Why Ploughshares Bible Institute?

Disenchantment.

If I had to describe my experience in getting my education (I have a BA in Biblical Research and an MA in Theology) and what I had once thought it would bring me in one word, I think “disenchantment” is the one which sums it up the best. Why? Continue reading “Why Ploughshares Bible Institute?”

Can You Be a Christian and Still be Violent? (A Rift is Coming)

The following was posted on Thinking Peacefully on December 15, 2015.  You can read it here.

Well, it depends on what you think Jesus came to do.  Let me explain.

If you think Jesus came because God is obligated by nature to punish sin by sending people to hell but he didn’t want to…instead sending the second person of the Trinity (the Son) to experience a type of hell in your place such that, if you claim a certain religious belief or perform a certain religious rite you are now forgiven and freed from eternal punishment…then sure.  Most folks whose view of sin and salvation can be boiled down to this have no problem with doing violence—in fact—most folks who think of sin and salvation this way seem to assume that to be unwilling to do violence is immoral.  The reason is the whole theology is wrapped up in a simple exchange between the Father and the Son on our behalf.  Jesus’ life and teaching have little bearing on what it means to actually “be saved.”  Salvation is all about having a certain status (that of “being saved”) and that status is achieved through the actions of someone else (Christ on the cross) and a simple religious affiliation (the sinner’s prayer or baptism) on my part.  One might go so far (and many have) as to say that the central assumption in this theology is that God is, at his heart, a violent God who must atone for the sins of his people violently.  And people emulate the God they claim to follow.  Therefore, violence is the normative reality for these folks, rather than love.

This is the reason that people who think differently than these folks are often stymied when saying, “But what about Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek or to love your enemies?”  The blank stares and mystified looks of those who hold to this view are a way of saying, “What does being a Christian have to do with any of what Jesus said?  We like our view of the God of the Old Testament better anyhow.  There’s a God who knew how to make things happen.”

However, if you think (as I do) that what Jesus came to do was not just a simple exchange, then…no.  I (and many others like me) don’t believe that Jesus came to die in our place in the sense that people often think.  He didn’t stand in between God and me, facing God’s wrath.  He stood in between God and me, facing mine.  Jesus on the cross was not man being killed by God, but God being killed by man.  Yes, in the Old Testament, God worked around violence and sometimes acquiesced to violence.  But, as Hebrews 1:1-3 says,

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Heb 1:1-3 NIV).

In other words, “Jesus is the complete revelation of God.  This is what God always wanted us to know about him.  It supercedes what we take God to be in the Old Testament because God hadn’t revealed himself to us fully until Jesus.”  And in Jesus, we see a God who would die himself rather than kill you to defend himself from you.  Jesus is God dying in our place, but in a way different than we thought.  He died because he loved those who hated him.

In this view, salvation is not about a simple exchange to keep you out of hell.  In fact, the idea of salvation is full and robust.  It is about the coming of God’s full kingdom to the earth, his will on earth as it is in heaven.  Salvation is met out through a group of people who believe that Jesus’ way of doing life (a cross-shaped life) is the solution to all of the sin of this world (and all sin is a type of violence we do to ourselves, one another, or God).

“Salvation” for folks who believe this is about following Jesus on the way of the cross.  It’s about saying, “If Jesus is God dying because he’d rather die by his enemy’s hand than kill his enemy, then I’m supposed to be a person who’d rather die by my enemy’s hand than kill my enemy—because I love my enemy the way Jesus loved me.”

And, yes, that means even someone who comes into your home to steal, rob, and destroy.  And, yes, even if you have a family whom you love…because if we love our family we’ll want them to follow Jesus, too.

We believe this because we believe that it is the only hope for a world torn apart by violence.  We believe that Jesus demonstrates that love is the true normative reality, not violence.  And love is enacted on crosses, not with swords.  And crosses are a daily way of life, where people serve one another rather than take advantage of one another; and those with little status are held in high esteem because God cares for all people, even those who the violent world has marginalized.

We can do all of this because we believe what the apostle Paul told us in Romans 8,

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Rom 8:14-17 NIV).

We believe that those who die with Christ will be raised with him.

The first view of salvation is about hell and retribution.

The second is about cross and resurrection.

The first about violence and fear.

The second is about love and trust.

The first assumes violence is necessary and nonviolence has nothing to do with Christianity.

The second assumes that violence is unnecessary and that Christianity is about nonviolence in all forms.

The first is about a violent God who takes out his violence on the innocent to save the guilty.

The second is about a loving God who innocently receives the violence of the guilty and beckons them to follow him.

The first sees no tension between being a Christian and the pursuit of power of the Empire.

The second sees these two things in mutual exclusivity.

These two views are inherently incompatible.

A rift is coming.

So, what does this say?  Can someone be a Christian and be violent?  The answer depends on what you think Jesus came to do.  If you are of the first camp, you say “yes.”  In the second, “no.”  But here’s the thing: a rift is coming.  There is little about these views of Christianity that can be harmonized.  I’m not sure I’m willing to say that those who believe in the first view “aren’t Christian.”  But what I must admit is that I think what they believe “isn’t the Gospel.”  And I suppose that what they must admit to themselves is that what I believe isn’t the Gospel to them either.  And I don’t know what to do about that other than keep asking them to consider the Gospel I’ve discovered.  And I keep doing so, and nearly all of them reject it.

Someone will say that this is judgmental.  I don’t think so.  Here’s what I think, though.  As our world becomes more violent and as fear motivates people to think darker thoughts…as the country we live in turns more and more to guns and war…I think it will not be those who claim that Jesus calls us to active peacemaking who will be the judging aggressors.

We live in the most well-armed, richest, most well-defended society in the history of this planet.  And I believe most people are more terrified than they’ve ever been.  “More guns, more soldiers, more violence” is what I feel I see Christians saying over and over and over.  I think the time is coming when those who believe in the first Gospel will take up arms against those who believe in the second.  And those who believe in the second will have an opportunity to prove their faith as well.  It will come when a peacemaker comes to the aid of someone perceived to be “the enemy,” and the violent Christian cries “traitor!”  It’s coming.

Historically, it was certain Roman Catholics and certain Protestants who teamed up to torture and murder the early pacifist Anabaptist Christians.

This post is dedicated to my close friends who taught me the second view of the Gospel; that Jesus came to instate his peaceful kingdom here.  I dedicated it at a time when they were enduring a type of crucifixion, being, in a sense, killed by those who have publicly stated that they believe that the heart of the Gospel is the will do violence, to harm the other to save self.  Like Cain, they had wielded their hateful rock and killed the people they were supposed to call “brother and sister.”

The Gospel is something that we are told will divide us, so perhaps we should not be surprised that it often does.  I may be wrong in my view and I’m sure there are some who will think so.  And I love my brothers and sisters who disagree with me.  And I pray they will be moved.  But let those who believe in a peacemaking Messiah and those who believe in a war-making Messiah understand that, though they may both call their Lord “Jesus,” they do not believe in the same God.

Looking for the Church

Driving on the interstate with my wife tonight, we passed another giant church billboard advertising for a church which, prophetically and almost literally, meets at Six Flags here in Atlanta.  In bold letters next to a picture of the preacher in a slick suit, it said something to the effect of, “[name of church] Feels Just Like Home.”

In the darkest recesses of my mind I found myself thinking, “Then why not just stay home?” Continue reading “Looking for the Church”

The Non-Violent Epistemological Premise of the Declaration and Address

Are the churches of the Stone Campbell Movement peace churches? A survey of the modern reality of the Stone Campbell Movement’s position on the issues of pacifism, violence, the state would answer, no. However, many of the founders of the movement were pacifists, and at times wrote and preached about Christian pacifism. Barton Warren Stone, Alexander Campbell, Raccoon John Smith, and Benjamin Franklin were all advocates of Christian pacifism, and yet the Stone Campbell Movement does not bear the marks of these early leaders teaching on peace. If many early leaders of the movement were pacifist, then why did the loose association of churches they ministered in not become peace churches? Is there any remaining evidence of the pacifistic heritage in the Stone Campbell Movement? Continue reading “The Non-Violent Epistemological Premise of the Declaration and Address”

An Unlikely Protagonist: The “Other” as Savior by Tyler Sims

The following is a guest blog by Tyler Sims.

Prelude: The Blindfold Removed

The world is deceived. You can see it from corrupt fiscal systems to a new rise in nationalism. Recently, my immigrant friends in NYC had their world turned upside down by the travel ban. Simultaneously, some conservative Christian friends felt their world become safe again. There are many examples of communities and individuals set against one another and unwittingly against themselves. A systemic lie has infused itself into our world and into our lives. In this blog, I will share how an Iranian Muslim played an important role in my own delivery from this pervasive lie. But first let us look at an important question.

What initial step will woo us from the systemic lie?

A lie which envelopes our world and taints our ontology must first be introduced to its captives. The blindfold needs removal. Romans 7 provides a description of how the lie functions in individuals. It is as pervasive as the air people breathe. A simple message is spread: “I” can be God and or “we” can be God.

Self-Actualization is just around the corner; progressivism’s utopia is nigh. I am just one more accomplishment away. We are just one more policy from victory. My self is nearly forced into submission. The victims are close to delivery and we have silenced the others.

I will save myself. We will save ourselves.

“I” will find peace in power, states the man willing himself to change. “We” will find peace in silence, chants the group tired of objections. If “we” silence the others, dissonance will be gone, and the harmony of isolation achieved.

At this point the collective “we” has taken up the same painful agonistic struggle of the isolated “I” as both the deceived individual and the collective “we” seek the same goal. The goal is to silence the cries of injustice or difference and to speak their own preferred reality into existence.

The lie generates alienation from God and others. It creates isolation from self and instills an empty silence from which only emptier vessels are propagated.

It comes to its zenith in the form of genocides, xenophobia, wealth hoarding and more. Through individual lips it speaks, “I don’t need you.” Through a plentitude of lips it speaks, “we don’t need them.” Both of which imply none of us need God. We begin to believe in “speaking” a superior world into being. I, or we, can be God, creators of our own safety and power.

How do we overcome the subtle pervasiveness of this lie?

Certainly, being aware is helpful. But its deception is so systemic, so cunning, we need more than intellectual understanding. We need our intellect to bring us to practice.

If the “I” is damned by its own isolation and the collective “we” is damned by its willing alienation, then the surprising savior of those deceived is, in fact, the “other.”

It is only in a face to face meeting with the other that a person (the “I”), might see his reflection as through a mirror provided by the different other. The group of an alienated “we” loses its appeal. No longer bound to homogeneity, the adjusted reality includes the “I” and the other.

Acknowledgment of the other by necessity requires either reconciliation or annihilation.

Enticed individuals and groups believe in an ability to speak forth reality as God does. It is exactly the presence of the other which disturbs the fantastical ambitions of the “I” or the alienated “we.” A choice must be made about this disruptive other, annihilation or reconciliation?

Through inviting the disruptive other into the alienated “we” it is possible for the group to begin reconciling with the other, begin its escape from systemic deceit and thereby find reconciliation with God’s larger reality.

How exactly does the “other” play into our salvation from the lie?

The following story describes how an Iranian “other” functioned first as a disruptive other and then as a savior–a liberator. In this story, the reader will be introduced to a practice which effectively delivers us from the systemic lie of this world.

Practicing it is nearly impossible if you have not met the other, made eye contact with and talked to the other. Experiencing truth syphons the lie from your own perception of reality. Meeting a wider reality in the flesh is disturbing. Truth’s efficacy is not in remote words but in an intelligible encounter with the other. This story describes how I met face to face with the other and in that meeting discovered an age old salvific practice.

The Story: Roopya my Iranian-Muslim friend and disruptive other

Roopya is from Iran. He is a twenty-five-year-old graduate student at Columbia University and thinks of himself as a nominal Muslim. When I first met Roopya at a Manhattan library in 2014, I understood him to be a Muslim student from the foreboding country of Iran and in need of English speaking instruction. In my mind, Roopya needed to enter Jesus’ kingdom as soon as possible.

Two months later my primary understanding of Roopya was not as a Muslim student in need of immediate salvation but simply as my Muslim friend. In fact, his otherness quickly began to point to the log in my eye and the deception within my small world.

For example, Roorya seemed to be content with his life in Iran and optimistic about Iran’s future. I commented, “Iran doesn’t sound half bad from what you say. But I have grown up hearing Iran is a country bent toward ill will and other negative things.”

Roopya shared with me, “In my country we are taught to fear America and told that when our nuclear scientists are killed America is behind the killings.”

My country’s paranoia and propaganda in view of his country’s propaganda created a profound mirror for reflection.

Roopya became for me the disturbing other messing up my picture of reality. This new image included Roopya within my reality. It beckoned me to either adjust and make room for the “other” or steep my mind in further deceit, denial and acquiescence to the world’s violence. If I chose denial, I would be choosing to opt into the systemic lie, believing I could create an alternative world with no other.

Roopya’s life would not allow me to easily step back into the lie. Meeting Roopya–a kind, goofy and intelligent young man–challenged me to accept the reality of an other who was much more than an Iranian, Muslim or elite academic. This other was a person, who shares many dreams, hopes and desires that I do. He is an other who loves a whole host of people in Iran on the other side of the world.

Roopya My Brother

Early in 2015 my friendship with Roopya brought more changes. He had simply become my brother. All Identity markers were gone. My fixation on bringing Roopya to Christ was gone. Roopya’s distinct otherness had broken into my own chamber of silence, where I would speak to myself, or among like-minded people, about my ailments and the maladies of the world–an image akin to Romans 7. It is an image devoid of intelligible conversation for it is in denial of God’s wider reality. But Roopya’s distinct presence shattered the monolithic culture of small town America in which I had dwelt for so long.

Roopya’s bare personhood injected new colors, people, words and thought into my reality. The new things required me to reconstruct my comprehension of reality. My old reality understood people need Christ, aid and love. But the terms and language of that reality was set for me by middle class American and evangelical Christianity. My new friendship forced me to reconcile this reality with a reality which understood Iranians as decent people, not merely a nation on a map.

In this new reality, U.S.A. sanctions on Iran could result in unjust hardship or despair for my Iranian friend.

In this new reality, Muslim Iranians uphold the commandment to respect the elderly at a much higher level than the average American Christian.

In this new reality, Muslims are thought of as people first and their religious life is defined as they describe it on their terms— not by a world religions class.

In this new reality, some Muslims lead lives of integrity far outpacing the integrity of American Christians.

Roopya as Deliverer

In this new reality, the other became a functional savior.

The other saved me through breaking the barriers of ignorance and paternalistic self-righteousness.

The other saved and humbled me by demonstrating a level of dignity I thought only possible among Christians.

The other saved me by teaching me to love a diverse world of people and cultures.

The other saved me by asking me to hear the cries and laughter of the wider world.

Indeed, it was the other who acted as a clear mirror by which to see myself and a clearer lens by which to see reality. I knew a lot of others while living in NYC. The others originated from Yemen, Iran, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and China.

Every one of those others had funny stories to tell and family whom they cherished deeply. They also had fears, desire for safety and belonging. Most of them disliked a certain group of people. Overall, their virtues outweighed their vices and even more important their virtues found deep resonance within my own heart.

Originally, I went to the other with the gospel of Jesus out of a desire to serve and with a sense of duty. But I was gifted with a grateful heart for the liberation I received…at the hands of the other. The liberation to see myself in the context of a global world as opposed to homogenous suburban America. The liberation to step closer into the wide world of people whom Christ loves. The liberation to see that in the other–despite all of his vast differences– I see myself, and in that fleeting union I see clearly for the first time the way of Christ.

Roopya’s example demonstrates how liberation occurs. When Roopya’s identity markers became no more than incidental, something happened: he became my brother. And as we learned to embrace one another we each became increasingly aware of the wider world, increasingly complete and increasingly human.

Embracing the Other as Savior

We participated in the practice which clears away the systemic deceit of this world. The deceit which says “we” are God and by necessity there is an excluded other. What did Roopya and I practice? We practiced: embracing the other.

As I embraced the other it was the difficult exercise of embracing Roopya that made true gospel sharing possible. I learned to see him as he was and not as I perceived him to be. I was forced to be reconciled with our differences.

Even more so, I had to reconcile with our similarities. Only when I saw myself in his eyes could I begin sharing good news. In other words, only when I could see him as nothing more or less than an equal person could I offer Him the peace of Christ.

Through humbly embracing Roopya as a person, I simultaneously embraced Roopya and Jesus’ cross. Roopya’s witness, his otherness, drew out my own darkness and embracing him meant embracing my personal need to take up the cross anew. When I embraced Roopya, Christ embraced me in return.

Conversely, my otherness provided Roopya with the challenge of including a Christ follower in his perception of reality. He had to account for my faith and desire to love “others” in the name of Jesus.

Herein lay salvation from the systemic lie: we must all, personally and collectively embrace the other as Jesus did. Christ did so to the point of the cross, nonviolently bearing the gulf between the other and in his subsequent resurrection Christ provided a new way.

Embracing the other must happen in real space and time and on a name to name, face to face basis. Only then will the heavy fog of systemic deception begin its retreat from our lives and communities.

For Roopya and myself embracing each other created a peaceful and safe environment by which Roopya could consider Christ as savior. The Christ who commands us to love the other.

Perhaps, not so we can “save” the other but so that by loving our enemy we might be saved.

(Dr. Paul Axton, Mirslov Volf and work with Global City Mission Initiative all deserve credit for influencing the ideas in this blog.)

The Apostle Junia: Christianity Undoing Gender Oppression

The following is a guest blog by Sharon Klingemann.

When I first heard about Junia I was appalled. A woman?! Apostle!? Where has she been all my life? Why have I never heard of her?! The tragedy is that I never heard of her due to the somewhat successful, and somewhat unsuccessful blotting out of her name from history. Open your bible and read Romans 16:7, and if you are ambitious go ahead and read the chapter in its entirety. Continue reading “The Apostle Junia: Christianity Undoing Gender Oppression”

Modern Liberalism’s Failure to Produce a Peaceable Kingdom: In the End it’s Just Another Prosperity Gospel

When I was in seminary at Lincoln Christian University, I took a course which was foundational to my understanding of the radical dichotomy of thinking inherent in the terms “liberal” and “conservative” which seems to have captured the dialogue of the culture we live in.[1]  While there is no question it is true for politics, it is also true for theology (though the terms are used very differently in each realm).  The course I mentioned defined some of the terminology you often hear thrown around in theological, philosophical, and even in everyday conversations: modern, postmodern, liberal, conservative, etc.  Though I believe the issues at the heart of what these terms refer to are actually ancient ones, in our class we began our study with the beginning of the Enlightenment and the impact of Immanuel Kant on contemporary mindsets. Continue reading “Modern Liberalism’s Failure to Produce a Peaceable Kingdom: In the End it’s Just Another Prosperity Gospel”

Getting Political

Preached 2016/11/13 at Newtown Christian Church (Connecticut)

Introduction

The ancient church was growing. From several thousands on Pentecost, the Christian movement spread rapidly, east to Syria and into the Persian Empire, south to Egypt and across North Africa, north and west to Asia Minor and to what we call Europe. As it spread geographically, it grew numerically. By the time of Constantine I’s accession to the throne in the early fourth century, the Christian communities within the Roman Empire, scattered unevenly, had come to comprise approximately six million people—one tenth of the imperial populace. According to one scholar, this represents a growth, on average, of approximately 40 percent per decade. Christianity was an illegal cult, subject to an imposing variety of disincentives, so its early growth is formidable and question posing. Why did the early church grow?

Continue reading “Getting Political”

Theology, Community, and Friendship

Christian theology is a dialogue through the ages among mostly friends and sometimes enemies. However, the best and longest lasting theological perspectives were among friends. Would we have the works of Irenaeus, and dare I say the canon, if not for his friend and mentor Polycarp? How would we understand the Trinity apart from the friendship of Gregory Nazianzus and Basil of Caesarea? Of course, there are great antagonistic relationships in Church history as well. Augustine and Pelagius come to mind. However, Augustine was not at his best arguing with Pelagius, and perhaps he was at his worst. Thus, in my opinion, it is a fact of history that theology is best suited for friendly and critical discussion. 

Continue reading “Theology, Community, and Friendship”

Reading the Bible Together

A few years ago I had the honor of contributing an essay to a collection of essays in honor of my teacher and friend. That collection was published as a book called Theology in the Present Age: Essays in Honor of John D. Castelein. My essay, “Reading Scripture Together: How it is that Acknowledging Ignorance Can Restore us to Community” was an application of Peter Candler’s book Theology, Rhetoric, and Manuduction, in which Candler argues against the notion that has been prevalent in so much of Western Protestant tradition, that it is each person’s mandate to “read the Bible for themselves at home, apart from the clergy and other Christians.” Continue reading “Reading the Bible Together”