The Foreign Country of Evangelicalism…

It has been a while since I’ve written much of anything lately. When I left my last job as a cell phone salesperson, I looked forward to the increased amount of free time to read and write, but whenever I sit down to do so I get hit with a ton of emotions about a ton of different things. I want to write about it all because I believe it’s important to do so; writing has been a form of therapy for me. But trying to tackle them all at once is exhausting.

If I had to pick just one topic, though, it’d be the weird feeling I get when I think about how invested into evangelicalism I used to be.

Every now and then a Facebook memory pops up from when I was in college, or I read through my journal entries from my days in the dorms, or I simply glance at what used to be my favorite books now sitting a box designated for Goodwill, and I get this weird feeling that I’m looking at someone else’s life – someone else’s hopes and dreams, wonders and worries.

I see a guy who believed that Jesus was everything and that no matter what happened in his life, Jesus was going to take care of him. I see a guy who believed he’d live in a nice house in some small town with his wife and three kids. Both he and her would work full-time jobs while being part of a ministry on the weekends. They’d wear the trendy clothes and cook all the trendy meals, complete with Instagram photos of every one. Once or twice a month, he’d hit up the local golf course with a few friends from church or work, enjoy a beer or two afterword, and then head home to a movie night with his family. I see a guy who didn’t worry about healthcare, rent, car payments, having a decent credit score, etc., etc.

Essentially, I see a guy who believed he could live a white male life where every one and every thing around him was simply a prop that celebrated him.

When I went to seminary, this vision for my life was still sort of there. I saw myself becoming a professor of theology at a small college somewhere back east, complete with several published books and annual trips to SBL/AAR. Every class I had taken was another means of honing my academic skills toward this vision. But then Michael Brown Jr. was murdered by a white police officer and I felt compelled to call it an injustice via my Facebook and Twitter profiles.

That was when I lost my honorary white male status.

I had quickly lost track of the number of white guys – both evangelical and non-believer – popping into my comments or Twitter mentions to tell me how wrong I was about police brutality overwhelmingly impacting people of color, or how racism no longer existed. Twitter mentions from random white guys don’t really matter to me at all; I can block or mute and move on. But the folks commenting on Facebook posts were people I had known, people I had talked to in person, people I had been in physical community with – holding hands together in prayer, or slapping high fives after an Oregon Duck touchdown. We barbecued together, golfed together, and had deep conversations about God together. So when I pointed out an injustice that primarily targets people of color – myself included – and then received such silencing comments from people I had been so close to, the life I had envisioned for myself disappeared.

To say that I was hurt or burned by the church or by former friends would be an understatement.

What came next was not a response out of fear of losing more people from my life, though. Instead, I felt it was my purpose to explore my Cherokee heritage – something that I had once convinced myself was not worth doing simply because Jesus was the way, truth, and life, so all other perspectives were fruitless endeavors. After all, police brutality – amongst other institutionalized abuses on behalf of the state – largely impacted Indigenous communities as much as black communities, so when white evangelicals would say, “All lives matter,” they were silencing my voice, too. When I chose to learn the histories of Indigenous communities broadly, and Cherokee communities in particular, I saw nothing but blood on the hands of Christians both past and present. Bringing these findings to light, however, was yet another point at which white evangelicals told me to be quiet. Or they were quick to point out the violence of the Indigenous communities, too – as if “both sides” were equally violent.

It was then that I realized these “friendships” were nominal at best. I was only accepted into the fold of white evangelicals if I kept my mouth shut about race – if I believed police departments, courtrooms, legislative agendas, etc., were all impartial entities not controlled by white supremacist ideologies. If I dared to question these empire-produced institutions, I was made to feel as though I was no longer a Christian. However, in retrospect, if being Christian meant accepting the life experiences of the white male as the norm, then I was never destined to be Christian at all. It would be impossible given that I am, as I have always been, a consequence of colonialism.

It is no surprise, then, that evangelicalism feels so foreign to me. At least it shouldn’t be. It is a contextual theology founded on an understanding of itself as universally true – that there is no other way to commune with Creator than through the patriarchal, US-exceptionalistic, hyper-capitalistic, white supremacist lens which had been so divinely bestowed upon the Reformers roughly 500 years ago (as opposed to, you know, when Jesus walked the earth) and preserved through the thousands of different Protestant denominations since. Any other type of theological framework is inherently flawed because it does not deduce theology from a “plain text” reading, but instead “constructs” one through an ideological framework (e.g. queer readings, feminist readings, liberationist readings, etc.). But it does not evaluate its own framework for these same contextual influences – that western culture has influenced western theology (e.g. “debts have been paid”). Thus, it is a belief system that is inherently hypocritical producing almost nothing but hypocrites.

You might think my language here is harsh, but look where we are. We have a Donald Trump presidency largely due to white evangelicals’ obsession with appearances over impact – they have allowed their western civilization to influence their theological framework so much so that they have ignored massive amounts of the biblical text, which they supposedly hold so dear to their hearts. They further displace the homeless, remove access to healthcare from the sick, and exploit the black and brown inmates rather than helping them rehabilitate into society. Their actions do not exemplify their faith.

And before it gets thrown at me, I am not creating divisions where there were none. I’m not inventing an “us and them” mentality; I’m merely pointing it out. I have long operated within evangelicalism as a foreigner – as someone who doesn’t naturally fit in so they have to learn to acclimate (or rather, assimilate) to the norms of the dominant culture. I had to learn how to talk and act civilized well before I became a Christian, but especially after. And I am simply done with it.

It is too much work.

Instead, I’m going where Creator leads me. Right now, that means exploring Cherokee history, culture, and spirituality even more than I already have. Because I have found that at the crossroads of cultures – of being both white and Cherokee – there are plenty of people like me seeking to restore what was ripped away from our ancestors. And I’m going to do this right, I cannot try to rely on anything evangelical. Since I’ve started to discuss racism from my own experience, I have been silenced and criticized, and all of this tells me one thing: white evangelicals were never my community anyway.

If my experiences have no place in their hearts, then my existence has no place in their church. If they are not willing to exercise compassion upon the marginalized and displaced of western society, then I have no reason to believe that Jesus is there among them.

So why should I be?

Work, bills, and personal health…

Not having a regular job is strange.

About nine months ago I realized that my fiancé and I were not going to be able to raise the funds to move to Texas for the 2016-17 school year. That is when I contacted Brite Divinity to defer my enrollment to this fall in the hopes that we would be able to move there after a year of saving money. At the same time, I landed a job as a salesperson inside Costco, where I would be selling cell phones.

Believe me, I do not belong in sales.

When I worked for the Duck Store, it was a completely different retail environment. Everyone coming into the store was already looking for something (or maybe they weren’t), and it was not my job to make sure they bought more than they intended to buy, nor to buy from the Duck Store (though we were instructed to emphasize the value of shopping with us, of course). For the most part, I would help customers find the items they were already looking for, bag it up, and wish them a fun time at the Duck game for whichever sport was in season. It had its bad days, but it was fun for the most part.

Costco is a different environment altogether. Most customers coming in are there for a myriad of reasons, but mostly they are there for better prices. And when they are looking for a new phone, they usually pop in to their local corporate store for their carrier and/or the nearest Best Buy just to have a price point in mind when they come to see our deals. What this meant for me was constantly having to be ready to persuade someone to shop from me – on top of helping them find a suitable phone. But on top of all this, we had to hit our sales goals, which included more than just phones: tablets, protection plans, and accessories had to be pitched with every phone sale. Lastly, instead of simply greeting customers as they walked up to our kiosk, we were asked to be out in the aisles, telling people about the deals we have for phones, tablets, etc. (even when we did not have great deals).

For an introvert, this is an extremely exhausting environment. Not only was I among hundreds of people inside a building, but I had to engage almost every one of them who came by our kiosk. And when our kiosk is positioned close to the front door, that means we talked to practically everyone. Greeting customers at the Duck Store was easy; I would say hello and let them know that I was available to help them find what they were looking for. But at the kiosk, I had to force conversations with customers – even when it was clear via their body language that they were not interested in having a conversation. They just wanted to look at the phones.

With all the extroverted energy required for this job, I realized that I could not work much longer there. So, at the tail end of October, I bought a new car (2016 Kia Soul that I am very happy with) and applied to become a Lyft driver. And a little more than a week ago, I finally left the kiosk.

Having been away for about ten days, I now realize just how toxic of an environment that really was. All of the social energy spent during even a slow work day would often leave me mentally and physically drained when I got off. Any reading or writing that I had wanted to do at the beginning of the day would definitely not get done at the end of it. Instead, I would come home, eat food, and binge-watch a show on Netflix until I was tired enough to sleep. For someone who desires to continue school, having a job that cultivates creative energy is important. At this job, my creative energy had to be manipulated to get customers to buy from me so that I would receive a better paycheck. So not only was my creativity already being spent, it was being spent for something that only really benefitted me (sometimes the customer also).

When I think back on all or most of my blog writing, I did it with the hope that someone somewhere would find something relatable in it. That is how I would like my creative energy to be used; to connect with other people – and maybe even help them. And this is why I could not work much longer at that kiosk; any and all energy had to be used for my own personal gain. It just was not healthy for me.

These past ten days have been freeing, though. Sure, our financial situation is still weighing on me; we have about three months to raise a budget for our wedding in July on top of all the other monthly bills we have (totaling close to $3,000). But I am in a far better position to handle these stresses since I am no longer in a job that only added more stress. Even if we are unable to move to Texas this summer, I know that I am in a much healthier place.

And the academic itch has been rekindled, too. I have a lot more time to read with a fully engaged mind, work on my Hebrew/Greek, and/or write stuff I want to write (like this post). There is quite a long road ahead of me to get ready for Brite, so I am quite thankful to have a little more time and energy at home. But I think what I am most excited about is being able to be my creative self.

Being a Lyft driver full time requires a greater amount of self-discipline, too. Sure, most of the days I have taken off lately were to get other things done and/or caught up. But some days, like yesterday, were because I was procrastinating. This will not work for the long haul, but the thing I keep in mind is that eight hours of driving people around is not nearly as toxic as working at that kiosk. I can drive from 8 to noon, come home for a two hour lunch, and then cap off the work shift from 2 to 6 – all with plenty of time in the evening for whatever I would like – like wedding planning and book reading with the fiancé. And if this does not produce the needed income, I can drive Friday and Saturday nights, too.

For all of my life, I have worked jobs that I believed I could manage without ever considering whether or not that job was healthy for me. And my definition of “manage” was basically being able to survive a work shift and still have some physical energy when I came home. Emotional and mental factors were hardly ever considered. So I feel a little uncomfortable leaving a job mostly for emotional/mental factors, but I think it is because I never learned to care for myself in a work environment.

I suppose this means that wise decisions are not always comfortable.

Thank you for reading.

 

P.S. For those who would like to help my fiancé and I with our wedding and move to Texas, we have a fundraiser to which you can donate here. Any little bit will help. Thank you!

Rezurrection…

It wasn’t until I was ten or eleven when I stopped daydreaming I was a white kid. I have always been aware of my tan skin, but I haven’t always understood my tan skin as evidence of my Cherokee heritage. I had always thought I was just a really tan white kid and that some day I’d revert back to that white skin and start to match the kid I daydreamed myself to be.

That day will never come.

Doing my master’s thesis on Native American Christologies brought about a ton of challenges. (Re-)Learning the history of the relationship between American Indians and the U.S., deciphering where within postcolonial studies such a project fits despite there being nothing “post” about colonialism to Indigenous contexts, etc., etc. While academic challenges stretched my mind, emotional challenges made the project seem unbearable.

With nearly every page of material I read, I could see a connection between myself and colonialism. I could see exactly how my father’s parents were ripped from their traditions when they were probably sent to boarding schools, and how this left my father devoid of direction and a sense of responsibility. I could see how he was deprived of traditional values, which led to him feeling wayward. I could see why he chose to get high and steal. And I could see how this painful history was almost completely erased my identity when I was incorrectly labeled “white.”

Talking about Indigenous studies of almost any kind (theological, anthropological – though for me there really isn’t a separation) has become incredibly personal. Not only does it re-open wounds I had thought were healed, but it brings about a direct indictment of my Christian faith. Christianity played a major role in the dehumanization of countless tribes in both the U.S. and Canada (as well as other continents wherein indigenous peoples were forcibly removed from their families and sacred land – sound familiar?). And sure, as many white Christians like to chime in, modern day Christians had nothing to do with that, so why bother bringing it up? Believe it or not, this question has come my way plenty of times. Answering it has often been frustrating and painful because a single answer does not do this topic justice. But here are a few of my reasons:

I bring it up because Christian missionaries were often the agents acting on behalf of the state to delegitimize Indigenous religious practices – leading to genocide of both life and culture.

I bring it up because Christianity’s marriage to colonialism orphaned countless Indian kids like me, forcing us to grow up without knowing one or both of our parents.

I bring it up because I am so sick and tired of being referenced to passages in the bible about forgiveness and loving one’s enemy, but not to the points where Jesus is directly addressing what we would call systemic racism.[1]

I bring it up because I have never encountered such opposition as when I started posting and sharing things online that discuss race and police brutality – and that the predominant group of people hopping into my mentions and comment sections were white, Christian men.

I bring it up because I am so painfully exhausted that so many white Christians believe the Logos has only enlightened Christians rather than everyone, as John 1:9 tells us. This means that traditional Native stories that are often written off as “myths” (which depends on a skewed definition of “myth”) are actually speaking of the Creator.

I bring this all up because past pain has present realities.

If we wish to understand why there are states of emergency being declared among the First Nations of Canada, why countless tribes like the Navajo people are having their culture appropriated and ripped from them with no share in the profits, or why countless reservations are experiencing worse water conditions than Flint, Michigan (another example of systemic racism at work, considering Flint’s demographics) – we better understand how whiteness has manipulated the brown-skinned Jesus of Nazareth to justify mass destruction.

And we better not listen to white voices to learn these realities either. That only perpetuates the problem. Many whites have counter-argued that listening to only Native voices is “biased” and we should strive for objectivity. But those who make this argument don’t understand that their perspective has been socialized just as much as any Indigenous perspective – the only difference being their white opinion in a white-dominant society is treated as the “norm.” There is no such thing as true objectivity.

The near genocide of both Native peoples and cultures has led me to where I am now: only knowing half of my heritage. Unlike my white friends and family, I have to learn about my other heritage from books[2] – which is antithetical to Indigenous world views because the written word is not trustworthy. In a manner of speaking, this process has been a rezurrection[3] of sorts; bringing back to life Keetoowah traditions and values that were once dead to me.

And like blood returning to an uncirculated limb or oxygen to a constricted lung, the process has been painful.

Christianity often portrays Jesus’s resurrection as devoid of pain and understandably so – there is no play-by-play of Jesus coming out of the grave in Scripture. But after this experience of re-engaging Native traditions and values, it makes me wonder if, perhaps, it was a painful experience for Jesus, too. It makes me wonder that in the act of returning to his Creator nature, the knowledge of the events that would take place “in his name” brought him again to his knees, pleading that this cup of suffering would pass over him. Yes, his resurrection was and is glorious, but that does not necessarily mean it did not hurt.

Seeing Jesus through these new lenses of American Indian traditions and stories has been painful because of the realities they bring. But it doesn’t mean they are devoid of hope and healing. It simply means I am free to daydream as a Cherokee descendant, as I truly am.

It means I am free to be brown-skinned and normal.

[1] See “the Good Samaritan.”

[2] My advisor, Randy Woodley, is the only Keetoowah (“Cherokee”) I have ever met who has guided me through a lot of Keetoowah history and traditions. For 26 years of my life, I had to read books to find out about my heritage.

[3] Many Indigenous folks talk about “life on the rez,” so this spelling is intentional.

Ὁ βασιλεύς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; “The King of the Jews”…

There comes a point in studying Greek where one begins to wonder the purpose of it all. What does it matter that the verb Paul uses here is in the imperative mood rather than the indicative? Why do I need to know the difference between the active and passive voices? Jesus didn’t speak in Greek, so why should I?! These are all questions that come to mind late at night when the my mind can no longer handle participles, subjunctives, accusative nouns, and so on and so forth. But yesterday’s in-class quiz provided a moment where, even though I was (and still am) extremely fatigued, I saw exactly why studying Greek is crucial.

John 19:21-22 was the short passage we were asked to parse and translate. Being two-thirds of the way through the second semester of Greek, almost everyone in the class is at a point where we can begin translating as we read. But writing out the parses of every word helps us not to mistranslate by reading into the text a meaning that is not inherent to the text (a process called “eisegesis”). As I began writing out the English words, I started remembering the particular passage we were translating. Resisting the urge to put down the English words I had committed to memory, I kept going until I had a full translation. From the outset, nothing was really noticeably different. But when we were asked to make an observation of textual features, several things stood out.

But first, here’s the Greek with my own translation:

ἔλεγον οὖν τῷ Πιλάτῳ οἱ ἀρκιερεῖς τῶν Ἰουδαίων μὴ γράφε ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων, ἀλλ᾽ὅτι ἐκεῖνος εἶπεν βασιλεύς εἰμι τῶν Ἰουδαίων. ἀπεκρίθη ὁ Πιλᾶτος ὃ γέγραφα, γέγραφα.

“Then the rulers of the Jews were saying to Pilate, ‘Do not write “The King of the Jews,” but that “That[1] one said, I am a king of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘Whatever I have written, I have written.’”

Several observations are as follows:

  1. ἔλεγον (lit. “they were saying”) begins the sentence rather than follow its subject (“The rulers of the Jews”). Not only does this place an emphasis on the conversation between the rulers of the Jews and Pilate, but it speaks to the frequency with which these rulers were speaking to Pilate about this issue (calling Jesus “The King of the Jews”). With this word being in the imperfect tense (“were saying”), it is suggesting two things: 1. It is on-going and 2. It is in the foreground, “in your face” as we might say. In the English translations, we picture this scene as happening once and only once, but the Greek indicates it was a repeated action from the Jews – to pester Pilate about what he had written on the sign above Jesus. But a second observation works with this one.
  2. μὴ γράφε (lit. “do not write”) is one among several styles of prohibitions. Whenever there is μὴ plus a present imperative (which is what γράφε is), there is a sense that it is a prohibition against an action currently in progress or a continuous action.[2] In either case, there is a sense of interruption – that the Jews were interrupting Pilate in his continuous action of having the sign made up or stopping it after it had started. This is all setting the stage for what Pilate winds up saying.
  3. ὁ βασιλεὺς (lit. “the king”) is in the nominative case, which means it is the main subject of “the King of the Jews.” What is significant is that it is coming from Pilate, a Roman governor. Rather than letting Jesus hang from the cross like any other criminal, Pilate goes out of the way to make an example of Jesus – “Here is the king of the Jewish people, hanging on one of our Roman crosses.” Pilate is inflicting a deep sense of humiliation and shame – not unlike the exilic experiences of old. But notice the difference between this and observation #5 below.
  4. ἐκεῖνος εἶπεν (lit. “that one said”), as noted in the footnotes, gets translated as “this man” or “this one,” but neither translation speaks to the degree of insult this word carries. For one thing, it removes Jesus’ name. For another, it distances the Jewish leadership from Jesus in essence saying “That one there is not one of us.” Here the Jewish leadership was seeking to qualify the statement in order to preserve some sense of Jewish integrity. Combining this with rest of what the Jews had told (not asked) Pilate to write, one gains a fuller sense of the insult against Jesus.
  5. βασιλεύς εἰμι τῶν Ἰουδαίων (lit. “a king am I of the Jews”) – not “the King,” but “a king.” Nothing about what the Jewish leaders told Pilate to write says that they saw him as their king. It almost seems as if they were attempting to make Jesus out to be a lunatic – as if he had made a ridiculous claim about himself. What is most important from this text, though, is that Jesus never made such a claim. In fact, when questioned by Pilate in the Synoptics, Jesus replies, “You say so.”[3]
  6. ὃ γέγραφα, γέγραφα (lit. “whatever I have written, I have written.”) – What is interesting about Pilate’s response is that he uses the perfect tense (“I have”). In this tense, there is a sense of finality to the action, but with on-going effect. Pilate definitively named Jesus the Jewish King, so that all Jews would be humiliated by Jesus’ death on the cross.

What I find most interesting when all of these pieces are put together is the presence of a political opportunity for Pilate and a nationalist move by the Jewish leadership. Pilate seeks to obtain favor from Rome, so he declares Jesus “The King the Jews,” even though in his conversation with Jesus (as noted above), Jesus did not confirm Pilate’s question. With this sign for Jesus hanging above him as he hung on the cross, Jews passing by would be humiliated – their king has received the worst punishment Rome could deliver. One can see why the Jews were persistent about changing what Pilate had written.

Learning Greek and Hebrew have been difficult enterprises, no doubt. Yet such a discipline has allowed me to see that the Biblical text is so much more astonishing in its original languages. Literary allusions, puns (yes, even puns!), and connotations all become clearer, which gives a stronger sense of the various contextual environments, as shown above. So even as the semester reaches its peak with all its papers and projects coming due, I have a vivid reminder as to why all of it matters.

God bless.

[1] Both the ESV and NRSV translate ἐκεῖνος (which literally means “that” or “that one”) as “this man.” My focus here is to go as literal as possible because what is missed in English translations is how this was actually an insult against Jesus.

[2] William D. Mounce gives an explanation about the difference in his Basics of Biblical Greek, 3rd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 314-317. Cf. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar, Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 485, 714-17.

[3] Cf. Matt. 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:33-38a.

Politics: To Play or Not To Play…

If you have seen a few of my tweets or a couple Facebook statuses here and there, you would know that House of Cards has disrupted my focus. The devious Francis J. Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) puts the artist in “con artist”; craftily manipulating whomever he needs in order to exercise higher levels of power. If one were to stand in his way, Francis would then proceed to utterly obliterate their career in a heartbeat. Or he would utterly obliterate their heartbeat.

Those who have seen the first couple of seasons know just how true this is.

Yet there was an interesting moment during “Chapter 22” (Season 2, Episode 9), where a particular person who causes problems for both Francis and his wife, Claire. His name is Adam Galloway and is a world-famous photographer who was approached by rivals of Underwood seeking to ruin their political careers. Galloway complied and released a couple of photos of Claire that would raise questions within the public about her marriage with Francis. Even though what Galloway says regarding the photos is actually true – that the photos reveal exactly what they appear to reveal; an affair between him and Claire – Claire asks him to humiliate his own public standing so that the Underwood name is cleared. Galloway responds with, “I am not a part of this world.”

Another figure whom I worship and study on a daily basis has said a very similar claim in a very similar situation: “My kingdom is not from this world.”[1] While the political atmosphere within Jesus’ time was vastly different than what the modern atmosphere is now, it still operated in terms of power. Considering the tension between the Jewish leadership and the Roman government, Jesus was a trouble-maker on all fronts. He disrupted the religious system, which of course caused a problem for Pontius Pilate. As all four Gospels depict, the crowd was creating quite an uproar about crucifying Jesus – even suggesting to Pilate that he would be against the Emperor if he didn’t grant them their wish. The religious leaders wanted to exercise power over their own people; Pilate did not want his throne of power to be removed.

There is, then, a political connotation to Jesus’ words; he is quite literally saying that he does not play the same political games to attain or exercise power in this world. And yet, Jesus is saying something so much more; that the power he truly has was given to him and no one of earth can remove it from him.[2] Even if Jesus would want to have played the political game, he was well aware that the power given to him from God was greater than any on earth.

No, it is not a new thing to say that Jesus subverted the systems of power in his own day, nor is it a new thing to say that we should follow his lead. All that came to mind when watching House of Cards was that we are entering a new election year. The peak of this political season is still a year and a half out, but the campaigns have already begun. This means that those who play the game are already devising strategies to use the most people‘s votes to attain the various levels of power they seek. So now – yes, even now – is a critical time for the reminder of Jesus:

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”[3]

My hope with the upcoming political turmoil that our nation is about to endure is that I would not value people by whom they vote for, but because they are people. One of the biggest challenges to the church today is having a balanced relationship with modern political atmospheres – knowing when to challenge or reject political opinions and when to listen for whatever wisdom that might be gleaned from them. This is not to say that our favorite politicians either replace the teaching of Christ or never have anything of value to say at all. Rather, it is to say we must exercise wisdom when listening to them – to make sure that all their promises and plans operate under the commandment of neighborly love.

It is my hope and my challenge. Our political atmosphere does a great job of pitting those who care about how the country is run against each other – categorizing them into one camp or another with no concept of “both/and” thinking. Our world operates by polarized views, “us vs. them” rhetoric, and fusions of God with patriotism – that to vote for their particular political candidate is almost to vote for a representative of God.[4] If we are to follow Jesus at his word, then we are not to play the political games our country demands of us.

May we all seek to love our neighbor as ourselves – even if they are on the other “side” of the political spectrum.

God bless.

[1] John 18:36, NRSV. A more explicit resemblance comes from John 8:23; “You are of this world, I am not of this world.”

[2] Cf. John 5:36; 6:37, 39; 10:28-29; 12:49; etc.

[3] Mark 10:42-45.

[4] Roger Olson points out that “Deism quietly filtered into the fabric of North American religious and political life, and the God of Deism and natural religion became the ‘God’ of civil religion in the United States (‘In God We Trust’),” The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 532.

Sundays With St. Paul: Authentically “Pauline”…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N. T. Wright
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N. T. Wright

Nearing the end of his first chapter of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N.T. Wright lays out the sources being discussed throughout the rest of the book. Right from the beginning, he says he doesn’t want to simply concede “the ruling hypothesis” regarding the authenticity of Paul’s letters. Part of that “ruling hypothesis” are the seven, hardly questioned “Pauline” letters: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. What I found really interesting about Wright’s view of the “Pauline” corpus is what he adds: Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians.

My introduction to biblical studies carried along the “ruling hypothesis,” so I have had a hard time seeing the authenticity of the six other letters (Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus) as directly from Paul. Instead, I have thought of them as authored by Paul’s close disciples or, at the very least, someone within Paul’s school of thought. Bart Ehrman suggests in Forged, as the title suggests, that the latter six had a completely different agenda; to deceive their audiences into thinking they were from Paul (forgeries). I never finished that book partially because I didn’t find Ehrman’s argument convincing enough, but mostly because I didn’t find the topic interesting enough (but don’t worry, there’s still a bookmark for where I left off). Ehrman has since written a more scholarly version, but again, I’m having a hard time being compelled to read on.

Wright, as part of his goal with the entire book, offers a different picture than the one I’ve been led to believe. He says that Ephesians and Colossians aren’t included is because “Ephesians in particular, and Colossians to a considerable extent, seem to have a much stronger and higher view of the church – and, indeed, of Jesus himself – than many scholars have been prepared to allow.”[1] Since those other six letters have such a lack of “justification by faith” language, apart from Eph. 2:8, it seems unlikely that Paul was the author.

My own understanding about those other six, which might fall in line with Wright’s critique, is that they carry a very different tone and include language that reflects a much more developed theology, which seems quite different from Romans. For example, the qualifications for “bishops” and “deacons” in 1 Timothy 3 or the inclusion of what might have been Christian hymns in Ephesians and 1 Timothy again. Minor examples, sure, but they carry language and a flow that seems awkward compared to Romans or the Corinthian correspondence.

Yet I’m quite interested into how Wright might develop this further (please, if you’ve read ahead, no spoilers). One point he makes, referencing John A. T. Robinson, is that “a busy church leader may well write in very different styles for different occasions and audiences.”[2] As a writer, I know this is true.

What would you define as authentic “Pauline” epistles? Have you held to the “ruling hypothesis” like I have (admittedly, with not much research) or do you favor a view like Wright’s – something that seeks to give the benefit of the doubt to Paul? What are the letters you deem “Pauline”?

 

[1] N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress Press, 2013), 57

[2] Wright, PFG, 60

Sundays With St. Paul: “From Worldview to Theology”…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

With this past week being Spring Break, my Paul and the Law class didn’t have any discussion forum, which of course allowed me to watch a little more Doctor Who. It also allowed me to read a bit more from N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

Although I’m still wading through the first chapter, I found his “From Worldview to Theology” section interesting (36). Here Wright summarizes several of the terms scholars have used to discuss what Paul’s main point of emphasis was and what other points, if any, were secondary. To help illustrate his point, he shared four different diagrams:

Diagram 1
Diagram 1 (pg. 39)
Diagram 2
Diagram 2 (pg. 39)
Diagram 3
Diagram 3 (pg. 39)
Diagram 4
Diagram 4 (pg. 41)

 

The first is a simple collection of the terms, while the second (“classic Lutheran”) and third (“Reformed”) display which seemed to be more important and which seemed to be less important. Wright’s own diagram (the fourth one) contains all those terms into the same bubble, which he describes as a gathering together of puzzle pieces that had been separated onto several different tables. “Only when they have been brought together again in a single, initially confusing, mass can they be sorted out properly and fitted together into a more compelling, if inevitably more complex, single picture,” (44).

Given all of what has been discussed in this series thus far, what do you think of each of these diagrams? What do you think was Paul’s main focus (i.e. being “in Christ” or “the law”)? If none of these diagrams suits you, how would you rearrange them? Would you add or take anything away? And if you’ve read Wright’s book, is there anything he says that might help clarify the above arrangements?