This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       What an Average Home Looks Like in Every State: Wow. This is amazing, both in terms of the disparity of cost for the average home across states as well as the type of home you can get for that cost.

2.       God is not Silent in Your DepressionEd Welch is a wonderful counselor and offers a wealth of wisdom. He begins by describing depression, "Never has so much been crammed into one word. Depression feels terrifying. Your world is dark, heavy, and painful. Physical pain, you think, would be much better—at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression seems to go to your very soul, affecting everything in its path. Dead, but walking, is one way to describe it."

3.       How to Raise Spiritually and Emotionally Healthy KidsAaron Earls on some really important research about the long-term impact of parenting practices: "Those who attended religious services with parents or prayed or meditated on their own had healthier lives and improved mental health. Those who attended church at least once a week as children or teens were 18 percent more likely to report being happy as 20-something adults than those who never attended services."

4.       Three Privileges of Intimacy with the FatherTim Chester begins, "Step back and think about it for a moment, and you’ll realize what an amazing miracle it is that any of us should call God ‘Father’. But we do so every time we pray, through the Spirit of the Son."

5.       Wrestling with the Violence of GodJeff Elkins concludes his examination of a difficult passage with this reflection: "My problem is, I want more. I want to know why God would do such a thing, but the scripture does not give it to me. In the absence of that information, I am forced to ask myself what I know about God."

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Which Generation is the Loneliest? Surprisingly, Gen Z wins this distinction, but not for the reasons we might assume: "The study found no correlation between social media use and feelings of loneliness. Very heavy users of social media scored about the same on the loneliness scale as those who never use it."

2.      What is a Woman? Sandra Glahn answers this question deftly, She concludes, "In a world in which #MeToo and #ChurchToo remind us that brokenness has infiltrated every part of society including the church, the Bible’s truths are absolutely relevant. When God brought ishah (woman) to ish (man), he called their partnership “very good.” Let us show by our words and actions that we believe his words to be true."

3.      It's No Tragedy to Miss the Model: Til Challies reminds us that if marriage is a model, missing the model and gaining the real thing is okay: "Marriage is the miniature or the model while Christ and his church are full-scale, the real thing. This leads to an important application that pertains especially to those who are not married. When we understand the meaning of marriage, we realize that even if you never marry or are no longer married, you are not missing out on something that is essential to the human experience. If marriage had no meaning beyond itself, perhaps you would be missing out on something essential. But because marriage points to something else, you simply are not."

4.      Violence Against Women Begins in the Womb: This chilling report by Elaine Storkey is a must-read: "For the last two decades, reports have consistently illustrated the extent of the problem. After investigators uncovered 400 pieces of bone believed to be of female fetuses, reporters gave graphic details: “Last September,” wrote Raekha Prasad and Randeep Ramesh in The Guardian, 'remains of dozens of babies were exhumed from a pit outside an abortion clinic in Punjab. To dispose of the evidence, acid was used to melt the flesh and then the bones were hammered to smithereens.'"

5.      Tour of the Moon in 4K: Thanks to NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, I doubt you've ever seen the moon like this. Wow! 

Nonviolence and the Christian: the Military

Nonviolence and the Christian: the Military

We’ve been wrestling through a very difficult topic over the past several weeks: one that has forced me to take stock of my own thoughts on the issue of violence and come to different conclusions than what I’ve held in the past and different conclusions than many I respect. To be clear, my conclusions are a matter of personal conscience and do not represent the position of New Life.

It was Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight that provoked this internal battle for me. In his book, Sprinkle argues that most of us have allowed our culture to shape our understanding of the ethics of violence. Sprinkle says that his own perspective on violence was rocked when he approached Scripture and re-considered the ethics of violence. If you haven’t read the first four posts, I would encourage you to read them before reading this post as you will likely dismiss everything from this point forward without considering the biblical record on violence for yourself.

We are certainly about to move into controversial territory. I have no doubt that the vast majority of those who read this blog will disagree with where I land on the issue of violence and the military. I hope you know that I certainly respect your position, and am, if anything, more comfortable with your position than my current position. However, I have felt compelled toward moving toward an ethic of nonviolence over the past months of scriptural study and I would encourage you to consider the matter biblically as well. And if you come to a different conclusion, I invite your dialogue around the issue.

Imagine this: a senior in high school, you stop by a military recruiter’s table at a jobs fair and your interest is piqued: the ability to serve your country, the job stability, and the educational perks are intriguing. Does your conscience allow you to join the military?

I believe this is the most difficult of all of the questions.

Nonviolence and the Christian: But What about the Swords?

Nonviolence and the Christian: But What about the Swords?

The strongest counter to my argument that the Bible teaches an ethic that disallows us from taking another person’s life, even in the defense of oneself or another, is found in the episode about buying swords that several mentioned. I am going to push pause and answer that question about the interaction in Luke 22 as best as I can before finishing our series next week addressing the question of violence and the military.

The exchange between Jesus and his disciples happens right after the Last Supper and before Jesus prays on the Mount of Olives (and is subsequently arrested by the Roman cohort).

And [Jesus] said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They [the disciples] said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”[i]

This is the clearest biblical text that supports self-defense.[ii] It seems pretty cut and dry. Jesus tells his disciples to buy swords. So, how would I interpret this text?

Nonviolence and the Christian: Self-Defense

Nonviolence and the Christian: Self-Defense

While ideas can be clean, life is messy. We have begun wrestling with what the Bible says about violence. I have made the case that God calls us to nonviolence. While we can all agree on that admonition to nonviolence in most circumstances, what do we do in the midst of all sorts of situations that it appears that violence is necessary?

Arguing along with Preston Sprinkle and his book, Fight, I believe that while there are circumstances that physical restraint is appropriate, even physical restraint that might injure someone, we are never given biblical permission to use violent force that ends in death.

That is a position I come to tentatively and is an issue of conscience, not law. It is, in fact, a topic that Pastor Greg and I have respectful disagreement on.

I recognize from the outset that the positions I will be setting forth here are not only unpopular positions, they are minority positions. I respect those who come to different conclusions. I only recently changed my mind on what I believe is biblical. I hope you read charitably and with an understanding that I have no desire to stoke the flames of discord here, but rather to earnestly seek what God calls us to. If you haven’t read my first two posts that builds the case for nonviolence from the Old Testament and Jesus’ life, I would encourage you to do so.

So, let’s deal with the more difficult situations: self-defense or defense of someone else, or the use of violence while serving in the military. We will deal with the first question in this post and the question of the use of violence in the context of military service next week.

Let me begin with the fact that I believe that it is acceptable to use non-lethal force to neutralize aggression. So, I am not encouraging that a Christian be completely passive, but rather that there are restraints on what we can do.

An armed man enters your home. You wake up and hear footsteps in the living room. What is appropriate action? Everyone can agree the best first step is to call 911. But what if the situation escalates before the police arrive? Let’s raise it to the highest stakes: the gunman enters your room and, at gunpoint, threatens violence against your family.

There are two questions to ask: first, what is the ethical response for a Christian? And, second, what response will prove most successful?

Nonviolence and the Christian: Jesus' Ministry

Nonviolence and the Christian: Jesus' Ministry

Violence was contrary to everything Jesus stood for. In fact, Jesus absorbed the violence of human beings to bring about peace.

The conclusion was from our first post was surprising: that God in the Old Testament was not a God who endorsed violence.  The conclusion of this post is equally unsurprising: Jesus strongly opposed violence. But what may be surprising is how that very position by Jesus was a stumbling block for his contemporaries to see him as Messiah.

Jesus wasn’t the only one who claimed to be Messiah who walked ancient Palestinian soil. Two of those who arrived on the scene after Herod the Great died were Simon and Anthronges. Both led independent revolts against the Roman Empire, with the “principle purpose… to kill Romans” and reclaim the throne by force. The Roman Empire crushed both revolts and executed both men who claimed to be Messiah. The Zealots waited with bated breath for a Messiah who would overthrow Roman rule by force and reclaim the Promised Land with the new Davidic king on the throne.

And then on the scene arrived a Jewish peasant, who talked about the arrival of a kingdom, but a kingdom that “is not of this world.” In fact, Jesus explains to Pontius Pilate, that “if my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting… But my kingdom is not from the world.”[i]

In other words, Jesus’ pacifism was not just a quirk of his ministry, it flipped the very expectations of who the Messiah was supposed to be.

Nonviolence and the Christian: the Old Testament

Nonviolence and the Christian: the Old Testament

I remember the first time I had a conversation with a dyed-in-the-wool Christian pacifist. I was on an immersive backpacking trip with classmates the month before I entered my freshman year at Gordon College. Our guide, a student at Gordon, and one of the freshmen on the trip were both Mennonite and were staunchly pacifist. I had never really heard a strong argument for pacifism and was intrigued by their position.

My dad came of age during the Vietnam War and shared stories with me as a kid of his opposition to the war, an opposition that he came to see as well-intentioned, but naïve. My natural response to war was similar: war is bad, but inevitable, and if our country can intervene for the betterment of those involved, we ought to do so.

My freshman ears were intrigued by the argument, but ultimately unmoved. I would encounter Just War Theory in a philosophy class and that would become my anchor point for processing the use of violence.

When a friend urged me to pick up Preston Sprinkle’s Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence, my interest was piqued but I didn’t expect much to come of reading Sprinkle’s book. But, in a way that rarely happens at this stage of my life, I’ve found my perspective on nonviolence has changed pretty significantly over the past months as I’ve read and processed the book.

Over the course of these posts, we are going to examine a biblical perspective on violence.