September 29, 2009

Positive Theology (ii): the Spoken Word

This week I was talking with a Christian brother. I have not seen this friend in a long time because we met overseas three years ago and our paths haven’t crossed since. He has no one around him he can call a part of his Christian family... at all. We talked about school, jobs and life. Throughout the conversation I used the word “brother." I didn't notice that I was saying it really. I said things like, “Brother, it’s so good to hear from you” and “I miss you brother.” Then, after about 25 minutes, he broke the conversation and said something about how I was talking to him. He said, “I like it when you call me your brother.”

He caught me off guard because I didn’t even notice I was saying it. "Brother" just seemed appropriate in the conversation. When he said “I like it when you call me you brother,’” he confirmed something about which I have been musing recently: the power of the spoken word. He knew that we are brothers; I knew that we are brothers. But when I spoke what we both knew to be true, my words changed something in his soul. I wasn’t saying anything he didn’t understand or already know. I merely spoke what was true.

With the help of Walter Brueggemann, N.T. Wright and Mirslav Volf, I have developed this positive theology of the spoken word. So, you can be sure, my thoughts are not unique. They are profound, nontheless. Simply stated, this positive theology is that the spoken word has power.

Another phrase often elicits a similar reaction is “I love you.” These are some of the most powerful words that can be spoken, but they can be some of the most difficult, too. A big step in a dating relationship happens when a couple decides (intentionally or not) to say those words, “I love you.” Although we use the word "love" flippantly in America, we know that when directed at a person the words "I love you" are powerful.

I want to unpack this a little more because I think it has profound, practical implications. And since we tend to do a lot of talking, it may prove helpful for more than simply melancholy musing. I will talk first about the power of the word in creation and new creation. Secondly, the power of the spoken word in the life of Jesus. Lastly, I will address the power of the spoken word in the church. More to come.

September 22, 2009

Positive Theology (i): Grace and Peace

This semester I am taking a class on the letter to the Galatians and the professor opened my eyes to something deeply profound that I have read many times. Normally, the words "grace and peace" sound too cliche to pull off in normal conversation without sounding corny or hokey. While that phrase might sound cliche today, it wasn't at the time of the New Testament.

Grace, or charis, was the regular greeting that Greeks used. When a first-century Greek citizen greeted someone else, they didn't say "what's up?". They said "grace". Peace, or shalom, was the regular greeting of the Jews. So when a Jew would greet another Jew, the would often say "peace".

Two different ethnic and cultural groups with two different greetings.

This understanding becomes signficant when we look at Paul's greeting to the ethnically diverse churches throughout the Roman Empire (also Peter and John in different epistles). "Grace and peace" may be one of the earliest, most compact and profound gospel statements. And it was used to combat a major problem of the early church that still exists today: racism. The racism between the Greeks and Jews, in particular, was creating quite the problem. They were having trouble accepting each other as part of the new eschatological family in Christ. (If you want to know what racisim looked like in the first century, read Acts 10 or Galatians 2:11-15.)

So when Paul takes two standard greetings from two groups who were having serious problems of ecclesial exclusion and weds them together, it seems that he is doing far more than just saying "hi". He is proclaiming the gospel of reconciliation and inclusion of all nations into the people of God in Christ through faithfulness. Interestingly, Paul puts the greeting of the Greeks before that of greeting of the Jews: "grace and peace".

Not only is this a combination of two greetings (affirming both Gentiles and Jews), but it is one of the most compact forms of the gospel: the grace we receive from Jesus provides peace of life. But this peace is not individualistic meant for the spiritual naval gazer. It's a peace that starts with grace and looks towards. It's a peace that makes two into one.

May you be blessed by the good news of the reconciliation that is in Christ.

Grace and peace.

September 15, 2009


If there's one word that describes the last week of my life, it's "epic". I say that with a bitter sweet tone (in case you can't hear it). I started seminary at Asbury and I went to see U2 live in Chicago. By epic, I don't mean that I did anything epic or that my life itself is epic. I simply mean that it was far beyond my ability of grasping and comprehending. I feel like I was living in what Peter Buckland calls the "swirling vortex of weirdness".

What made everything feel like a swirling vortex of weirdness is the combination of events: I commuted from Nashville to Lexington for my first day of class, started learning Hebrew, found out my reading load is 3,000-4,000 pages this semester, drove back to Nashville, drove to Chicago, saw U2 in Soldier Field, drove to Nashville and drove back to Lexington only to start my second week of school. This is the beginning of an interesting semester of commuting to Asbury once a week from Monday to Thursday.

I hope that I can be blogging through what I'm learning during cemetary, as they call it. A person only does graduate school once, eh? Well, hopefully just once. This blog is because of the suggestion of Michael DeFazio, who influenced me to start thinking about Asbury four and a half years ago. Whether he knows it or not, he was the first one who planted Asbury in my Freshman mind while I was still at Ozark Christian College. So Michael, if you read this, thank you for planting that thought in my mind.

What I want to learn, now, is not how to maintain the epic. As I look forward to the next two and half years, I want to learn the art of the mundane. Please join me on this all too common journey chasing after an all too wonderful God.

P.S. As I typed the last word, Ben Witherington walked by and asked me if he could borrow my laptop so he didn't have to go up to his office. I let him. Looks like I'm off to a good start.