Thursday, December 22, 2016

A burnt plastic baby Jesus or an adored plastic baby Jesus? Or perhaps the Lord of all!

Several days ago my granddaughter, Melissa or grandson-in-law, Spencer (not sure which one) wrote on his timeline:

“Such a strange Christmas season, our church in Sac had their nativity scene out front vandalized with swastikas and other obscenities, and the baby Jesus doll was burned to a crisp. Kind of surreal. Hey crazy people of Midtown. Jesus loves you, come to church again, on Christmas morning and learn about the guy whose plastic baby effigy you roasted. As our pastor said “He’s risen. That was just a doll.”

That was Trinity Lutheran Church, (Missouri Synod) in Sacramento. My husband and I have attended there often, over many years, it is a blessed fellowship.

The outrage reminded me of an advent story I wrote about in one of my first Advent postings. Only in that case it was about someone whose focus was only on seeing the plastic Jesus. I wrote:

Another Christmas Eve I remember we attended a Catholic midnight mass. A group of young people from our church, [Warehouse Ministries], who had been nominal Catholics but had recently come to Christ, asked us to go with them to Christmas Eve mass. I only remember a few things about that night. The church, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, now restored, was huge and dark. We all set together filling a whole pew. When we were to ‘pass the peace’ it was with exuberant hugs. I remember the quiet Delta tule fog after service and the man under the streetlight asking for a little change.

But what I remember most clearly was the woman sitting behind me who whispered to the person next to her, “My dear, I only came to see the baby Jesus.”

Her statement and attitude projected not amazement that the Christ child was very God and very human, but that Christianity and Christmas were only about a good child and a fuzzy warmth. I wrote a small poem about this later, the next week. (And it is important to know that this was the years that a doll named ‘baby alive’ was marketed.)

“My Dear, I only came to see the baby Jesus!"

Release the babe!
The imaged doll,
Congregator of chained smiling humanity.
Oh Holy child, break out into the Man.

We worship before the gilded crib.
A pink and pampered god,
Baby Alive;
Never dead and never resurrected

Obeisance made a dreamy, diapered child;
A blood soaked God rejected in his cries and tears.
Preferable to hold our god
then a Lord to hold us, enfolding our fears

Yes he is risen, and he came and he is coming. Merry & holy Christmas even to the crazy people in Midtown Sacramento. May they find Him as burned to a crisp. Kind of surreal. Hey crazy people of midtown, Jesus loves you, come to church again, on Christmas morning, and learn about the guy whose plastic baby effigy you roasted. As our pastor said, "He's risen. That was just a doll."as burned to a crisp. Kind of surreal. Hey crazy people of midtown, Jesus loves you, come to church again, on Christmas morning, and learn about the guy whose plastic baby effigy you roasted. As our pastor said, "He's risen. That was just a doll."

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Bible study for women: any suggestions? UP-DATE

Someone, in a comment on my posting The 2016-17 Horizons Bible Study "Who is Jesus? - a continuing review- the introduction, has asked for recommendations for other Bible studies for women. I don’t have, at the time, any recommendations except I have been listening to Ann Voskamp author of The Broken Way: A daring path into the abundant life, and she has a study connected to that book. She has videos that go with the study. I will place the first session below. The study guide can be purchased at Zondervan or on Amazon at 

If any of my readers know of a good Bible study for women please list it in the comment section.

UP-DATE: On the Gospel Coalition site Melissa Kruger under the title A Few of My Favorite Things from 2016 lists not only books and videos but also three Bible studies. They all three sound good; one From Garden to Glory; another on 1 Peter and the last on the book of Romans. Kruger has links to all three. Simply scroll to the end of her posting.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Federation of American Immigration: abortion & population control merges with anti-immigration

In the early 20th century it was not unusual in both the United States and Western Europe for a na├»ve nationalism to mix with progressive views about abortion and population control. The ultimate mix layered all of this with anti-immigration views and, yes, racism. The layering continues into the 21st century. Today on ChurchandWorld, Hans Cornelder linked to an article at Polizette, “Southern Poverty Law Center Turns Leftist Bully: Once-important civil rights organization has become liberal propaganda machine, according to new lawsuit.” The article is about a lawsuit the Federation of American Immigration Reform is filing against a hate-watch group The Southern Poverty Law Center. The article caught my attention because in the past, starting more than twenty years ago, when writing about racism I traded information with the SPLC.

Although I disagree with SPLC’s stances on homosexuality, I applaud their articles on racism and anti-Semitism. They, in fact, posted several articles on the vile anti-Semitic Veterans Today after I alerted them to its content.  So I decided to explore the Federation of American Immigration Reform. I was surprised to say the least, although perhaps I should not have been. The organization was birthed not from some fundamentalist sect but rather from those who have embraced population control and abortion. And, of course, environmentalism figures in the mix.  In their early beginnings they had and in some cases still do, close ties to Planned Parenthood.

John H. Tanton was the founder and chair of the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR). In a footnote to an appendix written by Tanton, he points to his involvement with Planned Parenthood and other organizations concerned with population control:

“In pursuit of his demographic and immigration policy interests, Tanton has served as organizer and president of Northern Michigan Planned Parenthood (1965-71); as chair of the National Sierra Club Population Committee (9171-74); as a member of the National Zero Population Growth Board (1973-75); as chair of its Immigration Study Committee (1973-75); as its national president (1975-79); as organizer (1979) of the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and its chair (1979-87); and as a board member of Population/Environment Balance (190-80).[1]

Tanton’s wife, Mary Lou, who was involved with his various organizations was an advocate for abortion. Her essay on the subject was printed in the Charlevoix Courier in 1969.[2]

Dan Stein, now the president of FAIR, complains, according the Polizette article that “"The SPLC is deeply invested in promoting mass immigration, bullying political opponents into silence, and is nothing more than a daily smear machine uninterested in the free exchange of ideas. It uses the same ad hominem tactics year in and year out to try to manage political speech in the interests of its own agenda." But what about FAIR’s immigration ideas. On their site they are offering a comprehensive immigration reform plan they hope President elect Donald Trump and congress will buy into, “Fair Immigration Priorities for the 2017 Presidential Transition: A Special Report from the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

The report is long and needs a great deal of analysis. However, it should be noted that the plan calls for no amnesty at all. No medical attention or schooling for illegal alien children. In fact, it calls for greater limitations on legal immigration.  It is definitely an anti-immigration document. It has two core concerns. One that illegal aliens are causing horrific problems in the United States:

“Illegal immigration and unchecked legal immigration are detrimental to the quality of life in the United States. The American family is increasingly bearing the costs of urban sprawl, environmental degradation, traffic congestion, increased crime, overburdened health care, overwhelmed public schools and debt-ridden state and municipal governments—all results of uncontrolled immigration. The fiscal costs of immigration, legal and illegal, have always been substantial, but with the recent economic downturn, these costs have become even more burdensome. The social, cultural and political costs are being felt more acutely as we receive immigrants in numbers too large to be successfully incorporated into our way of life and assimilated into our communities.”

 And secondly that America’s immigration policies should be absolutely focused on the needs and desires of United States’ citizens and therefore only those offering exceptional skills should be admitted. On the introduction page of this paper FAIR states:

“The U.S. immigration system must be reformed to reflect broad national interest, not the narrow special interests that seek cheap labor and increased political influence. This means ending illegal immigration, reducing overall levels of immigration and only admitting immigrants who have the education and skills to succeed in 21st Century America.”

While true conservatives complain about the brutality of the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, FAIR complains about what is called the Mariel Boatlift when 125, 000 Cubans escaped from Cuba.  They write in their policy plan, “Stretching back to the Mariel boatlift and beyond, the United States has periodically been faced with mass migration events. The recent Unaccompanied Alien Minor crisis on the southern border clearly demonstrates that a comprehensive border control strategy requires a robust and sustainable capacity to confront and manage these migrant surges.”

While it is true that Castro released some criminals and convicts to make that journey, nonetheless many Cubans found freedom in the United States and were welcomed here by their families.

The Southern Poverty Law Center would of course not complain about FAIR’s connection to abortion advocacy but they do have important information including FAIR’s connections to racist ideals. Their article “Federation for American Immigration Reform” is important and factual.

In the Federation for American Immigration Reform one sees, as I have stated, a merging of progressive views of population control including abortion, and nationalism tinged with racism, supposedly for the sake of environmentalism. There are several groups connected to this organization all concerned with immigration and population control. Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) is one. Another is The Social Contract Press.
Psalm one tells the faithful that we are blessed when we do not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the path of sinners or sit in the seat of scoffers. Wickedness is growing ramped, may we be wise and discerning. And have mercy on the foreigner and the refugee.  


[1] Appendix B End of the Migration Epoch? Time for a New Paradigm by John H Tanton, in Mary Lon, John Tanton a Journey into American Conservatism by John F. Rohe,
[2] Appendix C Ibid. (A 1969 essay in the Charlevoix Courier by Mary Lou Tanton advocating for abortion. An appendix to Mary Lon, John Tanton a Journey into American Conservatism by John F. Rohe. )

Saturday, November 26, 2016

In that Secret Place & why I do not write so often

As a new Christian, a young teenager, I was allowed to lead the opening services for my church’s vacation Bible school. In this little store front Southern Baptist church, that position meant telling stories about different Christians and their lives and witness. One, for example was about John Newton, his life, and his song, Amazing Grace. One story that particularly impressed me was the story of a woman who had raised her family leaning heavily on Psalm 91. The one that begins, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

When my husband and I were married we had a picture taken of our hands together over that Psalms.  It is the first picture in our wedding album.

Recently, at Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, which we have once again been attending, the choir sang an anthem that uses that Psalm as its focus. The music and words were so beautiful. And as I sat listening to the refrain I felt myself lifted into the presence of the Almighty, I felt myself in that place which is, as the song states, “the shadow of our mighty King” the “dwelling place where angels cry.”

Who dwells within His most secret place
Is never far from His blessed grace
'Neath His great shadow all will be well
No better place now for us to dwell


The secret place of God Most High
The shadow of our mighty King
The dwelling place where angels cry
Is where our praise will forever ring

Fear not the terror that comes at night
Nor flaming arrows by morning light
His truth is always our sword and shield
Against His power, all foes must yield


A thousand fall now at ev'ry side
Ten thousand more may have yet to die
Yet plague and sword can
Ne'er kill the soul
His angels guard us now safe and whole


Refuge and fortress for all who trust
No safer pasture for men of dust
'Neath wings and feathers of Holy Lord
No greater comfort can He afford


I write this to try and explain a little about why I do not write as often as I used to write. It is hard. I wrote earlier, more than a year ago that my husband has what is called mild cognitive impairment. It is getting worse, he is slowly losing word usage and deep abstract thinking. There is so much I could say but I simply can’t. I would recommend, for those who are interested a book, Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel During Alzheimer’s Disease by Dr. Benjamin Mast.

To add to my sadness, I am experiencing absolute rejection from two people that I love dearly.  And I cannot write about that either, but I want to recommend another book, Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way: A daring Path into the Abundant Life. It is about drawing close to Jesus and reaching out to others through our own brokenness.  I just finished it last week and it is so helpful.

But, needless to say, both the sadness and the interruptions of my days are keeping me away from writing. But it is that secret place that place under His shadow, that place where angels cry holy, holy that holds me in grief in peace and His comfort.

Friday, November 4, 2016

My answers to a Muslim's video- "10 Reasons Why Jesus is Not God!"

On a Facebook page that I belong to, Happy to be a Presbyterian, it is mostly progressive and PC (U.S.A), a fellow Presbyterian put up a video by a Muslim, I believe his name is Joshua Evans, who is offering ten reasons of why Jesus is not God. The person who placed the video there wrote, “he makes a lot of great points and arguments I would say; especially reasons 9, 7-4, and 2. Reason 3 is troublesome and seems contradictory to me because Jesus Himself was quoted to have said to His disciples before departing to "go and make disciples of ALL nations....and unto the ends of the earth"; not just to the Jews. But the majority of the rest of it seems to be quite accurate. Are there other things in this video that are wrong? If so, please leave in the comments below what they are, and why. Thank you.” I decided to write about this for several reasons.

The Muslim man is concerned about others salvation. That is good, so am I. But more importantly it is a false view of the incarnation, in fact a misunderstanding of Jesus. I am placing the video on this page and then answering the reasons below, starting with number 10 as he has:

10. The 10th reason this person gives for not believing Jesus is God is because God cannot be born. This is a problem he has throughout his presentation. He does not believe in the Incarnation, nor does he have any understanding of what that means. God took on flesh, took on humanity. Jesus is both human and divine. Jesus Christ is eternal since he is divine, but in his humanity he was born. And it should be noted that Jesus tells the Jewish leaders who did not believe him, “before Abraham was born, I am.”(John 8:58) (Only the Holy Spirit can cause the human mind and heart to understand. Pray for Mr. Evans.)

9. The 9th reason Jesus is not God, according to the speaker, is that God’s nature is one. Israel is to worship only the one God. He believes that nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus or the text state that Jesus is God. But this is not true. In the synoptic Gospels Jesus does the very acts of God. He stills the storm with his command, he rises the dead and heals.  John the Baptist is said to be making way for the Lord as he prepares the people for Jesus. John’s Gospel explicitly tells us that Jesus (the Word) was with God and is God. Jesus in this Gospel refers to himself many times with the “I Am” of Exodus. “ “God said to Moses, ‘I AM Who I Am.’” He is God. (Of course this is why we use the term Trinity)

8. The 8th reason that Jesus is not God according to the speaker is because no one has seen God and lived. However it should be noted that Moses saw his “backside” others saw him in Theophanies for instance Samson’s father and mother and Abraham before God told him he was going to destroy Sodom.

The speaker attempts to say that when Jesus says he and the Father are one, he is speaking of them being one in purpose not one in essence. On John 10:30, where Jesus states, “I and the Father are one,” biblical scholar William Hendriksen states:

“However, inasmuch as in other passages it is clearly taught that the oneness is a matter not only of outward operation but also (and basically) of inner essence (see especially 5:18 but also 1:14; 3:16) it is clear that also here nothing less than this can have been meant. Certainly if Son and Father are one essentially, then when Jesus states, “I and the Father, we are one,” he cannot merely mean, “We are one in providing protective care for the sheep.” The economic trinity rests forever upon the essential trinity. …”

In saying this Hendriksen means that the actions of the persons of the Trinity rests upon the oneness of the Trinity.  Hendriksen goes on to write, (and here I am sorry I do not have the computer capability to put the Greek text in the quote:

“Note how carefully both the diversity of the persons and the unity of the essence is expressed here. Jesus says, “I and the Father.” Hence, he clearly speaks about two persons. And this plurality is shown also by the verb (one word in Greek) “we are” … These two persons never become one person. Jesus does not say, “We are one person” …, but he says, “We are one substance ….’ Though two persons, the two are one substance or essence. … Thus in this passage Jesus affirms his complete equality with the Father.”[1]

The beauty of the good news here is that God now allows us to look on his image in the Son and we see him clearly in Scripture.

7. This seventh point is filled with misunderstandings and falsehood. He believes that because the early Christians worshiped in the synagogue they didn’t believe that Jesus was God. Added to that is his idea that it was only Paul and the Council of Nicaea that taught that Jesus was God. (He needs to reread the Gospels.) Early Christian worship in the Temple and the Synagogue was clearly connected to who they believed Jesus was, the promised Jewish messiah; the One who was meant to be king of the Jews, the savior who would save his people. And not only did they meet in Jewish places of worship, they met in homes.

Paul’s New Testament letters are the earliest writings, and the speaker fails to consider that Jesus was resurrected and Paul had a deep relationship with him. In the midst of controversy about the deity of Jesus, the Council of Nicaea simply confirmed the truths that the early churches already held.

I am not sure why the speaker keeps referring to the Qumran community; it really has nothing to do with the early Christians. But instead it has to do with the Essene community who had preserved their own writings and a great deal of the Old Testament.

6. The 6th point is once again simply a denial of the Incarnation. Why did Jesus need to eat, to sleep, to pray? Jesus took on humanity and suffered all that entails for our sake. He prayed because the Son had always communed with the Father.

5. The speaker refers to those texts where Jesus states that only the Father knows the time of his coming. And to another text, John 14:28, where Jesus states that the Father is greater than him. This again has to do with the Incarnation and the Muslim’s misunderstanding. Jesus, according to early church fathers, is speaking of himself in his humanity. He was submissive to the Father as he waited to fulfill his purpose. Calvin, adding to this verse Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 15:24, 28, sees both Jesus and Paul referring to Jesus’ work as mediator between God and humanity. His conclusion is beautiful:

“Christ is not here comparing the Father’s divinity with his own, nor his own human nature with the Father’s divine essence, but rather his present state with the heavenly glory to which he was soon to be received. It is like saying, “You want to keep me in the world, but it is better for me to ascend to heaven.” Let us therefore learn to see Christ humbled in the flesh, so that he may lead us to the source of blessed immortality for he was not appointed to be our guide merely to raise us to the sphere of the moon or the sun, but to make us one with God the Father.”[2]

4. The complaint in number 4 is that Jesus in John 17:3 states that the way to God is to believe in the one true God and Jesus Christ who he sent. He believes Jesus is in this statement denies his own divinity. He also refers to Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene that he is ascending to my God and your God.   
On this point the speaker slips a little extra into the text. He states “and Jesus Christ as a messenger.” “As a messenger” turns the text into a Muslim text and changes the work that Jesus came to do which was to die on the cross for our salvation. God here in this context is the Christian term for addressing the Father rather than the Son. But Jesus is telling his listeners that knowing both the Father and the Son is having everlasting life. And that knowing is an intimate knowledge, it entails knowing Jesus in his life, death and resurrection. It is so much more then hearing the words of a messenger. And in knowing Jesus we know the Father.

3. His third point has to do with Jesus’ title as Son of God. He insist that many in the Bible are called sons of God. And they are. He speaks of a pastor who says that Jesus was unique, he was the begotten Son of God which the pastor supposedly defined as given because Jesus was conceived without a father. Islam teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin as Christians also believe. But this is not the meaning of begotten Son of God.

Answering the question about the meaning of begotten Son of God in his commentary, Hendriksen states, “We conclude that the reference must be to Christ’s Trinitarian sonship, i.e., to the fact that he is the Son of God from all eternity. This is favored by the context (1:1, 18) and by such passages as 3:16, 18, which prove that the Son was already, the only begotten before his incarnation.”

Indeed the New American Standard translation of John 1:1 states, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, he has explained him.” And this is from the oldest manuscripts found.

2. For number 2.see 1 and 6. But it should be added that God’s nature is clearly seen in the Incarnation since in God’s compassion and mercy he took on human flesh and suffered for humanity.

1.This last point has to do with the worship of God. The speaker becomes totally confused. He states that in Matthew 15 & 18 Jesus tells them it is vain to worship him. But the quote in 15, it is not in 18, is Jesus quoting from the Hebrew Bible and it is God telling Israel it is vain to worship him since they hearts are far away from him and they are teaching traditions rather than God’s word.

The speaker then has to turn to the Koran to make his point about Jesus. He also says that Jesus never allowed anyone to worship him. But this is simply not true. There are several places in the Gospel where people do worship Jesus and he graciously receives their worship. The beautiful story of Thomas is perhaps the best. Thomas has doubted the resurrection, but when he touches the nail prints in Jesus ‘hands and the wound in his side Thomas states “My Lord and my God.” In the Greek it is the Lord of me and the God of me.

There is so much more that could be added but this is already too long.

[1] William Hendriksen, The Gospel of John, New Testament Commentary, eighth printing, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House 1979).
[2] John Calvin, John, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, Alister McGrath & J.I. Packer, (Wheaton: Crossway Books 1994).
* The video is a Merciful Servant Production

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Trump's new video, is this not like Goebbels?

Someone, a friend, placed this video on Facebook. It was just  posted by President Donald Trump HQ . It immediately  reminded me of some of Joseph Goebbels' propaganda speeches. Here is the video:

It isn't that Trump is blaming the Jews, but he is blaming  mysterious  global  special interest groups as did the Nazis. And it isn't that the Clintons haven't been dishonest and they do have some awful views about morality, (I am not voting for her or him), but Trump has elevated our problems to the level of a global conspiracy just as Hitler did. And he is making himself a savior figure which we as Christians should reject with every ounce of our faith.

Here is part of a speech by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Much of it, in my opinion sounds like Trump except of course, it is about Germany, and the Jews are the main bad guys:

"We are just good enough that international capital allows us to fill its money sacks with interest payments. That and only that is the result of a centuries-long history of heroism. Have we deserved it? No, and no again!

Therefore we demand that a struggle against this condition of shame and misery begin, and that the men in whose hands we put our fate must use every means to break the chains of slavery.

Three million people lack work and sustenance. The officials, it is true, work to conceal the misery. They speak of measures and silver linings. Things are getting steadily better for them, and steadily worse for us. The illusion of freedom, peace and prosperity that we were promised when we wanted to take our fate in our own hands is vanishing. Only complete collapse of our people can follow from these irresponsible policies.

Thus we demand the right of work and a decent living for every working German.

While the front soldier was fighting in the trenches to defend his fatherland, some Eastern Jewish profiteer robbed him of hearth and home. The Jew lives in the palaces and the proletarian, the front soldier, lives in holes that do not deserve to be called “homes.” That is neither necessary nor unavoidable, but rather an injustice that cries out to the heavens. A government that stands by and does nothing is useless and must vanish, the sooner the better.

Therefore we demand homes for German soldiers and workers. If there is not enough money to build them, drive the foreigners out so that Germans can live on German soil.
Our people is growing, others diminishing. It will mean the end of our history if a cowardly and lazy policy takes from us the posterity that will one day be called to fulfill our historical mission.

Therefore we demand land on which to grow the grain that will feed our children.

While we dreamed and chased strange and unreachable fantasies, others stole our property. Today some say this was an act of God. Not so. Money was transferred from the pockets of the poor to the pockets of the rich. That is cheating, shameless, vile cheating!

A government presides over this misery that in the interests of peace and order one cannot really discuss. We leave it to others to judge whether it represents Germany's interests or those of our capitalist tormenters.

We however demand a government of national labor, statesmen who are men and whose aim is the creation of a German state.

These days anyone has the right to speak in Germany — the Jew, the Frenchman, the Englishman, the League of Nations, the conscience of the world, and the Devil knows who else. Everyone but the German worker. He has to shut up and work. Every four years he elects a new set of torturers, and everything stays the same. That is unjust and treasonous. We need tolerate it no longer. We have the right to demand that only Germans who build this state may speak, those whose fate is bound to the fate of their fatherland.

Therefore we demand the destruction of the system of exploitation! Up with the German worker state!
Germany for the Germans!"1.

It is of course horrific that we must endure either candidate; God is undoubtedly searching our hearts as his people. This is that very clear time when we must not put our faith in man or woman but in our Lord.

1. This can be found at Calvin College which has an excellent archive of Nazi propaganda.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The 2016-17 Horizons Bible Study "Who is Jesus? - a continuing review- according to Hebrews

Picture by Penny Juncker
There is a great deal to applaud in the sixth lesson of the Presbyterian Women’s Bible study Who is Jesus? What a Difference a Lens Makes. The author Judy Yates Siker, in this lesson, “According to Hebrews,” at the end, answers the question about Jesus’s identity in this manner:

“The writer of Hebrews goes to great lengths to demonstrate the majesty, the grandeur, and the perfection of Jesus. Yet, this Jesus is one who can relate to us in our earthly circumstances. Truly, there is in every generation the need to carry the message of the good news forward, in spite of trials and frustrations of the day. The writer of Hebrews tells readers then and now to be strong, to give thanks for the unshakeable kingdom in which Christ reigns. Through the lens of this first-century writer, we are called to be strong in the faith, and through this lens, we are able to see the person and work of Jesus, the one who makes that faith possible.”

Siker understands that Jesus is both priest and sacrifice, and that he is both human and divine. She comforts her readers with the biblical truth that Jesus “can sympathize and empathize with people.”

And yet, still, there is the continued push to de-emphasize the wholeness and completeness of the biblical witness to Jesus Christ as fully God and fully human, as both Lord and the ransom for sin. Furthermore, there is the continued apology and concern about the witness to Jesus of the early church and how that affected their relationship to the Jewish people as a whole.

A High Christology:

First, in writing about the Christology of Hebrews, Siker, in note 2, reminds the reader that, as she has put it, the synoptic Gospels have a lower Christology, John a higher Christology, but Hebrews has both. But as I have pointed out in my introduction to this whole study:

“A high Christology is a Christology that is superior in that it not only emphasizes the divinity of Jesus but also affirms the humanity of Jesus. It is a balanced account of the person of Jesus, fully God and fully human. Think of the creed of Chalcedon. A fence is placed around the person of Jesus Christ and there are some things that cannot be said. A low Christology does fail to uphold Jesus’ divinity.

 While the Gospel of John and the writings of Paul give a more direct and straight forward picture of Jesus’ divinity they also are very clear about the humanity of Jesus.  Matthew, Mark and Luke give very practical understandings of Jesus’ humanity, but in terms of his miracles, wisdom and even his actions they clearly picture Jesus as God. Who can still the raging waves but God? (Matthew 8) Who can forgive sin but God? (Mark 2) Who can raise the dead but God? (Luke 7)”

And I added the words of biblical scholar Larry W. Hurtado, author of Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. In a comment on his blog he wrote:

“But certainly Mark reflects and presumes a very “high” view of Jesus. E.g., the opening lines effectively make Jesus the “Lord” whose paths are prepared for by the Baptist. And at various points Jesus is pictured as heralded by demons who (unlike the humans in the story) perceive his transcendent significance. And Jesus acts in ways that allude to YHWH in the OT (e.g., walking on the waves and calming them).”

The same sorts of explanations can be given for Matthew and Luke. The question, "Who is Jesus?” cannot be rightly answered using the type of divisive exegesis Siker uses. Even the Old Testament looks forward to the answer: Jesus Christ, fully God, fully human.

Jesus the High Priest and Sacrifice:

While Siker correctly writes that Hebrews is the only New Testament book that speaks of Jesus as high priest, she begins this section with a rather strange explanation of why a high priest and a sacrifice.

Rather than simply referring to the Old Testament’s God given instructions to the people of Israel, Siker refers to the sacrificial offerings of all of the nations. She writes:

“Unlike our world today, almost all societies in the ancient world practiced animal sacrifice. The Greeks and Romans built countless temples to their gods and offered them daily sacrifices. Similarly, the temple in Jerusalem was the place where sacrifices were offered every day.”

And then speaking of Jesus as the perfect sacrifice and what that means, Siker writes, “So Jesus was viewed as a perfect sacrifice—that is, a sinless sacrifice. Only in this way could he be an appropriate sacrifice to atone for human sinfulness.” But Siker ruins all of her words with her conclusion, “This is how the sacrificial mindset of the earliest Christians, including that of Hebrews, worked.”

The similarities are little. The sacrifices in the temple were meant to fulfill God’s commandments for the people of Israel. The order was to be rightly fulfilled, but the heart, full of repentance and thankfulness, was important too. The rituals were not the same as the rituals of other nations offered to false gods. Most importantly, the sacrifices were symbols and types of the coming Messiah. [1]

Siker does refer to Jesus as the Passover lamb, but she does not acknowledge that he is truly the fulfillment of God’s promise seen within the offering. She only acknowledges that the early Christians including the author of Hebrews saw him that way.

The question comes to mind, does Siker believe that God commanded the sacrifices that the Israelite priesthood performed?


Siker also writes about Hebrews’ references to the high priest Melchizedek, a mysterious person to whom Abraham pays tithes. (Genesis 14:18) She refers to Jesus as a descendent of Melchizedek because Melchizedek was, according to speculation, taken up into heaven.  And likewise, Jesus was resurrected. But the author of Hebrews is using Melchizedek as a symbol of Jesus. The scripture does not give Melchizedek’s parentage nor speak of his death, therefore it can be said that he is, “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.” (Hebrews 7:3) Jesus is of “the order” of Melchizedek’s priesthood.[2]

But Siker, in note 4, evidently does not believe that Melchizedek is a real person. In the note she writes, “Scholars continue to debate the image of Melchizedek and its creation (whether by the author of Genesis or earlier in Jewish tradition.” It is important to see Melchizedek as a real person, but without the speculation. (Emphasizes mine)

Speaking philosophically, if Melchizedek is not a real person but the Jewish priests are real people, the author of Hebrews loses his argument that Jesus’ priesthood is greater than the Aaronic priesthood. Real existence takes priority over non-existence.

But, having written all of the above, still, Siker’s explanation of Jesus as the high priest is very good and helpful for the reader. She explains how the Jewish high priest was the only one who was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, and how Jesus who had no sin is the one who enters the heavenly Holy of Holies. He could offer the sacrifice, himself, without needing to sacrifice for himself.


Supersessionism, the idea that Christianity replaces God’s covenant with Israel is considered a problem in the book of Hebrews. Siker sees it simply as sibling rivalry. She believes this was an argument between different Jewish sects who would later become Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.  But the problems and the answers are deeper than that.

The early Christians did meet in the synagogues as well as homes but nonetheless they also believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises of God in the Hebrew Bible. They also believed that only in Jesus could anyone be saved including their fellow Jewish relatives. However, the apostle Paul gives what was meant to be the correct understanding of the position of the Jewish people who did not follow Jesus:

From the standpoint of the gospel they (the Jews who rejected Jesus) are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:28-29)

God still keeps covenant with the Jewish people but he only offers salvation through Jesus Christ. How could it not be so; from Genesis 3:15 to the end of Malachi, God’s promises to his people look forward to Jesus. He is the seed of Eve who bruises Satan’s head and he is the ideal priest and messenger of the covenant in Malachi. He is the one who purifies the sons of Levi. (Malachi 3) Jesus is every biblical promise fulfilled.




[1] For deeper reading on the priesthood of Jesus and his sacrifice I recommend puritan writer John Flavel and his book, The Fountain of Life: Presenting Christ in His Essential and Mediatorial Glory. Flavel has four chapters that deal with Jesus’ priesthood, including his sacrifice and his intercession. It is very rich.
[2] F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Epistle to the Hebrews, F.F. Bruce, General Editor, reprint (Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 1981)
“Of Melchizedek ‘it is witnessed that he liveth’ in that sense that we never read of him otherwise than as a living man; of Christ it can be said He lives in the sense that, having died once for all and risen from the dead, He is alive for evermore.” 142.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The 2016-17 Horizons Bible Study "Who is Jesus? - a continuing review- "According to Paul"

Picture by Stephen Larson
In the Presbyterian Women’s Bible study, Who is Jesus? What a difference a Lens Makes, in lesson five, “According to Paul,” the focus is on Paul’s theme of a crucified and risen Jesus. Yes, the cross and the resurrection are two of Paul’s important themes. As author Judy Yates Siker states “Paul’s lens, first and foremost, is the cross, and that resulting portrait is not focused on the life and teachings of the Jesus of the Gospels but rather is focused on the risen Christ.”

Toward the end of the lesson Siker writes:

“From Paul’s perspective the cross is at the heart of the Gospel message, for it reveals a God who embraces humanity in all of its sinfulness and redeems humanity through the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The cross reveals a God who so identifies with human suffering and the pain of humanity’s own inhumanity that, in Jesus, this God takes on the power of sin and the power of death, and transforms it all into life abundant (Rom.5-6)”

Siker goes on to quote Romans 5:6-8, a beautiful picture of God’s redeeming love. I applaud her words in this section on page 55 of the lesson.

However, even in this lesson Siker continues to split apart the New Testament’s views of who Jesus is. She tends to place too much emphasis on scholarly debates about the text which tends to muddy her good words about the good news which women need to hear. In this lesson there are two debates about the text that Siker uses

The first is her decision to exclude several books which traditional views, until the nineteenth century, have attributed to Paul. The books are 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Colossians and Ephesians. Ephesians is an interesting case. I believe most conservative/evangelical scholars would certainly include Ephesians as one of Paul’s letters. In the Dictionary of Paul and His letters, all of the above books are attributed to Paul.

In the book’s piece on Ephesians, the author, Talbot School of Theology professor Clinton E. Arnold, affirms Paul’s authorship noting that Professor Ralph P. Martin, one of the book’s editors does not agree. It could also be noted that Marcus Barth in his Ephesians commentaries also attributes Ephesians to Paul.

If Siker had accepted the book of Colossians as a Pauline letter she could have also underscored Paul’s magnificent Christology. As Peter T. O’Brian writes, “Colossians has much to say about the importance of the gospel, the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially as Lord in creation and author of reconciliation (Col 1:15-20.).” [1]

The other scholarly debate that Siker uses in this study is the idea that Paul seems to have nothing to say about the life and teachings of Jesus. As she put it if we only had Paul to read we would only know, “born of a woman (Gal. 4:4) of the lineage of David (Rom. 1:3) born under the law (Gal 4:4), had a group of followers (1 Cor. 15:5), died on a cross (Phil 2:8).”

Siker does give some good reasons for Paul’s seeming silence about the life and teachings of Jesus, that is, he was after all writing letters to address the problems of the various churches. But she also adds that “some scholars argue that Paul did not know very much about the historical Jesus.” (She leaves the door open to the reader to choose their preference.)

This divides the risen Lord from his incarnation when there really is no division. If Paul knows the risen Lord, he knows the Jesus who lived and ministered on earth. His letters develop the theology that is formed out of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul’s ethics, as he guides the churches and individual Christians, grow out of the teachings of Jesus.[2]

If liberal scholarship did not so easily pull the various books of the New Testament apart but read the text as a whole the problems would not be so great. One could believe Paul and see him and his letters in the contexts of Luke’s writings in the book of Acts. Paul’s letters should undergird Acts and Acts affirm Paul’s letters. One could simply accept the biblical fact that Paul knew the apostles and other Christian leaders who knew Jesus during his ministry on earth.

I have not written much about the suggestions for leaders at the end of each lesson. They are written by Dr. Lynn Miller. Both Miller and Siker at the end once again bring up the idea of a different Jesus because of different author’s perspectives. Speaking of Paul’s words about redemption and the cross, Siker, at the end, writes, “No, this is not the same portrait of Jesus we saw in the Gospels, for Paul’s lens is a lens of the cross.” And Miller in suggestions for leaders writes:

Paul’s letters to specific communities ‘bear witness to the challenges of applying the gospel message to new and changing circumstances.” What are todays changing circumstances and who is the Jesus that can speak to those circumstances?”

That is a question with the aroma of apostasy.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

[1]Peter T. O’Brian, “Letter to the Colossians,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, A compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid, editors, ( Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 1993).
[2] For a compelling argument against Paul having little knowledge of the earthly Christ and his teaching see, J.M.G. Barclay, “Jesus and Paul,” Dictionary of Paul.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Confessing & "white supremacy" The misuse of confession, the misuse of language

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) co-moderator, T. Denise Anderson, in her article, “Confession time: How white supremacy hurts white people,” on the Presbyterian Outlook web-site, calls on individual white people to personally confess their individual racism.

Anderson insists that all white people in the United States are involved in racism and white supremacy because the founders of America were colonialist and involved in slavery. Referencing Kelly Brown Douglas, Anderson writes, that the puritans contributed to white supremacy believing themselves to be “the pure remnant of the freedom-loving and exceptionally moral Anglo-Saxons.”

Anderson continues, “The idea of American exceptionalism is intrinsically linked to not only faith, but Germanic (and Norse) heritage. That exceptionalism necessarily excludes those not of that heritage.” She also writes:

“Let me be very clear: One does not have to be malicious or hateful to be racist. One needn’t even be intentional about it. White supremacy is so pervasive, insidious and thoroughly woven into the fabric of our society that it is quite easy to be racist. In fact, it’s difficult to not be racist.”

I was troubled by Anderson’s essay for at least three reasons. The first is historical. The nineteenth century saw a rise in some ideologies that produced racism. And they were based on religious viewpoints and historical views about Germanic and Norse exceptionalism, but they had nothing to do with the puritan’s beliefs about their place and purpose in God’s kingdom.

I was troubled by the use of the term “white supremacy.” Having studied and written a great deal on many of the racist groups in the United States I believe it is a misuse of language to attach the term white supremacy to all white Americans. White supremacy groups are known for their vileness, their hate and their ignorance. It does not help to write that “White supremacy is so pervasive, insidious and thoroughly woven into the fabric of our society that it is quite easy to be racist.”

No it is not easy, among moral people, to be racist. To say that and to say that all whites are racists is to partially eliminate the evil of racism. This is harmful to all ethnic groups. Surely Anderson would not say that because some Arab groups are terrorist all Arabs are terrorist! Or because some husbands have abused their wives all husbands are wife beaters!

But my greatest concern is the idea of personal confession. I have read one of those confessions and I was dismayed. It consisted of private matters that should have been confessed, not on social media, but privately to those hurt and most of all confessed to God. And this is where some in the church may misunderstand what it means for members of the church to confess the ills of society. It may be one person confessing but it must be for the whole church.  It is after all the Church which makes confession. In a sense those who ask for individual public confession are themselves tyrants.

Daniel’s beautiful prayer of confession is the biblical example. He confessed to God the sins of Israel including himself in the prayer. He did not say I did this or I did that, but the people of God, including Daniel, are the sinners confessing before God their sin.

Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant and lovingkindness for those who love him, and keep his commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. Moreover we have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.” (9: 4-6)

There is much more; read the whole ninth chapter.

Bonhoeffer, in his book, Ethics, lays out a confession for the church. And before he begins he explains that the prayer is not meant to be a time of pointing fingers at any particular group such as the “blacks” or the “whites” but rather it is the church speaking of their failures and sin. It is individual in that individual sin hurts the church. But it is corporate, as the church, because only in Jesus Christ can humanity recognize their guilt and find grace. [1]

Yes, there is racism, still, in the United States and the Church has a calling to eliminate that sin from their own institutions, displaying the beauty and goodness of Jesus Christ in their midst. But we will not display His beauty by accusing brothers and sisters of the vileness of the world.

[1]In 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution concerning racial reconciliation entitled, “The Resolution on Racial Reconciliation on the 150th anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention.” It was a time of confession. And the Presbyterian Church in America passed an overture on racial reconciliation in 2002. Both statements can be found in On Being Black and Reformed by Anthony J. Carter. I highly recommend Carter’s book.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The 2016-17 Horizons Bible Study "Who is Jesus? - a continuing review- "According to John"

Picture by Ethan McHenry

Judy Yates Siker, in the fourth lesson, “According to John,” of the Presbyterian  Women’s Bible study, Who is Jesus? What a difference a Lens Makes, seemingly gives the reader a truthful picture of Jesus. After all, she writes, “In this forth Gospel we will see a very different Jesus. It is here, in fact, that we begin to see that Jesus and God are one.” And she goes on to write about Jesus as ‘pre-existent, creator, lamb of God, I Am and Son of Man.

But still, there is that phrase in her sentence, ‘a very different Jesus.’ Different than what? Different than the Jesus of the synoptic gospels. Siker has already, in her other lessons, pictured Jesus as Prophet of God, (Luke), the Jewish Messiah who is teacher, (Matthew), and God’s Son who suffers (Mark). And as I pointed out in my review of the other lessons, he is all of that. But even in the other Gospels Jesus is God, a truth that Siker fails to include in her earlier lessons.

Added to this concern is Siker’s attempt to see the Gospel of John as careening too far away from a balanced view of the person of Jesus. She writes, “In this lesson, we will see how John reaches for as many titles and metaphors as he can gather, to portray Jesus as more of a divine figure than a human one.”

So, for the moment, putting aside the main sections of Siker’s lesson four, I intend to answer a question that has been troubling me and perhaps troubling my readers. Why is Siker presenting her material in this manner, and how is it that she acknowledges the truthfulness of Jesus as God in the Gospel of John but does not acknowledge it in the other Gospels? What is the foundational teaching that under girds such a view of the Gospels? And where does the view that there are different variations of Jesus in the different Gospels lead?

In three places within the fourth lesson a book is recommended to the reader. First, Siker writes, “It is evident from the start that John’s [Gospel] is a different sort of story. John’s Gospel has been called—and rightly so—a “maverick” Gospel, for here is a portrait of Jesus unlike any of his three predecessors.” In a side note about the difference between John and the synoptic gospels there is this suggestion, “I suggest reading Robert Kysar’s book, John, the Maverick Gospel.” In another note about the separation of the early Christians from the Jews there is, once again, a reference to Kysar’s book. And finally in both the endnotes and the bibliography John, the Maverick Gospel is listed.[1]

This isn’t the place to write a whole review of the book but it certainly clarifies where the author of Who is Jesus? What a difference a Lens Makes obtained some of her central ideas.

Kysar, in his book, gives an explanation about the Christology of the New Testament as well as how the material of the Gospels was formed. And his view of the Christology of John is confusing to say the least.

Kysar believes there are three types of Christology in the New Testament. There is “Adoptionistic Christology which as Kysar puts it “suggests that Jesus was a man who, because of his obedience to God, was adopted as God’s Messiah.” He believes this is the earliest view of Jesus but is only “faintly” found in the New Testament. He offers Acts 2:36; 3:13; and Romans 1:3-4.

The second type Kysar sees as Agency Christology and believes it is more common. Jesus was sent as a representative “to perform a revelatory and saving function.” He finds this even in John. The third type is Incarnational Christology which is “to claim the divine nature of Christ and at the same time to claim that this divine Christ has taken a human form.” So Kysar, like Siker, believes that each Gospel holds differing views of the person of Jesus.

But Kysar’s view of the incarnational Christ is certainly problematic, although he, like Siker, takes the time to consider all of Jesus’ identities in the Gospel of John.  His final view of John’s Christology is a long quote but it is important even though confusing. I place it here:

“The evangelist recognizes that the founder is the Father’s Son. All the statements that assert the divinity of Christ are qualified by the fact that he is the Father’s Son, not the Father’s own self. This author is no systematic theologian but she or he is theologically sophisticated enough to make clear that Christ is not to be confused with God. Christ is divine and participates in the very being of God, but is distinct and subordinate to the Father. He is the expressive dimension of God’s being, or the Son who is fully obedient to and sent by the Father. Our author recognizes that whatever the incarnation of the Logos means, it cannot mean that a human being is in every way fully the being of God. …” (Italics mine) (68)

Kysar goes on to state that in John’s Gospel Christ is the functional equivalent of God.

Kysar commits two miserable actions with his words. He demotes Jesus, yet designates him God in word and action for the ‘community.’ Jesus, although called divine, he makes less than God and the community no longer encounters the living and personal God in a real way. Instead of being the Church hidden in Christ and therefore embraced by the Father, it is a community who encounters a lesser divine being who is related to and sent by God. Because Jesus is fully human Kysar does not reckon him to be fully God.[2]

And how do the various Gospels shape their stories about Jesus? Kysar, writing of the Gospel of John and believing that an oral tradition about Jesus had already been formed, states:

“This is to suggest that the creation of the literary gospel form was not so much the genius of the author of the written material (the Gospels of Mark and John) but the gradual and less-than-deliberate effort of the early Christian community to preserve the materials that it had at its disposal. The oral tradition, then based on historical recollection of Jesus of Nazareth, shaped itself into gospel. By filling out the historical material with legend, myth, and new teachings from what they believed to be the living Christ, the early Christians gradually shaped the gospel form in the preliterary tradition. (30)

So it is the various early Christian communities who supposedly had differing views of Jesus. According to Kysar the Johannine community’s faith experience of Christ and their search for identity informed their Christology. Kysar writes, “In a faithful and creative way, the author of this document rethought the answers to fundamental questions regarding the nature and function of the Christian movement. In this way, the Fourth Evangelist did what each constructive religious thinker must do in every new period of history and what we are called to do today.” (69)

Here then is the outcome of a view of the New Testament’s understanding of Jesus that includes multiple variations on his identity rather than affirming the unity of the scriptural portrait of Jesus. Believing that it is the community and its experience and needs that shaped the Gospels the door is open for reshaping the good news in different times and cultures. And this is seemingly one of Siker’s understandings as the reader will find when they reach the last lesson, “According to contemporary Cultural Interpretations.”


[1] Robert Kysar,  John, the Maverick Gospel, third edition, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2007).
[2] It should be noted here that Kysar is attempting to split the two natures of Jesus, fully human, fully divine. I explained this problem in my first review. Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully God. Those two things cannot be separated when speaking of Jesus.