Visiting with Jesus

I first caught a glimpse of him through the doorbell camera at church. He looked cold and a little scraggly, and when I went to open the door, he was shorter than I expected. But there he was: the Son of God in human flesh. We talked for a while, as anyone might when they have the chance to speak with someone so important and famous. We talked about theology, about the church, about the state of our world. Unsurprisingly, I thought about our conversation for the rest of the day and much of the following week.

I guess that’s what happens when you visit with Jesus. Continue reading

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A Protestant Thinks About the Blessed Virgin Mary

Talking about Mary can feel dangerous, especially if you are a Protestant who adheres to Protestant orthodoxy. Sure, we sing about Mary at Christmas, feel her pain on Good Friday, and maybe even read a little about her in the gospels. But for most American Protestants, almost any other interaction with Mary is borderline Catholic. So we don’t talk about Mary, we don’t engage with Mary, and we don’t think about Mary. Life seems easier that way. But in truth, this approach is historically and theologically problematic.

Some Protestants are aware that there is more to the story of Mary than American Protestantism often lets on. Some might know that the Protestant reformers, for example, held views on Mary different than most Protestant churches today. Martin Luther affirmed Mary’s divine motherhood, perpetual virginity, and immaculate conception. Likewise, John Calvin affirmed the perpetual virginity and espoused (with qualifications) a view of Mary as the “mother of God.” Although these Reformers did not advocate the same robust Marian theology that Rome and the East did in the 16th century, these perspectives are nonetheless quite different than those of their spiritual descendants.

To assume—as many Protestants do—that everything the Church has always believed about Mary should be excoriated as a “Catholic corruption” is simply an error. We must take seriously the biblical and historical insights on who Mary is—and how she is to be approached. Modern Protestants cannot simply be content to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Continue reading

Some Brief Reflections on Christian Leadership

In many circles, leadership is a common buzzword. Politicians, company executives, social scientists, pastors, teachers, professionals, generals, people who give TED talks, and seemingly everyone else is talking about leadership—what it means and how it works.

I must confess that I too am interested in leadership; from my desk, I count no fewer than seven different books with “leader” or “leadership” in their title.1 While I’ve found such books to contain much valuable information, I’ve recently been reminded of my need to revisit the Scriptures in order to learn what it means to be a God-honoring leader.2

In particular, I’ve been reading and reflecting on three passages in the New Testament on the expectations and qualifications for Christian leadership: 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4.3 Through these reflections, I’ve come to understand Christian leadership as involving four primary characteristics: service, order, holiness, and confession. Let me explain each. Continue reading

On Beginning

Everyone experiences new things. By nature of who we are and the world in which we live, no one lives a completely sedentary life. From new jobs to new cars, from getting married to buying a house, from having kids to moving across town, we all encounter newness.

While many new experiences are joyful occasions, not all are. Sometimes new things are sad, uncomfortable, or even depressing. A new job, for instance, could indicate a step forward in a person’s career; it could also represent a changing career field that is now fraught with uncertainty. Likewise, a woman who has been married for fifty years experiences many new things after the death of her husband, few of which will bring her any joy.

Even when an experience is new and exciting, it can be accompanied by feelings of anxiety and loss. My first semester of college, for example, was a wonderful time, full of adventure, excitement, and opportunity. But it was still difficult to transition from the comfortability of home and the routines of high school that I knew so well. Yet even in their discomfort, new things can stretch us, helping us grow and learn not only about them but also about ourselves. Continue reading

Orthodoxy and Relevance

Christians have long talked about life as a journey, whether as runners or pilgrims or travelers or something else. Journeys tend to involve forks in the road, decisions to make, and obstacles to overcome. Sometimes, the decisions of this journey are between light and darkness, holiness and sin, redemption and backsliding. In these instances, the follower of Christ is called to choose the path of faithfulness. Other times, however, the decisions we make along the way do not seem to be inherently good or bad—it’s not immediately clear whether one path is better than the other.

Such an image of journey has been on my mind lately as I’ve wrestled with what seems to be an increasingly common trope for contemporary Christians: the ongoing debate between orthodoxy and relevance.

Per Merriam-Webster, orthodoxy means “right belief, sound doctrine” and relevance means “the quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate.” Based on those definitions, you wouldn’t expect contemporary Christians to believe that orthodoxy and relevance are at odds with one another. But if you talk to many Christians, you’d be wrong. Let me explain. Continue reading

Struggling to Discern God’s Will

Our lives are often guided by the questions we ask. Great inventors are driven by the impulse to build a better world. Explorers ask what lies beyond the edges of their map. Great philosophers question and question until they find a satisfactory answer. The curiosity of children leads them to wonder “why?” without end.

A question that has dominated my own life is, “How do I know what God’s will is?”

I’ve asked this question—in varying forms—to well over 100 different people now, including parents, teachers, pastors, professors, friends, and others. Most of the time, people do their best to answer in some form. “Search the Scriptures” said one person; “God’s will is whatever you want it to be,” said another. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that other people’s answers to this question won’t satisfy my wrestling. This is a question that I must reckon with myself. Continue reading

The Personal Nature of Grief

“Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda” — Proverbs 25:20 (ESV)

Grief is miserable. Suffering and loss are perhaps the lowest points of human existence. Nothing compares to the emptiness felt inside after the death of a loved one; nothing can prepare you for the sting of loss.

Yet far too often we act as if saying something like “he’s in a better place now” or “a least she died peacefully” makes the loss less real, painful, or devastating. Even worse is when we expect those who have suffered loss to put on a tough face and “be strong for the kids” or “think positively about what happened.”

Now, I want to be clear about what I’ve just said. There’s nothing wrong with feeling or thinking in any of the ways mentioned above, especially if you’re the one doing the grieving. What’s unhelpful and uncaring is allowing your own perspective on grief to overwhelm the experience of the those who are doing the grieving. Continue reading

Recommended Readings: February 2

Happy weekend, dear readers. As I attempt to get back into the swing of posting more regularly, I’m going to revisit the practice of sharing some recommended online readings. Below are this week’s selections, though I hasten to note that they were not all published this week (or even this year). They are, however, articles that I’ve found interesting, informative, and intellectually stimulating; I hope you find them to suit you similarly. Enjoy! Continue reading

Suggestions for Social Media Sanity

In case you haven’t heard, social media has garnered quite the reputation. Whether you’re talking about the perniciousness of Twitter-fueled outrage, the placidity of hashtag activism, the propensity to waste hours of your life, the easy propagation of fake news, or the paucity of meaningful conversation, social media is often viewed negatively.

But social media isn’t all bad. Or, at least, it doesn’t have to be. In its best moments, social media still accomplishes its purpose quite well: connecting people in ways that were unthinkable just decades ago. For example, social media helps my family stay in touch with one another, even though we’re spread across four states, three time zones, and some 6,250 miles of distance. The immediacy and accessibility of social media platforms lets us communicate with one another in close to real time, helping us remain close.

Of course, not every use of social media leaves us with warm fuzzies. Undoubtedly, everyone reading this can recall at least one time when they’ve considered deactivating or otherwise no longer using a particular platform or application. My suggestion is this: establishing a few good social media habits can help us stay sane and lead to generally positive social media interactions.1 Continue reading

October 2018 Biblical Studies Carnival

Welcome to the October 2018 Biblical Studies Carnival—and Happy All Saints’ Day!

I’m honored to be hosting this honorable event on this sacred day of remembering all those who have gone before in faith. Before we get on with the business of remembering all the best Biblical Studies articles from this past month, first the business of future carnivals.

  • Bob McDonald will be hosting the November 2018 carnival (due December 1, 2018).
  • Christopher Scott will be hosting the December 2018 carnival (due January 1, 2019).

As carnival Godfather Phil Long has made clear in recent months, we need additional volunteers for future carnivals—especially for January 2019 and forward. If you’re interested in hosting, contact the good doctor (email, @plong42) and let him know your availability. And speaking of Phil, I want to thank him for continuing to curate these carnivals.

Now, on to the main attractions, which have been categorized in the following groups: Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, New Testament, Early Christianity, Reading Phil Long, Theology and Hermeneutics, Book Reviews, and News. Happy reading! Continue reading