The Vanity of Resolutions: Annual Failures of the Self-Reliant

“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” ~ Jonathan Edwards

Resolutions. For some reason or another, January seems to be the time of the year when people suddenly seem to discover something unresolute about their life. It’s as if  January is the proverbial light switch that illuminates the changes people need to make in their lives.

Why is that?

What is really different about today than yesterday? In my experience, the people who make resolutions simply because it’s a new year are the same ones who celebrate January 2nd as the official day of having 363 days until they get to “try again with new goals.”

What vanity.

I’m not impressing the point that goals shouldn’t be made. I’m simply pointing out the vanity in believing a new year signifying a new start. Are our lives really that static, particularly the Christian life?

For Christians, plenty of resolutions accompany the new year.

I’m going to read my bible more.

I’m going discipline myself to pray more.

I’m going to go to church more.

I’m going to tithe better.

And on and on the list goes. . .

Yet, being a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) ought not to be a repeated event, should it? In this verse, being a new creation is stated as something “having already come” (for nerdy language majors, this is a perfect tense-form, a past event with abiding results). It’s not an event that will come or comes with each new year. It’s a one-time event with a long-lasting effect.

So, on reading your bible more–you should have never read it less.

On praying more–you should have never prayed less.

On going to church more–you should have never attended less.

On tithing more–you should have never tithed less.

And on and on the list goes. . .

These aren’t matters of sanctification. To say sanctification is a process on these matters is similar to saying on January 2nd, “I have 363 days to try again.” These should simply be the long-lasting effects of something “having already come.” Our time and place in history beg like a cringing beggar begs for food for such results.

Why are resolutions annual failures? The answer is simple. Self-reliance. 

Resolutions, on both secular and sacred matters, will always fail when your resolve depends on you. If you choose to set a resolution, set one that only God can accomplish in and through you.

Jonathan Edwards, an American theologian during the great awakening, stated two resolutions that I’ve provided above. Resolutions that can only be accomplished with sole dependency on God.

Live each day relying on the only One who can bring true resolve to an unresolute life.

 

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Should Christians participate in #GenderBender Day?

All things are permitted, but not all things are beneficial. All things are permitted, but not all things build up. 1 Corinthians 10:23

Let me begin by saying I never knew such a thing existed. Ten years ago, this could have been something done just for fun and laughs. I’m not saying it can’t be that today, but we live in a different world today than we did 10 years ago. As Christians, we have to be aware and sensitive to that. Gender confusion is a much large problem for the world today than it was a decade ago. Thus, participating in gender bender day may communicate a much different message that you might not be aware of. Before I offer some of my thoughts, let me preface by saying this post is not about a legalistic Christian life; contrary to that, it’s about freedom in Christ.

Let me offer a few of my thoughts on #GenderBenderDay:

1) Self-examing Questions: I would encourage anyone who wanted to participate in Gender Bender Day (or any activity for that matter) to ask some self-examining questions. These aren’t exhaustive, but they offer a starting point for believers to critically think about their actions.

– Is what I’m about to take part in beneficial to myself?
– Is what I’m about to take part in beneficial to others?
– Have I thought about the implications and ramifications of my actions?
– Does this activity build up and edify the church and other believers?
– How can this activity bring glory to God (this is the most important)?

2) Actions Often Reflect Convictions. You may know your intentions; make sure the world around you know them as well. We may not always realize how our actions communicate to the world what we believe and how we live as believers, but actions are highly (and perhaps the most) influential.

3) The Ugly Duckling Paradox. Most of you reading this blog know this old story well. No one wants to be the ugly duckling, you know, the one that stands out from the rest of the other ducks because everyone always notices the ugly duckling. The ugly duckling gets pointed out and ridiculed for not being like the others. Yet, (spoiler alert for those who haven’t read the story) what appeared to be ugly ends up being transformed into the most beautiful swan of all. The life of the Christian is one that is called to be “set apart” (1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 11:44). Being “set apart” from the rest can be painful. You may be the one pointed at and ridiculed for not being like the others, but the end is greater than the beginning. The Christian life can often be ugly. But take heart! You are daily being transformed into the creation you were meant to be. Something beautiful. Something set apart. Something unlike the world has ever seen. If you dress yourself to be like the rest (if you missed it, that was intentional for the topic of this blog), I want to congratulate you. You have already received your reward.

4) Affirming Activities: For those of you that I know, I’m sure you mean no harm in participating in Gender Bender day. You may be thinking “It’s just another activity and it doesn’t mean anything.” I believe there are people who struggle with gender identity. So, for those of us who think it doesn’t mean anything, know that it means a lot more to others. The activities you engage in, even though it’s just for fun, can affirm the very belief that you disagree with. How can you, as a believer, tell those who struggle with gender identity (e.g. Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner) that their actions are wrong when you take part in the same activities? You have lost your footing for articulating your beliefs and convictions.

5) Self Robbing Riches: Remember that you are a son or daughter of the King. You were created with intention, on purpose for a purpose. Everyone outside of Barney Stinson struggles, at different times, with things that they don’t like about themselves. Yet, God created you just the way you are because it’s the most valuable way you could have been created. When you try to change the fabric of who you are, you rob yourself of the riches intended for you. There’s no doubt that sin affects who we were created to be, but those in Christ have the advantage of having that effect undone. You are a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Not only is self robbing selfish to you, it’s selfish to others. You don’t allow others to see who you are in Christ when you identify yourself with mainstream society.

I could write much more on this topic, but it’s not necessary. I just wanted to offer my thoughts on #GenderBender Day and ask those reading or participating to give the matter some consideration.

“There are some things which do not build up either the character of the individual or the faith which he professes, or the society to which he belongs.” ~ Plummer & Robertson

Build up who you are in Christ, build up the church you belong to, and build up the Kingdom of Heaven.

May the Lord bless and keep you in His will and in His ways.

A Tattered Journey

I think most of us would agree that “things aren’t always what they seem to be.” I’m not speaking to the recent UGLY, and I do mean UUUGGGLY…,  black and blue or gold and white dress that has taken the internet world by storm. I’m currently in the middle of taking an elective called Death, Grief, and Loss taught by Dr. Jeanine Bozeman at the Seminary. I’m learning a lot. Beyond death, grief, and loss and how to minister to those who have experienced any sense of that in their lives, I’m learning a lot about myself. Perhaps the greatest truth I’ve learned in the course so far pertains to the following phrase, “things aren’t always what they seem to be.” You see, smiling people aren’t always happy, emotionless people aren’t always brave, the strongest men are sometimes weak, and even the longest lived lives are but a quick moment in time. I’ve learned that my life is short. My mortality is real. There’s a saying that goes something like this: “Why put off to tomorrow, what you can do today.” Yet, at least for me, I feel as though I can transpose a few of those words and go on living my life this way: “Why do today, what you can put off until tomorrow.” Yes, life is busy. I agree. Yes, it’s demanding. Yes, it can be exhausting. However, more than busy, demanding, or exhausting, life IS short. You have but a moment to hug those you love, to kiss your children, to say the words “I love you,” and to make the best of every moment before that moment is gone. You only get ONE chance at each moment in time. When that moment is over, you’ll never get that moment back. Time isn’t money. That’s a lie. Money you can make back, time you cannot. Once time is spent, it’s gone. It’s how that time is spent that will either make one a good steward or just another prodigal example. It will either be a time remembered or just another fleeting moment in history.

You know that frantic feeling you get when you open up a soda that has been jostled even the slightest bit? The feeling of urgency to quickly close the cap or catch as much of the spillage in your mouth as possible (like that actually helps but to save a few drops and make your face sticky to go along with your hands). That’s the feeling of urgency I get each morning when I gaze intently at my daughter as she lays peacefully in her crib. I get that frantic sense of urgency to try and squish her up to slow down the growth that’s happening before my eyes as though I could preserve her time with me longer. It’s emotional. Alli’s growing fast (which, don’t hear me wrong, I’m happy about because it signifies to me that she’s healthy and that we are at least doing one thing right as her entrusted parents), however, it’s happening a little too fast for my liking. It’s the same frantic feeling I get when I see how fast life is moving. Yet, our urgency and effort to preserve a $1 soda seems greater than our effort to preserve the rare moments of time God has entrusted us, shaken up or not.

I walk by people everyday. Some of them are smiling, and some are not. Some are staring at the sky and some are staring at their feet. Some are walking in groups, and some are walking alone. Some people hide behind theological statements that aren’t indicative of their present reality. We live in a city that moves quickly. Everyone seems to be in a hurry. We walk with an intention that causes us to not pay attention. It’s strange how a few simple words in passing such as: “hello” or “how are you” or “good to see you” can make all the difference in someone’s day. I’ve learned to walk with intention, that is, not how I’m getting from A to B, but in how intentional I am in paying attention to my surroundings when I’m walking. Each passing moment is moment I’ll never get back, so I’m working at not messing those moments up. I won’t be perfect, but that will no longer be an excuse either. You see, things aren’t always what they seem to be. The people we pass are not just ordinary people. They were people created in the image of God. They are the thumbprint of His creation. They are people he died for. They are people who have an eternal destination. They are people we are called to love. They are people He is seeking to redeem (whether salvifically or from any sense of brokeness). They may be happy, they may be broken, they may be redeemed, they may be lost, but they are ALL people you will encounter only once at that specific moment in time. Walking with the LORD ought to mean living with some sense of intentionality.

I close with my reiteration of this statement: Things are not always what they seem to be. I’ve come to discover that long journeys aren’t always long and short journeys can seem to take a lifetime. A fourteen hour car ride can seem like a minute when you are with someone you love while a 10 minute car ride can seem like an eternity when that same person is angry with you. That’s life. I’ve been studying at a formal Academic Institution for almost 9 years now, most of my time has been spent at a theological institution of some sort. Here is what I’ve come to discover. The longest journey in my undergraduate and seminary career has not been the time I’ve spent sitting through Greek classes. It’s not the hours spent studying Hebrew. It has not been any philosophy or Theology course nor has it been the countless hours spent debating various topics. The longest journey in my ministry has not been time spent investing into others, planning events, or dropping everything I’m doing to go meet a need. The longest journey in my Christian walk has not been the miles driven from home to church, or the long distances traveled (packing up my possessions and leaving everything and everyone I’ve ever known) to fulfill God’s call in my life. You see, the LONGEST journey for me is actually only 18 inches long. It’s the longest, most tattered and torn, most broken and in need of mending 18 inches of my life.

My longest journey in life has been the 18 inches that connects my head to my heart.  These 18 inches have been the longest process of my sanctification. Who I was is not who I am and who I am is not who God is shaping me to be. Going to church, bible college, or seminary fills your head (which if not careful can make your head really REALLY big if you catch my drift), but if that information never makes it’s way to residing in your heart, then you end up with nothing more than a big head and a little heart. That combination doesn’t fit any description that I would look for in a leader, a friend, a date, or a spouse. Moreover, it’s not the description I want fulfilled when I see my own reflection in a mirror. Who knew 18 inches could make for such a long journey? Who knew that the seemingly easy journey from head to heart would be such a long and tattered journey in need of much mending? When the study of God’s Word moves from our minds to our hearts where it is hidden, I’m convinced that it will make its way back to our minds where we will meditate on it day and night. That’s what will transform us. That’s what will move us (with love, compassion, and toward Christ-likeness). That’s what sanctifies us. I’m convinced that’s how we will begin living and walking intentionally while paying attention and being mindful of others. That’s how we live out those two great commands to LOVE God and LOVE People. That’s how we begin seeing others as Christ did. And finally, that’s how we begin to repair that seemingly short, completely tattered and torn, yet long and broken 18 inches of our lives.

Intellectual Integrity Prevents Problematic Polarities

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Intellectual Integrity Helps Prevent Problematic Polarities

Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites by keeping them both and keeping them both furious.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

In dealing with theology, particularly evangelical theology in the Academic world, Clark maps out chapter six by dealing with the values of the academy, it’s tension with non-Christian thought, it’s ethical mishaps, issues with nomenclature, biased viewpoints, and what our theological responsibility entails. He is a proponent for scholarly excellence in Evangelical theology, in that, it must deal as honestly, extensively, and complexly with its data as possible. Evangelical theologians should evidence their intellectual virtues when seeking to accomplish the theological task of knowing and loving God more and helping others to do the same. Clark argues that “the evangelical task must hear the voices of the academic disciplines—including the voices of challenge from non-evangelicals” (Clark, 219). Evangelicals should not yield to the secular disciplines, but should use them to illuminate much that is important to theology, thus strengthening evangelical theology. The warning, however, is not to let secular disciplines nor the rules of modern secular Academic institutions become the control from which theology is done.

One of the underlying problems of doing theology in the academic world is the tendency to make overstatements which cause unnecessary either/or quandaries. This is not to say that a theologian should avoid making choices, however, those choices should be accompanied by intellectual integrity and intellectual humility as to avoid causing tertiary issues which derail the theologian from accomplishing the theological task. That task, again, is to learn of God by any means under his created order (general revelation, special revelation, secular academic disciplines, experience, etc.), to obtain the privilege of loving him more passionately with the mind and helping others to do the same. Theology in the academic world, one that chooses to avoid unnecessary either/or quandaries, is best done by providing 1) clear definitions, 2) precise distinctions, 3) careful analysis, and 4) modest conclusions. According to Clark, these tools are not flashy, but they belong in the tool kits of “good theologians” (Clark, xxv). Clark does well by pointing out how false dilemmas are often due to imprecision and overstatement, inferences that go beyond the evidence, and hasty generalizations. In other words, academic laziness shaded by the arrogance of immovable presuppositions.

George Marsden, a twentieth century historian, described universities to be bastions of “established nonbelief” (Clark, 195). The academy, whether a specialized “teaching body” or the university proper, has not failed to meet this description. Marsden used the term to describe academic theologians who adhere to the apologetic pole of theology yet reject the kerygmatic pole. The term “established nonbelief”, however, offers a double entendre when speaking to matters of theology. That is, it can be taken to mean nonbelief toward God and his revelation in scripture or nonbelief toward an institution’s particular method. The university proper often discredits “teaching bodies” (i.e. seminaries) for their methods of doing theology and vice versa. In 1988, an official at Bethel Seminary wrote, “religious special claims cannot be allowed in the University, even—or perhaps especially—in its Divinity School.” He stated that a “scholar who submits to the priority of the Christian faith cannot follow proper scholarly procedures” (195). This would be an example of an overstatement that causes an unnecessary polarity between secular institutions and Divinity schools.

The shift to modernity that placed an emphasis on the independently thinking human individual and appeals to autonomous human reason has been on display in the academy since its inception in the 15th century. This was an attempt to harness scholarly values void of churchly commitments to scriptural texts and traditions. Scholars would be cut loose from any ecclesiastical tether that linked their work to the church (the goal of many seminaries). This would allow for academic freedom where the scholar could search for truth wherever it could be found. According to Clark, “the implicit assumption of this shift in the academy was that—the discovery of genuine knowledge demands that the knower be neutral and uncommitted to the object of investigation” (Clark, 195). This assumption presents a difficult task for evangelical theology because it’s not only committed to the object of study, evangelical theology is also submitted to it’s object of study. The work of Hans Georg Gadamer, a twentieth century German philosopher, is beneficial for discrediting this assumption. According to Gadamer, people are embedded in the particular history and culture that shaped them, thus one cannot simply approach something as a tabula rasa. There are things that happen to a person during the interpretive process that are “over and above their wanting and doing.” Simply put, everyone works with certain presuppositions and are committed to something when they interpret things (even if they do not realize it), thus no one can be completely neutral. The idea of being completely neutral, however, has been woven into the fabric of institutional practices in the modern university world. Clark describes this assumption as being the “DNA of public universities” (Clark, 195). This method requires the knower to lay aside any basis of authority (kerygmatic pole) to operate according to principles of critical reason. The effect of this assumption on evangelical theology, especially in Divinity schools, is enormous because it calls for evangelical scholars to discard the revelational basis of their claims (scripture). Essentially, for some scholars, this means an adoption of what Richard Hofstadter calls provisional atheism (Clark, 197). According to the practices of the modern university, provisional atheism is necessary if one wants to be a reputable scholar with a vibrant intellectual life. In the end, this is an unfair assumption because the ethos of secular universities is not neutral. Secular institutions begin their investigation from a tradition of nonbelief while Divinity schools begin with a Christian perspective, thus neither begin from a completely neutral but rather a relatively neutral standpoint. Clark points out that while it is possible to adopt a relatively neutral approach to the study of religion, evangelicals should never concede to the idea that religious studies departments are really neutral. Nicholas Wolterstorff points out the myth behind assuming theologians to be the only ones in academia with commitments and dismissing their viewpoints on that basis (Clark, 205) .

David Tracy makes some ethical claims regarding theology in the academic profession. He asserts that a theologian’s true colleagues are his academic associates, not fellow believers. Proper thinking cannot be confined to tradition nor the primacy of biblical revelation. Tracy claims this to be more than something that theologians may adopt on rational grounds. It is something that they must take on moral grounds (Clark, 199). Tracy’s point is not only an inaccurate assessment, it continues to display the quandaries that come with making either/or statements. If a theologian’s “true” colleagues are academic associates outside of his/her tradition, it should not necessarily follow that he must abandon the associates within his own tradition. Surely it’s not immoral to consider both, a colleague from within and outside of one’s tradition as an academic associate. If Tracy does stick to his moral claim, then the only “true” associates of secular academicians must be theologians. Tracy’s overstatement led him to an immoderate conclusion. There is some value to what he says, in that, a good theologian should not be bound nor imprisoned by his own academic tradition. The ethics of theology in the academic world extend to one’s personal motivations as well. Clark points to the corrupting effects of money and power and how it can reach not only the thinking of the televangelist, but also the integrity of good scholarship (Clark, 199). Personal motivations can be an issue for scholars, including evangelical theologians, so evangelicals would do well to keep themselves in check when they do theology in the Academy. In quoting Theological Germanica, C.S Lewis says “We may come to love knowledge—our knowing—more than the thing known: to delight not in the exercise of our talents but in the fact that they are ours, or even the reputation they bring us” (Clark, 211). Theologians should be constantly vigilant regarding their motives in academia. Clark offers a warning concerning the seductive nature that exists in the world of the university. If personal motive turns into the mark that one will leave in the academic world, theological commitments can easily be compromised. According to Clark, the accolades in the academy at this point in history go to those whose theology is nontraditional (i.e. those who have forsaken their evangelical theological commitments due to the pressures of the Academy). The dilemma for evangelical theology is whether it can maintain the intellectual integrity, as judged by the academic world, and still serve the needs of Christian believers. Many in the academy and in the church assume that it cannot happen both ways, yet both are needed to complete the theological task. This provides another reason why extreme polar distinctions and either/or quandaries are unhelpful and should be avoided.

Theology in the Academy has also seen issues with nomenclature. Several institutions have moved away from identifying theology as an academic discipline and have chosen instead to adopt the more general term “religion.” This shift, however, not only changes the name of the discipline, but also the object of it’s study. Theology moves from being the study of God to an investigation of the religious nature and experience of human persons and societies. Clark makes a very important distinction when he says, “In theology, properly conceived, God must exist as the object of reflection. In religious studies, even if there were no God, the study of religions as human experience still remains.” In 1964, the National Association of Biblical Instructors (NABI) changed it’s name to the American Academy of Religion (AAR) (Clark, 200). Several theoretical problems arise with this shift in nomenclature. An important tool of the good theologian is the ability to make clear distinctions and religion removes such distinctions because of it’s inclusivity. Religion’s inclusivity make it hard to demarcate what is religious (sacred) and what is nonreligious (secular). Auguste Compte and Herbert Spencer have attempted to remedy this shift by applying a Darwinian model. Their claim states that religion is a single entity that grew though various phases (like a caterpillar/chrysalis/butterfly) (Clark, 201). This is problematic in that it continues to obscure the distinctives of various faiths which directly affects academic integrity. Another problem lies with classing all of the world faiths under the concept of religion. Clark describes this as a strategy that attempts to “wedge the round pegs of actual faiths into the square academic holes of religious studies” (Clark, 202). Historically, Christian theology has made a distinction between relationship and religion, that is, relationship entails God seeking out human persons for himself while religion entails human persons seeking out God. This twentieth century shift has not been conducive for theology in the Western academy because institutions become quick to exchange academic integrity for academic acceptance.

German scholar, Wolfhart Pannenberg, argues for connecting religious studies to theology. He re-defines theology in a broader sense so that not all theology is Christian theology. Christian theology, particularly evangelical theology, is only one type of theology that can be evaluated against the backdrop of all religious history in general. Clark concurs with Pannenberg’s re-definition and believes it to be a way of preventing theologians from “huddling in—or from being herded into—their own theological ghetto” (Clark, 203). According to Clark, the way forward for theology in the academic world has to involve an open and honest exchange of views between the cultures of two disciplines. The two disciplines can learn from each other through dialogue which can lead to further clarification, enrichment, and expansion of disciplinary horizons through the interchange of beliefs and perspectives. This sort of dialogue fuses the horizons of different disciplines while preserving the distinctives of each partner involved. Clark calls theologians into a sense of academic and intellectual humility. For evangelical theology, intellectual integrity should involve moving outward in various directions to observe the evidences emerging from different disciplines. Theologians should then check whether those disciplines clearly demonstrate, circumstantially confirm, or in some way falsify the Christian worldview. If a tenet of the Christian worldview does not fit what is actually found in the world, the facts theologians find will disconfirm such tenets. In such cases, theologians in the academic world now face their toughest challenge, which is intellectual humility. Intellectual humility means for the theologian that he/she can accept certain facts that challenge their presuppositions  and make major or minor reformulations accordingly. This also helps avoid fideism.

For the evangelical theologian, intellectual integrity and humility ought to be accompanied by certain theological responsibilities. If the theological task is to love God more passionately with the mind and to teach others to do the same, the theological responsibility is actually showing that there is rational ground to believe that the Christian worldview is superior. The theological task can be accomplished apart from secular disciplines, however, the evangelical theologian should engage secular disciplines if he/she wants to maintain intellectual integrity in carrying out their theological responsibilities (note the distinction between theological task and theological responsibility). Clark draws out the importance of making use of the evidences from research programs of scholars who represent many different perspectives. If the purpose of theology is to describe what is true about God and God’s world from the largest possible perspective, it is unwise to pass over the results of other disciplines (Clark, 207). Theologians can be too quick to discredit other methods and beliefs on the grounds that it disagrees with their personal preference. Again, such assumptions cause polarities in academic disciplines that hinder responsible communication to non-Christians (i.e. the recent Ham/Nye debate or lack thereof). Evangelical theology done correctly can communicate adequate reasoning by appealing to the sorts of evidences that non-Christians can understand. A move toward the secular scholarly world does not mean that the academy will concede to distinctive evangelical ideas, however, it will cultivate in evangelical theology an academic rigor that will be difficult to confine to the evangelical subculture. Evangelical theology serves the evangelical community, but there is great need for the evangelical world to be served in the secular academic world as well. Clark acknowledges the dangers that come with serving the evangelical world in a secular academic setting, in that, “it can be a joyful but potentially costly calling” (Clark, 203).

In continuing the discussion on the theological responsibilities of the theologian, Augustine raised an important distinction between theology as sapientia and theology as scientia. His distinction draws on sapientia as being knowledge of the eternal while scientia is earthly knowledge (Clark, 208). Augustine’s distinction does not disconnect the two, rather, it shows how they properly relate in theology (as could be seen in medieval universities). In his work De Trinitate Augustine says, “Earthly knowledge is truly virtuous only when it leads to the eternal wisdom which is true faith in God.” Clark’s purpose for drawing out Augustine’s distinctions rests in the observation that evangelical theology has and is slowly becoming alienated from the academy, society, and the church. According to Clark, “evangelicals today replace dead orthodoxy with anti-intellectual activism or moralism rather than with theologically vital spirituality.” In the same vein as Augustine, Jonathan Edwards makes a helpful distinction between speculative knowledge and spiritual understanding (Clark, 209).That is, the former is entirely intellectual while the latter includes the heart. In this sense, Edwards “speculative knowledge” can be compared to Augustine’s “scientia” while “spiritual understanding” is likened to “sapientia.” Edwards sees spiritual understanding as being the more important of the two, however, speculative knowledge is “infinitely important” because it would be difficult to arrive at a spiritual knowledge of God without the means of intellectual knowledge.

Clark uses the distinctions of Augustine and Edwards to draw three levels on which knowing God happens. The first level of knowing God involves the formation of Christian character (individually), the second level involves the shaping of Christian community (corporately), and the final level facilitates how to communicate this knowledge to the world (globally) (Clark, 210). Essentially, Clark’s three levels of knowing God are presented to help bridge the gap between the Academy and the local church. The polarity that exists between the Academy and the church are due to the model of piety that is valued by many evangelicals. That is, inward moral holiness and outward Christian service are set in opposition to reflective thought. Clark does point out a positive for this polarity, in that, it did help preserve several values: the primacy of the bible and a respect for the supernatural (Clark, 209). Unfortunately, this polarity also caused the secular academy to be disenchanted with evangelical theology and these values ended up only surviving in a conservationist subculture. The overprotection of these values led to a fundamentalist and later evangelical mentality that sought to exclude the world, which includes the academy, from theological involvement. Even with his positive note, Clark’s final consensus still points to the problems that exist when theology is polarized from the secular academy. Relating to his third level of knowing God (communicating globally), Clark expounds on the negatives of this polarity by saying, “the church will not persuade others outside the faith of the life-transforming potential of the gospel and will not be a force for the justice and peace in the world unless it can express that message clearly in contextually relevant terms” (Clark, 210). Clark rightly asserts that a theology written only in terms that those already in the church can understand will fail to accomplish the church’s principal task in this world. A distinction needs to be made between being contextually relevant and culturally relevant. Contextually relevant refers to the vernacular used to communicate knowledge of God to a particular people group, whereas culturally relevant refers to the adaption of that knowledge to the modern world in an attempt to reach a particular people group. The former does not forsake the message of scripture while the latter can gut Scripture of its message in a reckless attempt to instill some meaning for a modern world.

To this point, Clark has primarily focused on the benefits of Academy as it relates to theology and theology as it relates to the Academy. In maintaining an appropriate balance, Clark does note some of the negative influences of the Academy on theology and the church. In his work Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education, Edward Farley traces the shift that happened in theological education. In noting how theological educators ceased to call theology a habitus, he shows how theological education shifted from divinity (personal knowledge of God and the things of God) to scholarship (academic values and objective research of God) to profession (skill development for practical ministry). These shifts pushed theology as habitus and as sapientia into the background of the church and the academy (Clark, 211). Scholarship started becoming the primary influence of the academy over personal development and practical training for the local church. This started and continues to aid the polarity that exists between the church and academy. Clark states, “Scholars in seminaries came to feel more affinity with their colleagues in the academy than with fellow believers in the church” (Ibid.). An even greater charge against the academy comes from Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon in their work “Resident Aliens.” They speak against this polarity by saying, “clever new theologies may keep seminary professors from being bored, but they will also distract them from their central mission as seminary professors and they will certainly not renew the church” (Ibid.). The academy found itself struggling with the tension of providing the necessary skills to serve a scholar in doing reputable research along with skills that would aid a pastor in his service to the church.

To conclude, maintaing intellectual integrity while doing theology in the academy should not strain the theologian’s focus on the local church. Polarization between the church and the academy begins when the local church moves into the peripherals of the academic theologian. Clark points out the church’s desperate need for theology, thus theology should find its home in the local church. That is to say, the genesis of evangelical theology is the church. Evangelical theology may find itself engaging other disciplines through the academy, however, its resting place should be traced back its genesis. Methodological constructs that are central to evangelical theology, then, are an activity of the church first, then the academy. For the theologian, avoiding polarization between the church and the academy also means avoiding polarization between teaching bodies (i.e. seminaries) and the university proper. For theology to have a public character so it can reach the widest audience, it must connect with other academic disciplines. This will release theology from Pannenberg’s “theological ghetto.” Clark rightly asserts that “theology at its best is scientia that serves sapientia.” Even though evangelical theologians place a high priority on the authority of scripture, that priority should not deter them from engaging in other academic disciplines. The evangelical theologian should adhere to a modest objectivity as to not become closed off to new information from any academic discipline. One of Clark’s best contributions in this chapter, though not outrightly stated, is the charge for theologians to be self-critical. Polarization happens between disciplines within theological institutions, it happens between secular and theological disciplines, it happens between the church and the academy, and much more. More often than not it’s due to over criticizing the views of others while under criticizing one’s personal biases. Intellectual integrity, moreover, intellectual humility will serve theologians well in reducing these problematic polarities. On secular disciplines, Feinberg adds, “So-called secular disciplines need to be thought of in a theological context, because they are reflecting on the universe God created, just as is the theologian” (Clark, xvii). After all, as evangelical theologians, we acknowledge God as Lord and if he is not Lord OF all (even secular disciplines), then He’s not Lord AT all. 

Key Terms
These terms and their respective glosses help to identify how the author is appropriates them in this section (ch. 4) of his text. 

Contextual/Apologetic Pole – every theology is rightly judged by the criterion of relevance to culture. This pole is academically responsible to other sources for it’s defense.

Kerygmatic Pole-  every theology must be judged by the criterion of faithfulness to scripture. This pole is responsible only to its own source, namely God.

Genuine Knowledge (as defined by Clark) – knowledge that is more faithful to the object of our inquiry, one that strikes a balance between perspectivalism and objectivism. It is knowledge that is developed from a holistic “middle way” which combines contradictory viewpoints and is systemic.

Systems Theory – all things in a system relate to all other things in a system. The members in this system mutually affect and reinforce each other.

“Teaching Bodies” – a term used by John Dewey in 1902 to distinguish a specialized institution (like seminaries) from the classical university education.

University Proper – institutions that adhere more closely to the seven liberal arts of classical study, that is, they place high value in the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and quadrivium (geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music). In other words, these institutions are less specialized than seminaries because the promote autonomous human reason which remain untethered from any external authorities (scripture, church tradition, creeds, etc.).

Tabula Rasa – (Latin) A blank slate. The mind in a hypothetically empty or blank state before receiving outside impressions.

Provisional Atheism – adhering to rationality from a neutral standpoint when doing Christian theology

Fideism – reliance on faith rather than reason in pursuit of religious truth.

Theological Task – to love God more passionately with the mind and to teach others to do the same.

Theological Responsibility – showing that there is rational ground  to believe that the Christian worldview is superior.

Theology as Sapientia – (wisdom) a contemplative discerning of eternal and diving things.

Theology as Scientia –  (knowledge) denotes and active understanding of temporal and mundane things.

Clark, David K., and John S. Feinberg. To Know and Love God: Method for Theology. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2003.

Poverty and Pauline Theology: A Critical Review of Bruce Longenecker’s Book

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Introduction of the Author and the Book
Bruce Longenecker offers an academically challenging yet theologically invigorating read in his 2010 book, Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World. The in-depth historical and theological scholarship of this book will provide a new lens from which the reader will be able to view the heart, life, and mission of Paul. Through this book, Longenecker’s readers will enter into the poverty of the Greco-Roman world only to leave it with a new and robust view on poverty and its theological implications. Bruce Longenecker is a distinguished scholar who holds a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Durham in England. He has taught at Durham University, Cambridge University, St. Andrews University and is currently a professor at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

 Primary Thesis, Purpose, and Description of the Book
          The primary thesis of this book seeks to expound on poverty relief in the Greco-Roman world and how that was an integral part to Paul’s understanding of the gospel. Pauline scholars do not generally focus on poverty relief as an aspect of Paul’s life or mission. Those who study the Pauline corpus tend to direct their focus on Paul being a missionary to the Gentiles while occasionally displaying concern for the poor. The purpose behind Longenecker’s book is to provide readers with a new lens from which they can observe the Pauline corpus. Longenecker hopes to show his readers upon closer inspection that poverty relief was not just something that Paul did, it was a part of who he was, his mission, and his understanding of the good news. Despite the shortage in evidence regarding care for the poor found within the Pauline corpus, the new lens provided by Longenecker will allow readers to view some familiar passages from a new perspective.
Longenecker’s book is divided into two parts. The first part of the book deals with “The Poor in Their Ancient Places” (Ch. 2-5) while the latter half of book deals with “The Poor in Pauline Places” (Ch. 6-13). The first five chapters of the book provide a historical analysis of poverty in the Greco-Roman world. It introduces the social structures and economic issues that existed between the “elites” and the “non-elites.” The elites being the wealthy upper class citizens and the non-elites being everyone else in the Greco-Roman world. The first part of the book delves into how the elites and the plebs co-existed and what economic structures governed their way of life. Steven Freisen provides a Poverty Scale (PS) which displays the percentages of different people groups and where they stood in the Greco-Roman world. Longenecker reworks a few of Freisen’s percentages and offers an Economy Scale (ES) that will be implemented through the remainder of the book. The latter half of Longenecker’s book explores the social structures and economic issues that existed in Corinth, Galatia, and other Pauline communities. Longenecker profiles selected names found within Paul’s texts in order to help place them somewhere on the economy scale. Longenecker admits the profile to be an educated estimate, but nonetheless his prosopographic survey of individual names will help provide a better understanding of the socio-economic communities that existed within the Pauline corpus. The book then draws to close with three appendices: “An Early Critique of Steven J. Freisen’s 2004 Poverty Scale,” “Non-Pauline Configurations of Generosity and the Mosaic Law,” and “Dating the Origin of Paul’s Collection.”

Critical Analysis of Bruce Longenecker’s Hermeneutics
           In order to keep this scholarly study closer to the historical and theological context, Bruce Longenecker makes a few terminological choices that not all will agree with. He prefers to use “Jesus followers” as opposed to “Christians” because the latter implies that what Jesus began soon became something other than a form of Judaism. This helps to keep the context within the Judaic realm. Longenecker also pulls from the work of ancient philosophers such Seneca and Musonius Rufus and uses them as a backdrop in showing how they related with the poor. He will also reference the works of ancient historians such as Eusebius and Josephus. Longenecker utilizes a myriad of extra-biblical resources such as other scholarly books, journals, and articles to provide different examples and cases of poverty. He also displays his scholarly expertise in Greek exegesis as he renders his interpretation of many biblical passages throughout the book.
          The main passage that Longenecker looks at pertains to Paul in Galatians 2:10. He interprets the “poor in Jerusalem” much differently than most scholars in that he doesn’t believe Paul is referring to the poor in “Jesus groups or Jerusalem communities.” Longenecker believes the “poor in Jerusalem” should not be bound by any specific geographical boundaries nor should they be reduced to just those in Jerusalem. In his exegesis of Galatians 2:10, Longenecker views the Mosaic law through the lens of the New Testament and concludes that generosity to the needy characterizes “faith working practically through love” by which the Mosaic law is fulfilled. In his exposition of Galatians 2:10, Longenecker shows that the Galatian communities all agreed for Mosaic requirement of circumcision to not required of all gentile Jesus-followers, however, generous care for the needy was to be a universal way of life. He pulls from historical as well as modern resources pertaining the topic of poverty in his book. This allows him to offer up rebuttals against opposing viewpoints while defending his own.

Moral Issues and How They are Treated the Book
           One of the early moral issues in the book deals with slavery in the ancient Greco-Roman world. Early on in the book slaves seem to fall under the label “laborer” as opposed to “freedperson.” These were people who lived below the subsistence level and struggled for survival on a daily basis. In the latter part of the book, families who owned slaves would join Jesus groups which was shown to be a great benefit to the slaves. In light of the poverty that existed in the Greco-Roman world, slavery was not necessarily a bad thing because it meant that slaves had a place to live and food to eat. Even though the idea of being owned by another human being presents a moral issue, it happens to play in the favor of the slaves when they are within the context of Jesus followers.
          The power of the governing class or the “elites” in the ancient world was also problematic. There was a glaring contrast between the elites and the poor in the ancient world. There were far more people living below the subsistence level (practically 50 percent) then there were elites and the governing class (3 percent). The majority of the non-elites were despised by the elites and were left to fend for themselves. They would have to extract what little they could from the agriculture to survive on a day to day basis. The elites would often exploit the workers through the assistance of a business manager which left them with nothing more than the bare resources needed for the most basic form of living. The peasants who did not own land resorted to stealing, prostituting, banditry, or anything they could do to survive the inescapable poverty. This was characteristic of life for the majority of peasants in the ancient world. The elites were quick to take as much as they could from the non-elites if they could prosper from it in any way. Lucian of Samosata (A second century rhetorician) once described the life of an artisan as being “laborious and barely able to supply the artisans with just enough.” He also describes the life of Micyllus (A leather working artisan) as one who depicts his own impending death as a time when he will never again “go hungry from morning to night or wander about in the winter barefooted and half-naked, with my teeth chattering form the cold.” Those who had power were always seeking to gain more power even at the expense of making the already difficult life of a peasant worse. In his book, Longenecker uses scriptural evidence to denunciate the manipulation of the elite. He shows how Israel’s deity and the prophets of old often denounced the elites for taking the excess agriculture. Longenecker provides even more profound implications for Jesus followers through the life of Paul, inasmuch as they were the ones who were to care for the destitute.
         Another moral issue relates to those who took advantage of “begging” and went to whatever means necessary to “cash in.” In Seneca’s Controversiae, he records the story one man who made his living by collecting abandoned children on the streets just to mutilate them (i.e., slicing of their tongues, chopping off their limbs, etc.), in order to garner the pity of those passing by thus increasing his wages. This presents a moral and ethical dilemma when it comes to one having to make a decision about giving to the poor. How does one know if another person truly destitute? Is there still an obligation to give to the poor when the circumstance is unknown? What if one accidentally contributes to the mutilation of children by giving to a beggar? In resolving such a dilemma, Longenecker would use Paul’s model of community to avoid such catastrophes. He believes that caring for the poor would be inviting them to come into the community of Jesus followers first and then sharing possessions with them. This does not exclude sharing to those outside the church walls, but limits the sharing to remembering the bigger picture. The bigger picture would be including the destitute or those who appear destitute in the Jesus community with the hopes of leading them to the person of Christ. In this, one will know who they are sharing with and the community can both benefit from what the other has to offer.

Ethical Conclusions offered in the Book
          In the latter half of the book, Longenecker shows how Paul’s mission involved him exhorting those of higher classes to care for the poor. The book continues to deal with this by expounding on the idea that throwing an occasional coin to a beggar was not enough. Those who were Jesus followers were to take the beggars and the destitute into their groups and to provide for them without expecting anything back in return.
The economic structure (ES) that Longenecker provided consisted of seven levels (i.e ES1, ES2, ES3 ES4……….ES7). The elite consisted of those in ES1, ES2, and ES3. He decided that the majority of the urban population fell under ES4 and those who had very little but stayed above the subsistence level would be classified under ES5. Those at the ES6 level were considered poor and once they reached the ES7 level they were deemed as destitute. Longenecker believes Paul to have appealed to those at the ES4 level when starting house churches and Jesus groups. When encouraged to give to the poor, Longenecker feels that Paul’s best shot was to appeal to the ES4 group because they were in the position of gaining prominence for something. The ES4 group was typically divided into two parts, ES4a and ES4b with ES4a being closer to ES3. In simpler terms, this meant that those in the ES4 group were always trying to gain prominence which led them closer towards the top of society. Those who were close would fall into the ES4a group and those who were not “moving up” were classified to be in the ES4b group. Those in the ES3 levels and above were too consumed in their own self interests so expecting them to care for the poor was out of the picture. Those at the ES5 level did not really have enough to give away to the poor so Paul did not require this of them. He placed them in a category as those who were “gifted” and could use their gifts to benefit the community in another way. Thus, Paul would have built his Jesus groups (house churches) around the ES4 class and encouraged them to care for the poor with what they had and in return Israel’s deity would bless them. He encouraged those in the ES4 group to give not out of their desire to gain prominence but out of their obedience to Israel’s deity. Longenecker explained that the ES4 group was not losing out on anything but gaining something in their giving. In return for them caring for the poor, the poor was caring for them (spiritually) by giving them the opportunity to share their possessions. This would in turn allow those at the ES4 level to not focus so much on their possessions but rather on God. The ethical solution provided in the book was to get those who had extra to give to those who were destitute. They were to form a community where the love of Christ was displayed through the generous giving and care for one another. What aided the ethical dilemma was not the act of giving to the poor, but the act of bringing them into the community of Jesus followers and sharing with them.

Ideas that Changed or Challenged My Thinking. How and Why?
           The idea that simply giving to the poor, or as Longenecker so eloquently puts it “tossing a coin to the beggar,” as not being enough alleviate poverty was challenging. It is easy to give to the poor today out of pity, but Longenecker says that this is not enough. He says that giving to the poor should never be done “at an arms length away.” The destitute need to be brought into the community of God and cared for. It is challenging to not think about how much we can give without receiving anything back in return, but the scriptures says to give without expecting anything in return. Longenecker seeks to challenge and change our way of thinking by exposing the truth that those who give to the destitute get something just as valuable in return. It is easier to have the mindset that giving to the poor will guarantee the giver nothing in return, but according to Longenecker, the giver receives something just as valuable as their given gift and that is the opportunity to give. That is definitely a challenging way to transform ones thinking.
           Reading some of Paul’s most well known works such as Romans 12:4-5 through the lens of economic structure presented a new way to think about the passages. Here Longenecker is tying in Economic well-being with Paul’s theology of the body of Christ. Longenecker acknowledges Paul as seeing the differences in economic tasking within the communities of Jesus-followers. Longenecker believes that it is within this context of thought that Roman’s 12:4-5 can be seen and interpreted from and economical perspective. He also expounds on 1 Corinthians 12:28 from an economical perspective within Paul’s theology of the body of Christ. Longenecker believes when Paul listed the gift of “assisting those in need” in 1 Corinthians 12:28, he did not mean for the gifts to be confined to a few “designated” individuals. He translates this verse to mean that those gifts are given to the whole “Jesus-community” through the empowerment of a few specific individuals. This was very challenging  to my traditional thinking about different people having different gifts to use for the kingdom of God. It is traditionally thought that people receive different gifts from God so they can serve the kingdom of God in different ways. Longenecker approaches the idea of spiritual gifts as something that is not confined to an individual but shared by an individual with the rest of the community of Christ, thus empowering others to use those very same gifts. This can forever change the way ministry is done because it would eliminate the thought of “Where can I best use my abilities to serve” by replacing it with “Where can WE best use OUR abilities to serve” the kingdom of God. This would take things back to their original roots where there is no compartmentalization  of ministries within the church but corporate participation in advancing the kingdom and glory of God. What a vibrant and robust way of viewing the church and how it advanced so quickly in its day. 

What ideas, if any, are particularly problematic? Why?
         The only idea that I found problematic within the context of the book was Longenecker’s interpretation of Paul building his Jesus communities primarily around the ES4 (close to our “middle class”) economic group. He never really explained in much detail as to what would happen in the Jesus-communities if there was a sudden influx of the destitute without any change in the ES4 group. How long could the ES4 group continue to care for the poor by giving of their extra resources before they became and ES5 or worse themselves? Is there a limitation to what one gives and how does the Jesus-community continue to grow and thrive when they can no longer care for the poor economically speaking? One can bring the poor and destitute into the church and care for them, but hypothetically speaking, caring for the poor would at some point end if there was never growth in the ES4 group as well. I believe there has to be a consistent growth throughout every economic level of Jesus groups for Longenecker’s system to exist. This is not an attempt to say that Longenecker’s Economic Scale system is flawed, but to expose that there has to be a balance of caring for the poor (ES6 and ES7) and caring for others (ES4 and up) outside already established Jesus communities.

What Ethical Insights are offered or Missing in the Book that Practically Relate to Life and Ministry in Church and Society?
         The major ethical insight that the book offers in relation to life, ministry, and the church is the need for people to care for the destitute in the world. Caring for the needs of those who could not care for themselves was not only right within Pauline Jesus-communities but also right in the eyes of Jesus himself. Jesus participated often in caring for those who could offer Him nothing in return. This should be woven into the fabric of every believer of Jesus Christ as the “right” thing to do. What seems to be missing in the book is that this practice with caring for the destitute should not be done at the expense of caring for others in the world as well. It does not seem to be ethical to care for just one section of society and not the other. It is highly laudable that Longenecker concentrates his focus on the destitute because they are often the ones that are forgotten. However, within the broad scope of ministry, ones life and church should not serve anyone at an “arms length away,” destitute or not. Longenecker’s book offers great ethical insights on caring for the destitute, it just doesn’t offer much insight on caring for everyone else as well.

Strengths and Weakness of the Book
           A major strength of this book is the historical and literary context that Longenecker provides. He implements top notch exegetical skills in the way he handles passages and convincingly defends his position. The book provides copious footnotes and an exhaustive resource list for further study on the topic of poverty. Longenecker is very detailed in his historical research on how Christian-communities and churches originally existed. Another strength was providing the history of the ancient world and not just the history of the early church. In this, one could fully gain a grasp of what life was like in the ancient world and how the early Christian communities interacted within that context.
The only weakness that I spotted in this book was the lack of information provided to how we can apply this valuable nugget of truth in the world today. Longenecker doesn’t expound too much past the Pauline communities and poverty. The book could have provided more insight and research pertaining poverty and how it exists in todays world. How can believers implement the same community with the destitute today as they did in Pauline times? The world has evidently changed since Pauline times and a few timeless principles for todays Christian communities would have been greatly beneficial.

Book Recommendation
            I would definitely recommend this book to be read by others. This book contains some beneficial and highly valuable nuggets of truth for those who read it. The book is a fairly academic read and does not make for good “bedtime” reading. Those who pick up this book should be prepared to be stretched spiritually, emotionally, and academically. It is not a book for those who are not willing to actively engage in what the words are saying. I would highly recommend this book to those who are in the academic institution. I believe this book would greatly benefit Christian Studies majors at the undergrad and graduate levels. This does not limit the book to just those who study the bible or are in the academic realm; however, it is again an academic read. The book uses some tough terminology that may require extra work with a lectionary to gain complete understanding of what the author is communicating. To those who love learning and being stretched, this can possibly be one of the most transformational and influential books ever written pertaining care for the poor. Bruce Longenecker has provided a book that offers great scholarship and exegesis that may forever change how we interpret certain passages of the bible. This is a must read for all Bible professors and bible students alike.

Longenecker, Bruce. “Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World.” Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010.

The “Breakthrough”

Have you ever pondered “your breakthrough moment.” The time where you finally get to exclaim the words “I have been waiting my whole life for this!” The lights are dim, the room is silent, the spotlight is resting completely on you as you prepare to show the world what you have spent your life working endlessly for. Many of us have imagined our “breakthrough” in life where all of our hard work is culminated into one unforgettable moment. Your pulse is racing, your palms are sweaty, and your heart is beating so fast it could burst out of your chest. This often happens in the tunnel for athletes as they anxiously await their debut, in the final countdown before the curtain draws back for actors, or perhaps seconds before your name is called to march across the platform to receive your diploma. Whatever it may be, many of us have at some point in our lives pondered “our big moment.”

Some people experience their breakthrough moment early in life. We often label them as “prodigies” (this does not include the “Honey Boo-Boo” child who is as anti-prodigy as you can get). My wife and I were watching T.V. one evening when she exclaimed, “I’m a prodigy, I just don’t know in what yet.” It was hilarious. I cannot think of a better person to share a laugh with than my bride. Most of us, however, had to wait or are still waiting for that moment when we can finally exclaim those ever elusive words……..”I have been waiting my whole life for this!”
For most, that moment is embedded somewhere in our minds and much time and effort is  being put forth to making it happen. I find the dynamics of “breakthrough moments” to be incredibly interesting. Have you ever noticed how much time and effort is put into a one. single. moment. Many lives are purposed around that one moment that flees so much quicker then it arrives. I’m not saying athletes, actors, or people don’t get excited every time they get to do what they love, but there seems to be something special about that one initial moment. What is your “breakthrough moment?” What are you working tirelessly and endlessly for? Where do you see it all going? Will it be as glorious as you envisioned? And probably the most pressing question of all, Will that one. single. moment. be worth everything that was put into it?
As I write this, I am still contemplating that moment in my life. Based solely on observation, I have noticed something about “breakthrough” moments. They are only “breakthrough” if others are involved. The best “breakthrough” moments leave a lasting impressions on others. They offer inspiration, motivation, and hope for people who lack any of these things. The “breakthrough” is worked hard for because, for many people, it will be the highlight of their lives. It will be the unforgettable cheer of the crowd, the bright beam of the spotlight directed at you, the soaking in of all your work narrowed down to one specific instance. The people applaud you, your appearance is welcomed with a standing ovation, they are shouting your name, and you can’t help but to feel a little glorified.
What if the day comes, it’s time for your debut, you are about to make your breakthrough, and none of this happens. What if the day came and your spotlight was shining on someone else? Would it still have been worth it? Would you still go through with it? Would you put yourself through the same pain and the same work for a different result? Would you still make the necessary sacrifices if you knew this was the inevitable outcome?
One man did. I love theology. That being said, I’m not sure there is a book as theologically rich as John. Each time I read through John, I hit a new “theological sinkhole” that is so deep the bottom seems out of reach. The Holy Spirit teaches and enlightens me to new truths on every page. In 14 words, Jesus describes His “breakthrough” moment in the book of John.
But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify YOUR name.
 
There is a lot happening in this chapter, but I want to focus on Jesus’ words in verses 27b-28. Here was a man who knew from the start what His purpose was. He spent 33 years working for this one single moment. Jesus sums up His life’s work in 14 powerful words that leave a lasting impression for the rest of humanity. He worked tirelessly and endlessly for the Kingdom of God. He knew His work and efforts were headed straight into the presence of Yahweh. Jesus’ “breakthrough” moment was welcomed with a great cheer, however, it was a cheer against Him rather than for Him. All of His earthly work, the healing and miracles for people, the love shown, trials shared, pain endured, and suffering experienced culminated in a people cheering not for but against Him. The people He came to save chose to turn on Him. You see, Jesus had a “breakthrough” moment, however, it’s not like the moment you or I envisioned. It’s nothing like what we would imagine for ourselves. Why? Because unlike our tendencies, Jesus chose to think about YOU in His last moments on earth and not Himself. Up to His final breath, He petitioned for your forgiveness. The people were applauding, but it was because He was dying; they were indeed on their feet, but it was no standing ovation; they were shouting His name, but it was to “crucify Him;” and all the glory that came from this event was turned back to the Father.
Jesus worked endlessly for this day and it finally arrived. He took the spotlight on His day and redirected it back to the Father. “Father, glorify YOUR name.” Jesus envisioned His breakthrough moment at the cross and chose to follow through with it. Was it worth it to Him? Absolutely! Because YOU are worth it to Him. I don’t have to ask if he would still go through with it, because He did. He knew the inevitable outcome, but it did not deter him from His “breakthrough” moment. This one. single. moment. has left and impression on others for all of eternity. It has and continues to inspire, motivate, and provide hope for all who need it.
May we all find our lives culminating to the point where God receives the glory. May our “breakthrough” in this world be one that changes the world to come. May we continue to fine inspiration, motivation, and hope in the One who is coming back to receive us to Himself. The time will come when your pulse will be racing, your palms will be sweaty, and your heart will be beating so fast it may beat right out of your chest. But in that moment… in that one. unforgettable. moment. may the thing that you have been waiting your whole life for culminate in the words of Jesus: But for THIS purpose I have COME to this hour. Father, glorify YOUR name.
 
Blessings!