Paul of Tarsus vs. Jesus of Nazareth?

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Saint Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna, 1481

It’s been in vogue for the last 300 years to say that Paul crafted his own Jesus and used Him as a springboard for His own essentially Platonic philosophy. The argument goes that Paul, good Hellenistic Jew that he was, was influenced by Gnostic Redeemer myths. Rudolf Bultmann, who is a contender for the most-influential-theologian-of-the-20th-century title, was 50 shades of convinced. Today, however, this idea is losing ground as we struggle to actually locate specific examples of the elusive gnostic redeemer myths. But even as the academic community leaves behind the Gnostic-influence theory, the assumption that Paul distorted the original message of Jesus in order to turn Him into a cult god refuses to die. Scholars who hold this position draw a divide between “the Jesus of History” and the “Christ of faith.” The former was the poor and itinerant preacher/carpenter who left everything to preach an apocalyptic message to the poor in Palestine. The latter is essentially a Pauline invention that grafts outside ideas onto the Jesus character and adds depth and clarity to what Paul claimed was the meaning of His life, death, and purported resurrection.

Findings by E. Earle Ellis have made that a profoundly unlikely scenario. Ellis identified pre-Pauline creedal material embedded within numerous Apostolic writings. Notably, nearly all of Paul’s epistles contain some form of quotation from what is presumably an early hymn, creed, or prophecy. These quotations contain material that paint Jesus in the kind of exalted light that scholars often attribute to the creative additions of Paul, but which inevitably emanate from a tradition that pre-dates Paul. To illustrate, I have stitched together several of these pre-Pauline creedal quotations found in the Pastoral Epistles* to reconstruct what one of the early creeds might have looked like:

“Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
He is the blessed and only sovereign,
The King of kings,
The Lord of lords,
The only one who has immortality,
Dwelling in unapproachable light;
No one has seen or can see Him,
To Him be honor and eternal might.
But when the goodness of God and His love for mankind appeared,
He saved us —
Not by works of righteous that we had done,
But according to His mercy,
Through the washing of regeneration
And renewal by the Holy Spirit.
He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly
Through Jesus Christ our savior,
So that having been justified by His grace,
We may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.
For if we have died with Him,
We will also live with Him;
If we endure, we will also reign with Him;
If we deny Him, He will also deny us;
If we are faithless, He remains faithful,
For He cannot deny Himself.
For there is one God,
And one mediator between God and humanity,
Christ Jesus, Himself human,
Who gave Himself — a ransom for all,
A testimony at the proper time.
Amen.”

What makes these findings significant is that they render much of the speculation about Paul’s role in the development of early Christian theology obsolete. Far from ‘inventing’ a whole slew of new ideas, he largely worked with the faith that he himself inherited from the earliest believers. It also demonstrates that the first century Christians were not so ‘primitive’ after all.

With this in mind, we’re in a good place to (finally) call the oft-purported chasm between Pauline-soteriological thought and Jesus’s ethical and eschatological teaching into question. Free from the modern orthodoxy’s insistence that Paul and Jesus taught competing worldviews, it quickly becomes apparent that, despite contrary claims by some, Paul and Jesus aren’t so different.

Not least among their similarities is that their teachings are often hyper-existentialized at the expense of preserving their common ethical commission. Bultmann and others helped to set this precedent, which ironically Evangelicalism now keeps alive. Whether it’s reducing repentance to feeling bad about sinning or reinterpreting the Sermon on the Mount as ‘high ideals’ to live up to, it has often been the case that western Evangelicals in the last few centuries have blunted the transformative force of the New Testament proclamation.

Baptist Ethicist Glen Stassen spent decades calling for a “thicker Jesus” amongst his Evangelical colleagues and brethren. It should come as no surprise, because the bulk of his research was oriented around the Sermon on the Mount. His work delves deeply into the radical social significance of Jesus’s life and teaching, and, in doing so, illustrates the heavy continuity between the life of Jesus and the ministry of Paul. Over against the disintegrating tendencies of both conservative and liberal scholars who hold the two at arms length, good hermeneutics (and faithful obedience to Jesus) demands that we recouple the two central voices of the New Testament. And that means that, in addition to Glen Stassen’s thicker Jesus, we need a thicker Paul.

And we’re in luck. Because as we are forced to lean into Paul more deeply and more sustainedly than before, we inevitably find that he only actually makes any sense in light of the life and teaching of Jesus. It is common and correct to read his work from the vantage point of Jesus’s death and resurrection, as Bultmann advocates. But it is incomplete to do only that. Every bit as much as Paul writes out of the overflow of the resurrection of Christ, he writes in the footsteps of His teaching and in imitation of His life. John Dominic Crossan once said, “If you read Jesus after reading Paul, you’ll read Jesus wrong. But if you read Paul after reading Jesus, you’ll read Paul differently.” I’m certain that Crossan would say that I read both Jesus and Paul wrong, but his point stands. The more deeply we entrench ourselves in the Gospel recollections of Jesus’s pre-Passion ministry, the more clearly we are able to hear Paul speaking. It is true that Paul can often be confusing. I say that in the company of his friend and occasional sparring partner, Peter (2 Pet. 3:16). But from the vantage point of the life and teaching and cross/resurrection of Jesus, Paul often speaks quite plainly.

For example, upon a close reading of his epistle to the Romans, it becomes clear that Paul had more in mind when writing the iconic epistle than simply imparting doctrinal knowledge. Evidently, his motivation was largely to repair the fragile and strained relations between the Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome and, by extension, throughout the Empire. He therefore crafts his entire theological argument around the movements of Israel’s history in such a way that God’s redemptive intentions toward the Gentiles is front and center – and in doing so, he illustrates that the unity between the two bodies is the inevitable outworking of God’s cosmic redemption. In the most immediate sense, he hoped to include the predominately Gentile Churches of Rome in the collection that he was taking up for the impoverished and persecuted churches in Jerusalem—most of whom were predominately Jewish. Paul was here putting a transforming initiative of Jesus into practice as a means of reconciliation in the Church. He seems to have been working off of Luke 14:12-14:

“He said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.'”

By indebting the Jewish churches—who largely looked down on their Gentile brothers and sisters—Paul would kick open the door for the Holy Spirit who indwelt both parties to smash the pretensions of the Jewish believers toward their Gentile brothers benefactors. Through including the Gentile believers in an act of holy love toward their Jewish brothers and sisters, Paul would make space for the Holy Spirit to fill them with the sort of love it requires for two groups who have long been in contention to be brought together under a common Messiah and in a common Spirit. This is only one example, but once you catch one, you begin to see them everywhere.

Given both a thicker Jesus and a Thicker Paul, the exegetical obstacles that have frozen New Testament scholarship in awkward limbo for centuries begin to melt away. In retrospect, there isn’t much of a dichotomy to be found between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith.” But there are certainly irreconcilable differences between the Jesus-soaked Paul of history and the neo-Platonist Paul that emerged in the writings of the post-Schleiermacher scholars. What we’re facing is not struggle between theological conservatism and theological liberalism, but a failure on the part of both conservative and liberal New Testament scholars to adequately synthesize the non-competing teachings found within the epistles of Paul and the canonical  Jesus tradition of the four gospels. When approached honestly, it is apparent that Paul of Tarsus only really makes sense in light of Jesus of Nazareth. Paul did not hijack Jesus in order to build a theology; Paul was hijacked by Jesus in order to build a Church.

 

 

 

*Note: The Pastoral Epistles consist of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. I am aware that they are often assumed to be inauthentic by scholars both conservative and liberal for a number of reasons. However, the arguments for their inauthenticity are bad. Like, really bad. I’m willing to bet that within a decade or so, we’ll have outgrown the notion that somebody else forged the documents in Paul’s name. I’ll probably write about this in the near future.

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Humans Are Seekers, Not Survivors

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Tower of Babel, by Lucas van Valckenborch, 1594, Louvre Museum

Human history is haunted by variegated expressions of religious faith, which is fascinating. To the best of our knowledge, humans are unique in the universe inasmuch as we are genuinely sentient. We have the capacity to make moral decisions both as individuals and as communities that are not fundamentally oriented around the survival of our species. Of course the macroevolutionary model is true, but it’s also the case that we operate on terms irreconcilable with a purely materialistic understanding of the evolutionary process. We are not chiefly survivors; we are chiefly seekers.

The Austrian-Jewish neurologist and psychotherapist Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, devoted his post-WWII years to popularizing his theory that, rather than survival (as some Darwinists might have taught) or pleasure (as some Freudians certainly taught), meaning was the dominant pursuit of mankind. He argued that the search for meaning unconsciously motivates the decisions that we make, from Abraham’s desire for children to Jacob’s desire for blessing, to Paul’s desire for redemption.

Reductive though it may be, it is a helpful paradigm. Whatever we are, we are not merely the next step in the evolutionary meta-narrative (and it is a meta-narrative). We are creatures who seek out meaning and find it in places where it may or may not exist. Inevitably, then, we are creatures who seek God. Not only do we seek Him where He is (e.g. Noah, and Enoch), we also seek Him where He isn’t (“Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Rom. 1:22-23).

As far as I know, chimpanzees, who share approximately 98% of our DNA, are neither religious nor superstitious. Something is abnormal about humanity, and it probably comes down to more than simply something maverick in that remaining 2%. Plenty of theories have been put forth to explain them, and they’re not boring. But they’re also not terribly convincing. The various secular attempts to account for mankind’s insatiable religious bent are no more persuasive than the hypothesis, put forward by all cultures everywhere until relatively recently, that humanity was created by a personal being (or beings) who intends to have a relationship of sorts with us.

I’m a big fan of Yann Martel’s book Life of Pi. I originally read it as a freshman in high school, about a year before becoming a Christian. And I totally didn’t get it. On this side of the faith line, it’s much more resonant, and it provides about as good an apologetic as can be made for the existence of the divine. Granted, there is plenty to be said for classical apologetics. Despite the impassioned “Nuh-uhs” of the New Atheists, the Cosmological argument really, really is weighty. As are most of the arguments that occupy the arsenal of the average apologist.

But as a human on planet earth, living a life that takes place chiefly outside of an office with a desk, Martel’s “story to make you believe in God” really is all that. In the book, the narrator tells two stories, both of which bring about the same conclusion by all empirical evidences. One features his narrator surviving 277 days at sea on a life raft with a hungry Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, stumbling onto a “a floating island network of carnivorous algae,” and crossing paths with a cannibalistic survivor from another shipwreck. The second story has none of the more fantastical elements. He then poses the question: with both stories satisfying the empirical data, which was the better story?

It is conceivable that humanity’s seeker bent is somehow conducive to our flourishing as a species. But it’s equally conceivable, and bloody well more intuitive, that something more is at play.

God Gets His Hands Dirty

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The Seventh Plague: John Martin’s painting of the plague of hail and fire (1823)

“Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.'”  So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men, and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Still, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.” (Exodus 7: 8-13)

A consistent, though rarely dealt with, theme throughout the Pentateuch  is that, for the sake of redemption, God gets His hands dirty.

The Hebrew scholars tell me that the word used for ‘serpent’ in this passage is tannin, which is interesting because it differs from the word nachash used in Exodus 4:2-5 when God initially explains the signs to Moses. The significance lies in the connotations that each of the terms carry. Nachash is the term used in Genesis 3:1 in reference to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Tannin, on the other hand, was more commonly used in reference to the sea monsters that pervaded ancient Canaanite, Phoenician, and Hebrew mythology. More specifically, the sea dwelling tannin were (generally) understood as the creaturely personification of chaos and evil.

Aaron’s staff is turned into a serpent (tannin), a feat that is then copied by Pharaoh’s magicians, and the serpent (tannin) that God produced out of Aaron’s staff devours the serpent (tannin) produced by the magicians. If the tannin described in this passage elsewhere refers almost universally to the anti-creational forces of chaos that oppose the rule of God, then it’s unlikely that the passage at hand is an exception. The initial showdown described in Exodus 7:8-13 is not, theologian Peter Enns has pointed out, merely a showdown between Pharaoh and Moses/Aaron. Nor is it a showdown between Pharaoh and Israel. At one level, it is a showdown between Pharaoh and Yahweh. But even that is too myopic a reading. What we witness in this passage is foreshadowing of the drama that will ensue throughout the rest of the Pentateuch, and the rest of the Biblical narrative as a whole: the Creator of the universe overcomes the chaotic forces of darkness (tannin) that have usurped the world on their own terms. He will overcome tannin, sometimes, inevitably, by employing tannin.

God is not Deistically removed from the plight of creation, looking down in stoic disapproval at the mess we’ve made; He is Theistically active in the redemption of creation, to the point that He will work within the bounds of the fallenness of the world to rescue it. Hence, God will spill blood in the process of bringing about the end of blood-spilling. God will bring about an end to human violence, sometimes, inevitably, through Divine violence. Throughout the scriptures, and especially the Old Testament, God wears the warrior hat, not because He is fond of violence, but because He is bringing about its end. In the pages of the Torah we watch Yahweh crush a thousand Pharaohs in order that one day the may never be another Lamech. (Gen. 4:23-24)

That is why the satisfied God, who created all things to share in His own satisfaction, will enact plagues on Egypt (Ex. 7:14-11:10, 12:29-32): in order to further His redemptive operation. It is true that Egypt was met with the consequences of their communal oppression of the Israelites. But at a more foundational level, God’s act of vengeance on Egypt was driven by His love for the world – a love that moved Him to get His hands dirty. I’m about to cross the line with some people’s patience here: this is why the same God revealed in Jesus Christ (Col. 1:15; John 1:18; Heb. 1:3), the God who is Love (1 John 4:8,16), ordered the slaughtering of the Canaanites and others (Deut. 20:17; Josh. 6:21). This is why the God who “desires that all would repent and be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9) would harden the heart of Pharaoh and bring him to his knees (Ex. 11:8-10).

The horrific violence performed and sanctioned by God throughout the biblical narrative, far from being a break from character, emanates from His own faithfulness to His promise to bring about redemption to a sin-shattered world. It is, in fact, a deeper, warmer love than is intelligible to us that prevents Yahweh from being deterred from His project of reconciling the world to Himself by His own innate desire to preserve the lives of those who would prevent Him. In the endeavor to bring about a kingdom that operates on love, He cannot tolerate those who persist in hate. What the story of the Torah teaches us, amongst other things, is that God so loved the world that He was willing to work within the bounds of its fallenness to rescue it.

Servantlike Images of a Self-Exalting God

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Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles by Meister des Hausbuches, 1475 (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

“And they came to Capernaum. And when they were in the house, Jesus said, “What were you talking about on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. And He sat down and called the twelve. And He said to them, “Anyone who would be first must be last of all and servant of all.” And He took took a child and put Him in the midst of them. And taking him in His arms, He said, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives not Me but Him who sent Me.” (Mark 9:33-37)

“If anyone would be first, he must be servant of all.” The question we have to ask ourselves when we want to be godly bosses, godly parents, godly pastors and godly professors is, “How can I be a servant to those over whom I have ‘authority’?” Jesus came as a servant, and He never met a person He didn’t serve. Even the religious leaders who met harsh reprimand from Him were served in the process. No one else was willing to call them to repentance, save for the recklessly self-marginalizing Essene cult, whose reprimand resonated only with fringe wilderness dwellers. There is nothing inherently unloving about issuing rebuke. It is only selfish rebuke, served out of unholy fire, with little concern for the propriety of the context in which it is issued, that is unservantlike.

Even if we are not leaders in any capacity, if we are faces in a crowd, we are called to the joy of being everyone’s servant. We aren’t called to be doormats. Jesus was everyone’s servant and nobody’s doormat. There’s a difference. A servant is constantly posing the question: “What is the most loving thing that I can do for this person in this situation, given these circumstances?” Becoming someone’s doormat is never loving because in doing so you are only helping them to become more of a monster. Being a servant in the way that Jesus was a servant means being bold and assertive, although never overbearing or coercive. It means loving yourself so you have a reference point on how to love your neighbor as yourself. It means respecting yourself so that you have a frame of reference from which you can understand what kind of respect to give other people.

Being a servant like Jesus means resisting the temptation toward laziness or idleness because there is always someone to serve.  As a husband it means taking every opportunity to give your wife a chance to rest from the rush of the day. It means doing the dishes so that she can watch television, or take a nap, or read a book (or whatever). As a father it means playing with your kids when you’re exhausted from the day, and trying to create opportunities for them to build a good life for themselves in the future. It means doing what you need to do to prevent burnout. If that means waking up early to spend time alone to recharge, do that. If it’s something else, do that. It means stirring your affections for your wife by reflecting on her best qualities and choosing to dwell on them.

If you’re aggressively introverted–like myself–it means sacrificing solitude to be with your friends and family. It also means protecting your time alone so that you’re in a position to treat people well and engage in friendship with them.

We are citizens of a kingdom where everyone serves everyone. At one level, our lifestyle of servanthood is a walking apologetic for the truth of Christ to a world ruled by self-interest. We are called to this life style in order to display the selfless love of the self-exalting God. How does that work? The gospel begins with a Trinitarian God, fully satisfied in the bounds of His own intrinsically communal existence, creating a world of creatures to be servants, lovers, friends–communitarians. He created a people with the end in mind of shaping them to become like Him. That doesn’t mean that we are meant to become gods, but that we are meant to become a community of mutual servanthood.

That God is passionate about being glorified is a given because He is intrinsically glorious, and the intrinsic glory that He embodies demands redamancy from all creatures who encounter it. But with that reality in mind, it is necessary to situate our theology in the simultaneous reality that the intrinsically glorious God whose glory demands worship is also intrinsically satisfied. He has no needs that are unmet within Himself. It is not simply because He “owns the cattle on 1000 hills”, but that any and all conceivable needs that a person might have are satisfied fully by the perfect community that He experiences between the persons of Himself.

That means that when He created people, animals, greenery–everything–He did so with no designs of seeing a personal emotional deficit filled. He did not create us to be loved but to give love. He did not create us so that we might satisfy His emotional needs, but in order to multiply His own satisfaction to a whole world of creatures. The self-exalting God is selfless because His glory is self-authenticating. He can put real weight behind His claims to love people because He has nothing to gain from dying for them. He is self-exalting because He bloody well ought to be.

Jesus modeled this servant lifestyle to us and called us to do likewise because we have been newly created by the gospel to be servants after God’s own heart and Jesus’s own example. The servant lifestyle to which we are called is not only an apologetic to a lost world; it is written into the DNA of our identity in Christ.

Should Christians Meditate?

Here’s a great blog post from a friend of mine (who is also an INFP).

The Love Of Knowledge

meditate

Meditation has been around for thousands of years. Early pagan belief systems emphasized the importance of religion, and many large eastern religions still practice it today. Meditation is a big part of many people’s lives. It can be a way to achieve a higher level of consciousness, have a mystical experience, or it can be just a way to relieve stress and anxiety from a hard day at work. But there is a question raised for Christians in regards to this topic. Should Christians participate in meditation? Or maybe, is it a sin for Christians to participate in this practice. This, like many other topics, deserves a proper understanding of what exactly the subject is and what exactly is being achieved during the process.

What is Meditation?

There are a variety of different forms of meditation. We often picture someone sitting with their legs crossed and their palms facing upward…

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Thus Spake Carl Sagan

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Creation on the exterior shutters of Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights (1480–90)

“Look again at this dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

-Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

There Are No Magic Jesus Powers

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“And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, ‘What are you arguing about with them?’ And someone from the crowd answered him, ‘Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.’ … And Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’ And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.'” (Mark 9:14-29)

“This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” means that there are no magic Jesus powers. His healing ministry was not from His own power. He was not a magician. Contrary to popular misconceptions that assume that Jesus came to earth as some sort of Superhuman, Mark finds it very important to show us that Jesus’s miraculous exploits were the product of His being in step with the Holy Spirit through prayer. It is essential to historic Christian theology that when God the Son came to earth, He did so without any special advantages. He was a regular Jew with a 9 to 5 and a mom. All of the miraculous feats He performed, all of the counter-cultural teaching that He espoused, His supernatural compassion and concern for the outcast, His boldness, were all the product of His submission to and communion with God the Spirit, who indwelt Him.

This is important to grasp, in no small part because it clears the confusion that Jesus stirs up when He says to the original gathered Church, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) He really meant that we would do more than He did, not because we would be more powerful, but because as the Church multiplies and lost sinners are transformed into Spirit-filled believers, the ministry of Jesus itself multiplies and expands. Before His crucifixion, there was one Jesus who made disciples and incarnated the kingdom of God in the midst of a  broken world. Today, 2000 years after His resurrection, it is as though there are approximately 2.2 billion Jesuses walking the earth.

“This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” also means that our ability to do anything spiritual, be it cast out demons (yeah, that actually happens), win souls for Christ, or overcome the darkness in us, comes from helpless dependence on God. We are not prayer warriors; the Holy Spirit is a prayer warrior. When we pray for ourselves, whether it’s for a greater love for the Father, a greater freedom from sin, a more obedient heart, etc., we are echoing the Holy Spirit’s earnest prayers on our behalf (Rom. 8:23, 26-27). Jesus walked in utter dependence on the Holy Spirit’s guidance as an incarnated human. We are no less dependent now that He indwells us. Every Christian believes in the Holy Spirit, but ‘believing’ in Him in any meaningful sense means living in a ‘dethroning’ submission to His lead. The person who believes in the Holy Spirit is always in prayer to seek His guidance. She is always communing with Him in prayer to know the Father more intimately. She is always laying down what remains of her stubborn will in prayer to let Him mold her into the image of Christ.

“This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” because we can only “do greater things than these” as people who are pathetic, weak, and like Jesus, are desperately dependent on the Spirit of God to enable us to find and carry out the will of God.

Creating Community Through The Lord’s Supper

Ryan Ellington

1200px-Última_Cena_-_Juan_de_Juanes The Last Supper by Juan de Joanes

“Much of what passes for koinonia (“community”) in contemporary church life seems to neglect the fact that the primary goal is not vulnerability or gut-sharing or even friendship, though all these are laudable. The goal is not even to advance eachother’s knowledge of the scriptures, though that too is commendable. These are all secondary to helping one another to know the crucified Christ more intimately. The ultimate goal of koinonia is to discover common life in Christ, common union with Christ, common worshipful adoration of Christ, common soul-orientation toward Christ and our neighbor. For this reason when the gatherings that constituted koinonia are further elaborated in Acts 2, a key element is that “they broke bread in their homes” (Acts 2:46). Its orientation was around the Eucharist, which was celebrated in these days in the context of a love meal.” (Ross Hastings, Missional…

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“Whose Rage Might Be Bottomless”

Ryan Ellington

Rembrandt_Christ_and_the_Woman_Taken_in_Adultery Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery by Rembrandt

All who held stones,
heavy, thirsty after blood,
felt well that it was time to depart–
dropped what treasure lay
sinister in their grip.
Ashamed at what?
God knows.
Set forth to where?
Even God knoweth not.

Moved incurably by one statement
no one should even make sense of:
“He who is sinless among you,
let him be the first to throw a stone upon her,”
a non-sequitur, to be honest.
Is she less guilty if the high priest has a penchant for buggery?

But all the men with their girded up loins
knelt low, from humility or necessity,
(who knows? What even became of them?)
picking up their cloaks to return to their wives
till only one remained,
one without sin
whose rage might be bottomless,
as far as she knows,
that temptress, or devil, or victim, or kid.

There…

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There’s a Place At the Table for the “Faithless”

Ryan Ellington

SaintThomas The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

I am not God. That is ultimate reality. But only because it contains so much in so few words. “I am not God,” means that God exists. I can reason my way into an explanation for the universe that does not require a creator, but that isn’t the point. God is present in the statements, “God does not exist,” and “There is no God.” I think that you can commune with God, live with Him and love Him with the best part of yourself if you struggle and even fail to believe with your head and your gut that He is real.

The Christian religion recognizes the contradictions in man. We believe, and walk against the grain of our defining beliefs. God promises rest to people who need it. The God revealed in Jesus, who is Jesus, invites one and all to His table…

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