Truth Within the Static

Top Theology Books for Seminarians


I recently had a series of blog posts released on GCU’s Living Faith blog. In these articles I talk about 10 recommended must-reads for seminarians. Such lists are always subjective, but I think that—in any case—these books would be good reads for any aspiring theological student at some point during the course of their studies. These and about a thousand others!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 7 — Conclusion

My Commentary Posts on 2 Timothy Now Available

Working Preacher

Hey folks,

I recently completed a series of commentary posts on 2 Timothy for the Working Preacher website. You can access them here for free. If you are a church that uses the Revised Common Lectionary, 2 Timothy will be the epistle for the next month or so. If you are looking for a resource to help understand the topics addressed in these verses for a bible study, sermon, or paper head on over to Working Preacher. I hope it is a helpful resource! I’ve really enjoyed working with Working Preacher and hope to contribute again in the near future.

Commentary on 2 Timothy 1:1-14

Commentary on 2 Timothy 2:8-15

Commentary on 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Commentary on 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18



‘The Compromise’: The Dinosaur Diaper Chronicles

I received a call on 9/21/2016 from ‘Microsoft’ alerting me that my computer had been compromised. I let the scam play out until I was able to utterly confuse the scammer by spinning a tale about a large man in a diaper chasing a dinosaur. I took the name ‘Jason Margurkel’ to conceal my identity thus making me very deceptive.

‘On Being a Politically-Progressive, Post-Conservative, Evangelical, Pseudo-Barthian, Anglican’

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Just a note because I receive this question quite often from fellow clergy, students, and friends. How can someone who is an ordained Priest, theology professor holding to orthodox Trinitarian Christianity also be politically aligned with the progressive movement? Aren’t the two things incommensurable?

Actually, no they are not incompatible, but there are definitely certain tensions that arise. This is the case for anyone who is involved in the political process. No candidate or party is equal to, or totally commensurate with the teachings and precepts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Theologically I am Pro-Children, and so I have a real problem with the progressive movement’s unqualified support (and often times bizarre glee) for abortion ‘rights.’ I don’t share that view, but yet I still resonate with the general trajectory of the progressive movement in the United States. But what do I mean by that? Well, in saying that I support the progressive movement within American politics, I am not thereby aligning my entire life with the word ‘progressive.’ Folks have a hard time wrapping their head around that sometimes. I get it. For a very long time the modus operandi of this country has been that if you are an ‘evangelical’ you are thereby ‘politically conservative.’ Yet, why should this be? The kingdom of God is not a political party, it is an eschatological reality breaking into the present to renew and reconcile all things for the glory of God. One could be a member of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and the list goes on. Those parties are not theological schools of thought, they are political organizations aiming to enact policies, legislation, and elect governmental officials to instantiate those policies. To the degree that they function as vessels to instantiate the policies and laws we think are most beneficial to furthering the cause of Jesus in the world, we participate. Some folks feel that the situation is so convoluted and unworkable that they opt out of politics altogether. I think this is an option; but I don’t think it is the best option. It certainly isn’t a requirement of the Scriptures.

Some of us feel that the teachings of Jesus Christ and the ethical precepts of the kingdom of God best line up with the Republicans, but others (like myself) do not. Free Market ideas are certainly defensible from the Bible, but they are not the obvious outworking of a biblical exegesis such that someone holding to more progressive economic ideas is thereby out of bounds or not Christian. ‘Progressive’ also has nothing to do with my own views theologically. It is a political statement only. And, it’s really important to grasp that. If you want to know what I believe theologically look at my Statement of Faith on this website. Without being overly rigid, my theological views could best be described as ‘Conservative,’ ‘Post-Conservative,’ ‘evangelical’ and in other senses ‘Pseudo-Barthian’ (on the doctrine of election, for example) and a broader sense ‘Anglican.’

What I mean by being politically ‘progressive’ is not a wholesale grab for everything on the ‘left’ but a propensity to be convinced that certain ideas that are best grouped under the ‘progressive’ category seem to me to line up most accurately with the implications of the Gospel, teaching, and life of Jesus Christ. I believe that as an agent of reconciliation in the world, the way of the cross and the person/teachings of Christ can have a great impact by adopting many of these ideas. This is patterned after the cruciform, others-centered love of Jesus Christ. It is a response to the question: what does the love of God look like in a modern Democratic society? Does it look like healthcare as a product? Does it look like massive student loan debt? Does it look like unrestricted markets? Does it look like persecuting Muslims? Perhaps you think it does, and you are free to think, vote, and live according to that assessment. But please, don’t impose that one perspective on me by claiming that it is the only ‘biblical’ and ‘moral’ way of responding to the various governmental issues of the day as a Christian; it’s not.

For politically progressive-minded people, most of these ideas we hold to are marked by an economic theory which aims to further revolutionize the economic structure of the United States, making it more like most other developed countries on planet earth. For example, by ‘progressive’ I mean: I’m for the implementation of  universal healthcare (Medicare for All), for increasing Social Security, for making education available and affordable for every person in the United States, for an increase in the minimum wage so that not one of our brothers and sisters in this country is working for a starvation wage while someone else’s pockets are lined, for aggressive policies that address the crisis in climate change working toward sustainable and clean energy, for a peaceful non-preemptive approach to war, for the end of capital punishment in this country, and a commitment to socially-just, Christ-like responses to the issues of immigration, racial bigotry, racial profiling, and discrimination of any sort.

I felt a need, since I have been blogging quite frequently on these issues as of late, to make that clarification. My view is that one can be an orthodox, serious, biblically-faithful Christian and hold to any number of political views. Our goal needs to be to have the cruciform courage to be able to speak about these views, but to have a desire to develop a disposition of grace toward all. We can accomplish much across denominational lines, across political lines, and across all of the other lines that so often divide us. But, to do so, we need to live out the intentionally gracious Gospel reality that sees the world as something God has created, and something God wants to redeem through us as active participants. How that is done is manifold and complex, and we mess it up all the time. That it will be done, is as sure as the crucified and resurrected God who declared: “Behold! I am making all things new.” He does this, however, not through passive complacency but through cruciform presence and participation in the reconciliation of all things both through the Church and in the public sphere of political realities. This is a part of our call as people of the cross in a world that is on a trajectory to realizing that through Jesus Christ there is a “new creation” for the life of the world.


Wayne Grudem is a Liberal (or, ‘A Discourse on Conservatives who use the Scriptures Liberally’)


File Under Absurd Theology:

Introductory Remarks [Non-Stupid Part]

Let me begin, straightaway by saying in no uncertain terms that contrary to Wayne Grudem’s article, a vote for Donald J. Trump is a disastrous, grievous, biblically and morally unjustifiable error. If I were politically convinced by and inclined toward the right, I would have to vote for Gary Johnson. A Trump presidency would be an embarrassment to this country and a vote for Trump is incommensurable with the teachings and person of Jesus Christ. I don’t think Trump is even qualified to be the president of a middle school AV club, never mind the president of the United States of America. Trump—a man who thinks climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese, a man who joked about being given a purple heart by a soldier that receiving it as a gift was ‘much easier’ and that ‘he always wanted the purple heart’, and a man who builds his campaign on division, fear, and hate—a man like that, can never become president of the United States. My approach to Grudem’s post is to respond with a bit of absurdity. It is mostly tongue in cheek, meant to be slightly ridiculous while also semi-serious at some points.

The following is a piece of satire, so read it as such. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Grudem, I’m certainly not against him as a brother in Christ. We severely disagree on much theology and certainly on the political implications of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible. That is ok! I really do appreciate this element of his post:

“American citizens need patience with each other in this difficult political season. Close friends are inevitably going to make different decisions about the election. We still need to respect each other and thank God that we live in a democracy with freedom to differ about politics. And we need to keep talking with each other – because democracies function best when thoughtful citizens can calmly and patiently dialog about the reasons for their differences. This is my contribution to that discussion.”

Also, contra some of my good friends who I really respect and who lean in a more anabaptistic direction, I actually agree with Grudem that we ought to engage politically as Christians. Also, as a political progressive, I share his concerns about issue of the sanctity of human life. I’m one who thinks that progressives need to make much more progress in extending social justice to that realm of life and category of person. Deep down, I’m sure that Professor Grudem carefully distinguishes between political parties and the kingdom of God, even if his writing seems to suggest that only one political party or approach is morally and theologically justifiable—a point on which I greatly disagree with him. I think trying to form a biblical exegesis for any 21st century political view is anachronistic and an exercise in hermeneutically missing the point. The best we can do is gather some principles about the nature of the kingdom of God and how these principles can best be applied to contribute toward the common good.

Grudem is—obviously—not a liberal. The title of the post is playing on the main error that I see in his theologizing about politics in his post, namely: the liberality with which he calls on Scripture to justify his points while ignoring those texts which actually make a substantial contribution. I’m sure he would have real answers for all of those texts too. Yet, we must ask: of what use is an article from a theologian, on the basis of Christian ethics, if so much is left out and one particular political approach is assumed to be the ‘biblical’ position? To me such carelessness within evangelicalism is largely a thing of the past. I’m delighted to see that over 60% of millennials are favorably inclined toward a political disposition which works for all, and not just the 1%. Take this blog response for what it is: a stupid response to what I view as a kind of worthless article which itself claims to be serious, but in its many faults shows itself unwittingly to be kind of a joke.


Wayne Grudem is a Liberal (or, ‘A Discourse on Conservatives who use the Scriptures Liberally’)

I recently came across Wayne Grudem’s piece for Townhall entitled ‘Why Voting for Donald Trump is a Morally Good Choice’ and I can’t believe how liberal it is. He truly shows himself to be quite a progressive in his approach to Scripture, and I can only imagine that he must be a part of the emergent church.

In this piece, Grudem states that he believes that Trump is a “good candidate” albeit one who has certain “flaws.” He writes:

 “He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters.”

In assessing these actions and character traits of Trump, Grudem comes to a conclusion: “These are certainly flaws.” I believe that this a brilliant statement and for it Grudem should be given an award of some sort. This award should be shiny, and it should have several jewels on it. Engraved on the award should be an assortment of words which indicate the reason for which the award is being given and the full name of the recipient. I believe he should then store the award on his desk where others can see it, and marvel at it, inviting questions of whence and for what reason the award was created and subsequently awarded to him thereby creating a means of conversation which can point back to the aforementioned award-worthy analysis of Donald J Trump. I could not have said it better myself, and Grudem shows himself to be a true conservative at this point. Yet, his conservative kudos ends at this point. For, the statement of brilliance is followed up by a statement of a very liberal nature, namely: “…but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.” Grudem reveals that he is a liberal here. It is also possible that he is anti-Doritos which is what upsets me the most. I am not certain about his position on high fructose corn syrup or the possibility of the existence of extraterrestrials. But I digress…

The selection of Scriptures that Grudem calls upon are minimal (Jeremiah 29:7, 1 Peter 1:1, and a few others) and liberally chosen from the canon of Holy Scripture. Thus, he is a liberal. He ignores (in this post at least) any of the scriptures in which the early Church is sharing all of their possessions, or the OT prophets are ranting about social justice and the care of the orphan, widow and sojourner, or the various ethical teachings of Jesus and the NT that seem to obviously support a more progressive political approach. Instead, his concern is to avoid political liberalism, which he has already predetermined based on his exegesis of the bible, is the wrong approach to politics. The problem is that he avoids political liberalism by behaving liberally toward the biblical texts which speak to the issues at hand.

Darth Vader is Going to Kill Us Unless we Elect Trump (or, something like that…)

Grudem’s article is constantly making statements like Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?”, and “Under President Obama, a liberal federal government has seized more and more control over our lives”, or references to “big government liberalism that she [Hillary] champions.” Likewise, he is concerned about “the far left liberal agenda” and “Liberal Democrats” who want to impose “every liberal policy” by appointing “liberal justices” to the Supreme Court. Trump, on the other hand, is the safest moral choice, because he “continues to move in a more conservative direction.” We should be encouraged, says Grudem, because Mike Pence, the VP pick of Trump is a “conservative” who formally worked for “a conservative Christian lobbying group in Indiana.” Liberal bad; conservative good. Liberal = morally indefensible; Conservative = morally defensible.

But watch out! warns Grudem. Hillary has “liberal policy.” The key here is that her policies are not conservative, you see. If they were conservative; no problem. This would be biblical! This would be ethically defensible. But no. Hillary is liberal. And this is very, very bad. We will now likely be invaded by Russia, China, Isis, and probably also Darth Vader. We will have no recourse to light sabers or other intergalactic weapons since all of our wealth will have been redistributed and the 2nd amendment will have been messed with by this liberal woman. We will have to defend ourselves with obsolete, left-over “Feel the Bern” signs which will provide insufficient armor as the world turns against us. All of this—when if we just made the moral decision and chose Trump, everyone could be singing God bless America, building a wall, and keeping out the Islams and all those bad guys and stuff. All this—when we could have all had Trump trucker hats and free access to re-runs of The Apprentice. Yes, some of this is flawed, but it is morally and biblically the right choice…clearly. Conservative is the biblical one. That’s what we need, according to Grudem.

On the issue of the environment, Grudem provides no biblical support for his position, but liberally assumes that the “Keystone oil pipeline” which Trump supports is great while Hillary Clinton “will make fracking nearly impossible and essentially abolish the coal industry, causing energy prices to skyrocket.” What really matters is the cost of energy, thinks Grudem. He is much too liberal in his approach to the Bible here, ignoring the clear command to steward the environment in the Scriptures rather than to sacrifice it on the altar of the “free market.” But this makes much ethical sense, you see! For, Donald J. Trump has already announced that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese. Thus, why waste our time like the liberal (=bad guy) Hillary Clinton when according to the conservative (=good guy) Donald Trump’s Twitter science everything is a-ok?

Lastly, Clinton would have the audacity, the gall, the utter recklessness to work toward universal healthcare coverage for all, while Donald J Trump would work “to repeal Obamacare” and to replace it with “an affordable free market system.” Yes, it is obvious to me as well that taking healthcare away from millions of people is the morally correct choice. Jesus would surely approve. Making folks buy private insurance products from corporations who will finally be able again (thank God!) to turn people away from coverage based on pre-existing conditions, while not regulating the pharmaceutical companies which thus causes America (still!) to have the highest drug prices of anywhere in the world, is the morally right and good and biblical thing to do, obviously.. GOP invented; Jesus approved. Yes, ok, I admit, the Bible seems to talk about caring for the poor and our neighbor. Yea, yea… And one could say that healthcare might contribute something to that working itself out in the world, and even cut abortion by 40%. But folks: the market! The free market is the Bible thing. Conservative, ok? Don’t be liberal because that is bad, bad, bad. Very unbible-ish of you to support ObamaCare. It is the exegetical choice to be pro-healthcare as a product rather than healthcare as a right. Just look at Canada where everyone is dying in the streets because of national healthcare. To get even a Tylenol you have to beg and sign paper work. Friends, far better to pay high deductibles to rich people. This is much more Jesusy and scriptural, and moral. None of this theology of hand-outs and liberalism. Liberalism is bad, very bad. One cannot be progressive politically and also faithful to capitalism Christ.

Conclusion, Summary, and Take-Aways:

Liberal bad; conservative good. Right wing good, left wing bad. Donald Trump could be God’s man for the hour. The man perspires Holy water and has wealth. His command of two Corinthians is stunning. He is conservative, and this means America will be safe. He is not liberal which would be bad. He is conservative, therefore he is morally better. All the bad guys will get bombs, and they go pow pow drop dead from America’s might, go away bad guy, kerplow! We will sleep tight with Donald as Commander in Chief. All the Muslims will have to just go away. No more foreigner, go away, build wall, best wall ever, special laser beams, build actual Robocop etc. All protected in America. Safe and sound. Problems solved all of them, yes. Foreign policy = drones and death by comb-over. ObamaCare done, no more medicine for the lazy. Conservative, yes. Liberal = bad, unbiblical.

Goofball Police Reports from Saugus Vol VII


I grew up in a small suburb about 15 minutes from Boston. Strange and goofy things happen there. Every 4 months or so I comb through the police reports. Here the best ones IMO from around Winter 2016-July 2016. This is volume VII of this important running thread on life and crime in Saugus, Massachusetts. Included below is what I consider to be the Saugus news story par excellence, definitely of 2016, and possibly of my lifetime, namely a thrilling story about an assault with ‘a deadly weapon’ which turned out to be a frozen bag of fish.

The Electric Wheelchair Getaway At 3:53 p.m. police received a call for a female in the slow lane of Route 1 in an electric wheelchair. Officers searched the area and reported nothing showing.

The “I left my Ipod in Another State” Call At 1:57 p.m. a male reported he left his iPad at his hotel in Las Vegas. [Why would he call the Saugus police to report an iPad left in a state that is literally across the country!]

Candy, Not Nails At 12:02 p.m. a caller reported nails in the road on Route 1 by the Square One Mall. The state DPW was notified. A second caller reported it was candy in the road, not nails. Mass Highway was updated.

Bathtub Near Beef On A Busy Street  At 2:21 p.m. multiple callers reported a bathtub in the middle lane of Route 1 by Kelly’s Roast Beef.

Uninterested Widow Turns Away Beef Salesman At 11:42 a.m. a Morton Avenue resident reported a young male came to her door and told her he was selling beef out of his truck. She didn’t see a truck and told him she was widowed and not interested. […But if she were not a widow, she would have purchased a filet Mignon?]

No Weapons, Only Bobcat At 4:59 p.m. a 911 caller reported a fight between two males on Wickford Street with no weapons, but a bobcat was involved.

Between Two Towns: The Tale of a Hopelessly Lost Wallet At 10:50 a.m. a male reported he lost his wallet somewhere between Peabody and Saugus. [I’m glad he was so specific]

Sad and Indecisive on Scooter At 6:41 p.m. police received a call for a female crying on the side of Lincoln Avenue. Officers reported a male and female were having a disagreement over what direction to travel on a scooter.

Dancing Man and the Dog Who Walked Away At 4:27 p.m. a caller reported a male dancing at the corner of Walnut Street and Elm Street. The caller reported the man’s dog was walking away from him and trying to cross the street.

Elusive Chuhuahas At 8:05 a.m. a 911 caller reported two little Chihuahuas running in the area of Water Street and Richardson Circle. The canine control officer was unable to locate the dogs.

The Stabbing Threat that Makes Sense ‘in the right context’ At 4:51 p.m. police received a call for a male allegedly pulling out a knife at Sears and proclaiming he was going to stab someone. Officers reported the males admitted to making the statements, but that they might have been taken out of context. The knife was confiscated.

The Saugus Police…were Outrun by a Turtle!…a Turtle folks…At 12:23 p.m. a caller reported a large turtle in the road at the intersection of Walnut Street and Central Street. An officer reported traffic was flowing and he was unable to locate the turtle.

The Smoldering Rag That Was Not At 12:17 p.m. a caller reported a smoldering rag in the roadway at the intersection of Falmouth Street and Howard Street. Firefighters reported no smoldering rag in the road.

The Deli at Which Anne-Marie Does Not Reside At 5:16 p.m. the owners of Peter’s Pizza reported an order of 10 pizzas was made to deliver to the Stop & Shop deli for an Anne-Marie. Upon delivery no one by that name works at the business.

Duck Rescue at Vinegar Hill Drive At 10:22 a.m. firefighters reported an odor of burning in the area of Vinegar Hill Drive. Firefighters reported a net for ducks fell into a storm drain. The DPW was notified and responded. All the ducks were rescued.

Resentful Rescued Ducks Reenter Drain at Vinegar Hill At 10:53 a.m. a caller reported five ducks fell back into a storm drain on Vinegar Hill Drive. Firefighters responded to the scene.


Assault with a Deadly Haddock At 11:37 a.m. a 911 caller reported he was assaulted by a man at the Saugus Senior Center who fled the scene. An officer reported a male was the suspect who struck the caller with a bag of frozen fish.

The following is an excerpt from the Saugus Advertiser local newspaper story on this. As they say “check with the Advertiser for updates” on this breaking local news.

School Committee member Arthur Grabowski has been charged with an aggravated offense of assault and battery with a deadly weapon, a bag of frozen fish, against an elderly person after an incident at the Saugus Senior Center on Wednesday.

…Graney asked Grabowski what he said, to which Grabowski allegedly replied, “Let’s go outside and I’ll tell you.”

Graney said he then followed Grabowski outside through a back door of the Senior Center, at which point Grabowski hit him in the area of his left ear with a bag of frozen fish fillets.

“I kept hitting him back,” Graney said. “I had to defend myself. The guy’s an ex-cop. He might have had a gun.”

Graney said the fish incident is not the first time the men have confronted each other.

“Every time I see him he mouths the same thing,” Graney said. “The last time I stood up to him he ran out the door. There is definitely something wrong with him.”

Graney said the injury hurt, but that he did not go to the hospital.
“What’s a doctor going to do about it?” Graney said.

Graney said he does plan to press charges.

Giorgetti said a criminal complaint was filed at Lynn District Court and the court will issue a summons after paperwork has been processed.

Check in with the Advertiser for updates.


‘Justification by Faith Alone’ Alone is Not ‘the Gospel’


The two ‘alones’ in the title are not a misprint. There is a common problem in evangelicalism and contemporary Protestant Christianity. It has to do with a frequent and erroneous tenancy to speak of a Lutheran, Reformation-era understanding of the doctrine of justification as ‘the Gospel.’ Usually this is in an attempt to claim that Roman Catholicism, the New Perspective on Paul, Eastern Orthodoxy etc, have a deficient Gospel because their particular theologies of justification are not in accord with Luther’s 16th century interpretation of the doctrine. This mistake is almost always made by Protestants seeking to vindicate Luther’s view of justification over against any person or group that questions, corrects, supplements, contradicts, or critiques Luther’s view as stated in the 1500s. If one critiques a traditional Reformation-era view of justification, one is guilty of being in error—not about a doctrine—but about the Gospel itself. For these folks, the Gospel is justification by faith alone.

I most recently ran into this error in an article linked from The Gospel Coalition by Garrett Kell. The article made some valuable comments and critique about Together 2016 which the author attended. After some balanced and helpful thoughts, the author expresses his concern that a Roman Catholic priest was allowed to participate in leading in prayer at the event. He sees this as an example of compromising the truth of the Gospel.

He writes:

At one point in the first session, a group of men came on stage to pray, including a Roman Catholic. What he said was encouraging and true. But having him on stage to speak and pray (plus promoting the event with a video from Pope Francis) was a tragic decision that may have been overlooked by many in the swirl of all the encouragement…The organizers of the event seemed to work so hard to bring down walls of division, that they intentionally neglected to be clear about the Gospel of justification by faith alone

…I deeply believe that the organizers of Together 2016 are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Some dear friends of mine participated in the event today. I do think the true Gospel was proclaimed by numerous speakers and performers. I am certain the motivations of the organizers are to get the Gospel to more people. And I trust the LORD will do great things through the event today…

…However, muddying the Gospel will not help any of this come to pass. The best way to love those who are in error over the Gospel is not to link arms with them, but to help them see the importance of our differences….

Notice that, for Pastor Kell, the Gospel is explicated by the phrase “of justification by faith alone.” This demonstrates that every time he refers to “the Gospel” it is a cipher for “justification by faith alone.” This is highly problematic and I believe in need of serious correction. As orthodox Christians, the only “of” after “Gospel” should be proceeded by a person, Jesus Christ, rather than a theological proposition (“of faith alone).” Yes, our doctrinal disagreements matter. Yes, we should be honest about them. But many (most?) evangelicals today would not say that a Catholic believes a different “Gospel” but that disagreements in theology about the implications and application of the Gospel (i.e. Jesus) do exist between many streams of the Christian Church, including Catholics, Protestants and others.

Though I do not agree with Pastor Kells’ view, I can see how someone could come to that conclusion if they read Galatians and Romans to be essentially teaching what Luther taught, namely: that by faith in Christ our sins are imputed to him and his acquired degree, amount, level of righteousness and perfect law-keeping is imputed, reckoned, to us. They would further assume that what Paul is arguing against in, for example, Galatians, is the issue of the Jewish religion being a religion of meritorious ‘works-righteousness’ as opposed to the pure Gospel of grace. There are, however, many including myself who view Luther’s good preliminary Reformation-era observations regarding God’s grace as helpfully corrected, supplemented, and sharpened by the contemporary work of the New Perspective on Paul. This isn’t really a slight against Luther. I mean, what theologian gets it right 100% of the time? It is to say, though, that those who simply assume that Paul and Luther are basically saying the same thing about Judaism are perhaps in the minority now in the field of biblical studies, with most affirming some variation of the New Perspective or apocalyptic theology in regard to Paul’s doctrine of justification.

Without a doubt, justification by faith is an important component to Christian theology. Yet, ‘justification by faith alone’ alone is not a synonym for ‘the Gospel.’ Rather, the doctrine of justification is a reality that results from and proceeds from the Gospel. Justification, in and of itself, is not the Gospel. This is the case regardless of how one precisely interprets it theologically (i.e., an ‘infusion,’ ‘impartation,’ ‘imputation’ of righteousness, or as a ‘declarative covenant status of righteous’) [the New Perspective].

Justification is not even mentioned in any of the earliest creeds of the church, and it doesn’t become the defining theological topic of conversation, really, until the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. How could the Gospel, then, be referred to as “the gospel of justification by faith alone” with any degree of historical accuracy? In actuality, the gospel includes the doctrine of justification apart from works of the law, as well as a host of other metaphors and realities which are related to the transformation and renovation of the character of believers.

The Gospel is not a theology about Jesus; the Gospel is Jesus. The Gospel is the good news that through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Messiah, the Powers of Evil, Sin and Death have been defeated by God and a New Creation, that is, a new, abundant, and eternal way of being human, is available through faithfully trusting the work of God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We who have been reconciled to God in Christ are now called to be reconcilers, agents of God’s Kingdom of peace, righteousness, and love in the world.

Thus, I want to encourage evangelicals and ecumenically-minded Christians to continue the kind of bridge-building, kingdom work attempted at Together 2016 and other similar events. I also want to challenge Kells and other brothers and sisters to distinguish more carefully between “the Gospel,” which is the person and work of Jesus Christ for the life and redemption of the world, and the Reformation-era theology of justification which is a result of the person and work of Luther.


Presenting on Reader-Response Hermeneutics at ETS in November

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Stoked to be presenting my paper “The Ideation of Jesus Christ: Aesthetic Response as Divine Encounter” at the 68th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in San Antonio, Texas this November. Come by and check it out if you are there! Date and location of my paper TBD.

Since about 2010 I’ve been really interested in applying the hermeneutical theories of Wolfgang Iser to a theology of Christian revelation. Recently I’ve included some of this work in my forthcoming book with IVP due out next year called ‘Worship in the Way of the Cross.’ This paper will be parsing out the implications of Iser’s work for biblical revelation in even deeper ways.

I’ll also be presenting a different paper entitled “μέλος as ‘Melody’ in Colossians”  a few days later at SBL. You can read about that here.

Read the abstract if you’re interested:

“The Ideation of Jesus Christ: Aesthetic Response as Divine Encounter”—

In his 1980 book entitled The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response, Wolfgang Iser, developed a new approach to a phenomenological theory of reader-response hermeneutics known as aesthetic response theory. Though Iser himself was not a theologian and did not apply his work to the discipline of theology or biblical studies, and though virtually no biblical scholars or theologians have engaged with his work, Iser’s theory is hugely beneficial for the study of theology. This paper will apply Iser’s work on aesthetic response to the topic of the formation of the self through the ideated encounter with the living Christ experienced in worship through aesthetic response in concert with the writings of St. Paul.

Iser’s work deals largely with the process of ideation which refers to the phenomenon in which, when reading a work of literature, the reader activates the structures and elements of a text put in place by the author and thereby becomes involved in the creation of meaning. The reader produces an experience through which the characters and world of the text become present.2 The structures and signs in the literature comprise a “pattern” which “guide[s] the imagination of the reader to ultimately construct the meaning of a text. And, the meaning of a text for Iser is never simply a series of propositional facts that are delivered via the text from the author to the reader but is instead an experience. The meaning of a text is an entrance into a “dynamic happening” and a “living event.” Through the process of ideation, the reader does not simply receive but instead contributes to the construction of a new reality from the text. Ideation involves an act of endowing presence to something which—apart from the activation of the text by the reader—is in some sense absent. As Iser notes, “in reading we think the thoughts of another person” and we become “entangled” with that person through the act and “we actually participate in the text, and…[we] are caught up in the very thing we are producing.”

This paper will investigate the transformative results that occur when the person ideated is not a fictional or literary character, but is instead Jesus Christ. To that end, Iser’s theory of ideation and aesthetic response will be applied to the writings of St. Paul in order to propose a phenomenology of the ideated presence of Jesus Christ through the aesthetical worship of the Church in song, prayer, Word and sacrament. It will be argued that through the structures and stories about Christ provided by the New Testament, in the context of a liturgical modality of worship, the Church encounters and experiences, not simply ideas about Christ, but the actual presence of Christ himself through the aesthetic response of communal worship.

Ecclesia and Ethics – Out now on T&T Clark


Our edited, multi-author volume, Ecclesia and Ethics: Moral Formation and the Church is out now and available through Amazon. Over at Crux Sola Nijay Gupta, one of the contributors has blogged about his chapter in the book and given a great little synopsis. Check it out.

He makes a great suggestion, namely, request it as a library purchase at your institution!:

So, shake out your piggy bank and scrape together $120 so you too can own this handsome volume! Or ask your theological library to order it. NB: there are several fine folks who contributed to this volume including Mike Gorman, Brian Rosner, NT Wright, Mariam Kamell, and ‘Stan the Man’ Hauerwas.

I’ll likely be blogging about the book throughout the summer, providing synopses of several chapters and likely speaking anecdotally about putting together this work through the global Ecclesia and Ethics conference. I’ll also give an update on that conference and when the next one could be, tentatively.


Blogging for

Working Preacher

I’m excited to have been invited to join the pool of bloggers at Working Preacher is a blog run by Luther Seminary.  I’m currently working on a series of commentary pieces on the New Testament book II Timothy which will go live in the Fall 2016. I’ll link to those posts here once they are published!