Christian Ethics: “Why?”


According to Wikipedia, Christian ethics “is a branch of Christian theology that defines concepts of right (virtue) and wrong (sinful) behavior from a Christian perspective.” To be honest, it really should just be called “ethics, with a theological bent.” Whatever you call it, it’s what I am going to be studying it at seminary and I would like to tell you why.

I feel as though my life was the epitome of middle class America. It’s more than just being white and in suburbia, though. It’s a way of thinking.

It’s being embarrassed for other people when they loudly voice their disapproval of “the system.”
It’s reasoning that we should stop conversations about race and gender biases because they only lead to more discrimination.
It’s telling others not to be offended because you’ll only cause trouble.
It’s about never wanting for anything because you don’t understand what it is to “need” something.
It’s being entitled to happiness at all times; and complaining when things don’t go your way.

To be clear, this is not about the way I was raised. My family taught me better; and I’m especially grateful to my sister for never letting get away with such lazy thinking (though you could have been nicer about it. Love you! 😛 ).

There’s lots of things (nature, nurture, etc.) that caused my thinking to become so insulated. And I can only look back in embarrassment at some of the ridiculous things I consistently said, or did, just a few years ago.

Like announcing my friend’s name in a stereotypical Japanese announcer voice, because he was Japanese, and I was entertained by it.
Recycling stupid jokes; particularly of the Helen Keller and women, variety.
Recycling stupid Jewish jokes with the excuse of “it’s OK, I’m Jewish.”
Watch hours of porn because I was single and “didn’t want to hurt ‘actual women.”

So what changed? During my time in Bible College I had already felt something turning inside of me. By the end of it all, I didn’t feel as though I recognized myself. Events were happening in my life that forced me to re-examine the things I held deeply. It turned out that it wasn’t my convictions that needed changing: it was my heart. My life and words simply weren’t reflected in the things that mattered most to me.

I didn’t know where to start, so I just started reading people I knew I would disagree with. I didn’t think women should be senior pastors, so I read Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey. I didn’t think that racial disparity was a big deal, so I read Eugene Cho and Ta-Nehisi Coates. I didn’t think being Jewish, or Jewish studies in particular, was even relevant so I began to read Krista Dalton.

And the more I read them the more I found myself asking more questions of, not just myself, but the world. The point of reading authors who I inherently had biases against wasn’t to suddenly change my mind, or even challenge their views. I needed to hear what they saw. To feel what they felt.

I changed because of it; and I am a better man for it.

My newfound passion for ethics comes from understanding that there are so many who are like me. People struggling to see why the world suffers the way it does and invent reasons to do nothing about it because it’s just easier that way. For the sake of the Kingdom of God I simply can’t live like that, anymore. I want to find a new way by discovering the ancient one.

So please pray for me as I move ahead in Seminary. God knows I need every bit of it. And equally as important is the need for others to come along side me. Real discipleship doesn’t happen in a vacuum and while I am sure my professors and fellow students will be able to help me here; I will need to rely on other voices I’ve grown to trust over the years.

Theological ethics might not sound like the most ground breaking of disciplines; but as we move forward it may turn out to be one of the most foundational for future generations.


Gary Cass, Islamophoia, and the Need to Change


Have you ever had a moment of intense anger because someone, somewhere, said something really stupid and hateful? Only to track back and realize that you’re not all that different from them? Or, at the very least, were once like them?

I had that moment yesterday.

Gary Cass is a semi-known, politically active preacher in the United States. The list of issues he tackles range from abortion, traditional marriage, Christian education in schools, christian liberty, and ensuring christians are legally defended when they feel persecuted. In other words he’s a typical, evangelical, right winger with a heavy emphasis on Christendom.

(Christendom is the notion that Christian ideas; values; and even the religion itself, should be at the forefront of each state. It’s adherents believe that the separation of church and state is a farce and should work in tandem to bring Christ’s Kingdom, on Earth.)

My feelings about Cass are less than favorable to say the least. He’s “that” guy. You know…the one whose picture you hold up to 1 Corinthians 13:1 and say to yourself “Yep. He’s THAT guy.” To which he would reply with something like, “I am speaking the truth; and the truth is loving!” Causing my forehead to burn with the intensity of a thousand suns as I face palm eternally.

One of those moments happened yesterday when I read a post from Gary Cass featured on CharismaNews (since retracted). In it, he declared himself a proud Islamophobe. Calling upon the history of extremists abroad, he lists only three possible solutions: 1. Convert, 2. Deport, 3. or Kill. But according to Cass:

“The only thing that is biblical and that 1400 years of history has shown to work is overwhelming Christian just war and overwhelming self defense. Christian Generals Charles Martel in 732 and Jon Sobieski in 1672 defeated Islamic Turks and their attempts to take the West. Who will God raise up to save us this time? Will God even intervene or turn us over to the Muslims for turning against Him?”

He continues:

This is not irrational, but the loving thing we must do for our children and neighbors. First trust in God, then obtain a gun(s), learn to shoot, teach your kids the Christian doctrines of just war and self defense, create small cells of family and friends that you can rely on if some thing catastrophic happens and civil society suddenly melts down.

He’s wrong, of course, and for several reasons; but this post isn’t about Gary Cass. There will be lots of blogs written about the man and I’ve really nothing of value to add in that department. Rather, this is about turning his words back to those who obviously disagree with him:

What have we done, as Christians, to love Muslims?

Sometimes I wonder when the “us versus them” mentality will finally catch up with me. I’m so prone to shield myself from what I don’t understand; and I know I am not alone. The reason I know this is because my comfort, in relation to Muslims, isn’t that I trust God: it’s that I am surrounded by people who similarly do not trust, understand, or love Muslims.

But there are so many people I don’t understand…so many people I don’t love. How are we so different from the Gary Cass’ of the world? Of course few are as bombastic as he. Nor do many of us aspire to see Muslims forcefully converted at the barrel of a gun. But do we know the way forward with our Muslim neighbors? I’m not sure I do; especially as I sit here in the comfort of student housing of a seminary. What I do know is this: I must change. My heart must soften or it will find itself in a state all too similar to Gary Cass’.

When Biblical Support for the Death Penalty Masquerades as Moralism


Before the topic of terrorism, and other foreign policy news, dominated the airwaves in the early 21st century, the issue of the death penalty seemed more prevalent in political conversation. Most objections to it are reactionary; protests streaming in as a man who still claims to be innocent is strapped the chair and injected with a concoction that will end his life. This time, however, it was a botched execution in Oklahoma which seems to have caused the issue to flare up.

Al Mohler recently posted his thoughts about why Christians should support the death penalty. He presents a list of Biblical references for his support, along with some moral cajoling. 

To start, I’m was really pleased to see Mohler being so outspoken against the economic and racial disparity in the application of the death penalty. Because it isn’t just that you’re more likely to be sentenced to death if you’re black, but also if the victim was white. Nor does he believe that capital punishment should be used all that frequently, or as an instrument of vengeance. 

His use of the Bible, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Mohler goes right for the jugular in Genesis 9:6 where God declares to Noah, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”  Yet, just two verses previous to this, God also states, “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” Apart from the recent Noah movie, I’m not too sure anybody is making the argument for Christian vegetarianism. 

He then transitions towards the New Testament where Paul writes in Romans 13:4 “for [the ruler] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. for he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrong doer.” This is all in the framework of Paul encouraging the Roman church to submit to earthly authority. But in using this quote, however, Mohler leaves himself in a precarious position: What if the government were to abolish capitol punishment? I don’t believe he would suddenly feel obliged to agree with the government position simply because they changed their minds about the Justice system.

There is also a glaring omission in his write up: Jesus. Mohler could have possibly argued that the His acceptance of a crucifixion as an argument from silence. Or that Christ made no attempt to relieve the consequence of the two men crucified beside Him. 

This is because, in reality, Mohler’s position has little to do with a Biblical mandate for capital punishment. We see this when he writes of a larger, cultural context where, “our cultural loss of confidence in human dignity and the secularizing of human identity has made murder a less heinous crime in the minds of many Americans.”

His chief concern is that sin doesn’t feel like it carries the consequence it should in our society. In his mind, the value of human life is decreasing and there is a relationship between that value and our perspective on murder. 

It’s one thing to acknowledge the Bible’s implicit endorsement of capital punishment; it’s another entirely to advocate for the death penalty while simultaneously declaring that it there is racial bias. By acknowledging the unjust nature of the death penalty’s application, however, he’s made a conscious decision to sacrifice justice for (perceived) morality. Should true justice, however, really require a moral sacrifice?

I would certainly hope not!

The Art of Theological Gatekeeping


“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” – Jesus (John 10)

In the world of sports, a gatekeeper is something of a 2nd-class competitor. He’s put years of work into his craft and achieved some level of success. His best years, though, are clearly behind him. Whether that’s due to advanced age of having maxed out his own potential he simply doesn’t have what it takes to be the best any longer. This doesn’t mean he isn’t useful. To the contrary, his new role makes him quite valuable as a measuring stick by which younger competitors can test their own skills; to see if they will surpass what the gatekeeper once achieved.

Within the world of Christianity, and Christian theology, it’s become fashionable to see oneself as a gatekeeper, or watchman. Rather than seeing themselves as 2nd-tier philosophers or theologians, they assume their positions as defenders and protectors of the faith. Their job: to guard the entrance, and exit, to the faith. In the context of theology, faith has a different word: Orthodoxy.

Independent minded folks feel that the pseudo-theological-gatekeeper role is a farce, and should be ignored at all levels. I sympathize with them. Some self-appointed guardians are so fearful and paranoid that they cause more pain to the people they’re supposed to protect than their enemies. They’ve turned their eyes in on the city believing there is more danger to be found within its walls then from the potential chaos outside of it. But this brings up another excellent point: There are actually enemies, from the outside, to be protected from.

So is the solution to dump the gatekeepers? I believe this leaves us with the very problem the so-called gatekeepers have encountered: a lack of accountability.

Sure, the watchmen will claim their accountability is nearly 2,000 years of established, orthodox writings and teachings in regards to the faith tradition. To which those who stand across from them will agree, and then proceed to present their scholarship which has been ignored by them but is equally as old and immense as their counterparts. The “Orthodox” team calls the others heretics and wolves, while the others label them pharisees and legalists.

I think the solution is to actually have gatekeepers…but in the sporting context. Men and women who act as measuring sticks, rather than reenforced steel walls, challenge us in ways that keep us accountable. In this sense, we’re training others up to recognize danger and how to deal with it. This doesn’t mean there will be 100% agreement, nor does this eliminate conflict. The discipleship process, however, doesn’t demand those things; rather, it calls us to follow Christ when we hear His voice.

And sometimes, He speaks through the gatekeepers.

Do the Ends Justify the Means for Steven Furtick?


There is this tendency, within me, to happily chime in with an “amen,” whenever I see or hear something I agree with. And why not? To be unified in heart and mind with another is a good and powerful thing. Is there any reason to keep our agreements to ourselves? Of course not. I will loudly, boldly, and joyfully stand with those who, with earnest, stand with God.

So must our “no’s,” be any softer? Less bold? Or not couched within the joy Christ?

For lack of a better word: No!

There have been countless instances when, in the name of Christian “unity,” people are encouraged to be silent in their disagreements. Most (that I know) are well meaning, of course. Some are afraid of a fracture within their respective churches. Others are concerned that, if you make a big fuss over nothing, you’ll distract from the good things God has done/is doing.

In response to the news that Steven Furtick manipulated hundreds of people into getting baptisms by strategically letting congregants walk up to get (re)baptized in order to “break the ice” for guests, they say things like, “I have personally grown in my relationship with God because of Steven Furtick.” They’ll defend his practices because it gets the results they’re searching for.

“It’s manipulative, disingenuous, and unethical to use groupthink tactics in order to promote baptism,” I say. “Stop tearing down a brother in Christ,” is the reply.

I refuse to believe that it is in the common interest of believers (see, unity) to promote, encourage, or be passive when presented with this sort of deception, within the Church. In what way is God blessed by such disingenuousness? It’s disgraceful!

Speaking on an ethical level, we must ask ourselves, “Do the ends justify the means?” You can attempt to let this slide as a minor issue because “no one got hurt.” The truth is, however, that people are hurt by this. There are people within that congregation (and others) who will question the validity of their baptism. Non-believers will level the charge of “cult” to the Church for the use of psychological tactics; and probably mock God, because of it. The person who has truly mocked God, however, is Steven Furtick, and men like him who routinely answer the question, “Do the ends justify the means?” with a simple, “yes.”

Different Reading Styles, Diverging Theologies


When one reads the Bible, within the context of Evangelicalism, we tend to have a “personal” view of scripture. It’s how verses like Jeremiah 29:11, which were addressed to a particular people in a particular time, can be so inspirational the modern reader. This isn’t a bad thing, of course. The Holy Spirit helps us take away things from the Bible regarding the character of God and the nature of His dealings with us today. But I would also submit that this isn’t a “critical” method of reading scripture, either.

There are two, primary, critical forms of reading scripture: Historical-Grammatical and Historical-Critical. Here’s a quick rundown on them:

Historical-Grammatical – Is a form of reading the Bible that puts a heavy emphasis on literary observation and understanding the writings as, generally, being historical in nature. The ultimate ambition of this style is to take the reading of scripture and make applications based on the “plain” reading of the text. While not explicitly encouraging a literal reading of every verse (after all, there are figures of speech and metaphors in most languages), this method seeks to eliminate any unnecessary, allegorical interpretations from the Bible as possible.

Historical-Critical – Seeks to reconstruct the culture and history surrounding the writings of the Bible and use that to come to a conclusion about the author’s intended meaning. The critical method also takes on information from other disciplines such as science and anthropology, and makes use of their observations and studies and applies it to the text. The interpretation, and subsequent application, can be made when the “direct” meaning of the the Bible can be established from the source material.

There are overlapping and opposing features to both methods of reading. As I’m sure you can imagine, there is a fair bit of mud flung between people who try to use each method exclusively. Those who prefer the critical method of study say that others are making interpretations without all the extra-Biblical facts and coming to interpretive conclusions that are simply untenable by the discoveries of science and other disciplines. Grammatical emphasizers will claim that the critical method undermines the Bible’s authority and inspiration by humanizing the writings at the expense of the Holy Spirit’s influence.

Most evangelicals don’t know they are reading the Bible in these particular ways when they pick it up on a Sunday morning. Our presuppositions tend to “fill in the blanks” when we’re reading verses we don’t understand. What’s good to know is how different everyone’s reading of scripture truly is and where many of our difference originate from. If you’re going to read the Bible; or, more specifically, Genesis, as though it were written as a historical document, you’re obviously going to understand the theological doctrine of “sin nature” differently from those who read Genesis as a narrative. Not only that, you’re going to read Jesus’ words, when he recalls events in the Old Testament.

Is it any wonder we end up with such differing understandings of who God is?

Of course, the whole of the Church will likely not agree on how to read the Bible until Christ returns. By that time, I’m not so sure the Bible will be necessary any more. Until that time, I would like people to acknowledge is what some of their presuppositions might be when reading the Bible, and examine them so that, one, we are reminded to submit our reading of Scripture to Christ and, two, when we do disagree with someone on a theological topic, we better understand where and why we’re so different.

Self-Love, Fear, Justice, and Bob Jones University


When we love ourselves, fear rules.
When fear consumes us, secrets loom.
When secrets exist, justice is withheld.
Where has justice gone?

It’s been reported that Bob Jones University, a heavily insulated university in South Carolina, fired an organization that was hired to investigate claims of sexual abuse at the school on the eve of a public report being filed, after 13 months of study. According to the school, they grew concerned about how the organization was pursuing their objectives.

The bolded expression is indicative that the school was probably more uncomfortable with the organizations findings then the actual method they were using. The organization, GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), released a statement about their unexpected termination, “At the heart of the struggle is a fear that is rooted in the need to self-protect. All such ‘fears’ are usually masked by a rationale that the reporting of such abuse may ‘damage the reputation of Christ.’”

We all feel the pressure to hide and/or lie, when confronted with wrongdoing. Seized by the possible consequences, we do what we can to protect ourselves, and sometimes others we love, from our (or their) actions. In this case, it would seem BJU believes its mission is so closely aligned with Christ that, were any damage done to its reputation, the name of Christ would be damaged with it.

The truth is that, this line of reasoning, is what allows injustice to persist; causing the name of God to be mocked.

It is entirely unacceptable.

Micah 6:8 reads, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

When we consider ourselves above God, and others, we will find ourselves in opposition to His work. It is in that moment we discover just how far disjointed we are from Him; and how much damage we’ve already done, in His name.

Presuppositions and Biblical Reading


Presuppositions. Everyone has them with varying degrees of acceptance. You’re either proud of them, or do your best to work around them. Regardless, our experiences and studies inform us of what is right, and who is wrong.

Presuppositional Apologetics’ primary assumption is the Bible’s infallibility. It is the foundation from which all of their beliefs and arguments are built on. Their claim is that the Bible is superior to fallible, human standards of belief like reason, experience, and feelings. Because of this, they assume no common ground with non-believers. What would happen if you proved the Bible wasn’t fallible, by reason? You can’t. Therefore, presuppositional apologetics becomes the equivalent of a bomb shelter for Christian thought.

But what if I told you that presuppositional apologetics isn’t really about Biblical Infallibility? This all about HOW one reads the Bible, not whether they believe it’s perfect. This is about a historical-grammatical reading of scripture versus a historical-critical reading of it.

I can hear the groans of people who are reading this now, “Garrett, just explain why Genesis does, or doesn’t have to be literal!”

This isn’t as simple as one makes out to be, however. We’re talking about how we, as individuals, read scripture. Which, for the 95.7% of Christians in the world whose primary knowledge of God comes from the Bible, is a really, really big deal.

Join me on Friday and I’ll give a quick overview of some of the ways we all read the Bible and why they are so important to us!

Karl Barth’s letter to Ken Ham


Basel, 18 Feb. 1965

Dear Ken,

Has no one explained to you that one can as little compare the biblical creation story and a scientific theory like that of evolution as one can compare, shall we say, an organ and a vacuum-cleaner—that there can be as little question of harmony between as of contradiction?

The creation story is a witness to the beginning or becoming of all reality distinct from God in the light of God’s later acts and words relating to his people Israel—naturally in the form of a saga or poem. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain the same reality in its inner nexus—naturally in the form of a scientific hypothesis.

The creation story deals only with the becoming of all things, and therefore with the revelation of God, which is inaccessible to science as such. The theory of evolution deals with what has become, as it appears to human observation and research and as it invites human interpretation. Thus one’s attitude to the creation story and the theory of evolution can take the form of an either/or only if one shuts oneself off completely from faith in God’s revelation or from the mind (or opportunity) for scientific understanding.

Uncle Karl

Originally from:

Edited where appropriate, by me.

A Written Definition of Love


In saying that “self-love” is the opposite to “love” we have, in part, already defined the word; but not any more than saying it is an adjective, noun, and verb. Gathering the descriptions has allowed us to know what elements should be in place when a definition is given. Now that we’ve done most of the leg work, lets open up to Romans 12:9-13:

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”

Below, I’ve divided the passage up in smaller parts. Doing so allows us to slow down and examine Paul’s words in a more “hands on” fashion. The summary for each broken down passage will be in bold. This is an interpretive step taken in order to help us write our a definition. I’ve added a bit of commentary to show why I’ve made the interpretation the way I have.


Love is divinely justified  

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.”

When we hold on to what is good, we will hate what is evil. In a sense, there is a kind of indignation that rises when we see indifference and injustice. How we move forward in our justifications should be defined by love; of which we are inching ever closer to an actual definition.

Love is affection loyalty

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; preference to one another in honor;”

What we see here is the antithesis to the “love yourself to better love others” perspective. In seeking other’s interests above our own desires, we see a familial kind of love that is marked by an affectionate devotion. When people honor our needs before their own, the need to prefer ourselves diminishes.

Love cures apathy

“Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;”

In apathy, the appetite to serve others is minimal. We cannot take a day off in our devotion to one another. There is no room for us to “check out” mentally or spiritually. Doing so invites laziness and other self-serving habits.

Love is enduring

“rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,”

My pastor has a saying that goes along the lines of, “if you aren’t in a storm right now, you either just got out of one or are heading directly into it.” Tough times are a reality of the world we’ve helped build (see: screwed up), but when we serve the Lord we can rejoice in His accomplishments and promised return. We persevere because He did. We pray because Jesus did. To love is to do these things continuously.

Love meets needs

“contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality”

We can persevere because all of our needs will be met. God uses us, the Church, to provide where others lack. This isn’t a heavily coded message: love is definitely a verb.


To form the definition of the word, I’ll now take my bolded summaries to make a complete thought:

Love is a divinely justified, affectionate loyalty that continually feels for, and meets the needs of, others. 

All of the elements in this particular passage lead us to a definition that emphasizes justice, feeling, loyalty, and service to others. The big idea is that love is wholly, other focused. Its justice component means that love doesn’t make you a pushover, or a “yes man.” The affection of love includes our feelings, but its loyalty also eliminates its dependency on them.

Tomorrow, I’ll post about different ways to apply the definition that’s been developed. Both in a theological sense, and in a practical one.