The Christian School That Won’t Allow a Pregnant Senior to Walk: How to Respond

So many non-churchgoers will see a story like this and say, “See? This is why I’d rather explore my spirituality in a non-Christian or non-church environment.” If you are such a non-churchgoer and would agree with that statement, here’s my rebuttal: I have no rebuttal. I agree with you that the actions of this school are a disgusting and hypocritical display of the highest order – it sickens to me to the core, not only because it treats this young lady in such an unloving way, but also because it’s being justified by saying the decision was “first and foremost in her best interest.”
 
To those of my friends and neighbors who are not active in a church, and who refrain from exploring faith because you continue to see stories like this, please briefly hear me out.
 
All over this country there are Christians and Christian churches whose stomachs, along with yours, are turning over these types of stories – we are as disgusted by it, if not more so, as you are. We are so tired of being associated with and identified with people like this as this is not the type of Christianity we believe in or promote. We are tired of being lumped in with people who think it’s their job to be God’s enforcers on planet earth and who are more concerned about their “image” than they are the people they hurt.
 
If you’re interested, let me give you a quick manifesto of what following Christ means to me. I am a man who has been enthralled with the idea of God and His greatness since I was a kid. I mean, how can you look at the beauty of the outdoors, the passion of being in love, and the goodness that’s in so many people, without thinking of how great the Creator must be?
 
And as a kid, I grew up being taught all about right and wrong. I knew the difference, but the older I got, the less right I did and the more wrong I did. Enter Jesus. The guilt I experienced over my mistakes, failures and shortcomings (aka “sin”) threatened to derail every part of my life. I hated myself and felt like a complete loser most of the time. But Jesus, and His message, taught me that I am worth more than the sum of my mistakes, and that my future is based on His goodness rather than my own.
 
That’s why I believe in Him – because He believes in me and has proven it over and again. And even though I’ve been burned and mistreated for years – and continue to be – by those in the religious community who still believe they are God’s enforcers, I still worship God and I still go to church. Why? Because the truth of God and the purity of what He offers my family and our world has no logical connection to the self-appointed religious elite who have been misrepresenting Him for centuries and taking advantage of others in His Name. Neither do they have anything to do with the wonderful and grace-filled church-goers I share my life with every day – you know, the ones whose virtues are almost never extolled by the media because such love isn’t “juicy” enough.
 
My faith is in a Father who continues to pick me up and give me second chances even when I screw up and have “off days” from my commitment to Him – off days that will continue to happen regardless of how hard I try or how “moral” I become.
 
My faith in a Christ who is patient with me. He knows I love Him, but He also knows that life is a process and that it takes most of us, myself included, a while to tweak what we believe and how we live.
 
My faith is also in a Holy Spirit who gives me the power to tell people like you – those who may not yet be ready for the “God thing” – that regardless of the religious nonsense you see in this country – nonsense that masquerades as a mere form of godliness while denying the power thereof – and regardless of who you are, what you believe and how you live – God still loves you, likes you, believes in you….and calls to you, beckons you, and even obsesses over you. Yeah – He’s that interested in you.
 
Don’t let the kind of thing you read about in this story distract you from the quiet whisper in your soul that invites you to know and experience a power so unimaginable that it’s beyond human language to describe. The voice behind the whisper is His.
 
And one more thing – always remember that there are those of us who would welcome you to the journey of faith regardless of where you are in your own process. We are not God’s enforcers – and we have no wish to be (as if a human being ever could be). We’re just people who realize that even though life is a struggle, as are our efforts to live morally, the struggle is more bearable with the grace of God and the grace of each other. If you’ll promise to accept and not judge us, we’ll promise to accept and not judge you.
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I Am Your Pastor: A Poem

“I Am Your Pastor”
by: Jason Epps

I am your pastor.
My job is not a job, my vocation not here.
I watch and pray, seek and struggle, prepare and provide.

I am your guide.
When you are lost, I’ll walk with you.
When you haven’t the direction you need, I’ll point the way,
And He will find you.

I am your protector.
I fight those that seek your blood, your soul, your all
I battle what you won’t face.

I am your scout.
I’ve seen the land purchased for you.
The cities, the giants, the blood, the carnage and the sorrow,
The blessing, the goodness, the bliss and the green
I’ve been there – and I want to take you back.

I am your lover.
Your past, your beliefs, your hatred of me, of Him
Doesn’t matter.
God’s strength is more than our collective weaknesses
His love more powerful than that which wounds.

I am your madman.
The world doesn’t understand me
Neither do you.
It won’t and you won’t
Stop trying.

I am your failure.
Don’t look at me and sing,
“What beauty, what perfection,”
For the same acidic rain that falls on you
Falls on me
And we have both become drunk.

I am your prophet.
He speaks through me
To you
Listen.

I am your friend.
From you I have nothing to gain.
No agenda, no scheme.
I’m just here.
Here with you,
As He is with me.

I am your pastor.

The Syrian Refugee Controversy: A Prayer for Wisdom

As a pastor, Christian school & child development center president, college professor and former military chaplain, many have expressed their concern and confusion to me and asked my opinion regarding what to think about the prospect of America’s receiving Syrian refugees.  Like many of you, I’ve wrestled, and wrestled greatly, with the issues involved.  I normally do not weigh in on these kinds of things, but for whatever reason, this situation has been heavy on my mind – and I can’t seem to shake it.  I’ve studied, read, dialogued with others, and reflected.  I’ve decided to address the crisis at length, the result of my reflections being the following prayer. 

My apologies in advance that this is not the short, bullet-pointed blog post you can read and digest while doing seven other things.  I think those kind of reductionist writings over-simplify and insult what is clearly a complicated issue, so I will not be a part of dumbing down the situation in an effort to increase clicks.  I do hope you’ll make the time to reading the prayer all the way through – even though it might take a while.  If you’d rather not, I understand.  Some of us are content to let twitter tweets and facebook status updates guide our minds and hearts on certain subjects, but I hope that won’t be the case on this one.

You may not agree with everything I write here, but that’s ok.  The beautiful thing about prayer is that one can be completely authentic with God in a way that others may not appreciate.  And if you and I need to be corrected, God will correct us if our ears are attuned to His voice.

I hope this piece helps you to reflect on this crisis and I hope it helps you to think through, and pray through, God’s heart on this issue.  If you make the decision to read and work through it in its entirety, you may wish to do so in a distraction-free setting where your heart will be open and attentive to anything God may wish to speak to you.  — Jason

 

Dear God,

For the past week a debate has been raging in our country, and yes, I’m concerned about that. But I’m also concerned about the debate that is raging among your people – the Church – in America. And I’m even more concerned about the debate that is raging in the souls of many of us who are trying to figure out where we stand on the issue of Syrian refugees. Please help us to think through these issues in a responsible, Christ-honoring, people-loving manner. I ask that you hear this prayer and give us the grace of your wisdom.

I must be honest, God, and tell you that initially, this issue didn’t have my full attention. It was only a post from a very famous and respected Christian leader, Franklin Graham, that made me take notice. He opened a rather lengthy political diatribe with the statement, “Islam has declared war on the world, and it’s high time we acknowledge it and respond decisively.”

I can’t tell you how confused I’ve been about this statement. I understand that our world faces terrorism and I know that his statement comes on the heels of a horrible attack in Paris. But Islam is a religion that is not monolithic, right? Just as in the Christian church, there are several sects, theological traditions, political perspectives and national agendas that lay claim to the socio-religious ideology of “Islam.” Is it really possible that everyone who professes Islam could speak with one voice…about anything? Especially something as volatile as war?

So again, I’m confused as to why a man that many Christians revere as a “man of God” would publish such a sweeping generalization – a generalization that could feasibly motivate Christians to view and treat with ill-will many Muslims who do not see themselves as being “at war with the world.”

I’m also confused as to why, even if he does believe that Islam has declared war on the world, he would point to political action as the solution to this. He is a Christian leader, and as such, I would expect him to speak from his own personal area of expertise – living life as a Christian. However, he didn’t speak to my soul – he spoke to my politics.

He told me, and all the people in my congregation who trust his leadership, that the solution was largely political. He said we need to “elect a president and leaders willing to take the fight to the Islamic State” – even though he said earlier that it was Islam – not the Islamic State – that had declared war. He said we need to join forces with Russia, France, and Germany to “destroy this enemy.”

Now, maybe there’s some wisdom to that – maybe there isn’t. But God, didn’t you tell us – as Christians – to “love our enemies” and “pray for those who persecute us?” Didn’t You say “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink?” Isn’t that what Jesus modeled on the Cross when he prayed for forgiveness for those who were executing Him? Isn’t that what Stephen, the first martyr, did when he prayed for God to not hold the executioners’ sin against them? Isn’t that what St. Meinrad of Einsiedeln did in the Eighth Century when he showed extravagant hospitality to those he knew had come to execute him?

This is what I don’t understand, God – I’m American and I’m thankful for my country. I’ve even served as an officer in my country’s military. But isn’t it Your kingdom that is forever? Isn’t it Your kingdom that is “within me?” And isn’t it Your kingdom that demands my first allegiance?

If so, then why should my first and primary reaction to terrorism be to demonize all of Islam as if it (if Islam can really be called an “it” anyway) thinks with one mind, exists as one people, and speaks with one voice? Should it be to depend on political leaders and the military? Yes – I’m an American, but I know that You’ve called me to be an ambassador of Your kingdom and Your love before anything else. That said, God, please help me get and keep my priorities straight. Help me to know what’s eternal, what’s temporary, and how to prioritize the former while not neglecting my responsibility to the latter.

Now, God, what about these refugees? I have no idea if or how many of them have terroristic intentions. Some polls say this and some polls say that, so I just don’t know what the truth is. But even so, I’m fairly sure that the overwhelming majority of these refugees are people who are fleeing a literal hell on earth in search of a place to make a life for their families. Most of them are Muslims – adherents to a religion I believe to be theologically flawed – but I don’t care. They are still people that bear Your image – people I believe You love. They are being hunted and they need protection and provision.

But what if they are, in fact, dangerous? What if it’s the case that some of them could, at some point in the future, attack our country from within the same way Paris was attacked on November 13? People are debating this non-stop – some responsibly and respectfully, and some childishly and condescendingly. Some believe many of the refugees are super-dangerous. Some believe they’re not at all dangerous. Others either don’t know or are somewhere in the middle. But if I were to assume the worst, God, and believe that some of their number are very dangerous, how should that affect how I treat the rest? Or should it affect how I treat them at all?

Most of my own life has been marked by failure. Failure to be who I’m supposed to be and do what I’m supposed to do. As hard as I’ve tried and as much credit as I get from people who think they know me – You know my heart. And You know it’s not good. Nevertheless, You’ve seen fit, for whatever reason, to love me. You give me second chances, third chances, and on and on. Even though my sin was as scarlet, You’ve washed me white as snow. Over and over again. You’ve shown me love, compassion and acceptance – even when it was my sin that made Your going to a horrible, execution-style death on the Cross necessary. You were hurt because of me. You suffered because of me. But still, Your compassion was greater – and You told me, and You told the world – “I don’t care how much it hurts. I love him, and I love them, to such a degree that no fear of pain, hurt, death or despair could keep me from doing what’s required to ensure his and their well-being.” That’s the compassion I know and have experienced. You’ve shown it to me. And You still do – every day – when others don’t – and even when I can’t show it to myself.

So it’s that compassion that gives me pause when I think of these refugees. Some of them may be dangerous – very dangerous. The hurt and destruction they could potentially bring might be catastrophic. But is that reason enough for me to abandon my call to show Your love to them the same way You’ve shown it to me? Is my safety worth that much?

You did say to love my enemies, right? And You didn’t qualify that with “unless it gets you killed,” right? Now to be sure, I understand that You have called the leaders of our government to protect their constituency. Many Christians, when we put on our “American hat,” refer to our responsibility as citizens to have a voice in government. Whether it’s by voting, debating issues online, or even running for and holding public office – I can’t say that it’s dishonorable to be concerned with such things – in fact, I’m quite certain that it’s honorable.

That said, God, here is my question: are the political devices, structures and schemes of men and women really the most powerful means You have given us to solve problems like the one before us? Do we really have, in our own strength and wisdom, what we need? Can we save ourselves?

I remember studying the history of the Christian church in grad school, and I remember how Your church began as a ragtag group of laughable and un-influential people with zero political power. I remember how these people were hunted by the religionists and the Romans, and I remember how it was not uncommon for their worship meetings to be invaded by soldiers who would haul them off to prison, labor camps, and even violent persecution that led to painful deaths. I even remember the emperor Nero impaling Christians and simultaneously burning them alive to light his palace garden.

How is it, God, that You were able to use such weak people who were so devoid of power, culture and learning, to revolutionize the world and effectively turn it upside down in the course of a few generations? How could a group of people armed only with their reverence for You and their commitment to the fatherless, the widow, the sick and the oppressed, bring down the single most powerful political structure that had ever existed? They had no weapons, no influence and no slick strategy. It’s almost as if You intentionally used the weak things of our world to shame those it revered as strong.

That said, God – is it naïve and stupid of me to believe that if Your people united behind the principle of taking You at your Word, that change could come about? Is it possible that, even in the Twenty-first Century, the entire political machine in America could be circumnavigated and the problem still solved? Could we ever get to the place to where we could all say, with one voice as people who are called by Your Name, to those who would harm us, “Yes, you may endanger us and even threaten our lives – but that will not stop us from loving you. Even though you come to execute, we will show you extravagant hospitality because our Lord showed us the same. And if we die, that’s fine, because after we do, we’ll be able to say that we lived in freedom – not in fear – and we’ll be able to say that your salvation was more important than our safety.”

Some have questioned whether bringing refugees into America is the most loving thing we can do in the first place, and I’m happy to hear people debate this point. I pray that You’ll give me a listening ear and a respectful heart when considering their position – one that in most cases is heart-felt and spoken in authenticity. They say that the American social structure is already taxed beyond what it can sustain. They ask, “If we already have so many in our nation who are suffering, how can we take more?” This is a fair question, and I pray that You’ll give our elected leaders wisdom as they seek to discern an answer. I’m glad I’m not charged with making that decision, God, but don’t let me forget that I am charged with responding to, with love and grace, whatever decision is ultimately made.

But even as our political leaders wrestle with that, God, let me ask You this: Didn’t You teach us that humanity’s single most important need is the need for reconciliation with You? Didn’t you say eternity is more important than the here and now? Didn’t You say that we are all sinners in need of Your forgiveness? And didn’t You say that the only way to get back to and be reconciled with You is through Your Son, Jesus? And didn’t You give us the Gospel as the means by which we can communicate both the problem and the solution?

If that’s the case, God, and Your desire is to reach the world – refugees included – doesn’t it make sense that if these people were in America – instead of in Syria where ISIS wants to kill, rape, torture and demoralize them, just like ISIS wants to do the same to Americans – then wouldn’t they have an exponentially better chance of hearing that Gospel which would address their most ultimate of needs? If so, that’s a good thing, right?

So in effect – in spite of the weaknesses in our societal structure – maybe bringing them here is the best thing for them because they will have unfettered access both to the Gospel – if they are interested in it – and to Your people. After all, You said we were to be Your ambassadors and fellow laborers, right? How efficient would it be for these folks to be right next door – where we could have coffee with and talk with them?!? Where we could get to know and be friends with them? Isn’t that better than their being in a place where we can’t even communicate with them? Isn’t that better than their living in a place where their lives are not valued, where they live in fear, and where they are their children are hunted daily?

Every Sunday in our churches, God, we pray for the nations. We pray for the Gospel to be preached to the world. We write checks to missionaries, build multi-million dollar missions-sending corporations, and we go to altar and cry for the less fortunate because we believe that outreach is why the church exists. But now, God, when it seems like You’re bringing the mission field right to us, we say, “Danger!” We urge, “Caution!” We cry, “Violence!” We bring out and begin to worship our golden and revered idols – idols that have names: “Security.” “Nationalism.” “Western Culture.” “My rights.” Oh yes, we still prioritize missions, evangelism, hospitality, taking care of those who are targeted by terrorists in their own country – just not as much as we prize our idols – and just as long as it doesn’t threaten the idols that are truly the focal point of our deepest affections.

And to be honest, God, I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I’m not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, so I really have little credibility to preach this message. That’s why I’m not preaching it. I’m praying it and inviting others to pray along with me.

Honestly, I like the fact that my wife and family are relatively safe. I like that my place of worship is, too. I like my culture and its history. I like my stuff. I can cling to my rights with the best of them. But have I given myself over to these things? Have I sold the freedom You purchased for me on the Cross for some temporary and material distractions that inhibit me from occupying a central role in the greatest story ever told – a story that’s still being written? A story that makes a difference for Your glory and for others’ benefit? Have I been content to make mud pies in my trashy backyard when all the while You’ve offered me a luxurious holiday at sea?

Who knows, God? Maybe You’re sick and tired. Sick and tired of our comfort-based, me-oriented, war-justifying religion and You’ve decided to expose it for what it is, and us for what we are. And maybe you’ve decided to use radical Islam as the instrument of Your judgment and rebuke. As harsh as that may sound to some, haven’t You done this kind of thing before? Didn’t You use godless nations like Babylon and Assyria to get the attention of Your people after they left You and went whoring after other gods and idols?

Maybe that’s the real problem here, God. Not Islam. Not our politicians. And not even the non-Christians of America. Maybe the problem is that we American believers – myself included – are fakes. Posers. Frauds. Consumer Christians who are looking for the most possible benefits from Jesus – at the least possible price. Spiritualized groupies who mindlessly follow what spiritual celebrities tell us without checking their references, citations or their ability to present a rational and coherent argument. Clueless sheep who don’t care about the world or its people until loss hits too close to home and too close to our own country clubs – uh, I mean – churches. Ignoramuses who form our worldviews based upon facebook MEMES rather than careful, reasoned research, prayerful reflection and collegial conversation. Pissed-off parishioners who automatically dismiss a position because it’s held by a politician we don’t like. Survivalists who’ve allowed our faithless fear of death to tell us what’s important in life. Closet hedonists whose self-centered desire for safety and security trump our God-given call to cultivate a soul that make a difference in the lives of others who may never say “thank you.”

If that’s who we are and if that’s what we’ve become, maybe it’s time for a wake-up call – but that’s Your call and not mine. For what it’s worth, God, I pray that You would help Your Church to wake up and get our act together before it’s too late and we have to learn hard lessons at the hands of harsh enemies.

But for now God, could it be that You are setting before us an opportunity? An opportunity to show people that we won’t let fear – even justified fear – keep us from demonstrating the extravagant love and hospitality that You demonstrated for us as You suffered, cried, bled and died? An opportunity to say that even though some of us may disagree with the decisions of the federal government, we refuse to allow our attitudes to be soured because our God still reigns and He will still show Himself mighty to love, save, and redeem – even in the midst of a political decision with which we may express serious concern?

God, help us to love You well, and help us to demonstrate this love, and make it real and relevant, by our serving others well – even to those who may wish us harm.

It’s true that the threat of death may be great – but the opportunity for life – Your life – may in this moment be even greater. After all, is not the degree of virtue in love determined by the degree of sacrifice made in order to demonstrate that love? Wasn’t Your death on the Cross the greatest act of love the world has ever seen because it was, simultaneously, the greatest act of sacrifice the world has ever seen?

May I never fight so hard to protect my life if the manner in which I fight betrays the very principles of that for which I claim to fight in the first place. As it is in heaven, so let it be on earth, in my life and in my heart.

At the end of the day, God, may You align my heart with Yours such that I’d rather sacrifice my security and keep my soul.

Yours,
Jason

Looking for a New Bible? Check This One Out…

People often ask me, “Jason, which Bible should I buy?” My answer is always the same. “The one you’ll read.” While I was in grad school and starting my first church in Los Angeles, I supported myself by managing three Christian retail stores. I loved my job, but at some point I became a bit skeptical about all the commercialism that’s sometimes associated with Christian media. It seemed like every week or two, there was a new “thing” in Christian media. Often, it was the new, latest and greatest, study Bible. Now don’t get me wrong – most of these were actually good efforts on the part of publishers who were trying to help people get interested in or more effectively understand God’s Word. However, it seemed like there were just too many. Sometimes I wondered how profit-driven (as opposed to prophet-driven) the whole thing was, but it’s not my place to judge a publisher’s heart.   Be that as it may, they all started to look the same to me.

In college and seminary, I always stuck to my trusty Thompson Chain Reference (NASB). After I finished my first doctorate, I switched over to the ESV Study Bible because of its scholarly orientation. Outside of those two, I’ve never really been a huge endorser of any particular study bible. However, I recently came across a study bible that I think many of you might enjoy. It has a very broad appeal and I believe it can be of great benefit to anyone – whether they are a scholar or a new Christian.

The Chronological Life Application Study Bible was first published in 2012 by Tyndale and is offered in both the NLT and KJV versions (I bought the NLT because it was available and I’ve always liked its readability). Here is why I like it:

1) It presents the events of Scripture in the order they actually happened.

2) Unlike other chronological Bibles, it includes extensive study notes (both application-oriented and academic-oriented).

3) There are color pictures (artsy people like me like this kind of thing – LOL).

4) Maps, charts and illustrations are usually on the same pages of the text to which they refer.

5) The appendix includes not only a concordance, but also a Bible dictionary and several topical indices, including a master index.

6) The text is divided into 10 major eras of world history, and the timelines that accompany the beginnings of each section outline what was going on simultaneously in other parts of the world (i.e. Egyptian dynasties, Roman Empire, etc.).

7) Dates are included in the margins of the text whenever there is a transition in the narrative.

I’m sure there are other great study bibles, but if you are looking to go through the Scripture slowly and intentionally, perhaps even for the first time, I think this would be a good bet.

Just remember though – a resource like this is more like an expensive steak and less like a cheap hamburger. It’s ok (and even necessary) to chew it – all of it – and digest it slowly. You’re not in a race to finish it quickly. Read as much of it as you can every day, and just pick up the next day where you left off. Even if it takes you five years to get through, think of all that God will have done in your heart and life in that five year period. He may even turn you into a completely new person. If, of course, you’re ok with that 🙂

Every Adult Has a Role Model. Here’s Why You Should Make Jesus Yours.

I was 11 years old, and he was everything I wasn’t. Big. Strong. Popular. And insanely rich. I watched him on TV every Monday night. I had all his action figures. I hung on every word he said during the interviews with “Mean Gene.” And when it was announced that he was coming to Atlanta in the Fall of 1990, I begged my parents to take me. After weeks of campaigning, they finally agreed, and my mom took me to Turtle’s Records & Tapes in my hometown of Conyers, Georgia to buy ringside tickets for the upcoming WWF “Superstars of Wrestling.” My hero, Hulk Hogan, would be there to mercilessly destroy some poor, nameless soul – and I would be right there to witness it.

After what seemed like years of waiting, the night finally arrived. My mom, dad, and me made the trip to The Omni for what would become one of the greatest memories in all my childhood. When we arrived, I was thrilled to discover that our seats were not only on the floor near the ring, but also next the main aisle the wrestlers enter the ring. If you’ve ever watched wrestling, you know that as the wrestlers come down the aisle, their song plays and all the spectators line up to reach out and try to touch the wrestler as he runs past them on his way to the ring. After watching this sacred ritual on TV for many years, I would now be one of the blessed few who had the chance to stretch out and touch Hulk Hogan as he entered the arena. And sure enough, when the main event arrived, Hulk came down the aisle – and I was right there. I reached out as far as I could the instant before he came and I did it. I smacked him right on his left shoulder as he ran by. I knew I had just experienced tangible greatness.

24 years later, I still haven’t washed that hand.

By the time I started high school in 1993, my interest in wrestling had faded. I still thought Hulk Hogan was awesome, but I was entering a season in life where my concerns were a bit different. Hulk was an awesome role model for a while, but I knew I my biceps would never achieve a girth of 24 inches (as far as I could tell, I was the second smallest kid in a school of about 1,400), so I began searching for something more practical.

On my third birthday, my family had moved into the neighborhood of Honey Creek in South Rockdale County. My parents immediately joined a new, small church that had just been started in our community, and by the time I entered high school, we had been going there off and on for about ten years. During that time, I learned about God and the Bible. I participated in a few of the youth activities, but in middle school, I “dropped out” of church because it seemed like youth group was nothing more than an excuse for kids to get together and smoke, cuss, and talk about sex. It was all very fake to me, so I bailed out. Ironically, the time of my absence from church was the same time I got into wrestling. But by the time I got to high school, I was back to thinking about God. I knew that having a wrestler as my hero was lame. At some point, I’d have to get a new “hero.” Luckily, I met two pretty committed Christians my freshman year. I looked up to one and was repulsed by the other.

Mike was the drum major in our marching band and he was known for being a solid Christian. I noticed a book he was reading one day and I decided that since Mike was reading it, I should read it too. Soon after, I went to our local Christian bookstore, “The Cross & the Crown,” and purchased the book. It was called He Still Moves Stones by Max Lucado. I was not a reader at that point in my life, but I was captivated from the very first page. It painted a picture of Jesus that I had never seen before, and that’s the first time I can ever remember beginning to think of Jesus as my hero. The book remains on my list of “best books I’ve ever read,” and I’d encourage you to check it out if you ever have the chance.

The second Christian I met during my freshman year was, in my mind at the time, one of those “goody two shoes” type people who was always happy, smiling and cheery. It was disgusting. Her name was Gina, and I did everything I could to avoid her. However, I couldn’t deny that there was something attractive about her commitment to God. I noticed that she always had a book with her. I thought it was a Bible but I was never sure because it didn’t really look like one. It had pictures of teenagers on the cover, there was no leather on it, and the pages weren’t gold. How could it be a Bible? One day, I worked up the courage to ask Gina what the book was and if I could look through it. “Oh, yeah – totally!,” she replied bubbly as I suppressed my disgust. “It’s my Bible,” she said.

I looked through her Bible and the first thing I noticed was that every 50 pages or so, there was a page with a picture of a celebrity and a quote from the celebrity. As I flipped through the pages, I was shocked to discover a picture of…, guess who? Hulk Hogan! There he was, flexing his muscles right in the middle of the Scriptures, and his quote was underneath: “I find real fulfillment in being a believer. It’s a contrast to what I once thought was necessary in order to be happy. Reading your Bible every day isn’t boring. It’s something I never fail to do. It’s as necessary to my life as staying in shape, eating the right foods, and treating people honestly.”

Wow! Here was my role model from a few years earlier pointing me to a new role model. Looking back on this, I’m amazed at what God used to get my attention and point me back to Himself. Hulk Hogan, like all the rest of us, ended up having some struggles in life, but God uses weak and flawed people to change other people’s lives for the better – and He definitely used Hulk Hogan, along with Mike, Gina, my parents, and numerous others to point me to the ultimate role model – the One I still follow today.

Did you have a role model when you were a kid? How about now – as an adult? I’m sure you had one when you were young, but I’d be willing to bet that you have one now, too – even if you don’t refer to him or her as such. Most of the time, kids look to super heroes. When we get older, maybe we revere athletes or celebrities. In adulthood, we may admire and mimic other adults who are super successful in some area. But regardless of who we follow, the point is this: everyone follows someone. If we’re honest with ourselves, we look to people that we think are “better” than we are in a particular area, and we study them. We read their books, go to their conferences, watch their TV shows, follow their successes, and we try to apply what we see. And quite rightly so – that’s what a role model is for.

If I’m terrible at managing my money, Dave Ramsey might be a good role model for me. If I want to be a successful businessperson, I might read books by Jack Welch. If leadership is my bag, I might study someone like John Maxwell. If I want to develop a healthy lifestyle, I might follow a respectable trainer. If I want to learn how to effectively choke out my opponent, I may go back to some of my old wrestling tapes and watch the Hulk – LOL! I’m kidding on that last one, but you get the point. People follow people – that’s just human nature. But managing money is only one part of life. Running a business, being a leader and working are the same. They’re all important and worthwhile aspects of a life well lived, but what about a role model who has it all? What if the kind of life I want to live is a life of completeness and balance in all areas? And what if I want a role model who will not only teach me how to live well in this life – but I want someone who will prepare me for the next life?

My humble suggestion to you is that Jesus is such a role model. He is the total package. Everything you and I need to know about how to think, feel and act is found in His example. Concerns such as money, business and physical health are legitimate concerns – but they are “fruit-level” concerns. In following Jesus, we learn the “roots” of how to live the way God designed us to live. When we learn to deal with our roots God’s way, God’s “fruit” for our lives will inevitably follow – in this life, and in the life to come.

Putting your faith and trust in Jesus means making Him your example for living.  But unlike Hulk Hogan, Dave Ramsey and Jack Welch, we have access to more than just written words.  We have access to a living God who listens, loves, and speaks – to each of us – individually.  That’s the kind of role model I want.

 

How to Fail Successfully

Do you feel like a failure?  It’s probably because you are.  We all are.  But that’s ok.  Why?  Because oftentimes failure is a part of God’s process for us.  It’s a step on the journey – a journey God has His hand on.  As crazy as it sounds, failure can be a great thing.

Yesterday, I shared a talk at The Rising called “How to Fail Successfully.”  It’s all about how God redeems our failure and gives us perspective when things don’t go as planned.  If you’ve experienced failure – whether its small or monumental, singular or repeated, God wants to encourage you – failure doesn’t have to be final!

If you have a moment, check out the message by clicking here – there’s also a printable outline you can use if you like in order to follow along.  I hope you’ll enjoy it 🙂

*** By the way, if you don’t have a church to go to this coming Sunday, we’d love to have you at The Rising here in Utah.  Our services are at 9:30am and 11:15am on Easter, and you can click here to learn more about our church.

Psalm 3

Are these posts not interesting enough for you?  I must admit, most people these days aren’t drawn to reading the psalms on the internet – much less someone else’s personal prayers on them.  And why would they be?  Especially when there’s such good spiritual food on the internet upon which we can all reflect!  Celebrities and their affairs, politicians and their promises, companies and their products, scandals and facebook gossip – that’s what we’re interested in, right?

Why not take some time today, shut out the world, and give your undivided attention to God.  That may be a new thing for you, but if you are to grow closer to Him, and if you are to become the person He made you to be, you can’t neglect time with Him.  If you don’t know how to pray, pray along with me today through the 3rd Psalm:

Psalm 3

“O Lord, how many are my foes!”
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill.

I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O Lord!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the Lord;
your blessing be on your people!

(Psalm 3)

“O Lord, how many are my foes!”

Enemies abound, but teach me to rightly recognize who is my enemy and who is not. My war is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, principalities and powers of spiritual wickedness in high places. It’s true that there are enemies on the outside of me – people whose care and concern for me is non-existent; some of whom even mean me harm – but oh, how much greater are the enemies on the inside of me. My own pride, my thoughts, my desires, my laziness, my selfishness. These are the enemies I seek to slay. They are the ones whose weapons are powerful to destroy. May I ever be mindful of these, my unseen foes, even as I am tempted to direct my disdain at people whose lives are also attacked by the very same.

Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.

Many mock the faith that I hold dear. They say that my hope is in vain. It’s misguided, misdirected, and based on a false worldview. I wish I could say that such people and their movements had little effect on me, but they do. It’s difficult to fathom so many people in the world being in such darkness where knowledge of the goodness and love of God are concerned. This difficulty often creates, in me, my own personal doubts. How could so many smart and accomplished people be so wrong about something so important? But at the end of the day, I see where such so-called “wisdom” leads. I see where it leads those on my world who have ignored You. I see how such “knowledge” has led us to an age of unspeakable atrocities of such an inhumane nature that I can’t meditate too much on them for fear of being driven to insanity. We, the human race, operate under the assumption that we have what it takes to create good lives for ourselves – but our assumptions have been proven false over and over and over again. We continue to struggle, hurt, fail, and die. My hope is not in such wisdom and knowledge – but in You. In Your Word – which is, of course, not contrary to true wisdom and knowledge, but complementary to it – as so many of our leaders through the ages have demonstrated. Even so, God – living in a world that either attacks or trivializes faith in you is not easy.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill.

Even in the midst of such difficulty, You have always proven faithful in protecting me. When the enemies within, and even the enemies without, bear down on me and I find my soul to the point of such despair that death seems near, You always provide something. Encouragement. A word. A friend. A song. An opportunity. But most of all – Your presence. You are my glory – that which makes me valuable and meaningful. In lifting my head, You help me to look up to that which ultimately satisfies – Yourself. When I cry to You, You answer. Maybe not in my way or my time, but You’ve always answered. Thank you.

I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.

Sleep escapes so many people I know. Rest is not a reality for them, but I must admit, this is not something I’ve struggled too much with. There have been seasons here and there when my slumber has been a bit disturbed, but all in all, You’ve always blessed me with being able to sleep and sleep well – regardless of what’s going on in my life. And when I wake, I am for the most part refreshed – You always give me a sense of the forthcoming victory in my life, even if the road between here and there requires hard work in order to traverse it. Sustainment. That’s what You give me, and I appreciate the blessing that I enjoy because of it.

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.

People in my world would have no power over me if were not given to them from above. And if You’ve given it, You must have a reason. If they oppress or mistreat me, You must have a reason for allowing it. You see all possible situations and circumstances, You know what is in every human heart and You know what every person would freely choose given a certain set of circumstances. Because You are so all-knowing and all-powerful, I can trust that even those who may seem to attack or hurt me are being used for Your Kingdom and for my place in it. But knowing that intellectually is different from being able to feel it and to trust it. Help me, God, to connect what I know in my mind with what I feel in my heart and what I experience in in my hand.

Arise, O Lord!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.

Hear me when I call to You, oh Lord. Destroy the enemies I fight, especially the ones within and the ones of my own creation. And the enemies without, I pray not for their destruction, but for the destruction of those things inside of them that keep them from knowing You. Death to those things in Jesus’ Name!

Salvation belongs to the Lord;
your blessing be on your people!

As I prayed in the first psalm, may I experience Your blessing. This above all else. Above all prosperity and popularity, above all pleasure and position, may I know Your blessing. Your favor. Your Presence in my life – now and forever. And may Your people in my world, and throughout the entire world, who are called by Your Name, experience the same. May your blessing be the ultimate prize of our lives, and may we all win the races that You’ve set out for us to run. Sustain us, direct our focus to you – even in the midst of a hostile crowd – and bring us safely to the finish line where you wait with the crown of Your presence. We look forward to the day when we can return home from the games and be with You in Your house. Until that day, though, may we represent You faithfully as we run. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Psalm 2

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.

Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

(Psalm 2)

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?

Toil, effort and guile – the things by which I believe I can control my circumstances. My destiny. Even others. At times it seems as if I’m no different from the world around me – a world which fights for control of its circumstances, its destiny, its people. You, oh Lord, know the seasons of man. You know the purposes of God – and how foolish is it of me to join the chorus of the world in singing the pains and plans of my own will – a will which may or may not be consistent with your own. May my will be in line with Your own, because Your will is my peace.

The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”

For generations, You have given our world messengers. You even gave us Your Son. Even so, those whom we appoint to lead us continually set us against you. By their own collective counsel and wisdom they seek to trivialize and even remove You from our hearts and minds. They influence & deceive, manipulate and mislead, and as a result our souls live in anguish. How will we escape such perpetual puppeteering? How can we ever hope to walk, stand, and sit in Your goodness when all around us is set against You?

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.

As I toil, struggle and worry about those more powerful than I – those who seem to threaten You and Your purposes, You remain unfazed. So strong is Your will that You don’t even move. All you do is laugh, enjoying the amusement of those so ignorant as to think there is anything they can do to thwart Your will. As I become increasingly discontent with the ways of those Who are against You, may I see in my mind the picture of You laughing. You unfazed and unmoved, not in any way concerned for what transpires below. May my focus be ever, only and always on You – not on the wind and waves that are stirred up on the periphery of my life and world – and may my focus result in my arriving in Your presence, not just in eternity, but in Your presence today.

Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

The power to get the attention of Your enemies rests with You, God. It rests with Your spoken Word. With the fury that every human heart is wired to respect. My efforts, as much as You may end up using them, are empty and powerless without Your holy anointing. Teach me to put little stock in the efforts I give, and much stock in the work You’ve already done. May my heart be set upon looking to, proclaiming, and worshipping the King You’ve set above my world and in my soul. He is the High King of all – and even if others recognize this not – I do.

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

The nations belong to you, Jesus. Every tribe, tongue and language. Every continent, every island, and every soul stranded on the open sea belongs to You. They are the inheritance of You, the Son. They are Your heritage – people who are worth much to You. People You love. People You desire. Even so, we as a people are those who will never experience the fullness of Who You are until we are broken and dashed to pieces. My prayer for my world is my prayer for my own heart. May both be broken until they see their need for You. May both come to such utter ruin that there is no possibility for natural repair. May the walls we erect around the deepest places of our hearts be shattered by Your affection for us, and may we respond by redirecting all of our affection to You and You alone. We are Your heritage, but we need to be redeemed. And for us to be redeemed, we must be broken – broken so that we can be completely and supernaturally reconstructed. As You rule over us, may we be familiar with the brokenness that You’ve redeemed in us, and may we be ever mindful of those who have yet to experience such terrible, horrible and wonderful blessing.

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.

Your call on every leader is to be wise, to serve, and to rejoice. May I heed Your warning, oh God. And may my life be such that the leaders You’ve placed over me would see and submit to the God I know and love. To be in fear of You is not the negative that some would suppose. To know and love a God who is terribly powerful is an incommensurable comfort. The fact that You could destroy me with a single thought is not something that repels me, but something that attracts me. I’m not interested in a weak God of my own creation and making, but a God Who is real – a real God. The real God whose power in infinite and makes me tremble. It makes sense that I should fear You and tremble when at Your warnings. However, I also know Your character, Your love and Your commitment to me and to those around me. My desire is to serve You – Whoever, Wherever, and However You are.

Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

My kiss, my affection, may it be for You, Jesus. Whatever anger or wrath You may choose to make known is justified – I only ask that through your love and work on the Cross that I be shielded from such. May I take refuge from You, in You – and may my blessing be great. And from those whose collective counsel would set my world against you – may I take refuge from them in you as well. May You be my Shield, my Hiding Place, my High Protector. May the great goal of my life – blessing – be made reality due to my being found beneath the shadow of Your protecting wing, and may I soar in Your presence, being given the privilege of viewing a world that You continue to redeem and draw nearer to Yourself. The prospect of such beauty gives my soul the inspiration to live a thousand lifetimes in your presence. But in this world, I’ll be happy with, and more than grateful for, just one. As it is in heaven, so let it be on earth, and in my heart and life, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Psalm 1: How to Grow Spiritually by Praying the Psalms

For thousands of years, countless God-followers have grown spiritually by praying the Psalms every day.  Maybe you’ve never heard this or been challenged with such, but I would ask you to consider making a lifestyle change so that you are praying the Psalms every day.  How?

Step #1) Make sure you are in a place free of distraction.  No cell phones, no iPad, no TV or radio.  God deserves your undivided attention for at least a bit of time every day.

Step #2) Read the psalm, or section of a longer psalm, once through to make sure you understand it’s general meaning.  Use the notes at the bottom of your study Bible, or a commentary like Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David, to help you if you struggle with the meaning.

Step #3) Go back through the psalm, in prayer, and respond to each line (or set of lines) as you feel the Holy Spirit prompting you.

It’s that simple.  Here’s an example from my own prayer life to show you how this might look.


First, the psalm itself
:

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like the chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

(Psalm 1:1-6)

And now, my own prayers and reflections:

“Blessed is the man”

Lord God, Maker of heaven and earth, High King of all, may this be the goal of my life. My essence. My being. Blessing. Not prosperity. Not happiness. Not comfort. Not popularity. Not fame, but blessing. To know You and Your Name, the greatness of Your power, and Your love in the world. May I see You and know You. May your favor and goodness be continually manifested in my heart. Blessing. This is what I desire. All of Your goodness and strength bringing life to all my self-centered weakness. Lord, teach me what true blessing is. Cultivate in me a greater desire for it, and in your grace, give it to me.

“who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,”

Many my days, my thoughts and my reflections are marked by confusion and uncertainty, oh God. With this, my desire for direction is great. I am in need of someone to show me the way. However, may my heart be protected from the advice and teaching – the counsel – which does not come from You. As wise as it may seem, as many results as it may promise, and as quick as it may be made available, turn my gaze away from it. Even though I may slip on occasion, even though I may stumble and fall due to my allowing the counsel of the wicked to make it’s way into my heart, help me not to walk in it. Deliver me from the wisdom of hell and into the blessing of Your Word and Your ways.

“nor stands in the way of sinners,”

There is a way that seems right to me, but I know it leads nowhere but destruction. A lifestyle beckons, tugs and pulls – and those who live it invite me in. Don’t let me fall victim. Don’t let me be assimilated. I wish to be a part of Your Kingdom of light – not a mindless hive dripping with the sweet honey of sin that leads nowhere but away from you. Keep me from becoming stuck to this hive. May I walk, live, breathe, move, contemplate and meditate according to Your ways – not the ways of those who have fallen victim to the lie that we can live, and live well, outside of your ways.

“nor sits in the seat of scoffers;”

My heart is full of mockery, God. Without Your guidance, the lens through which I view the world is exceedingly dark. With humor, I process the negativity I see every day – and I express it with the scoffers. I see the world’s nonsense and mock. I see the religious idiots’ hypocrisy and mock. Rather than finding the sacred in all that confronts me, I often choose to focus on that which is fallen. I sit in the seat of scoffers. May my heart be changed oh, God – may I see Your image even in hardest of hearts. May I see Your beauty even in what the world would call ugly, may I see your Light even in the darkest of nights, and may I experience Your life even when I’m stalked by death.

“but his delight is in the law of the Lord,”

Money. Power. Sex. Acclaim. Influence. All things that delight the heart of a young man. But why? Why spend money on what is not bread? Why spend my labor on what does not satisfy? At some point, someone told me that all these things would fill my soul and give my life meaning and purpose. And I believed them. My heart went after this, and while I prospered for a season, the day of reckoning came. If you wanna dance, you gotta pay the band. If you wanna borrow, you gotta pay the man. Out of Your grace, oh Lord, show me those places in my soul that are the foundation of all I am – and show me how these places are only satisfied by sweet and holy communion with You. The real presence of my Master, King, Father and even Friend. In Your law – your instruction – may I be led to the garden whereby I might enjoy hearing your footsteps in the cool of the day. Your Word – may I seek it, hunger after it, thirst after it, find life in it, and be restored by it.

“and on his law he meditates day and night.”

We think about what we love. Do I love Your torah? Your instruction? Your law? In an of myself, I must admit that I don’t. I love other things. I love my own plans. I love my future. I love my stuff. I love…me. And upon me I meditate. How I can do better. How I can make this happen. How I can make that happen. But God, could You make it such that meditation was – all day and all night – on the wonder and blessing of Your Word? Could your ways be more than just cute religion to me? Could they truly drive me, motivate me, and change me? May it be. May it be that I think of You and Your Word in my coming and in my going. When I rise in the morning and when I sleep at night. When I’m walking along the way. When I’m spending time with those I love. I have no interest in living for You because I’m supposed to. If I live for You, may it be because I can do no other. May it be because my delight is in You, and may it be because Your Word has been on my mind and in my heart day and night.

“He is like a tree
planted by streams of water”

A tree. Your symbol of strength, beauty and fruitfulness. Planted – established and stable – by that which gives life – water. God, do you desire that I exhibit Your strength? Your fruitfulness? Your beauty? Then here is my prayer: may You plant me by that which will give me life – the water of Your Word. Wash me in it. Nourish me by it. And refresh me as it flows into me. My desire is to bear fruit, and I know that Your desire for me is the same – but oftentimes I’m not planted by the water of life You freely offer. I’m on the move. Here, there and everywhere. Stabilize me. Ground me. Plant me – right next to You. That I may hear Your Word, feel your breath, know Your presence.

“that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.”

May I produce the fruit you’ve asked me to produce, oh God. But give me the wisdom to discern the seasons You’ve ordained for my life. Let me know when I am in a season of planting. Show me when and how to water. Give me the patience to wait while your crop vintages in my soul, and give me the tools and the team to harvest what You’ve created. I believe that if the fruit of my life is grown Your way and for Your purposes, Your fruit will be inevitable. And it won’t wither. It won’t pass away, and it will always accomplish its purpose – its purpose in me, and its purpose in my world.

“In all that he does, he prospers.”

Teach me the true meaning of prosperity. May I never confuse wealth with possessions, and may I never think that life is found in the abundance of material things. I can’t seek prosperity until You’ve convinced me of what it actually is – and yes, my culture has warped my view of this. Prosperity is surely not what it is made out to be by my world. May you help me to not be confirmed to the pattern of this world, but help me – and my views on prosperity – to be transformed by Your torah, your instruction, Your law. And when I gain this understanding, please give me the prosperity You promise.

“The wicked are not so,
but are like the chaff that the wind drives away.”

My life, God. May it mean something – to You and to others. When my days are done, may the mark I leave point them to You. May the footsteps that I leave lead them to believe. May the work of my hand and the toil of my soul not be in vain – may it outlive my body. Don’t allow what I’ve done to be driven away – may it be meaningful, and may its meaning be found in You and in the future of Your Kingdom in eternity.

“Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.”

As Your judgment comes – in time and in eternity – may the blood of Jesus be my shield. May it be said that the way I walked was the way You had planned for me. May it be said that You were intimate – that you knew – my way, and I Yours. My desire is to know, experience and please You. The idea of being apart from you and living outside of Your blessing is a horror upon which I haven’t the strength to even reflect. By delighting in Your Word, Your presence, and Your ways; by meditating on You every minute of every day, may In experience your life, strength, beauty and prosperity – and may I return every good thing which I receive back to You and to those in my world whom You have called to love and serve. May my life be one in which You, not me, might take great pride. Thank You for Your Word – may it burn through the nastiness of my own heart and life, and change me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

A Critique of John Shelby Spong’s “The Sins of Scripture”

Introduction

To those who profess to seek a brand of Christianity that is “open, scholarly, and progressive,” the former Episcopal bishop, John Shelby Spong, has become a household name. Challenging the fundamentals of traditional theological orthodoxy, Spong has advocated what he calls a “New Reformation.”1 This reformation includes the exhortations to, among other things, abandon theism and reinterpret the miraculous events of Scripture in light of modern scientific, sociological and psychological findings. He even goes so far as to passionately deny beliefs such as the Deity of Jesus Christ along with Christ’s virgin birth and physical resurrection. The reaction to Spong’s quest to reformulate Christianity has been, for the most part, polarized. Some have praised Spong’s work as being a long overdue response to the evils of right-wing fanaticism,2 while others have sharply criticized the bishop for what they believe to be his blatantly apostate status.3 Whatever one’s opinion of Spong, it is clear that his influence cannot be ignored. Publishing over twenty titles and lecturing at prestigious institutions such as Harvard and Berkeley, Spong’s influence on the culture of twenty-first century western religious thought has become a reality. The magnitude of his influence is certainly open for discussion, but the presence of that influence does not seem to be.

One of the more controversial of Spong’s recent publications attempts to tackle the Bible itself. The broad purpose of this book, which is titled The Sins of Scripture (2005), can be found in the book’s subtitle, “Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love.” In short, Spong’s purpose is to “disarm those parts of the biblical story that have been used throughout history to hurt, denigrate, oppress, and even kill.”4 On the surface, such a purpose may appear admirable. After all, who could question the fact that the Bible, along with other sacred texts, has been used numerous times in world history for deplorable purposes? The prospect of unlocking where these misguided people went wrong seems exciting. Surely if a scholar of Spong’s background could help us to understand how these texts were misinterpreted by the aforementioned offenders, that would be beneficial, right? It may in fact be, but as we shall soon discover, Spong’s critique of Scripture’s “terrible texts” goes beyond their being misused by those who failed to understand their intended meaning. In fact, Spong blames the Bible itself for the travesties committed in its name. I shall explore this further in our treatment of The Sins of Scripture.

For some, this book is a revolution of knowledge about a religious text that has quite obviously manipulated and brought untold horrors upon multiplied millions of people over the past two millennia. For others, it is nothing less than an abomination that seeks to destroy the foundations upon which is built the beliefs held sacred by Bible-believing Christians everywhere. The purpose of this evaluation is to ascertain which of these two opinions is closer to reality.

Spong sees himself as a modern-day Elijah5 who is crusading against “the way the Bible has been used throughout history.”6 Is he? Or has he fallen short of the task to which he aspires? I shall endeavor to shed some light on these questions by utilizing the following format:

1. I will evaluate whether Spong’s work contributes anything of significant value to the Evangelical Christian movement. In other words, is it possible that Christians could benefit from reading this book? In what ways could they benefit?

2. I will evaluate the liabilities of Spong’s work. Specifically, I will address whether Spong makes use of appropriate faculties of reasoning, argumentation and logic in presenting his material. I will address the following five areas of Spong’s work: 1) his focus, 2) his logic and ability to reason, 3) his scholarship, 4) his understanding of the doctrine of Scripture, and 5) his integrity. I will be dwelling more so on these areas than on specific areas of “social justice” dealt with by Spong. The reason for this is simple. Spong’s focus, logic, scholarship, doctrine of Scripture and integrity will help us construct a “philosophical” skeleton. Once this skeleton is complete, we will have a reasonably good idea as to whether it is strong enough to support the “flesh” of social issues Spong attempts to attach to it. Therefore I will be dwelling primarily on Spong’s method, although I will supplement my evaluation with an adequate amount of content as well.

3. I will offer my conclusion regarding the data, reasoning and conclusion of The Sins of Scripture.

Now, before I proceed in offering my evaluation, please allow me to encourage the reader to read as much of The Sins of Scripture as possible before taking my evaluation too seriously. Writers are often times opinionated people, and as much as many of us seek to present information objectively, we will always be a bit biased in our presentation. I, being a committed Evangelical Christian, am no exception, and my simple request is this: Whatever your opinion of John Shelby Spong, it is fair and appropriate that we should give him an adequate hearing before taking too strong a stand either way with regard to his positions. With this encouragement in mind, I will now proceed in evaluating The Sins of Scripture.

Contributions

It is quite difficult for one to read a book and find nothing at all worthwhile in its pages. In coming to a book by a man as accomplished as John Shelby Spong, we would expect to find a few areas of significant contribution. And find them we do! First of all, it must be said concerning those of us who are of the Evangelical persuasion, that Spong does an effective job at challenging us to think about why we believe what we do about Scripture. Is Scripture really the treasure that we believe it to be? Is it as unique as we had always estimated? Is it really God’s Word? It is impossible to read The Sins of Scripture without facing these transparent and sometimes difficult questions. After thoughtfully considering them, we will become more effective in three areas that are essential to the Evangelical worldview.

First, we will have a better, more precise, and more refined understanding of the faith the we hold so dear. Scripture exhorts us to seek understanding and to “prize” it above all else.7 One of the most efficient ways of learning our own beliefs is to see how they are distinctive in comparison with the beliefs of others.

Secondly, after considering difficult questions about our faith, we will be able to better communicate to those with whom we disagree. Many times the issue in a conversation or debate about religion can be solved by more effective communication. Therefore, if I understand the position of my opponent, I will certainly be able to make my positions known to him in a more cogent fashion.

Thirdly, Spong’s radical commitment to social issues has the potential to wake some Evangelicals up to the fact that even though our goal is not to be found in the world, we still have responsibilities in the world. In the past, some Evangelicals have focused almost exclusively on matters of the head (intellect) and heart (emotions) to the neglect of the hand (action). Now, this is certainly not the case with all Evangelicals, but it is true that many have taken little interest in the matters such as 1) being a good steward over God’s creation in the environment; 2) treating those with whom we passionately disagree with a proactive love and selfless consideration; and 3) respecting and treating with equality those from different ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds.8

Hence, it is appropriate to acknowledge that there is some definite benefit for the Evangelical Christian who reads Spong’s work. Some will, of course, disagree on the grounds that his work has the potential to deter someone from his or her faith in Christ. However, I would respectfully disagree with that position for reasons that will occupy the remainder of my evaluation. In short, I believe the method of reasoning Spong employs in The Sins of Scripture is alarmingly ineffective and deficient. Furthermore, I would suggest that any legitimate follower of Christ who has a solid grasp of the Bible and its message will not be swayed by Spong’s rhetoric. Catholic theologian Gerald O’Collins has said that Spong’s work “simply does not belong to the world of international scholarship”9 because he offers little data and exegesis to substantiate his claims. A Christian who has been trained to test all things by Scripture and by reason will see O’Collins’ point, namely that Spong’s work is lacking in five essential areas. It is to these liabilities that I shall now turn my attention.

Liabilities

The background and motive of Spong’s reader will undoubtedly play a role in his evaluation of the material contained therein. For example, someone with a strong distaste for traditional Christianity will most likely sympathize with Spong’s positions, all of which are uncharitable to traditional Christianity. And due to that reader’s background, he may read Spong’s work with a less critical eye. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Evangelical may read Spong’s work and immediately dismiss the conclusions before ever having heard the arguments. However, I am interested in writing from neither perspective. Rather, I am interested in writing from as much of an objective viewpoint as possible. As stated earlier, I have my unconscious biases as does every other writer, but my interest here is to focus solely on how Spong makes the case he does. In other words, does he offer a good argument?

At this point, I wish to state again what it is that Spong is arguing for in The Sins of Scripture, and also what he is not arguing. It will be very important, going forward, for the reader to understand this. First of all, Spong is not arguing that various biblical texts have been used throughout history to oppress and destroy the innocent. Rather, that the Bible has been used in such a way is merely a basis for his primary argument, which is this: Because it has been used throughout history to oppress and destroy the innocent, the Bible, or at least various parts of it, are evil. Consider the following revealing passages from Spong’s section, “The Word of God:”

At first I convinced myself that the problem was not the bible itself, but the way the bible was used. That, however, was a defensive and ultimately dishonest response. I had come to the place where I recognized that the bible itself was often the enemy. Time after time, the bible, I discovered, condemned itself with its own words.10

Much as I wanted to think otherwise, I had to conclude that the Bible is not always good. Sometimes the Bible is overtly evil.11

If Spong had merely asserted that some sects of Christianity were flawed and evil because of their use of Scripture to mistreat others, that would be one thing. Spong, however, is not arguing for this. He is assuming it so that he can argue for the Bible’s being “evil” or “hateful” or “the enemy.” But the question is this: Does Spong present a valid argument? In other words, does his conclusion follow from its premises? And is it sound? In other words, are the premises upon which the conclusion is based true? I will attempt to show the reader that Spong’s argument is neither valid nor sound, and I will do so on the basis of there being a lack in five crucial areas in Spong’s book.

The first area of concern is Spong’s lack of focus. Any scholarly work must have focus. In other words, the writer of a particular work must choose a narrow subject with which to deal exhaustively. Now, there are plenty of good works around that are neither narrow nor are they exhaustive. Does this mean they have no value? Of course not! It only means that they are not to be taken as “scholarly.” This was the point of the previously quoted O’Collins’ statement. My position is that Spong’s work is not focused enough to substantiate the huge claim he makes regarding the nature of Scripture. In The Sins of Scripture, Spong essentially writes what amounts to eight books in one. He begins with his foundational belief that the Bible is not God’s Word, and then proceeds dealing with societal issues ranging from spanking children to homosexuality to women’s rights to environmentalism and others. Each of these issues is preceded by a “terrible” text in the Bible. Following this “terrible text,” Spong merely surveys the way each immoral issue has supposedly been the result of the Bible. In trying to tackle so many issues in so few pages, Spong ends up doing a poor job of addressing each issue. His lack of supporting evidence, citations, and data for the claims he makes is astounding, as the following sections of this evaluation will demonstrate. It appears as though Spong and his publisher have banked on the fact that many people who would buy their book already shared their assumptions. If that is the case, then it may not be that big of a sin to try and accomplish so much in so few pages. If your readers do not require solid evidence and clear argumentation, why bother striving for such?

Before leaving this point of Spong’s lack of focus, it will be appropriate to simply address the theses of a few of Spong’s major sections and then ascertain whether or not he effectively makes his case in any of them. We will return to the first section and consider it later, but let us address the second section, “The Bible and the Environment.” Spong’s point in this section is that the biblical mandates to “be fruitful and multiply”12 and to “exercise dominion over the earth”13 have not just been the basis for, but have actually caused numerous social ills including overpopulation and the oppression of human sexuality. At one point, Spong even says that these texts, if followed literally, will “guarantee [the human race’s] annihilation.”14 Now, our purpose is not to evaluate these social issues, but to ask the question, “Has Spong made the case that the Bible is the cause of these matters?” The answer is no. All Spong provides in the area of support are numerous instances of anecdotal evidence that only demonstrate how the passage in question has been (mis)used. He never offers any reason why the Bible, and not the actions of those who misuse it, is to blame. Furthermore, in this section, Spong rarely cites Scripture other than the two original verses in Genesis.

Spong employs the same method in section three, “The Bible and Women,” as he rips Genesis 2:18-23 and I Corinthians 11:8-9 out of context. Again, there is no connection as to why the Bible is to blame for the oppression of women in various times and places of history, but there is the radical suggestion that the woman who dried Jesus’ feet with her hair was actually committing an “erotic act” and that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married.15 Spong continues with what he perceives to be the oppression of homosexuals in section four, children in section five, and Jews in section five. Again, the problem is this: Spong utilizes a simple argument in making his case, but never does he offer support for his initial premise (P1):

P1: If something has been used to commit evil (A), then that thing is evil (B).

P2: The Bible has been used to commit evil (A).

C: Therefore, the Bible is evil (B).
Imagine if we were to use the same logical form and apply different content:

P1: If something has been used to commit evil (A), then that thing is evil (B).

P2: Last night, a surgeon’s scalpel was purchased at a pawn shop and then used to commit murder (an act of evil).

C: Therefore, the surgeon’s scalpel is evil.

Obviously this makes no sense, but it is the implied reasoning throughout each chapter of Spong’s book. Because the Bible has been used to perpetuate what is (arguably in some cases) evil, that necessarily means that the Bible itself is evil. This brings me to the second area of lack in Spong’s book: the lack of logic.

In addition to the argument utilized by Spong above, there are other occasions where he demonstrates a sloppy reasoning process. For example, in Spong’s preface, he says that it is not his intention to write a book that “bashes” the Bible.16 When I first read this, I thought it meant that The Sins of Scripture would be addressing the evil of the Bible’s misuse. And if this had been the case, the glaring problem in Spong’s work may have been avoided. However, in a later section, Spong says the fault lies not with bad interpretations of Scripture, but in Scripture itself.17 These are blatantly contradictory statements. Which is the cause of evil? Is it faulty interpretations of the Bible? Or is it the Bible itself? Spong seems to have difficulty in making up his mind.

Another logical issue deals with a glaring category mistake Spong makes in the first section. In making the point that the invocation of (what Spong clearly implies to be the Christian) God brings terror, he uses Osama bin Laden as an example. However, he never addresses the notion that the Chritian God and the God of Osama bin Laden are two different Gods. He uses an illustration from one God to attack another. This is what the Philosopher of Mind Gilbert Ryle referred to as a category mistake. Spong seems to have no problem making it, though.

The list of logical problems in Spong’s reasoning is vast, but it is important that the reader understand a few more of them. To conserve space, I will list a few of them with brief summaries:

1. Spong attempts to completely separate the Bible from Christianity. However, he never deals with the epistemological problem posed by this divorce. If we have no source for Christianity, then how do we plausibly posit a Christianity at all?18

2. Spong says that the Bible could not be the Word of God because the authors never saw themselves as writing God’s Word.19 However, he never says why a writer would need knowledge of the ultimate purpose of his work in order for that work to be used for God’s transcendent purposes. He assumes a structural connection that he never demonstrates or even attempts to demonstrate.

3. After concluding that institutional Christianity has become “consumed by its quest for power and authority,” Spong again concludes that God’s voice cannot be heard in the Bible. The problem here is that Spong wants to throw the baby out with the bath water. If institutional Christianity is the culprit, then why throw out the Bible? Why not throw out the institution? Or at least throw out whatever in the institution seems to be causing such vices.

4. Spong believes our advances in science and medicine have alleviated our need to continue “being fruitful and multiplying.”20 However, he then gives numerous examples of events in world history that have wiped out large percentages of the human population. Somehow, Spong thinks events like these are highly unlikely today. However, this is not rational. What if a nuclear holocaust happened? What about a global bubonic plague? What about an asteroid? There is no way that Spong can know that we are past the time in human history when unexpected cataclysms are possible.

5. Spong seems to have a huge concern for social justice, but never justifies his concern with any authority outside of his own opinion. While the Bible-believing Christian bases his concern for justice on the Bible, Spong has no authority. He doen’t even appeal, as the British Empiricists did, to reason. He simply “assumes” that social justice is warranted and justified. He never demonstrates how.

So we see then that Spong not only lacks focus in his work, but also lacks the ability to argue rationally and provide substance for the premises upon which he bases such arguments. At this point I shall proceed to the next area where Spong is quite obviously in lack: the area of scholarship.

As O’Collins’ commented above, Spong’s The Sins of Scripture is not scholarly literature. It is “popular” or “mainstream” literature. It seems to be written for two purposes: First, it appears to have been written to “preach to the choir.” As stated earlier, there are throngs of liberal churchgoers who are willing to drink Spong’s kool-aid without ever critically evaluating his rationale. Secondly, it appears that Spong has written this work to incite a reaction from traditional Christians like myself. People from the first group buy the book in order to get what they believe to be “intellectual” ammunition to support their “progressive” social and quasi-spiritual agenda, while people from the second group buy the group because they have to respond to its contents. This is why his book should be classified as “popular” rather than “scholarly.”

Let me address, then, why this work is not scholarly. In writing a text on the Bible, perhaps the most surprising feature of Spong’s work is the fact that he does no careful exegesis of the texts he employs. He offers anecdotal evidence in the form of who he believes to be intolerant believers,21 but he hardly ever addresses the text directly and objectively. The few times he does address a text, he offers a quick and overly simplified interpretation based only on liberally-slanted scholarship. In addition, here are some other scholarly inadequacies that are apparent in The Sins of Scripture:

1. Spong’s self-admitted qualifications to write on this subject are weak. He says he is qualified because 1) he loves the Bible and 2) is a church insider.22 However, for one to write what would be considered “scholarly” on a particular subject, one would have to have educational credentials in the area he writes. Spong was in ministry for many years, but was not a Bible scholar.

2. The Sins of Scripture lacks clarity, but a scholarly work would attempt to leave little ambiguity. For example, Spong uses words like “evil,” “church,” and “truth” without even attempting a definition. These definitions are desperately needed in this work due to the fact that Spong has thrown out the Bible as a source of authority for these terms. A scholarly work would recognize that each term could mean different things to different people, but Spong demonstrates no such recognition.

3. Spong demonstrates a blatant disregard for objective scholarship. He crusades and rants continually about all the evil that has come about in the world because of the Bible and Christianity.23 However, not once does he give credit to the good things Christianity has given to our world. It might do him some good to read Schmidt’s How Christianity Changed the World, a book that outlines the amazing achievements (i.e. education, women’s rights, abolition of slavery, hospitals, international human rights, etc.) that were spearheaded by Christians who believed the Bible to be the Word of God.

4. Spong refuses to offer scholarly citations of the evidence he does present. He offers all of the following without citation: 1) He misrepresents President George W. Bush’s comments about the Iraq war;24 2) He cites the aforementioned situation with the SBC President;25 3) He comments that the Bible has “perfumed prejudice and violated millions;”26 4) He says that “it is easy to demonstrate that the Bible is simply wrong in some of its assumptions;27 5) He rants against the evil of Western lifestyles; 6) He accuses the “leadership of the Christian Church” of attempting to separate sexuality from procreation;28 7) and makes the outlandish comment that the human birthrate is threatening survival.29 All of these claims are very serious. A true scholar would cite scholarly evidence for each of them. Spong does not.

5. The scholarship Spong does rarely reference is strongly one-sided. For example, he refuses to present conservative views30 and only attacks them.31 Also, Spong defines a reputable scholar as one who agrees with him and disbelieves in the virgin birth.32

6. Spong misunderstands Christianity as being a religion primarily for white, Protestant, heterosexual, middle-class people. He shows his ignorance that the strongest areas of Evangelical Christian growth today are in the third world.33

7. He fails to recognize the non-monolithic nature of Evangelical Christianity. He speaks of only two groups of Christians: those whom he agrees with and those he does not. He does not seem to recognize diversity in the body of Christ.

8. He frequently appeals to the reader’s emotion rather than to his sense of reason.34

9. He assumes a naturalistic metaphysic without ever offering one reason for his rejection of the supernatural. He disbelieves in a supernatural Jesus, creation, Bible, and justifies it all by saying that to believe such things would “violate everything we know about how the universe works.”35 He does not defend his naturalistic worldview, nor does he point the reader to a plausible defense of naturalism by another author.

10. He fails to treat positions contrary to his own with professional courtesy and respect. He employs sarcasm36 and labels people who disagree with him as “hysterical.”37 Furthermore, he takes the liberty of becoming emotional with those he disagrees with, but will not afford them the same luxury.38

I have now tried to demonstrate Spong’s lack of focus, his lack of logic, and his lack of scholarship. I shall now proceed to the next area: Spong’s lack of understanding of Scripture.

Jesus frequently responded to his opponents’ errors by asserting that they did not know the Scriptures. The same rebuke is in order for Spong in The Sins of Scripture and can be briefly illustrated in five errors he makes:

1. Error #1: Spong misinterprets and misapplies the Old Testament. He acts as if the commands of Levitcal law are binding today. No serious student of Scripture would assert such. Hence, Spong attacks a straw man in this case.39

2. Error #2: Spong consistently fails to apply Scripture in context. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his treatment of I Corinthians 14 as he fails to understand that Paul was answering an opponent is this case.40

3. Error #3: As mentioned earlier, Spong attempts to interpret a supernatural Bible through a naturalistic lens without ever offering an explanation as to why this is logical.41

4. Error #4: Spong applies the term “believer in the Word of God” to anyone regardless of their interpretive errors. Hence, he put everyone is the same box and judges them equally.42

5. Error #5: Spong generally misinterprets Scripture, as discussed in the above section on the social issues Spong espouses.

Spong continually displays a lack of insight into Scripture and commits serious error by interpreting it through a naturalistic lens. These errors are serious liabilities and should be carefully considered before assigning too much credibility to Spong’s status as a Bible scholar.

At this point I have addressed the liabilities of The Sins of Scripture by pointing out Spong’s lack of focus, logic, scholarship, and Scriptural knowledge. I will now conclude with the fifth “lack” in Spong. However, before I do so I wish the reader to know my motives. My motives are simply to provide counsel to those who are “on the fence” and considering receiving the “knowledge” Spong offers. I have no desire to assassinate the character of Spong, but I must deal with his integrity since so many look to him as a “spiritual mentor.”

After reading Spong’s work, I am convinced that there is an integrity issue on Spong’s part, and because of this I do not believe he is to be recommended as a Christian minister who rightly handles the Word of Truth. It is fine to read and evaluate his work, but it may be dangerous to take his counsel for the following reasons:

1. Spong has taken an oath three times in his life where he has pledged to uphold the Bible as the “Word of God.”43 He has clearly broken that oath and now proclaims that the Bible is evil.44

2. Regardless of his oath and his status as a “bishop,” Spong says he wants no part in “Word of God” Christianity.45

3. Regardless of his oath, Spong acknowledges that he does not want to worship the God of the Bible.46

4. Regardless of his oath, Spong states that he desires to destroy creed, church and Scripture.47

It seems to me that Song is a man of divided affections and not to be trusted in spiritual matters. His blatant disregard for God’s Word and failure to honor the oath he has made continually brings his integrity as a minister into question.

Conclusion

My evaluation of The Sins of Scripture began by assessing the contributions of the book to Evangelical Christian who reads it. I proceeded by outlining the books liabilities in the five areas of focus, logic, scholarship, Scripture and integrity. I will now offer some final thoughts concerning Spong’s work.

During the course of my study of Spong’s work, I have been appalled at the lack of depth represented in this work. The lack of the five essential areas above is significant enough for me to seriously question the book’s value as a piece of objective scholarship. However, the most appalling thing of all in reading Spong’s work is this: In his subtitle, it seems as if Spong is going to show his readers how the God of love will be revealed when these “terrible” texts are exposed. However, I don’t recall hearing much about either a God of love or how He was revealed in the exposing of faulty texts. Perhaps this is the most glaring defieciency of them all. After all, this was Spong’s purpose, was it not? Did he not set out to present a God of love? Has he done this? In my opinion, he has not. If Spong is correct in much of what he has asserted, I would propose that he has revealed not a God of love, but a God of confusion. And in so doing, I am not sure that his work is to be, above all else, commended. In the end, I appreciate SPong’s work in the sense that it challenges me. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And we will serve Him based on what He has communicated to us in His Word.

Footnotes:

1 An outline of Spong’s primary these are available at his website: http://www.johnshelbyspong.com

2 As his publisher advertises on the back cover of The Sins of Scripture, Spong has received numerous endorsements from well-known personalities such as Bill O’Reilly and from other popular media outlets.

3 Criticism of Spong has come from inside his denomination as well as from outside. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has labeled Spong as an apostate and the Roman Catholic theologian Gerald O’Collins has questioned the scholarly value of the breadth of Spong’s works.

4 John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love (New York: Harper Collins, 2005), 24.

5 Spong, 25.

6 Spong, 11.

7 Proverbs 4:5-9, NASB

8 While racism is not found as much at the beginning of the twenty-first century as it was a century before, the fact remains that it has, embarrassingly enough, taken Evangelicals longer than it should have to realize the foolishness and sinfulness of such a position.

9 Gerald O’Collins, “What of the Spong Song?” in Apologia (The Wellington Christian Apologetics Society), 7 (2/3), 112-113.

10 Spong, 11.

11 Spong, 12.

12 Genesis 1:28, NASB

13 Genesis 1:26, NASB

14 Spong, 39.

15 Spong, 104-106.

16 Spong, xiii.

17 Spong, 11.

18 Spong, 14.

19 Spong, 23

20 Spong, 35-36.

21 For example, Spong refers to anti-Semitic comments made on Larry King in the 1990’s by the then President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

22 Spong, 5.

23 Spong, 11.

24 Spong, 13.

25 Spong, 12.

26 Spong, 17.

27 Spong, 19.

28 Spong, 37-38.

29 Spong, 41.

30 Spong, 5, 10.

31 Spong, 24.

32 Spong, 23.

33 This has been extensively documented in Jenkins’ The Next Christendom.

34 Spong, 29, 31.

35 Spong, 21.

36 Spong, 21.

37 Spong, 24.

38 Spong, 14.

39 Spong, p.19

40 Spong, 95-102.

41 Spong, 22.

42 Spong, 39.

43 Spong, p.16.

44 Spong, 11-12.

45 Spong, 18.

46 Spong, 18-19.

47 Spong, 25.