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.


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).


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?


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.


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.


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,
  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 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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Relationships Made New

Dr. Rich Rollins

Adjunct Ministry Professor

Dr. Marty Trammell

Professor and English Chair


A relationship is not based on the length of time you have spent together; it’s based on the foundation you’ve built together.

To enjoy the “new creation” relationships Paul introduces in 2 Corinthians 5:17, we need a foundation foreign to the teleology of earth. The above unattributed quotation, like most popular sentiments, is easier to explain rhetorically than to live readily – it is easier to talk about the foundation than to build it. No matter how true the second part of the quotation may be, the best a post-Christian culture seems to be able to offer is the same distorted rhetorical fruit that gave us problems in the garden. The shifting sands of popular culture are not a safe foundation for our relationships – nor are incomplete interpretations of popular biblical texts.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God. . . . (Ephesians 6:10-12 ESV)

Most interpreters emphasize the content and value of the armor, each piece’s connection with the character qualities of the wearer, and the ultimate victory of the properly-equipped believer.  Although these are important and necessary insights from the text, these interpretations can increase relational difficulties when readers attribute to Satan interpersonal difficulties he doesn’t produce – when we, in a sense, think that the armor of God is all that is needed. It is important to build a relational house of healing on the right foundation.

Too often Satan gets credit for relationship problems caused by moral failings, prostitution, addiction, displays of anger, and a myriad of other human failings – all things he would like to influence but certainly are not his domain. Part of the happiness in living a life where “the old has passed away, the new has come” requires knowing the rest of what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 6.

The Bible teaches that the believer faces three foundational enemies:  the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21), the world (I John 2:15-19, James 4:4-6), and Satan (Ephesians 6:10-18, 1 Peter 5:8-11, and Matthew 4:1-11).  John, in the Book of Revelation describes a 1000 year kingdom period during which Satan is bound and powerless to act on the human race.  Yet, even without his presence, enough men will “self-corrupt” so that when he is released, he will mobilize them as an army to confront God.  The curse of sin means that we can harm ourselves without Satan’s help.

The flesh is the enemy that produces so many of our relational difficulties.  What then is Satan’s role?  It is implied in the Ephesians passage.

The passage begins with the word λοιπον which, literally translated, means ‘‘for the rest.’’ This is a strange word to use in beginning a discussion of Satanic temptation and the believers’ counter to it. It is a word that implies that the writer is finishing up a previous discussion.  Perhaps it is a combination of our familarity with the passage and the stimulating metaphor that causes us to focus our attention on the armor alone and skip over verses 10 through 12.  After all, we think Paul is merely describing who our enemy is, that the real substance is in the source of our possible victory over his attack.  This interpretation is a mistake.

Our hermenuetic requires us to back up and consider the language in verses 10 through 12 so we can better understand how this passage continues what has been discussed previously.  The greater context begins with chapter 5, verse 18 in which Paul writes:

18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. [1] (Ephesians 5:17 – 21)

Unfortunately translations such as the NIV break this passage into several sentences leaving us with the impression that Paul is commanding us to be filled, relate to one another with psalms, sing and make melody, give thanks, and submit.  Each appears as an imperitive.  The ESV reflects the proper grammar.  Verses 18 through 21 are, in the Greek, part of one sentence.  The main verb is “be filled.”  The verb is modified or described by 5 participals: adressing, singing, making melody, giving thanks, and submitting.  The structure of the sentence indicates that there are at least 5 characteristics of Spirit-filled believers:  They have a positive way of interacting with others, they ascribe continuous heart-felt worth to the Lord, they are thankful, and they submit to those around them.

This last point informs the current debate about submission in our relationships.  Submission is a product of Spirit filling.  It is a product of spiritual strength and leadership rather than a reluctant or guilt-motivated capitualation to a greater authority. It is a combination of attitude and activity.  We read in Chapter 6, verses 1 and 2 that children should “obey their parents” and “honor” their father and mother.  True submission that comes from the Spirit’s filling is continually evidenced by these two characteristics – obedience and honor.  Too much literature supports the notion that submission is only an act of the will.  Paul disagrees.  Submission is the product of the Holy Spirit producing in us the capacity to obey and honor.  The will is involved in allowing the Spirit to fill us and bear fruit.

Verses 18 through 21 establish the context for the remaining verses.  The Spirit- filled believer expresses this act of filling in his or her relationships.  Paul cites five that are normative:  the husband and wife, the child with his parents, the father with his children, the slave (worker) and the master (employer), and the master (employer) with his workers.  Each of these relationships are mediated by Spirit filling.

The armor of God will not protect relationships where individuals are not attempting to allow the Spirit to control their behaviors. It is impossible for the husband and wife to love and respect, within the framework of the “new creation,” without the filling of the Spirit.  Couples face a human history which works against being complimentary partners.  The problem is highlighted in Genesis.

The first chapters of the Pentateuch describe the spectacular creative act of God as He speaks the world and the universe into existence.  After making man, God acknowledges that it is not good for man to be alone.  God’s solution is to make Adam a counterpart, “a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:16). God then does a strange thing.  Instead of saying, “Adam, do you realize that you have no helper?” and then presenting Eve, he gives Adam the task of naming the animals.

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.   20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. (Genesis 2:19-20 NIV)

Adam’s naming of the animals was not designed simply to give him a part in God’s creative act. The concept of naming referred to in this passage goes beyond calling a bear a bear, a lion a lion, a platypus a platypus, until all of the animals are named.  We believe the concept in view here is the act of identifying each animal.  He is not only naming them, but in naming them he is identifying their unique qualities.  God’s goal was not to have Adam take credit for the first taxonomy but to bring him to the realization that the animals had counterparts – he did not.   Each set of counterparts made up a corporate entity of male and female. Adam, after naming the animals came to the conclusion that he was alone – there was no female for him.

Then God creates Eve from Adam’s own genetic material.  With the creation of Eve, Adam and Eve become husband and wife.  The text of Genesis implies that they complemented each other.  The passage shows that, in Eve, Adam found great relief from the tension created by knowing he was alone.  Although we have no idea how much time elapses between chapter two and three, we do know that the story takes a detour.

In chapter three, the serpent comes to Eve to challenge her dependence on God.  Satan tempts her to strike out on her own.  “After all,” he argues, “God knows when you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that you will become like God . . . . To know good and evil.”  Wanting to be like God was Satan’s problem.  So, he tempts Eve.  It wasn’t a lie.  In chapter 3, verse 22, God says “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil . . . .” However, it formatted one of the saddest ironies in human history: that becoming like God we became separated from Him.

After eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Eve gives some fruit to Adam and he eats.  While Eve was deceived, Adam was not (I Timothy 2:13).  His choice was difficult for other reasons.  He could have thought to himself, do I keep God and lose my wife or do I keep my wife and lose God? He chose the latter and because of his choice, sin sank its fangs into the heart of humanity (I Corinthians 15:22).

Later, after explaining the consequences of Adam’s action, God turns His attention to Eve.

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16, Emphasis ours)

The last sentence of verse 16 has traditionally been interpreted this way: “You will have sexual desire for your husband and he will be in charge of you.” However, as many Old Testament scholars have pointed out, the context is concerned with more than “sexual desire.” The same Hebrew word translated “desire” occurs again in Genesis 4.

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?   7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires [emphasis ours] to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

Contextualizing this passage helps us understand why the armor of God is not the solution to many of the sources of conflict in our relationships – especially marriage.  Clearly the word is used in chapter four, to imply control.  So, what was God saying to Eve in chapter three?  Ron Allen suggests the following:

I will bring something new into the wonder of the bringing of children into the world.

I will greatly magnify your pain in giving birth.  When you give birth to your children it will be in physical pain.

I will also allow pain to come into your marriage relationship with your husband.

You will tend to desire to usurp the role I have given to him as the compassionate leader in your home, rejecting his role and belittling his manhood.

And the man on his part will tend to relate to you in loveless tyranny, dominating and stifling your integrity as an equal partner to himself.[2]


From that day on, conflict over who’s in charge in the husband-wife relationship began to mirror the garden curse.  Allen continues, “If this is an accurate reflection of the intention of this curse on the woman, it is a curse indeed that has lasted through time.  No wonder there is such discord among married couples.”

Like men, women contribute to marital conflict when they put their energies into trying to take control, rather than in trying to learn control – especially self-control (which, for the new person in Christ, is an aspect of Spirit filling).  Instead of laboring to love patiently, some wives try to establish control by threatening their husbands, others use emotion and tears, while others use their ability to initiate or withhold sex.  Although these techniques are not exclusively female, they represent patterns of control fruited from the wrong tree in Eden.

Paul encourages Christian couples to consider that part of being “new” means submitting to the Spirit so that individuals can relate to each other in a way that meets needs and brings hope to the relationship.  In Ephesians 5, Paul exhorts husbands to love their wives, establishing a forgiving and grace-filled foundation for marriage.  Marriage should reflect the love of Christ manifested in the “new creation,” not the separation of the fall.  This is possible only with the filling of the Holy Spirit.  Characteristics of the Spirit-filled life include submission and thankfulness, and the fruit produced by “new creation” marriage is “new creation” love (Galatians 5:22).

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the             new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Paul reminds the believers at Corinth that they are a “new” creation.  The word, kainos is understood by scholars as “Qualitatively new, as contrasted with neos, temporally new.”[3]  The connotation of the word implies something that was previously unknown.  Paul’s use of the word empowers his declaration.  The believer is something new, not a garden-variety human being. The use of the aorist and perfect verbs strengthens the idea that all of this happened at a point in time and the benefits continue on in the life of the believer.  The transformation is complete and new.

Paul implies this newness in his discussion of marriage.  With Christ’s completed work at Calvary, our relationships are transformed.  They become more than what appears in the Old Testament.  Relationships are now Spirit-influenced, and the marriage relationship, specifically, becomes a reflection of the loving relationship Christ has with the church.  Satan can influence our “flesh” and the “world” to increase the isolation in our relationships, especially in marriage, but he isn’t always involved.  The destruction of a mutually submissive and caring relationship happens when we feed the old nature through the carnal appetites of the flesh and influences of the world.

For the marriage relationship, Paul also gives us God’s solution to the conflict introduced in the garden. “Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33). Because He created us, God knows that men need respect and women need love. Dr. Mark Goulston confirmed this fact when he wrote, “In my twenty-five years in private practice, one of the few things that has remained a constant is that most women want to be cherished and most men want to be admired.” [4]  Dr. Emerson E. Eggerichs agrees.  Eggerichs launched Love and Respect Conferences to communicate his belief that that love and respect are universal qualities that are essential to a successful marriage.  He writes,

You may remember how the Beatles sang, “All you need is love.” I absolutely disagree with that conclusion. Five out of ten marriages today are ending in divorce because love alone is not enough. Yes, love is vital, especially for the wife, but what we have missed is the husband’s need for respect. This Love and Respect message is about how the wife can fulfill her need to be loved by giving her husband what he needs – respect. And the husband can fulfill his need to be respected by giving his wife what she needs – love. Does this always work? No. But if one is married to a person of good will, I would bet the farm that it would work![5]

Eggerichs explains that when a woman is battered in a relationship, she will confess that she feels unloved.  A battered man, when asked if his wife loves him will most frequently answer, “Yes, but she doesn’t respect me.”  Women need to be loved and interpret their relationships based on that need.  Men need to be respected and interpret their relationships based on that need.  God, knowing who we are, has the answer:  “Husband, love your wife.”  “Wife, respect your husband.”  Respect and love can redeem relationships torn apart by the desire to control.

When women are commanded to respect their husbands, it is unconditional and not based on whether or not their husbands deserve respect.  When a wife is disrespectful in the way she treats her husband she deeply hurts the relationship.  A woman who is married to a jerk is best served if she doesn’t join him in the way she responds.  She must be truthful and kind at the same time.   The Holy Spirit empowers this difficult behavior. The filling of the Spirit inspires both partners to love in a way that connects the love God has for each human to our relational experiences. The flesh, the world and Satan consistently work to disconnect us, and although the armor of God helps us against Satan, it is the Spirit himself who helps us reconnect in our interpersonal relationships.

The wisdom in Paul’s instruction appears consistently in counseling. For instance, once shown respect, most men will begin to feel loved.  Contrary to their natural tendency, the “new creation” work of the Spirit can empower wives to diminish their controlling behaviors toward their husbands.  They can stop trying to re-create him into something outside the Spirit’s work of making husbands “new.” Of course, every wife sees potential in her husband that he may not see.  A godly wife brings out the best in her husband by following the Spirit’s counsel to respect him in a way he perceives as “respect.”

Despite the work of the Holy Spirit in creating the “new” person, showing respect is a lost art – abstracted by strangely juxtaposed images of equality, transparency and frankness.  When the husband is “acting like he’s eighteen again,” a wise wife knows when and how to say the right thing.  She doesn’t deliberately choose words to make him feel foolish.  She doesn’t attempt to cover her own insecurities in public by trying to make him look less mature than herself. She shows respect through the language and gestures she chooses to express herself.  She shows respect when she treats him according to what he could become as a “new creation.”

In God’s plan, the husband can’t, in fulfilling his responsibility to God, be either a dictator or a doormat.  Rather than being a tyrant or a tread-head, his privilege is to become the lover.  Instead of commanding her, he cherishes her. Instead of bossing, he blesses her. Instead of giving in or taking control, he gently controls the give and take.  He stops trying to remake her and starts loving her.  Again God in his wisdom designed the relationship according to the designed needs of the husband and wife.  The wife needs to be loved.

The discussion in Ephesians 5: 22–33 is predicated on understanding the role of the Holy Spirit.  Without the filling of the Spirit, the husband and wife continue to invoke the garden curse in their relationship and miss the beautiful and holy ecstasies of the “new creation.”  Within each of our relationships the battle between the old man and the new man, the Garden of Eden and the garden tomb, continues to create a spiritual PSD.  The trauma in being human can be transformed and the frequency reduced as we join the work of the Holy Spirit in birthing the new man.

The discussion about Satan in this passage is not incidental.  Satan’s problem is submission.  Scripture indicates that he was blinded by his own beauty and pursued equality with God.  He did not want to answer to anyone.  Paul reminds us that we are constantly faced with an enemy who attacks us specifically in the area of our relationships – at home, in the church and at work.  When we are in the battle we are tempted to see only the person in front of us.  A husband may be in turmoil about fully loving his wife and describe the enemy as his wife when in fact his “struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The real enemies in the room are the world, the flesh and Satan who rape our relationships, promoting the traumas of the curse – traumas that incapacitate us and shame us, that keep us from thinking straight about what sin has done and continues to do.  The “new creation” enables us to remove the grave clothes, piece by piece, to move forward in the designer-inspired attire of the new man.

When Paul begins the discussion of the believer’s armor, he is not simply employing a witty introduction.  He is calling our attention to the topic he has been discussing – relationships.  He is reminding us that as we commit to having a spirit-filled life, we begin building the right foundation, not based on the length of the time we spend together, but on the new creation’s spirit-controlled love.

[1] The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2]Ronald Allen.  The Majesty of Man, The Dignity of Being Human. (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1984), 147.

[3] Zodhiates, S. (2000). The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (electronic). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

[4] Mark Goulston, M.D. The 6 Secrets of a Lasting Relationship, How to Fall in Love Again – and Stay There. (New York: G.P. Putnam & Sons, 2001), 80.

[5] Eggerichs,


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Free Speech: The Law of the Land and Law of Love

According to U.S. intelligence, the government of North Korea was behind a cyberattack on Sony Corporation designed to keep an American movie from being released. The cyberattack was followed by threats of violence against anyone connected with the movie, including, apparently, theater owners and patrons. The movie was a comedy depicting the plight of a couple of characters caught up in a plot to assassinate the North Korean president. Sony later took the threats seriously, at first announcing that the movie would remain unreleased, though later deciding to distribute the film after all.

The next-week’s headlines announced an even graver threat to free speech: a bloody attack by radical Muslims on a publishing group in Paris. Twelve people working for the publication Charlie Hebdo were gunned down. Their crime? Publishing cartoons that were disrespectful of Muhammad.

Americans, famously passionate about free speech, decried these threats and attacks. As thousands of Parisians proclaimed “Je Suis Charlie,” I am Charlie, and marched through the streets of their city, the American ambassador marched with them. An editorial cartoon depicted the twin towers of the World Trade Center as enormous pencils rising into the sky, a black plane heading in their direction.

But while all this was going on there was little note taken of an attempt by a gay rights group to keep a television network from showing a program titled, “My Husband is Not Gay.” Press releases described the program as a “reality” show following the lives of several married Utah couples. In each case the husband claimed same-sex attraction, but rather than act on those impulses had chosen instead to marry a woman and form a conventional family: husband, wife, children.

The program should be suppressed, the protestors insisted, because it sent the wrong message. The idea that homosexual behavior was a choice, and that heterosexual marriage was a better choice, would damage young gay people struggling for acceptance.

The claim lies outside the purpose of this essay. At the center of the essay is the reminder that free speech means that we all have our say, that outside of threats, lies and calls to overthrow the government nobody can tell us what we can and cannot say in public.

This includes speech and art that we may rightly find foolish and objectionable. I will not see that movie that finds humor in a plot, no matter how silly, to assassinate a head of state. I suspect it would have been better not to have made this thing.

I have, however, gone online to take a look at some of the cartoons put out by Charlie Hebdo, and I found that some depictions of Muhammad are not only disrespectful, but gross. In one, Muhammad is shown from behind, naked and on all fours.

But it’s not only the Muslim prophet that is savaged by Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. One panel shows three rolls of toilet paper, one labeled Koran, one labeled Torah, and one labeled Bible.

Is this expression that Americans, including American Christians, should defend under the banner of free speech?

I’m going to take a deep breath and say yes. And I am going to argue that in matters of protected speech Christians have a special interest in drawing a very wide circle.

Here’s why.

For centuries, people saying what God told them to say have been persecuted. Some people, often powerful people, didn’t want to hear it, claimed these were harmful messages, and punished those men who delivered the message anyhow. Elijah was called a troublemaker. Jeremiah was denounced as a threat to the nation and was thrown into a muddy pit.  Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching the Gospel. Zealots plotted to assassinate the former Saul of Tarsus, the rabbi who was, in their view, subverting Judaism with his message of grace.

Medieval and Renaissance reformers were harassed and sometimes imprisoned or killed. The English Separatists were hounded out of their homes, finally choosing and expensive and dangerous journey to North America, where half of them died in the first winter. Ann Hutchinson and Roger Williams were exiled from Massachusetts Bay for saying things the colonial authorities did not was said.

History tells us that it’s in our best interest to defend free speech. And if we want to be able to freely say what we want to say and need to say it means we have to fly the same flag for speech we don’t like. The same folks who wanted to suppress a television show they disliked apparently had no problem with a Broadway show called The Book of Mormon (Featuring an openly gay actor) that trolls for laughs by jeering at Mormon ideas and lifestyles. They—and we—can’t have it both ways.

But Christians must draw a narrower circle for ourselves. What the law allows, Scripture sometimes forbids. “A soft answer turns away wrath,” the proverb reminds us, directing us away from shouting matches. “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without…” Paul admonishes. “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how to answer every man.” (Col. 4:5-6)

This does not preclude speech that some people won’t like. We have the right and the duty to object to ideas and political policies that we believe are wrong. Paul engaged in vigorous debate with those who wished to silence the Good News. But he did not defame. He know Jesus, who, when he was reviled, did not revile in turn.

Should the people from Westboro Baptist Church be allowed to show up at military funerals waving signs saying God Hates Fags and claiming that an American soldier’s death was the direct result of God’s displeasure at the growing acceptance of gay marriage?

I think so. The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution seems to allow it, as U.S. courts have affirmed.

But should they do it?

Absolutely not. Leaving aside a claim that’s highly questionable, it’s the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong vocabulary.

I’m glad they can say these things; they are Americans, free under the laws of the land to say what’s on their minds.

But I wish they wouldn’t. They are Christians, they say. If so, they are to be governed by the law of love.

It’s in our best interest as Americans and Christians to advocate for a wide latitude in protected speech. It’s a matter of obedience as Christian Americans to practice Scriptural restraint.

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Redeeming Technology: Theological, Philosophical, and Methodological Reflections

Things That Shape Us: Theological Reflections

The Wilson Dam, located in Alabama, was completed in 1924, and was the first dam built under Tennessee Valley Authority, created in 1933.[1] The TVA is one of the largest producers of electricity in the United States. As of 2010, the TVA has assembled the following:

  • 11 coal-powered plants.
  • 29 hydroelectric dams.
  • 3 nuclear power plants.
  • 9 combustion turbine plants.
  • 3 gas-fueled combined cycle plants.

The TVA was designed to modernize the region, using electricity to combat human and economic problems. Electric lights and modern home appliances made life easier and farms more productive. Churches were some of the first structures to be wired with electricity—because they were some of the largest buildings in most towns. Because churches had electricity, much of what represented “community” revolved around church activity. Thus, the TVA, and electricity in particular, shaped American life, and much of church life for that matter, from that point forward.

Consider as well modern air-conditioning. “In 1906, Willis Carrier filed a patent for the first modern air-conditioning device. It was called the ‘Apparatus for Treating Air’ and it was able to treat both air temperature as well as humidity.”[2] Jesse Rice notes:

Keep in mind this was a time in history (not so long ago) when people only had access to locally grown food that had to be purchased on a daily basis. There were no refrigeration trucks to move California oranges to Idaho. There were no modern refrigerators to keep food fresh for days and weeks (or in the case of some college dorms, months) at a time. The milkman still delivered dairy products to front porches every day… Everything eaten by consumers was locally grown and had a very brief shelf life. But air-conditioning changed all of that.[3]

American culture was rapidly “syncing up” to the latest development in technology. And as they did, new social changes began to emerge that coincided with the invention of air-conditioning. For example, as the front porch disappeared from the average home, so did a normal rhythm of connecting with neighbors. As entertainment and social events moved indoors, the shared experience of the neighborhood began to shrink. The world was beginning to connect, or “dis-connect,” in ways it hadn’t before.  The air-conditioner shaped us.

When it comes to technological advances in culture and society, technology has taken on this “shaping” effect. As Marshall McLuhan, the famous, “the medium is the message” communications theorist advocated, each “medium” is an extension of ourselves, altering the relationship of the person to their surrounding cultural context.[4] Business, education, politics, entertainment, and even church, have all been shaped by technology. Equally true is the effect technology has had in shaping our theological perspectives in terms of understanding ourselves, not only in relation to and with one another, but with our heavenly Father.

In terms of social media’s influence, consider the following observations of Facebook:[5]

  • With over 500 million users, Facebook is now used by 1 in every 13 people on earth.
  • 250 million users log onto Facebook every day.
  • The average Facebook user has 130 friends.
  • 48% of 18-34 year olds check Facebook when they wake up, with 28% doing so before even getting out of bed.
  • The 35+ demographic represents 33% of the entire Facebook user base.
  • 72% of all US internet users are on now Facebook.
  • Over 700 Billion minutes a month are spent on Facebook.
  • Over 200 million people access Facebook via their mobile phone.
  • 48% of young people say they get their news through Facebook.
  • In just 20 minutes on Facebook over 1 million links are shared, 2 million friend requests are accepted and almost 3 million messages are sent.

Scripture, in general, addresses this shaping reality in various ways. Romans 12:2, for example, says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (NASB).  The verb “conform” (suschématizó)  speaks to the idea of allowing something from the outside to shape one’s self.[6] Whether one is passive or active in this process may, or may not, matter.  The point being, something external is shaping a person’s values, perspectives, attitude, and behaviors. This conformity dynamic is expressed in other passages of Scripture as well (1 Pet 1:14; Ex. 23:2; Lev. 20:23; Deut. 18:9; Dan. 1:8; Eph. 4:17; 5: 1-2; Col. 3:7-8).

In addition, consider the other verb in the verse; “transform” (metamorphoó).[7] Etymologically, this is where we get our English term, “metamorphosis.”  It carries with it the ideas of “change the form,” or “transform.” It’s an indication of one allowing something from the inside to shape one’s self. In contrast to conformity, whether one is passive or active in this process does matter. The point being, we either allow or disallow inside processes to shape us. And these inside processes are in both spiritual and existential terms generated from a “Someone,” namely, The Holy Spirit (c.f., Rom. 8:13-17; 15:15-16; 1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 1:13-14; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:4-7).

Developing an awareness of both utopian and dystopian voices within a theological framework regarding the use of social media, like Facebook, becomes paramount. For example, ministry contexts often view social media in largely dystopian terms. Namely, the influence of social media is a great “tempter,” causing people to get into fabricated relationships, creating an illusion of intimacy, and projecting intangible postures of reality.[8] On Facebook you can read about others’ likes, relationships, romances, or even their favorite movies and music. But that doesn’t mean you know them—or that you’ve earned the right to speak into their lives. Social media removes nuance. It reduces people to words. Reading what certain people tweet may form unfavorable opinions about them. Their social media presence isn’t an accurate representation of who they really were.

Utopian views of technology, on the other hand, offer up social media as the ultimate space for developing mediated relationships. People use the benefits of technology to establish, foster and sustain healthy and growing identities with themselves, and with others. As Baym has noted, “…new media offer the promise of more opportunity for connection with more people, a route to new opportunities and to stronger relationship and more diverse connections.”[9]

The theological tension between conformity and transformative realities rests, most likely, somewhere between utopian and dystopian views of technology (Rom. 15:1; 1 Cor. 6:12; 8:9; 10:23; Eph. 4:29). There is often no “context” provided for social interactions online. Social media does most often feed narcissism. Sometimes our online tendencies are difficult to control, especially when one owns a smart phone. Social media encourages people to be in two places at once.  It may seem fine when one is watching a TV show with others to “multi-task” with a smart phone or tablet in hand. But to those we keep company with, don’t they deserve our undivided attention? As Turkle reminds us, we live in a world of “alone together.”[10]

Thus, in the context of developing a “theology of technology,” the minister must ask if he or she is being conformed by the outside agency of technology, or taking the initiative to allow the Holy Spirit to transform his or her perspectives of how one interacts with technology. The minister must ask, “In what ways does technology—either passively or actively—cause me to be conformed to the world’s values?” Equally they must ask, “How do I allow the Holy Spirit to influence my thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors in regard to my personal use of technology?”

The integrative purpose of having pastors and ministers interact with a theology of technology demonstrates thoughtful interaction with Scripture and theological ideologies, as well as pressing cultural concerns. The ministry leader has the freedom to draw on one’s own theological tradition, biblical understanding of ministry, and relevant research. Through a biblical integrative process one is allowed to demonstrate proficiency with theological analysis and its application to current issues. Ministry leaders also are given an opportunity to  articulate the specific needs, problems, benefits, or challenges unique to a particular ministry context (e.g., children’s, youth, adult, pastoral counseling, parachurch, Christian camping, sports ministry, cross-cultural ministries, etc.). This allows the leader to demonstrate an understanding of technological issues, and the subsequent challenges and impact associated within a local church, parachurch, or international ministry context.

Train up a Child: Philosophical Reflections

A basic overview of Scripture tells us children are a gift from God (Deut. 7:13; Ps. 127:3), adults receive blessing through their children (Num. 5:28; Deut. 28:4, 11; Lam. 4:2), children are desirable (Gen. 9:7; Deut. 6:3; Luke 1:24-25), children need to be taught how to think and act in relation to God and His ways (Ex. 12:26, 37; Deut. 4:9-10; 6:1-7; 31: 12-13; Ps. 78:4-6; Prov. 22:6), they must be taught to obey the Lord (Prov. 8:32; 19:26; Jer. 2:30; 3:22; Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20), God wants to have a genuine relationship with children (Ps. 8:2 34:11; 103:13; Mal. 2:15; Matt. 21:15; Mark 10:13-16), and He loves children enough to ensure they receive discipline (Prov. 3:11-12; 13:24; 19:18; 23:13; 29:15-17; Eph. 6:4; Heb. 12:4-11).[11]

The question, philosophically speaking, becomes, “In what ways can technology either help, or hurt, the process of training up a child in the way that he/she should go (Prov. 22:6)?” In recent years, young people have increased the amount of time they spend consuming media by a steadily growing rate.[12] In grand-sum-total, today’s youth have increased media exposure by 2¼ hours, and usage by 1¼ hours, per day over the past five years. Consider the following table:

Average amount of time spent with each medium in a typical day (8-18 year-olds).[13]

  2009 2004 1999
TV content 4:29 3:51 3:47
Music/audio 2:31 1:44 1:48
Computer 1:29 1:02 :27
Video games 1:13 :49 :26
Print :38 :43 :43
Movies :25 :25 :18
  Total media exposure 10:45 8:33 7:29
  Total media use 7:38 6:21 6:19


Use of every type of media has increased over the past ten years, with the exception of reading. In just the past five years, the increases range from 24 minutes a day for video games, to 27 minutes a day for computers, 38 minutes for TV content, and 47 minutes a day for music and other audio. During this same period, time spent reading went from 43 to 38 minutes a day. But breaking out different types of print does uncover some statistically significant trends. For example, time spent reading magazines dropped from 14 to 9 minutes a day over the past five years, and time spent reading newspapers went down from 6 minutes a day to 3; but time spent reading books remained steady, and actually increased slightly over the past 10 years (from 21 to 25 minutes a day).[14]

An explosion in mobile and online media has fueled the increase in media use among young people. The story of media in young people’s lives today is primarily a story of technology facilitating increased consumption. The mobile and online media revolutions have arrived in the lives—and the pockets—of American youth. Try waking a teenager in the morning and the odds are good you’ll find a cell phone tucked under their pillow—the last thing they touch before falling asleep and the first thing they reach for upon waking. Television content they once consumed only by sitting in front of a TV, set at an appointed hour, is now available whenever and wherever they want, not only on TV sets in their bedrooms, but also on their laptops, cell phones and iPods. Today, 20% of media consumption (2:07) occurs on mobile devices—cell phones, iPods or handheld video game players. Moreover, almost another hour (:56) consists of “old” content—TV or music—delivered through “new” pathways on a computer (such as Hulu or iTunes).[15]

Ministry leaders across the lifespan will have to address these issues. The average children’s and youth minister will inevitably encounter parents who are concerned about the amount of technology consumption taking place on the part of their son or daughter. Surprisingly, studies are now revealing children and teens are equally concerned about their own parents’ consumption of technology![16] This will need to be addressed within the context of an emerging philosophy of ministry. In other words, asking appropriate “what” questions on the part of ministry leaders in addressing concerns, challenges, and issues within their unique ministry context. Some questions to being the conversation could include: “Given the increasing amount of time children are spending with digital media, what kinds of technology should we be concerned with?” Or, “What types of influences is media having on the shaping of young peoples’ faith?” Or, “What role does the church play in limiting or utilizing technology in its ministry programs?” These questions undergird a developing philosophical approach to technology within the context of ministry praxis.

I frequently use the nomenclature “exegesis of culture” to help ministry students navigate the nuances of culture—case at hand, technology and social media—in applying learned principles to their emerging ministry context. Thus, broadening definitions of “exegesis” beyond biblical hermeneutics to include our observations and understanding of culture must be applied—namely, how we critically explain and interpret the world around us. William Romanowski says, “The Bible gives us a complex understanding of culture. Culture is a gift from God, as well as a religious duty and obligation.”[17] He continues, “The contours of a Christian cultural landscape are made up of cultural meanings: ideals, beliefs, values, attitudes, and assumptions that represent what it is like for people to live in God’s good but fallen world.”[18] Accordingly, “cultural meanings” include the following biblically integrative principles found in the overarching Corban University Christian worldview hermeneutic:

  • God is at work in the world and there exists an invisible spiritual realm (Creation).
  • Believing people inhabit this landscape and faith is integral to all of life (Anthropology).
  • Human sin is real and evil exists (Fall).
  • God offers forgiveness and the possibility of redemption (Redemption).

I like what Walt Mueller, youth culture authority, says about developing a philosophy of ministry around ministry contexts in a postmodern world:

Those who fulfill their calling in conscious obedience to God face a unique set of challenges, perhaps the greatest being the need to cross the expanding cultural-generational gap. On one side stand adults raised largely in a modern cultural context. On the other side are children growing up in a new and radically different world—a postmodern world never experienced by previous generations. While adults and young people long to see this cultural-generational gap closed, it continues to expand as the culture changes at breakneck speed (emphases added).[19]

Thus, in the context of developing a philosophy of technology in emerging ministry perspectives, ministry leaders must figure out what the best ways are in ministering to families with techno-savvy “screenagers”—youth who spend most of their time in front of some form of screen (smart phone, computer, laptop, tabled, or TV)—consuming culture, and creating culture, one gigabyte at a time. Regardless of theological orientation, epistemological frameworks, and cultural identities, postmodern ministry demands we take note of, study, and understand technology in philosophical terms, so we in turn can minister more effectively in a world changing at breakneck speed.

Circle of Five: Methodological Reflections

Here are some basic things we know: In the 1960’s the greatest influence on teen faith was the family, followed in order by school, friends, and the church. In the 1980’s friends and peers had taken the number one spot—family dropped to two, and media was a new entry at number three.  School made the list at number four, and you guessed it… the church dropped out altogether![20]

Today, moms and dads are slowly slipping down the scale of influence in their child’s life. Unfortunately, some parents suffer from “ephebiphobia.” By definition, ephebiphobia is, “The fear of youth… first coined as the ‘fear and loathing of teenagers.’”[21] So what happens as a result? Parents don’t engage with their teen, abandoning them to fend for themselves, or many parents simply try to manage behavior. Much of our communication with our child operates in the realm of external behaviors our children exhibit, not on internal thought processes, attitudes, values, or beliefs.

Leading experts in methodological practices within ministry contexts speak to the role between parents and teens. Chap Clark notes, “Even with the best of intentions, the way we raise, train, and even parent our children today exhibits attitudes and behaviors that are simply subtle forms of parental abandonment… the good of the unique individual has been supplanted by a commitment to the good of the ______ (fill in the blank: team, school, community, class, or organization).”[22] He continues by stating, “Adolescents have suffered the loss of safe relationships and intimate settings that served as the primary nurturing community for those traveling the path from child to adult. The most obvious example of this is in the family.”[23] Now, almost ten years into the new millennium, parents, youth workers and teens themselves are wondering if things are getting better. Technology and social media, as noted above, take a prominent role in both the discussion and emerging approaches found within every kind of ministry model.

Part of the answer in addressing these types of issues is in intentionally developing models of ministry, which come along-side parents in speaking into the lives of their children and teens. The reality is moms and dads are experiencing difficulty in raising their kids. They need help! Pastoral and ministry leaders must apply theological and philosophical biblical integrative principles into contextual models of ministry, guiding families through the difficult years of childhood and adolescence.

One example, or strategy, for a methodological approach to ministry is referred to as the “Circle of Five,”[24] a general framework of ministry programming, which encompasses both theological and philosophical underpinnings noted above. The goal is for pastors and ministry leaders to apply the principles of “observation,” “interpretation,” and “application” to their unique ministry context, evaluating where the issues of technology, and social media specifically, intersect. In other words, the many “challenges” of ministry leadership, administration, staffing, resourcing, budgeting, etc., are fluid and flexible, while the principles and approaches within the model’s framework remain somewhat constant.[25]

What is the Circle of Five concept? The basic idea is to surround a child or teen with five adult influencers who can speak directly into their lives in positive “holistic” ways: emotionally, cognitively, socially, academically, physically, vocationally, and most importantly, spiritually. Largely, any adult can take on the role of an influencer in the Circle of Five, but parents noticeably play a central role in determining who those influencers will be (see Ex. 12:26, 37; Deut. 4:9-10; 6:1-7; 31: 12-13; Ps. 78:4-6; Prov. 22:6).

First in the Circle of Five are “parents.” A parent is someone who can speak holistic development into the life of a child. They care for their physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. Research consistently supports the notion that the greatest single influencer regarding sex, drugs, alcohol, rock-and-roll music’s influence, and religion are their parents.[26] A question, methodologically speaking, arises at this point: “What about teens who don’t have a positive parental influence in their lives?” The answer: this is where the church raises the bar on becoming an “extended family” to children and teens who need spiritual guidance and nurture (Prov. 8:32; 19:26; Jer. 2:30; 3:22; Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20). Regarding our discussion of technology, parents then are seen as the primary spiritual-care-givers in helping their child safely navigate the landscape of digital and social media engagement.

Second, are “disciplers.” Disciplers have great influence in the life of a child or teen. A discipler is simply someone who can speak wisdom into the life of a child (Isa. 54:13; John 6:45; 13:15; Titus 3:14; 1 pet. 2:21). A discipler is someone a teen can learn from and follow as a role-model. This is the kind of person, that when you examine their life, you say, “I’d like my son/daughter to grow up like them.” Preferably, we want this person to be a person with: good morals, a healthy work ethic, a balanced outlook on life, and general ability to have healthy relationships and resolve conflict. Disciplers too can aid the child or teen in discerning between the proper and right appropriations and use of technology and social media.

Third in the Circle of Five are “mentors.” A mentor is someone who can speak life skills into a child. “The first recorded modern usage of the term “mentor” can be traced to a 1699 book entitled, Les Aventures de Telemaque, by the French Christian writer François Fénelon.”[27] A mentor is: a trusted friend, coach, neighbor, relative, counselor or teacher, usually a more experienced person (Ps. 145:4; Prov. 27:17; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Pet. 5:1-5). Some professions have “mentoring programs” in which newcomers are paired with more experienced people, who advise them and serve as examples as they advance. Schools sometimes offer mentoring programs to new students, or students having difficulties. A mentor doesn’t have to be a “religious” person either. They can be anyone who can be a positive influence on a teen. Social mediated relationships via the internet can be framed in redemptive purpose when a mentor comes alongside a child who is immersed in the throngs of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, Tumbler… and every other “apps” at their disposal.

Forth are “ministers.” a minister is someone who can speak spiritual insight into the life of a child or teen (e.g., Prov. 20:6; Col. 1:7; 1 Tim. 1:12). One’s first thought may be to think of a professional or assigned-by-the-church-board-type-of-leader. These are important people no doubt, but youth pastors, who have a youth group of ten or more teens, don’t have the time or ability to speak into a teen’s life on an intimate and deep level. Ministers come in all shapes and sizes (literally!). A minister speaks into a child or teen’s life in spiritual and redeeming ways. A caveat is warranted at this point: ministers do not replace the parent as the central spiritual guide for their child. They only come alongside and support parents in the spiritual development of a child. Ministers’ are equally vital in helping children and teens develop a “faith language” that makes sense to them, and in which they can articulate to others.

And lastly, there are “small group leaders.” The power of small group ministry goes without question as being a foundational piece of methodological ministry praxis (Ps. 5:14; John 13:34-35; Rom. 12:10; Gal. 6:2; Col. 2:2; Philemon 2:1-12; 1 Pet. 4:9; 1 John 3:16). A small group leader is someone who can speak relationship into the life of a child or teen. Every teen needs peers who accept them and are willing to support them. They need peers who can listen to their joys, pains, concerns, frustrations, etc. in the context of non-judgment and compassion. However, peers alone have difficulty—largely due to their own ‘issues’—for being able to help one another navigate through the challenges of adolescence. Thus, an adult who can serve to guide a group of students in this process is incredibly important element in the life of a child or teen. The power of small group ministry equally takes on a “stabilizing” effect when talking about the use of technology and social media.[28]

Even though the world is seemingly more complex, teens maintain the same basic needs they have always had:

  • To be trusted.
  • To be loved.
  • To feel safe.
  • And to identify a significant purpose in life

We can accomplish this by surrounding our children and teens with a cadre of adult influencers who genuinely care about helping them transition from childhood to adulthood, regardless of cultural or ministry contexts. Pastors and ministry leaders who develop biblically-centrist methodologies of ministry, that intentionally understand both the positives and negatives of technology, works toward this end.

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Tennessee Valley Authority,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (Accessed December 20, 2014) &oldid= 479382839.

[2] Jesse Rice. The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community (Colorado Springs, Co: David C. Cook, 2009), 55.

[3] Ibid, 56.

[4] Howard Gardner and Katie Davis. The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World ( New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 2013), 22.

[5] Digital Buzz. “Facebook Statistics, Stats & Facts For 2011.” Digital Buzz Blog, (Accessed March 7, 2012) Facebook- statistics-stats-facts-2011/.

[6] Only one other occurrence of Συσχηματίζωm appears in the New Testament. 1 Peter 1:14 – “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance” (NASB).

[7] Note: only three other occurrences of Μεταμορφόω occur in the New Testament: “And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light” (Matt. 17:2 – NASB).  “Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them” (Mark 9:2 – NASB). “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18 – NASB).

[8] Glenn Packiam. “Tweeting My Life Away: My Online Interactions Were Hurting my Pastoral Presence.” Leadership Journal. Summer, 2013, 40-43.

[9] Nancy Baym. Personal Connections in the Digital Age (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2010), 1.

[10] See, Sherry Turkle. Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2011).

[11] See George Barna. Transforming children into Spiritual Champions: Why Children Should be your Church’s #1 Priority (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2003), 44-45.

[12] Victoria Rideout, Ulla Foehr, and Donald Roberts. Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds (Menlo Park, CA: The Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010), 2.

[13] Ibid, 2.

[14] Ibid, 2.

[15] Ibid, 2.

[16] For example, see: N.A. “The State of the Kid 2014.” Highlights Magazine. (Accessed: December 22, 2014)

[17] William D. Romanowski. Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture. Expanded Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007), 50.

[18] Ibid, 161.

[19] Walt Mueller. Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture: Bridging Teen Worldviews and Christian Truth. (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 42.

[20] Ibid, 25-26.

[21] Wikipedia contributors, “Ephebiphobia,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (Accessed December 22, 2014)

[22] Chap Clark. Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 47.

[23] Ibid, 50.

[24] The “Circle of Five” is born out of the 5:1 ratio concept, advocated by Chap Clark, originally in Chap Clark. “In Spite of How They Act…” Decision Magazine (Accessed October 30, 2011). See also, Kara Powell and Chap Clark. Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 93-121.

[25] For further clarification of programmatic constants, refer to: Dean Borgman. Foundation for Youth Ministry: Theological Engagement with Teen Life and Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013).

[26] See for example: Christian Smith and Patricia Snell. Souls in Transition: The Religious and spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009). Kenda Creasy Dean. Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010). Amy Jacober. The Adolescent Journey: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Practical Youth Ministry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011).

[27] Wikipedia contributors, “Mentor,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (Accessed October 30, 2011) index.php?title=Mentor&oldid=457229732.

[28] Jeremy Smith. “4 Tips to Improve Youth Ministry Social Media Failure.” Church Tech Today (Accessed, December 17, 2014)

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The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church

Reviewed by Dr. E. Allen Jones III

As a recent reclamation project from the world of academia, I had heard the word missional bandied about in the past few years, but I have had little opportunity to actually engage with proponents of the movement.  Thus, I opened The Road to Missional by Michael Frost, a recognized leader in the missional movement, with a sense of discovery.  In the preface to the book, Alan Hirsch, an equally acknowledged leader in the missional movement, explained that the volume would not be like Frost’s earlier works The Shaping of Things to Come and Exiles, wherein he was an “evangelist for the cause”.[1]  Rather, this book would be a prophetic call for true adherence to a truly missional life.  On this account, Frost does not disappoint.

In the opening chapter, Frost laments what he calls a misuse of the term missional in popular church culture.  According to him, one does not do church in a missional way, nor is missional simply a new trend in our ecclesiology.  Rather, missional is a way of being.  It is, or at least was supposed to be, a “revolution” in the church.[2]  This is important, he says, as megachurches that primarily grow by attracting members from other churches have begun to adopt the term, yet youths continue to abandon the church to find spirituality in other places.  Frost fears that as traditional churches grab onto the term missional (along with couches in church and Bible studies in coffee shops) and publish increased attendance rolls, we fail to realize that the church is becoming irrelevant in our own time.

After pointing out what missional is not in the introduction, in his second chapter – “Missio Dei” – Frost tries to explain what he had hoped missional would be.  “Mission is both the announcement and the demonstration of the reign of God through Christ,” he says.[3]  Such a statement may seem uncontroversial to an evangelical audience, but it was apparent from the rest of his chapter that this self-definition entails a lively debate related to being missional.  For one, Frost explains that mission(al) is not simply doing evangelism and/or missions (i.e. cross-cultural evangelism).  At the same time, mission(al) is not simply having a positive social agenda.  Rather, mission stands over and encompasses both of these ideas.  If the church is truly missional, non-believers will acknowledge God’s reign through Christ, and the church will act as a transformative agent in our communities.  Yet, we cannot reduce mission(al) to either of these ideas.  In Frost’s words, the missional church should be like movie trailers or “thin places” as understood by the ancient Celts.  It is to be the first-fruits of Christ’s kingdom on earth.

Having oriented us to what he believes is a truly missional perspective, in the remaining five chapters Frost articulates what it would look like for the church to practice mission.  In “Slow Evangelism”, he argues that evangelism ought not be a matter of cold calling and track distribution.  Instead, it ought to be incarnational.  It should be an invitation to live under God’s reign through Christ, which will involve a personal and social transformation of the person.  It will not be a list of doctrines for one to accept, but will be a declaration of salvation that is based on historical events that have ramifications for the future.  In this way, Christ’s kingdom expands and is manifest on earth.

“A Market-Shaped Church” then discusses some of the practices that keep us from living this kind of proclamation.  According to Frost, the church has adopted the secular market’s view of people as objects to which we sell things.  Thus, we tell non-believers what they want to hear and try to bribe them into coming to church.  In turn, non-believers, particularly young people, treat the church with the same kind of suspicion that they give to big business.  Such practices are the polar opposite of David Fitch’s call for smaller, more integrated, and incarnational church communities.[4]

“Triumphant Humiliation” and “Breathing Shalom”, are Frost’s attempts at rejecting a market orientation in the church on one hand, and accepting slow evangelism on the other.  Instead of blaming the world for rejecting us, or accusing non-believers of persecuting us for our faith, Frost says we need to acknowledge that much of contemporary Christian culture is poorly presented and badly executed.  In such cases, the world does not hate us because we are the aroma of Christ, but because we are irrelevant people with an over inflated sense of self-worth.  Much better, he says, that we would take on cruciformity as our form of holiness and discipleship.  The cross will be our holiness in that it is Jesus’ work that transforms us, and in that it is the cross that becomes a model for our own lives.  Only by walking in the shadow of the cross will we learn to be like our master.  Only by following his lead can we show other people how to live under his rule.  Ironically, though, this life under the cross will bring a rediscovery of relationships, justice, and beauty.  In the shadow of the cross, we will practice peace with those around us.  We will practice justice for the oppressed in our communities.  We will see the beauty in all things – even things coming from non-believers – and we will give glory to God for his creation.

In the last chapter before his conclusion – “Moving into the Neighborhood” – Frost becomes immanently practical as he articulates his vision of incarnation.  Like the Word became flesh as Jesus of Nazareth and dwelt with humans, so we must move in to be with the poor and the oppressed in our communities.  According to Frost, commuter models of faith and short-term missions opportunities fail to demonstrate a cross shaped life.  Short-term missions help us believe that we have fulfilled our obligation to the world, and commuter ministries hold the poor at arm’s length.  Rather, as Jesus was a shepherd that stayed with his sheep, we must be willing to live our lives with those we hope to reach.  We need to practice local and sustainable faithful living.

Finally, in his conclusion, Frost explains that a missional life should sound like “worlds colliding”.[5]  Clearly there is suffering and injustice in the world, but Jesus also announced the coming of God’s kingdom.  Thus, missional believers live at the intersection of these two realities.  They practice incarnational ministry and server as “movie trailers” to the world of what the future reign of Christ will be like.[6]

The greatest strength of The Road to Missional may also be its greatest weakness.  As a prophetic call to mimic Jesus’ incarnational ministry in the world, Frost confronts the constant temptation in the Western church to become comfortable with our own salvation and to forget a hurting world.  Evangelicals can and should appreciate his vision of what it could look like for believers to take up the cross and announce God’s rule on earth in Christ.  At the same time, Frost paints with a broad brush and speaks in absolutes.  He credits the many problems in the modern church to a somewhat vaguely defined brand of “traditional” or “mega-” church.  Thus, presumably, if the reader would accept Frost’s ideas and leave these kinds of churches to join more missional churches, the world will finally see the church be the true bride of Christ.  The missional movement will finally exemplify the Kingdom of God on earth.  While he does provide anecdotal evidence of egregious practices in some churches, I hesitate to believe that any person who wants to announce the reign of God in Christ will necessarily associate/not associate with particular kinds of churches.

[1] Alan Hirsch, preface to The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church, by Michael Frost (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 12.

[2] Michael Frost, The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 16.

[3] Ibid 24.

[4] David Fitch, The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism, and Other Modern Maladies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005).

[5] Frost, Road to Missional, 143.

[6] Ibid., 145.

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Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling

Reviewed by Garrett Trott


Who was the smartest individual who has ever lived?  Socrates, Augustine, or perhaps Einstein?  While all of these individuals were notable thinkers, James Sire, in his work, Habits of the Mind, suggests that perhaps the smartest individual who has ever lived was Jesus Christ.

While at first, one does not consider Jesus Christ to be an intellectual, Sire’s work assists any reader in connecting the dots between intellectualism and being Christ-like.  Sire begins his work by dismantling some of the assumptions that Christians have towards intellectualism.  For example, some argue that passages like 1 Corinthians 8:1-2, which state, “…this ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.  If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know,” promote anti-intellectualism among Christians.  Sire disassembles these ideas and convincingly argues that an element of Christianity, and a critical element at that, is the intellect.

Sire closes his first chapter by providing an excellent definition of an intellectual:

An intellectual is one who loves ideas, is dedicated to clarifying them, developing them, criticizing them, turning them over and over, seeing their implications, stacking them atop one another, arranging them, sitting silent while new ideas pop up and old ones seem to rearrange themselves, playing with them, punning with their terminology, laughing at them, watching them clash, picking up the pieces, starting over, judging them, withholding judgment about them, changing them, bringing them into contact with their counterparts in other systems of thought, inviting them to dine and have a ball but also suiting them for service in workaday life (pp.27-8).

Sire continues his discussion of the intellectual life as a Christian calling by using John Henry Newman as an exemplar.  John Henry Newman led a very full life beginning in the Anglican Church and eventually transitioning to become a Catholic priest.  The Catholic Church approached Newman in 1854 to be the founding rector of the Catholic University in Ireland.  In so doing, Newman composed lectures that were compiled as published as “The Idea of a University.”  In this work, Newman, provides an ideology of what a university is supposed to do: integrating truth into the world.

Sire uses Newman’s ideology as a foundational element for the Christian’s intellectual life.  While Sire has defined “intellectual,” what does it mean to be a “Christian intellectual”?  Are there any distinctions?  Sire answers this question with a resounding “yes.”  While in many facets a non-Christian and Christian intellectual are similar, Sire notes one outstanding distinction: “A Christian intellectual is everything an intellectual proper is but to the glory of God” (p.88).

This distinction sets the tone for the rest of Sire’s work when he discusses intellectual virtues and intellectual disciplines.  Sire suggests four categories of virtues: passion for the truth, passion for holiness, passion for consistency, and compassion for others.  He argues that a proper tone for intellectual stimulation comes about when a passion for the truth is coupled with a passion for holiness set in the framework of humility.  Sire provides an excellent framework in which a Christian intellectual can flourish, yet be distinct from their non-Christian colleagues.

Sire does not let his work rest by simply providing a picture of how things should be or could be.  His work would not be complete without his closing chapter where he discusses the responsibilities of a Christian intellectual.  He begins this chapter by noting a key element, which he alludes to throughout his book: “no one is called to be a sloppy thinker!” (p.205) He states, “Being an intellectual is after all no big deal, nothing to particularly admire or condemn.  Why?  Because all Christians are called to be as intellectual as befits their abilities and the work they have been called to do” (p.205). Sire moves on and suggests that for a Christian to be an intellectual they must live in truth.  He breaks this idea into two critical elements: learning the truth and telling the truth.  Two very simple ideas with profound implication.

Sire argues that the smartest man who ever lived was Jesus Christ.  This is because he was fervent to learn the truth and impassioned to tell the truth.  As followers of Jesus Christ, Sire convincingly argues, that Christians have a responsibility to pursue intellectual growth, but to pursue it in order that God may be glorified.

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Understanding the Context

I inherited a large tool chest from my dad. He had been a tool salesman, so it was packed with goodies. I had always loved working on cars and other things as a kid. So I knew that tool chest well and relished everything in it. Almost. A couple of items defied understanding. One of them had a long t-handle and a swiveling head with teeth like a vise grip. Several times I considered tossing it to make space for real tools. The head flopped too much to grasp anything. Besides, I had a box full of pliers and sockets to tighten or loosen anything I could ever imagine.

A few years later, I laid on my back cramped under a new kitchen sink. I had replaced the sink and now needed to install the faucets. Getting to those crazy nuts underneath was testing my sanctification. First one tool then another. All were either too long, too wide or too clumsy to get through that tight space around the faucet nuts. As I stared in frustration, wondering if anything would work, I remembered the strange tool shoved into the recesses of the chest. The long t-handle slipped through that tight space. The funky swiveling head aligned perfectly with the nuts. Those vise grip teeth eliminated any slippage. Five minutes later the faucet was flowing perfectly with no leaks. I had discovered the joy of a basin wrench. Once I saw the wrench in its proper context, I realized its value.

This issue of Dedicated addresses several contexts for ministry. Like a basin wrench, facets of our ministry must be seen in their proper context. Dr. Annette Harrison compares biblical metaphors for sin with their usage in contemporary context. She helps us to become better translators of biblical truth on sin to our changing culture.

Dr. Sam Baker shares his research on spiritual types. His work reminds Christian leaders that believers and churches have spiritual personality types. Churches, schools and families have developed patterns that serve as the primary means of growing in the Lord. His conclusions encourage us to insure our patterns of discipleship minister to the whole Christian.

Our reviews also help clarify contexts of current issues in biblical studies and in cross-cultural ministry. Dr. Gary Derickson reviews Interpreting the General Letters by Herbert Bateman and Five Views on the Historical Adam. Dr. Kent Kersey reviews another of Zondervan’s Counterpoint Series in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Dr. Annette Harrison reviews Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.


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Speaking of Sin: Conceptual Metaphor and Cultural Divide


As Biblical scholars are well aware, no single Hebrew or Greek word in Scripture translates literally as the English word sin. Instead, the Biblical writers used the language of metaphor to illustrate the complex concept. As Christians, our understanding of sin, how we talk about it and our personal responses to it have been formed by metaphors drawn from the Biblical texts. In essence, we have absorbed some of the culture and language of the Biblical writers. It is a mark of community membership that most Christians are able to talk about and think about sin in the same or very similar ways.

Non-believers, however, belong to a different community. It is no secret that American society is becoming more secularized and religiously pluralistic. Thus, when we attempt to have spiritual conversations with people who do not share our assumptions and conceptualizations of faith, we meet cultural divides, barriers to communication. In order to share our faith, as Lamin Sannah argues, we must become translators.[1]

We are familiar with the need to avoid “Christianese,” and some are adept at expressing Biblical truths in contemporary language. But good translators must go beyond substituting a word in the source language for one in the target language. Good translators also study the culture and the conceptualizations of the source community – in this case the Biblical cultures and languages – and those of the target community, i.e., non-believers.

This article presents an exploration of Biblical metaphors of sin, the associated implications for responses to sin, and what this entails for clear communication of the Gospel. First, it is necessary to introduce conceptual metaphors and why they matter in translation. Next, I will review conceptual metaphors of sin familiar to Christians, and then consider how our non-believing friends and neighbors may be thinking and talking about sin using examples drawn from media sources. In the end, it is my hope that we will all become better translators, equipped to bridge cultural and conceptual divides as we faithfully communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ.


Metaphors are not just for creative writing; they are the way we express complex ideas, perceive the world, and formulate plans and actions. Traditionally, a metaphor is a figure of speech that uses vocabulary from one area of experience to represent some facet of a more complex or more abstract issue, phenomenon or event. For example, “education is the key to success,” uses what we know about how keys lock and unlock doors to express the crucial role of education in achieving life goals.

While traditional metaphors are easily identifiable by their structure, Lakoff and Johnson describe a metaphor that is less easily recognized, a cognitive associative reasoning structure called a conceptual metaphor.[2]  Using data from everyday language, they argue that conceptual metaphors serve our understanding and analysis of complex issues. They illustrate how pervasive conceptual metaphor is in our speech, and ontologically therefore in our thoughts and reasoning. For example, “He attacked every weak point in my argument” expresses a perception of an argument as a battle between two sides. Lakoff and Johnson formulate the conceptual metaphor as argument is war, in the expression “attacked every weak point,” and then provocatively point out that were we part of a culture that conceptualized arguments as finely choreographed dances, our arguments would most likely be carried out very differently.[3]

Other scholars have confirmed these ideas, demonstrating that conceptual metaphors reflect and shape the very patterns of thought and verbal expression of our daily lives.[4] Tannen goes so far as to demonstrate that the widespread use of adversarial metaphor (like argument is war) results in adversarial behavior in the classroom, between genders, and in the legal system.[5] And a recent medical study of responses to metaphor during cancer treatment supports the claim that how we talk about cancer is related to the steps we are willing to take to either prevent it or to treat it.[6] Conceptual metaphors facilitate thought, perspective and verbal expression; they also affect our responses and actions.


Biblical writers did not all conceive of sin in the same way, as evidenced by the variation in vocabulary and accompanying metaphors. Many different Hebrew and Greek words are all rendered sin in our English translations, and so laypeople are mostly unaware of these differences. Expressions in Hebrew include: chata’ “to miss the mark,” aven “crooked or perverse,” ra’ “evil/violence breaking out.” [7] An important role of pastors and teachers is to help us understand the Biblical text and to help us learn the Biblical metaphors, which in turn teach us to think “Christianly” about sin.

For example, in Sunday School and in Church, we sing about how the blood of Jesus washes away our sins, the metaphor taught through the Hebrew kibbēs “to wash away sin.” We may also speak about the terrible burden that sinners bear, a reflection of the most frequent Old Testament phrase nāsā’ ăwōn “to bear or carry away a sin.” [8]

Greek expressions for sin include hamartia “to miss the mark; to err; to offend,” parabasis “trespass; to step across a line,” anomia “lawlessness, wickedness,” adikia “unrighteousness,” akatharsia “uncleanness, impurity,” and finally, apistia “unbelief.”

All of these expressions are metaphorical – their original uses and primary meanings were in archery, governing, cultic acts and philosophy. In essence, Biblical writers were using what they knew about how the world worked to illustrate and explain a concept for which there was no single term in their own language and no simple, single-faceted description for their immediate audience (and for audiences they could not have imagined). In doing so, they were building conceptual metaphors in the minds of their audience: sin is weight; sin is uncleanliness; sin is trespass; sin is lawlessness, etc.

Cognitively, once a conceptual metaphor has been established, additional reasoning and appropriate responses are associated with it. If sin is weight, we must lay it down (at the foot of the cross). If sin is uncleanliness, we look for a way to wash and be clean. If sin is trespass, we do our utmost to obey rules and follow guidelines. If sin is falling short (or missing the mark), then we have not done enough and we must try harder.  By speaking (and singing) about sin and the associated reasoning and response, members of a community reinforce and reify the conceptual metaphors. Ultimately, speakers cease to be consciously aware of the conceptual metaphor, though their choice of vocabulary and behavior indicate that the metaphor is operational in their reasoning.

The Hebrew conceptual metaphor sin is weight, from the expression nāsā’ ăwōn “to bear or carry away a sin,” is translated into the English language and into American Christian culture through words like “burden” and “weighty.” The hymn There is Power in the Blood inquires, “Would you be free from the burden of sin?” [9] Billy Graham and many others plead, “Don’t carry your burden of sin any longer, but by faith believe that Jesus died for you, and receive Him into your life today.” And finally, Charles Stanley writes, “The burdens we carry come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties. Many are weighty, but there’s one load that proves even heavier–and it can be traced back to the Garden of Eden.” [10] These examples demonstrate how well sin is weight has been learned and incorporated into Christian reasoning and speech.

Consider a second conceptual metaphor, Sin is falling short from the Hebrew chata’ and the Greek hamartia “to miss the mark; to err; to offend.” Though it is far from being the only source of the concept of standards in Scripture, when words like sin, standards and punishment appear together, the speaker is likely reasoning through the conceptual metaphor, as in Francis Chan’s explanation, “God is the only being who is good, and the standards are set by Him. Because God hates sin, He has to punish those guilty of sin. Maybe that’s not an appealing standard. But to put it bluntly, when you get your own universe, you can make your own standards.”[11]

In keeping with Sin is falling short, John Piper recently compiled a list that includes “[Sin is] the glory of God not honored… The holiness of God not reverenced…The greatness of God not admired…The power of God not praised…The truth of God not sought…The commandments of God not obeyed….” [12]

On the other hand, the adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again” illustrates what Euro-Americans[13] believe is an appropriate response to missing the mark. It is not a big deal. Our culture teaches us to pick ourselves back up (by our own bootstraps), and get back to it! In fact, failure is touted by some successful businessmen and other well-known figures[14] as an experience that imparts wisdom and contributes to growth. Missing the mark is not a cosmic sin; it is part of practicing to succeed. The point is that even Christians are susceptible to misunderstanding the concept of sin because of conflicting conceptual metaphors drawn from more than one culture.


Consider again the conceptual metaphor taught through the Hebrew kibbēs “to wash away sin” illustrated by the words of William Cowper: “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” [15] In a culture with a sacrificial system and deep understanding of ritual purity or uncleanliness, this expression communicates appropriately. However, the dominant Euro-American culture has no traditional or cultural equivalent to blood sacrifice. It is possible to argue that classical mythologies from Egyptian, Greek or European cultures, or even those from indigenous Indian cultures employ the concept of blood sacrifice. However, those mythologies and the activities of ritual sacrifice are not part of our everyday lives. An effective metaphor is drawn from a domain the members of the community know well from personal experience. When showering after a workout or washing our hands before dinner is the closest we come to washing away uncleanliness, it is valid to ask whether even Christians understand the conceptual metaphor sin is uncleanliness.

Despite our lack of everyday experience with ritual purity, even contemporary artists such as Matt Redman continue to write on that motif: “What can wash us pure as snow? Forever welcomed as the friends of God; well there’s nothing but Your blood; Nothing but Your blood, King Jesus.” [16] And as much as we love these songs it is important to recognize that we had to be taught how to think about Christ’s blood sacrifice, and even to feel the power and joy of release because of it. sin is uncleanliness is not “native” to our linguistic and cultural training, how much more the metaphor of washing in someone’s blood. The closest Euro-American metaphor bloodbath is one of combat and violence rather than of cleansing and purity. It is worth considering how well even Christians truly understand it, let alone non-believers to whom the Gospel is presented with these images.

Another metaphor to examine consists of enslavement and captivity. They are present throughout the Biblical narrative as consequences for disobedience, though to my knowledge none of the Hebrew or Greek terms translated sin refers precisely to those terms. [17] Enslavement and captivity have traditionally held deep meaning for the African American community, which may account for much use of the conceptual metaphor Sin is captivity in many contexts from famous civil rights speeches to beloved Gospel music. The Gospel/R&B sister duo Mary Mary sings, “Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance. I just wanna praise You. I just wanna praise You. You broke the chains, now I can lift my hands. And I’m gonna praise You.” [18] Whether or not members of the African American community have personally experienced captivity, it is an ever-present theme of identity, evoking historical roots and even current social struggles.

On the other hand, for those who have no experience of physical captivity, Sin is captivity is another conceptual metaphor that may not be part of the “native” thought and language. Again, I am not saying that concepts of captivity and enslavement are unbiblical in any way, nor that they are inappropriate for use by Christians. Many Christians have learned the metaphor and find much meaning in it. John F. MacArthur, among others, has referred to “the shackles of sin” in a number of his sermons, for example.[19] It is beautiful figurative language, but it is a conceptual metaphor drawn from a different time and a different culture.


Many American Christians have learned to understand and to speak in Hebrew and Greek conceptual metaphor. This makes them “bilingual” to some extent, whereas members of the non-believing community are not. The depth of the conceptual divide between practicing Christians and non-believers, as well as all the ways it is rehearsed and reinforced through everyday language cannot be underestimated. Moreover, it is crucial to recognize that our inability to identify our own conceptual metaphors and those of our target audience only deepens the communicative divide even if, or perhaps especially if, we are using the same words.

There is good evidence for non-believers using traditionally Christian terms in such a way that they are redefined through the linguistic process of reappropriation. Reappropriation includes the deliberate use of words in new social and linguistic contexts in order to alter their meanings. It is often an indicator of social change. The following presentation illustrates the reappropriation of sin, sinful and sinfully, and establishment of accompanying conceptual metaphors.

First there is “Sin City,” the nickname for Las Vegas, through which Biblical interdictions against drunkenness, adultery and related behaviors have been transformed into trendy and desirable experiences. Moreover the title of a new comedy sitcom “Sin City Saints” plays on exactly this image. It is apparent that sin is entertainment, even if New York Times critic Mike Hale is less than impressed when he writes, “[Sin City] Saints,” the first scripted series from Mandalay Sports Media, throws together young-male-viewer bait — sports, Las Vegas, Silicon Valley, Malin Akerman — in a comedy less coherent than the halftime scoreboard video at an N.B.A. game.” [20]

Secondly, missteps or errors in judgment are categorized as sin in the following two examples. “I don’t know if blowing off the court would be such a sin in the eyes of voters as much as going after the judge’s wife with a private investigator,” is the estimation of a source quoted in an article about the re-election bid of an Arizona sheriff.[21] And in an article from a sports columnist, “Texas fans would quickly forgive Hamilton’s sins – the relapses, the give-up swing, the “football town” comments…”[22] These uses and others similar to them signal a shift in meaning for the word sin in everyday American reference. Rather than a penalty deserving death, sin is being redefined as a mistake, a blunder, a miscalculation.

Scattered occurrences such as these don’t seem to provide the linguistic momentum needed for reappropriation, but a search of the archives of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times reveals noteworthy patterns in the use of the word sin. These two publications are very large, influential, and they use news services like Reuters and the Associated Press that also feed other media outlets. Thus, they provide an adequate representation of the kinds of articles distributed around the country, regardless of other aspects of their reporting. The first pattern involves a weakening or trivialization of the concept of sin, and the second depicts those who talk about the religious concept of sin as strange or outdated.

There are 2715 occurrences of sin in the New York Times “News” sections (57% of the total). Many of these instances are in articles about political parties, candidates and elected officials, as well as stories of sexual abuse by priests, and coverage of the pope and the Roman Catholic Church. This is perhaps not surprising; wrong-doing is news and wrong-doing by religious figures is even bigger news. On the other hand, the rate of occurrence in the “Arts and Entertainment” sections was higher than expected (2071 or approximately 43%).[23]

The sin is a mistake conceptual metaphor is easily identifiable in these sections. For example, singer Jamie Foxx’s comment that his weak performance of the National Anthem “was not a sin against America” was picked up by numerous media outlets and also tweeted. [24] The use of sin in reporting about arts and entertainment in combination with the conceptual metaphor sin is a mistake (or a minor offense) trivializes the meaning of sin.

The second pattern is evident in the way people who talk about sin as a religious concept are presented as newsworthy. One article describes a man who carries a “worn black Bible,” who “believes Scripture is unequivocal,” and who says that “homosexual behavior is a sin.” [25] Another article portrays the antics of a North Carolina man who “passed out fliers with Bible verses extolling nakedness as a way to cleanse oneself of sin.” [26] And a third article documents the arguments of a Utah state senator who wants to use cannabis: “As long as I’m not committing a sin in the process of doing this, then I’ll let my principles take me where they may.” [27] The quality of the beliefs of these three men is not necessarily in question. The position of each is stated more or less clearly because the writer of the article uses the subject’s own words. The point is that making a religiously-based declaration of sin is news.

Compositional elements construct a perspective that a religious belief in sin is out of the ordinary or outdated. Pictographic descriptions – the worn, black Bible, or the man standing naked in the doorway of his home – construct a character, and then he or she is quoted directly speaking about sin. The consistent format of physical descriptions of the person combined with stated opinions involving a religious belief in sin reifies the conceptual metaphor sin is outdated.

Widespread media use of sin facilitates the process of reappropriation, moving the word from the domain of religious doctrine to the area of mistakes or minor offenses.  Those who continue to use the term as part of their religious belief are depicted as outdated or even freakish.

Conceptual metaphors emerging through language use in the media include: sin is entertaining (shows in Las Vegas), sin is a mistake (the misbehavior of a baseball player, a song off-key), and sin is for religious fanatics (nakedness and cleansing from sin?). In short, sin is not serious. In contrast, when something is described as sinful, it is tasty, tantalizing and trendy as in the following examples.

A newspaper description of the actual delicatessen depicted in the movie “When Harry Met Sally” includes these menu items: “matzo ball soup, chopped liver with onions, hot pastrami sandwiches and sinful cheesecake.” [28] A New York Times article about a local bakery describes “sinfully sweet rings.” [29] The top ten hits of a Google search using the string “sinfully rich” reveals eight that describe a chocolate dessert; the other two describe Italian pasta dishes. In other words, sin is delicious (and perhaps high in calories).

Another article announces a physical trainer service called SIN.[30] The article explains that this is an acronym for “Strength in Numbers,” yet the lack of punctuation between the letters indicates that the name was probably designed to result in a catchy acronym. Investigating name brand choices that involve sin and related words like sinful and sinfully is beyond the scope of this article. Even so, the reappropriation of sin-type words in marketing is noteworthy because of its contribution to the formation of conceptual metaphors. sells vibrant nail polish, stickers and manicure tips. Comfortable yet fashionable women’s clothing is available through Sinful Clothing for Women: “Sinful clothing for women make a bold fashion statement of strength and beauty infused with a heavy dose of rock n’ roll and a sophisticated twist.” [31] In other words, sin is fashionable.

These conceptual metaphors are powerful because we become so accustomed to using them in our perception and reasoning that we cease to be aware of them. They are also powerful because they represent the shared assumptions of a community about the nature of reality; they are products of culture. The examples and discussion so far have revealed two cultures divided by their conceptualization of sin.

Christian Metaphors Non-believer Metaphors
sin is weight sin is entertainment
sin is uncleanliness sin is a mistake
sin is trespass sin is for religious fanatics
sin is falling short sin is not serious
Sin is crookedness sin is delicious
Sin is captivity sin is fashionable


This leaves us with the question of how to cross the cognitive and cultural divide when we speak about sin. Though both communities are using the English language, we are experiencing the challenge of cross-cultural communication.


Translation is required if we are to faithfully and accurately communicate the role of human sin in the Gospel story. To their credit, some pastors and teachers have looked for other conceptual metaphors in their attempts to communicate to non-believing culture. For example, A.W. Tozer uses the conceptual metaphor Sin is bad stewardship: “A man by his sin may waste himself, which is to waste that which on earth is most like God. This is man’s greatest tragedy and God’s heaviest grief.” [32] This conceptual metaphor speaks to the American value system that includes an appreciation for return on investment, efficiency and good management.

Another conceptual metaphor underlies this phrase attributed to St. Augustine, more a summary statement from Confessions than a precise quotation. “Sin is looking for the right thing in the wrong place.” [33] It appears to be an adaptation of the conceptual metaphor Sin is falling short from the Hebrew chata’ and the Greek hamartia “to miss the mark,” but it is applied it to a different kind of activity: Sin is a mistaken search.

If nothing else, attention to the power of conceptual metaphor makes for valuable teaching moments, as the following excerpt illustrates. Jerry Bridges first reveals the conceptual metaphor sin is an enemy before arguing against it because of its effects on reasoning and behavior.

“Too often, we say we are defeated by this or that sin. No, we are not defeated. We are simply disobedient. It might be good if we stop using the terms victory and defeat to describe our progress in holiness. Rather, we should use the terms obedience and disobedience. When I say I am defeated by some sin, I am unconsciously slipping out from under my responsibility. I am saying something outside of me has defeated me. But when I say I am disobedient, that places the responsibility for my sin squarely on me. We may in fact be defeated, but the reason we are defeated is because we have chosen to disobey. (Pursuit of Holiness, 84)

As asserted early in this discussion, conceptual metaphors do more than facilitate thought, perspective and verbal expression; they also affect our responses and actions. And the link between an understanding of sin, and behavior regarding sin is essential for the integrity of our Christian message. This is why it is crucial that a conceptual metaphor communicate completely across the cultural divide. This final example appears to achieve that goal using words drawn from everyday language: “The crumbled pieces of the Fall are all around us:  broken people, shattered families, and fragmented communities. We know that this is not the way it is supposed to be, but we too often struggle to know how to respond…” [34]

“Broken,” “shattered” and “fragmented” are inchoative verbs expressing a change of state – an effect beyond a mistake, more serious than entertainment, and immediately relevant rather than old-fashioned. The paragraph’s dominant conceptual metaphor sin is brokenness expresses a dilemma that both Christians and non-believers understand from their experience in everyday life. Broken things need repair; broken people need help. Moreover, a broken object generally cannot repair itself. It needs someone more able and whole to return the object to its original, intended state. This conceptual metaphor works because it successfully associates common understandings with a behavioral response that is faithful to the Biblical concept of sin.


The cultural divide between Christians and non-believers is readily apparent in the ways that members of each community speak about sin. Christian understanding is complicated by conceptual metaphors drawn from languages and cultures foreign to our own. Even so, we have learned them so well that we no longer clearly recognize the conceptual metaphors so useful in reasoning and speaking about, and responding to sin. On the other hand, the non-believing community has reappropriated sin and words related to it with the result that Christians and non-believers may use the same word, but access different conceptual metaphors in the interpretation of meaning. The communicative challenge before us is to look for the life experiences we all have in common in order to develop shared conceptual metaphors that clearly communicate the complex nature of sin, as well as the appropriate, Biblically-based responses.


[1] Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1989).

[2] George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (University of Chicago Press, 1980).

[3] Throughout this article I follow Lakoff and Johnson’s convention of small capitals for the format of conceptual metaphor.

[4] Cf. Zoltan Kovecses, Metaphor: A Practical Introduction, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2010).

[5] Deborah Tannen, The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words (NY: Ballantine Books, 1998).

[6] David J. Hauser and Norbert Schwarz, “The War on prevention: Bellicose Cancer Metaphors Hurt (Some) Prevention Intentions,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 41 (2014): 66-77.

[7]  Harold L. Willmington, Willmington’s Guide to the Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981), 718-726.

[8]  Gary A. Anderson, Sin: A History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995), 16-17.

[9] Lewis E. Jones, There is Power in the Blood (1899). Online:

[10] Charles Stanley, “The Burden of Sin,” Christian Post, October 14, 2012. Online:

[11] Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God (David C. Cook, 2008), 36.

[12] John Piper, “What is Sin? The Essence and Root of All Sinning.” n.p. Online:

[13] I use “Euro-American” to acknowledge that American culture is not a monolithic whole, and that the American cultural system I know best and can speak from has been heavily influenced by its northern European ancestry.

[14] Thomas Edison’s 1,000 attempts to invent the incandescent bulb are frequently cited as an example of failures that lead to success.

[15] William Cowper, There is a Fountain Filled with Blood (1772). Online:

[16] Matt Redman, Nothing But The Blood, (ThankYou Music, 2004). Online:

[17] Note that while the historical captivity of Israel in Egypt, as well as exile and enslavement in Assyria are related to sin and punishment narratives in Scripture, the closest term used in Scripture is the Greek aphesis ‘dismissal, release or pardon (from debt)’ (from Mark 1:4).

[18] Erika Atkins, Tina Atkins and Warryn Campbell, “Shackles (Praise You),” Thankful  (1999).

[19] Cf. John F. MacArthur, Jr. Christ is Everything, n.p. [preached 29 August1993]. Online:

[20] Mike Hale, ‘Sin City Saints,’: A Yahoo Basketball Comedy,” New York Times (March 22, 2015). Online:

[21] Jacques Billeaud and Ryan Van Velzer, “Arizona Sheriff’s Re-election Chances Called into Question,” Los Angeles Times (April 25, 2015). Online:–arizona-sheriff-racial-profiling-20150424-story.html.

[22] Kevin Sherrington, “What do the Rangers Have to Lose by Bringing Back Hamilton?” Los Angeles Times (April 25, 2015). Online:

[23] This may be in part because of the nickname for Las Vegas – “Sin City,” and also due to Spanish language titles of art performances, as well as other Spanish language articles (sin means “without” in Spanish).

[24] Christie D’Zurilla, “Jamie Foxx Says His National Anthem was ‘Off’ But Not ‘a Sin Against America’.” Los Angeles Times (May 5, 2015). Online:

[25] Erik Eckholm, “Opponents of Gay Marriage Ponder Strategy as Issue Reaches Supreme Court,” New York Times (April 22, 2015). Online:

[26] Greg Lacour, “Naked North Caroline Man Irks Neighbors, but Police Say No Crime,” New York Times (March 24, 2015). Online:

[27] Daniel Wallis, “Utah Lawmaker Invokes Morman Prophet Grandpa in Medical Pot Plea,” New York Times (April 22, 2015). Online:

[28] Joe Yogerst, “Have Yourself a Treat With These Famous Movie Eateries,” Los Angeles Times (August 13, 2014). Online:

[29] Susan M. Novick, “Where Those Sinfuly Sweet Rings are Made Locally,” New York Times (October 25, 2009), LI11.

[30] Courtney Rubin, “For That Door-to-Treadmill Serivce,” New York Times (Dec. 17, 2014). Online:

[31] Online:, accessed 11 May 2015.

[32] A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1955), 99.

[33] Augustine Confessions (trans.  by Henry Chadwick; Oxford University Press, 1991). Quote accessed online:

[34] Matt Lucas, “Picking Up the Pieces,” Corban University theme description, 2014.

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