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Oct
03
2013

The Faith of the Thessalonians: The Arrival of King Jesus, Part 2 of 10

In week two of my ten-week study of First Thessalonians I'm calling "The Arrival of King Jesus," we're looking at "The Faith of the Thessalonians." Click here for last week's lesson.

It's commonly believed that chapter 1, verse 3, is a kind of "table of contents" for the whole letter. It sets out a three-fold order that roughly characterizes the letter's structure. The verse reads:

“remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The three couplets form an outline for Paul:

  • Work (acts, deeds, enterprise, etc.) of Faith (conviction of the truth, belief): 
    1.4—3.5 (transition pericope: 3.6-10)
     
  • Labor (intense, painful toil) of Love (good will, benevolence):
    3.11—4.12
     
  • Steadfastness (endurance, patience, etc.) of Hope (joyful and confident expectation):
    4.13—5.11 (verses 13—24 are the “peace” verses)

In this week's lesson, I cover the relationship between "faith" and "works," Paul's view of these things, as well as other apostolic teaching. Then I cover the content of the Thessalonians' faith, which Paul describes, and ask: "What socio-political implications would this faith have?"

See the attached PDF to follow along in the study. Next week, I'll cover The Love of the Thessalonians.

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Sep
24
2013

The Arrival of King Jesus: A Study of Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians


In the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom) in Istanbul, the mosaic pictured above can be found depicting Christ seated on the throne of the cosmos with the Byzantine emperor Theodosius I worshipping him. Mary, Jesus's mother, and an angelic figure are on Christ's left and right. 1

Starting this week, I am leading a ten-week study of First Thessalonians that I'm calling "The Arrival of King Jesus". While the above mosaic is not from first century Macedonia, what it captures that I find relevant to Paul's letter is the reality that for the early Christians their faith in Messiah Jesus had very clear political ramifications vis-a-vis the empire.

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Sep
13
2013

Farewell Preston Sprinkle: A Review of _Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence_

Author: Preston Sprinkle
Format: Paperback
Publisher: David Cook (2013)
Language: English
Pages: 275
ISBN: 9781434704924

Amazon 

An Overview of Fight

Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence (hearafter, just Fight) opens with a graphic description of a genocide in Mozambique that is reminiscent of the opening chapter of Mere Discipleship by Lee Camp. Only, in Camp's book, the genocide described was in Rwanda. This is a bit of a "shock and awe" technique. Few U.S. Americans, let alone evangelicals, will be bothered to read detailed accounts of such atrocities, yet end up holding strong views on the subject of war. Sprinkle clearly wants to challenge this comfort, and suggest that we should see war for the horrific, dehumanizing, demonic nightmare that it truly is, before we even attempt to construct an ethical position on the subject. I think Sprinkle's instincts here are correct. Far too much writing on violence and war from U.S. evangelicals is written through rose-colored glasses. Sprinkle will expose some of this as well.

After that, Sprinkle spends three chapters examining the nature of warfare in the Old Testament, the violent passages, and puts forward several theories of interpreting them. I think this section is the book's weakest by far, but I'll get to that shortly. Before leaving the Old Testament entirely, Sprinkle adds a chapter about themes in the Hebrew Bible which point to the developing ethic of nonviolence that more fully appears in the New Testament—particularly in the life and teachings of Messiah Jesus. This capstone chapter is titled for the prophecy found in both Isaiah and Micah of the coming Messianic age when "swords will be beaten into plowshares." 

When Sprinkle turns his attention to the New Testament, Fight turns into an outstanding book. With the next four chapters, Sprinkle will cover a lot of ground, but manage to do it in a way that is both scholarly and yet highly accessible. He covers the nonviolent ethic of Jesus, the nature of Jesus's "kingdom," our citizenship in Jesus's kingdom, the nonviolent meaning of Revelation, and more. These chapters alone are well worth the cost of the book. But for added value, the final third of the book includes a survey of the early church fathers' attitudes toward war, militarism, military service, and killing; responses to several common objections to Christian nonviolence; and an imaginative parable that illustrates the type of cruciform discipleship he's been teaching throughout the book. To top it all off, he even throws in an appendix on Just War theories. Truly, Fight is closer to a library of resources on Christian nonviolence than merely a book. I think readers will be thankful.

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Aug
23
2013

Guns Don't Stop Killers, People Stop Killers: Love, Shared Stories, and the Power of the Holy Spirit

Depending on your access to social media, you may not have heard about this story, or you may think you're hearing about it everywhere. Either way, this story is not getting enough attention, and it probably won't. I'm convinced human beings want Good News, but we've been conditioned by our world to settle for and wallow in Bad News. This is the condition that helps media outlets determine what stories will get ratings, which in turn feeds the culture to which the media is trying to cater. What we end up with is a vicious cycle perpetuating a culture of death. We're entertained, fixated, horrified, and mesmerized by violence!

After the Sandy Hook school shooting, NRA President Wayne LaPierre famously said,

"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun."

http://youtu.be/aASfk-ii0BM

This logic seems sound to millions of U.S. Americans who have been conditioned by our culture of violence and death. Then along comes a story like Antoinette Tuff's, and the presumption that only greater violence can prevent violence is utterly shattered. Tuff's story beautifully illustrates at least three things:

  1. The power of faith to produce love for the 'other';
  2. The power of shared stories;
  3. The power of the Holy Spirit.

Combined, these powers overcome the powers of mental illness, violence, hatred, and death. Take note people—is what Christian discipleship looks like in real life!

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Aug
12
2013

Jesus, Zombies, and Love: A Theological Reflection on Warm Bodies (Part 3)

***SPOILERS***

This is part 3 of a three-part theological reflection on Warm Bodies. In part 1, I explored what Christian theology and the movie have to say about being "fully alive." In part 2, I discussed what the movie and Christian theology have to say about being "fully human." In this post, I'll comment on what both Christian theology and Warm Bodies have to say about relating to the "other."

Zombie movies rarely challenge us to think about how we treat those who are different from us. Instead, there is never a question of who are the "good guys" and who are the undead "bad guys." The bad guys look hideous. The bad guys attack without provocation. The bad guys are mindless killing machines. At least, that's how they're typically portrayed. But not in Warm Bodies!

Instead of painting all zombies with one brush, Warm Bodies introduces a progression in the zombification process. Zombies deteriorate into a less and less human state until there is no humanity left. The other zombies call these completely zombified zombies "Boneys" because they have torn off their own flesh and only their blackened skeleton remains. When the main zombie character "R" introduces them, he says, "[The boneys] eat anything with a heart beat. I mean, so will I, but at least I'm conflicted about it." The implication is that the final state of zombification entails the complete loss of empathy, feeling, humanity.

So, if zombies can progressively become more zombie-like, can they become less zombie-like too? That is the question this new information raises. And if the characteristic feature of complete zombification is being utterly devoid of feeling, what then would be the characteristic feature of a zombie who is becoming more human?

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Aug
10
2013

Jesus, Zombies, and Love: A Theological Reflection on Warm Bodies (Part 2)

***Spoilers***

If you're just tuning in, this is part 2 of a few theological reflections on Warm Bodies, a zombie romance movie. In part 1, I explored how Warm Bodies illustrates what Christian theology has to say about what it means to be fully alive. In part 3, I'll discuss how Warm Bodies helps us think about how Jesus-disciples are called to relate with the 'other.' But in this post, part 2, I'll be commenting on what Warm Bodies exposes about what it means to be fully human:

What Does it Mean to be Fully Human?

In Warm Bodies, something is awakened in the zombie main character ("R") when he encounters the non-zombie main character: "Julie" (And before you ask: Yes, these two names are designed to cause viewers to recall Romeo and Juliet). Rather than attack her without thinking and devour her brains, he is struck by her and desires to know her. So he rescues her from the other zombies who would surely kill her and brings her home to his airplane apartment where he can keep her safe. She is naturally confused, terrified, and distrustful of this zombie who is treating her very un-zombie-like. She's been taught that zombies are nothing but "corpses"—unfeeling, unthinking, non-human. But every time R saves her life, provides her with food, plays music for her, she can't help but begin to rethink what she's been taught. Several times, directly after R has done something selfless for her, she asks, "What are you?" (not "Who are you?"). She's asking, "Are you actually human?"

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Aug
09
2013

Jesus, Zombies, and Love: A Theological Reflection on Warm Bodies (Part 1)

***SPOILERS***

Warm Bodies is an exploration of what it means to be fully human and fully alive. Zombies are a perennial favorite for talking about these subjects. Are the "undead" alive? Are they "human"? But zombie movies are also a way of talking about the "other" and how we are to relate with them. I found Warm Bodies particular good in both of these areas, while also being light-hearted (even funny at times) and not overly cheesy on the romance.

Looking at Warm Bodies theologically, these questions and considerations take on a different hue. What do zombies have to do with Jesus? What does it means to be "fully alive" from a theological point of view? What does it mean to be "fully human"? And how are Jesus-disciples called to relate with the 'other'?

Zombies and Jesus?

Jesus and zombies are actually old friends. The first appearance of "Zombie Jesus" in popular culture is attributed to an episode of Matt Groening's cartoon Futurama back in 1999, but the meme has progressively gained popularity in the years since—particular when Easter time comes around. While some find this meme offensive, even an "attack on Christianity," I don't think we should. I think the comparison can offer the Church an opportunity and common ground to make some important and hopefully helpful reflections.

For example, I found many of the themes captured in Warm Bodies to be very compelling illustrations of Christian theology. For the sake of brevity, I'll constrain my thoughts to just three: What Christian theology has to say about life and death (Part 1); What Christian theology has to say about being human (Part 2); and What Christian theology has to say about relating to the 'other' (Part 3).

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Jul
30
2013

The "Real" Jesus: Why Reza Aslan is Right! (…and Wrong)—Jesus, the Reign of God, and Objectivity

For those who are not familiar with Dr. Reza Aslan (like his Fox News interviewer, apparently), he is a religion scholar 1 who has published several books on terrorism, Islam, and radical Islamic fundamentalism.2 I became familiar with Aslan when he appeared twice on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, once in 2009 to promote his book How to Win a Cosmic War and again in 2010 to promote a different book: Beyond Fundamentalism. Both books deal with religion, globalization, and terrorism.3

Recently, Aslan has returned to The Daily Show, this time to promote his new book on Jesus, but not Christianity.4 At the start of the interview, John Oliver (the interviewer) says:

"Let's be clear, this book is about Jesus the man, not so much Jesus the Christ."

To which Aslan responds, nodding his head in the affirmative:

"It's about the historical Jesus, not the Christ of faith."

The tricky thing about evaluating Aslan's take on Jesus is that so much of what he says is exactly correct. But in the fine details, Aslan makes many critical errors that are both historical and theological. In this post, I'd like to give Aslan credit for what he gets correct, while also pointing out the mistakes he makes and offering a possible reason why he's made them.

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Jul
26
2013

Mere Discipleship and Dialogue: The Priestly Calling to the Ministry of Reconciliation

Years ago now, I read Mere Discipleship by Lee Camp with a small group I started made up mostly of seminary students called "Tanks to Tractors", but I never did review the book here on Theological Graffiti. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in what it means to be a disciple (i.e. follower, student, imitator) of Jesus. Camp is an excellent writer, he draws from many important sources, and the second edition of the book includes a study guide for groups.

The first members of New City Covenant Church's "launch team" will be reading and dialoguing around the subjects in the book for the remainder of the summer as well as putting what we're learning into practice by serving our neighbors in the South End/Lower Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. (If you live in the Boston metro area and are interested in joining us, you can find out more at the church's website.) So my wife suggested it might be appropriate for me to write not only about the book here, but also about the approach we're taking to learning from this book and one another. That is why in this post I'll be describing both: Two of the key theological concepts from the first chapter of the book—"Social Location" and the "Constantinian Shift"—as well as the Dialogue model of engagement we'll be practicing. In the weeks to come, I hope to provide a post like this one (minus the part about dialogue) to describe more of the concepts and arguments Camp covers in the book.

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Jul
02
2013

The Big Story of the Bible: Theologians Could Learn a Thing or Two from This Children's Bible

This is not a review, though one is likely to come later. Instead, I only wish to offer a few priliminary observations about this Bible for children, the Jesus Storybook Bible, that I just began reading to my own children at bedtimes. 

From my preliminary observations, I am overjoyed by the quality of this children's Bible and excited to experience it with my children. In fact, I think this Bible will not only benefit children, but also adults. This book even has a thing or two to teach theologians!

1. Brown People!

The illustrations in this Bible are beautiful! I love the whimsical, yet deliberate style. But most of all I love the deliberate choice of the author and illustrator to make the main characters brown-skinned. In stark contrast to "The Bible" miniseries which aired on the History Channel, the Jesus Storybook Bible does not depict people of ancient Hebrew decent as European/white. Instead, the award-winning illustrator, Jago, was sure to give the biblical characters a darker, more historically accurate, complextion than many (if not most) Western children's Bibles. Nowhere is this more important than in the ethnicity of Jesus Himself. For far too long, children in the West have been deceived by depictions of Jesus as white.

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Welcome to TheologicalGraffiti.com

T. C. and Tyson Moore

Theological Graffiti is a blog written by T. C. Moore @tc_moore ...a Jesus-disciple, husband, father, urban minister, sometimes designer, writer, preacher, and theology geek. For more about me, visit my Personal Website or my Online Profile. Otherwise, enjoy the graffiti.

Shalom,
T. C.

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