Celebrating he National Black Fellowship of the Assemblies of God | Influence Podcast


February is Black History Month, and in this episode of the Influence Podcast, we’re celebrating the National Black Fellowship of the Assemblies of God, which just completed 40 years of service.

I’ll be talking with Bishop Walter Harvey about the history, growth, and mission of this vital network within the broader AG community. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Bishop Walter Harvey is president of the National Black Fellowship and pastor emeritus at Parklawn Assembly of God in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

P.S. I recorded this podcast for InfluenceMagazine.com. It is posted here with permission.

 

Power in Weakness | Book Review


Using worldly means to accomplish heavenly ends is a persistent temptation for pastors. Today, it takes the form of corporate business models. In Paul’s day, especially at Corinth, it was professional rhetoric models that emphasized “wisdom” and “power.” Church members not only expected their pastors to have these qualities, but they also fought over which pastors had them in greatest measure.

Paul offers a standing rebuke to all forms of this temptation in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

The title of Timothy G. Gombis’ excellent new book, Power in Weakness, alludes to this verse. The book offers “an extended meditation on the dynamics of power and weakness in pastoral ministry,” based on Paul’s letters and his portrayal in the Book of Acts.

At 184 pages, Power in Weakness is small, but its potential to reshape the pastoral imagination is large.

In the Introduction, Gombis highlights four key features of his approach to the topic:

First, he reflects on “the changes that took place in Paul’s approach to ministry after his conversion.” This might strike some readers as strange. Did Paul have a pre-conversion approach to ministry? Yes! According to Gombis, “Paul was vigorously engaged in attempting to bring about resurrection in life for God’s people on earth.”

When Jesus entered the very resurrection life Paul so assiduously sought, the content and manner of Paul’s ministry had to change. Paul’s ministry became “cruciform,” that is, cross shaped.

Gombis acknowledges his debt to Michael J. Gorman, who wrote the book’s Foreword, for the term cruciform. Gombis writes, “Cruciformity has a ‘narrative pattern,’ identifying the movement of Jesus from having all privileges to his refusal to exploit them for gain to his self-expenditure and his willingly going to the point of death on a cross.” That is the weakness God fills with His own power.

Second, Gombis situates the Church’s ministry “within a cosmically contested situation.” For Paul, as for other Jews of his day, there is more to life than the human and mundane.

Prior to the Damascus Road, Paul believed the coming Messiah would immediately overthrow His enemies and establish God’s kingdom with all its benefits. After the Damascus Road, Paul realized Christ inaugurated God’s kingdom in the midst of “this age” and will consummate “the age to come” at His Second Coming. The Church now lives in tension between those two ages.

Third, for Gombis, the Church is “the place on earth where God resides.” That is to say, “The very power that raised Jesus from the dead now fills and pervades churches that gather in the name of Jesus.” Consequently, churches cannot act as if they are simply one social organization among many others. They are unique and must live out the distinctiveness of their cruciform calling in the midst of a dying world.

Fourth, Gombis “goes beyond mining the ‘Pastoral Epistles’ … to reflect theologically on the entire New Testament portrait of Paul.” This is where the rubber meets the road, where we see how Paul’s theological vision shaped his pastoral practice.

Gombis focuses especially on the temptations of “coercive power,” “image maintenance,” and “credential accumulation.” He also notes how cruciformity changes the way pastors approach preaching, church discipline, “big” sins, and personal limitations.

Even the definition of leadership changes, according to Gombis:

While we may speak of pastoral ministry in leadership terms, we would do well to be watchful for the worldly ideologies and practices that may be contained in the language. The pastoral task involves nurture and cultivation of communities to take the corporate shape of the cross so that they put themselves in a position to draw upon the life of God as he pours out resurrection power among them.

I highly recommend Power in Weakness to pastors. As ministers of the gospel, our theology needs to shape our practices if our ministries are to have integrity. Timothy G. Gombis adeptly shows how Paul modeled such integrity.

I would not recommend pastors read this book alone, however. Read it with the church members you labor alongside, especially board members and key volunteers. It is not just the pastor’s ministry vision that needs transformation, after all. It is the whole church’s.

Book Reviewed
Timothy G. Gombis, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2021).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here with permission.

A Simple Rule for a Complex World | Influence Magazine


When Jesus Christ was born, the most eminent rabbis in Judea were Hillel and Shammai. They approached Torah — Old Testament law — differently. Hillel typically interpreted Torah leniently, Shammai strictly. The Talmud records stories about the debates between the men.

One of the stories concerns a Gentile who desires to become a Jew. He approaches Shammai and says, “Convert me on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot.” Shammai chases him away with a stick.

So the man approaches Hillel. Hillel converts him, then teaches him the entire Torah with this sentence: “That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation.”

Shammai and Hillel epitomize two ways of approaching ethics. Shammai complexifies matters. For him, the issues are difficult, so it is not easy to explain what we should do in any case. Hillel simplifies matters. He identifies the overarching principle that explains what we should do in every case.

Arguments can be made for either way. When you consider the range of ethical dilemmas we face today — abortion, climate change, racism, sexuality, etc. — you can see the appeal of Shammai’s point of view.

And yet, integrity requires that we take a consistent approach to resolving ethical dilemmas. This doesn’t mean denying the diversity of challenges we face. However, it does mean finding the overarching rule rather than multiplying new commandments, like Hillel did.

Or perhaps I should say, “Like Jesus did,” for He too approached ethics simply.

Jesus’ Simple Rule
We see Jesus’ simple rule in Matthew 22:34–40, where Jesus answers the question, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?”

Jesus responds, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (quoting Deuteronomy 6:5). This is our greatest spiritual duty. Then he says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (quoting Leviticus 19:18). This is our greatest moral duty. Together, these two duties constitute the Great Commandment.

In Jewish tradition, Torah contains 613 commandments, 365 negative and 248 positive. Love of God and love of neighbor are greatest because they are more important than other commandments. However, they are also greatest because they are explanatory of other commandments. This is what Jesus means when He says, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Two other passages in the New Testament give us criteria for knowing whether we actually love our neighbor. The first is Jesus’ Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

Notice, by the way, that Jesus’ Golden Rule is both like and unlike Hillel’s statement to the Gentile convert. They are alike because both align our behavior with what we expect of others. They differ because Hillel’s focus is negative (“do not do to another”), while Jesus’ focus is positive (“do to others”).

The second passage is Romans 13:10, which articulates what is known as the Harm Principle: “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Taken together, the Great Commandment, the Golden Rule, and the Harm Principle comprise Jesus’ simple rule for living in a complex world.

And His simple rule is obviously good. It is easy to state (“Love your neighbor as yourself”) and has clear criteria for knowing what love requires. It is positive (“Love,” “Do”) and proactive (“as you would have them do to you”). It is universal in scope (“in everything”), and it is fair in application, requiring a single rule for both you and them (“as yourself”). Finally, it is virtuous and beneficial, arising from love and seeking to help, not harm.

“Easy peasy lemon squeezy,” as my daughters say. Right? At the intellectual level, sure! Simple rules are easy to apply. But take a look around — or better yet, take a look within — and notice how often Jesus’ simple rule is disregarded and disobeyed. Why does this happen, and how do obey Jesus better?

What to Do Now
As I reflect on Scripture and my own struggles to follow Jesus’ simple rule, five action items come to mind:

1. Act reflectively, not reflexively. When I visit the doctor for my annual physical, he tests my tendon reflexes by tapping my knees with a small hammer. My foot kicks forward every time without my thinking about it, and that’s a good thing.

Sometimes our emotions are like that too: They respond without us thinking about them. That’s not always a good thing. What if your neighbor taps you with your anger mallet and you kick him right back? That’s reflexive … and bad.

We need a reflective response — that is, thoughtful, intentional —rather than a reflexive one. So, next time someone treats you badly in word or deed, stop, count to 10, and ask whether your response is how you would want to be treated, as well as whether it will harm the other person.

2. Act self-referentially, not selfishly or selflessly. Some people act selfishly, as if they’re the only person who matters. Other people act selflessly, as if everyone matters but themselves. Selfless people are the doormats selfish people wipe their feet on.

Jesus doesn’t want us to act selfishly or selflessly, however, as if we’re everything or nothing. Instead, He wants us to act self-referentially — to love others “as yourself.” Ephesians 5:28–29 offers a picture of what that this looks like in a marriage relationship: “He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body.”

This is how Jesus treats the Church, and how we should treat others.

3. Think long term, not short term. My youngest daughter lives fully in the present. She wants it all, and she wants its right now, especially if it’s candy. While she’s delightful 99% of the time, she throws epically undelightful fits when she doesn’t get her way.

I know too many adults who act like my daughter. If a child’s fit isn’t pretty, just imagine how ugly an adult fit is. In saying, “I want it all, and I want it now!” we make petulant children of ourselves, treat others like means to our ends, and harm them in the process.

“Love is patient,” Paul writes (1 Corinthians 13:4). So if you love others, remember to think long-term. As the old saw puts it, “Good things come to those who wait.”

4. Imitate and model. A great deal of learning is imitation. That’s why parents want their kids to have “good kids” for friends. That’s why parents shy away from spending too much time with other adults who aren’t good “role models.” So, if you want to love your neighbor as yourself, form relationships with people who do it well. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ,” Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 11:1).

More than having a good role model, be a good role model. Nothing so straightens you out as knowing that others are watching what you do.

5. Ask the Holy Spirit for The previous action steps are basically self-help. They don’t necessarily assume a spiritual point of view. Instead, they assume we can fix a problem once we’ve identified it.

But what if we can’t? What if the cause of our failure goes deeper than ignorance? What if our problem is a defective heart? In other words, what if we don’t love others because we don’t want to or because we like to hurt them?

If our heart is defective, no amount of self-help will help. We need a heart surgeon. We need the Holy Spirit.

Ole Hallesby defines prayer as “asking Jesus into our heart.” We typically use that language to describe conversion. “Come to the altar and ask Jesus into your heart,” the preacher says at the end of a worship service. Hallesby recognized that because we have a heart problem, we need continually to ask Jesus into our hearts.

And here’s the good news: Jesus always answers that prayer! According to Paul, Jesus does that this way: “God’s lovehas been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

_____

Our times are complex. The moral problems we face are outnumbered only by the solutions proffered. But if Jesus is not only our Savior but also our Teacher, then one thing is needful: To love our neighbors as ourselves. May that simple rule guide us always!

P.S. I wrote this article for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here with permission.

Faithful Theology: An Introduction | Book Review


Faithful Theology is the first book in Crossway’s Short Studies in Systematic Theology series. The purpose of each book is to “(1) introduce the doctrine [under examination], (2) set it in context, (3) develop it from Scripture, (4) draw the various threads together, and (5) bring it to bear on the Christian life.” Volumes already published or in the works examine the Trinity (which I reviewed here), God’s attributes, the person of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the church.

Faithful Theology differs from the other volumes in that it deals with theological method rather than a theological doctrine. As Graham A. Cole writes, “This book is about the method to use in doing faithful theology: faithful to God, faithful to God’s word.” More specifically, it focuses on the move “from Scripture to doctrine.”

Here is the book’s table of contents:

  1. The Word of Revelation
  2. The Witness of Christian Thought and Practice
  3. The World of Human Brokenness
  4. The Work of Wisdom
  5. The Way of Worship: Putting It all Together in Thought and Life

Cole’s method is similar to what Albert C. Outler called “the Wesleyan Quadrilateral” of Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. However, Cole takes pains to note that these elements are not equal. Scripture is norma normans (“a norming norm”), while the others are norma normata (“a normed norm”).

Moreover, Cole emphasizes that the goal of theology is worship. “Faithful thinking ought not to be divorced from faithful living,” he writes. Here, he understands worship not merely as the religious devotion we offer to God, but the entire manner in which we live.

Cole acknowledges that the logical order of theological method is Scripture, tradition, experience (or “brokenness,” in his terms), but the actual order is nonlinear. For example, we may start with an existential problem or a philosophical conundrum and go back to Scripture and tradition to see what they say.

The theological perspective of this book is what Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy have called the “traditional evangelical model”: “Scriptures contain a body of divinely given information actually expressed or capable of being expressed in propositions.” They contrast it with the “postfoundationalist model.” According to Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, in the latter model, “Our understanding of Scripture will always be filtered through the lenses of who we are and where we are in space and time.”

Cole acknowledges the force of the postfoundational model’s insight about context, but he argues that the traditional evangelical model can incorporate it. He writes, “What needs to be noted is that the human imagination … enables us to transcend our own times and establish a critical distance from them.” He discusses how to do this in chapter 3, “The World of Human Brokenness.”

The preface notes that the series’ purpose is “to equip the church to faithfully understand, love, teach, and apply what God has revealed in Scripture about a variety of topics.” Beyond that statement, it does not specify the series’ intended readership. Having read both this book and the one on the Trinity, I believe theologically interested laypeople and undergraduate theology students will profit most from the books.

One caveat: Crossway is an evangelical publisher in the Reformed tradition. This means many of their other books articulate a theology that Pentecostal readers such as myself do not agree with on the topics of Calvinism, complementarianism, and charismatic gifts. I have not read anything that concerns me in this series’ books on theological method or the Trinity, however, even though I might have stated things a bit differently here and there.

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

The QAnon Deception | Book Review


On Saturday, October 28, 2017, a user named “Q Clearance Patriot” posted the following message on a 4Chan imageboard: “Hillary Clinton will be arrested between 7:45 AM – 8:30 AM EST on Monday – the morning on Oct 30, 2017.”

Thus began QAnon, an influential conspiracist movement on the fringes of American politics.

The QAnon Deception by James A. Beverley is a fair-minded, well-researched introduction and critique of this movement. The author is associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Woodway, Texas; research professor at Tyndale University in Toronto, Canada; and a specialist in new religions. He writes for a general audience, though as an evangelical Christian, he occasionally offers a theological evaluation of Q or warns of its infiltration in some quarters of American Christianity.

According to QAnon lore, Q Clearance Patriot — more commonly, “Q” — is “a high-ranking military figure who works with President Trump to provide important data on what is going on in Trump’s battles to defeat the enemies of democracy,” writes Beverley. (A “Q clearance” is a national security designation allowing a person to view top-secret intelligence.) Q posts cryptic messages (“Drops”) to user boards (first 4chan, and now 8chan/8kun) to update followers (“Anons”) about the progress of Trump’s battles.

Q’s messages seem to be cryptic by intention. One reason is supposedly defensive, to keep democracy’s enemies guessing. Another reason is to force Anons to think for themselves. As Q wrote on August 17, 2018: “This movement challenges people to not simply trust what is being reported. Research for yourself. Think for yourself. Trust yourself.”

Even so, a number of early QAnon adherents have shaped the basic contours of the movement. They are known as “bakers.” According to Beverley, the most influential of them are James Coleman Rogers (“Pamphlet Anon”), Paul Furber (“Baruch the Scribe”) and Tracy Diaz, (“Tracy Beanz”).

As a movement, QAnon is a clearinghouse for conspiracy theories. Beverley writes, “The QAnon belief system is composed of a conglomerate of conspiracy theories. Some are old ones involving the Rothschilds and the Illuminati, while others are new claims involving Donald Trump.”

The movement’s “ultimate conspiracy,” however, involves “Satanism and child sacrifice,” according to Beverley. “Joe M,” an influential QAnon baker, summarizes the matter this way:

The purest of pure evil — beyond theft, corruption, murder, and blackmail — is the kidnapping, torture, raping, and sacrificing of children. The perpetrators are Luciferians and Satan-worshippers. They run pedophile networks across continents, through the Vatican, and underneath the cover of charities and child protective services. In short, they target and infiltrate any organization that puts them closest to their victims.

Obviously, pedophilia is evil, and all should oppose it. But is satanic child sacrifice really the goal of a cabal of global elites? That is a central claim made by QAnon adherents.

And that brings us to The QAnon Deception’s assessment of the movement. Throughout the book, Beverley rightfully and helpfully reminds readers not to attack the motives, intelligence, or sanity of QAnon adherents. People of good will can be wrong, after all, even grievously so.

What needs to be evaluated are QAnon’s truth claims, the statements QAnon makes about how the world works. On that count, QAnon is a failure. Beverley scatters his criticisms of QAnon throughout the book, helpfully gathering and summarizing them in the Afterword. They fall into three broad categories:

Doubts about Q. Though Q posted 4,953 times between October 28, 2017, and December 8, 2020, no one knows Q’s identity. Though QAnon lore portrays him as a high-ranking military figure, there is no proof of this, and some lines of evidence suggest several people post as Q.

Moreover, Q posts appear exclusively on imageboards (4chan, 8chan/8kun) that Beverley describes as “the racist, bigoted, sexist, and hateful basements of the Internet.” Why would a morally upstanding military figure reveal the existence of a global conspiracy of satanic pedophiles on imageboards infamous for, among other things, posting pornography (including child pornography)?

As quoted above, Q encouraged Anons to think for themselves. So, why do they subscribe to the beliefs of someone they know nothing about?

Doubts about Q’s Drops. Second, Anons follow Q because they believe he offers them an insider’s perspective on a global conspiracy. His predictions are like Ariadne’s thread, leading Anons out of the labyrinthine confusion of day-to-day politics into the clear light of day about what actually drives current events.

The problem is that many, if not most, of Q’s predictions don’t pan out. Take the first Drop quoted at the outset of this review. It made a very specific prediction about the date and time of Hilary Clinton’s impending arrest. More than three years later, that arrest still has not happened. Failed predictions — including about President Trump’s 2020 reelection — are leading many Anons to grow disillusioned with Q and the QAnon movement.

QAnon’s Harms. Third, Beverley writes, “the QAnon movement has harmed individual, family, social and political life in America and around the world.” It has impugned politicians without evidence, predicted events that didn’t happen, divided Americans needlessly, and inspired a few extremists to commit crimes.

Though The QAnon Deception was published a month before rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, it is not coincidental that the most photographed person who participated in that event was Jake Angeli — the guy in the fur hat with horns — who is known as the “QAnon Shaman.” Belief leads to action, it seems, and bad beliefs to bad actions.

I highly recommend James A. Beverley’s The QAnon Deception to readers interested in learning more about QAnon. Its criticisms of the movement hit their target. And as a Christian minister, I especially appreciate those occasions when Beverley turns from his general audience and addresses his fellow evangelicals about Q’s influence among some of our fellow churchgoers. His book deserves a wide and influential reading.

Book Reviewed
James A. Beverley, The QAnon Deception: Everything You Need to Know about the World’s Most Dangerous Conspiracy Theory (Concord, NC: EqualTime Books, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com and is posted here with permission.

What Christian Citizens Owe Government Leaders | Influence Magazine


This past Wednesday, Joseph R. Biden was inaugurated president of the United States of America. Despite our nation’s name, we are a divided people. Many Americans voted for Biden and support the public policies he pledged to enact. Many others didn’t and don’t. Christians of various denominational stripes can be found among both groups.

The inauguration of a new president during an era of intense division offers Christians an opportunity to reflect on what we owe our government leaders. When we agree with them, our obligation seems easy. But when we disagree — especially when we disagree hotly — our duty seems difficult. That is why, in the throes of changing politics, we must recur to God’s unchanging Word.

As we examine Scripture, we see four obligations God lays on Christian citizens regarding those we have elected — and He has established (Romans 13:1–2) — to lead.

Prayer
In 1 Timothy 2:1–7, the apostle Paul encourages believers to offer “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving” for “all people,” but especially for “kings and all those in authority.” The Roman emperor when Paul writes those words is probably Nero, a notoriously violent and corrupt man. Even so, the apostle urges believers to pray, petitioning God to meet Nero’s needs, interceding with God to forgive his sins, and thanking God when he gets things right.

The purpose of those prayers, according to Paul, is that Christians can live “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” In the Bible, peace is not just the absence of conflict. It is the experience of human flourishing that pervades when justice prevails. Christians contribute to human flourishing by living godly, holy lives.

There is a deeper purpose behind the purpose, however: “This is good,” Paul writes, “and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Have you heard the statement, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church”? This is a misquotation of the early Christian writer Tertullian. (What he actually wrote is, “The blood of Christians is seed.”) From this statement, many Christians have inferred that the Church grows best when persecuted worst.

That is not what Paul thought, however. For him, peace and quiet is the ground of evangelism, which is why he urged Christians to pray for the authorities, who were in the best position to establish the conditions of justice that led to peace.

And so, let us offer all kinds of prayers to God on behalf of our elected officials! May He grant them wisdom to know what is just and what results in peace throughout the community! And may Christians make the most of peace to share the gospel, which is the second thing Christian citizens owe elected leaders.

Gospel
The gospel is good news. Notice what Paul said about the gospel in 1 Timothy 2:4: God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Just as God wants believers to pray for all people, especially government leaders, so God desires to save all people, including government leaders. He has invited everyone you meet to spend eternity with Him.

This happens through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul quotes Joel 2:32 in Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” To make sure everyone knows about God’s invitation, Paul reminds believers of their duty to share the gospel:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14–15, referring to Isaiah 52:7).

Sometimes, we focus so narrowly on what politicians are doing, rightly or wrongly, that we forget where they are going, heaven or hell. If God desires to save all people through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, and if it is our privilege to share that good news with all, then we must also pray and work for the salvation of government leaders who do not believe, as well as for the spiritual renewal of government leaders who do.

Like Paul standing before King Agrippa, we must be willing to say, “Short time or long — I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:29).

Most of us will never meet the president of the United States or a federal senator or congressional representative. But we may know local government officials. Are we praying for them? Are we building relationships with them? Are we looking for opportunities to share the gospel with them or to strengthen their faith?

Obedience and Respect
In a republic or a democracy such as ours, the people elect their leaders. This is a very different situation politically than what Paul and other New Testament Christians faced. They lived under monarchies and had little say in who governed them.

Even so, Paul encouraged obedience: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1). Nero is likely Caesar when Paul writes these words, which implies that for Paul, even Nero’s reign was God ordained. If Paul urges obedience to corrupt government officials we did not choose, how much more should we obey government officials we did choose!

And yet, more than external obedience is required. Like Paul, Peter urged obedience to “human authority,” from the “emperor” to the “governors” below (1 Peter 2:13–17). It is possible to outwardly obey authority while inwardly disrespecting them, however. So Peter encourages Christians to live with integrity: “Show proper respect to everyone … honor the emperor.”

Obedience and respect toward human authorities are in short supply these days. And to be honest, those authorities have often earned the disobedience and disrespect people show them through incompetence, corruption and hypocrisy. Christians are not supposed to act like other citizens, however. As Peter points out, we are supposed to live “for the Lord’s sake,” and this entails both obedience to and respect for human authority. Only in this way will we live paradoxically as “free people,” not using our freedom as “a cover-up for evil.”

Accountability and Example
Christian obedience to government officials is not a limitless obligation, however. Jesus says, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). This implies a distinction between what we owe government leaders and what we owe God.

And since God establishes government leaders (Romans 13:1), this further implies that our duties to God supersede our duties to government leaders. As Peter reminds the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29).

The distinction between divine and human authority and the subordination of the latter to the former are good things. They ground Christian politics in moral principle. They set limits on the reach of government. And they create room for civil society to use persuasion rather than compulsion to effect social change.

But they only work if we do our work as citizens. So, are we informed about public policy? Do we advocate for change where necessary? Do we vote in good government leaders and vote out bad ones?

Most importantly, as Christians, do we set a good example for our neighbors? Jesus says, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Peter says, “it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15).

We should not expect a religiously diverse society to reflect Christian values unless or until we have shown them by our own example “the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31), which is love.

In this new year, with a new presidential administration, let us renew our commitment to praying for our government officials, to sharing the gospel with them, to obeying the law and respecting the lawgivers, and to holding them accountable while giving them our good example! These are the basic duties of Christian citizenship.

P.S. This article is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

What Does the Bible Say About Missions? | Influence Podcast


Many Christians begin the New Year with a renewed determination to read their Bibles. Their intention is good, obviously, but it needs to partner with understanding and action if it’s to do us any good. In his new book, Missionary God, Missionary Bible, Dr. Dick Brogden argues that the Bible has a missional message: God desires to bless all nations.

That’s the message I’m talking to Dr. Brogden about in Episode 241 of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Dick Brogden is an ordained missionary with Assemblies of God World Missions. He has ministered among Muslims in East Africa and the Middle East for nearly a quarter-century. Together with his wife, he is cofounder of Live Dead, a church-planting movement among people groups not yet reached by the gospel.

P.S. You can read my recommendation of the book at Amazon. As always, if you like it, please click “Helpful” on my review page.

P.P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Four People You Meet on Your Spiritual Journey | Influence Magazine


The older I get, the more I appreciate how important people are to my spiritual journey, and yours, too. Americans tend to think of spirituality as something we do by ourselves, but for Christians, the spiritual life is something we do with others. Only together do we form the body of Christ (Romans 12:5).

When Paul talked about Christ’s body, he emphasized both unity and diversity: “In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Romans 12:5–6).

It’s not just that we play different roles, however. At different times in our lives, we have different relationships with people in the body of Christ. This is evident in Romans 16. As I read the list of people Paul asked the church to greet, I see four relationships in particular: patrons, peers, protégés and pains.

Patrons
Patrons are people who make our spiritual journeys possible. They open doors for us and provide for our needs. In Romans 16, Paul mentioned three such people in particular.

The first and most prominent is Phoebe (Romans 16:1–2). Paul wrote Romans from Corinth. Phoebe was a deacon at the church of Cenchreae, one of Corinth’s two port cities. It is likely that Paul mentioned her first because she carried the letter to Rome, read it to the Christians there, and answered their questions about it. If so, she was history’s first commentator on Romans.

In Greek, Paul described Phoebe as his prostatis, which translates as “benefactor” or “patron.” The ancient world contained what we call patron-client relationships. Wealthy, well-connected people (patrons) provided material help and protection to those beneath them in the social hierarchy (clients) in exchange for allegiance and service. Evidently, Phoebe served as a kind of patron for many in the church at Cenchreae, including Paul himself. This probably entailed funding her church’s benevolence programs, as well as Paul’s missionary journeys.

Paul also mentioned two other patrons: Rufus’ mother, “who has been a mother to me, too” (verse 13), and Gaius, “whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy” (verse 23).

Each of these relationships provided Paul something he needed: financial support (Phoebe); emotional warmth (Rufus’ mother); and a place to meet and eat (Gaius).

In one way or another, patrons make our spiritual journey possible. What we owe such people is gratitude.

Peers
Peers are people with whom we share the burdens of the spiritual journey. Paul name-checked nearly 40 individuals in Romans 16. He didn’t give much information about most of them, besides their names, but he used three terms that indicate his relationships with them were on an equal footing.

The first term is synergos, “co-worker,” which Paul used to describe Priscilla and Aquila (verse 3), Urbanus (verse 9), and Timothy (verse 21). He also named several individuals who worked hard for the churches in their spheres of influence: Mary (verse 6), Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis (verse 12). The work here is the ministry of the gospel in some form, though we shouldn’t necessarily infer all of these people held formal church offices.

What we owe such workers is a commitment to do things right and get things done. Work teams can only succeed to the extent that everyone puts in equal labor. In the local church, there’s plenty of work to spread around, and we all should work hard alongside one another.

The second and third terms have less to do with work than with the quality of our relationships. The first is agapetos, “dear friend” or “beloved,” which Paul used to describe Epenetus (verse 5), Ampliatus (verse 8), Stachys (verse 9), and Persis (verse 12). The second is adelphos, “brother” or “sister,” which Paul used to describe Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, and Hermas, among many others (verse 14).

Take a moment to notice something interesting about the names Paul mentioned, not only under the heading of peers, but throughout the Romans 16 list. Both Jews and Greeks made the list. Paul described both men and women as co-workers, friends, and siblings. And scholars indicate that some of the people on the list had names commonly given to slaves.

In the Church, our status “in Christ Jesus” (verse 3) makes us equal to one another — equal in hard work, friendship, and familial love — regardless of one’s sex, ethnic group, religious background, or socioeconomic status. As Paul puts it elsewhere, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Protégés
Protégés are people we help along the way. Paul named two in particular: Epenetus, “my dear friend” and “the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia” (verse 5), and Timothy, whom Paul described as his “co-worker” (21), but whom we know Paul elsewhere called “my son whom I love” (1 Corinthians 4:17).

We owe our protégés grace. In Paul’s writings, charis, which is the Greek word for grace, has two basic senses. The first is unmerited favor. This is the sense of charis in Romans 3:23–24: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” The second is spiritual power. This is the sense of charis in Romans 12:6: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”

Good patrons know their protégés will mess up on the spiritual journey. At those moments, the patrons will model God’s unmerited favor. They also know their protégés need to grow stronger in spiritual power. At times, protégés can benefit from a pep talk or constructive criticism spoken in love. Whatever the case, we owe our protégés grace in both senses of the term.

Pains
Finally, pains. These are people who make our journeys hard.

Some spiritual journeys are hard because non-Christians cause us pain. Paul hinted at this when he mentioned that Andronicus and Junia had been “in prison” with him (verse 7), and when he said Apelles “stood the test” (verse 10). These are the pains of persecution, and throughout the world, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are experiencing them.

But the pains Paul mentioned in Romans 16:17–18 came from inside the church. I like to think of these people as church trolls. Like internet trolls, they use clever words and specious arguments to gain followers, divide churches, and exasperate cool-headed, warm-hearted Christians. As with internet trolls, the best thing you can do is ignore them.

This requires discernment, because sometimes our protégés act like trolls. (And sometimes we act like trolls!) We need the Spirit’s wisdom to know when to give grace and when to stop throwing pearls to pigs (Matthew 7:6).

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I close with an observation and some questions.

The observation is that our relationships are not static. Everyone begins the spiritual journey as a protégé, but as we mature, we become peers and patrons. Unfortunately, sometimes we even become pains.

The question is this: Where are you in your relationships today? Who are your patrons, peers, protégés and pains? What are you giving each to enhance their spiritual journey?

May God bring the right people into your life this year so that you make good progress on your spiritual journey! And may you be the right person for someone else’s journey!

P.S. This article was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

How to Settle Your Soul After an Unsettling Year | Influence Podcast


This past year was an unsettling one. I like to think of it as the Year of Three Ps: pandemic, protests, and politics. Each one fomented conflict, but taken together, they were a conflict force multiplier. And that doesn’t even taken into account the normal stressors we face every year.

How can followers of Jesus Christ experience settled souls in the midst of unsettling times? That’s the question I’m talking about with Dr. Jodi Detrick in this episode of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Dr. Detrick is a personal coach, public speaker, and most recently author of The Settled Soul: Tenaciously Abiding with a Tender God, published by Gospel Publishing House. An ordained Assemblies of God minister, she loves to talk to people at the heart level about things that matter most.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

How Do We Know? | Book Review


How Do We Know? By James K. Dew Jr. and Mark W. Foreman is an introduction to epistemology, the theory of knowledge. It is also the inaugural volume in IVP Academic’s new series, Questions in Christian Philosophy. The next volume, How Do We Reason? by Forrest E. Baird, is an introduction to logic and comes out in April 2021.

Here is the table of contents:

  1. What Is Epistemology?
  2. What Is Knowledge?
  3. Where Does Knowledge Come From?
  4. What Is Truth, and How Do We Find It?
  5. What Are Inferences, and How Do They Work?
  6. What Do We Perceive?
  7. Do We Need Justification?
  8. Can We Be Objective in Our View of the World?
  9. What Is Virtue Epistemology?
  10. Do We Have Revelation?
  11. How Certain Can We Be?

As can be seen from this table, the book asks the basic questions of epistemology. Dew and Foreman outline the most common answers to each question, noting their strengths and weaknesses. They write clearly and use everyday illustrations to make their points.

The authors note that the book is for “those with no background in philosophy,” and it brings a “Christian perspective” to bear on the topic. This perspective is most evident in the book’s discussions about the possibility of divine revelation and of Reformed epistemology.

Given that How Do We Know? is published by the academic imprint of an evangelical publisher, I assume that its primary readers will be college students, especially at Christian colleges and universities. However, readers who aren’t college students—or even Christians—can profit from the book’s discussion of the issues, which largely tracks with the content of other primers on epistemology.

One final note: This is the book’s second edition. Its major difference from the first edition is the addition of chapter 8, “Can We Be Objective in Our View of the World?”

Book Reviewed
James K. Dew Jr. and Mark W. Foreman, How Do We Know? An Introduction to Epistemology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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