Getting Ahead in God’s Upside-Down Kingdom: An Appeal for a Consistently Pro-Life Ethic

[MP3: Getting Ahead in God’s Upside-Down Kingdom]

[PDF Sermon Manuscript: Getting Ahead in God’s Upside-Down Kingdom]

Opening Prayer

God, our Refuge, I ask that your Holy Spirit would move in our lives, so that we would:

  • promote your justice
  • embody your steadfast faithful love
  • and humbly obey Your will,

even if it costs us our reputations, and even if it costs us our lives.

I ask that this transformation would begin with me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Introduction

I’d like to start off with a very basic question: Do you want to get ahead in life?

Do you want things to get better? Do you want your life, and your children’s lives, to improve?

I mean, despite the many things that divide us humans, don’t we all want progress? When it comes right down to it, don’t we all just want to get ahead?

I know I do.

In fact, as the students in our youth group could tell you, this is one of the reasons why I love “life hacks”!

Have you heard of life hacks? They’re these little tips and tricks to get ahead in life while saving time, money, and effort.

Like, one of my favorite life hacks is the “coffee nap.” You drink a cup of coffee, then immediately take a 20-minute nap, so that the caffeine kicks in right as you wake up.

Life hack. Try it sometime. Thank me later.

ANYWAYS, we all want to get ahead in life. Right?

But there’s a problem: How do we know what getting ahead looks like?

I mean, think about it. Getting ahead can look quite different in different contexts. Right?

Perhaps this is too crude of an example for a sermon, but getting ahead in a drinking game looks totally different than getting ahead in Alcoholics Anonymous!

Getting ahead in the NBA Finals hopefully looks different than getting ahead in playing basketball with your kids.

Getting ahead on Wall Street as a day-trader hopefully looks different than getting ahead in running a charity.

In order to get ahead,

  • you have to know the context,
  • you have to know the rules,
  • you have to know the goal.

Otherwise, no matter how hard you try, you’re not really going to get ahead. You’ll just be getting ahead at the wrong thing. Which means you’ll fail.

So here’s the kicker: Getting ahead in God’s eyes looks a whole lot different than getting ahead in the world’s eyes.

The world is a different context. The world follows different rules. And the world has a different goal than God’s Kingdom.

The Main Point

In fact, and here’s my main point if you want to write it down:

Because God’s Kingdom is an “upside-down” Kingdom, getting ahead in the Kingdom of God will frequently look foolish in the eyes of the world.

God’s Upside-Down Kingdom – 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Now, this is the message of all of our readings for today, but I’d like to start with the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18. (You can find it on page 952 in your pew Bible.)

1 Corinthians 1:18 says:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing (that’s what I’m calling “the world,” by the way – those who are perishing), but to us who are being saved (that is, to us who are a part of God’s Kingdom) it is the power of God.

You see, God’s not against getting ahead. In fact, you could even say that God is on a mission to “Make Creation Great Again”!

I’m not kidding! He made it great in the first place – a perfect universe with perfect relationships between God, humanity, and all of creation.

However, ever since we humans rebelled against God – ever since Sin shattered the relationships between God, humanity, and all of creation – God has been on a mission to put everything back together again.

Sounds great, right?

So why is Paul saying that the good news of God’s rescue mission is foolishness to the world?

Because God makes creation great again in a totally unexpected way!

This is what I mean by “God’s upside-down kingdom.”

In order to make the world right again, God shows up and reverses the ways the world has gotten used to working. And the greatest reversal of all in God’s upside-down kingdom is when the eternal Son of God becomes human and gets himself killed for the sins of the entire world.

The world expects

  • power,
  • might,
  • strength,
  • and victory,

and we receive instead a

  • naked,
  • abandoned
  • Middle-Eastern man,
  • brutally executed
  • as a political criminal.

We receive a bloody example for those who would dare challenge the kingdoms of this world.

We receive a Crucified Savior. And the world calls that absolutely RIDICULOUS.

Because, to the world, you don’t get ahead by laying your life down (like Jesus did). You get ahead by taking what’s yours.

You don’t get ahead by hanging out with the wrong crowd (like Jesus did). You’re supposed to rub shoulders with the rich and the famous, not the poor and the homeless.

You’re not supposed to focus on the people at the bottom and at the border (like Jesus did)!

For crying out loud, you’re supposed to get out there and hustle!

  • Climb the ladder!
  • Make deals!
  • Take no prisoners!
  • Make demands!
  • Get ahead!

…And get right back where we need to be saved FROM!

That’s where the world’s ways get us.

Where every human is

  • an egotistical island,
  • competing with God,
  • alienating other humans,
  • and abusing creation.

Thankfully, as Paul tells us in [1 Cor 1:25],

the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God saves us through what looks like foolishness and weakness.

Why? So that we would not boast in our pathetic “wisdom” and “strength.”

Instead, we are to boast only in the true wisdom and strength of God.

Paul continues in [1 Cor. 1:27]:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wiseGod chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

This, then, is the upside-down Kingdom of God.

Blessed are the “Losers” – Matthew 5:1-12

And it’s the exact same Kingdom that we find in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5.

(FYI: We call them the “Beatitudes” because of the Latin word for “blessed/happy” – beatus.)

Now, remember: God isn’t against getting ahead. He really does want what’s best for us.

But the danger is that we’ll try to get ahead on our own, in our own way. And if we do that, we’ll miss the point in at least two ways.

  1. First, we won’t realize that we desperately need a Savior, and that we cannot save ourselves.
  2. Second, we will ignore the very people that God wants us to care for in order to really get ahead in his Kingdom!

That is, on our own, we’re going to focus on those at the center and height of power. You know, “The Winners.”

But God focuses on those at the bottom and at the borders, the edges of society. You know, “The Losers.”

These are the people who will experience God’s favor in his Upside-Down Kingdom. Take a look at [Matthew 5:3-12].

Notice how Jesus declares God’s favor, His blessing, to what the world would call the “wrong kind of people.”

  • To the poor in spirit
  • Those who mourn
  • The meek
  • Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • The merciful
  • The pure in heart
  • The peacemakers
  • The persecuted
  • And the reviled

And notice as well, that the blessings frequently involve reversals. The world is giving them one thing, but God is going to give them another.

Now, this is important: these famous words are a mixture of encouragement and instruction.

That is, Jesus isn’t just giving us a TO-DO LIST in order to get as much blessing as possible. He’s not saying “Go out there and try harder to be poor, persecuted, hungry, mourners.”

Now, Jesus IS instructing, more on that in a second. But he is first offering divine encouragement to those who are already in those situations.

The Beatitudes: An Interpretive Translation

Here’s my interpretive translation of the Beatitudes. Follow along with each one if you’ve got a Bible in front of you.

Jesus is saying:

  • (1) “Take heart! Things aren’t what they seem! If you lack resources and realize that God alone can save you, then you might not feel like a part of the Roman kingdom. But you’re a part of God’s Kingdom.”
  • (2) “Be encouraged! If you bear and grieve the sufferings of the world, then the kings of the world probably won’t give you much comfort. But God, your true King, will.
  • (3) Take heart! If you humbly and gently refuse to seek vengeance or power, then you probably won’t inherit much from the world’s kingdoms. But God will give you an inheritance in His Kingdom.
  • (4) Be encouraged! If you pursue God’s will above all else, then you’ll probably go hungry in this world. But you will be satisfied in God’s Kingdom, where His will is obeyed.
  • (5) Take heart! If you show mercy and compassion to a suffering world, you might not receive much mercy back! But you yourselves will be shown mercy by God.
  • (6) Be encouraged! If you single-mindedly pursue God’s will, then you probably won’t experience the world’s glory. But you will experience God’s glory and presence.
  • (7) Take heart! If you pursue reconciliation and reject violence, then you probably won’t reflect the character of this world. But you will reflect the character of God.
  • (8) Take heart! Because when this world rejects you, insults you, lies about you, and persecutes you, then it may not look like it, but you’re in good company! You’re in the company of your Savior, Jesus Christ.

Friends, if you’re here today and you’re at the bottom of this world, then I encourage you to cling to the divine promises of blessing in the Beatitudes.

God is in the process of making all things new – reversing every wrong in this world. Take heart.

However, and perhaps this is uncomfortable to talk about, what if we’re NOT on this list?

What if we’re NOT

  • poor,
  • mourning,
  • meek,
  • hungry,
  • merciful,
  • pure-hearted,
  • peacemakers
  • who are persecuted?

What if we’re

  • reasonably well-educated
  • and wealthy,
  • comfortable,
  • powerful
  • American
  • Christians?

How should we respond to the Beatitudes?

While I DON’T think that the Beatitudes should be read like a TO-DO list,

I DO think that the Beatitudes are an instructive challenge to followers of Jesus.

There is a reason why the Beatitudes are at the beginning of Jesus’ quintessential sermon.

It’s almost like Jesus is saying,

“OK, you want to follow me?

You want to be a part of my coming Kingdom? Then let’s get really clear on what this Kingdom is going to be like.

It’s not going to be the kind of Kingdom you’re used to in this world.

You know, the kind of kingdom where the wealthy, wise, and powerful get rewarded.

Instead, in MY Kingdom, the people who get chewed up and spit out by the kingdoms of this world will be rewarded and honored.

SO,

  • if you want to be a part of my Kingdom,
  • if you want to “get ahead” in my Kingdom,
  • then you better show concrete concern for
    • the oppressed,
    • the marginalized,
    • and the weak!

And, as you do so, you’d better be prepared to end up among the oppressed and the marginalized, because the world is going to think you are out of your minds!”

Fear is NOT a Valid Excuse

Brothers and sisters, remember:

Because God’s Kingdom is an “upside-down” Kingdom, getting ahead in the Kingdom of God will frequently look foolish in the eyes of the world.

But there is no escape clause from the rules of God’s Kingdom!

That is, you can’t just ignore Jesus and the Bible because you’re SCARED.

  • Because you’re scared of how a congregation is going to respond to your sermon,
  • Because you’re scared of looking foolish,
  • Because you’re scared of losing your job,
  • Because you’re scared of a terrorist attack.

It’s not that Jesus doesn’t care about your fears. He does.

But let’s not kid ourselves!

FEAR is not a valid excuse for ignoring the Bible’s repeated commands for God’s people to show faithful concern for the kinds of people the world ignores and mistreats!

Want to read more about what the Bible has to say about these kinds of issues? Read this book! (Affiliate Link)


Application: Consistently Pro-Life, for the Unborn AND the Refugees

So, let’s get practical here. How should we respond to these passages about God’s Upside-Down Kingdom?

We must show concrete concern for the powerless. And two recent issues come to mind, that I would be a coward not to mention.

Abortion

First, in light of the 44th March for Life held this past weekend, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that we must continue to stand up for the unborn.

Abortion is a gruesome evil. And like other forms of evil, it is complex – not easily eradicated.

As Christians, we must wage war against this evil. And that will involve caring not only for the unborn child, but also the mother, and the child after it is born, and the entire family.

Repealing Roe v. Wade isn’t going to completely solve the problem.

Christians will have to step up to the plate and be consistently pro-life in order to fix things.

If you’re passionate about this issue, I encourage you to check out the organization Anglicans for Life at AnglicansForLife.Org.

So, first, we must stand up for the unborn.

Refugees

Second, given President Trump’s recent executive actions to halt the acceptance of all refugees to the USA, including a temporary moratorium on seven predominantly Muslim countries,

I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that, if we are to be consistently pro-life, we must also stand up for the refugees.

Next to the unborn, refugees around the world – but especially from Syria – are among the most vulnerable and powerless people in the world.

Christians should be standing up for and supporting these people. And, to their credit, many Christians are doing so.

I’d encourage you to check out the great work being done by organizations like World Relief and We Welcome Refugees. Talk to me after the service if you’d like more ideas and reading recommendations, by the way.

However, many Christians in this country are falling prey to the fear excuse.

We’re being tempted to turn away these vulnerable people because of the supposed risk of a terrorist attack.

I’m here this morning to plead with you: Do not fall prey to this nonsense.

Even if the fear were legitimate, it is no excuse for Christians not to show concrete love to the powerless.

Whoever said that following Jesus would not involve any risks?

We dare not worship the American gods of comfort and security while neglecting to follow the True God’s commands.

However, these fears of refugees are VASTLY overblown.

According to a September 2016 Policy Analysis from the CATO institute,

  • “the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year.”
  • The chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by an asylum-seeker is 1 in 2.73 billion per year.
  • And “the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year.”

For comparison: according to the National Safety Council, your chance of dying from a lightning strike is 1 in 174,426.

That means it’s about 20,868 times more likely that you will get killed by lightning than by a refugee terrorist attack.

While we’re worried about astronomical odds, these people are dying. The death toll from the Syrian conflict is approaching half a million, including 50 thousand children.

Brothers and sisters, please don’t mishear me. I’m not saying that the USA shouldn’t change anything about its policies. Surely there are many problems which need fixed.

However, I beg you: please do not fall prey to the fear-mongering. Please think and reason as Christians first.

After all, you can only give your “total allegiance” to one thing.

Jesus Christ will not settle for second place to the United States.

So, stand up for the unborn and the refugees, not to mention the countless other marginalized, oppressed, and powerless people around us.

And I don’t even have time to get into how Christians should be concerned for religious liberties for all faiths. That’s a whole other sermon…

Because God’s Kingdom is an “upside-down” Kingdom, getting ahead in the Kingdom of God will frequently look foolish in the eyes of the world.

But, if our Gospel is true, then we of all people should be willing to put our lives and our reputations at risk for the sake of others – especially for the poor and the needy.

Closing Prayer

So, again, God, our Refuge, I ask that your Holy Spirit would transform us from the inside out

  • So that we would promote your justice
  • So that we would embody your steadfast faithful love
  • and so that we would humbly obey Your will,
  • even if it costs us our reputations,
  • and even if it costs us our lives.

I ask that this transformation would begin with me, and that it would extend to the ends of the earth. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Un)Righteous Anger? – Yoda, Jonah, Nahum, and Us

(TEXTS: Jonah 3:5-10; 4:1-11; Nahum 1:1-8)

INTRODUCTION

Image

A great green theologian of old claimed that anger is based on fear, that it leads to hatred, and results in suffering. And while I do not wish to disregard the wisdom of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I would like to take a closer look at anger as discussed in Scripture, and to consider what makes certain instances of anger righteous or unrighteous, legitimate or illegitimate.

This is a question that has been on my mind throughout my final year at Cedarville University. After hearing of a few rumblings at the end of my Junior year, I left for the summer and got myself married. When my feet finally touched the ground at the beginning of term, my university felt like a battlefield. I heard that Michael Pahl had been “reviewed” and then fired over the summer months. Others were being reviewed to see if they really did toe the doctrinal line, or if they were guilty of mind crimes against the thought police. And things didn’t get any better from there.

I saw the havoc that the Cedarville environment was wreaking on my mentors, friends, and their families. My leaders got rid of and harassed beloved members of my community, and then deceptively refused to own up to their nefarious actions.

I got angry. I spoke up. And I was convinced that my anger was righteous. Others were less convinced.

Some stayed poignantly and painfully silent throughout the chaos. Others repeatedly gave platitudes that everything was OK, that we were obligated to trust our leaders, that to question their actions was inherently disrespectful. And some from this latter group met my kind of anger with their own frustration and anger that I dared to criticize their beloved Cedarville.

I’d love to say that I met this opposition with nothing but grace and equanimity, but that wouldn’t be true. I frequently lashed out against these types of people – when they sent me long messages to accuse me of causing unnecessary dissentious strife, or when they parodied us student activists as complete morons with nothing better to do than cook up conspiracy theories.

My university’s behavior was sickening, but these people’s behavior was infuriating. I couldn’t comprehend how they could overlook the suffering I was witnessing and try to protect people who were clearly hiding the truth. So, at times, I lashed out in frustration. And I am convinced that my anger was unrighteous. But what’s the difference between these two types of anger?

Continue reading “(Un)Righteous Anger? – Yoda, Jonah, Nahum, and Us”

A Farewell to Cedarville

(Originally posted in The Ventriloquist. Go check out the rest of Issue 10!)

“A Farewell to Cedarville” – Joshua Steele

As what was once a vision for the future has become an agenda for returning to the past, the list of people who no longer fit the Cedarville mold is growing. I contacted former vice president of Student Life, Dr. Carl Ruby; former professor Dr. Michael Pahl; current professors Dr. TC Ham, Dr. Shawn Graves, and Dr. David Mills; and former trustees Dr. William Rudd and Rev. Chris Williamson to see where things stand as this academic year comes to a close.

Although Dr. Ruby does not know what the long term future holds, he is pouring himself into immigration reform. When asked about his plans, he replied: “I’m motivated by an experience that I had on the Civil Rights bus tour in Birmingham, Alabama. As I read King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, I determined that I didn’t want to be on the wrong side of history, or more important, on the wrong side of the gospel on these kinds of issues. I leave Cedarville with lots of good memories and a clear conscience. I hope I invested my time and energy in the things that mattered most … loving God and loving people.”

And speaking of immigrants, Dr. Pahl moved his family nearly 2,000 miles as the crow flies from Alberta, Canada to Cedarville, Ohio in 2011. However, after just two semesters, the “promising scholar” and “dedicated teacher” was fired for his inability “to concur fully with each and every position of Cedarville University’s doctrinal statement.” The Pahls have spent the year trying to move on – looking for work, and working on renovations to sell the old parsonage which they bought less than three months before receiving notice of Dr. Pahl’s “review.”

It would be one thing if the Pahls were victims of a broken immigration system. It seems, however, that they are victims of a broken institution which claims the name of Christ.

Although Dr. Ruby and Dr. Pahl had little say regarding their terminations, others are voluntarily choosing to disassociate from the University.

Prompted by the changing Cedarville climate, Dr. Ham will be making the move to Canton, OH this summer to teach at Malone University. “I should note that I am not being forced to resign. I am leaving voluntarily,” Dr. Ham clarified. “However, I would not have been seeking other ministry opportunities had the past two years been different. For me, it was the events surrounding the termination of my good friend Michael Pahl that prompted me to look elsewhere. Other recent events—mostly known to the student body, but some unknown to them—have served to solidify my decision. While I am very excited about my future ministry, it is with profound sadness that I leave the wonderful men and women I’ve known as colleagues here.”

After the elimination of the philosophy major, Dr. Graves was offered a terminal contract. However, he has instead accepted a tenure track position at the University of Findlay, where he will begin teaching this fall. His wife, Marlena Graves, will conclude her role as the Resident Director of Murphy Hall at the end of this semester.

Dr. Mills, if he is at Cedarville next year, will have to carry the course load for the remaining philosophy minor in Dr. Graves’ absence. Dr. Mills declined the option to drastically expand the Honors Program during the 2013-14 school year before handing it over to an unknown successor, and was therefore removed from his involvement in the program, effective at the end of this semester.

The voluntary disassociations are not limited to faculty and staff, but also include trustees. Recent changes in the Board have included the resignations of Dr. Rudd and Rev. Williamson, two proponents of the same concerns held by student advocates such as myself.

Dr. Rudd, who served as a Cedarville trustee for over 20 years, including multiple terms as Board Chairman, had the following to say regarding his resignation:

“I’m very thankful for CU and the privilege of being very closely associated with it for so many years.  I have many dear friends there who are amazing servants of God.  It saddens me deeply that I could no longer support actions and  direction of the current leadership and that I was no longer able to exert influence for what I believe to be truthfulness, integrity, and Biblical consistency.  God has graciously blessed Cedarville and there are many, many wonderful people still associated with it.  I pray that the leadership will be restored to Biblical integrity.”

In Rev. Williamson’s words: “The board of trustees repeatedly mishandled God’s servants while virtually ignoring the cries of students and alumni alike. Any hint of due process was abandoned, and the ability to have respectful dialogues on key issues was non-existent. I resigned because I could no longer be associated with a group that was constantly untruthful and unjust.”

And so the Cedarville diaspora grows. If this university is going to inspire true greatness, it should avoid driving away godly individuals like Ruby, Pahl, Ham, Graves, Mills, Williamson, and Rudd in the future.

Some may accuse me of biting the hand that feeds. But it is not the same hand.

I have been fed by Carl Ruby’s Cedarville, not the new Cedarville of twenty years ago. As the University hearkens back to the glory days before creeping “liberalism” reached the bubble’s border, the leadership has responded to repeated requests for clarity and honesty with poignant silences and disappointing distortions of the truth.

God is not surprised. I wonder if he is angered, though, by having his knowledge and sovereignty used to justify injustice. 

Cedarville, fulfill your call and be true to our God – not by claiming institutional prerogatives to drive away our Christlike best – but by doing justice, promoting honesty, and walking humbly with Him whose name we claim.

Update: Dr. Carl B. Smith, Professor of Church History, has willfully decided to turn in an unsigned contract. Although he does not have further employment lined up at this time, he will not be returning to Cedarville for the 2013-14 academic year.

Open Apology

To whomever the following concerns:

I’d like to apologize publicly to any persons I may have offended during the past few months of my student activism efforts at Cedarville University. 

After all, I recognize that some of my statements/claims about the perceived injustices at my University have seemed quite shocking, especially without further context. So I apologize for the times when I put pithiness before precision and unwittingly ostracized many good people whom I was not intending to criticize at all.

Many times my frustration – directed at the nebulous group of trustees and administrators most directly responsible for things like the White Papers, the firing of Michael Pahl, and the firing of Carl Ruby – has seeped over and negatively affected some of the good people I’d like to defend and advocate for, if it were their necks on the chopping block.

There are MANY great people at Cedarville University in between those who’ve been fired and those who’ve made the firing decisions, and I don’t want to overlook them or accidentally attack them. If you’re a member of that group and you’ve been put-off by my recent words and actions, I truly am sorry. Please forgive me. 

I’d also like to apologize publicly for any embarrassment I’ve caused to the Kingdom of God in this process.

That is, while I’m NOT sorry for seeking prophetically to address injustices being committed by the people of God against the people of God, I AM sorry if I’ve given the impression to those on the outside looking in that this is how Christianity always goes.

(This is not a retraction of my activism efforts, for I am sincerely convinced that the University has committed institutional sins, if you will, in its recent decisions.)

However, I would like to remind all “outsiders” that following Jesus of Nazareth is not supposed to look like the current controversies which plague Cedarville University. Christianity is more than just intrigue and infighting, although those things will always be a part of Christendom until the end of days because us Christians are messed-up people just like everyone else.

Would you please forgive me, and please forgive us Christians, for doing a poor job of representing Yahweh to you?

He is a God of unity, justice, and peace, and yet far too often we, as his people, miserably fail at embodying those things.

In the end, Yahweh has told us human beings what is good: to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. (Micah 6:8.)

Justice, mercy, and humility. 

Please forgive me for when I’ve failed to embody mercy and humility in my pursuit of justice

Sincerely, 

Joshua Steele

An Explanation

If you haven’t read my previous two blog posts, “Cedarville, Let there be Light. (pt. 1 and pt. 2),” please go do so before reading this post.

Summary: I’ve been blogging in order to raise awareness of Cedarville University’s recent dismissal of Dr. Michael Pahl from his teaching post. Using the University’s statement on Dr. Pahl, I’ve raised some uncomfortable questions that I believe need to be asked in this situation. For example:

  • Why were the five accolades attached to Dr. Pahl above (in the statement, orthodox, gospel, Scripture, scholar, teacher) not enough to keep him on the teaching faculty of Cedarville University?
  • Don’t we want promising scholars and dedicated teachers who are committed to the gospel, to Scripture, and to orthodoxy at Cedarville University? If not, why not?

I’m writing today because the responses I’ve gotten to those posts and questions have been mixed. Some think I’m doing something that is both righteous and necessary, respectfully raising awareness and asking uncomfortable-yet-necessary questions. Others think I’m being un-biblical and disrespectful in my approach, and that I should handle these matters privately (cf. Matt 18:15-22 and such).

Clearly, I’m a bit biased toward the first reaction. It’s always more pleasant to think of your actions as both righteous and necessary, after all. However, that doesn’t negate the careful line to walk in this situation. Several things must be held in Christ-honoring tension, such as boldness and respect, honesty and love, persistence and patience, a hunger for justice and an even stronger craving for God’s perfect shalom peace. Continue reading “An Explanation”

Cedarville, Let there be Light. (pt. 2)

Read Part One

Further Questions, All Relating to the University Statement on Dr. Pahl’s Dismissal:

  • If Dr. Pahl’s book, The Beginning and the End, was controversial enough to lead to his dismissal, why was the book allowed to be used as a textbook last school year?
    • Shouldn’t we trust the Bible professors’ judgment in their selection of the book as a text?
    • If we should, then was it worth firing Dr. Pahl over a book which other CU professors approved of enough to require as a text for their courses?
    • If not, why not? Why don’t we trust these highly-trained men and women as an institution? Shouldn’t they be a resource instead of a feared danger? Does this potential fear have anything to do with Dr. Pahl being dismissed?
  • Do all members of the Board of Trustees agree with “each and every position of Cedarville University’s Doctrinal Statement” in the way Dr. Pahl was expected to in order to still be allowed to teach?
    • If he was dismissed, despite the apparent alignment of his personal views and those expressed in his writing to the Doctrinal Statement, is there a possibility that some of the trustees should also be dismissed according to such strict standards?
  • Was Dr. Pahl dismissed for something that wrote which contradicts the Doctrinal Statement? If so, what was it exactly that he wrote? (I have been unable to find anything in The Beginning and the End)
  • If Dr. Pahl was not fired for something he wrote, was he fired for something that he didn’t write? Again, if so, what was it exactly that he didn’t affirm?
  • Furthermore, is firing someone for not affirming something fair? Are all professors required to affirm the Doctrinal Statement in its entirety in everything they write and/or publish?
  • What is the administration’s vision for the future of the Bible Department at Cedarville University?
  • How does firing an orthodox, promising scholar who is committed to Scripture and to the gospel help to achieve that vision?
  • Has Dr. Pahl been cared for by the University in any way during this process? As our brother in Christ, have we dismissed him in a way that is honoring to God and helpful to him and his family?
  • What explanation has been given to the students who have been affected by Dr. Pahl’s dismissal (i.e. the ones registered for his classes)? Has that explanation been accurate and forthright?
  • Are any other professors currently being considered for dismissal by the University for things they have written and published?

(CONTINUED: An Explanation)

Cedarville, Let there be Light. (pt. 1)

The Statement:

“Dr. Michael Pahl has been relieved of his teaching duties because he is unable to concur fully with each and every position of Cedarville University’s doctrinal statement.  This decision was made following a review by the University administration and trustees prompted by Dr. Pahl’s recent book, The Beginning and the End:  Rereading Genesis’s Stories and Revelation’s Visions.

Dr. Pahl’s orthodoxy and commitment to the gospel are not in question, nor is his commitment to Scripture’s inspiration, authority and infallibility.  He is a promising scholar and a dedicated teacher, and he will be missed by his colleagues and students.  Nevertheless, the University has determined this decision to be in the best interests of its constituency at this time.”
Continue reading “Cedarville, Let there be Light. (pt. 1)”

The Book of Romans, Distilled and Paraphrased

The following is an attempt, written in 2012, to distill and paraphrase the main argument/message/story/logic of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. 

Romans 1:1-17

If you don’t catch anything else from what I’m about to say, remember this:

God is righteous. He is just. He is faithful.

God has proven himself faithful to his promises of restoring the world, working through his faithful Son, the Messiah, to bring about both our faith in and our faithfulness to him.

Allow me to explain this further.

But first, the objections:

Romans 1:18-32

See, at first glance, the big idea above seems ridiculous. God is faithful? Have you seen the world recently? It’s corrupt to the core. Idolatry, sexual immorality, violence, deception, hostility, etc. Because people refused to believe that God is who he says he is, Sin and Death have infected and affected every layer of human existence. If God is truly righteous, why is his world so unrighteous?

(For a theological essay about what the Bible is and why it’s important, read this piece.)

Romans 2:1-29

Furthermore, look at his “chosen people,” the Jews! They are no better than anyone else, despite their privileged position as the ones through whom God promised to work.

They have failed to understand that their identity as God’s people was more inward than outward, and by boasting about their possession of God’s law (instead of allowing God to change them from the inside out), they have become just as unrepentant and stubborn as the rest of the world!

Romans 3:1-8

Doesn’t Israel’s utter failure to have faith in God and fulfill their role as a conduit of God’s grace to the entire world mean that God’s plan and promises have failed?

No. Just because some of the Jews failed does not mean all of them have.

And it especially does not mean that God has.

He is still faithful and righteous. But more on that later…

Romans 3:9-20

Even though everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike, is corrupt…

Despite the fact that Sin and Death, God’s cosmic enemies, have polluted his creation…

Although Scripture itself testifies that we are all unfaithful…

Although the Law which was supposed to guide us in our pursuit of God has only highlighted just how broken we are and how far we have fallen…

Romans 3:21-31

Despite all of these things, God is righteous.

God has revealed his covenant faithfulness to us through Jesus the Messiah, the True and Faithful Israelite through whom God has kept his redemptive promises. Through his death, the Messiah has absorbed the wrath of God which our unfaithfulness merited. What’s more, he has reconciled us to God and made possible the truly human life, one which honors God by living in perfect relationship with him and the rest of his creation. Through the Messiah, God is proving his faithfulness in redeeming the entire world.

Romans 4:1-25

However, you’ll notice I said “made possible” above. This is because the benefits of what the Messiah has done are only appropriated to us, as they always have been, through faith. The unrepentant Jews made the mistake of assuming that their cultural identity of Torah-obedience was the source of their identity as God’s people. Not so! Look at Abraham! The righteousness of God was appropriated to him because of his faith. After all, he wasn’t even circumcised yet! Therefore, just as Abraham, we all receive the benefits of and incorporation into God’s redemptive mission through faith, and not through the Law. The key is putting our faith in the faithful Messiah.

Romans 5:1-21

Pardon me, but this topic is so important that I’m going to run with it for awhile!

See, this combination of the Messiah’s faithfulness and our faith in him means that God has declared us faithful (righteous). Did you hear that? Not only is God faithful, but despite our unfaithfulness, he declares us faithful as well because of his faithful Son and our faith in him!

This means that we now have PEACE (and not enmity) with God!

This is possible because, get this, at every point at which our father Adam (and everyone ever since) failed, the Messiah has perfectly succeeded!

Before placing our faith in the Messiah’s faithfulness, we were all “in Adam.” That is, we were at enmity with God because of our unfaithfulness to him which deserved condemnation. However, the Messiah’s faithful obedience didn’t just undo our unrighteousness, putting us back on level ground. Instead, it has taken us to the soaring heights of God’s own righteousness! We are now “in the Messiah”!

Romans 6:1-25

But that’s not the only transfer that’s happened! Being moved from “in Adam” to “in the Messiah” also means that we’ve been moved from the Death which Sin brings to the Life which the Messiah offers to us! While we were “in Adam,” we were slaves to Sin and Death, dominated by them and without freedom. However, now that we are “in the Messiah,” we have choices! Free choices! Sin still brings death, but we have been set free and we have the ability and opportunity to make proper choices and live life to its fullest by being truly human, giving glory to our gracious Creator!

Romans 7:1-6

All of this has radically changed our relationship to God’s Law. Through the transfer from Adam to Messiah, from Death to Life, we have been set free from the Law’s condemnation! We can now live a life where God’s Spirit writes the Law on our hearts!

Romans 7:7-25

See, beforehand, while we were still “in Adam,” the Law didn’t really help us out. Because of our initial unfaithfulness, the Law highlighted our brokenness and need for a Messiah Savior. It condemned us in the sight of a holy God. Although there was nothing wrong with the Law itself, there was something profoundly wrong with us, and the Law was very good at showing that!

Romans 8:1-30

But our faith in Jesus the faithful Messiah changes things. As I mentioned above, we have now been set free from the Law’s old condemnation! The Spirit of God writes God’s law on our very heart. Not only that, the Spirit also gives us the power to live a life which is pleasing to God, in right relationship with our Creator and all of his creation. The Spirit is both our GPS and our engine. Therefore, we no longer have to worry about being condemned by the Law, because the Spirit guides and enables us to fulfill the Law’s requirements as those who are “in the Messiah.”

Romans 8:31-39

Take a moment to think about all I have said so far. Despite the unfaithfulness of all humanity, God has proven himself faithful, most notably through his faithful Son, the Messiah. Look at all God has done for us and given to us through the Messiah! Consider the depths of his love for us! Nothing can separate us from the love of God and the love of our Messiah! God is indeed righteous. Although the plan has not yet been fully accomplished, he is well on his way toward redeeming all that he has made.

However, we still haven’t covered everything. If you’ll remember, there’s still that tricky bit about the failure of God’s chosen people. Even though God has done all of this for us through the Messiah, doesn’t the failure of Israel damage his righteousness?

Can God still be fully faithful if it appears his specific promises to/about Israel have failed?

Despite the apparent failure of Israel, God is still righteous and faithful!

Consider three reasons why:

Romans 9:1-29

Firstly, if you will remember, God never promised to use every single ethnic Jew as one of his chosen people. Consider Abraham’s descendants, they were numbered through Isaac and not Ishmael. Similarly, Isaac’s descendants were numbered through Jacob and not Esau. This does not mean that God is unfair, for he is not obligated to show mercy to anyone! It also does not mean that God was eternally unloving to those he did not choose at specific times to work through in Israel’s history toward the coming of the Messiah! The main point isn’t that Ishmael and Esau were damned to hell. It’s that God has never promised to choose and use every single ethnic descendant of Abraham. It is therefore unfair to act as if God has promised to always use all physical Jews. As I alluded to before, the *true* Jews have always been so inwardly, not just outwardly.

Romans 9:30-10:21

Secondly, let’s not blame God for what the Israelites themselves failed to do! Just because many (but not all!) Israelites have failed to have faith throughout the years does NOT mean that God is no longer faithful. Although God never promised to choose and use every ethnic Jew as one of his chosen people, all Jews did have more than enough opportunities to place their faith in God and live in faithfulness to him! However, as mentioned toward the beginning, they failed to realize the key role that faith played in the process. They boasted in their ethnic/national identity of Torah-following instead of boasting in the faithfulness of their God and fulfilling their priestly duties to the world. Please do not blame this failure on God. He has remained faithful and gracious.

Romans 11:1-36

Thirdly, and finally, the story is not yet over! The failure/rejection of Israel is neither total nor permanent. God has always preserved a faithful remnant. That is, there has always existed, within ethnic Israel, the true Israel, the faithful people of God. Despite Israel’s failures, there has always been a remnant, graciously preserved by God to accomplish his purposes. But this remnant will not always be partial! There will come a day in the future when God will do through Israel abundantly above and beyond what he has ever done before. A complete, full generation of Israelites will someday be rescued and used by God to bless the world, completely dispelling any notions that God has somehow failed his people. Despite Israel’s faithlessness, God has remained, and will always remain, faithful and righteous.

This is more than even I can comprehend!

Praise be to God!

Romans 12

In view of God’s righteousness, his faithfulness in redeeming the world and putting it back together again through his faithful Son, the Messiah, let’s consider what it looks like to join him in his redemptive mission! If you’ll remember, our faith in the faithfulness of the Messiah is designed to bring about our own faithfulness as well!

What does this faithfulness look like, in response to all God has done?

It starts with a refusal to conform to the world’s ways of life. Remember my mentioning of the consequences of Sin and Death earlier? Well, in addition to those things, you must also refuse to be conformed to the ways of pride and division. Instead of conformity, pursue transformation. Allow the Spirit of God to renew your mind, and it will revolutionize your relationships. Pursue things like unity, genuine love, harmony, and peace. In all circumstances, even when you are being persecuted, refuse to be overcome by evil. Instead, overcome evil with good.

Romans 13

This all more-or-less makes sense when applied to fellow believers and neighbors, but when we start talking about persecutors and the government, things get tricky!

The crucial thing to remember is that, although God is in the process of invading this fallen world to establish his righteous kingdom, this does NOT mean that you should go violently overthrowing the Roman Empire, or any other empire for that matter! This is because the King we follow stands for, as I’ve just mentioned, genuine love, harmony, and peace. This rules-out violent rebellion and vengeful retaliation.

I’m NOT arguing, by any means, that you should mindlessly participate in the currents of society and government which go against God’s kingdom. Stay alert and faithfully follow the Messiah!

However, instead of trying to overthrow the Empire, you should reasonably and respectfully participate in society. Trust God’s sovereignty over human affairs by submitting to the authorities and paying your taxes. God’s kingdom will be established from the inside out!

These things are all related. The same characteristics of your love for each other and for your neighbors should be applied to persecutors and the governing authorities. If “in Adam,” then this stuff sounds ridiculous. However, we are “in the Messiah,” and this radically changes everything. Let us live in LOVE, the fulfillment of God’s law, as we await our Messiah’s return…

Romans 14-15

…which brings me to the most pressing issue I wish to address.

See, all of this means very little if it does not impact how you Jews and Gentiles relate to each other within the body of the Messiah, the Church. Now that you are both accepted as full members of God’s holy people, I realize that there has been quite a bit of social tension created, specifically with regards to food! While I could give you an apostolically-prescribed menu, that would defeat the purpose, because my main goal (and God’s main goal, for that matter) in this is to see you unified, harmoniously working together as Jews and Gentiles for God’s kingdom.

Here’s why this is important. If you allow something as simple and amoral as food to fragment you, think of what a slap in the face that is to the Messiah, who moved heaven and earth to defeat Sin and Death and reconcile you all to God.

Sin and Death destroy relationships.

Our Messiah destroyed Sin and Death.

If you, then, go back and destroy relationships over things such as food, you are effectively undoing the work of the Messiah.

Do not let this be so! Overwhelm each other with grace and love as you pursue unity!

Use these principles within the body to settle all further and future differences as well, for your unity and love for one another prove that God’s mission is working in the world!

Romans 16

I am confident that God has been and will continue to be at work in your lives. Deeply consider the things I have said to you. But take heart, for we serve a God who loves human beings, and that is why he has chosen to use us in his redemptive mission!

Just don’t forfeit this precious role by allowing people to cause dissensions among you!

I have now come full circle in my argument.

Despite our failures, God is righteous in his mission of redeeming the world through his Son, the Messiah, and through his people, the Church, of which you are a part.

His faithfulness to us through the Messiah is designed to bring about (through our faith in him) our own faithfulness and obedience to him.

May our righteous God and our faithful Messiah be praised and given glory forever!

Amen!