Veneration of the Victory-Tree: A Meditation on the “Dream of the Rood”

The cross of Christ intersects our lives and transforms us at the place we most need Jesus. So, in reflecting upon the 8th century Anglo-Saxon poem “Dream of the Rood,” I am not surprised that a medieval and martial people would understand the cross in terms of military conquest; only then, for the self-sacrificial love of Christ and the cross itself to triumph over violence.[1] For in the mystery of the cross, Jesus sacrifices himself for the life of the world. The cross, hitherto, an object of shame and humiliation becomes an object of devotion and faithfulness to the way of Jesus. And the cross symbolizes and represents Christian love: a self-sacrificial love that extends to enemies as well as neighbors. Christians venerate the cross to draw near to the gift of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and especially during Passiontide, we contemplate the salvation wrought by the work of Christ on the cross. Thus, I invite you to reflect on the “Dream of the Rood” this Holy Week, to venerate the “victory-tree,” on which Christ offered his life for ours, and to meditate upon the great salvation we have in Jesus.

The “Dream of the Rood” describes the poet’s dream wherein he encounters the true cross upon which Christ died. In this dream the cross speaks giving a firsthand account of the crucifixion. The poem can be divided into three sections: it begins by describing the poet’s vision of the exalted cross, then the cross speaks recalling Jesus’s crucifixion from its point of view, and finally the poem concludes in a prayer offered by the poet extolling the glory and wonder of the Christ’s death. In this way, the poet invites us to a profound veneration of the holy cross and contemplation of the paschal mystery.

The poet begins by describing his dream as an encounter of the exalted cross. He says, “It seemed that I saw a most wondrous tree raised on high, wound round with light, the brightest of beams.” The exalted cross appears as the cross in glory, which is the cross seen from the vantage of God’s victory over sin, death, and evil. When we behold the cross beyond the warped perversion of sin or the tarnish of death, then we like the poet behold the completed work of Christ and God’s presence revealed within all things. Thus, the poet declares, “that was no felon’s gallows.” The exalted cross reflects the glory of God from the place of uttermost despair, the place in which mankind kills the Son of God who became as we are to save us. So, the poet first responds to the sight of the exalted cross by becoming keenly aware of his own sin:

            Wondrous was the victory-tree, and I was stained by sins,

            wounded with guilt; I saw the tree of glory

            honored in garments, shining with joys,

            bedecked with gold; gems had

            covered worthily the Creator’s tree.

            And yet beneath that gold I began to see

            an ancient wretched struggle, when it first began

            to bleed on the right side. I was all beset with sorrows,

            fearful for that fair vision; I saw that eager beacon

            change garments and colors—now it was drenched,

            stained with blood, now bedecked with treasure.

 Indeed, confronted by the cross of glory we should all examine ourselves and confess by my own hand and for me my savior died. Yet, the exalted cross also remains forever the cross of Christ’s cosmic victory over the Enemy, the principalities and powers of darkness, and evil. To encounter the cross means simultaneously to gaze upon the glory of God and the suffering of Christ. The cross joins desolation and the consolation of God. And in the exaltation of cross, we witness the triumph of love over violence.

Then, the poem continues in a new voice, for the cross addresses the poet recalling its participation in Christ’s victory. The cross speaks first of its abuse as the instrument of executing criminals, lamenting, “Strong enemies seized me there, made me their spectacle, made me bear their criminals.” But in Christ’s crucifixion, the cross becomes something more than an instrument of death; for in Christ’s death God redeems all, even the cross. The cross transcends the use put to it by sinful mankind becoming God’s instrument of grace. The cross tells of cooperating with God’s saving purposes:

            …Then I saw the Lord of mankind

            hasten eagerly, when he wanted to ascend upon me.

            I did not dare to break or bow down

            against the Lord’s word, when I saw

            the ends of the earth tremble. Easily I might

            have felled all those enemies, and yet I stood fast.

            Then the young hero made ready—that was God almighty—

            strong and resolute; he ascended on the high gallows,

            brave in the sight of many, when he wanted to ransom mankind.

            I trembled when he embraced me, but I dared not bow to the ground,

            or gall to the earth’s corners—I had to stand fast.

            I was reared as a cross: I raised up the mighty King,

            the Lord of heaven; I dared not lie down.

The cross reveals that God in his wisdom does not save us without us.[2]  God’s plan of salvation includes the cooperation of creation. God saves us by the Blessed Virgin Mary’s cooperation with divine grace bearing God into the world as Jesus. God saves us by the cooperation of human nature and divine nature in the person of Jesus Christ. In the poet’s dream, God saves us by the cross’s cooperation with Christ for the salvation of the world. According to his wisdom, God saves us by drawing us into his own divine life and purpose for all things.

Then, the poem continues while the cross continues to speak describing Christ’s death, burial, and victory, which has caused some to question why the cross should speak so much, if at all. A conscious and intelligent cross might be the fruit of poetic imagination, or as some scholars suggest, the vestiges of a pagan and animistic past.[3] On the contrary, I consider the notion of a conscious relic guiding the Christian soul into deeper meditation of the mysteries of God a profoundly Christian idea. After all, St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”[4] In some way, the cosmos as God’s creature awaits the fulfillment of God’s creative purposes, when mankind will be revealed fully as the “children of God.” The cosmos, then, awaits the full manifestation of God’s work already accomplished on the cross. Creation’s conscious achievement of its end is realized not in some historical or primordial beginning, nor in the accumulation of days and years, nor by marking progress in terms of values or evolutionary biology, but in Jesus’s incarnation come to its fulness on the cross. Creation, after all, exists by God’s pleasure sprung from the fecundity of God’s love and formed according to God’s wisdom. Thus, I am not surprised that modern scientist endeavor to solve the hard problem of consciousness—whence consciousness—to no avail, especially when the presupposition is that matter produces consciousness. Regardless of how complex the chemical, biological, and physical systems of matter present themselves, matter does not produce consciousness much less intelligence. No, it seems more likely, and infinitely more satisfying, that God according to his love and wisdom, identical to the divine mind, creates all that is and grants creation a life of its own imbued with some sort of consciousness proportional to its being and its being loved, which can respond to God its creator and lover. Indeed, all that exists does so because God loves it, and the love of God ultimately revealed by Christ on the cross should not be considered frivolous. Therefore, we do well to learn from the poet that holy relics, the cross, and even the cosmos may serve as guides into the divine mystery of God’s love.

Finally, the poet concludes in prayer that he too might take up the cross and find himself in the glorious presence of God with his saints. After encountering the cross, recollecting his thoughts, the poet said:

            … My spirit longed to start

            on the journey forth; it felt

            so much of longing. It is now my life’s hope

            that I might seek the tree of victory

            alone, more often than all men

            and honor it well. I wish for that

            with all my heart, and my hope of protection is

            fixed on the cross. …

The cross marks the boundaries and defines the lines that chart the Christian life. The poet having received the vision of the true cross can do nothing else but take up his own cross and follow Jesus. Doubtless, suffering will mark the journey, even as Christ suffered, but when we undergo the passion of this life with faith and hope, then love will be our guide. Love will remain as we meet our end, for as the poet says, this life is but “loaned” to us and not our own. We ought then to be both as careful and careless with our lives as Jesus was with his. With great care we tend to our lives that we might grow into likeness of Christ; we offer our lives joined to Christ’s life as a gift to God. But was not our Lord, also, quite careless with his life abandoning it to death for our sake? So too we must not value our lives more than we love God or our neighbor. Only, then, can we know how to love ourselves. Furthermore, when we take up our journey after Christ’s own, we can be sure of its success:

            The Son was successful in that journey,

            mighty and victorious, when he came with a multitude,

            a great host of souls, into God’s kingdom,

            the one Ruler almighty, the angels rejoicing

            and all the saints already in heaven

            dwelling in glory, when almighty God,

            their Ruler, returned to his rightful home.

Not even death impeded Christ’s journey of incarnation, death, descent into the grave, victory, resurrection, and ascension. Death itself became God’s captive, made to serve God’s purposes, and made to usher God’s beloved into glory.

Therefore, as the poet says, when we venerate the holy cross, we venerate the “victory-tree.” Jesus by the grace of God invites us to contemplate the vastness of God’s blessing and love for us. The holiness of the cross is God’s holiness, which is the unwillingness of Christ to succumb to the temptation of establishing his life in this world. His life remained hidden with God. Consequently, he willingly took up the cross that it might raise him up as the King of Glory. The glory of God bore the woundedness of sinful mankind while he himself knew no sin. The wounded cross reveals the cross of glory, and the cross of glory heals our woundedness. Mankind in league with the Evil One contrived the cross as an instrument of terror and the humiliation of God, but God is not mocked. God redeemed the cross itself to preach his victory. And his victory becomes our victory, when we follow Christ, share in his love, and glory in his cross.

This article and others about Christian Spirituality and Acetic Theology by Fr. Jonathan Totty can be found at which is dedicated to Christian pastoral and spiritual writing to foster a love of God and authentic subjectivity.

[1] “The Dream of the Rood” is anonymous and can be read in full online at The version quoted here is translated by Roy M. Liuzza.

[2] “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us.” S. Augustine, in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1847.

[3] Richard North, Heathen God’s in Old English Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 247.

[4] Romans 8:19

Evil and How the Cross of Christ Overcomes It: Thoughts about the One Perfect Simple Triune God rescuing the rebellious, foolish, and mostly immature lot of folks known as humankind. Or reflection on the cross. Or Soul Odyssey.

A former professor and dear friend often asked students who were not paying attention in his theology classes, “What are you going to say when some child asks you, ‘what was that snake doing in the garden?’” Not that he took a particularly literal view of Genesis; rather he was determined to demonstrate just how high and how low the stakes are when we do theology. The stakes for theology are never any higher or lower than when someone asks about the so-called problem of evil. The stakes are low when someone inquires theoretically about the problem of evil because an answer will involve philosophy and an entanglement of the doctrines of God, grace, theological anthropology, free-will, etc. so as to ensure that the inquirer will neither grasp nor reproduce the answer adequately apart from much reflection. Also, any good answer to
questions about the problem of evil will terminate in some discussion of evil as a surd, as no-thing, and with no actual cause per se. Consequently, a skillful presentation of the question of evil often ends with some amount of befuddlement. Alternatively, the stakes are high when someone asks, “whence and wither evil?” while experiencing it.

The low stakes conversation about the so-called problem of evil begins with some form of the question: How can God be good and omnipotent and evil exist? Then, someone will trot out some tired examples of natural and moral evil such as the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, or some other disaster, or the Holocaust, or the suffering of children. Then, the conversation might take one of several possible directions. Some folks will cry, “God is dead!” A few of these might take glee in a reductionistic fantasy wherein “good” and “evil” exist as mere constructs of language. But most people are happily inconsistent in navigating the tension between their beliefs and behavior. Others will attempt a theodicy, and concoct various unconvincing arguments about why the vindictive super powerful sky god can do whatever he wants. While kinder and wiser folks know better than to imagine evil is some thing. These folks will ponder classical ideas about the privation theory of evil, about what it means to be human, about consciousness, about what it means for a thing to be a thing, about what it means for God to be, and what to be even means. After this pondering comes a long, generally true, explanation totally lost on most people who want an answer better suited to common sense living. So, often the stakes remain low in any discussion of evil, and the best possible outcome will be to keep a vast majority of the professional theologians away from the people actually suffering.

Alternatively, evil can hurt us. I witnessed a real life instance of grappling with the problem of evil at the age of eleven. One year some time ago, simultaneously, or due to the convergence of my memories, I recall doctors diagnosing two of my cousins with terminal illnesses. One family received news that their son would be born with a hole in his heart and not likely survive birth. The other family observed their seemingly healthy one-year-old decline in mobility, for he had cancer. My cousin born with a hole in his heart defied the odds and lived for six months before dying. Whereas my cousin diagnosed with cancer lives even now. One family held a burial while the other raised their son. Such is life; inexplicable, mysterious, full of sorrow, full of joy, and from a Christian perspective permeated by God’s grace. But in these situations, we feel haunted as if by a forgotten memory that life is not as it should be. Anyone with a scrap of moral intelligence feels injustice when children suffer and die. We call this injustice evil, and to speak about evil in the context of particular suffering means a high stakes conversation whereby people may encounter grace or despair.

Suffering is not intrinsically salvific. The suffering and death of a child does not contribute anything to the meaning of the universe. God does not necessitate evil as a part of his grand plan for the cosmos. Where evil is concerned, everything does not happen for a reason. I would think all of this goes without saying, but when my cousin died several well-meaning and God-fearing Christians said something like, “I know it is hard to understand, but everything happens according to God’s plan.” When someone says something about evil happening according to God’s plan, I can only surmise that the Church has failed to teach and pass on the Christian faith. For the foundation of Christianity resides in the Church proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus, which is a story about God in Christ overcoming and putting an end to evil. Thus, Christian teaching does not explain evil but offers a solution to the problem of evil.

Evil constitutes a problem for humanity, for communities of people, and especially individual people but not for God. None of the authors of Holy Scripture seek to explain evil nor do they attempt to vindicate God from responsibility for evil. Instead, the Scriptures present the work of Christ as the resolution to evil as a human problem, as the problem of this cosmos, even as a
spiritual problem. St. Paul, for example, proclaims the work of Christ as freeing humanity, and all things really, from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4). Thus, when the stakes are high, Christians ought to have something to offer those who experience the wound of evil. The Church ought to be a community that proclaims the cross of Christ as a healing salve and as liberation from sin and death. The Gospel, whether expressed in its distilled Pauline form wherein Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection frees humanity from bondage to sin (Rom. 6-8) or in its longer narrative forms recounted by the Evangelists, tells a compelling story about God rescuing the cosmos from evil.

The story of our rescue begins with our present situation. Whence and wither evil? Scripture only hints at how our current predicament came to be in the language of myth. Myth, in this case, means a form of language that references and makes sense of some otherwise incomprehensible realm. Just because a story is a myth does not mean it cannot be true. In fact, some of the deepest truths can only be communicated indirectly by mythic narrative. Thus begins the book of Genesis describing human existence in this present age. Genesis 1-11, does not record the history of man’s fall but describes the reality of the fallen world. Accordingly, the fall does not reference some event in time, but the only Christian way of making sense of humanity’s alienation from God, a universe defined by predation, and ultimately sin, death, and evil.1 Perhaps, David Bentley Hart describes this ahistorical fall best as “an ancient alienation from God that has wounded creation in its uttermost depths and reduced cosmic time to a shadowy vestige of the world God truly intends.”2 Fallenness, then, describes our present situation as one of distorted understanding about ourselves, the world, and God’s purpose in creation.

Yet, because of Jesus Christ, fallenness cannot wholly describe our present situation. Fallenness remains an apt description of the only cosmos we know, but the work of Christ provides a larger narrative context for this fallen world. As Christ reveals the truth about us and the world, we recognize evil as the perversion and privation of the fullness of God revealed in Jesus. He defines what is most true, most real, and essentially durable about God’s creation. Evil does not have the last say about us; God in Jesus ultimately defines us. God reveals authentic creation in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Indeed, the cross especially marks the event in which the distorted values of this present age unmask themselves as the fallen demonic powers and principalities. Simultaneously the cross reveals the glory of God. The distorted values of this present age consist in the illicit desire for control at whatever cost. The cost usually manifests itself in murderous violence. The ethic of this present age can be summed up: return evil unto evil, hate your enemy, and secure your life in this world no matter what it takes. In stark contrast, God reveals his glory in an ethic that can be summed up: love your enemy (Mt. 5:43-4); Lk. 6:27) and do not repay evil for evil (Rom. 12:17-21).3 We might expect the Lord to annihilate this present evil age, the world, and all of us with it, but whatever vengeance he reserves for himself he expresses as the suffering servant casting out evil and healing us by his own woundedness (Isa. 53:5). Thus, we cannot make sense of our fallenness by measuring how far we have fallen, evil has no explanation, so we must make sense of our present state in terms of redemption.

In his death and resurrection, Christ overcomes evil, this evil age, and the evil within us. We do not need a theodicy. We do not need an argument to vindicate God of evildoing. We need salvation. We all must traverse this fallen world engulfed by darkness, and we only do so safely according to the Light that has come into the world, Jesus Christ. Truly each of us has already embarked upon an odyssey toward our true home. But I do not mean Heaven. Rather God beckons us from the cross of Christ to be made fully human, which is to say divinized made in the image and likeness of himself. Thus, Christ both saves us from this present evil age and makes us the place of his salvation in the world, specifically as the community of the church. Salvation from evil occurs within us when our lives become transformed by the ethic of the cross. Our odyssey in this life, then, means understanding ourselves according to our true creation revealed in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Indeed, God saves us, and all things, by forming us into a people and a community who live according to the ethic of the cross. Therefore, when the stakes are high and evil confronts us in the particulars of everyday life, we must respond by embodying Jesus’ ethic of the cross. We must do good rather than evil. We must bless rather than curse. We must respond in love. Evil is not a thing to be destroyed but an affliction to be healed. The answer to the question of evil, then, is not an explanation but the cruciform life of Christ’s followers.

(Sign up for the course, The Theology of Maximus the Confessor with Jordan Wood. The course will run from 2024/3/25–2024/5/17 and will meet on Saturdays.)

1Jordan Daniel Wood in The Whole Mystery of Christ: Creation as Incarnation in Maximus Confessor, pp. 155-169, argues some patristic theologians such as Origen of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximos the Confessor taught a “prehistorical” fall.

2David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami, p. 22. For further reading about the Fall as ahistorical, see Jesse Hake’s article shared by Aiden Kimel, at Eclectic Orthodoxy, and Kimel’s response.

3 Robert Doran develops Bernard Lonergan’s notion that the “Law of the Cross” transforms evil into the “supreme good.” in The Trinity in History: A Theology of the Divine Missions (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 2012), 227-258. Doran’s insights have heavily influenced my own thought about how the cross of Christ constitutes authentic human subjectivity and ultimately authentic communities.

The End of Lincoln Christian University: Why it Matters

By C J Dull

On May 31, 2024 Lincoln Christian University will close its doors.  It will truly mark the end of an era for the Independent Christian Churches, however hackneyed and trite that may sound. The formative years of this group are often considered a titanic struggle between two contrasting personalities, Dean Walker on the left and R C Foster on the right. The former perfected the art of turning eccentricity into profundity, while the latter was clear to the point of being accusatory, turning the debate skills he learned at Harvard on the whole religious landscape.  Yet on an institutional level, the two major figures were Leonard Wymore of the North American Christian Convention and Earl Hargrove of Lincoln.  

The discussion below will focus more on the contribution of Lincoln, which is not quite as obvious as the North American. Yet it should be remembered that at the end of May the two most significant institutions of the Independent Christian Churches during its formative period will only be history—or more bluntly, dead. That can hardly fail to be significant or perhaps crucial or essential for the group as a whole. Some may infer that this is a good time to echo the concluding words of the Springfield Presbytery and sink into the larger Christian world, however defined, but it seems rather that stripping the romanticized emphasis on unity is preferable.  

Intriguingly, while Emmanuel and Lincoln proposed different emphases, they derive from a common source, the Kerschner Butler School of Religion. This “common source” did produce different approaches. Emmanuel maintained an interest in contacts with the restructured Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) while Lincoln was quick to dissociate itself from them. Hargrove was motivated to enter the ministry while a member of a Disciples congregation and did his theological work at Phillips Seminary–thus, the irony of his original motivation and its contrasting later policy. One area in which he did maintain his Disciple interests was his view of women in the pulpit. He seemed particularly impressed by their ability to keep congregations loyal and coherent during a difficult period. When Prof. Heine (alumnus and professor of Lincoln) published a seminal article on the subject in 1977, it was not a new emphasis. Female graduates of Lincoln often found active careers in the churches. Eleanor Daniel was probably the most prominent Independent during this period, having served as a seminary professor and/or dean at all three seminaries and having demonstrated that she was “the expert” on Christian Education. Again, the irony of a school—and its female members–working to preserve a constituency that was not particularly sympathetic to such participation.  

The rise of Lincoln to a position resembling hegemony seemed to owe a great deal to timing and environment. Most are not impressed when we speak of those coming from “small farms”.  It often betokens a kind of sparse, parochial, sometimes remote background, mitigated only by hard work. Those in eastern Tennessee may easily conjure up images of tax defiance and moonshine. “Small farms” in central Illinois are a different story. They are generally flat—hence all the jokes about being located in a cornfield—fertile and mechanized. The congregation in Assumption, IL, where Ben Merold became somewhat prominent, also included Leroy Trulock, a very large implement dealer. Agricultural entities may be various sizes, but they generally are quite sophisticated in their approach to the practice. Most state universities in this area have schools of agriculture that are well-funded and often have vast extension services, the local one being the U of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Though an agricultural environment may not usually be associated with cosmopolitan awareness, in most such places the day begins with radio announcers giving the market and other reports often on a global scale. I recall quite distinctly giving a perfunctory greeting to a cousin who farmed and being rewarded with a lecture on the difficulty of competing with Brazilian soybeans. No doubt some remember those unbelievably impressive old consul radios able to reach almost anywhere in the world, which were a staple of many of our grandparents. It’s no wonder that their descendants found missions a congenial field. Lincoln, and regional Bible Colleges, had an immediate impact in missions, partly due to the agricultural environment, but also due to the fact the student body included many veterans of WWII.

The endorsements in Lincoln’s catalogue (and many others) by the American Legion as well as references to the GI Bill of Rights make it clear that many of the students were veterans of WW2 and Korea, and thus older and more disciplined—perhaps even more aggressive–than previously entering students. Such descriptions as more mature, more serious or solemn, and even more sophisticated may have been appropriate. Thus, we see the balancing of a specific regional area with a cosmopolitan emphasis—encouraged by the World Wars but already there, both of which impacted Lincoln and its influence on Independents.    

The conception that a Bible college can serve as a regional center for evangelism did not originate with Lincoln. Aside from historical examples (e.g., medieval western monasticism), probably the first example among the Independent Christian Churches was the formation of Pacific Bible Seminary, a Cincinnati clone, in 1928.  Alberta Bible College and Atlanta Christian College had similar missions before WW2. Yet, Lincoln—started after the war—demonstrated that the model was indeed productive. The one caveat is that Lincoln’s success was evangelism not in any simple or pure sense but largely by strengthening existing congregations. Especially in their early days, the faculty and many of the students were able to support themselves through supply preaching or even regular pastorates. 

Historically, then, the preference for Bible colleges came out of Lincoln, in the fifties. It appeared to have phenomenal success in rejuvenating congregations there (they regularly talk about 500 congregations within a hundred miles), and the model of a Bible college as a center of evangelism was born. The lack of interest in producing new liberal arts colleges was a combination of factors: (1) money—most of the supporting churches were rural and small; (2) public university education was strong and inexpensive in these states; and (3) liberal arts colleges (e.g., Eureka and Culver Stockton) had demonstrated both a susceptibility to critical views (which were not acceptable in this wave) and a declining ability to produce preachers. While Lincoln inspired the creation of Bible colleges as centers of evangelism, the staffing of them usually fell to other schools (e.g., Johnson, Minnesota, Cincinnati).

The other notable shift that was centered on Lincoln was the focus on theology. At a time when higher criticism was influencing churches and seminaries, all three of the seminaries of Independents opposed critical scholarship in the first generation. Emmanuel did the same as Butler and embraced it in the second generation. The other two in the second had degrees largely outside formal seminary areas, and often these disciplines are not particularly fond of NT scholarship, often considering it a kind of exotic scholasticism. During this period the preeminent discipline in our seminaries became theology, especially the work of Jack Cottrell at Cincinnati and James Strauss at Lincoln. With the closing of both Cincinnati and Lincoln, schools seem to be returning to an emphasis on basic biblical exegesis.

However, the lasting focus on preachers and preaching may be the result of Lincoln and other regional schools. The supply of preachers seems to have upgraded the position of the sermon. While preaching has always been important, often its most skillful practitioners had been certain professionals such as circuit riders or evangelists. In this period the sermon tends to take on a position as an essential part of the service, almost like a sacrament or ordinance that must be part of the service, even if it is delivered by one untrained in theology or church history. 

This focus on preaching, supported by Lincoln and regional schools, must be combined with two other key influential figures. It is difficult to understand the ministerial ethos among Christian Church preachers without understanding P. H. Welshimer. He took a congregation of 350 in 1903 and within 20 years had one of a couple thousand with an emphasis on the Sunday School, the simple Gospel and considerable sophistication in methodology. He was becoming prominent about the time a young man named Donald McGavran was graduated from Butler University, which gave Welshimer an honorary doctorate. The “church growth” McGavran later described in missionary terms he first saw personified in Welshimer.  McGavran took-up Welshimer’s emphasis on the priority of evangelism and “the simple gospel,” which has resulted in a kind of theological minimalism in the church growth movement and his successors in big churches. Ministers of large churches (even more so with the prevalence of business training) especially concentrate on adding members with a minimum of theology and a maximum of activity—ranging from familiar good works (e.g., Habitat for Humanity, prison work) to aerobics to parenting, debt-reduction or even pie-making workshops.

Thus, the key influences of Lincoln, have been the focus on preaching, on regional emphases and needs, practical ministries, church growth, and theology. With the closing of Lincoln, there is no question which, among these, will be its enduring legacy.[1]

Reflections on “The End of Lincoln Christian University: Why it Matters

By Paul Axton

C. J. Dull is one of the premiere historians and Greek scholars among “Independents”, so I asked him to reflect on the significance of the closing of Lincoln Christian University.

My tenure at Lincoln was only one year, and in that year, I studied almost exclusively with James Strauss. Though I could not always understand his precise point, Strauss’s charisma, breadth of reference, and enthusiasm worked a profound influence. His mode of doing theology inspired his students, like myself, to pursue higher degrees in theology. My work, in psychoanalytic theory and philosophy, may be unusually arcane but is one example of the directions inspired by Strauss. Though Strauss, like most all of his contemporaries, was limited by the paradigms of modernity, his legacy at Lincoln seems to have created space for those working in postmodern theology, philosophical theology, and historical theology. Strauss was a large personality and a dynamic speaker, with a wide presence and visibility in our churches, such that he made room for the subsequent outstanding theological faculty which gathered at Lincoln.

In the classroom, Strauss was famous for his various witticisms. When he would ask a question and receive no reply, he indicated we could ask any passing truck driver on Hwy 30 to answer. He referred to the slow infiltration of the “principalities and powers” into the Church as the frog in the kettle syndrome. The frog is happy to sit in the warm water and misses the fact that he is adjusting gradually to being boiled to death. Maybe evangelicalism as a whole, but certainly Independents, are now submerged in the boiling waters of pragmatism.

C J describes the cross purposes in Lincoln’s focus on preaching, church growth, practical ministries, and theology. Theology turns out to be the loser in a group geared toward church growth and pragmatics. It is not clear theological depth can survive among Independents. Lincoln was the key exception and now the primary exhibit, that this is the case. Sadly, any truck driver on Hwy 30 probably knows this.

[1] There are some interesting ways in which the regional schools have had something of an enduring effect.  One more salient aspect, but probably mostly under the radar, is the position of communion in the order of service.  Most older congregations continuously operative almost universally have preserved communion at the end.  Virtually everyone else has it just before the sermon.  Of course for years, if not decades, having a regular preacher was at best a luxury.  It was often the practice to have the song service and end with communion following.  If a preacher was available, his contribution was added after communion and became the de facto end.  The ready supply of preachers made available by the regional schools then systematized the position of communion in the center of the service so successfully that most members now cannot conceive of any other position.

Beyond Justification: Revelation, Love, and Salvation

Guest Blog by Jonathan DePue

I recently had the privilege of being interviewed by Paul Axton on his Forging Ploughshares Podcast about my forthcoming book, co-authored with Douglas Campbell, Beyond Justification: Liberating Paul’s Gospel (March 2024). Paul and I decided that it might be helpful for folks, or at least peak people’s interest in the book, if I wrote a summary of the book as a companion to the podcast episode–explaining some of the key moves that Douglas and I made throughout. 

But instead of simply jumping right in, I wanted to take some time to explain the rationale of the book more generally. I have been working with Douglas for just over a decade, having first met him when I matriculated at Duke Divinity School in 2013. And prior to that I was fortunate enough to have begun studying Paul and learning Koine Greek during undergrad from 2009 to 2013. There I was introduced to some of the best Pauline scholarship that rejected what I knew then as the “Lutheran” reading of Paul (a term coined by the famous Lutheran scholar and minister Krister Stendahl). I could sense that this dominant, so-called “Lutheran” reading was destructive (especially towards Jews), highly individualistic, and depicted a God that clashed fundamentally with the God of cosmic reconciliation revealed in Jesus Christ–a God who was irrevocably committed to his people, Israel. But I found the alternatives, especially from certain advocates of the New Perspective on Paul and of the Sonderweg (“two-ways of salvation”) approach, to be less than compelling.
Then, for the first time in 2013, I read The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (henceforth DoG). Everything started clicking into place.

I began to understand that the conventional construal of Paul that I knew as “Lutheran” had problems that were deeper, broader, and harder than most scholars had grasped. Douglas demonstrated that the issue was not just a bad reading that could be attributed to Luther or to the Reformation per se; it was that there was a whole prior construct at work informing the interpretation of Paul’s words, sentences, paragraphs, and key theological claims. Douglas dubbed this “justification theory” (henceforth JT). JT isn’t so much a reading that can be lifted directly out of the text (this in itself is an impossibility) but functions much like what Hans-Georg Gadamer called a Vorverständnisse or a “pre-understanding” which combines received expectations concerning what certain words and phrases mean in just under 10 percent of Paul’s texts. This prior construct then informs and controls how one interprets Paul’s justification data, and goes on to capture what Paul wrote everywhere else. It is, like theologian Willie James Jennings has put things, a “Christian imagination.” JT is just in the water. 

What, then, are we to do with the fact that Paul has been colonized by a harsh, retributive, and contractual prior construct–namely, JT–that prioritizes a particular reading of a minority data set and exerts influence out of all proportion onto the rest of what Paul wrote?

DoG offered what I think is the only successful solution to this problem if we want Paul to be a coherent thinker (and I think we should). With extraordinary historical-critical insight, linguistic mastery, philosophical rigor, and theological depth DoG was a force that Pauline scholars could not ignore—although they tended to misunderstand and misrepresent its arguments (see, well, pretty much all of the reviews of DoG that dropped shortly after its publication). To be fair, it was a difficult book that surpassed 1,000 pages in length and was perhaps rhetorically structured in such a way that immediately turned off those who committed to JT (whether they called it that or not) as if it were a theological golden calf. 

In 2018, nearly a decade after DoG’s publication, I felt it was well past time to repackage the arguments of the book by prefacing and then explaining them in a way that was a bit more rhetorically sensitive and accessible–not just for scholars of Paul, but for students, pastors, and lay people. These realizations coupled with my intense desire to share the decades of research that Douglas had done with as many people as I could was really the impetus for our book, Beyond Justification. And thankfully, I was able to persuade Douglas to co-author it with me. 

The book itself has taken on many iterations over the years, but Douglas and I eventually settled on a structure, argumentative flow, and tone that we believe will help readers grasp what Douglas has been trying to say about Paul and the gospel for years. 

Chapter one, “God’s truth,” kicks off the book with the correct theological starting point–the epistemological question concerning how we know the truth about God. We know God by attending to where he has chosen to reveal himself, namely, in and through his Son, Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit. And Paul himself attests to this starting point centered on Jesus quite clearly. Paul’s experience with the risen Lord was quite dramatic and unique, so many other people in his churches probably did not experience revelation in the same way. And Paul knows this. His converts are able to be drawn into the dynamic of revelation as the divine Spirit of Christ searches the depths of God and further reveals the truth about God to them. And we too, wherever we are, are encountered by God’s revelation in Jesus Christ in just the same way–a truth mediated to us by Christ’s Spirit. We don’t find it; it comes to find us. The key thing is that the same process of revelation arrives under the control of the sovereign, self-revealing Lord of the universe and extends from Paul’s own experience, to his churches, and to us thousands of years later.

In God’s self-revelation, we now learn critical things about who this God is. In chapter two, “God’s Love,” we argue that Paul attests to a God of three persons; God is actually constituted by these persons–a divine family of relationships. And not just any sort of relationships but ones of love. God, therefore, is love. And we see this love most clearly in the event of God sending his beloved Son to die for a hostile humanity before they do anything in response. God’s love therefore must be unconditional, and he has always been this way even from before the foundation of the world. Indeed it is this loving divine communion that explains the creation of the cosmos. God elected to create a people to share in this divine communion, and he did this all out of his deep love for us. This is guaranteed by the free activity of God’s Spirit who draws humanity into fellowship with God in Christ forever. We are effectively adopted into God’s loving family to be holy, happy, and blameless–despite whatever tries to knock this divine plan off track. God will always rescue his creation because this is the sort of God revealed in Christ. This is the divine secret (Gk mystērion) that lay at the heart of the cosmos–a loving family that never lets go or gives up on its children.

So if this is what God is really like, how does God respond to attempts to interfere with God’s loving purposes for the cosmos in order to reestablish his divine plan? This is what we address in chapter three, “God’s salvation.” In the light of who God is, we need to know exactly what is messing things up. Paul says quite explicitly that the cosmos is enslaved to the powers of Sin, Death, and the Flesh–along with associated evil powers roaming about. Creation is in bondage with no way to set itself free. We are utterly incapacitated. God’s solution to this dismal plight can be summarized as a two-part story of descent and ascent.

First, God the Father sends his Son to enter into this enslaved cosmos and take on human flesh. Christ assumes all that is harming, damaging, and incarcerating us; he bears all of this as he journeys faithfully to the cross. He is executed, and Sin, Death, and the Flesh are terminated in his execution. Second, Christ is of course raised from the dead and enthroned on high where he is acclaimed as Lord in a transformed body not of flesh but of pneuma (spirit). Through Christ’s Spirit, we are grafted on to this journey of descent and ascent as we enter into the extinction of our current sinful condition. Christ died therefore we all have died. And in Christ, we are raised with him beyond this enslaved state and are set free to respond to God with a full and joyful obedience. Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection. We live out of this resurrected location now and await our final resurrection when we too will be given new spiritual bodies like Jesus. We are saved, then, as we participate in Christ’s faithful life, death, and resurrection. Indeed God’s plan for the cosmos is brought back on track through Jesus and the Spirit. This is Paul’s gospel–his Good News (Gk euangelion).

In part two of this blog post, I will continue summarizing the chapters of Beyond Justification, beginning with a certain construal of Paul, namely, JT, that appears to be doing something very different from the gospel that we have presented thus far.

Marginalization and Restorative Justice

A guest blog by Jonathan Totty

In the parlor of a grandly decrepit Episcopal Church, we began to create a community of people becoming whole, integrated, healed. Like moribund flesh, as individual worshippers bound together by the felt need to allow the Protestant Episcopal Church to submit her doctrines and liturgy, along with the Holy Scriptures, as opinions to be considered by rational minds, we endured the malaise of mainline protestant decline. As a community of Christians, though, we grasped for the potency of ancient ideas reborn toward a politics of friendship, which constitutes the politics of God’s eternal community. Nothing loves death as much as itself. Busy and isolated people merely experience the decline and fall of humanity, whereas life manifests in relationships wherein minds meet, and hearts synchronize in desiring the good. So, we made our prayer, “Come Holy Spirit, come and renew the face of the Earth.” Against the odds of modern life, an eclectic group of folks met in a parlor, oddly resembling an undertaker’s lounge, to study and discuss articles, books, films, and lectures collected around the idea that Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, and resurrection establish a just and peaceful way of being human in the world.

We, a priest, a literature professor, an engineer, an attorney, a scientist, a social worker, and several folks who work in healthcare—about twelve of us in total—meet Sunday mornings, regularly, to discuss the Bible, the history of the Church, doctrines, but this time we met more purposefully and more committed to developing a robust self-understanding about Christian identity. As the priest, my parishioners delightfully surprised me by their willingness to commit to a rigorous course of study. We replaced what had amounted to a Sunday School hour with a course complete with syllabus, lectures, and course readings. Our materials included varied sources such as Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s Silence, writings about the Bible by the feminist theologian Susanne Scholz, and a lecture by Rowan Williams the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Our goal was to develop a self-understanding about Christian identity, derived from the witness of Jesus’ self-sacrificing life and death, that fosters peace and justice while opposing violence and oppression. My parishioners met my ambitious proposal with eager minds and supple spirits open to encountering God.

Throughout eight weeks of Sunday morning discussions, we became God’s beloved community, followers of Christ, people awakened to the forces, the principalities, and powers of demonic and human origins, and people committed to inculcating Christ’s spirituality of peace and justice within our own lives. We became a community by listening to diverging views and understanding the biases and social locations informing each other’s thoughts, opinions, and theories. By listening to one another, we developed a theological stance of openness, open even to meeting Christ in the other. We embodied the theology we hoped to understand. A theology of Christian identity resides within us; the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s life come alive in us by God’s grace infused within our person. Thus, a Christian identity does not exist as an impersonal standard of measure, rather Christian identity resides in Jesus as the one who reveals the Father by his kenotic incarnation and sacrificial death. In Jesus’ resurrection, God promises that our own creaturely personhood abides in the life of God. Consequently, we discovered Christ in ourselves as we recognized Christ in each other.

After weeks of attending to our surroundings and developing a vantage point for reflection by way of critical theory, we wondered how we might meet the demands of our consciences and the world as authentic followers of Jesus. For it is not only some historians, as Toynbee thought, who “hold that history is just one damned thing after another,” because we sometimes endure life as one damned thing after another. In contrast, the way of Jesus forms a straight and narrow path through suffering, through death, into the bright light of God’s eternal life in which all things cohere. We walk the way of Jesus in prayer, study, and service. When we walk the way of Jesus, we enter the flow of God’s love, which establishes the source and goal of all creaturely life. So, even as we became attentive to the powers, principalities, and forces of darkness, we turned to the traditional practices of the Christian spiritual life as a strategy of resistance. Sin and death hold sway by encouraging despair, whereas the Holy Spirit promises joy subsists in the fullness of God’s presence.

While leading our Sunday morning discussions, I decided the communal life we discovered at Grace Episcopal Church should be shared. So, I shared the materials I developed for my parish with Paul Axton. He, then, extended an invitation for me to adapt the course for Forging Ploughshares under the class title: Marginalization and Restorative Justice. Thus, under the auspices of Forging Ploughshares, I invite you to join a discussion about the Christian identity, and how Jesus’ life in us fosters the just, peaceable, and beloved community of God. The class, Marginalization and Restorative Justice, will create a space of discernment about the mission and life of God in us and in the world as we explore Christian social teaching from both Catholic and Protestant perspectives. By study and conversation will foment a realized and active spirituality, which constitutes an alternative peaceable way of life instead of the violent and oppressive norm. Together we will practice spiritual conversations that teach us a way of encountering God, a way of being formed as disciples of Jesus, a way of inhabiting the Peaceable Kingdom.

Therefore, even as I have described one theological conversation and offered an invitation to another, my ultimate purpose resides in the description of theological conversation. In theological conversation, we live and move and have our being in God as a community. We encounter God in dialogue with others. To be present to another, we must also be present to ourselves. Every conversation marks an opportunity for self-knowledge. Attentiveness to others and to ourselves along with the reasonable and responsible pursuit of truth fosters good conversation. The unqualified and unrestricted Good, which is God, fulfills the implicit question of every conversation, which is the human unrestricted desire to know. Consequently, if we seek the meaning of Christian identity honestly and responsibly, then we will together become Christians. The unrestricted nature of our conversation means our conversation ever and always occurs as dialogue approaching the Word of God. God invites our conversation into the divine life. So, let us dare together to talk about what it means to be Christian, and thereby invite the Holy Spirit to come, come and renew our lives in this world and eternity.

(Register for the Class Marginalization and Restorative Justice here:

God How Could You Let This Happen?

As I sit here on the Pier at Garden City beach, safely overlooking the perpetual waves of the mighty Atlantic gently rolling in to meet the Carolina shores, I can sense the disparity between the calm beauty before my eyes and the restlessness of my heart. And as warmly as the morning air of the ocean breezes upon my face, in my spirit, there is the unmistakable chill of sadness and loss — and even of profound defeat. Yesterday, just before dinner time, as my wife and I were making plans for our last days of vacation here in South Carolina, I was looking forward to the fried oysters and scallops and the sound of her laughter as we celebrated the good life. But then the notification from Twitter suddenly flashed across my phone — and I instantly knew that we would have to cancel our plans for the evening. The headline made it clear that tonight there would be nothing to celebrate or laugh about: in Uvalde, Texas, two adults and nineteen children, most of whom were only about ten years old, had been gunned down and murdered in their elementary school.

At first, like most everyone else, I felt a hot flash of burning anger — but not of shock. To my own shame, I have become almost totally desensitized to the now daily headlines of horrific mass shootings in the Divided States of America. Still, this one seemed to hit differently. “They were only little kids” I thought to myself. The all too familiar feeling of helplessness and the suffocating sense of inescapable grief and disillusionment quickly began to set in. I sunk my face into the my palms of my hands and screamed in the frustration of my heart “HOW CAN THIS KEEP HAPPENING? WHY IN GODS NAME WONT SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING?!” Just a couple of days ago a deranged racist had committed mass murder at a supermarket in Buffalo. “It. Just. Keeps. Happening.” I felt guilty for not remembering whether the mass shooting from just over a year ago in the city of Indianapolis — just twenty minutes away from my house — happened at the UPS or FedEx building. I couldn’t remember whether it had been nine or ten people who had been murdered in the worst mass shooting in the history of Indiana. I reasoned to myself, probably in a desperate and rather pathetic attempt to console myself: “There are too many mass shootings in our country to keep track of…” In my defense, there have already been more mass shootings in 2022 than there have been days in the year. And as I was considering the horror of it all, a surprising and perhaps even impious question arose in my heart: “God, how could You let this happen?

A great and terrible question, to be sure. What makes the question infinitely more difficult for me is that I believe in the God of infinite and unconditional Love: a God Who is Goodness and Beauty Itself. I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God— the gentle King of kindness and goodness and peace — the One in Whom we have perfectly seen the Father. My favorite verse in the Bible may be from 1 John 1:5 — “This is the message that we have heard from Him [that is, from Jesus] and announce to you: that God is light and in him is no darkness whatsoever.” As far as I am concerned, this is the good news: there is absolutely nothing at all about God that is not infinitely Good. He is the Good Itself. And yet, I cannot deny that this haunting question still sometimes overflows out of the depths of my admittedly small and sinful heart: “God, how could You let this happen?

I am certainly not the first person to ask the question. All of the religions flowing out of the Abrahamic tradition have always taught that God is omnipotent: “all-powerful.” And so, logically, although He could prevent evil things from happening, He obviously does not always do so. Though He does not directly will evil — and we could never imagine a more blasphemous thing about a good God Who truly loves mankind than the thought that He directly wills evil for His creatures — He nonetheless does allow it. So, despite the immense complexity and even audacity of the question, in the face of all the great evils of the world, we often ask it throughout our lives. Why? Because most of us desperately want to believe in God’s omnipotent goodness despite all the apparent evidence to the contrary. And when we do ask the question, we are in the very best of company. After all, this is the question that has troubled the greatest minds the world has ever known, from the Hebrew prophets, to the early Church fathers, up through history’s greatest philosophers and theologians, to the most brilliant artists, poets, musicians, and geniuses,[1] all the way down to the most pure and innocent children, up to and including at least some of those survivors of Uvalde. In the horrific aftermath of what happened in Texas — and what will undoubtedly continue to happen if we don’t do something drastic soon to address this great evil of our time — this must be the question in the hearts of the masses of traumatized children and their parents all over the world: “God, how could You let this happen?” How do Christians answer it? 

Again, it is a supremely difficult — and even scary — but honest question. Who possesses the wisdom to totally discern how a good and loving God can allow the most terrible things imaginable to happen every single day to His children? I certainly don’t. We can contemplate and venture our most orthodox and coherent and perhaps even daring theological speculations with all humility, but we should most definitely never offer any kind of “soul-making” theodicies to those who are suffering. In fact, the best thing we can probably do in such situations is to resist the temptation to speak at all and to instead just remain silent and tenderly weep with those who weep. When His good friend Lazarus died, our Lord Jesus did not preach a lengthy discourse on God’s goodness in the face of evil to those who were suffering. Instead, perhaps tellingly, in the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Still, in such terrible moments, most of us cannot help but to wonder in our secret hearts about where God is. “How could He let this happen?” How can we live in both such a profoundly beautiful and monstrously cruel world? And how is it possible for God to be totally innocent in all of this? I believe He is, by the way, but I do not know exactly how. Do you? Does anybody?

Here is what I know — or at least believe: God, in order to be worthy of our love and even worship must be the Good Itself. If He is not the Good itself — if He is in any way evil or even has only the faintest hint of darkness in Him — then He is not worth a moment more of our time or consideration. And yet, as we all know, God does in fact allow the very worst things imaginable to happen. Again, just think: He even “allowed” His own Son — His very Own Heart — to become the most famous victim of injustice and betrayal that the world has ever known: to be mercilessly tortured, mocked, hung on a tree — lynched — and left for dead. God’s own Son was massacred by the hands of lawless and wicked men. Jesus’ disciples and closest friends must have also asked, with us, “God, how could You let this happen?” Christ Himself, quoting the broken-hearted prophet in Psalm 22:1, cried out from the very depths of His being, from His cross, “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken me? “God, how could You let this happen?” If even the Son of God can be crucified, then apparently anything can happen.

And, as we know all too well, “anything” has happened. For all its goodness and beauty, history is also filled with the absolute worst of horrors. I think of it and tremble: God allowed the utter outrages of the Holocaust. He could have stopped it — but He didn’t. This is a terrible thought, is it not? He allowed the death camps and the atomic bombs to fall on the precious children in Japan. He allowed African men, women, and children to be taken from their homeland so that they could make the white man rich on the backs of their forced and terrible labor. He allows the violence of the cartels and their drugs to find their way to our poorest neighborhoods where they kill our mothers and fathers and kids. He allows our children to be gunned down on the streets and in schools and even in His churches. We could go on and on about the outrages of wickedness perpetrated mostly against the most vulnerable and powerless and often innocent among us. And we all know the terrible things that He has allowed to happen in our own lives. As a hospice chaplain, I see it everyday in the lives of the terminally ill patients I visit with and in the faces of the addicts that I have worked with over the last fifteen years. I am sure that you see it too.

Yet, we still believe that God must be good, do we not? That He must be the wellspring and beginning and end of every good and beautiful and true thing. That He is the Good as such… Is not His goodness our very hope? Though we still sometimes sin against Him and against our brothers and sisters, do we not yet love Him still, with all our hearts and pray to Him and serve Him and sing to Him and even dance for Him? Is He not the love of our lives and the deepest desire of our hearts? Do we not long to be with Him, as a bride desires her bridegroom, to be with Him and with each other, where all pain, sorrow, and sighing have fled away (Isa. 51:11)? Of course we do. Though we do not understand His ways and are sometimes tempted to think less of Him and in our heart of hearts to question His goodness — especially when disaster strikes — we still love and put all our hope in Him to somehow make everything right. What other hope do we have in the face of all this suffering, violence, evil, and death?

Except, even in spite of all our hope, we still know that even “the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21) cannot “undo” what has happened in our world. History, at least for now, has lost these precious children. I do not know why bad things happen to good and even innocent people. At the end of the day, the only thing I really have — is hope. I can only hope that God will somehow one day make all things right. And I believe He will. But in the midst of the madness, I can only hope and try to love and comfort those who are suffering. In the final analysis, when we are suffering through the terrors of life, we don’t need answers, we need love. Yes, I can hope with St. Paul that one day, “God will be all in all” (1 Cor. 15.28), that one day there will be no more sirens or guns or terror or funerals for little kids. I can and do hope in the eventual “restoration of all things” but even this powerful hope does not change or take away what has happened. We live on, in tears, and in the hope that things will somehow change and get better for us. But for those little children and teachers and for their families and loved ones, things can never be right again for them. At least not in this life.

And so, in the wake of the loss of life in Uvalde, Texas, along with (literally) about a million others we have lost to guns in this country alone over the last 40 years[2] (as long as I have been alive), we again grieve together. We lament the societal, moral, heart, and gun problems of our nation and hope for change. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). And, so that we too will be comforted, let us mourn with those who mourn. Let us weep with those who weep. Let us hope with those who hope. Let us love, with the love of God, with the love that St. Paul taught about that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). And when we are tempted to despair at the thought of how God could let all these things happen to us, St. Paul comforts us in the very next verse with the daring apostolic promise that “Love never fails.” God, Who is Love, never fails. If there is an “answer” then this must be it. Maybe, instead of asking “God, how could You let this happen?” there is a better and more important and infinitely more glorious question, asked by St. Paul on behalf of God’s children in Rome — and on behalf of ours too, here in America:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or the sword? As has been written: “For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were reckoned as sheep for slaughter.” Rather, in all these things we more than conquer through the one who has loved us. For I have been persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor Archons nor things present nor things imminent nor Powers, nor height nor depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

[1] See especially “Rebellion” in Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov.


The Error of Personal Salvation

This is a guest blog by David Rawls

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:19

When I was a freshman at the University of Arizona, I had someone from one of the campus ministries talk to me about Jesus.  They asked me the two famous Evangelism Explosion questions created by D. James Kennedy.[1]  The first question: “Do you know for sure that you will go to Heaven one day?” And the second is this: “If God were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into My Heaven?’ what would you say?”  Of course as a young college student I had not given these questions much thought.  Through our discussion he shared with me that I was going to go to Hell if I did not give my life to Jesus.  He asked me if I wanted to go to Heaven.  How could I say no.  He went on to tell me that if I want to go to heaven all I had to do was pray a sinner’s prayer and I would be assured of heaven.  So on that day I said the sinner’s prayer and asked God into my heart.  Later that night I went to the local college bar and got drunk to celebrate the fact that I was going to go to heaven.  A few years later I actually took my faith a lot more seriously and prayed the prayer again but this time with the idea that I was going to follow Jesus.

I start with this story not because it is wrong to think about one’s eternal destiny but because what I was taught about the salvific work of Jesus was that it was simply about me getting saved.  I was told the gospel message and what Jesus did on the cross was about me personally going to Heaven when I died.  Even after many years of taking Jesus and the Bible seriously, enrolling in Bible College and graduate school, I still continued to hold this belief that the gospel message and salvation are focused on me.  I was not the only one who believed this. It is actually the most predominant idea within our culture. All one has to do to back up this idea that salvation is about personal heaven or hell is to go to any Christian organization and look at their belief statement.  Possibly one of the most influential ministries in America is the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  Here is what they believe about salvation:

We believe that all men everywhere are lost and face the judgment of God,that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, and that for the salvation of lost and sinful man, repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ results in regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore we believe that God will reward the righteous with eternal life in heaven, and that He will banish the unrighteous to everlasting punishment in hell.

The problem with this belief statement and others like it is that they only frame salvation in terms of one’s personal journey.  To be clear, Jesus’ work on the cross does affect me personally, but it’s effect is a part of a much greater issue.  Jesus did not simply come for me but he came to defeat the powers of darkness, to destroy all that was evil that held all of creation in bondage.  The apostle Paul would say in Romans 8:21 that “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay.” Salvation, in the eyes of Paul was both apocalyptic and cosmic.  This idea is supported by Paul’s words to the Colossians when he reminds them that Jesus came to “reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven”(Colossians 1:19). New Testament professor at Baylor University Beverly Gaventa sums it up well when she says,

“in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has invaded the world as it is, thereby revealing the world’s utter distortion and foolishness, reclaiming the world, and inaugurating a battle that will doubtless culminate in the triumph of God over all God’s enemies (including the captors Sin and Death).”[2]

If we are to understand Gaventa and the narrative of the Bible we must talk about salvation in its cosmic impact.  In others words, we must use the language of Jesus when we are told that he came to reconcile all things.  If we don’t, we may mistake the problem for the solution or at the very least minimize the problem.  So what is the problem and how does cosmic salvation address it?

Years ago I was having problems with the power steering in my car.  I decided to pour some fluid into the vehicle to help with the problem.  It did not work.  The reason it did not work is because I poured the fluid into the container that said “brakes.”  Power steering fluid in the brake lines will never fix the power steering problem.  It actually will destroy your brake lines.  The idea of salvation only being personal is not only the wrong way to address salvation, it can be destructive in its application.  The apostle Paul pinpoints the problem in Romans 5:12 when he talks about the disease of sin and death.  He says that “therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” The problem that Paul points out is that sin and death is a disease that has spread through the whole World.  The problem is not simply that I have done something bad and I deserve to die but that death reigns in the World.  Paul Axton says “death is a corruption that infects all of life”[3]  The problem to be resolved is death.  Death that is, is not simply personal but cosmic.  It has infected every area of the cosmos.  Where many Christians err is in focusing primarily on sin as a personal problem that leads to death in Hell.  The answer to this personal problem is that Jesus must suffer on the cross.  This is known as contractual theology or penal substitution.  It is the idea that because God is holy that all those who sin must pay a payment or have a debt removed by God.  The only way this debt can be paid is through death.  The contractual theory goes on to say that God hates sin so much that he must pour his wrath upon us.  This is where Jesus comes in. The belief is, that since we would be condemned to hell for eternity if we had to pay this debt, God steps in and gives us Jesus who receives wrath from the Father on our behalf.  God takes our punishment so we might live.  Notice again that in this theory the main problem is personal sin.  Death is simply a secondary problem or a bump in the road to be overcome. Once sin is dealt with we can simply wait so we can go to heaven at some later point.  The focus is all on “me” and my sin. 

Hopefully you see the problem with this approach.  It does not deal with the problem of death infecting the whole World. It is all personal.  Nothing is said about how Jesus death and resurrection deal with reconciling all things in heaven and earth.  This approach is like pouring fluid in the wrong place.  We feel good about pouring the fluid (of personal salvation) but we miss the problem of the whole cosmos needing repair.  In Revelation 21 we get a beautiful picture of the New Heavens and Earth coming down to us.  This beautiful picture of what God is doing comes on the heels of Revelation 20 in which death and hades are no longer with us.  They have been destroyed.  The great enemy that has ravaged the World is gone.  We can join with the Apostle Paul in saying, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:54).

Death which held the cosmos in bondage has now been defeated by the work of salvation which has touched us personally but has brought salvation to the whole cosmos.  This type of salvation is not an escape from real world realties.  There is no going to heaven when you die but a renewal of this earth and a renewal of our own bodies.  Heaven comes to us in the one last cosmic and apocalyptic scene in the Bible. 


[2] Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Our Mother Saint Paul (Louisville: John Knox, 2007), 80.  

[3] Class notes

Decoding Your Matrix: Are you ready for the Real?

This is a guest blog by Tyler Sims.

It is 2022 and an opportunity to start the year off with some puzzling questions.

Did you watch Matrix Resurrections? Watching the film created questions for me.  I am quite curious about my downloading, processing and uploading of this multifaceted existence.

What reality is being created around you? 

What do you see unfolding in the world? 

How  do you view God in relation to you? Is God here, there, within?

What is r/Reality?

Think for a moment. Feel into your answers. Sense the beat of your heart. The feeling of your gut. How you answer these questions– including their countless offspring –shapes your reality. You are the “processor” forming your reality.

Jesus was a subversive-peaceable agent undermining the regional matrix of His day. He helped people question their experience of Reality and realize the importance of subjective perception. The distinction is key. Subjective perception plays a crucial role in how a person creates their particular reality–lowercase r reality.

Much of Jesus’ work was helping people perceive through the matrix as in Matthew 6. 22: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

The experience of the external world, your reality of God, your reality of yourself is up to you. This creating of reality unfolds presently as you think, feel and sense the world around and within you.

How can this be? You might ask, “Am I omnipotent?” One thing is for sure your perception is potent. More potent, more powerful than you have been taught to understand. You have indwelling power in you to create your reality and influence Reality. 

Do you believe it? How does it feel to state, “someone else creates my reality.”? How does it feel to claim, “I create my reality.”?

It is the Matrix programs of various societal structures that teach you otherwise. The government, news media, technocracy and co-opted religious institutions regularly upload programming into your “operating system” and influence your processing. 

The message you hear is, “Reality is out of control. Be afraid. Exchange your freedom for the security of consolidated power.” In other words, “You do not create your reality. We-the powers that be-create reality.”

Thus, the Empire claims that only might creates reality. Meanwhile, religious bodies teach of creating reality as God’s business not man’s. Fittingly, the American Matrix uses Romans 13 as proof text for the blessed metaphysical union of the Empire and God’s people. Thus, placing individual and community based reality-creating out of reach. In regards to what’s perceived to be real,  the teeth have been removed from the lion so to speak.

Institutionalized church steps in and teaches God’s metaphysical powers and divine will are beyond and above human agency. God’s reality-creating Spirit is approached more as a gentle-lullabye to be conjured at one’s whim through worship songs and morning devotions. 

Again, ignoring the embodied power within a reconciled and awakened humanity. The more fully integrated people are seen in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul described them as both BEing the body of Christ and BEcoming the temple of the Spirit. How did creative power and responsibility feel to Ephesians? How did this creative empowerment change everything for the group of people at Ephesus?

Reality-creating empowerment is absolutely subversive to Matrix dogma. It is what got Jesus noticed by the Judeo-Roman matrix and crucified. He claimed to be One with God and He actively created the kingdom of God via communities. Jesus was not passive with his identity as Son of God and he encouraged fellow humans to accept the power of their divine connection to God. For example , in John 17:21 “that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me . Jesus challenged the matrix by more than his words. He embodied reality-creating-power. Jesus felt it in his being. He claimed it.

Jesus was response-able and creative with his Power. How many people are responding with the embodied, felt empowerment of creating? Perhaps this is why the Earth is moaning in the 21st century waiting for the awakening of humans as reality-creating Children of God (Romans 8).

Instead of passively viewing matrix systems wield their power, creative agents respond. Wide eyed (Matthew 6:22) and reconciled humans are those who claim their Divine lineage of co-creating. Consider, Jesus’ blessing: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). They create realities of a peaceable world with every step.  How? Through BEing holistically united with God and embodying the movement of the Spirit. They see and feel what is Real. This is the sort of empowered exploration the matrix abhors.

How do you and I start feeling the reality-creating power of BEing within Spirit?

How powerful is it to take responsibility for creating your reality? How does it impact Reality?

This is exactly the power of individuals waking up to being embodied in God as a participant. 

Wake up to being descendants of  the Father/Creator.

Wake up to being constantly unified through the  Spirit . 

Wake up to being the flesh of God through the body of Christ. 

As a member of the Body of Christ, claim your power. “My business is my Father’s business.” Start creating reality. Connect your creative desire with the Spirit. Claim God’s power in your being. Do not be sheepish about your creative power. After all Jesus said, ““Truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12”

Some might claim radical creating is idolatry–as Jesus often heard.

But what if idolatry is sitting passive and letting the Matrix-agents  proliferate illusion and inequality?

What if it is time to become an awakened agent of creating reality? 

Now, what r/Reality will you help create?

Centering Prayer: A Door into the Trinity and Beyond Self

This is a guest blog by David Rawls.

In this blog I will be presenting a method of praying which helps us to better access the Trinity in our prayer lives.  Whereas many approach the topic of Trinity and prayer from a theological position, I plan to avoid an exegesis of such terms. It is my hope to provide a rarely used tool called centering prayer, which I believe can help us enter into the Holy Trinity.  The Apostle Paul may have had in mind centering prayer when he wrote Romans 8:26-27: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Centering prayer by its very nature takes the focus off the one praying and seeks to focus on the Trinity.  Sarah Coakley believes this type of prayer, found in Romans 8, is a way in which a believer yields to the Spirit which then allows the Spirit to direct toward what is most important.  She says, “prayer at its deepest is God’s, not ours, and takes the pray-er beyond any normal human language or rationality of control.”[1]  Simply put praying in this manner is a way in which we listen and God talks.  Bruce Demarest further suggests that the goal is “to permit the Holy Spirit to activate the life-giving Word of God.”[2]

So, what is centering prayer?  Thomas Keating defines it as “a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.”[3] So what are the practical ways to foster this discipline?  Here are a few practical steps which come from Michael Frost’s book Surprise the World.

Eliminate Distractions

Frost suggests that listening to the Holy Spirit is not an easy task.  One must seek to eliminate anything which might be a distraction.  It is important to avoid things which might interfere with your contemplative time.  Sights, sounds, smells and even taste can become a hindrance to listening to the Holy Spirit.  The quieter the place where you will be praying the better to eventually hear the Holy Spirit.  Matthew 6:6 reminds us from Jesus’ prayer that one should go into their room or closet.  The idea is that one needs to remove distractions.  Frost suggests that finding a comfortable position is essential.  This of course will depend on a person’s preferences.  He also suggests that if you clasp your hands together so that they are not moving it will make you less aware of them while you listen.  Closing your eyes is also important as it helps keep light out and helps us focus simply on God.  Personally, I have been trying this method at intervals of 10 minutes but Frost suggests 20 minutes or more, as he believes something happens many times 10 to 15 minutes into your quiet time.

Let God In

It becomes important that as you start in contemplative prayer time that you do not begin by asking questions or telling the Holy Spirit what you want.  The goal is simply to enjoy God’s presence.  Rather than controlling the Holy Spirit you are wanting the Holy Spirit to control you.  Frost says that we will be tempted at times to want the Holy Spirit to get to the point or to reveal what he wants.  If Coakley is correct, we need to believe prayer is not ours as much as it is God’s.  It is up to God to speak and reveal to us.  It is our job to let God in and have the place for him to do it.  Frost would say, simply let God’s love lavish you.  Phil Fox Rose says when we go into centering prayer it is important to “resist no thought; retain no thought; react to no thought.”[4]  Our minds are usually busy.  To simply not have any thoughts can be discouraging.  Frost suggests that we can help our minds by possibly saying things like,  “Amen, Abba, grace, love, peace and even let go.”  Ultimately, in centering prayer we let thoughts happen.  Frost says that the more we practice this discipline the more our thoughts will slow down so that we might hear the Holy Spirit.

Follow God’s Promptings

When we begin to quiet ourselves we may start to hear promptings which God gives us.  These promptings can be missional in nature.  God may place on our minds a person we need to see or talk to or even revisit.  The Spirit may prompt us to help someone in need.  Is it possible that when the Apostle Paul received his Macedonian call he was using the centering method?  Certainly this fits Paul’s theology of Romans 8 where it seems the prayer life he promotes is focused more on listening rather than petitioning.  The prompting can also lead us to a sin for which we need to ask forgiveness, or changes we need to make in the form of repentance.  A God-prompting can also help in restoring relationships. Not every encounter will prompt us to do something.  It is likely that most promptings simply will be for us to experience God’s presence in our life.  In this manner, as we simply enjoy God, we can be certain that the Holy Spirit is groaning and interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:27).  This is by no means a secondary reaction but a way to be reminded and encouraged that God is alive and well and that we are loved by Him.  Frost says that this is a time when God can bring oxygen to the soul of the believer.

Centering prayer is a great tool for the believer to enter into the life of the Trinity and to be shaped by the Trinity.  Referring back to Romans 8, we find that this may be the way a believer can focus on the things of the Spirit and not on the flesh. Ultimately this is one of the themes of Romans 8.  This is the purpose of centering prayer.  It brings us directly into the Trinity.  We are no longer praying to a God “out there” but we enter into the very Godhead itself. Coakley describes it this way; “an act of cooperation with, and incorporation into, the still extending life of the incarnation.”  Centering prayer reminds us that as we pray to the Father, the Holy Spirit prays for us in words we don’t even know, to conform us into the likeness of Jesus.  This is our goal to be more like Jesus.

[1] Coakley, Sarah. God, Sexuality, and the Self (p. 115). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Bruce Demarest, Satisfy Your Soul, (Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 1999), p. 133


[4] Phil Fox Rose, “Meditations for Christians,” On the Way,


Alexander Campbell: A Prophet of Peace

This is a guest blog by David Rawls

In 1988 I was baptized in a little pond in Central Ohio.  Shortly after this event, I decided to go to a Bible College to be trained in the Bible so I could help young people who were struggling with life.  When I entered Bible College, I was introduced to a Christian movement that I had never heard of before.  It was called the “Restoration Movement.” This Movement was a result of 19th century reformers who saw how denominational churches in America had drifted away from God’s word and teaching.  The focus of the Movement was a return to the primitive New Testament church.  The Restoration Church had two major themes: biblical authority and the unity of all believers.  Men like Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, David Lipscomb, Racoon John Smith and others led this Movement.  By 1860 Restoration Churches had nearly 200,000 members.  These reformers emphasized such things as believer’s baptism by immersion, regular communion, and local church autonomy.  It was the teachings of these reformers which began to shape my life.

Meanwhile, over the last 10 years or so, I have come to the realization that Jesus taught a gospel that was focused on nonviolence or peace.  When we look to the gospels we see, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, that Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemies and not to do harm to them.  For Jesus, this was not simply words but this is how he lived his life, even to the point of death.  Nonviolence was how the church, in its first 300 years, interpreted Jesus’ teaching.  It was only after the church was influenced by Constantine that there was a shift in thought concerning peace and violence.  In the last 10 years, in my pursuit to understand the peaceful gospel, I have been digging into the early church fathers and the works of Anabaptists.  Yet, it is only recently that I was shocked to find out that the early Restoration Movement leaders also taught nonviolence.  They believed that nonviolence was part of the primitive gospel of the New Testament. I was shocked, because I had taken classes both in undergrad and graduate school on the history and thought of the Restoration Movement. I don’t remember any discussion of Restoration leaders focus on nonviolence as part of the gospel.  Yet, leaders like Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone and David Lipscomb had a rich theology of nonviolence.  In this blog I want to look at some of Alexander Campbells arguments for a peaceful gospel.  I will be using Campbells “Address on War” as well as the work from historian Craig M. Watts, which will show that Campbell had a well-developed theology of nonviolence.

When it came to war, Campbell believed that Christians could not participate in war, as to do so would mean killing other Christians in other nations.  He believed that no nation was Christian except the church.  The church was the “one nation composed of all the Christian communities and individuals in the whole earth.”  For Campbell, this meant that Christians could not take up arms because they would be killing other Christians.  Campbell asked the question, “Can Christ’s Kingdom in one nation wage war against his kingdom or church in another nation?”  His answer was an emphatic, “No.”   War for the Christian was not an option.  His problem was not so much nation against nation as it was a theological problem of church against church.  Campbell had a high view of unity and the church could not have unity if Christians were killing other Christians. 

To understand Campbells gospel of peace, one must first understand his postmillennialism.  He believed that the best way to usher in God’s reign on Earth was for the church to recover the original gospel, which included the gospel of peace.  Craig Watts claims Campbell “had no intention of passively waiting for the millennium.” He believed that one had to enact, in the present, his understanding of the future millennium.  Campbell maintains that for man, “the principles of his government” are “to give them a taste of, and a taste for, heavenly things.” This meant that the Christian could not participate in war and violence because the millennium would be a time when the earthly powers would, according to Isaiah, “beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and learn war no more.” This view had an evangelistic appeal to it as well, because people could get a picture of what the future would look like as they observed the church in the present.  This probably explains why Campbell thought unity was so essential. If the church could not be united, why would anyone want to be a part of it in some future state. If the church killed people now, why would people desire to be a part of a future death and dying. 

Much of evangelical Christianity is a hodge-podge of thought which tries to tie together a belief in God which separates itself from the ethics of Jesus.  Campbell, however, believed that faith and works go together.  He believed that the ethics of Jesus are not simply to be admired but are to be practiced.  Jesus pacifist ways were to be lived out by the church.  Campbell believed that Jesus was at war but his war was not waged like the wars of the World.  The World uses swords to subdue its enemy.  The World uses violence to beat people into submission.  Campbell, though, rejected this coercive method.  He said, “To conqueror an enemy is to convert him into a friend.”  As he explained, “All arms and modes of warfare are impotent, save the arms and munitions of everlasting love.” This is a courageous contrast to the view of Luther and Calvin, who believed violence was a tool of God.  Campbell would have none of this, believing that if one cannot support war by appeal to the life of Jesus, then the Christian has no business in being a part of or supporting any type of violence or warfare.  Christian ethics mattered to Alexander Campbell.

Campbell was a deep and systematic thinker.  If Christians could not go to war with Christians of other countries, if Christians were to live in such a way as to promote a heavenly new millennium which was free of violence, and if the ethics of Jesus did not promote violence, then the conclusion for Campbell was that Christians had no business in fighting at all.  Campbell sums this up in the idea that, “A Christian man can never of right be compelled to do that for the state, in defense of state rights, that which he cannot of right do for himself in defense of his personal rights.”  He goes on to say, “No Christian man is commanded to love or serve his neighbor, his king, or sovereign more than he loves or serves himself.”  In other words, if a Christian cannot go to war for himself, he also is forbidden to go to war for his country.  Many Christians have conceded that we are not commanded to go to war as individuals but have made the argument that we could go to war for our country for a good cause.  Campbell rejects this dualistic approach. If one cannot kill for a personal cause, then one cannot kill for the state, no matter how noble the cause.  For Campbell, this is a matter of witness for the Kingdom of Heaven.  The church must refrain from any violence.

When Jesus was being arrested in the garden, and Peter used his sword to cut off the ear of one of those seeking to arrest Jesus, he told Peter to put away his sword. Jesus famous line, “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword,” was the very line upon which the early church based its commitment to nonviolence.  Campbell also saw this as an important ground for his non-violence.  He would ask, “Have not all nations created by the sword finally fallen by it?”  Although Campbell would not necessarily appeal to the inherent pragmatism of nonviolence, it is a practical witness to the Kingdom of Heaven. Campbell’s observation was that in the moment nonviolence will not necessarily work but over the long haul of history violence has arrived at the same point: failure. Violence has never proven effective.  It certainly has momentary victories but all nations have failed or will fail at some point.  Jesus teaches us, according to Campbell, that ultimately victory will come by laying down the sword.  It will be the slain lamb that will win the day.  This is critical to understanding Campbell.

This is a brief overview of some of Campbell’s views on nonviolence and the way of peace.  Hopefully, the reader recognizes that within the 19th century Restoration Movement, the belief that restoring the ancient church of the New Testament required commitment to nonviolence.  For those, like myself, who presumed examples of peace must be sought outside of the Restoration Movement, the good news is that we no longer need look beyond our Movement.  Certainly, we can learn a lot from other tribes of Christians but we can also know that these reformers took the gospel of peace seriously.  It is now up to the spiritual descendants of Campbell to once again raise the banner of peace.  Nonviolence is not simply a secondary issue for the church but is at the heart of the gospel of Jesus.  It is time to make the Restoration Movement great again by lifting high the name of Jesus.  We do this by living out the peaceful ways of Jesus.