Conservatives and liberals have often debated whether Jesus is the substitute for our sin or the one who is our representative, identifying with us in our sinful condition. I believe it is not a matter of either/or, but both/and. Jesus alone could bear the burden of taking upon himself the weight of God’s judgment for our sin; none of us can bear the burden for our own broken and sinful condition, let alone the entire world. We would be consumed… Read more

What liturgy shapes your church—a sacred liturgy or a secular one? In asking this question, I call to mind a conversation years ago with a noted Lutheran theologian. We were talking about consumerism and secularism. He remarked in terse terms: “Secularism will either empty the church or secularize the church.” Here is what I believe this theologian had in mind. Churches that retained their traditional Christian symbolism and liturgy have often lost consumers to churches that celebrate such things as Super Bowl Sunday. Both forms… Read more

How moral is religion? Not very—to put it lightly, if one’s perspective parallels Christopher Hitchens’ stance in God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Organized religion has certainly received its fair or unfair share of criticisms since the Enlightenment period. Some Enlightenment thinkers wrote of the Middle Ages as the Dark Ages filled with superstition and oppression, themes brought home in the movie, The Name of the Rose. While the church and state’s alignment in the Holy Roman Empire was certainly not always holy… Read more

There are many things that money can buy, but can it buy justice? I thought of this question as I was reading What Money Can’t Buy: the Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel. When we think that something can be bought and sold, we end up treating it like a commodity. We must guard against turning justice into a commodity: we cannot buy justice or pay for it; the only way to guard against turning justice into a… Read more

Casual sex can refer to one night stands and non-relational sex, where there are no strings attached. How often do people approach God in similarly casual ways? Biblical prophets write of how God’s people often play the harlot (See Ezekiel 16, for example). The problem becomes so bad that God tells Hosea to take for himself a prostitute as a wife. Their marriage involving her various adulteries and Hosea’s faithfulness in the midst of her infidelities symbolizes God’s relationship with… Read more

I originally posted this piece on February 1st, 2012. In preparing to teach on the subject of Trinitarian communion and its import for ecclesiology this semester,  I reflected upon these themes again and considered them pertinent in the present context. There is a great deal of talk about production and consumption in American society today. Such talk is found inside the American church as well. In fact, a noted pastor has called on men to be real men by moving from being consumers to being producers. Whether we… Read more

Is religion a private affair best kept to very quiet times in prayer closets, or should religion and the imperatives of the gospel impact every sphere of life in a public way? In my reading of Immanuel Kant’s “What Is Enlightenment?” he privatizes religion, or at least the church. The scholar of religion is to stick to the script and not critique religious symbols in his or her private duties, which entails his work as an ordained minister of the… Read more

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news that God’s saving grace is free of charge to all who believe; but how free are we who share it with others? The gospel or good news of Jesus Christ frees us to move beyond entitlement thinking in our outreach to others. Paul was so free he laid aside his rights as an Apostle to be served and to have certain entitlements so as to serve others. He did all this for the sake… Read more

Jesus is no bobble-headed doll or dashboard crucifix. He sums up all things in himself, as Irenaeus emphasized in his doctrine of recapitulation, and which the Bible makes exceptionally clear (Ephesians 1:10; ESV). Jesus Christ is the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15) and the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead. God’s aim is that in everything Jesus might be preeminent (Colossians 1:18).  All the fullness of God dwells in him (Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9) and we have been given fullness in Christ (Colossians… Read more

How seriously do we who are Christians take Jesus’ words recorded in John 17:23? Here we find Jesus praying to the Father on the eve of his crucifixion: “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:23; ESV) Given the suffering that awaits him in John’s account, we should realize just how important unity among his followers… Read more

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