Final Post — at this site

TheologoI’m posting this to make certain that readers of One In Jesus know that the site has moved to a new hosting service through TheoBloggers. There will be no further posts at this address, but new posts will continue daily at Most — hopefully all — readers have been automatically transferred to the new site.

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To Change the World: Essay 3, Reflections, Part 1

[This series of posts won’t be a traditional book review. Rather, I’ll summarize parts of To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter, and then I’ll add my own thoughts. I may criticize the book here and there, but I don’t have much to criticize.]


“Liminal” is used by anthropologists and others to speak of the state of mind of an individual or community when they transition from one reality to another. As the Wikipedia says,

The liminal state is characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. One’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation. Liminality is a period of transition where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed – a situation which can lead to new perspectives.

We go through this state after a marriage, divorce, or the death of a spouse. We Alabama football fans went through this when Coach Bryant died. Southern Cal fans are going through this now that their team is on probation (I’ve been there).

The American church has been in liminality ever since the Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools and it became clear that the old Constantinian consensus — the alliance of church, culture, and state  — was ending. Of course, the blows to the church’s sense of normality have been continuous ever since.

The result has been ambiguity, indeterminacy, and disorientation. The church has spent 1,500 years in league with the government and, perhaps more importantly, the prevailing culture. As a result, the church has struggled to find its footing. Do we seek a return to the alliance of church and state? Do we classify the government as the church’s enemy? How do we even do church in this new world?

This has led to the Church Growth Movement, which often devolved into American marketing — branding of churches, turning pastors into celebrities, and efforts to meet “felt needs,” such as the felt need for a mocha latte on the way to hear the alternative rock Christian band next to the church-league basketball court and free weight room and yoga clinic.

Then there’s the house church and new monastic movements seeking to flee the institutional church. And the missional movement, seeking to send the church out into the world to do not only evangelism but also good works in the form of soup kitchens and halfway houses.

Indeed, in last 30 years or so, there’s been a succession of “how to” books on how to do church in the new world, with each effort seeking a truer, better Christianity. And, in fact, a lot of good work has been done as we vacillate toward a new, better consensus through a slow process of successive approximation.

Each book, each seminar, and each movement adds an element of truth that had been missing. And so it would be foolish to claim that To Change the World is the end of the process. We don’t have the perspective to make such a judgment — and surely there are truths yet to be added. But it’s clearly a major step forward — and a bigger step the most of the others. Why?

What’s right about the book

* To Change the World is built on a solid theology. It’s not just the Great Commission, but the Great Commission re-envisioned to see “all the world” in more than geographic terms. We must go not only into the slums but also the graduate schools, not only to homeless shelters but art museums. We have to grow up and stop being scared of the cultural elite and reclaim Christianity’s place at the cutting edge of art, music, science, architecture, philosophy, etc.

Christianity thus must be both conservative and progressive (neither term being used in the Church of Christ senses). Christianity is conservative in that it preserves the Biblical teachings, including the scriptural understanding of man and right relationships. Christianity is progressive in that there is no better framing story or metanarrative in which to find solutions to the problems of all men.

Christianity offers much more than a ticket to heaven at death. It offers a better way of being and relating right here and now, and thus a better understanding of the human condition. And a better understanding of the human condition leads to better sociology, better art, better science, better everything.

* To Change the World gives a better understanding of how to live as a Christian. The traditional evangelical view of how to live is (a) be moral and (b) tell your neighbors about Jesus. And those are true but incomplete. The Church Growth Movement and many other “how to” teachings of the last several years work within that narrow framework — friendship evangelism, Barnabas parties, meeting felt needs, slicker marketing, etc. — some good ideas, some not so good, but all taught within that framework.

The missional perspective correctly adds to the mix the necessity of doing good for the weak through food programs, Celebrate Recovery, and many other excellent and much needed initiatives, showing the love of Jesus in practical ways that go far beyond “come worship with me.” The change is toward going into the world to lift up Jesus through works of service. But the missional approach offers little guidance on how to live outside the church-world. What is our mission in our spare time, on weekends and holidays. What about 8 to 5?

Just so, the neo-Anabaptist perspective correctly urges to us work hard to build the church into the community God intends for us to be, and to so offer the world a preview of heaven. If the church really lived the Sermon on the Mount and 1 Cor 13 internally, it would offer an alternative community showing what Jesus offers. And this is right and good, but says nothing about 8 to 5.

The Christian Right and Left pursue holy ends through governmental means, and so take us in entirely the wrong direction. We have to reject their methods while retaining many of their goals. Both are right to call us to be active in standing up for the defenseless: the unborn, the poor, and the discriminated against. And yet neither addresses how to live — only how to vote. They share a sadly narrow perspective on what Christianity is about.

As long-term readers know, I’m a big advocate for the missional approach to Christianity and for building up the church as the neo-Anabaptists envision — and for fleeing the search for political power. But the “faithful presence” perspective adds some much needed thoughts —

1. While it’s not much taught in the churches, the Bible is clear that part of God’s goal for his church is for us to become like God.

(Eph 4:24 ESV)  [P]ut on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

(Eph 5:1 ESV) Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.

To be like God has profound implications.

2. It means sharing in his generous common grace, doing good for the just and the unjust.

(Mat 5:44-45 ESV)  44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

(Luk 6:27-28 ESV) “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

But “doing good” is more than evangelism and traditional acts of benevolence. It could be as simple as serving on the board of education and doing good for all the students, not just the baseball team your son plays on or the honors classes where you daughter attends. Or running a business for the good of the employees and the community, as well as the customers.

We so want to compartmentalize our lives that we can’t even imagine how being a Christian businessman or professor would be different from a secular businessman or professor. At least part of the difference is the call to use all your gifts to bless others — lost and saved.

3. It means being creative — in everything — and recognizing the image of God even among non-Christians, indeed, even in the enemies of Christianity. God is creative, and therefore we draw others closer to God as we exercise our own creativity in constructive ways.

4. It means sacrifice. This is the essential theme of the Cruciform God series. Theosis (becoming like God) is kenosis (imitating the self-emptying of Jesus on the cross). Indeed, one of the most common errors in contemporary “how to” Christianity is the omission of sacrifice from our theology. There is no suffering in voting for the right candidate or lobbying for the right bill. There is little sacrifice in building up the perfect community of Christians.

But to be like God, you have to be willing to submit to the cross for people who hate you. And this means, at least, that we should be willing to be faithful no matter the cost — and that we don’t market Jesus as having a low, low cost available, on sale now, with interest-free financing, all for the price of an immersion in water!!! No, Jesus was a terrible marketer —

(Luk 14:26 ESV) “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

You’d think the Son of God, possessor the Spirit without measure, would be a better salesman than that! You see, sacrifice and service are very nearly the definition of what it means to live for Jesus.

To Change the World: Essay 3, Summary, Part 2

[This series of posts won’t be a traditional book review. Rather, I’ll summarize parts of To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter, and then I’ll add my own thoughts. I may criticize the book here and there, but I don’t have much to criticize.]

Hunter proposes an approach he calls “faithful presence within.” He summarizes the idea in “two essential lessons” —

The first is that incarnation is the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution; the erosion of trust between word and world and the problems that attend it. From this follows the second: it is the way the Word became incarnate in Jesus Christ and the purposes to which the incarnation was directed that are the only adequate reply to challenge of difference.

In other words, the church has to live the life of Jesus for the purposes of Jesus — and nothing else will do. Continue reading

To Change the World: Essay 3, Summary, Part 1

[This series of posts won’t be a traditional book review. Rather, I’ll summarize parts of To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter, and then I’ll add my own thoughts. I may criticize the book here and there, but I don’t have much to criticize.]

The third and final essay in the book is “Toward a New City Commons: Reflections on a Theology of Faithful Presence.” This is where Hunter moves from critique to prescription.

I’m going to backtrack a bit. Hutson ends Essay 2 with a discussion of “Jesus and ‘Social’ Power,” which forms much of the basis for Essay 3. Hutson reviews the life and teachings of Jesus and concludes —

[T]he spirit that animates worldly power — whether held by individuals, social groups, communities, institutions, or social structures — naturally tends toward manipulation, domination, and control. Rooted in the deceptions of misdirected desire, it is a power that in its most coarse expressions would exploit, subjugate, and even enslave. …

It is this power and the spirit that animates it whose sovereignty Christ came to break. Continue reading

Jesus Manifesto, a review received this book for free in exchange for agreeing to review it. I shouldn’t have made that deal — but it was an honest mistake. You see, I’ve read some of Frank Viola’s books, and he usually writes well-researched, intellectually meaty books — exactly the kind of books I like.

But Jesus Manifesto is really more of an inspirational or devotional book — and I just don’t like that form of literature. I’ve read the reviews at Amazon and throughout the internet, and that seems to be the split. Reviewers who are into serious theology find the book shallow and even say things like

As for me, I have read the first several chapters and each time I read a chapter it is hard to work up any enthusiasm for going back to read the next chapter.  It’s not that they are saying anything I necessarily disagree with, in fact much of it is spot on.  But the book insinuates that these authors are telling us something new in telling us that the Christian life is all about Jesus. Continue reading

Colossians: 1:1 – 1:17

Colossae mound

(Col 1:1-5a ESV) Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,  2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.  3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,  4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,  5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.

“Hope laid up” is means hope kepts in a safe place for future use. If they’d had layaway plans in the First Century, this is the word they’d have used. The idea is that our hope is stored up in heaven for us to be brought out for us at the right time yet to come.

(Col 1:5b-8 ESV) Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,  6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing–as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,  7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf  8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

“The word of truth” is, of course, the gospel. We often think of “truth” as any proposition that is true, but the New Testament writers usually use “truth” in a very specific sense. It’s the truth in contrast to the lie that permeates the Empire. It’s the truth about Jesus, contrasted to the lie of paganism and all other pretenders to truth.

The “grace of God” is, of course, God’s generosity in the form of Jesus’ redeeming work. This grace is “in truth” because God’s generosity comes through the gospel.

“Love in the Spirit” means more than “love.” Paul isn’t just tossing in church words to sound eloquent. Rather, he means love that is prompted by the Spirit — the right kind of love, the love that God gives his people.

(Col 1:9-12 ESV)  9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.  11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,  12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

By now, surely the Colossians are impressed by Paul’s prayer life. He is clearly in constant prayer for a church he never visited, just because it’s a church. It’s not even in a big and influential city, and yet Paul — who was surely a very busy man — makes Colosse a routine part of his prayer life.

And Paul plainly expects his prayers to be effective. He prays for the Colossians to have knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. He prays for them to have “power” commensurate with the “might” of the Lord. This is to give them endurance and joy.

“Inheritance” is a word borrowed from the Torah. There, it speaks of the land, the Promised Land. In New Testament use, “inheritance” is shifted from the land in Palestine to the new heavens and new earth — the entire world merged with heaven for our enjoyment.

The goal, of course, is for the Christians to “bear fruit in every good work.” Some have argued that “fruit” in the New Testament speaks particularly of new converts, on the theory that fruit contains seeds and creates new plants. But that’s not the image. There is only one vine. The goal isn’t t plant new vines; it’s for the vine God planted to bear fruit — that is, to be productive of something valuable to God — “every good work.”

This is the Christian ethic. The focus isn’t on fleeing evil (although that is essential). Rather, the goal is to take us away from evil and to instead be productive members of God’s Kingdom, doing good — not to earn salvation but to accomplish his mission in us.

Notice how he combines “every good work” with “the knowledge of God.” To Paul, knowledge of God isn’t just about Bible class. You learn about God from doing good works. As Jesus taught in Matt 25, when we serve “the least of these,” we serve Jesus himself. We find the face of God in the faces of those we serve. Knowledge of God comes much more through service for those God loves than through study.

(Col 1:13-14 ESV)  13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

“Has delivered” indicates that it’s an accomplished fact. The delivery has already occurred. We’ve already been transported from darkness to light, from the world to the kingdom.

Now, “kingdom” is a big word. The word might be better translated “reign,” that is, we’ve been delivered from the land of rebellion to the land where God’s rule is honored.

Just so, “kingdom” carries the meaning of “nation.” We are no longer citizens of Rome but of heaven. God is our king, not Caesar. We’ve changed nationalities. We become resident aliens, citizens of another nation visiting this foreign land on the business of our king — who is the true king of this land as well, but whose authority hasn’t yet been fully acknowledged.

“Jesus is King” means “and no one else is.” The ultimate source of all authority and power is Jesus, and we may serve no other master. Therefore, for example, when we vote, we vote as Christians, not as selfish people of the world. We vote the ticket of service and sacrifice, as this is the nature of the kingdom.

We have redemption, which literally freedom from slavery. Paul is saying to his readers — some of whom owned slaves — that you were all once slaves and God has paid the price of your manumission. He bought you in the slave market and set your free. He paid the price.

You see, “deliver” means “cause to escape” — as in “deliverance.” Paul is paralleling the Exodus, comparing our salvation today to God’s saving the Israelites from slavery by delivering them from captivity and preparing for them an inheritance.

Slavery is a distant memory for Americans, but was a present reality in Colosse, and freemen would have been embarrassed to be called slaves manumitted by God from slavery, but that’s the idea. And just as in the Exodus, this kind of freedom means leaving one country to become citizens of another. The Israelites were no longer citizens of Egypt, but of the Promised Land. And they’d have been crazy to think of themselves as citizens both of Egypt and the Israel, serving both Pharaoh and God. God defeated Pharaoh.

(Col 1:15-17 ESV)  15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him.  17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Paul now changes the subject, transitioning from our part of the story to Jesus’ role.

“Firstborn” doesn’t mean that Jesus is a created being. Rather, he is the heir apparent to the throne of God. Indeed, he is the “image” of the invisible God. We can’t see God, but have been allowed to see Jesus, and he is God’s eikon. An eikon (or icon) is a portrait or image. In a world without photography, the way you could know what the Emperor looked like was to see a bust of his head — an eikon.

Now, this is a word loaded with meaning.

(Gen 1:26 ESV) Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Mankind was supposed to be in God’s image, but we are broken images of God because of sin. Jesus, therefore, is true humanity. He is what we were always meant to be. Jesus doesn’t call us into a new way of being, but into the original way of being. He calls us back to Eden — and, indeed, our inheritance is a return the Garden, to walking once again with God and in right relationship with each other.

And so, Jesus shows us God’s essential nature, but he also shows us our own essential nature — which is an amazing thought. To be like Jesus is to be like God. And so … what is Jesus like? What is the image of God that Jesus shows us?

Paul first teaches a history lesson. Jesus was present with God at the beginning and was part of the making of the Creation. And the created order includes “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” — all things with authority — all authority comes from Jesus. It may be abused. It may be used for sinful purposes, but no one has authority over Jesus. Rather, Jesus has authority over everyone.

Jesus is from before the Creation, but he is not the god of Deism. He continues to be active in this world. All things “hold together” because of his ongoing activity.

“Hold together” has the sense of being organized in the right way. In the Greek, “holds together” means it not only doesn’t fall apart, but it was put together right. Jesus fit the universe — and the powers — in their right places, and Jesus continues to hold it together.

To Change the World: Essay 2, Reflection

[This series of posts won’t be a traditional book review. Rather, I’ll summarize parts of To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter, and then I’ll add my own thoughts. I may criticize the book here and there, but I don’t have much to criticize.]

Reflecting on his second esssay is an overwhelming task. There’s so much to say I can hardly say anything. Let’s see …

Now, I had already reached many of the same conclusions as Hunter regarding the Christian Right and the Christian Left. But he was ahead of me on the neo-Anabaptists. I hadn’t bought their whole agenda, but had not thought through it nearly as well as Hunter.

I do agree with much that they say (as does Hunter), but Hunter has persuaded me that their theology is missing some key elements. Continue reading