J. Louis Martyn on God’s Invasion

“The Father of Jesus Christ is emphatically not a god who, after offering two ways, withdraws off stage in order to assure an autonomous decision on the part of the human agent. Precisely the opposite. This God comes invasively and causatively, inciting faith where there was none. We may take the apostle quite literally when we hear him speak of the genesis of the newly moral community, identifying it from its inception forward as God’s new creation, for as God’s new creation this community owes both its birth and its sustained life to God’s powerful act in the gospel and to nothing else.”

- J. Louis Martyn, “The Gospel Invades Philosophy” in Paul, Philosophy, and the Theopolitical Vision, p.33.

David Bentley Hart on the Problem of Evil (Theodicy)

I’m currently preparing to give four talks on the problem of evil (theodicy) this weekend and have been spending some more time in one of my favorite books on the issue, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? by David Bentley Hart. Here is a sampling of the many great quotes to be found:

“It is a strange thing to find peace in a universe rendered morally intelligible at the cost of a God rendered morally loathsome.”

“One is confronted with only this bare choice: either one embraces the mystery of created freedom and accepts that the union of free spiritual creatures with the God of love is a thing so wonderful that the power of creation to enslave itself to death must be permitted by God; or one judges that not even such rational freedom is worth the risk of a cosmic fall and the terrible injustice of the consequences that follow from it.”

“If it is from Christ that we are to learn how God relates himself to sin, suffering, evil, and death, it would seem that he provides us little evidence of anything other than a regal, relentless, and miraculous enmity: sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers. And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are part of the eternal work or purposes of God.”

“As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child I do not see the face of God, but the face of his enemy.”

“I honestly don’t know (how to respond to moral evil). I haven’t a pastoral bone in my body. But I would implore pastors never to utter banal consolations concerning God’s ‘greater plan’ or the mystery of his will. The first proclamation of the gospel is that death is God’s ancient enemy, whom God has defeated and will ultimately destroy. I would hope that no Christian pastor would fail to recognize that that completely shameless triumphalism – and with it an utterly sincere and unrestrained hatred of suffering and death – is the surest foundation of Christian hope, and the proper Christian response to grief.”

America: The Modern Phoenicia (Guest Post by Todd Miller)

In Apologetics for the 21st Century, Louis Markos writes, “Phoenicia controlled a mercantile empire run on greed, realpolitik, and the bottom line, and they set up outposts all over the Mediterranean world to ensure their control of the sea” (Pg.86). Markos further describes them as being considered “bad pagans” by such different countries as Rome and Israel. It is something upon which even these ‘enemies’ could agree, and something that I think many modern nations would agree with as well. The question we have to ask though is could modern America be a descendant of ancient Phoenicia?

Mercantile empire. Check.
The United States trades all over the world. We import more products than any other country. Our multinational corporations sit in every country in the world. We export everything we can, and these days we are exporting work as much as products. According to the US Department of Transportation, the United States exported 901 million tons and imported 1,238 million tons in 2012. Mercantilist empire? I would say so.

Run on greed, realpolitik, and the bottom line. Check.
We only have to read the latest article of white collar crime to see that greed is everywhere. Years ago John Stossel did a report titled “Greed Is Good” for 60 Minutes. He discussed how greed is actually what leads people to create new products and services, to start businesses, and to build economic success. While I believe that there are a lot of businesses still built on a vision to make a difference, our largest companies, the mercantile empire, tends to be run by greed where decisions are made based on what is in it for me instead of what is best for the organization.

Can we even doubt that our nation has become a collection of laws and rules based on realpolitik? Realpolitik is essentially politics based on power — coercion. It also focuses more on the practical and material rather than ideology or morality or ethics. The headlines are rampant with politics of coercion in this country. Politicians threaten their detractors with retaliatory actions rather than discuss, debate, and compromise. Recently in Houston, the mayor and city attorney chose to ignore a petition with adequate signatures and in turn subpoenaed five churches to provide “all communications from pastors” regarding the mayor, homosexuality, and the petition. Many believe that this is the first step to quiet the voices of the Church and potentially its members regarding city politics. This is realpolitik in action. It is the use of power to quiet the people.

In addition to the greed and realpolitik, the bottom line rules the day. Business decisions, government decisions, leadership decisions, all decisions are based on the bottom line. Does it prosper us? Will it put money in my pocket or take it out? We lay off thousands of people to ensure that the bottom line does not suffer, while ensuring that those in power make their numbers and get their bonuses. I was part of a layoff in 2000, along with 16,000 other people, but the co-CEOs each got their million dollar bonuses for making their numbers. Business decisions are based on the numbers at the end of every quarter with little regard to what that will mean to the business in the long term or to the employees who have to continue to deliver more with less. These decisions cannot be restricted to business and government leaders either. We decide not to fund public schools, our own children’s education, because it might mean a few more dollars in taxes. I have been involved in many conversations lately about the bond vote for our school district this fall. People complain about schools being overcrowded and not having enough resources while at the same time denying the district the funds it needs to build new schools. The bottom line is what matters.

They setup outposts all over the … world to ensure their control of the sea.
The United States has the world’s most powerful Navy. We have warships that can deliver ordinance anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. We maintain control of shipping lanes with our Navy, and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is evident that we control the seas. A recent trip to the movie theater to see Captain Phillips shows how involved our Navy is in the world’s oceans. Halfway around the world, it was the United States Navy that showed up to rescue the captain, crew, and cargo, not the navy of some nearby country.

We are indeed the Phoenicia of modern times. Mammon is our god, and we serve him well. Our materialist culture has more than it needs and still does not have all that it wants. We want more, and we are willing to sacrifice our lives to attain it. We work overtime, seven days a week to ensure that we have the funds to pay for the house we had to mortgage our lives to buy, to fill with furniture that we bought with interest free credit, to park our cars that we bought with no money down and low monthly payments, so that we can send our kids to every activity ever created by man. We kill ourselves for our god. We serve our master well.

Maybe there is still hope for us though. We have yet to succumb to the most heinous of the Phoenician traditions – child sacrifice. This is the practice the Israelite and Roman alike despised the Phoenicians for doing. But at least we Americans do not look at children as a mistake that will only ruin our chances for a prosperous future, that will only cost society money in welfare, and that will only cost us money and time in the long run. We have long given up on this notion with the help of science. Now we can get rid of them before they become a problem, when they are still just a “blob of cells,” so we are clearly more advanced and more civilized than those Phoenician barbarians. Maybe there is hope for us.


* Todd Miller is a graduate of the University of Houston holding both a Bachelors and Masters in Business Administration. He has spent a lifetime studying leadership and strategy and most recently taken up the challenge of a Masters in Theological Studies at Houston Baptist University.

0c66361He is particularly interested in theologies of work, business, and leadership. He is a huge fan of Walt Disney, the man and the company. He happens to have a family that is equally Disney crazy, which makes it easy to justify annual journeys to the happiest place on earth.

Follow Todd on Twitter: @toddscottmiller.

The Various “Hats” of a Retreat Speaker

It’s that time of the year – fall retreat season. This weekend I had the honor of speaking at a weekend retreat for a youth group, next weekend I will speak at a high school D-Now retreat, and in a few weeks I’ll be speaking at a women’s retreat (Yes… I’m a 26 year old single male… what could possibly go wrong?). I really enjoy these opportunities to meet new people and to preach God’s word.

One of the best (and sometimes most challenging) parts of speaking at retreats or camps? All the different roles you are called to play during the weekend or week. As anyone who has spoken itinerantly knows, a retreat or camp speaker is:

- A Speaker
Yes – this is the first and most important reason that I was invited to attend and participate. To open up the Scriptures and to speak God’s word. For those who are called to this vocation, few things are as exciting or life-giving.

- A Camp Counselor
Perhaps this is because I was a former camp counselor, but I’ve always felt some responsibility to help any event run smoothly. Whether it is through having fun with the kids, helping organize people or events, or simply sharing in the atmosphere of enthusiasm, there are usually countless opportunities to enjoy some time in a new community.

- A Spiritual Director
I’m not only a speaker… I’m a pastor. Every retreat or camp is an opportunity to get to know at least a handful of new people in an individual and deep way. My goal at every event is to connect personally with at least a few people so that I may pray for them and give them specific spiritual advice and guidance. These are usually my favorite memories from events.

- A Ministry Coach
Youth pastors, like all ministry leaders, are not always the most supported. Many are burnt out and need prayer, encouragement, and advice. I’m happy to provide all three to those who have invited me to the event and the lay leaders who are helping organize it. Lives are changed through day-to-day ministries much more than through one-off events…. so my ultimate goal in my itinerant ministry is to give an “assist” to those who have committed to walking with the members of the group on a daily basis.

It’s a fun, though sometimes exhausting, calling. I’ll be busy this evening, praying for the students I met this weekend and preparing for the ones I will meet a week from now.
I love it.

Have you ever spoken at a retreat or camp? Can you relate to these various callings?
Do you have a positive memory of a speaker from a retreat or camp experience? What made them so effective and memorable?

A Sermon For Election Day: “A Political Eschatology”

A brief homily for an Election Day Communion service I will be leading this evening:

Today is an election day, a political day, an important day.

People are passionate about politics, including Christians. This passion characterizes both Christians on the Left and Christians on the Right – who are all too often unable to see past their disagreements and recognize their unity in Christ.

Every two years, our nation is flooded with candidates, campaigns, promises, debates, and votes. Every two years, politicians seek for more power and political parties stretch for more influence. Every two years, citizens either eagerly anticipate a better tomorrow or become more disillusioned with the political machine.

And every two years Christians are tempted with a unique species of idolatry.

The danger of politics lies with the passion of politics. People believe in politics. This is why political disagreements often become shouting matches and ad-hominem attacks. A commitment to partisan politics, regardless of the particular politician, party, or agenda, always threatens to undermine our commitment to Christ and to each other as the Church.

Scot McKnight calls our temptation an “eschatology of politics.” Eschatology is the study of the things that will make a lasting difference in our world. He defines his term, an “eschatology of politics,” as the belief (embraced by non-Christians and Christians alike) that the democratic political process has the ability to bring about Kingdom conditions (like justice and peace) if we can just manage to elect the correct candidates and pass the right legislation.

Christian eschatology, on the other hand, is wrapped up in the conviction that true change in our world comes only through Jesus and the working of his Spirit. The difference is subtle, but incredibly important. Christians are called to recognize that God’s Kingdom does not, and will not, ultimately come through candidates and laws. God’s Kingdom comes through conversion to Jesus and his social order. That is to say, through the worship and witness of the church. This confession is not an attempt to deny the importance of the political process, but it is an attempt to dramatically relativize it. For Christians, the most important election that ever took place occurred when God the Father raised Jesus and placed him on the throne in Heaven.

We are a people who expect the Kingdom to come as the Holy Spirit continues to work transformation in and through the local church. Our beliefs as a community are not most fully embodied in a polling booth but in our individual and collective lives. Our first calling in the world is to be faithful witnesses of the economic, social, and relational realities of the peaceable Kingdom of Jesus – no matter what is happening around us or who claims to be “in charge.” The church is called to show the world what God’s Kingdom looks like – serving as a model community of flawed people transformed by the Spirit and living in peace and justice.  A specifically Christian political eschatology frees us from the frantic struggle to gain more power, releases us from placing too much hope or trust in candidates and law, and rebukes us for the ways in which we have lost hope for our world.

Today is an election day, a political day, an important day.

And tonight, I invite you to table of King Jesus, to cast your vote of allegiance.