Tag: Jesus

SermonCast: What is Epiphany Part 2: Matthew 4:12-25

 

This week we talk about the topic of Discipleship and how Jesus’s calling of the Disciples is meant for us as well. We also looked at teh topic of Deconstruction and Reconstruction and how Discipleship effects it.

Watch the full service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zk1bq1Okv0I

Theological Album Review: Until This Shakes Apart – Five Iron Frenzy

Five Iron Frenzy has put their time in lockdown to good use, bottom line, this is a must listen.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Release Dates: January 14th 2021
Rating: 9/10

It is true that I am very selective about what I review these days, when I was working for Altrocklive.com and even afterward I would occasionally review an album if it was sent to me or if I thought it worth while to review. One of the events in Christian Music I did cover during my time at Alt Rock Live was the return of Denver based Ska band Five Iron Frenzy after a ten-year hiatus from music. 2013’s return Engine of a Million Plots and its follow up EP Between Pavement and Stars should be hailed as two of the best comeback albums by any band in Christian Music (sorry Stryper). Now they have come back again, with their first full length album in 7 years, and it is a masterpiece. Since this is a Theological Review, I will only make brief comments on the album’s music context (how it fits with the genre, their other works, etc) though I will address those more traditional criteria. My interest here is addressing the theology of the album because that is where the albums strength lies as a critique of modern Christianity in America. It should be brought to the readers attention that I am going to quote some of these songs at quite some length and so this review will be slightly longer than most I have written in the past. Still, if you have not gone out and bought it Until this Shake Apart is worth the money and a place in your music library, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

Before we get to this album, I want to make why I chose this album to review clear. This year will be the ten-year anniversary of my summer in Denver as part of the Denver Urban Semester, a time in my life which no amount of brain scrambling will ever let me forget. That was the summer when my spiraling deconstruction found a bottom and reconstruction began. That summer living and working among the cities homeless population and taking classes on Urban Ministry, as well as with my encounter with God on the side of that Mountain in Evergreen were the catalytic events God used to make sure I would stay in the faith and teach me to love His church and His people again. During that summer I had the blessing of attending The Scum of the Earth Church which is the Church that Five Iron Frenzy founded in one of the inner-city neighborhoods of Denver. So, instead of just having a love and appreciation for their music, I have a personal connection with the band through my first real exposure to a truly multi-ethnic, organic church where the Dividing Walls of Hostility were torn down and the Gospel was preached.

The first and obvious thing the reader will notice is that this is not going to be your grandfather’s rock album. It is, from start to finish, a protest record worthy of some of the best Ska. The genre, which of course, is known for its protest anthems, even in Christian Music. To some extent, this has always been the lane which Five Iron has driven in, sharing a car with The OC Supertones, but this album goes beyond even the bands usual standards of what makes up their protests. The closest song in the Five Iron catalogue I can think of to this album is “God Hates Flags,” their devastating critique of Westboro Baptist Church on Between Pavement and Stars. Except for all but one song on this album, “Homelessly Devoted to You” the albums eighth track, this album levels a devastating critique of American Popular Christianity and the current Christian Political movement steeped in Christian Nationalism and other forms of what I have been calling Christianity+. It should be noted that there is no reason to believe that Five Iron is offering these criticisms from “the opposite side of the isle.” When I was at Scum of the Earth one thing that stood out to me was how they married “conservative” theology with a strong call for biblical justice in the public square. We should consider this a critique from the middle, another reason I am writing this review, as well as a critique from a friendly source, not a hostile one. While it is clear that Five Iron is fed up with the state of American Christianity, they are still friendly to it, as the albums concluding some reviews, but we will get there in a second.

I want to caution the reader against making foolish accusation at Five Iron of things like “Cultural Marxism.” That accusation would be as far from the truth as one can get, and it is an intellectually lazy one. To really seek to grasp the concepts in this album one must be willing to question their foundational beliefs and go through a good amount of Deconstruction. One should also familiarize themselves with the communitarian nature of Christianity that comes from the Margins. Many of the topics covered in this album will be “triggering” for conservative Evangelicals, but it should be noted that Five Iron is not advocating for a Liberal Christianity, but for a Christianity from the margins. So while they discuss gun violence, the debate over statues and confederate monuments, immigration, racism, Christian Nationalism, corporate greed and sexual immorality, they must be understood as speaking from the margins, not from the left or the right.

This critique starts from track one: “In Through the Outdoor” the title of course we recognize as a fun jab at the people at Wal-Mart who do not pay attention to the signs above the door, but the song is anything but. A critique of the restrictionist immigration policy that many Christians on the right have supported. The song begins by fleshing out how contradictory this attitude is when compared to Christian teaching: “They’re at the fences, They’re at the border, Your brand new gospel – Deny them any quarter You’ll want a blockade, You’ll draw your swords, God save your sovereignty, From syndicated crime-lords, Completely righteous, Save a little slandering, God blessed your district -, With lies and gerrymandering.” Believe it or not, this is not the strongest language in the song, the second verse takes us into Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “To all the hungry, You locked the doors, You sunk the thirsty, Before their boats make the shores, To every stranger, You closed the gates, Your new gospel:, Spitting venom , Black with hate, You sold them out.” But they go on: “You were once a stranger on this soil, Serpents at your heart, will they now uncoil? Your brother’s at the door – bless the poor in spirit, Your sister’s in a cage – but you do not fear it.” While this may anger you reader, consider the point I heard made by Daniel Montanez of Gordon-Conwell: “A sovereign government has the right to make and enforce right and just immigration laws, it has the right to protect its borders, but it has to do it justly.” I made the point with a parishioner recently that these things are for governments to decide, but the Church, the Church is to make a place for the foreigner among us, to care for them and make sure their needs are met. That is a the proper interpretation of God’s commands concerning when foreigners come among Israel, and in the New Covenant Context, we are all resident aliens and so while we live in the confines of a sovereign nation, we are still bound by the biblical values of the Kingdom of Heaven and must show regard for the foreigner among us. Instead, as the song says, our sister is in a cage and we do not fear it. There are statistical and theological facts to back this up. According to a Pew Research study from 2017: “A majority of religious minorities entering the United States are Christians.” Further, The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell has discovered that: “The average Christian in the world today is a black or dark skinned teenage girl from the continent of Africa or South America. As for the second line, remember that Jesus tells us that how we treat the least of these is the same way we have treated him, and those who sent him away hungry, or thirsty or who rejected him, they go away into eternal punishment (Matt 25). Bottom line, the immigration policy Christians currently support on the right is a direct path to eternal punishment, not life. This may seem harsh, but it is the truth, the girl who is very likely a Christian is your sister and in her poverty is among the Least of These, Christians treatment of her is how Christ identifies their treatment of Him, that should strike fear in our hearts.

The next song I want to focus in on is the albums 5th track “Renegades” which deals with the issue of School Shootings (which they also touch on in track 3 “Bullfighting for an Empty Ring”) and the idolization of the 2nd Amendment among Evangelical Christians. As a kid growing up in the 90’s and early 2000’s, the Columbine tragedy is still etched in my mind. And since the band hails from Denver, I am sure that what has played out in this country in the last twenty years has been a source of deep pain. The songs specifically reference Sandy Hook, an event that has deeply affected people I know and love. The entire song grabs the listener by the collar but for our purposes I will highlight two portions, starting with the second verse: “The congressmen are concubines, For lobbyists who feed them their lines, Who Frankentein some pantomime, Some crying over Columbine, Yes your capital, It swarms with cannibals, When some other people’s kids are shot, They chalk it up as an afterthought, They load their guns and reminisce, And tell us it’s just business, They hope we’ll overlook, The halls at Sandy Hook.” You can hear the frustration expressed by many teachers and students who have had to go through lockdown drills while nothing changes to prevent these things from happening. The sorrow behind this song is felt in the music, the anger comes through the lyrics, especially in the final line of the bridge: “You want your ledgers black; we want our children back.” It is important to note that what is at issue here is not the owning of guns themselves, but the laissez faire attitude towards gun violence and the dismissiveness that has been prevalent among many on the right, especially lawmakers, towards guns in general. While the second amendment is enshrined in the Constitution, it is not meant to be an idol, and to many it seems to have become such. For Christians who claim a “Pro-life” ethic, we should put that into practice by working to ensure the absolute safety of our kids from these types of Mass Casualty events like Columbine and Sandy Hook. We should not be so quick to trade in conspiracy theories or brand any preventative measures taken as a “violation of second amendment rights.” Again, the Bible is our authority well over and above the Constitution, the Bill of Rights is a document of laws made by man, the Bible is the authoritative word of God. The Centrist Christian view would be to take a commonsense approach to protecting our students that may mean minor inconveniences in our ability to buy and maintain weapons. Our priority should always be the life of image bearers, rather than our rights to own and do whatever we want. We also need to repent of the fact that this issue has become so politicized when it is an issue of human life.

I wish I could review every song on this album, but that would go on forever, if you’ll allow me to review two more.

The next is the power protest song: “While Supplies Last.” The title is ironic as it is a response to the ongoing Evangelical Culture Wars, over everything, including masks. This is reflected in the songs “Stream of consciousness” style like Jars of Clays “Oh My God” but with the punch of Kids in the Ways “Burt Rutan.” Since Conservative Christians led many of the “Anti-Mask” movement in 2020 the line: “Hiding behind, hiding behind your mask” is a shot of schadenfreude for the listener, as is the rest of the song. Most of these songs, as you’ve notices, generally use irony well, a line that jives with cultural Christianity is juxtaposed with a line from Scripture or a historic Christin teaching. In this song though, the gloves come off. Consider the songs ending stream:

Save some profits for your cadre of vipers, Because your God only favors survivors, If you vote to stop abortions, Damn the pregnant girls and orphans, Blame your decline on the LGBTQ, Offer platitudes not portions, Then your rancor is your fortune, And your poison is what’s poisoning you, You said “we all deserve this”, For not forcing kids to pray-, While your party loots the earth, And you tell us “Jesus saves”, You’re ignoring half the gospel, Wearing clothing made by slaves, You never “rendered unto Caesar”, Now you, now you fear the fever, Fear the bottom dropping out of your stocks, You voted for the devil, Let that narcissist embezzle, Put the hen-house in the mouth of the FOX

These words really should break our hearts, this whole album should. What is reflected here is the idea that all our culture wars, all our attacks and waring against those who our leaders have told us to “hate” has led to our decline. That the culture is not the problem the Church has, the Church is. I have told my congregation many times that Christianity is not a: “Might makes Right” faith but is instead a place where our weakness is made perfect in our weakness. I have also told them that while we can agree that abortion is a blight on our society and affirm traditional marriage, the moment we start demonizing the girl who had the abortion or the person who struggles with same sex attraction, we are not showing them the love of Christ, we are not “living the Jesus Life in the Jesus way” to borrow Eugene Petersons phrase. The fact is, the decline of the Church in America is not because kids “can’t” pray in school, but because of our reaction to the things a secular government has done. The secular disillusionment with Christianity does not come from our failure to pass legislation, but from Christians who do not live out the way of Jesus, but in fact, do the opposite. We have in fact seen the enemy, and he is us. Christian Leadership has done everything listed above and led the people into the pews into these things which are the opposite to the way of Christ. In doing so, they have fed us to the fox, or as I have said, to the wolves and fed those who do not believe to the wolves. If Christians are the opposite of salt and light in the world, should we be surprised when the world is tasteless and dark? No, we should not be.

At this point you might wonder if Five Iron is going to offer us anyway forward at all. Once again, it is important to remember that they are speaking from the Margins and for those in the margins. It also should not be lost on us that throughout the album there are glimmers of hope, like the rock Anthem “We Will Sing” and “Like Something I Missed” both provide a glimmer of hope. But the albums closing song: “Huerfano” may provide the most hopeful tones on the album. Following the story of a teen who has struggled with being bullied by his school mates for some unspecified reason. He talks about being hung upside down in a sleeping bag, punched, kicked, stuffed in a box, having their song stolen. But then the Chorus comes in: “Now fly you orphans, Here you belong, Welcome you wayward souls, Now lift your song.” This is similar to Children 18:3’s “Come In,” the point is that mainstream Christianity is far from what Christianity should be, given the thrust of the rest of the album it is safe to assume this bullying may have happened on the playground of a Christian School. But this is not what Christianity should be, Christianity should be a place where you can come as you are, be transformed by Christ, and belong. This is the message of Christianity on the margins, come as you are, Christ will transform you, and you will have a place to belong. While this may be the most hopeful song, it may also be the most offensive for mainstream Christians who have spent years curating what they think Christianity should look like and who they think should get into the Kingdom, this song speaks directly against that sort of pharisaic sorting and curating of the Church.

Now, this album does have some serious drawbacks, there are points where this album comes across with the same kind of Pharisaic attitude they are trying to denounce. This is the struggle that any band has who tries to address issues like this and Five Iron is not immune to that pitfall. The Album will also play very, very well to a niche audience, which is why I spent so much time explaining some of these points. If you have never experienced Christianity on the Margins, then you may not understand the perspective or even the incredible hope outlined in the Album. The album also lacks a definitive Gospel Message, though the justice issues they address are all Gospel issues, they make a veiled point about Christianity being a place where they belong. One wishes these themes would have been directly tied back into Jesus as Jesus proclaims about himself in the book of Isaiah.

Regardless, this album will be a good response to bands like Seventh Day Slumber who have been actively advocating for Insurrection and the preservation of Christianity+. As Christians, we represent a Kingdom that is not of this world and by wrapping ourselves up in the things of this world we lose the Gospel. Five Iron reminds us of the dangers of wrapping ourselves up in politics and this warning needs to be heeded across the political spectrum.

 

 

Until This Shakes Apart (2021)Five Iron Frenzy

  1. In Through the Out Door
  2. Lonesome for Her Heroes
  3. So We Sing
  4. Bullfighting for an Empty Ring
  5. Renegades
  6. Tyrannis
  7. Auld Lanxiety
  8. Homelessly Devoted to You
  9. One Heart Hypnosis
  10. While Supplies Last
  11. Wildcat
  12. Like Something I Missed
  13. Huerfano

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

SermonCast: What is Epiphany? Part 1: Jesus Baptism. Matthew 3:13-17

In this week’s sermon we take a look at the question: “What is Epiphany?” as we looked at the Baptism of Jesus and what we can learn from Jesus’s obedience and submission as we live in as resident aliens in this world, citizen’s of the Heavenly Kingdom of God.

Watch the full Service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqroY…

SermonCast: Christianity+ and how we got here: 1 John 2:1-6, 15-17

Our sermon for Sunday, January 10th 2021 is a direct response to the riot at the Capitol on Wednesday the 6th. Here we look at the book of 1st John and his argument against syncretizing the world with Christian Faith as well as living out the Jesus Life in the Jesus way as the only way our faith  We will also address the ways the Church has failed in this and how that has led to where we are today.

Please note that the communion service that followed the sermon is retained so that you too can reflect on the call to repentance issued in the service.

Watch the entire service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOI0rCCa1rk

The Historically Doomed

“Those who are unwilling to learn from History are doomed to repeat it” – Santayana…oh and make Idols 

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

It may come as a surprise to some, but there is a consensus among Historians, both of Church History and otherwise that the Crusades of the middle ages were a bad idea. Especially the fourth when in 1207 the western church sacked and sieged the eastern church all in the name of the Holy Roman Empire. The goal of the Crusades was to “restore the Holy Land.” That was done through whatever means necessary. The logic followed that since the early Christians set up these sites they had to be defended and taken back and there was no tool off limits to getting that done. This meant that rape and torture were often used to excess by the Crusaders. They did not have the historical understanding we do now, that those sites were set up centuries after the fact because the Early Christians had no need to set up geographical markers and memorials since God’s Kingdom was not of this world. In fact, some of these sites were established by the Crusaders themselves as justification for their violence and brutality. The early Christians changed and empire by service to God in the face of mass persecution, the Crusaders defended a power-hungry empire that eventually turned on itself.

The Crusades have always interested me because they seemed to be a direct contradiction to what Jesus tells Pilate in John 18:36. “If my kingdom was of this world, then my disciples would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish Leaders. But no my Kingdom is from another place” (NIV). This is the Divine Logos, the one with all authority in heaven and Earth, telling us that his people would not fight to prevent his arrest because his Kingdom was not an earthly one. Jesus had already told Peter to put his sword away in 18:11. The people of God were not to produce violence in the name of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven was meant to be a place where “swords are fashioned into plowshares” (Isa 4:2), not used for violence. Even in the Luke 22 passage that is often used as a justification for armament the context is Jesus fulfillment of what was written, not going out to start a war. If anything, Jesus promises us multiple times in the Gospels that we ourselves should expect the sword to be used against by those who think that by doing so they are serving God.

I am not talking here about Christian Pacificism, again, I do not believe in Christianity+, so no ist or ism words need to be added to Christianity (hint, hint, that means there is no Christian Globalism either). But I do think that there is a modeled pacificity in Jesus suffering that we are to model when the tides turn against us. When the world comes to our door and drags us out and beats us or the Governments of this world turn on us. The Early Christians modeled this, they did not return violence with violence but violence with quiet confidence in God and the fact that the Kingdom they were dying for was not of this world. In doing this, in following Jesus example, as Peter’s letters tell us we are meant to, the Gospel spread like wildfire. To borrow a quote from Robin Daniel: “The blood of the martyrs become the Holy Seed.” But these were not martyrs for an Earthly Kingdom with Earthly motivations, they were martyrs for a heavenly kingdom with the only motivation being making Christ known.

That is the difference between the early Church and the Crusades and us today. The Crusades were about power, about control of a geographical region “In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” They did not advance the cause of Christ or the Gospel, instead they hindered it and still hinder it today. If you do not believe me, ask anyone who has served as a Missionary in a predominantly Muslim country. Unlike the West, Cultural Memory and Oral Tradition are still valuable commodities in the East, and so the memories are long. In the west we want to move on from events, we refuse to see how events in one generation effect the next generation. That is why we cannot comprehend how we are still dealing with the Ghost of Slavery and Jim Crow, they make us uncomfortable, as they should, and so we want to move on and gloss over us. They scare us, and so we do not deal with them when we should.

So we fail to realize how what happened yesterday at the Capital is the culmination of three hundred years of Church History in America, a Church History that since the 1920’s and sought to fuse power religion with power politics, often choosing figures who are as far from Christ as they can get to represent them. I wont hash out the entire history here, but I strongly recommend you read John Fea’s “Believe Me”, Jamar Tisby’s “The Color of Compromise” and Kristin Du Mez “Jesus and John Wayne” as these are thorough treatments of the formation of the relationship between Christianity and Power Politics that we know today as “Christian Nationalism.” The idea that Christians should use the powers of government to enact a Christian Moral Code on our society. While I am all for Christianity’s moral teachings, often the tactics Christian Nationalists have used to make these things happen have backfired on the Church and the moral failings of the men who have led these charges have done even greater damage. Not that there is not room for Christian engagement in the politics of earthly kingdoms, but Christian Nationalism has contributed to, not stopped, the decline of the Church in this country.

It might surprise you to think learn that I do not think that patriotism and love of country are bad things. On the contrary, you want to love the place you live, and you want others to love it. I also have a great deal of respect for those who serve in the military. But what Christian Nationalism does is place at the center of Christianity the geographical kingdom of man not the unbound kingdom of God that is not of this world. It binds Christianity to a national identity and downplays points where the bible contradicts the actions of the leaders. It also forces Christians to ostensibly serve two masters. God and Country, as equals and Jesus is clear that we cannot do that without loving the one and hating the other (Mat 6:24).

The other glaring problem with this equaling of God and Country is that God wants our loyalty to Him and Him alone, there can be no other. When we elevate something to where He is supposed to be or try to set something alongside Him, we are making an idol of that thing. That is why, as you were watching yesterday you saw signs that said: “Jesus Saves” and “Jesus 2020” held by the people storming the capital building. They have decided to serve two masters and in service to one they have hated the other. In this case, in service to the president they have chosen hatred of God because they served the idol, the creation, rather than the creator. What we saw yesterday was in no way “Christian” and I doubt Jesus wants his name associated with it. In fact, I think he saw those signs as a form of Blaspheme, not devotion to Him. The Jesus Life is one of modeled and patient suffering, if the Son of God wanted to lead and armed uprising against Rome, he is the only one alive at the time who could have done so and succeeded. Every time Christianity has aligned itself with the powers of this world it has failed in its mission to be salt and light.

One of my former classmates said it best.

Christianity is, itself, the primary identity of a believer. I disagree with Mike that there should be Christian Progressives and Christian Conservatives, we are just supposed to be Christians and everything else is to be subservient to and informed by Christ and the Word of God, especially those things that the Civic Religion likes the make idols of. Let us also not try to deflect and make excuses of “Whataboutisms” or “This was actually Antifa.” What happened yesterday was organized in far-right and darkest corners of the internet and needs to be roundly condemned by Christians of all stripes. The second of those claims has been debunked by Capital Police anyway.

If you are a Christian and you do love your country, which again is not a sin unless you have placed your country on the same level as God, then what happened yesterday should shock and appall you because it was a direct attack on our institutions and the Constitution. Things that the conservative movement which I grew up in, claimed to love and respect. This was a heartbreaking day for us as a nation, whether you are a believer or unbeliever.

One final thing, one of the contributing factors in what happened yesterday was the elevation of one man far above where even our founding documents saw he should be placed. Christians have made a bad habit of that on both the left and the right. We look for functional saviors when Jesus is literally the only answer. Neither Donald Trump or Joe Biden can fix what ails the Church, to turn to either of them is to reject God. Yes, it is true that God appoints our leaders and places governments over us but he does so for two reasons outlined in Romans 13, to ensure our good behavior or to ensure that we behave like Christ, and the bring the power of sword as judgment when we do not. They are not to be confused with the Lordship of Christ and the Kingdom of Christ, because as Jesus said, our Kingdom is not a Kingdom of this world. We are a people of two kingdoms, plain and simple, perhaps we better learn to live in the kingdom of heaven first, so we can learn to live in this one.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

“Emanuel, You’re One of Us”

“The Incarnation of Christ was not a mere 33-year event” – John Williamson Nevin.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Right at the end of my tenure at AlrockLive.com I was given a sampler to listen to of upcoming artists who, were I still working in the music industry I would be covering today. One of the bands on that sampler was a group named: “The Rend Collective Experiment.” I was almost instantly drawn to their musical style, with a Scotch-Irish heritage, their Celtic, Irish Folk style made me want to get up and dance. After I left ARL I fell out of touch with them, to the point the only song of theirs I had any knowledge of was “My Lighthouse” which was their first hit. I was not even aware they had changed their name to plain and simple “Rend Collective” until my wife and I had the chance to see them in April of 2017. For those of you who have been long time readers, you know this concert was just two months after we had lost our first child. Since then their album Good News has enjoyed copious play and a special place in our hearts. The song “Weep with Me” the scripture and story behind it were used by God to bring healing in that dark night of our lives. But this Christmas it has been a different Rend Collective album that has been played on repeat, A Jolly Irish Christmas Vol 2.

If I were writing a review of this album it would be a 4.5-5-star review. Which is hard to give any Christmas Album simply because finding creative ways to perform old carols and produce new content that will last is exceedingly difficult in such a niche market. But Rend Collective has managed to create a thoroughly original sounding album with new spins on Christmas Classics such as “Christmas in Kelarny” and “The First Noel” and more, while giving us some incredible original, theologically rich content that is extremely practical to the Christian Life in 2020. Before I get to one such song, let me just say that we may not think we needed a Irish Folk rendition of “Good King Wenceslas” but we did.

One of the original songs that stands out is “Emmanuel, You’re one of Us.” In the song the singer identifies what we are all feeling. That is does not feel like Christmas this year, that we have been through a lot. He acknowledges the pain and suffering of friends who have lost jobs and family members from the Pandemic. He also acknowledges the frustration so many feel about how 2020 has played out all over the world. But then he pivots with the lines of the chorus: “But I know Emmanuel, you’re one of us, You left your throne to wear our scars, Though Christmas lights may lose their spark, And winter’s cold may break our hearts, Oh Christmas means, Emmanuel you’re one of us” Again, as music critic this would have been one of those stop moments. You are nodding along, identifying with the artist and then he throws in the but, the conjunction. This is a technique the Apostle Paul employs to great effect, “One you were this, but now you are this>” is a common construction in the Epistles. Rend Collective formulates it as: “2020 was this, but Emmanuel is one of us.” Similar to what they did with “Weep with Me” which I mentioned above, they take the full implications of a passage of scripture and lay it bear in one line. “Emmanuel, God with us” is one of the names the Prophet Isaiah gives for the Christ Child in Isaiah 9:2-7, Gabriel echoes this in his announcement to Mary in Luke 1.

But as with everything with Rend Collective, you have to look higher than the basic, low protestant view of the Incarnation to fully understand what they are saying here. We all agree that “Emmanuel” means “God with us.” We would even agree that God did come and visit us (as Zechariah says in the Benedictus, Luke 1:57-80). But that is only part of the picture. God, after all, visits Moses in a burning bush, in a cloud of fire and fury, God visits people throughout the Old Testament, and He is said to be “with” Israel at all times, since His glory crowd dwells at the Temple in Jerusalem. God certainly could have come in this manner, appeared on the scene as a full-grown adult with “flesh from heaven” as the ancient heretics like to think of him. But He did not, He came as a baby who was conceived by the Power of the Holy Spirit, grew in the womb of a women, was born to her, had human flesh and human bones, nursed like a human child, grew up like a human child, experienced life as a child, an adolescent, a man.

It is this, born, part that we have a hard time with in our industrial, medially informed age. Which is likely one of the reasons most Christians do not believe the accounts of the Gospels. But the whole arch of the Old Testament, the whole thrust of all the law, the wisdom literature, the prophets, all of them, looked forward to God himself coming among us. John, the forerunner, would be followed by God himself, putting on human flesh and form to apparent spectacular mediocrity, according to Isaiah. If you read the Magnificat and Benedictus in Luke 1 and the Nunc Dimities in Luke 2, This is also what Mary, Zechariah and Simeon knew was happening before their eyes. John would prepare the way for Jesus whose name was also “Emmanuel, God with us.” Mary and Zechariah knew, Simeon knew (but let people sing the song please, its harmless poetry). But in becoming God with us, he become God one of us, he emptied himself of all he had and, in humble obedience, became like the very people who sit in our pews on Sunday with one exception, He never sinned. There was no time when He was not God, but there was also no time He was not human. Two natures, one substance, existing in perfect Hypostasis.

This is hard for us to grasp in our Gnostic western society where we treat the Incarnation as an impossibility, using the biblically false statement that: “the divine does not interact with the fleshly trappings.” Which leads us to be more vulnerable to either dismissing the incarnation, or treating like “another bible story with a moral point” or the heretical assertion I mentioned before that “Jesus had celestial flesh” which was promoted by members of the non-magisterial, Anabaptist reformation. All these are views of the Incarnation that dimmish it or even deny it altogether. If the Devine does not interact with that which is worldly, the incarnation cannot happen as the Bible laid it out, Jesus cannot be God incarnate since God would not condescend to the flesh of the unreal world. If it is just another story with a moral point then we are not reading about a historical event, but a myth, a legend, meant to teach kids to be good humans. If Jesus had “Celestial Flesh” then the incarnation did not actually happen, and God did not come and experience life as one of his Created Beings since we do not have that same “celestial flesh.”

Therefore, a high view of the Incarnation is necessary, it happened, historically, we can know and believe it with a fair amount of certainty (there is less evidence for Pilot’s existence than the Incarnation, McDowell). The Gospels appeared much too early for these to be fanciful tales, early enough that witnesses could have refuted it, and we know Jesus’s family never did.

But here is the more practical matter, 2020 has been a rough year, this is what the Chorus of the Rend Song quoted above is responding to: “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas at all, it’s so hard to forget all that went on, Some friends lost their jobs and some families too, Some people said it was all down to you.”

It is easy for us, as Christians, to turn the blame for 2020 onto God, to look at him and ask him “Why would you let something like this happen?” The simple answer is the one Job gets during his trials, God himself is the answer. It is all parts a comforting answer, a terrifying answer and a difficult answer. We want something concrete, tangible, someone or something to blame. Yet, rend knows the answer, God is not to blame, God is the answer, Emanuel, You’re one of us, they proclaim from the rooftops, you bore these same scars, you walked this terrifying road before us. Infectious disease is nothing new to you, it doesn’t take you by surprise. All these things we are trying to pin on you, you have walked through and shown us the way through, which is God himself.

Again, this is all parts comforting and all parts terrifying. Job never gets a “Why?” answer, the reader knows why, by Job does not, and many times we do not either, we will not get a “Why” to all that has happened in 2020 other than the worldly and scientific reasons. We will get “Emanuel, God with us.” That will not be enough for many of us, but it is the only answer we are going to get from God, and we have to be okay with that until His return and all things are revealed. We must be okay with the tension that this creates in us, and with the world. Contentment, the secret to contentment, per Paul, is Christ, the Final Sign.

I love this reality, though it is hard for my human mind to focus in on. The reality of the Incarnation is that God has dwelt among us, has experienced what we experienced. Like many of us in 2020, He has wept at the tomb of His friends and family, He has faced the struggle of financial hardship and has been tempted to sin, and yet, He did not do it, and did all things perfectly. He showed us a better way to live, what Eugene Peterson calls: “The Jesus Life in the Jesus Way.” This way was so radical the religious leaders and the government conspired to kill Him. He died on the cross, was buried and rose again and then ascended into heaven, physical body and all. Then He sent to us His Holy Spirit tosh wo us how to live in this world as He did, though imperfectly, and so that we might always have “God with us” as Jesus promised we would.

What a beautiful reality in such a dark year, the light is shining and it will never be put out.

God Bless you and Merry Christmas.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Beth Moore is Correct

History is not going to look on the leaders of Evangelicalism Kindly for this idolatry.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

I have never understood why Christian Leaders take cheap shots at Beth Moore, I suppose if you are heavily complementarian then she is violating your pet theology and therefore a Heretic. I, however, have always found her to be more orthodox, more biblically sound, than most of her male counterparts, especially on Twitter. This weekend she tweeted the one tweet that every biblical scholar should know to be true and has either been too cowardly to say, or because they have been deceived, have said the opposite.

Check out the entire thread

As you can tell, Moore is properly, and reasonably angry, an anger I share. I have written against Christian Nationalism as a Heresy (it is) and against the Christian Play for Power that marks the Evangelical backing of Trumpism. Moore is correct, both are dangerous both are devoid of the Holy Spirit, both are going to lead to destruction. There is no way around it. Christian Nationalism, historically, leads to the exile of the Church by the Culture and in many instances, all-out persecution against the church.

Why, because no matter how you read scripture, it is hard to make any other conclusion than the fact that God interprets king making (Trumpism) as betrayal and rejection (2 Samuel 1-3) and trusting the governments of man or confusing the nation with God’s Kingdom as a failure to Trust God as well as Idolatry. Even in Judah, when preserving the freedom of the nation became more important than following God and what God commanded, when turning to Assyria or Egypt was seen as redemption, but turning to God was not, God did not take kindly to these violations of His law, His Sovereignty and His Truth. Ahaz’s failure to trust was met by a proclamation of destruction, Hezekiah’s trust in Egypt was met with the Rabshakeh’s taunt and the only reason Judah was not destroyed under Hezekiah was the Rabshakeh’s Blaspheme (Isaiah 35-38).

But we are under the New Covenant, a Covenant of Grace, now we can do what we want?

Wrong, Every Gospel writer, ever Epistle Writer, refutes the idea. Ask yourself, what kind of kingdom did Jesus establish? Was it an Earthly one? Yes, but was it confined to a geographical location such as Judah? No, it was not, to claim it was is to make the claim Jesus was wrong. The early Missionaries went far beyond the borders of Judah. They were not confined to Palestine, they went to Rome, to Ireland, to Italy, to all the world, establishing a global kingdom that would one day have a physical center, when Jesus returned, but until that return, we were to be a kingdom within kingdoms. The United States of America is the Kingdom of God in the same way a peanut is a movie projector, they are two very different things with very different values. This does not mean we should not pray for our nation or its leaders, or even that we should not ask God to bless our nation, but we should be aware of the standard for blessings from God. Eugene Peterson lays out that standard as: “Living the Jesus life in the Jesus way.” We cannot claim to be children of God and then deny that status with the way we live. The Christianity of the culture, the Christianity that has become nationalistic and which has been taken in by Trumpism is great at quoting scriptures, but in no way does it resemble the life Jesus put before us to live. It fights culture wars at the expense of its allies and with the intent of eviscerating opponents rather than showing them Christ. This isn’t Christianity, if Jesus wanted to start a culture war, he had a chance to start one over paying Taxes to Caesar, he didn’t. He also did not tell the people to give themselves wholesale to Rome, just the opposite, he told them to pay their taxes, give their money to Caesar and themselves to God. The point? God gets all your allegiance, your heart, your soul, your mind, every inch and fiber of your being and make up, Caesar can have your money, but God gets your allegiance, no if’s and’s or but’s about it.

But that is not what our leaders have been telling their constituents, a sizable, influential, minority have been actively telling you the opposite. In a move that has just hastened the churches decline and long slide into cultural exile, they have fed their flocks to the wolves, telling them that the only hope for Christianity was not Jesus, but Caesar. See the problem? If your allegiance isn’t to God and God alone, you are not living as He has told you to live. Jesus also told us that no one can serve multiple masters for exactly the reason we see in our culture today, you will hate one and love the other. Living a life that is totally opposite of the one God has called us to, especially to maintain something man-made over something God-made, is to reject God, to make a mockery of His name and to deny His work in the world. To say that a nation of man is, or is more important than, the kingdom of God and its priorities is to make an idol out of that nation.

Let me reiterate, the fault of this is on the leadership of Evangelicalism going back to the late 19th century when the Gospel of fear first reared its ugly head among evangelists. A gospel that controlled how Christians went about political engagement and which become the center piece for “The Moral Majority” in the 1970’s. It is this Gospel of Fear that drives phrases like: “This is the most important election of our lifetime” which has been applied to every single election in my lifetime that I have a recollection of. It is this gospel of fear that is used to control how a person votes on issues, how they vote in elections, how they are mobilized to fight foolish and ill-gotten culture wars. It is a Gospel of Fear that fuels Christian Nationalism and Trumpism in general. Those Christian Leaders who have been Passive (As Moore calls out) and those who have actively led us astray into Heresy.

But we should know better, we should be better. Christianity is not a faith of fear, but of hope, of freedom, of love, of light. Fear chains us to this world, it acts as if this world is all there is. It also reduces God to something that is powerless unless the right person is in office or the right law is passed. This goes beyond idolatry, in Isaiah 36, this is called “Blaspheme.” God is not someone you can manipulate, He is not even a thing, He is an omnipotent being, greater than the greatest conceivable being. He is Lord, and He is coming as Lord, to reduce him to one of the deaf and dumb gods of this world is deny the facts of who He has revealed Himself to be.

This is not the first time we have done this as Christians, Zionism viewed some of the deadliest wars, the Crusades, of the Middle Ages, Crusades that eventually led to Christians killing Christians in Constantinople. Crusades that Historians largely agreed were ill-gotten, ill-advised, and harmful to Christian Mission. Yet we were so sure that God wanted us to liberate the Holy Land. We were willing to set aside the very Word of God to accomplish what we thought God wanted. That is not something we can do, Jesus himself tells us not to undermine the Word: “Anyone who adds…the plagues mentioned to this book will be added to him” (Rev. 22:18). There is a penalty to be paid when we go extra biblical. The Pharisees added to the words of God and they had judgment declared against them.

James spends an entire book telling Christians not to engage in Conspiracy Theories, Agitating for war and other forms of sedition. Instead, He tells Christians to live the life of Christ, focus on doing what a proven faith does. Proven Faith doesn’t spread false hoods, doesn’t practice elitism, doesn’t power-monger, doesn’t fear monger, doesn’t set a forest ablaze, instead it cares for the widow and the orphan, it makes sure those in need get those needs met, it lives the Jesus Life in the Jesus Way.

This is all a failure of leadership; we have elevated narcissists and then are left to wonder when they feed us to the sharks to feed their ego. The Gospel of Jesus Christ gets replaced with the Gospel of whoever the spiritual tyrant is at the top of the heap. This is not the way we were meant to live, in fact, Jesus expressly tells his Disciples in John’s Gospel not to do it. In Galatians Paul points out that when you add to the Gospel, you lose the Gospel, the same is true if you subtract from it, anything added to the Gospel denies the Gospel. Too many Christina Leaders have denied the Gospel by addition and subtraction. Anytime the equation is: “The Gospel +” or “The Gospel –“ you have lost it. The Gospel should never be played with or adjusted, watered down or made a burden. The Jesus Life, the way He chose us to live, is truly life-giving and enough to keep us occupied. It is the height of cynical decadence to call The Gospel of Jesus Christ boring, or to discard it when it contradicts our worldview. In fact, the opposite is true, when Jesus challenges your worldview, your worldview is what is wrong. Jesus is never wrong, not because He is a dictator you should not question, but because He is God. You are allowed to question Him, He even allows for you to put off following Him, but in the end, He is always right, and He will always be King. He is patient and loving and kind, but He is also Sovereign. Christian Leaders who place Biblicism as a core value (Evangelicals) should know this, hold to it and be bound by it. If the authority of the Word of God is paramount, then obeying Jesus is essential, even when obeying Jesus contradicts what the Gospel of Fear tells us to do or contradicts the worlds ways to which we have been enticed.

But I suspect there is another result of hubris at play here, the idea that we think that God’s way is foolish and even dumb. And from the world’s standpoint that is a perfectly acceptable position to hold to, but we should not be holding to the world’s viewpoint. Blessed Mary tells us that what God is doing: “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” The proud think that the kings of this earth, the rich of this world, they are the way to go. But God does not have much use for them, instead he topples them and sends the rich away empty, all so he can exult the humble and feed the hungry. The Magnificat of Mary reminds us that God’s kingdom is upside down, its opposite, foreign to us, confounding our wisdom. It’s the opposite of Nationalism or Trumpism, it’s the opposite of power religion. The power in Christianity is in the humiliation of Christ, the weakness of a crucified savior. Modern Christians do not like that, it implies we may have to get our hands dirty, to love our neighbor during their sin, not after they have repented of it. It also means we have to reject strong men who make grand claims of salvation through earthly means, and who may even claim divine mandate. It means God didn’t get it wrong, as we are apt to think, or the world is apt to tell us.

The fact is, and Beth Moore knows this and has taught this faithfully her entire career, Christianity is supposed to be so utterly different, such a radical third way, that the world cannot compare us to themselves because our life, the life of the Spirit, is so much greater than anything this world offers or any path this world tells us to take. Christians have a long history of putting the powerful of this world to shame, it is when we align ourselves with them that things go poorly with us. The Jesus Life, the Jesus Way is the only way, it is the best way, without a doubt. We should not be complicit in sending people down a road that leads to their immediate and eternal destruction, it will lead to our destruction as well. As Moore said, leaders who lead their congregations astray will be held accountable, if not in this life, before the throe of GOD, a much more terrifying place than any mean Tweet or threat of violence. Those Christians who stood up at this weekend’s Jericho rally and stoked the flames of violence, who breathed lies and falsehoods in the name of an earthly individual. Those leaders who have led us to this point, they will be judged harshly by God and by History for this act of idolatry and blaspheme. Woe to them on that day when Christ return.

Beth Moor is correct, and we should listen to her. But more importantly, Jesus is correct and we should obey Him.

Deconstructing The Tale of Rhett and Link

Perhaps the fault here does not lie with these two YouTube comedians, but someone closer to home.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Though it is not everyday I take the time to critique an article written by Alisa Childers and published by “The Gospel Coalition” in February of this year and shared again this morning. I have been wanting to address deconstruction and deconversion here for awhile but did not wish to do so in a vacuum. Alisa Childers article: “Deconstructing a Deconversion Story: The Tale of Rhett and Link” gives me a chance to address that topic as a critique of the Christian approach to engagement. As a musician and former writer for Altrocklive.com, I missed getting to cover ZoeGirl, Childers former band, but have a great respect for her as a musician and as a theologian and apologist. As has been the policy of this site we will not address or rebuff her, but her ideas, ideas which seem harmless, but in fact continue to deny a needed and justified critique of Christianity in America and the way it goes about discipleship and apologetics.

The Gospel Coalition Facebook page actually did a wonderful job summing up the idea that I am addressing here, so I will use their words: “Could it be that the cultural influences driving these deconstruction stories needs to be re-examined, rather than Christianity itself?” In the article Childers examines the influence of two Youtube Stars named Rhett and Link who were some of the Christian celebrities who have deconverted from Christian faith due to a lack of answers about serious questions and doubts about faith by their faith community. These high profile deconversions have, perhaps unintentionally, had the affect of driving some kids away from Christianity. This is something I can understand, if I had been 12 years younger when Josh Harris deconverted in 2019 it likely would have toppled my faith altogether. Childers is right when she says in her summation: “The truth is that we have a personality-driven culture in which two comedians can persuade Christians to rethink their faith in just three hours of video. And that’s no laughing matter.” She is correct. Celebrity influence on Christianity, be it in the secular culture or Christian celebrity culture (which I critique here) is a problem. But it is not the root of the problem which Childers is making it, it is the fruit of a greater problem and it is one that has affected me, my wife and so many others in our generation.

Before I come to the actual root cause, let me address the idea that Christianity does not need to be critiqued, as the TCG Facebook summation is suggesting, again, I have written before that a failure to critique Christianity puts historic, orthodox and biblical Christianity at risk. It is precisely because of internal critiques and adjustments that the early Church, through the councils, maintained Christian faith, not in lieu of it. One could even say that Christianity is a faith which relies on constant critique, discernment, and evaluation, not a stoic “thou shalt not question” approach that has been the modus operandi that has plagued Christians since before the tenth century. We must be able to make critiques of problems within our faith for the sake of the health of our faith.

But here in lies the root of the problem: our adoption of this “Thou shalt not question” attitude in our approach to Discipleship and Apologetics and at the same time our willingness to farm out discipleship and apologetics to the videos our kids are watching on Youtube. I will be blunt. The blame for all this falls not on Rhett and Link for questions they had about faith that went unanswered but on parents who are letting their kids be discipled by screens first and then cannot or are unwilling to facilitate and answer questions and doubts their kids may have. The blame also falls on Pastors and the “ivory tower theologians” who have insisted that no one, for any reason, should ever, have questions about the faith.

Before you pass judgment on me though, let me state that I am a pastor and a father of (soon to be) two young girls. I am writing as part of the problem who wants to find a way to be part of the solution. Discipling my daughters towards saving faith is something I have spent much time thinking through with that, teaching them how to defend their faith in an increasingly hostile culture. That starts with being willing to set boundaries and take responsibility for the passing down of faith to my children. My wife, who holds a degree in early Childhood Education says that: “Questioning like this is developmentally appropriate and stems from their brains moving from concrete to abstract thinking.” That means I should be ready to answer my daughter’s questions about faith with real answers, not dismissals. My own questions were often met with: “Well you just have to believe.” Had someone introduced me to Josh McDowell’s now updated:” Evidence that Demands a Verdict” and helped me parse it, perhaps I would not have struggled with questions about the historicity of my own faith.

But discipleship and apologetics are more than just allowing room for doubt and answering questions to our faith and teaching our kids basic doctrines. It is about so much more, since we are not merely intellectual beings. They are about the tools which are used and the way that Christian Faith gets lived out in the practical day-to-day functions of the human being.

There was a saying he heard in seminary repeatedly: “You keep them with, what you win them with.” This was a critique of the seeker friendly, entertainment model of the Church that was prominent in the Mega Church Movement in the 90’s and early 2000’s. But the principle is true in regard to discipleship and apologetics, if children are won to the faith by things meant to supplement and enrich, not be the basis for faith, then their faith will rise and fall on that tool. Veggietales was a great way to learn Bible stories if you could get past the moralism, but if Veggietales was the only way my faith was formed as a kid, I would not be a Christian today because while I would know the stories, the moral hypocrisy of Christians in the world would have destroyed my faith. My wife and I are very selective of what and how much content our two-year-old watches and plan to continue that, within reason, as she grows older. We have been encouraged by research from Barna Group, Jene Twenge and Andre Crouch which have challenged us not to let digital media disciple our kids. My wife and I are what David Kinnamen of Barna calls “Digital Natives.” That means we grew up in the media and digital age as younger millennials, Delta’s (Gen Z’s preferred name for themselves) and whatever the name of my daughter’s generation is going to be even more so than we. If I farm out my duties to disciple my daughters to whatever the popular Christian Media of the day is, should I be surprised when those influences on her deconvert and take her faith with them? I did not do my job of teaching them the faith, I let someone else disciple them,and when their questions came up I ignored them.

Pastors need to be aware of this too. The tools we use for reaching, teaching and engaging younger Christians will affect their view of the faith. If one of the tools in our bag is the: “You shall not question” tool , then we are not creating an atmosphere where faith forming discourse is encouraged and actively pursued. When we use placeboes and “Christian Adjacent” resources, resources that claim to be Christians but are really just panaceas or placebos, when we prefer pithy one liners that are not backed up by the text, or only loosely backed up by the text, why are we surprised when Christians question the faith. If we push moralism over the Gospel…well…you see my point. As teachers we bear a great responsibility before God (as do you, parents) when it comes to discipleship and apologetics and our discipleship has either been too strict or too loose, or worse, farmed out.

The evidence for Christianity is so overwhelming, but when we do not allow questions to be asked and doubts to be had, we redirect them to the people who will answer those questions for them. Radical Atheists, the “New Atheists” are very good at apologetics and discipleship and they are more than willing to fill the void left by pastors and parents who drive their children away when they ask questions and are met with scolding or dismissive statements. This appears to be what happened in the case of Rhett and Link. They had questions, Christians did not answer those questions (they were given Ravi Zacharius and Lee Strobel to read) and so they turned to secular sources who were more than willing to answer those questions. Then we point to the culture and say: “Look what they are doing, they are leading our kids astray, why don’t they just believe? Darn secular culture.” But we fail to ask ourselves what caused them to turn towards the secular belief system in the first place, we blame the outcome, to avoid blaming ourselves.

Then there is the second reason given for deconversion, which would have ultimately been my reason had my own deconstruction ended in denconversion. The failure to live out in the practical day-to-day life of the Christian the teachings of scripture and the life of Jesus. Many young Christians grow up hearing all about the Gospel but never see it lived out, in fact, they see the opposite. They see pastors abusing children and their congregations. they see the moral failures of Christian celebrities like John Crist, they see Christianity claim to be the representatives of The Kingdom of God while embracing a Christian Nationalism that denies that there is a Kingdom of God, or makes the United States into the Kingdom of God (hint, it’s not). Like their secular counterparts, they look at all of this and conclude that no matter how much evidence you give them for the truth claims of Christianity, it cannot possibly be true because the core teaching of transformation by Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit is erroneous and therefore untrue. My generation grew up hearing all about how “The world is watching you” and “You’re the only Bible some people will ever read” and so we watched how the people saying these things lived and concluded that the Bible was not true. This ranges from parents to pastors to Christian Celebrities. So, they turned to their secular counterparts to discover that they had seen the same hypocrisy and had come to the same conclusion. Let me point out that this paragraph is not a full critique, for that I would recommend “Jesus and John Wayne” by Kristin Kobes Du Mez, “Believe Me” by Christian Historian John Fea, “The Evangelicals” By Francis Fitzgerald (hostile sources) or “The Color of Compromise” by Jamar Tisby (for more sources send us a message)/

Many have been irreparably damaged by Christians, by Christian parents and pastors, who they looked up to and either went to ask questions of and got turned away or dismissed or who physically, emotionally, and spiritually harmed them. I fall under this second category, the night I confronted my spiritual abuser should have been the night I left Christianity, but I hung on, or more, God hung onto me. Even though every adult other than my parents I had looked up to in my life had been in the room that night, 3 against 1 (I had a mentor with me who advocated on my behalf) should have been the death stroke for my Christian faith. It probably would have been if I had returned to Sterling and my Professor had not recognized what was happening in my head and heart. They were essential to my hanging on, God used them to hang on to me until He could get me to the side of the mountain outside Denver that cool 4th of July.

Which brings me to a phenomenon I am noticing among my peers who go through deconstruction and remain in the faith, my wife being one of them. That is the presence of a supernatural encounter with God at a critical moment of their faith, a moment of decision. I hope Barna will do some research into this, since I am hearing more and more of it happening. As younger Christians try to disengage with faith due to the lack of influence or failures to live as Christians by the adults in their lives, more and more of us are having supernatural, unexplainable encounters with God that bring us back to full belief and help us begin reconstruction through a deeper study of the Bible and Church History. The result is a more robust and deeper faith that cannot be assailed by the world because it teaches us not just about God and the life of Christianity, but how to engage in a secular world. These experiences range from that still small voice, hearing the Holy Spirit speak, to visionary/auditory experiences like what I experienced in the labyrinth that day.

The problem is, if we are doing this right, if Christian faith is established, these things should not be necessary, if the Church is doing what it is supposed to be doing, we would have kids who are not just praying a prayer to avoid going to hell (the way most of my peers describe conversion to Christianity) to young people who understand they are indwelt with the Holy Spirit and can live out the lifestyle of Christian worship. Children would not be responsible for their own discipleship through videos on YouTube or apologetics primarily from books, but through deep conversations with their parents who are living the faith and through deep gospel preaching that establishes the historicity of Christianity and a life that reflects the idea that we are part of something bigger than everything this Earth offers. If Christians were living out the Gospel, were really living and teaching it, we would not need have teens who have grown up in church and who were considering leaving the church when they went to college because they had learned nothing of the faith, having unexplainable encounters with Christ in the service that was no different, that led them to drive to Wal-Mart to buy a Bible. This should not be, yet here we are.

The bottom line is this, Childers is right, Rhett and Link should not have the influence to lead children into deconstruction, but that should not lead us to critique the culture, but ourselves. The blame for this fall not on Rhett and Link and their experience, but on the parents and pastors who have failed in discipleship and apologetics by farming out their responsibilities to YouTube and other Christian celebrities.

I would be remiss in my own duties if I did not point out that Jesus himself warns us against letting our teaching of the faith be lax when it comes to younger disciples. Matthew 5:17-20 reminds us:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

The reality is, until Jesus returns, and restoration is accomplished, all things have not yet been accomplished. Most of it has, but not all, and Jesus is clear that for the moral law to pass away All (Pasa in Greek) must be fulfilled. Thus the Christian Teacher is to teach and do all that the moral law commands (the Moral law is the context of Matthew 5), and of course, the only way to do that is to follow and live like Jesus. We are also told by Jesus that if anyone causes a younger Christian to stumble, it would be better for us if a millstone were tied around our neck and we be thrown in the river.

Many will likely disagree with this analysis, that is okay, but we cannot, should not, take lightly our responsibility to disciple our children or teach them apologetics. We will be held accountable for that, for how we passed down the faith. Some of us will rejoice in that reality and some will not, but we have to agree with Jesus, with the scriptures and be ready always and forever to “Give a reason for the hope that we have” (1 Peter 3:5) otherwise we will continue to get the same outcome and continue to play the same blame game that will only lead to more deconversions like Rhett and Link’s.

May it not be so with us.

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

Advent Against the Growing Dark

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple.” Malachi 3:1

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner r

This year, as much as I have tried to experience Advent through the eyes of my daughter as I wrote last week. It has been more or less an experience of Advent through the eyes of Wendall Berry, that is, a quote from him has been running through my head repeatedly and I have even featured it as a Quote of the Week, the quote goes like this: “It gets darker and darker and then, Jesus is born.” I first stumbled across it in a book by Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in 10,000 Places, A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. and now it has become the central theme to my observance of Advent in 2020, in large part, because 2020 has progressed from darker to darker and in that, hope has been squeezed tighter and tighter that it seems the only hope for light of any kind, for hope of any kind, is the arrival of Jesus on the Manger Throne and then his ascension to the throne of the cross to the final ascension to the throne of David. It makes me long for that day of the Lord that Malachi 4 talks about, the burning up of the wicked and the healing of the righteous.

I have had years like this before, many of you will remember my reflection on Christmas 2015 when I sat in a bus station in New York City on my way home from seminary reflecting on the year, my Job year, if you will, when God stripped everything (lit everything) from me and all I got in response was “I Am.” He was the dayspring of my restoration then, who would have thought that in March of 2016 I would meet Rachel, propose in October, Marry her in May of 2017 and welcome an amazing little child of our own in 2019 (and now we are adding another in 2021). My world in 2015 got darker and darker and then, God showed up. In a lot of ways, I am who I am today because of that dark day in February 2015 that I still cannot really remember. Now though, it feels as though the world has been drawn into a job year, but instead of the church mourning and seeking God, we have decided to add to the darkness.

I said in a sermon a few weeks ago that: “The most discouraging thing about 2020, and in fact the first decade of my Adult life has been seeing the way Christians have treated one another.” Case in point, I have had colleagues who have been threatened by their congregations for disagreeing with them on Politics, some national attention has been given to pastors stepping down over the way their churches have treated them. I have largely been able to steer clear of that kind of treatment, at least to my face, and have tried to gently remind my congregation that we, the Church, are supposed to be better than this. The irony, we are going to get the final answer to all this in the same manner Job did, “I Am” but many of us won’t get to experience the restoration because we have thrown our lot in with the wicked and will need Job to intercede on our behalf at the altar. Though in our case, it will be Jesus interceding if we truly repent and turn from the wickedness, conspiracy and fear mongering, lying and dehumanizing other image bearers whom God loves.

This year has provided me one major opportunity, I have always been a student of Biblical Theology, and while my duties as a pastor have expanded in 2020, so has my time to really dig into the nitty gritty of biblical theology. It started as I began to preach through Isaiah 7, 36 and 40 in the weeks leading up to the Election and it continued as I studied Malachi 3-4 and it continues as I prepare for my four week series on the question: “What is Advent?” Through this, the Spirit has been reteaching, and deepening my understanding of truths I always knew, but which have now gone so much deeper and have left me in awe. The first truth is that God is the maker of trustworthy promises. Isaiah speaks of a baby being born, or deliverance for Judah, if they would only trust Him, then He promises a forerunner, a way maker in the dessert for the coming of God. Malachi picks up these promises, placing the context of the fulfillment of 3-4 in a New Covenant world where Elijah appears and then after Elijah, God himself shows up, just as in Isaiah’s prophesy, except in Malachi he comes as the one who cuts a new covenant for them to delight in, a refiner of the religious and a judge against those who oppress the needy or who practice the vice lists of the Old and New Testament. Then he comes again, in power, to burn up the wicked, following another Elijah like figure (4:5) who does the work of reconciliation and again, prepares the way of the Lord to come as King.

Then we come to Luke 1 in the days of Herod and we find an old man and barren wife, a Priest of the order of Abijah who is selected by lots for the once in a lifetime opportunity to offer the incense offering after the afternoon sacrifice. Before him stands an Angel named Gabriel who tells him that the impossible is going to happen, his wife will conceive and have a son and his name is going to be John and he is going to be the forerunner, the way maker, that Isaiah and Malachi had prophesied about. He is going to begin that reconciling work, to renew the people to wisdom and truth and prepare the way of the Lord.

Six months later, hundreds of miles away from the glitz and glam of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem, in a poor backwater named Galilee, in a town known for its roughens, Nazareth, the same Angel appears to a young girl who has found favor with God, but unlike Elizabeth who has been barren and is beyond child bearing age, this girl has never even had sex. Still, she is going to conceive and give birth to a son and this son will be named Jesus, Matthew calls him Jesus Christ, and He will have amazing titles, “Son of the Most High” and “Son of God.” This is why the Church has long called Mary “The Mother of God” (Theotokos in Greek), because that is what Gabriel is calling her, that is what Luke is telling us she is. The Holy Spirit would come and plant the seed that would grow into the Godman, Incarnate Deity, Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. Just as the Holy Spirit brooded over the waters in Genesis 1, it would brood over this virgins womb and just as God created by speaking The Word, God would create life in this girls womb even though she had never known a man. John, who was also a miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit in the once barren womb of the elderly Elizabeth would come six months before Jesus.

In John’s gospel we get a glimpse then of what Malachi is talking about in 3:1. John appears, preparing the way, then immediately God appears as the Incarnate Son and he enters the temple and cleanses it and works to cleanse and refine the Pharisees through extensive discourses and private conversations with men like Nicodemus. He also pronounces Judgement on the evil doers who claim to know Him, but whose works deny Him.

I know I am not the first to make these connections, you can find them in most Biblical Theological Tomes, but this Advent they have been ever before me as I read the Prophets and Gospels side by side. But they also stand out because of the context in which both Isiah and Malachi’s Prophesies are written into. Malachi is the last prophetic word spoken before 400 years of silence, Isiah witnesses the fall of one kingdom and the end of sovereignty of another, he lives through the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib, he watches as things get darker and darker, as Ahaz refuses to trust God at the pool by the highway to the Washer’s Field and he sees, witnesses in vivid detail all the consequences for that one decision. It gets darker and darker and then, a voice cries in the wilderness. Malachi lives in Jerusalem after the return from Exile, a disgraced and reduced people, the Jews are living in poverty in Jerusalem and somehow they have found their way back into the same sins, both active and passive that angered God and sent them into exile in the first place. The Gospel renew of Ezra is still 40 years away, the wall rebuilding under Nehemiah is even further. It gets darker and darker and then, God stops speaking, but not without predicting a messenger and God himself appearing. Again, the words of Wendall Berry come to mind: “It gets darker and darker and then, Jesus is born.”

But the world Jesus was born into was far from sunshine and kittens, it was like the prophets, except, instead of a foreign power oppressing the people by itself, a religious system had also arisen, out of the good intentions of Ezra and Nehemiah, that was oppressing the people. Caiaphas, the shrewd leader of the Sanhedrin who was just a young priest at Jesus’s birth would, by his death, have formed a tense and uneasy alliance with Rome so that they were not just oppressing the people separately, they were oppressing them as one unit. For their part, the appearance of this teacher who claimed to be: “The bread of life” was something incredibly new and even foreign. They were used to getting their bread and circuses from Rome, suddenly they did not have to rely on the Synagogue or the Romans? Jesus is also born during the reign of King Herod, a usurper to the Davidic throne who tries to kill the baby king in the manger throne. Jesus is not even a year old and his life is threatened by a world that does not want Him. But, light has broken through, it is no longer completely dark, John confirms the Wendall Barry quote when he writes: “A light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Our own time is not much different, and I am not just talking about 2020, it seems the world has gotten darker and darker in the last decade. Are good things happening? Of course, they are, but we live in a world where negative news sells, and positive news is deemed “boring.” Our social media feeds fill up with negative story after negative story. We get on Twitter and see Christians acting like two-year old’s in one breath and sharing a scripture meme in the next. The world sees this and is surprised, you quote that scripture, but a second ago you did not live that out when you insulted someone you disagree with, how is any of what you say real? How can we trust you?

Should we be surprised though, Jesus and Paul both tell us that many will fall away, that there will be disasters and darkness, literal darkness, as the moon and sun go dark and other things happen before the day of the Lord comes. Still, most of what Jesus tells us the world will do to us is followed by the line: “But these things are not yet the end.” (Matt. 24:6). We like to think that things can’t get worse, but the Christian Experience around the world tells us that they can, and they probably will. How comfortable have we become that even the slight discomfort of not being invited to the part is considered being killed for our faith. Meanwhile we have brothers and sisters in countries whose names you know who will die, today, tomorrow, next week, just for professing faith in Jesus Christ. One of the points Jesus makes repeatedly is that the people who love him, who are found in him, will face persecution and likely death. But earthly death is nothing compared to the wonder that will be eternal life with Jesus. Losing our soul for the halls of this power in our world is not worth it, but one of the reasons it keeps getting darker is that the light of the world, the Church, in some places has fallen in love with and followed after the world, instead of Christ.

Even so, we should expect things to keep getting darker if what Jesus and Paul said are true, and we have to believe they are. Then if I may be allowed the liberty of slightly modifying the Wendall Berry quote to fit our own times: “It will get darker and darker and then, Jesus will come.” Christian, Advent amid the ever darker gives us the ability to look forward, to understand that while the age of salvation will end, just as the age of the fall did, like the age of the fall, what replaces it will be greater still than we can ever imagine, the age of total restoration for all who are found in Christ. At the same time while we are living here in the ever darker the light still shines and no matter how dark it gets; the light will continue to shine. The world cannot put it out, but it will someday put out the world.

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

 

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

Advent Like a Child

2020 has made anticipating anything good very difficult but let us not forget all that was fulfilled.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

On Saturday Nov 28th at 4PM Advent began, ordinary time, the time in which we live, gives way to a time of both remembrance and anticipation. Many of us have placed our manger scenes by now, in our house, the Wise Men begin their long journey to the manger ending at Epiphany on January 6th. At Advent we begin anew, we come back to the story of redemption and look forward to the story of restoration which is playing out before us. The colors change, the green of ordinary time gives way to the purple of Advent, then the pink of Christmas. There has never been a time in my life when I have more looked forward to the season of Advent this this year. 2020 has been a tough year, I am tired, and even though Advent means more time spent working as a pastor, I am looking forward to the reminders of, and anticipation of Advent.

But this year I am looking forward to it for another reason, I am excited to look at Advent and Christmas through the eyes of my daughter.

My daughter is now 21 months old and a bundle of energy and joy, she is now at the absolute best age for wonder and that has been evident even in the first few days of Advent. It started as we were tasting the tree, a pre-lit with LED and Fiber Optics which, when you first turn it on, runs through its “All” setting, flashing the different patterns. When she saw it she immediately got excited and started waving her arms, laughing at the flashing lights. An hour later we were hanging lights in the Living Room, again she loved watching the lights chase around the window and then around the room (I bought about 30 feet too many of lights on accident). Then there was the joy of watching us put ornaments on the tree, both the big tree in the living room and the “Card Tree” that we decorate with Candy-Canes and Christmas Cards people send us.

Then there were the Manger Scenes, we have three, one is a very nice glass one that sits up, out of reach, of little hands. The second is made of kiln fired clay, made by a woman in Nigeria and sent to us via Mercy House “Fair Trade Friday.” The final one, the biggest of the three, is one of the more expensive plastic ones. All three were given to us as gifts and we cherish them. But there is a fourth, a Little People’s Manger which my Mother-In-Law got as a gift for Erin last Christmas which we opened this Christmas as a means to give her something to play with and hopefully deter her from playing with the plastic manger scene. For the last week she has ran out to the Living room in the morning and immediately retrieved this manger scene from the box of toys and said with loud joy: “It’s my Jesus Loves Me!”

Cue the melting of every heart reading this.

But that is how I want to live in Advent this year, with the joy of a 21-month-old running to grab her facsimile of Baby Jesus and yell! “It’s my Jesus loves me!” Because if there is anything the enemy has tried to use 2020 to do, it has been to attempt to steal every ounce of joy and hope and strangle the love for the Church God re-ignited all those years ago in Denver.

But then I open up my bible and I read Matthew 1:1-17 and I think back on the story of Abraham and Isaac, on the story of Ruth and Boaz, of David and God’s promise to him. I am reminded of the Prophet’s who proclaimed a coming birth. I am reminded of the generation, after generation, after generation of faithfulness by God to a feckless and faithless people which the entire arch of biblical history to that point points to, that David will finally have a man to sit on the throne for eternity. Matthew is about to show us a king lying in a manger throne. I read this and I remember, I remember that the Jesus who loved the world so much He gave up His life for it is a fulfillment of a promise made by God. I remember and I start to see Advent as Erin does, there He is, there is my savior, He is lying there in that manger throne. He has come to save the world, to free the oppressed, to show compassion on the lost and broken, I remember, and I am filled with wonder of all that was accomplished and like Luke intended his book to do for Theophilus, I am reminded and encouraged and my faith is strengthened.

But then I go to Isaiah and Malachi and I read about “the Day of the Lord” in which everything will be restored and wicked, who have dominated 2020, will be crushed and trod under and the oppressed will be healed and freed from the bondage of oppression and they will leap like young calves fresh from the stall. That fills me with anticipation, it fills me with longing and with hope, despite my tired and weary eyes, I see what is coming and I can rejoice and hold out just a little bit longer through this momentary suffering. I am reminded what I told my congregation a month ago, that is does not matter what happens in politics, it didn’t matter who won the presidency because God was already working out His plan and men were just that, men, people who wither and fade like grass. The word reminds that God’s word is eternal, that He does not fade, He does not wither, He is not fickle, He keeps His promise and for that reason I can anticipate the second return of YHWH because I remember that He has always kept His promises throughout history, regardless of how bad man gets.

So I can approach Advent like a child, I can look at the reality before me and say: “Okay, this is bad, but remember God has already done so much and look forward, He is going to do so much more.” That gives me the greatest hope of all, the hope that regardless of what men do, God will not let me down or abandon me, I won’t be alienated from Him because He has brought me into Him. I do not have to fear man because I can rest in the truth of what He has done, I can remember what has been accomplished and look forward to what is come. I can anticipate the final establishment of His kingdom on this Earth and that makes me strive harder to reach my neighbors for the Gospel.

This is all a wonder to me, that over 300 times God could promise something and over 300 times Jesus would fulfill that promise, and to think there are more promises to be fulfilled in the ever-nearing future. This is not something you cook up in a lab or pretend you found or even something that can be explained by a Google Search. You can look in wonder at all God has done and be amazed that He still has more to do. You can experience Advent like a child, even during 2020.

To God Be the Glory

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center