Tuesday, 8 April 2014

What Brad Jersak is learning about the Bible.

Dr. Brad Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC, where he attends Fresh Wind Christian Fellowship and serves as Reader at All Saints of North America Monastery. He is also apart of the faculty of Westminster Theological Centre (UK) with an emphasis on the New Testament and Patristics. Jersak contributes regularly to Plain Truth Ministries, the Clarion Journal of Spirituality and Justice, the Owl, and the Red Virgin. [1]

I first met Brad Jersak at a school retreat in my last year of Bible College. Brad was teaching on a topic that he aptly titled, 'Listening Prayer'. I was really impacted by that weekend of teaching and prayer. I thought, "I like what this Jersak is saying." I observed that Brad conducted the meetings in a really responsive and sensitive manner. I did not see a wild a preacher trying brew up a firestorm. I did not hear the old time message of 'sing louder, prayer longer, and try harder', that I often encountered in my Pentecostal upbringing. [2] What I encountered was an invitation to tune-in to the God who was already speaking. I couldn't believe it! It seemed revolutionary that I didn't have to work myself up in order to hear God speak. I didn't need to sing ten worship songs, or pray for an hour before the Lord might speak. I just need to listen. God was and is ready and waiting to talk to me, to walk with me, to tell me that I am God's own. Imagine that! (I have written a few reflections on Listening Prayer here.) 

I've since read his books, listened to podcasts, and seen Jersak at a few conferences. This guy is legit. This is all to say that I could not recommend Brad Jersak more highly to you. He is Christ-Centred, graceful, and a brilliant communicator. That being said, I bring us to the following helpful teaching video from Jersak: 

"What I am learning about the Bible"

1:50 - Chapter One of reading the Bible: "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." 

11:04 - Why we should not read our Bible 'flat'. 

13:03- "I ended up in a Mennonite church" OR...reading our Bible through the lens of Jesus.

14:42 - Reading the Bible as training and not just for information. 

15:54- "The Youth Pastor teaching cycle"

16:50- Chapter Two: "Jesus Centred Training Time". 

24:27 - Chapter Three: Confronting the Ugly Parts of the Bible. "Why didn't I see the 'icky stuff' before? I was either skimming or reading the Bible like a cartoon.... I think I was ignoring the 'bad parts'."

25:52- Here is the problem with ignoring the ugly parts of the Bible. "Atheists are NOT ignoring it". 

36:13 - "I am glad I didn't stop here." 

37:00 - Two suggestions for reading the ugly parts of the Bible. 

45:00-  Chapter Four: The Jesus Lens: Reading the Bible with Jesus as our Rabbi. 

46:47- Closing exhortations and application.  


1. Information lifted from www.bradjersak.com 
2.I don't mean to say all Pentecostals present this approach. I am merely conveying my personal life long experience of growing up as a Canadian Pentecostal. I remember all too many meetings where God was not going to 'show up' unless we yelled louder, prayed harder, and sang longer. 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

A conversation about: "Restitution"

The following is a conversation between Reggie Rivett and myself on the topic of restitution. Reggie is one of my best friends in the whole world. He was the best man at my wedding. I was the best man at his wedding! We attended Horizon College & Seminary together and share a long history of 'thinking out-loud' about theology. I invite you to enjoy this conversation between two friends. 

Should restitution still be practiced in the church? Or does that fly in the face of grace and forgiveness? ‪#‎ex22‬.3 ‪#‎theology‬

Define restitution.

1: a sum of money paid in compensation for loss or injury 
2: the act of restoring something to its original state
3: getting something back again;

If there is restitution, I would think that it would flow out of a reconciliation of the relationship and only at the initiation of the offender. If we forgive expecting & demanding a restitution, then that is not forgiveness. That is payment.

In that case, we are then force to swallow the loss by ourselves. There is no repercussions for sin. It does not cost. 
Is that consistent with Scripture?

Yes we are forgiven of our sins through the sacrifice of Christ, but we still have to live with the consequences, don't we?

I suppose that if we frame the discussion as 'forced to swallow' rather than 'compelled by the love of God to reciprocate Divine forgiveness towards others' it takes on a different light. 
Does God inflict humanity with repercussions in order to forgive us? Did the Father of the prodigal punish the younger son in order to reconcile him? (Luke 15) 
What if Christians should 'forgive as the Lord forgives' (Col 3.13)? That is to say... freely, without condition, and willing to absorb sin in order to condemn it. (Rom 8.3) 
RE: Consequences. Yes, sin has built in consequences. The younger son experienced the results of his actions. I don't see the Father punishing the younger son to get his 'pound of flesh' in order to forgive. Do you?

God does not inflict humanity with repercussions for forgiveness. But that doesn't mean that our "bad behaviour" doesn't have consequence.If that were the case, we could do anything and simply plead forgiveness to avoid the ramifications of our actions. 
The question is does sin come built in with consequences, and does God and His forgiveness remove them?
If we say there is no consequence to our sin, why not go on sinning? There would be grace and it would abound over our sins...

The end goal of forgiveness is reconciliation. (one-ness) The Father of the Prodigal Son had obviously already forgiven him, as demonstrated by his running out to his lost son. We can choose to forgive someone 70 x 7 but that does not always entail reconciliation. The son had to 'come home' in order to be reconciled. We too in our relationships must allow people to come to their senses and come home; so to speak. This does not always happen.  
Forgiveness is not saying 'it didn't happen'. It's not cheap. You had to absorb the loss. You had to take the hit. Forgiveness is choosing to refrain from retribution and cancel the debt owed to you. The younger son still squandered half the families inheritance. The money was not coming back. But a 'lost and dead' son DID come back. Forgiveness seeks to rescue that which can be saved.  
Does God remove consequences? I don't know. I am sure you could make a case for yes & no. I know God allows 'those in authority' to punish evildoers who sin against the State (Rom 13). On the other hand, Paul's vision of the church is one that 'overcomes evil with good' (Rom 12), leaves room for God's wrath and forgives and welcomes sinners. 
No where in Paul do I see evidence of a retributive justice, but rather Paul, and the other NT authors are consistently restorative in matters of church discipline. Consider the man in 1 Corinthians 5 who sleeping with his father’s wife. Paul doesn’t instruct the Corinthians to punish the man with the sword (whatever that means), but rather hands the man over to satan (v5a) and instructs the church to expel the man from the church. (v13) Paul does all of this correction in hopes “that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”(v5b) You could also make the case that reconciliation did happen to this man. (Check out 2 Corinthians 2:5-11) 

Hold up. I agree with you. We are just talking the same subject from two different perspectives.If someone sins against us, and restitution is required, as Christians grace and forgiveness should be our response. Totally agree. 
I am thinking, when WE sin against someone, Christians or not, we should be paying restitution.We come asking for forgiveness and start mending the hurt, bringing restoration by way of restitution.

Certainly, the younger son thought he could earn forgiveness in order to be welcomed back as a servant in the Father's house. I am sure he was shocked at the response of his gracious, relationship-restoring Father.

I do not think we can always bring restitution. If it is in our financial ability, we might be able to replace material objects.But how do you bring restitution when you've broken relationships through hurtful actions? 

How does a murderer bring restitution to his victims family? He simply cannot. There is nothing in the world to replace a person. 

How does a cheating wife//husband bring restitution to her//his spouse? Is there anything they could do to 'payback' that kind of damage to a marriage? 

I think more is involved in the repentance process than mere payback. Consider what Paul says about thieves in Ephesus: 
"Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need." - Ephesians 4:28
He doesn't just say, payback what you owe. He gives them a whole new operating system to model their lives after. They do have to "work" instead of steal. But then Paul doesn't end with 'stop stealing, and start earning'.... he says that they need to embody a new perspective that is a full repentance of the old ways. Those that steal must then learn to "share with those in need". Its a complete 180 degree turn around to a new way of living.

An example of what I am talking about from the lips of Reg Rivett.
One guy offered to take down his neighbour's barb wire fence from his pasture if he could keep the wire. He drove over a rock while rolling the wire and started a fire that burned his neighbour's crop. It was estimated to be $1 million in damages. No insurance, since it wasn't his field. As a Christian he is paying back his neighbour.
That is what I am talking about.

I really like the example you've shared. I really respect the person's decision to pay his neighbour for the losses. Question though.... Is that restitution or functioning as a 'just' person? At least the way I understand restitution, is that there is a relational divide, a chasm...etc. It's framed within conflict resolution. 

If there is no conflict, can there be restitution? I'd like to say that the story you provided is an example of love & justice rather than conflict restitution. He took the initiative even though he probably could have said it was an accident and walked away.

All that to say... It's probably a good idea to pay back what you owe in a financial sense. That is being a 'just' person. Call it restitution if you want. 

Thanks for reading! 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Those who long for justice...

"And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled" -Matthew 5:6

"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"- Matthew 5:44

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."- Romans 12:21

"Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of justice."- James 3:18

Let’s play a game. I am going to ask you a few questions and you will immediately write down a few things that come to your mind in relation to word I provide you. So what words or images come to mind when you hear the following words: (think of a short reply to each)




Do you think that  a majority of people would agree about what these terms mean? Would there ever be contradicting and competing definitions of these terms? I want to explore this...

Let’s start first with mercy. I generally think that most people know what mercy means. I would be surprised to encounter contradictions in defining the word mercy. Yet, sometimes a full understanding of mercy can be lost in translation. As Dr. Scot McKnight comments, “‘Merciful’ does not describe the ubiquitous and shallow virtue of “niceness” or “tolerance” in Western culture but concrete actions of love.”[1] Mercy has nothing to do with ‘niceness’ and ‘fairness’. We show mercy to someone who has wronged us. Mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm. Mercy is refraining from the cycle of retribution. Mercy ends the cycle of violence through forgiveness and cancelling the debt that is owed. 

Now let’s talk justice. What did you come up with? What do you think others came up with? I want to let you in on a secret. I am never surprised when people have differing conceptions of justice. I am resigned to the fact that ‘justice’ has the unfortunate disposition of being defined in contradictory ways. I am not talking about the legal subtleties of enacting ‘justice’ between two parties. I mean there is a rift of understanding about what constitutes the nature of ‘justice’. This may surprise you. After all, we have entire segments of society united to bring about justice through legal systems, and political lobbying. You would think that there would be some agreement on the term. Let me explain.

There are two differing ‘umbrellas of understanding’ about justice: retributive justice & restorative justice. Whatever you believe about justice can fall into one of these two categories. These ‘umbrellas of understanding’ relate to the end goal achieved by each version of justice. 

Retributive Justice

Justice in this view, is righting wrongs, paying back what is owed, and punishing wrong doers. Retributive justice sticks to the letter of the law, requiring its pound of flesh, demanding compensation, quid pro quo, tit for tat, and satisfaction of the law in order to resolve conflict and bring about conflict resolution. Peace is achieved as an end result of punitive action. 

Central to this view is the notion of limiting retaliation by ‘balancing the books’ and going no further. A definitive example of retributive model is the justice of ‘an eye for an eye’. An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth was a law of limitation designed to prevent the overuse of aggression and conflict. If someone broke their neighbours tooth you could not slaughter his whole family. 

The Greek philosopher Polemarchus espouses this view when he defines justice as “to give each what is owed to him.”[2] When asked by Socrates to further explain his position, he replies, ““justice … gives benefits to friends and does harm to enemies.”[3]

Restorative Justice

Justice in this view, is the act of redeeming, reconciling, and restoring offended parties back to a state of peace through the processes of forgiveness, understanding, and responsibility. The goal of this justice is to repair damage and thus break the cycle of hostility, retribution, and violence. Peace is viewed not as the end result but as the means of justice and conflict resolution. 

Central to this view of justice is the acknowledgement that the cycles of violence and retaliation are counter intuitive to an ultimate goal of restoration and peace. Gandhi summed this up beautifully when he comments, “An eye for an eye, will leave the whole world blind”. Restorative justice seeks out alternative ‘third way’ options to conflict resolution. If my neighbour ‘sins’ against me I am within the law to retaliate or do nothing. But I always have a third option to name the sin, absorb the blow, and forgive in order to redeem.

Which justice is ‘just’? 

Penal actions are often constructed within artificial boundaries of our perceived justice and our judgement of what is just. Humans are fallible in our executions of justice. We can easily distort justice as American justice, Israeli justice, Palestinian justice. As my friend Rob Olson commented on my Facebook wall in reply to a thread about justice, “Justice for who?”Justice for some is not always justice for all. Justice as virtue can never be tribal and xenophobic. “If you want justice [as retribution] and nothing but justice, you will get injustice. If you want justice without injustice, you must want love. A world of perfect justice is a world of love.”[4] Pastor and author Brian Zahnd provides a brilliant example as illustration of our artificial constructions of ‘justice’:

“Imagine you are involved in a property dispute with your neighbour. The neighbour has constructed a toolshed that extends three feet onto your property. You don’t want a toolshed occupying three feet of your property. Attempts to rectify the impasse with your neighbour fail, so you take the matter to court. The judge hears the case, decides on your behalf, and orders the toolshed removed. You are satisfied. But has justice been done? Perhaps. Certainly you may think so. But whose justice? At what point in the past do we start keeping score in order to determine what is just? What if the judge issued an alternative verdict: “I have heard your case, considered your arguments, and I have decided to return both of your properties to the Native Americans from whom it was stolen a hundred and fifty years ago.” Is this perhaps justice ? One might argue it’s a different kind of justice. It might seem just in one perspective but patently unjust in another. When we talk justice, we often do so within artificial boundaries. We mean justice in contemporary context, not a historical context. We mean limited justice, not over all justice; we mean justice for me, not for everyone.” [5] 

                       Justice as Mercy
Well, let me put my cards on the table. I have a problem with retributive justice. I think my major issue is this: Mercy is viewed as the opposite of justice. When someone is not payed or the law is not satisfied it can only be called injustice in the retributive view. Retributive justice ultimately must call God’s justice: injustice. To hold the retributive view, I am forced to side against Jesus in his pardoning of the woman caught in adultery, his lack of vengeance on the enemies of Israel, and his constant forgiveness and welcoming of sinners. I can understand why nations need a retributive view of justice. Paul outlines this in Romans 13. I have hard time reconciling how the church can call retribution justice, especially in light of God's justice towards sinners. “God’s greatest act of justice is to save the sinner- and God does so by the ‘injustice’ of grace. If we are ever going to understand and get along with the God revealed in the Bible, we are going to have to come to terms with the ‘injustice’ of his grace. This is precisely what the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son was unwilling to do.” [6]

I submit to you that true biblical justice and righteousness is full of mercy and longs for restoration and reconciliation as its goal. Mercy is not the opposite of justice. The Psalmist speaks of this type of justice when he/she writes, “Mercy and truth have met together. Justice and peace have kissed!” (Psalm 85:10) The Hebrew conception of justice is not divorced from mercy.“The Bible connects justice to righteousness and mercy. In fact, these three actions are so closely intertwined in Scripture that we might refer to them as a trinity of utility. If we want to live according to God’s will, in imitation of Jesus, we will utilize the three practices: justice, righteousness, and mercy.”[7] 

Let’s go a step further. Jesus’ teaching about justice, and therefore God’s clearest revelation, is the opposite of cold retribution. Let’s look at the Sermon on the Mount as primer for discussion. It’s a sermon directed at disciples who embody an alternative society that represents the breaking-in Kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount is not private instruction for individuals; it is the political platform for a new kingdom, a city on a hill. 

We can read the Beatitudes as a vision of justice. In the Beatitudes, Jesus describes a blessing upon the least likely people groups: the poor, the meek, the merciful…etc. These are types of personalities through whom God is starting to bring wise and healing order to the world. Scot McKnight suggests that we read the Beatitudes in three’s. “Three on the humility of the poor, three on those who pursue justice, and three on those who create peace.” True justice realizes it’s poverty of spirit (v3) and desperate need of God’s intervention. True justice mourns (v4) injustice on the earth and longs for comfort. Meekness (v5), as those quiet souls who trust in God for redemption, is a deep-rooted characteristic of those who long for justice//righteousness (v6). Justice is framed by mercy (v7) and purity of heart (v8). Justice is expressed through a peacemaking (v9) that absorbs persecution (v10) and insult (v11) but never retaliates. 

Jesus continues to refine his exclusion of retribution through the anti-thesis statements. "You heard that it was said, but I say to you.” Jesus is contrasting with the Old Testament through the use of six 'antithesis statements' in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount. In each antithesis, Jesus demonstrates how the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled, through Jesus' ministry and teaching. Jesus’ fulfillment is not merely an add-on to the Law, rather Jesus is the interpretative norm and prophetic fulfillment. So in shutting down the cycle of retribution Jesus excludes hatred and anger (v21) from the DNA of the disciple. Jesus is not deepening our resolve to not murder, he is establishing that we should never allow the thought of murder to exist within the fabric of our being. If I cannot even hate my enemy, how then could I ever aggress against them? If we are express fore-giving love to those that offend us, as God in Christ expresses to us, how can we then say we are justified in retribution? 

The clearest critique of ‘retribution as justice’ is Jesus’ approach to the Lex Talionis. An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth was a law of limitation. (c.f. Exodus 21:24) It prevented the overuse of aggression and conflict. It was given to provide the nations judicial system with a ready formula of punishment. "Don't use violence to resist evil”, says Jesus. (v39 KNT) Jesus counters this notion of limited retaliation. Where Torah restricts retaliation; Jesus forbids it all together. Jesus is introducing a Kingdom conception of justice as mercy. This was hope and the fulfillment of the prophetic tradition. The way to respond to evil is not with more evil actions, but with creative and non-violent action(s) whose goal is to make enemies friends. Jesus offers a new sort of justice, a creative, healing, restorative justice. The old justice found in the Bible was designed to prevent revenge running away on itself. But Jesus does better still.

“If your concept of justice is to make sure that everyone gets ‘what they deserve,’ you are going to have a hard time getting along with Jesus. This is the very kind of justice that Jesus stands against and came to save us from. A world bent on the justice of giving people ‘what they deserve’ is a world that is endlessly cruel and marked by alienation, violence, and war. The concept of retributive justice is what fuels the endless escalation of violence in the worst places on our world- from troubled inner cites to the troubled Middle East. Retributive justice has the horrible tendency to degenerate into my justice. And my justice is inevitably someone else’s injustice. This is not the justice that saves- this is the justice that kills.” [9-emphasis original]

Summary Thoughts

‘Justice as punishment’ is very appealing when I have been wronged. There is something  deep within myself that craves payback. I want them to pay, to feel my pain. I want satisfaction. I know that the desire to return hate with hate can be so easy, so convenient, so human. BUT… What about when I am on the receiving end of ‘justice as retribution’? Do I really want ‘justice’ then? Do I want my eye gouged out as well? Am I treating my enemy as Jesus would? 

I think God’s justice is Good News for the world. It’s a justice that is full of mercy. It’s a justice that makes enemies friends (Romans 5). It’s a justice that wants to heal, redeem, and transform the sinner. God, in Christ, reveals God’s justice on the Cross. 
“How, then, does God deal with death-producing sin in its full reality, as both transgression of law and oppression of life, through the cross of Jesus Christ? Regarding sin as transgression of law: God deals justly with sin, not by satisfying the law of retribution for sin, but rather by forgiving our transgressions, cancelling our record of wrongs, and nailing the death-demanding law of retribution to the cross - thus nullifying the power of sin to produce death through the law. Regarding sin as oppression of life: God deals decisively with sin by dealing death a final defeat through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ - thereby making a way for us to participate in God's victory over death and enabling us to participate in God's immortal life through resurrection and new creation in Christ (Rom 6:5-11;1 Cor 15:20-28, 50-57; 2 Cor 5:17). It is thus God's own law-nullifying retribution transcending, life-redeeming, creation-restoring work of faithfulness through the cross that discloses and demonstrates the justice of God.”[10]

Justice looks like a bloodied and bruised Saviour stretching his arms out on the Cross of his execution saying, “Father forgive them.” When God should have been pouring out punishment on humanity for the murder of Jesus, God instead absorbs the blow of injustice and responds in forgiveness. “In answer to Jesus’ prayer, there would be no retribution, no reprisal, no vengeful reckoning. Injustice has found a place to die- it died in Christ… The resurrection of Christ was not only the Father’s vindication of his Son; it was also the dawn of a new world founded on the the justice of reconciliation and forgiveness. The first Easter Sunday saw justice and peace kiss so that the risen Son of God could say, ‘Peace be with you.’ Ultimately, God’s justice is found in God’s mercy. This is how we are reconciled with one another. This is how we are saved. ”[11]

A prayer for those who long for Justice

Almighty God,
We praise you for all you have done.
Help us will all that you want us to do.

Come, Holy Creator,
And establish Your justice on earth
So that we do not labour in vain without you. 

Come, Holy Saviour 
And heal all that is broken
In our lives and in our streets

Come, Holy Spirit
And inspire us with energies and willingness
To rebuild the ruins of our cities to Your honour and glory.

(so be it) 

Thanks for reading....

Works Cited

1. McKnight, Scot. The King Jesus Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011) 132, (e-version) 
2.  Plato, Republic , trans. G. M. A. Grube, revised by C. D. C. Reeve
(Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1992) 331.
3. ibid. 332
4.  Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville:Abingdon, 1996), 223.
5. Zahnd, Brian. Unconditional? (Lake Mary:Charisma House, 2010) 116-117. 
6.ibid. 124
7. Baker, Sharon. Executing God: Rethinking everything you’ve been taught about salvation and the cross (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press) 239 (e-version) 
8. McKnight, Scot. The King Jesus Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011) 134, (e-version) 
 9. Zahnd, Brian. Unconditional? (Lake Mary:Charisma House, 2010) 126. 
10. Snyder Belousek, Darrin W. Atonement, Justice and Peace: The Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2012) 846. (e-version) 
11. Zahnd, Brian. Unconditional? (Lake Mary:Charisma House, 2010) 129. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Who are the meek?

This past weekend I taught on the third of the Beatitudes, which are located at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." (You can listen to the sermon here.) I knew going into this week of study that I would have to spend considerable time explaining what exactly "meek" meant to my congregation. I was not comforted when I cracked open one of my commentaries and read the following words:

“Meekness- is one of the most misunderstood words in the English language.”Life in the Spirit New Testament Commentary
, pg. 151

'Meek' is not really a word that we use in conversation today. I can't think of the last time my wife said to me, "I noticed you were acting meek tonight!" Likewise, I've never heard of someone causally saying, " Boy, did he act rather meek tonight." As far as I know, no one brings up 'meek-ness' on the list characteristics they hope to find in a spouse. It really is a word shrouded in obscurity and vagueness. Perhaps, the lack of clarity and popularity of the word is itself a clue to the meaning of 'meek'? 

I remember in Sunday School being taught as a child,"meekness is not weakness", but I don't recall being taught anything to what meek actually meant. I hope to solve that problem with this blog. 

Here is a 'sketch' from my study notes:

‘MEEK’- πραΰς (prä-ü’s)
gentle, kind, humble, benevolent, humane

(Matt 5.5, 11:29, 21.5; 1 Peter 3.4; Gal 5.23)

Meek (NIV, ESV, KJV)

The mild, patient, long-suffering (AMP)

Humble (CEB, CEV, ERV, GNT, NLT)

Gentle (NASB) 

Content with who you are (The Message) 

Greek Context:

Aristotle (384- 322 BCE) 

Meekness is not about powers forgone but powers controlled and exercised with discernment.”
- Aristotle

Xenophon (430- 354 BCE)

A wild stallion that has been tamed is meek-Xenophon (430-354 BCE)

Hebrew Context: 

"The promise stands out: “for they will inherit the earth [Land].” Clearly the promise evokes both the land promise in Genesis 12 and the promises to the oppressed and waiting in Psalm 37:11 (“the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity”); 37:22 (“those the LORD blesses will inherit the land”); and 37:34 (“he will exalt you to inherit the land”). The Qumran community prized Psalm 37.33 While it has been customary for Christians to see in the NIV’s word “earth” a synonym for “world” now or in the new heavens and earth, there is little likelihood that Jesus would have “world” in mind. We must wrap our minds around the Bible’s Story for the first-century Jew: those to whom Jesus spoke didn’t care two figs for owning Italy or Gaul. They simply wanted shalom in the Land of Israel." -Dr. Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount Commentary

1Do not fret because of those who are evil
    or be envious of those who do wrong;

2 for like the grass they will soon wither,
    like green plants they will soon die away.

3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

4 Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:

6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.

7 Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.

8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.

9 For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look for them, they will not be found.

11 But the meek will inherit the land
    And will delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
The 'Meek person' of Psalm 37:1-11: 

  • “Trusts in the Lord” (v3) 
  • “Takes delight in the Lord” (v4)
  • “Commit their ways to the Lord” (v5) 
  • “Patiently trusts God alone for vindication” (v6-7, 9-10)
  • “Refrains from anger & wrath” (v8) 
  • "Inherit the land" (v9, 11) 
  • “Delights themselves in peace” (v11) 

I also spent the last week asking Christian scholars, leaders, bloggers and authors to 'tweet' me their definition of meek. Here is what they have to say about "meek-ness": 

Biblical meekness isn’t letting yourself be a doormat.  It is about loving someone so much that you completely forget yourself in the process."- Robert Martin of Abnormal Anabaptist

Michael Hardin

Meekness: a gentle non-coercive approach to relationships. - Michael Hardin of preachingpeace.org 

Dr. Scot McKnight

The “meek” are those who suffer and who have been humbled, and yet they do not seek revenge. They lovingly trust God and hope in God’s timing and God’s justice.” 
- Dr. Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount Commentary 

Dr. Brad Jersak
Meekness (synonym - gentleness) is 'strength under control for the purpose of goodness.'

- Dr. Brad Jersak, Westminster Theological Centre

Dr. N.T. Wright 

The word ‘meek’ is always a challenge. The usual answer is ‘like wild horse tamed’ – i.e. with all the energy and fire of the wild horse but now under wise control. This is to stop the word simply sounding ‘weak’ or wimpish.
  I suppose the word goes with others like ‘gentle’ (though that is more directly related to how someone behaves in relation to others) and ‘humble’ (though that is more to do with one’s belief about oneself). It is, as it were, half way between these two: it denotes a particular character but also the way that character behaves to others.
In its famous location in the Beatitudes, at the start of the Sermon on the Mount, it is one of the characteristics Jesus highlights not just for its own sake but one of the types of personality through whom God is starting to bring wise and healing order to his world. Here you could define it in terms of its opposites: the idea that the meek will inherit the earth is astonishing to most people in most cultures, who expect that it will be the pushy, the arrogant, the bossy, the power-brokers, the bullies who will grab the earth and inherit it for themselves. No, says Jesus; in God’s world things work the other way up. The word ‘meek’ stands at the heart of that claim. (I don’t do tweets, by the way… sorry!)

Thanks for reading...

Monday, 10 February 2014

Yoga: Can it be redeemed?

Reginald Rivett over at Christian Thought Sandbox posted a great blog today titled, "Can this be redeemed too?" In the blog, Reggie aptly draws an analogy about the evolution and acceptance of Rock n' Roll music in the church. There was a time when the church had hostility towards the genre of Rock n' Roll. There were many that declared it, "the devils music". There was a change with people like Larry Norman who asked, "Why should the devil have all the good music?" Reggie believes that it's people like Mr. Norman that paved the way for the church to not only have a less hostile attitude towards different genre's; but to redeem it as its own. 

Droff: A guitar player from Hillsong Church
I couldn't agree more. I think church music as a whole has improved with additions of many different musical genres. I must confess to a personal bias: I love rock n roll. A majority of the music in my iTunes library is rock or is in some way related to rock n roll. I also confess to spending considerable time playing electric guitar each week at church! 

Reggie then asks a critical question for which he named his blog post: "Can yoga be redeemed?" It's a great question that deserves some reflection. If rock n' roll can 'get saved', can we say the same about Yoga? This is the question that I am going to spend the remainder of this blog pondering about. 

This is definitely a heated issue for some in the church today. It's an issue that I have no personal investment in, as I have never done Yoga myself, but I do have friends and family that have participated in "Christian Yoga." I have had a few conversations over the years regarding this issue with those who oppose any Christian conception of Yoga. 

I tend to first ask: "Is stretching and physical exercise  wrong?", to which everyone has responded, "No".  

The next question I ask: Is prayerful meditation wrong?" The answer that I receive is "No". 

Then of course my counter question is, "Can I combine prayer and a variety exercises that include positions that are similar to Yoga?". You would think that the answer should logically be "Yes, you can", but I almost never receive that reply. 

What is fascinating to me is that the underlying issues that are brought up to tell me why I am or others are prevented from prayerful meditation and stretching. The biggest objection I have come across: Yoga originates from the East as a form of worship in Buddhism and Hinduism and is therefore inherently irredeemable. Pastor Mark Driscoll summarizes this objection, "Yoga is a religious philosophy that is in direct opposition to Christianity. Thus, in its true form, yoga cannot be simply received by any Christian in good conscious."[1]

Here is where I agree with Pastor Mark. If by Yoga, you mean blindly embrace all tenants of Hinduism, then of course that is antithetical to Christian practice. But from what I can tell those who practice "Christian Yoga" are not trying to promote an idolatrous  synergism. A Christian approach to Yoga is not Yoga "in its true form". It's also likely that your common Yoga class at the community centre is likely not Yoga in "its true form". Doireann Fristoe explains, 
Most Yoga currently practiced in [Western culture] only slightly resembles the original practice. In fact, most of what we call yoga in the West is not truly yoga at all—it is only asana, the physical postures, and pranayama, the breathing exercises. There are myriad schools of thought in modern yoga and to sum all of them up in a few paragraphs would do them no justice. Hinduism involves yoga; all yoga is not Hinduism.[2] 
Can we incorporate asana and pranayama into the Christian's practices of prayer, contemplation and meditation? Here even Driscoll gives us middle ground at the end of long article denouncing Yoga, "feel free in Christian liberty to stretch however you’d like, participate in exercise, calm your nerves through breathing, and even contemplate the Scriptures in silence. But do so in a way that does not identify with yoga and non-Christian mysticism."[3] It appears to me that the issue behind the issue is the inherent 'foreignness' of the term "yoga", which literally translates as 'yoke'. Call it "prayer & stretching" and everyone is okay with it. Call it 'Christian Yoga' or 'Holy Yoga' and there is a visceral gut reaction to the 'otherness' of the term despite the disassociation from any cultic practices and world views. 

 The second issue I have encountered: "Yoga's physical positions allow for the influence of the demonic." I am told that assuming the physical poses can allow demonic influence in your life. Objectors suggest that when you participate in Yoga, even Yoga that is based in Christian prayer and worship, you are unknowing worshiping demons and idols. 

I am critical of the claim that a Christians can unknowingly worship a demon (idol or 'god'). It seems like a bit of stretch too me. (excuse the pun) I don't think the Apostle Paul buys this claim either as evidenced in the first letter to the Corinthians. When asked about eating meat sacrificed to idols Paul says:
"So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." -1 Corinthians 8:4-6 
Paul does not think eating meat that has been offered to an idol somehow defiles the Christian by consuming that meat. Paul believes this to be true because through Christ all things came and through Christ we live. (v6) God is Creator of the meat, not the idol god. So it appears that by thinking the meat is defiled might be giving credit where credit is not due. How is this connected to the Yoga discussion? Let me suggest that because our bodies came from God, and thereby any physical actions necessitated with having a body (i.e. eating, stretching, sitting, laying), I am in no danger of worshiping an idol. (I am of course not including actions done with the body, such as adultery or gluttony, within this category of normal human physicality.) A Christian who does a Yoga pose (like the downward facing dog) is no more in danger of worshiping an idol (demon/god) than a non-Christian is of worshiping YHWH by raising their hands upward in a yawn or of giving a gift at Christmas time. 

To sum up my answer: If I can eat meat (a physical action) that is sacrificed to idols and still be faithful to Christ; cannot I not also assume a yoga position (a physical action) in prayer and worship to Jesus without worry of unknowingly worshiping an idol? To say "No" seems to suggest a frightening perspective that Christ is NOT "through whom all things came"(v6). Worse, it seems to suggest the equivalent of 'spiritual cooties'- the idea that I might catch evil through accidental encounter. "Mere possession of idols or consumption of food sacrificed to them cannot be detrimental unless one adds acts of religious devotion to the mix." [4] So my answer is: Yes, we can redeem Yoga, the asana: the physical postures, and pranayama: the breathing exercises, and direct our worship, prayer, and meditation to the Triune God. 

BUT...(and this is important).
"Not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled."- 1 Corinthians 8:7
Paul understands that there are those who are weak in conscience. They are what Paul describes as those who are "weak in faith" in Romans 14-15. What is our reaction to those who do not agree with our assessment that Yoga can be redeemed? Paul goes on to tell us:
"Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall." 1 Corinthians 8:9-13
Paul teaches us that we need to: 

1. Be careful in the exercise our freedom. (v9) 
2. We should not encourage others to violate their conscience by our actions. (v10) 
3. Wounding and damaging someone's weak conscience is a sin against Christ. (v12)
4. We should be prepared to deny ourselves our freedoms in order to prevent a brother or sister from falling into sin. (v13)

So does this mean that we should jettison the idea of a "Christian Yoga" in order to risk offending others? Not quite.What Paul isn't saying is to watch out against offending people. Paul is telling us not to put a stumbling block in the path of the weak in faith. The question we need to ask is: Who are the weaker brothers and sisters? 

 "The key issue in applying verses 7-13 involves recognizing those who truly have weak consciences. Nothing in the context justifies an association of 'weaker brothers/sisters' with those who are merely offended by a particular practice, notwithstanding the misleading translation of verse 13 in the KJV ("if meat make my brother to offend"). Even less justified is the application of theses principals to the "professional weaker brother"- the Christians legalist eager to forbid morally neutral activities even though he or she would never personally indulge in those activities. Rather, the weaker brother or sister is the Christian who is likely to imitate a stronger believer in some morally neutral practice but feel guilty about doing so or, worse still, be led into that which is inherently sinful or destructive. The strong believer's freedom thus actually has damaging consequences for the spiritual growth and maturation of the weaker sibling. Jack Kuhatschek points out that an adequate analogy to 1 Corinthians 8 must have three elements: (a) a threat to Christian freedom; (b) a potential stumbling block; and (c) a Christian brother or sister who might actually be led into sin. 
 Application of verses 7-13 must also leave room for 10:25-30, in which Paul will stress the freedom of the "strong" more pointedly than he does here. If the strong should not hurt the weak, neither should the weak accuse the strong of sin. Romans 14:1-15:13, Paul's other major teaching passage on the topic, carefully balances these two commands. "[5]
To wrap this up: I think it is totally possible to redeem 'yoga'- the asana and pranayama -within a Christian spirituality and worldview. I also acknowledge that this is a "meat topic" - a morally neutral issue. There are those who by their consciences could never participate with any activity, even if 'redeemed' , that associates itself with the term 'yoga'. I get that and would never think of less of someone who holds that position. It might be better, as Driscoll suggests, for Christians to ditch the word "Yoga" altogether to avoid any confusion and controversy. As with all things in Christian ethics, our approach should be grounded in love for other above ourselves. I am with the Apostle Paul when he says:
 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.- 1 Corinthians 10:32-33

The last words I will give to Bruxy Cavey:

 Works Cited
1. http://pastormark.tv/2011/11/02/christian-yoga-its-a-stretch
4.Blomburg, Craig. The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, Location 3540 (e-version)
5. ibid