a possible diagnosis of evangelicalism’s anger and frustration regarding the American culture.

Since Niebuhr doesn’t give a detailed critique of the redemption idea, many see this is his preferred model. The redemption model has become the standard understanding among evangelicals regarding their belief about how God will, and should, work through culture.

A heavy leaning on the belief that we should be looking for a redeemed culture has led to the intense frustration and anger among evangelicals who expect either the residue or anticipation of redeemed culture. A culture that is drifting away from traditional Christian morality betrays the fact that our culture is either losing or avoiding redemption.

Examples of evangelical hope for redemption can be seen in movements that are working towards reclaiming or creating a Christian influence on America.

Reclaiming Christian America

Second Chronicles 7:14 (If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land) is sometimes applied to America. If America will repent of her wicked ways, it is claimed, God will heal this land. In other words, it could be redeemed.

Groups like Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition of America worked hard to bring America back to its Christian roots. Of course, a lot of debate has taken place about defining America as a Christian nation.

Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson recently stated that a Muslim should not be elected as president of the United States. The sentiment behind Carson’s belief is not the focus of this paper, but it does show that many people believe that despite the first amendment’s clear statement against a religious test about serving in government, a tacit litmus test is in play. Carson’s statement, in fact, reveals the incredibly complicated nature of religious liberty. The principle that would allow a radical Muslim to serve as president would actually deny his religious obligations if his faith tried to establish itself as the one true religion.

The reclaiming movement can be seen in songs like Rend Collective’s song “Build Your Kingdom Here.”

Build Your kingdom here

Let the darkness fear

Show Your mighty hand

Heal our streets and land

Set Your church on fire

Win this nation back

Change the atmosphere

Build Your kingdom here

We pray

 

Although Rend Collective is from Ireland, many American Christians surely sing these lines with gusto, hoping that our land will be brought back to more Christian foundations. This song claims that cultural redemption is possible and within our reach with God’s help.

Creating Christian Culture

Another way of working for the idea of cultural redemption is to take the “post” out of “post-Christian”. The idea of a post-Christian culture assumes that there was a time when our culture was Christian, or at least more Christian than it is right now.

This idea of a previously recognizable Christian influence definitely makes sense. Christianity has less influence in the public square today than it did a generation earlier. The idea, then, of redeeming culture can be a strategic move to reintroduce a Christian influence into a culture that has forgotten about its religious pedigree.

A few specific authors have been very instrumental in bringing the hope of a redeemed culture into popular Christian thought.

Francis Schaeffer famously diagnosed misguided modern thinking. According to Schaeffer, a fundamental split between reason and faith accounts for schizophrenic thinking in the modern world. Modern man has bifurcated the united ideas of classical, holistic Christian thinking by forming a wall between the heart and the mind. The following quote is one of Schaeffer’s clearest statements of his foundational argument:

One must understand that from the advent of Kierkegaardism onward there has been a widespread concept of the dichotomy between reason and non-reason, with no interchange between them. The lower story area of reason is totally isolated from the optimistic area of non-reason. The line which divides reason from non-reason is as impassable as a concrete wall thousands of feet thick, reinforced with barbed wire charged with 10,000 volts of electricity.”4

According to Schaeffer the dichotomy between faith and reason has erroneously created a way of looking at the world as either secular or sacred. Nancy Pearcey picks up Schaeffer’s paradigm a generation later in her popular work Total Truth.5 Chuck Colson joins Pearcey in How Now Shall We Live? to advocate for a way that virtually eliminates the secular in order to see everything as a sacred gift from God.6 Thinking in terms of “secular,” it is claimed,  denies God’s absolute lordship over all creation.

Colson and Pearcey map out a strategy that would minimize the “secular” in hope of maximizing the “sacred.” Public Christian voices, it is reckoned, will restore a definitively Christian influence into the culture at large. This Christian influence will bring about a more redeemed culture.

It is important to note that the definition of “secular” that Schaeffer, Pearcey, and Colson reject describes a realm where God’s rule is absent. Since there is no place where God does not reign, there really is no such thing as “secular”. Since many have adopted this definition, it’s no wonder “secular” is a taboo word among evangelicals today.

The term “sacred,” on the other hand, is used to recognize God’s rule. Everything, everyone, and every place, then, is sacred. Pearcey states:

We have to reject the division of life into a sacred realm, limited to things like worship and personal morality, over against a secular realm that includes science, politics, economics, and the rest of the public arena. This dichotomy in our own minds is the greatest barrier to liberating the power of the gospel across the whole of culture today.7

One can see, then, that Pearcey’s thoroughgoing adoption of Schaeffer’s two story model has no room for a secular category. This proscribed nature of the term “secular” is deeply entrenched in modern evangelical thinking.

The visions of Schaeffer, Colson, and Pearcey, then, would result in a culture that is less secular and more sacred. Christian witness serves to change society into a place that is friendly to, and supportive of, Christian values, especially Christian morality. After all, if everything is sacred, why shouldn’t it look sacred?

Cultural redemption, according to Colson and Pearcey, is the result of redeemed thinking.

If our culture is to be transformed, it will happen from the bottom up-from ordinary believers practicing apologetics over the backyard fence or around the barbecue grill. To be sure, it’s important for Christian scholars to conduct research and hold academic symposia, but the real leverage for cultural change comes from transforming the habits and dispositions of ordinary people.8

If this vision of redeemed culture is the correct one, there is no question why recent cultural shifts in America are causing such angst among evangelicals. America, according to the redemption camp, is becoming less redeemed in terms of orthodox Christian standards. In other words, the redeemed strategy is not working like we expected. Unmet expectations lead to anger and frustration.

Why isn’t our culture getting redeemed according to the strategy of Schaeffer, Colson, and Pearcey? A recent book by James Davison Hunter suggests that the cultural redemption model suffers from a misguided understanding of how culture is actually changed.

Hunter investigates the belief that changed minds change culture. He finds that this is actually not the case. Cultural shifts aren’t the result of believing something. Hunter summarizes this view, “As the logic goes: if people’s hearts and minds are converted, they will have the right values, they will make the right choices, and the culture will change in turn.”9

According to Hunter, however, the view that redeemed thinking will lead to a redeemed culture, “is almost wholly mistaken.”10 Hunter sees institutions and institutional elites as the agents who actually usher in cultural changes.

The redemption model, then, proposes a world that is potentially redeemable. Christians need to work hard with God to usher in redemptive work that will result in a more Christian culture.

“Christ and Culture in Paradox”

Along with Niebuhr’s four categories of the Christian relationship to culture (Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, and Christ redeeming culture), another way is offered: Christ and culture in Paradox.

Niebuhr’s classic example of this paradox is Martin Luther’s two kingdom theology. Luther’s clearest exposition of his view is found in his 1523 treatise On Secular Authority—To What Extent We Owe It Obedience.

As mentioned earlier, the term “secular” is rejected by Pearcey and Colson because it implies a sector which is not ruled over by God. Since there is no place not governed by God, “secular” is a non-existent construct. Luther, however, defines secular differently. The secular government, over against the sacred church, is not established by the consent of the people; it is founded by the ordinance of God.

Although Luther’s context was couched in a long-standing Christendom, his distinction between God’s twin rule over sacred and secular paved the way for later societies that would recognize religious liberty. Luther’s proposed dichotomy need not necessitate a gnostic duality. While Augustine’s two cities implied a kingdom of Satan existing alongside the kingdom of God, Luther’s two kingdoms are both ruled by God.

In the redeemed kingdom, God rules directly through the gospel; in the common kingdom, he rules in a hidden way through natural reason. In the common kingdom God is disguised and not recognized by the kings or subjects. In the church, God is revealed through the Jesus Christ.

A paradox view of Christianity and culture would hold to a view of a Christian’s citizenship in two kingdoms at the same time. A Christian is a citizen of the redeemed kingdom which needs no authority other than guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Christian, however, is also a member of the common kingdom, which God has established primarily to govern those who are not redeemed.

According to David VanDrunen, the Bible “requires a high view of creation and of cultural activity, but it also requires a distinction between the holy things of Christ’s heavenly kingdom and the common things of the present world.”11

VanDrunen points to Genesis for the foundation for the common kingdom. In God’s “covenant with Noah God entered covenantal relationship with the entire human race (and with the entire creation), promising to preserve its cultural activities such as procreating and securing justice.”12 Abraham’s covenant, on the other hand, establishes the foundation for the redeemed kingdom.

This idea of the two kingdoms is stated clearly here:

Christians live under two kingdoms, governed respectively by the Noahic covenant and the Abrahamic covenant. Civil governments, families, economic associations, and many other cultural institutions continue to exist under the covenant with Noah, and Christians and non-Christians alike participate in them and, in many respects, cooperate in their activities. At Christ’s return these institutions and activities will come to a sudden and       radical end. Yet Christians belong especially to the church, the New Testament manifestation of the special covenant community created in Abraham. Through the church they are citizens of heaven even now.13

Theologians who are persuaded by the paradox view doubt the historicity of the redemption views of Colson, Pearcey, and Schaeffer which claim that the church has not traditionally used a holistic view of seeing everything as sacred and nothing as secular.

The important point here is that the paradox model presents different cultural expectation than that of the redemption model. Whereas the redemption position expects to see a more Christian culture, the paradox view has no such expectation. While the paradox view can hold out hope that the church will be a witness to redemption, it doesn’t expect that the common kingdom will look completely redeemed in a Christian sense.

Baptist Witness

It might seem strange for a Baptist to consider the paradox model since most of today’s Baptists would probably see it as too Lutheran.

A Baptist consideration of the paradox view, however, is fully in line with early Baptist thought. In fact, an examination of three different Baptist traditions show that the paradox view is deeply seated in the DNA of Baptist thought.14

The twin distinctives of religious liberty and soul competency are the clearest examples of a Baptist alignment of the paradox model.

Religious liberty, according to James E. Wood, is grounded in Christian anthropology. God creates us free; therefore, we should live as free creatures. Wood defines religious freedom as “the inherent right of a person in public or in private to worship or not worship according to his own understanding or preferences, to give public witness to one’s faith (including the right of propagation), and to change one’s religion—all without threat of reprisal or abridgment of one’s right as a citizen.”15

The soul competency doctrine states that every person has a right to direct access to God. According to R. Stanton Norman, “an individual must be afforded a free, uncoerced opportunity to interact with God in order to realize one’s ‘religious destiny.”16

The principles of religious liberty and soul competency would suggest the existence of a world where the redeemed church bears incarnation witness of Jesus Christ within a culture that might never be redeemed.

Anabaptist Influences

Walter Klaassen shows that

Basic to the Anabaptist view of government was their version of the two kingdom doctrine. In its basic ingredients it was virtually identical with Martin Luther’s. Government was given because of man’s sin; it belonged to law, while the church, which was given out of sheer grace, belonged to the gospel.”17

Two of the earliest Anabaptist thinkers believed God worked through two different avenues. On the one hand, God established the government which bears the sword. On the other hand, God works directly through his church. The Anabaptists did not expect that they would redeem this world at all. In fact, they had a very pessimistic view of the fallenness of the world around them.

Michael Sattler’s Schleitheim Confession (1527)

Michael Sattler (ca. 1490–1527) was an Anabaptist pioneer who had previously served as a prior of a Benedictine monastery. Sattler was only an Anabaptist for a short time, but his contribution to the first Anabaptist confession of faith, The Schleitheim Confession (1527), cemented his legacy as one of the most important thinkers of the Radical Reformation.

The Schleitheim Confession calls for believers to separate from the world. The demarcation between good and evil seems to illustrate a view of Christ against culture. However, one statement very clearly delineates two realms of God’s authority. The sword, according to the confession, “is ordained of God outside the perfection of Christ.” God has chosen civil authorities to function now in the same way theocratic forces worked under the Old Testament law.

There is a considerable tension between the two ways God chooses to work in the world. On the one hand, God has established the church as his visible body on Earth. On the other hand, he uses the secular realm to enforce his rule.

Pilgram Marpeck

Pilgram Marpeck (d1556) was a civil engineer by trade and a very gifted lay theologian in his free time. He worked and worshipped in Strassburg and Augsburg.

Pilgram Marpeck is not well known outside of in-depth Anabaptist studies. Marpeck was a German Anabaptist who was also a well-respected member of society, a rare thing in deed. His engineering skills were so valuable to the city fathers that they tolerated his unorthodox Anabaptist beliefs. It is ironic that Marpeck’s persecution came at the hands of local Lutherans. The Anabaptists agreed with the early Lutherans on the basic tenants of the two kingdoms, but differed greatly on the thought that allowed the state to use the sword against heretics.

Marpeck wrote a theological treatise in 1531 called Exposé of the Babylonian Whore.18 Marpeck sounds apocalyptic in his analysis of sixteenth century Europe. According to Marpeck, the entire world is “now full of error and seduction, and all generations on earth are drunk with the wine of fornication, Rev. 18[:3].” He definitely has no hope for cultural redemption.

Despite the darkness of this world, God has not failed to leave a witness. Markpeck knows “of no other Authority specifically appointed by God than the Emperor; all emperors hold the imperium even today and will hold it until the appointed time of which Daniel speaks (Daniel 11 [:36]), when the wrath of God shall come over the whole world (Isa. 24 [:17–21]). For all flesh needs his authority and rule.”

In his Explanation of Testaments Marpeck states:

They should be allowed to remain in their proper service of God to fulfill it according to God’s will through the fear of God … . Saint Paul distinguishes this wisdom of the worldly magistrates from the wisdom of Christ when he says: ‘It is not the wisdom of the rulers of this world.’ I Cor. 2. It is thus clear that the worldly rulers have a special wisdom for their service. (Anabaptists in Outline, p. 262)

According to Marpeck, then, this world is hopelessly lost and unredeemable. God, however, has still authorized the king to guide and protect. These Anabaptists were nearly unanimous in their denial that Christians could use the sword.

Early Baptists

A branch of seventeenth century English Separatists would later be known as Baptists. This group wanted to be left alone spiritually, but were more willing than the Anabaptists to participate in social life.

British Separatists

Thomas Helwys’ book, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1611/1612) is widely regarded as the first extended literary argument for religious liberty in the English language. Helwys helped John Smyth start a church in Holland that was grounded in a membership of baptized believers. Smyth and Helwys were a bit of an odd couple. According to Leon McBeth, “If Smyth was the more dynamic and creative, Helwys made his contribution in clarity of thought and stability of action.19

After establishing the first Baptist church in Holland, Smyth and Helwys parted ways. (“Parting ways” would become a great Baptist tradition.) Upon returning to England, Helwys established the first Baptist church in England.20 After tasting religious liberty in Holland, Helwys was even more offended with the throne’s illegitimate rule over the pulpit. He was compelled to voice his concerns directly to King James I.

It is cruelly ironic that Helwy’s work on the necessity of religious liberty caused his prolonged incarceration. His Declaration is a brilliantly reasoned theological treatise that expounds biblical concepts, arguing for a model of Christian interaction that is in essential harmony with Luther’s two kingdom theology. Helwys draws a clear distinction between the two kingdoms when he shows that the king “cannot be both a king and a subject in one and the same kingdom.” 21

According to Helwys, it is beyond doubt that God has established the role of the earthly king. First Peter 2:14 clearly states that the king’s power was given by God “to punish evildoers and to reward them that do well.” God’s intent is that this power advances good deeds and does not advance the “mystery of iniquity.” 22

Helwys wants to draw a very clear distinction between the two kingdoms. He implores King James to not let deceivers fool him into thinking he has any authority over the kingdom of Christ’s church. If the king attempts to rule over the church, “he shall sin against God in entering upon the kingdom of Christ who is the only King of Israel.” 23

Although Helwys does not use the exact language of religious liberty and soul competency, he describes each idea. He touches on the issue of soul competency when he asserts that the common kingdom is governed by the king’s sword. Trouble makers should be compelled to stop making trouble. God, however, works differently. The king reacts to outward acts of rebellion; God works with the inward attitudes of the heart. “It is spiritual obedience that the Lord requires, and the king’s sword cannot smite the spirits of men.” 24

Probably the best known affirmation in this document is the following statement offered in the original English, “Let them be heretikes, Turks, Jewes, or whatsoever, it apperteynes not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.”25 This sentiment reveals an uneasy willingness to live in a world with two diverse kingdoms, one that lives by Christ’s rule and another that allows a plurality of religious commitments. While Helwys holds out for a progressively pure church, he also votes for a common kingdom that would protect those with different (or no) beliefs as well.

For these early Baptists, separation from the established church did not necessitate a desertion from society.

Roger Williams

In The Bloudy Tennent of Persecution (1644), Roger Williams states that “true civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or kingdom.”26

A Plea for Religious Liberty is an excerpt from The Bloudy Tennant. Williams, like Luther, Marpeck, and Helwys before him declares that the government is ordained by God, not to steer the hearts of men, but to protect their property. Williams explains that “a civil government is an ordinance of God, to conserve the civil peace of people, so far as concerns their bodies and goods, as formerly hath been said.”27

Within this document, one can clearly identify Williams’ heavy reliance on Luther’s two kingdom thought. “it is the will and command of God that (since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus) a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or antichristian consciences and worships, be granted to all men in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only (in soul matters) able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God’s Spirit, the Word of God.28

Williams and Helwys both make room for two coexisting societies, and a Christian is a citizen of both. They belong to the community of Christians while also living peaceably with people of other religious persuasions or those with no religious persuasion at all. Williams did not expect to live in a world that would necessarily share his religious beliefs.

Application

A common theme among all of these examples is the delineation of a common kingdom which is not, and might never be, redeemed. In the examples of the Anabaptists and Helwys, this other kingdom is ordained by God, but rotten to its core. These thinkers would surely reject a project that sought to restore and reclaim this kingdom. According to Marpeck, this world “overflows with evil that one lay hidden in the mystery of wickedness.” 29

These examples of Baptist applications of a paradox model allow us to conclude that the notions of religious liberty and soul competency call for a church that functions within a culture that is open to other faiths or no faith at all. For the Anabaptists and General Baptists of the early seventeenth century, there definitely was a secular realm, even within their Christendom. For Helwys and Williams, there was room for pluralism. Williams was a champion of tolerant. It might be troubling for many evangelicals to consider that pluralism, secularism, and toleration might not be dirty words for Baptists.

Conclusion

So should we expect cultural redemption?

Yes and no.

Christians can expect partial cultural redemption. Since we are redeemed members of our culture, we can expect the gospel to transform us into better citizens. As the people of God, we are bearing a Christ-like incarnate presence within our sphere of influence. We can expect the Holy Spirit to work through us as we fit in as salt and stand out as light in our culture.

On the other hand, Christians need to temper their expectations of complete cultural redemption. Yes, God’s reign is absolute in the whole world. Second Cor. 4:4 claims that there is an enemy “god” of this age, but as Luther reminds us, “the Devil is God’s Devil.”

Hopefully, evangelicals will handle the phrase “redeeming culture” with care. If we expect that this world should be the kingdom of God, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. By reintroducing a nuanced understanding of “secular” we should be able to allow institutions in the common kingdom to seek noble ends that do not always reflect absolute Christian ethics and morality. For example, we don’t expect a bank to tithe a portion of our deposits to local churches. We should also expect robust educational standards in our public schools that don’t attempt to transform everyone, including non-believers, into the image of Christ.

As God’s church we must enjoy, explain, and expect redemption. At the same time, however, we must understand that redemption is extended to his elect and his church. Redemption on a global scale will not be realized until his return. Let’s not get sidetracked with a task that is reserved for God’s final age.

 

  1. Richard Niebuhr, H.. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper, 1951. For current discussions about Niebuhr see Carson, D. A. Christ and Culture Revisited. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2008.
  2. John Stackhouse, ”In the World, but …,” Christianity Today April 22, 2002, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/april22/8.80.html
  3. Stackhouse
  4. Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1976), 174.
  5. Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2004.
  6. Charles W. Colson and Nancy Pearcey. How Now Shall We Live? Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999.
  7. Pearcey, (Kindle Locations 544–547).
  8. Colson and Pearcey. (Kindle Locations 530–532).
  9. James Davison Hunter (2010–03–31). To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Kindle Locations 217–218). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  10. Hunter, (Kindle Location 375).
  11. VanDrunen, David (2010–10–06). Living in Gods Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture (p. 26). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
  12. VanDrunen, (p. 29).
  13. VanDrunen, (p. 30).
  14. Evidence for the paradox view is provided by both Anabaptists and Baptists from the English Separatist tradition. It is acknowledged that the debate over Baptist origins attempts to find the ultimate hereditary ancestors of Baptists with either Anabaptist or the branch of English Separatists led by John Smyth and Thomas Helwys. This paper’s argument does not attempt to chime in on that debate, but acknowledges that both Anabaptist and English Separatists have surely influenced Baptist thought.
  15. James E. Wood, Jr., “A Biblical View of Religious Liberty,” The Ecumenical Review 30 (January 1978): 33.
  16. Stanton Norman, The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005., 160.
  17. Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline: Selected Primary Sources (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press), 244.
  18. Accessed at http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/250 in September, 2015.
  19. Leon H. McBeth, (1987–01–29). The Baptist Heritage (p. 34). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  20. McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (p. 38).
  21. Thomas Helwys and Richard Groves. A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1611/1612). Macon, Ga.: Mercer, 1998., 39.
  22. Helwys, 33.
  23. Helwys, 36.
  24. Helwys, 37.
  25. Leon H. McBeth, (1990–01–01). A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (p. 72). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  26. McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (p. 84). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  27. Roger Williams (2012–12–17). A Plea for Religious Liberty (Kindle Locations 113–114). . Kindle Edition.
  28. Williams, (Kindle Locations 15–17).
  29. Marpeck, 1.
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Transformed Living: Faith and Hope in Christ’s Redemption

There is a movement rising to put an end to modern slavery.  From entertainment, journalism, politics, religion, and business – leaders and activists are joining together to completely eliminate the scourge of global slavery.  It is admittedly an ambitious goal but one that is realistically possible and morally necessary.

It is hard for us, in our time, to imagine a world in which slavery not only existed but thrived as an ever-present part of society.  Yet that was the world of the New Testament.  Slavery, while considered tragic, was an assumed part of life.  Freedom was not considered an inherent right but a privilege that could be lost.  Due to one’s family of origin, a financial debt incurred, loss in war, or victimization through kidnapping – one could find themselves trapped in slavery.[1]  Such was the fate for millions throughout the Roman Empire.[2]

While slavery was considered a tragic possibility, redemption was a glimmer of hope that life could be wondrously restored.  It meant that with the payment of a great sum one could be released back to freedom again.  If another could only be found with both the tremendous resources and the necessary compassion, such a person could pay the ransom to release the one in bondage.[3]

To those familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, the concept of redemption was already deeply embedded both as theological reality and a restorative element within society.  The Exodus from Egypt was the paradigmatic model of redemption, in which God delivered His enslaved people from the land of captivity (Deuteronomy 9:26).[4]  But also socially, when a person might sell themselves or their family property because of economic tragedy, a relative with the means could act in compassion to buy back on their behalf that which had been lost (Leviticus, 25:25-26, 47-49).[5]

Building on that theological foundation, the New Testament took the millions living in slavery, and used this reality to frame one of the most important pictures of salvation through Christ.  The three parts to the picture of redemption are people living helplessly in bondage, an insurmountable ransom price, and a compassionate Redeemer – that together paint a vividly rich and easily grasped picture of God’s grace to those who believe.

Asking the Practical Question

As I write these things my approach is not merely academic or exegetical, looking to define what Christ has done.  I also write as a pastor, who as a matter of vocation must constantly ask the question: “What difference does this make?”  To ordinary believers struggling to live holy lives in the midst of a culture encouraging them to do anything but – “What practical encouragement is found in redemption?” 

What I want to suggest is that New Testament redemption, properly understood, is the positive fuel for the hard work of transformed living which should be the hallmark of all who are in Christ Jesus.  It is the redemption of Christ, both looking back at the cross, and looking forward to the clouds, that should propel a people of faith enthusiastically toward a life of good works.

New Testament Redemption

The rich language of New Testament redemption is built primarily around two word groups, namely ἀγοράζω, and its derivatives and λυτρόω and its cognate forms.[6]  While there are other scriptural references to spiritual slavery and freedom, these two word groups give us the basic New Testament vocabulary for understanding redemption.

The first, ἀγοράζω, is a verb from the root ἀγορά (“a marketplace”) with the resulting sense “to buy or to purchase.”[7]  Though used primarily in the New Testament to describe commerce, it is also used along with the heightened form εξαγοράζω, “to buy back”[8] as a spiritual metaphor for believers.

The second word group is built around λυτρόω and relates to slavery in particular with the basic meaning of “to free by paying a ransom, redeem.”[9]  The Gospels, General Epistles, and especially Pauline literature draw upon this group of words (λυτρόω, λύτρον, ἀντίλυτρον, ἀπολύτρωσις, λύτρωσις) to draw out the rich implications of what has been accomplished for us through the death of Christ.[10]

While a complete lexical analysis is beyond the scope of this article, a careful study of all the New Testament usages clearly answer the underlying questions of the redemption metaphor:

  1. Who are the redeemed, and what are they set free from?
  2. Who is the Redeemer, and by what ransom price are they set free?
  3. What are they set free to?

Who Are the Redeemed?

The Bible declares that those who are living apart from Christ, though they may think themselves liberated, are actually in hopeless bondage.  Except for God’s gracious provision for their release, they are desperately trapped in an evil domain, bound in an existence of dark futility, under the condemnation of the Law and enslaved to sin.

Galatians 3-4 is an important passage, speaking of the sinner’s bondage under the Law, Christ’s redemption, and the profound blessings that are afforded through it.

“Christ redeemed (εξαγοράζω) us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13, ESV)[11].

We were bound under the curse of the Law that was effective only to condemn us in our sins but powerless to save us from them.  In this passage, Paul repeatedly uses the language of bondage to describe our condition before faith in Christ.

“But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.  Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming of faith would be revealed.” (3:22-23).

“In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem (εξαγοράζω) those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  (4:3-5)

Elsewhere, our bondage prior to faith is described variously as slavery to sin (John 8:34), captivity in the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13), ensnarement by its ruler the devil (II Timothy 2:26), trapped in futile ways of living (I Peter 1:18) and within a body of sin and death (Romans 7:24, 8:10, 23).

While the bondage is not always described precisely the same, the message of the New Testament is clear:  Apart from faith in Christ mankind in general, and every person in particular, is enslaved.  We are spiritual captives living under the curse and dominion of sin.

Who Is the Redeemer?

Christ Jesus is uniquely qualified to pay the satisfying ransom for humanity held in slavery to sin.  The New Testament is insistent: He alone and no other is capable of delivering people from their captivity.

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom (ἀντίλυτρον) for all…”

(I Timothy 2:5-6).

In fact, according to Jesus Himself, the payment of this tremendous price is the ultimate expression of His identity as the promised Servant of God.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom (λύτρον) for many” (Mark 10:45).

This ransom paid by Christ is repeatedly praised for its broadness of application.  It is given for “all” (I Timothy 2:6).  It is for “the many” (Mark 10:44-45).  Even before the throne of heaven, the Lamb of God is worshipped for the great price that He has paid and how widely it has purchased fallen humanity.

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open is seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed (ἀγοράζω) people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom of priests to our God and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10).

The emphasis in the New Testament redemption metaphor is always on the one who has paid the price (Christ), and never on whom the price is paid to.  This part of the metaphor is silent.  What we do know is that we have been bought with a price (I Corinthians 6:20) greater than any amount of silver or gold.  That price is the unthinkable offering of the very life-blood of Christ Himself (Matthew 26:28, Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 9:14, I John 2:2, Revelation 1:5).

“knowing that you were ransomed (λυτρόω) from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot”  (I Peter 1:18-19).

What Are They Redeemed To?

The New Testament picture of redemption is not just a release from captivity, but it is a release into something in particular.  The former sin-slave, freed by the purchase of Christ, experiences a fundamental change of status and identity because of this redemption.

Through redemption, we are no longer captives in the realm of darkness, but now belong among the saints, who are the special possession of God Himself.

“Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in who we have redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:12-14).

Through redemption, we are no longer slaves without legal standing, but we have become forever family with God, with the prized status as His children.

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).

The redemption of God through Christ does not merely release us, but it releases us to a new life of rich blessing and honored identity.  We have been changed from aliens into citizens of the kingdom.  We have gone from the dispossessed to richly appointed children and heirs (Galatians 3:13-14).  We have been redeemed to faith, hope, and the richest goodness from God’s heart (I Peter 1:18, 21).

Redemption Pointing Back and Looking Forward

From a temporal perspective redemption either points back or looks forward.  There is a great past day of redemption in which Christ fully paid the price to buy us back from sin.  There is also a great future day of redemption, at the return of Christ, when we will experience the perfect consummation of our deliverance.  This also is the day of redemption.  Both the past and future days of redemption are necessary for a complete New Testament understanding.

Looking back to the cross, those who put their trust in the finished work of Christ, through His blood, are categorically and eternally transferred from the status of a guilty sinner to a perfectly justified saint.  Regardless of how insurmountable their debt, through Christ’s sacrifice the debt has been forgiven.

“In him (Jesus Christ) we have redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight” (Ephesians 1:7-8).

By placing the “forgiveness of trespasses” in apposition to “redemption”, Paul is specifically clarifying that the benefit of forgiveness has been received through the payment of the blood of Christ.[12]  It is by looking back to the cross that the believer can confidently know – past tense – that the price has been paid, the grace has been lavished, and their forgiveness has been received.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…” (Romans 3:23-25)

The New Testament also speaks of the certain, final redemption that is still a future reality for believers.  There is a coming day of redemption that we can look forward to with eager anticipation.

“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).

This is what we look forward to and long for, the appearing of Christ, at which we will be changed (I Corinthians 15:51-53).   In that instant of time the perfectly finished work of Christ’s redemption on the cross will become the perfectly realized work of redemption in our mortal bodies.  Not only will we belong to the kingdom of the beloved Son, but will forevermore reflect the glory of the beloved Son.

The believer, therefore, lives somewhere in-between past redemption received and future redemption promised.  We know that our sins have been forgiven and our spirit has been made alive.  This is the faith of redemption, to which we look back.  But we also know by experience that we are still housed in bodies of sin and death.  We groan, therefore, and look eagerly for the final change yet to come.  This is the hope of redemption, to which we look forward.

What Difference Does Redemption Make Now?

Returning to the original question of pastoral application: “What difference does redemption make now?”  We might be tempted to believe that living somewhere between redemption-past and waiting for redemption-future, that there is little practical relevance for our present.

Yet the New Testament would argue just the opposite.  It is precisely the confident assurance that we have been bought at such a tremendous price that should provide the compelling reason for living lives that honor Him now.

“For you were bought (ἀγοράζω) with a price.  So glorify God in your body”

(I Corinthians 6:20).

The Apostle Peter, likewise, encourages believers in their daily conduct to set aside sinful passions and press toward holiness, by the same internal motivation.

“…conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed (λυτρόω) from the futile ways inherited from your fore-fathers” (I Peter 1:17-18)

However, it’s not only the faith of redemption-past, but also the hope of redemption-future that motivates the believer toward transformed living.  At first glance this might seem counter-intuitive.  Why do the hard work of change in my mortal body, when perfect change will come in an instant at the return of Christ?  Yet Paul says that it is precisely God’s redemption promise and seal of that great day that should propel us toward Christ-likeness in our attitudes and words now.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις).  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:29-31).

The precious blood of Christ has bought us back from our great sin debt.  He will soon appear to usher in our final redemption, and in that moment we will see Him face to face.  Knowing both of these things should propel us with great enthusiasm toward lives of practical holiness.

And I use that word “enthusiasm” intentionally, drawing upon Paul’s language in the second chapter of the Titus.  For there he draws together all the elements of New Testament redemption: The sure knowledge of redemption-past in all of its wideness, the confident hope of redemption-future in all of its glory, and the motivation this brings us now for a new kind of living.  He describes the redeemed of Christ with the word ζηλωτής that describes one who is internally, emotively stirred toward some pursuit.  Translated “zealous”, the underlying idea is one with an internal passion or enthusiasm that drives them.[13]

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem (λυτρόω) us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous (ζηλωτής) for good works” (Titus 2:11-14).

For the people of God, working out their salvation in everyday living, their enthusiastic zeal is fired by their faith and hope in Christ’s redemption.  Make no mistake – practical transformation is hard work, but it is no white-knuckled attempt at self-reformation.  According to the Bible, our godly living is a declaration of our faith in the finished redemption of Christ on the cross.  Our godly living is a demonstration of our hope in the perfectly realized redemption of Christ to be attained.  Every day that we choose to say “yes” to a new way of godly living and “no” to the old way of godless living, we make a statement about that which we believe most deeply.

For people of God who sometimes wonder if their debt of sin could really be completely forgiven– choosing to live upright is a bold-faced declaration of faith:

I have been purchased by the blood of Christ.  In His redemption I have the forgiveness of sins, and I am no longer a slave to them.  And in this day I boldly proclaim my freedom by living upright and holy in all that I do.

For the people of God who can’t help but sometimes wonder where the long-awaited return of Christ is, and if it is true that they will finally be released from all sin and death – choosing to live upright is a demonstration of their undying hope:

My final redemption in Christ is drawing near.  By the Holy Spirit I am sealed for that day.  And in this day I demonstrate my hope in that promise by living according to what I will be and not according to what I used to be.

“Declare these things”, Paul concludes in Titus 2:15.  Declare that the salvation of God has been brought to all people through the redemption of Christ.  Declare that the appearing of this same Christ is the blessed hope of every believer.  Declare these things, that by faith and hope in them, the people of God might fire the enthusiasm that propels them toward a life of good works.

[1] Yamauchi, Edwin.  1981.  Harper’s World of the New Testament.  San Francisco: Harper & Row, 94.

[2] Arlandson, James Malolm.  1997.  Women, Class, and Society in Early Christianity: Models From Luke-Acts.  Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 66.

[3] Schneider, Joahannes.  1986.  New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 3, ed Colin Brown.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 177.

[4] Wright, Christopher J.H.  2006.  The Mission of God.  Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 275.

[5] Morris, Leon. 1993.  Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P Martin.  Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 784.

[6] Walvoord, John F.  1962.  The Person and Work of Christ Part IX: Redemption.  Bibliotheca Sacra 119:4-11.

[7] Kittel, Gerhard. 1964.  Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 1.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 125.

[8] Arndt, William F. and Gingrich, F. Wilbur.  1957.  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 271.

[9] Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 484.

[10] Walvoord, The Person and Work of Christ Part IX: Redemption.

[11] All scripture quotations, English Standard Version, 2008.  Emphasis in scriptural quotations are mine throughout.

[12] Hoehner, Harold W.  2002.  Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary.  Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 207-208.

[13] Geoffrey Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 2, 887-883.

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