Is it “debts” or “trespasses”?

by K.W. Leslie, 30 September

Matthew 6.12.

I used to be in a small group which consisted of Christians from various churches in town. So, different denominations and traditions. Most were Baptist, partly ’cause there are a lot of Baptists in town, partly ’cause we met at a nondenominational Baptist church, so their members came out to represent. And many weren’t Baptist; I’m not. But we all have the same Lord Jesus, so we tried to avoid the churches’ doctrinal hangups and focus on what unifies us in him.

Anyway one of the unifying things we did was, at the end of each meeting, we’d say the Lord’s Prayer together. We have that in common, right?

Except… well, translations. Most of us have it memorized in either the Book of Common Prayer version or the King James Version. A few know it best in the NIV or ESV, or whatever’s their favorite translation. (Or their pastor’s favorite.) But the majority know it in either the BCP or KJV.

Spot the differences.

Book of Common Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
Matthew 6.9-13 KJV
9B Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever. Amen.

Some of the differences go largely unnoticed: “Who art in heaven” and “Which art in heaven” is a minor difference in pronunciation, same as the “on earth” and “in earth.” There’s a bit of confusion at the end when the BCP has “for ever and ever” and the KJV only has “for ever.”

But the real hiccup is where the BCP has “trespasses” and the KJV has “debtors.”

At first you might think (’cause some have): “Well the Lord’s Prayer is also in Luke, so let’s see what word Luke used,” but that’ll just frustrate you: Luke has Jesus say,

Luke 11.4 KJV
And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.

So it’s half a vote for “debts,” because the second part of the verse describes debtors. But it doesn’t matter what people are voting: Those who say the Book of Common Prayer version have a really strong traditional bias in favor of “trespasses,” since it’s what they’ve been praying all their lives, every time they recite the Lord’s Prayer. And those who quote the King James Version have a likewise strong traditional bias in favor of “debts,” because it’s what they’ve been praying all their lives… and I’m not gonna even get into the type of KJV worshiper who thinks the KJV is the one true bible and every other variant is satanic.

Okay. Is this minor difference of wording a big deal? Of course not. But not every Christian has the maturity to recognize this, and they want to pick a fight. They wanna be the prayer leaders, largely so they can impose their favorite version of the Lord’s Prayer on everybody, and make everyone say “debts” or “trespasses” as they please.

And somehow they don’t notice everybody is pretty much saying whatever translation of the Lord’s Prayer they’re accustomed to saying anyway: For one second of cacophony, the BCP fans are saying “trespasses” and the KJV fans are saying “debts,” because nobody’s following the prayer leader: As usual, they’re reciting by memory.

And y’know what? That’s okay.

And y’know what else? If it’s not okay—if it’s making you nuts—go back and read the Lord’s Prayer again: “As we forgive those who trespass against us,” or “As we forgive our debtors,” or “As we forgive every one that is indebted to us.” We’re supposed to forgive the people who “say it wrong,” same as we’re supposed to forgive everyone. If you can’t do that, you’re doing it wrong.

Daily bread.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 September

Matthew 6.11, Luke 11.3.

Whenever we read Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, or any of his other teachings, they make way more sense when we remember his audience at the time consisted of poor people.

In the United States, “poor” usually means you don’t have a lot of money, and live within limited means. In ancient Israel, “poor” meant you had no money. Maybe you had stuff to barter; usually not. You lived from job to job, from harvest to harvest, doing the best you could with what few resources you had. Any time you did have money, taxmen would take it away, priests and Pharisees would demand you give it to temple, or rich people would con you out of it.

So when Jesus speaks on money, possessions, or economics: His audience seldom had those things. We do have these things. Even our “poor” have these things. We’re very blessed.

So. We recognize when Jesus, in the Lord’s Prayer tells us to pray for daily bread, he doesn’t literally mean bread; he means food in general. That interpretation is fine. But so many Americans expand it: “Oh he doesn’t necessarily mean food; he means spiritual food. He means we’re to do the will of his Father, Jn 4.34 so we’re to ask God for the strength and power to do that.” Or, if they’re more into Mammon and materialism, they claim it means financial food: Give us this day our weekly paycheck, that with it we might pay our bills and buy whatever we covet.

And yeah, we recognize we should go to God first when we want anything, and submit to his will when he tells us yes or no. But when Jesus told us to pray for daily bread, it’s not a metaphor for our every necessity or desire. It’s about sustaining our lives. We need food so we can live. We need to recognize our dependence on God for our lives. So when he says pray for daily bread, pray for daily bread.

Yeah, you can pray for spiritual growth too. You can pray for money. You can ask God for anything, and he’s not stingy. But don’t go reading your various other desires into the Lord’s Prayer, and pray for those things instead of what Jesus told us to pray for. Pray for bread.

And specifically, pray for tomorrow’s bread. Because that’s a better translation of what Jesus commanded.

Thy kingdom come.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 September

Matthew 6.10, Luke 11.2.

Matthew 6.10 KWL
“Make your kingdom come. Make your will happen both in heaven and on earth.”
 
Luke 11.2 KWL
Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father!
Sanctify your name. Bring your kingdom.’ ”

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father ἐλθέτω βασιλεία σου/elthéto i vasileía su, “must come, the kingdom of yours.” The literal translation is a bit Yoda-like, which is why “Your kingdom come” is how the ESV put it, and of course we all know the Book of Common Prayer and KJV translation.

The arrival of God’s kingdom is the gospel. It’s not John 3.16, no matter how much we love that verse. Eternal life is part of it, but the more important thing is where we spend this eternal life, and John 3.16 says nothing about that. You know the verse; you know this already. It’s why when Christians interpret the verse for other people, we tend to explain “will have everlasting life in heaven, with Jesus.” But Jesus never said that: In his second coming, he’s coming to earth to take over. God’s kingdom’s gonna be here. We Christians have been laying the groundwork for it.

And doing a rotten job of it, but that stands to reason: Too many of us think the kingdom’s not here. We anticipate an otherworldly, cosmic heaven; we figure we leave this world behind to fall apart and be destroyed. The millennium isn’t part of our plans.

So why have we bothered to pray “Thy kingdom come”? Well, ’cause the words are there, so we recite them by rote, but never meditated on them any. We just presumed God’d make his kingdom come by blowing up the earth while we all watch safely from heaven, and that’s where his kingdom is. And since God’s gonna blow up the earth, why bother to care of it? This world is passing away, so it’s okay if we pollute and spoil it, ’cause God’ll make us another one.

But once we realize God’s kingdom is located here, on our planet; once we realize God’s kingdom is meant to fix everything that’s broken on our planet (’cause God’s in the business of fixing what’s broken); and once we realize the Holy Spirit’s been given to us so we can get started already on God’s plan to make all things new: It’s gonna radically transform our nihilistic attitudes towards our world. And towards the people on it, whose glimpses of the coming kingdom are gonna attract them to it far better than warnings of doom and gloom.

Hallowed be thy name.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 September

Matthew 6.9, Luke 11.2.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father to ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου/aghiasthíto to ónoma su, “sanctify” or “make holy” or “hallowify” (to coin a word) “the name of yours.” The Book of Common Prayer and KJV went with “Hallowed be thy name,” which means the same thing, but Christians commonly misinterpret it to mean “I sanctify your name,” or “I praise your name.” We think this is praise and worship on our part. It’s not. It’s a request for our Father to make his own name holy. For him to act.

Part of our presumption comes from a way-too-common Christian misbelief that our prayers aren’t really about asking God to do anything. Because, the attitude is, God doesn’t actually answer prayer. He sits on his heavenly arse, watches us humans stumble around, reminds us to read our bibles, but isn’t gonna intervene in human affairs till the End Times—if they even ever happen. Besides, he’s already planned out everything he’s gonna do, so all our after-the-fact prayers won’t change a whiff of it. So what’s the point of prayer then? Changing us—changing our attitudes about God by reciting various truths about him, like we do with our worship music, until these ideas finally sink in and transform us.

(As if this even works with worship music. Just look at all the Christian jerks whose favorite songs, so they claim, are hymns. But lemme stop here before I rant futher.)

Thanks to this mindset, Christians imagine “Hallowed be thy name” is just another reminder to think of God’s name as holy. To not take it in vain. To glorify and worship him, and tell other people how awesome and mighty he is. To remember God is holy—and because we so often misdefine holy as good, to also remember God is good. Or because we so often misdefine holy as solemn, to remember to treat God as formal.

We really do botch the meaning of what Jesus is trying to teach us in this prayer, don’t we? It’s why Christians can recite the Lord’s Prayer the world over, sometimes every single day, and still not behave any more like Jesus than before.

So to remind you: Holiness means something’s not like anyone or anything else, because it’s distinctly used for divine purposes. It’s weird. Good-weird, not weird for weirdness’ sake, not twisted, not evil-weird. When we pray for God to make his name holy, we want him to not be like any other higher power, any other mighty thing, any other force in the cosmos, any other god. We want him to stand out. He’s not like anything or anyone else. He’s infinitely better.

Now. Does recognizing the Lord’s Prayer is about actually asking God for stuff, and that it’s not merely about changing our own attitudes, mean our attitudes don’t need to change? Of course not. If we want God to make his name holy, part of that means we need to make his name holy too. Stop treating God as if he’s just anyone else. He’s not.

And no, I absolutely do not mean we should treat him more formally, more solemnly, with more ritual and ceremony and gravitas and all that crap we do to suck up to people in authority. God’s uniqueness is reflected by two things about him: He’s almighty, of course. And, more importantly, more relevantly to us, his character: He’s infinitely good. Infinitely gracious. He infinitely loves us. Has infinite patience with us. He’s infinitely kind. Infinitely faithful. He’s not like anyone else because, unlike everyone else, he’ll never, ever fail us.

So don’t put him on the same level!

Nontheism: When pagans don’t believe in God.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 September
NONTHEIST 'nɑn.θi.ɪst adjective. Believes no such thing as God, gods, a universal spirit, a universal intelligence, nor a supernatural higher power, exists. (A catchall term for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and others who are skeptical of God and religion.)
[Nontheism 'nɑn.θi.ɪz.əm noun.]

Y’know, for the first couple centuries of Christianity, we Christians were called atheist.

See, Greco-Roman pagans believed in gods. Lots of gods. Not just their own gods—and the titans, demigods, and daemons in the Greco-Roman pantheon. They also accepted the existence of the gods of other pantheons. They didn’t presume they knew them all. So whenever they encountered an unfamiliar god, they accepted it. Even added it to their pantheon, which is why they had multiple gods of the sun (Apollo, Helios, Hyperion) and war (Ares, Athena, Enyo, Polemos).

Sometimes they figured it was just one of their gods with a different name: The Latins worshiped a Deo Pater/“Father God” (which later got contracted to Jupiter), and the Greeks presumed this was just Zeus with a Latin alias… and over time this became what the Latins believed too. The Greeks did the same with the Egyptians’ Amun-Ra; they figured he was just what Egyptians called Helios. (The Seleucids tried to pull this with our LORD, claimed he was just the Jewish version of Zeus, and tried to put a Zeus statue in the temple. The Maccabees objected rather vigorously to that idea.)

So the Greco-Romans believed there were gods everywhere. Whereas Christians and Jews have only the One, and believe the beings pagans consider “gods” aren’t gods at all. Either they’re devils pretending to be divine, or they’re the made-up gods of scam-artist priests. You know, like atheists nowadays claim about our God. (But without devils in their explanations, ’cause they don’t believe in any spirits, including evil ones.) To the ancient pagans, rejecting all their gods felt kinda like Christians didn’t believe in any god.

So if you imagine Christians and nontheists are opposites: Not really. Because both Christians and nontheists don’t believe in Zeus, Odin, and Amun-Ra. We likewise reject the divinity of Krishna, Olodumare, the Horned God, and any other pagan deities. We think it’s wrong, unhealthy, silly, or dangerous, to follow and worship such beings—same as nontheists! In that, we’re on the same side.

Where we differ is we do worship YHWH/“Jehovah”/“the LORD,” the one true God and father of Christ Jesus. Nontheists simply lump him together with all the other gods, and reject him too.

Our Father who art in heaven.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 September

Matthew 6.9-10.

The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew begins with πάτερ ἡμῶν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς/páter imón o en toís uranoís, “our Father who’s [located] in the heavens,” Mt 6.9 ’cause we’re addressing—duh—our heavenly Father.

Matthew 6.9 KWL
“So pray like this: Our Father who’s in the heavens! Sanctify your name.”

Some Christians wanna make it particularly clear which god we’re praying to. Partly because some of ’em actually think they might accidentally invoke the wrong god (and y’know, if they’re Mammonists or some other type of idolater, they might). Sometimes because they’re showing off to pagans that they worship the Father of Jesus, or some other form of hypocrisy. But Jesus would have us keep it simple: Just address our heavenly Father. There’s no special formula for addressing him; no secret password we’ve gotta say; even “in Jesus’s name” isn’t a magic spell—and you notice “in Jesus’s name” isn’t in the Lord’s Prayer either. You know who he is; he knows who he is; he knows what our relationship consists of; that’s fine.

As I said in the Lord’s Prayer article, Jesus isn’t the first to teach people God is our Father. Many a Pharisee prayer, and many Jewish prayers nowadays, address God as אָבִינוּ/avínu, “our Father”—like Avínu Malkéinu (“our Father, our king”), recited during fasts and the high holidays. If we have a relationship with him, and we should through Jesus, we should have no hesitation to approach him boldly. He 4.16 He loves us; he wants to be gracious to us; let’s feel free to talk with him about anything and everything.

Short, potent, authentic prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 September

Matthew 6.7-8.

In his Sermon on the Mount, right after Jesus taught his followers to keep their prayers private, he added,

Matthew 6.7-8 KWL
7 “Petitioners shouldn’t be repetitive like the pagans:
They think they’ll be worth hearing because of their wordiness.
8 You shouldn’t compare yourselves with them:
Your Father has known what you have need of, before you asked him.”

The Pharisee view, one we Christians share, is our God is the living God. Whereas other religions’ gods aren’t. They’re blocks of wood, stone, and metal; they’re abstract ideas without any intelligence behind them; they’re devils tricking people into worshiping them. When we speak to our God, he speaks back. When they speak to their gods, they don’t. They can’t.

Yet instead of realizing, “Y’know, since our god never, ever responds to us, I wonder whether she’s real to begin with?” pagans just shove that idea right out of their minds as if it’s doubt or blasphemy, double down on their beliefs, and come up with a bunch of justifications for why their gods can’t talk. Humans are too insignificant or sinful; the gods are too mighty or busy or distant; the universe doesn’t express its will like that; crap like that.

Regardless of the reasons, pagans get no feedback from their gods, so when they pray, they feel the need to repeat themselves. A lot. Their gods might not’ve heard them, so they just need to make sure.

Does our God require such behavior? Absolutely not. As Jesus said, he knew our requests before we ever made ’em.

Lots of Christians interpret this as a statement of God’s omniscience, his all-knowingness. Which is indeed one of God’s powers; he knows all. But it isn’t what Jesus means by this lesson. He’s making a statement of God’s attentiveness. God’s not a distant, dispassionate, disinterested deity. He’s our Father. He cares enough about us to keep tabs on our needs. He cares about his kids.

Hal Lindsey and Al Hartley.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 September

Since I’m writing about the comic book version of Hal Lindsey’s There’s a New World Coming, I should introduce you to the authors. Starting with Hal Lindsey.


Hal Lindsey. IMDB

Harold Lee Lindsey, born 23 November 1929, is a former Coast Guard tugboat captain turned evangelist. He and his second wife Jan began working with Cru (then called Campus Crusade for Christ) in the 1960s, and he got his master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. I’m not sure whether Lindsey got his theological outlook from DTS or brought it with him; not that it matters.

The school was founded in 1924 by Lewis Sperry Chafer, a Darbyist who authored an eight-volume Systematic Theology which taught God from a thoroughly dispensationalist point of view: God, he taught, used multiple systems of salvation throughout human history, and the system he uses in the Christian Era is grace. But the systems of previous era were largely based on karma—on obeying your conscience, obeying your patriarch, obeying the Law, and otherwise doing it yourself. In other words Pelagianism—but the only reason Darbyists aren’t Pelagian is because they don’t claim people are currently saved through their good works. (Although many of them seriously believe the Jews still are.)

If you don’t know DTS, you definitely know its alumni. They’ve run megachurches, seminaries, Christianity Today, and run for office. Like radio preachers Chuck Swindoll and J. Vernon McGee, Ryrie Study Bible author Charles C. Ryrie, The Living Bible author Kenneth N. Taylor, The Prayer of Jabez author Bruce Wilkinson, How to Be Rich author Andy Stanley, presidential apologist Robert Jeffress, and the authors of the Expositors Bible Commentary. The school has made a huge impact on Evangelical Christianity, and the rest of Christendom—and the rest of the world, ’cause Darbyist views on Israel largely drive American foreign policy regarding Israel.

So that’s the belief system Lindsey brought with him when he published The Late Great Planet Earth in 1970, based on his notes and edited together by Carole C. Carlson. It was a monster best-seller. Sold millions of copies when, even today, only a few thousand copies puts you on the Amazon and New York Times lists. This book introduced Americans to Darbyism, and its unique interpretation of the End Times in which Jesus secretly raptures his followers before his second coming. Before any great tribulation happens.

The Holy Spirit reminds us what Jesus taught… assuming we know what Jesus taught.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 September

John 14.25-26.

Most Christians figure Jesus’s students followed him three years. It might actually have been longer than that.

The idea of three years comes from the fact three Passovers get mentioned in John, Jn 2.13, 6.4, 11.55 the last one being the Passover for which he died. But just because John mentioned three particular Passovers doesn’t mean these were the only Passovers which took place during Jesus’s teaching time. Coulda been nine for all we know.

No I’m not kidding:

7 BC: Jesus was born.
24 CE: Jesus’s 30th birthday. Luke states he was ὡσεὶ/oseí, “like,” 30 when he started teaching. Lk 3.23 Didn’t say exactly 30, but let’s start from there.
33 CE: Jesus died. And woulda been about 39.

Time for some basic arithmetic. If Jesus started teaching in the year 24, and “like” just means he was a few months shy of 30, by the year 33 he’d’ve been teaching nine years. If “like” instead means he was already in his thirties; say 33… he’d’ve been teaching six years. (Still more than three.) And if “like” means he was coming up on 30, that he was actually younger than 30, like 27… he’d’ve been teaching twelve years.

Yeah. You thought Jesus was just giving these kids a two-year course in church planting. Nope. Pharisee rabbis provided young men a full secondary education. And as the best teacher ever, you know Jesus taught ’em so well they astounded the Senate, who assumed because they hadn’t been to their academies they were ἀγράμματοί/aghrámmatí, “unschooled” and ἰδιῶται/idióte, “idiots.” Ac 4.13

But one significant boost to their education—and really to every Christian’s education—is the Holy Spirit.

Yeah, Jesus’s students had listened to him speak in synagogue every Friday night. Yeah, they listened to him speak to crowds every other day of the week. Yeah, they sat in on his lessons as the people at dinner parties and every other social function decided to ask Jesus a question or two. And of course there were all those teaching moments as they hung out with him.

But how much of that stuff are you naturally gonna remember? Like really remember? Remember in detail? Remember in useful detail, like when you actually need it in real life? Well, a good teacher will help you memorize stuff by reinforcing it time and again. But for Christians we get another boost because the Holy Spirit remembers absolutely everything. And if we listen to him, as we should, he’ll remind us of everything Jesus taught us. Jesus said so.

John 14.25-26 KWL
25 While staying with you, I spoke these things to you.
26 The Assistant, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name:
This person will teach you everything, and remind you of everything I told you.”

There’s a catch though: What has Jesus told you?

The Holy Spirit of truth… and dense Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 September

John 14.15-17.

Christians take for granted that we receive the Holy Spirit by virtue of being Christian: When we say the sinner’s prayer and claim Jesus as our individual savior, we individually, automatically get the Holy Spirit to indwell us and guarantee us an eternal place in God’s kingdom. Right?

Right. But the assumption Jesus makes when he says as much to his students in John, is his students don’t just passively believe in him. Don’t just passively believe all the correct things about him, and have the proper “faith”, and that’s what saves us. And once we die after a lifetime of taking God’s grace for granted, we get to use the Holy Spirit as our entry fee to heaven.

The Holy Spirit’s been granted to us to help us continue to follow Jesus.

John 14.15-17 KWL
15 “When you love me you’ll keep my commands,
16 and I’ll make a request of the Father, and he’ll give you another Assistant,
because he’ll be with you in this age: 17 The truthful Holy Spirit.
The world can’t comprehend him, because it neither sees nor knows him.
You know him, because he dwells with you, and will be in you.”

The Spirit has an active purpose in our lives. Not just a passive one.

He lives within your heart.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 September
INDWELL ɪn'dwɛl verb. Be permanently present in someone [namely their soul or mind]. Possess spiritually.
[Indweller ɪn'dwɛl'ər noun.]

There’s a hymn we sang in my church growing up; “He Lives” by Alfred Henry Ackley. Chorus goes like yea:

He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way
He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart
You ask me how I know he lives; he lives within my heart

’Cause that’s the common Evangelical belief about where Jesus currently is: He’s in our hearts.

As a boy I was taught Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts, asking to come in. (Much later, I read that particular bit of Revelation and found out it doesn’t mean that. But anyway.) Once we permit Jesus entry, he takes up residence in our hearts. As kids a lot of us took this literally: We imagined a tiny Jesus taking over one of the chambers of our cardiac muscles, and even moving a bed and furniture into it. Bit cramped. One kid even told me the reason we bow our heads to pray is so Jesus can hear us better.

Where’d this live-in-our-hearts idea come from? One part bible, 99 parts popular Christian culture. And the bible part is dependent on the King James Version. Here it is:

Ephesians 3.14-19 KJV
14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith” in verse 17 is the only passage in the bible which refers to Christ Jesus living in anyone’s heart. It’s not that good a translation of the original, κατοικῆσαι τὸν χριστὸν διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν/katikíse ton Hristón diá tis písteos en taís kardíes ymón, “Christ dwelling [among you] through the faith in your hearts.” Paul wasn’t telling the Ephesians Jesus lived in their hearts, but that the deep trust they had in Jesus—the trust in their hearts, not the Christ in their hearts—was why Jesus was with them.

But you know how we humans are: We take the germ of an idea and go nuts with it.

Hence the idea of Jesus in our hearts is really popular. You’ll find it all over English-speaking Christendom—and thanks to English-speaking missionaries, everywhere else. You’ll find it in Christian testimonies: “I know he’s real because he lives in my heart.” Sometimes they mean this metaphorically: Jesus occupies my thoughts, has my loyalty, I’m devoted to him, I love him. And okay, it’s fine to describe “Jesus in my heart” thataway. But does Christ Jesus, in whole or in part, materially or spiritually, dwell in me?

Nope. Wrong person of the trinity. That’d be the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 1.13-14 KWL
13 In Christ you heard the truthful word—the good news of your salvation!
In Christ you believed; you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit!
14 He’s the down payment of our inheritance—
releasing our trust fund—praising God’s glory.

The street-corner show-off.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 September

Matthew 6.5-6.

Throughout history people have prayed publicly for various reasons. Some noble, some not.

And a regular problem throughout history has been the person who gets up and prays publicly, not because they legitimately wanna talk with God, or call to him for help. It’s because they wanna be seen praying. They wanna look religious. Usually so they can look more religious than they actually are. In other words hypocrisy.

Nothing annoys Jesus like hypocrisy, which is why he tries to discourage his followers from doing this. Although you know some of us do this anyway.

Matthew 6.5-6 KWL
5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites who enjoy standing in synagogues and major intersections,
praying so they might be seen by the people. Amen! I promise you all, they got their credit.
6 When you pray, go into your most private room with the door closed.
Pray to your Father in private. Your Father, who sees what’s private, will credit you.”

Standing was how the ancients prayed. They didn’t kneel, bow their heads, and fold their hands; that practice arose in the middle ages ’cause it’s how European kings wanted to be approached, and since Jesus is King it seems appropriate. But the ancients stood, looked to the sky (where they imagined God is) raised their hands to get his attention, and spoke with him. This posture made it really obvious someone was praying. Don’t need to get loud; just assume the position.

And Jesus notes the folks who prayed in really public places. Like synagogue. Which is not a Jewish church; it’s a Pharisee school, where you went to ask rabbis questions. Prayer times, before and after and during the lesson, would be short. But people would stand right outside the building and make a public display of prayer, “getting right with God” before going in. Or similarly praying this way after the lesson, ostensibly to thank God for the wisdom they just got… or maybe to ask him to straighten out some wayward rabbi. Whatever; the point was they were making it nice ’n obvious they talked with God a lot.

“Major intersections” is how I translate ταῖς γωνίαις τῶν πλατειῶν/tes yoníës ton plateión, “the corners of the wide streets,” namely the avenues where there was lots of room between buildings for people to shop, interact, people-watch, and otherwise hang out. Street corners were obviously where people were coming in from other streets—so the busy parts, busier than our own major intersections.

In both cases people were on their way someplace, and wouldn’t have had the time, nor spent the time, listening to this petitioner with his hands in the air. That wasn’t the point anyway. They didn’t care about being heard. Not even by God. They wanted to be seen.

The way we pray nowadays, doesn’t assume the ancient posture. Usually it’s heads bowed, eyes closed. Sometimes hands get raised, if the folks in the group have any Pentecostal influences in their background. But generally we’re not as noticeable when we pray. Unless we get loud… or unless there are a lot of us, like when a bunch of people pray in front of public buildings or around a flagpole.

But in those places, same as with the people Jesus critiqued, the point was to be seen and noticed by other people. Not so much God. And that’s what Jesus objects to.

Charity for God, versus charity for public approval.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 September

Matthew 6.1-4.

Starting the second chapter of the Sermon on the Mount. It begins with this teaching, only found in Matthew:

Matthew 6.1 KWL
“Watch out to not do your righteous acts before the people to be seen by them.
Otherwise you won’t get credit from your heavenly Father.”

The term Jesus used is μισθὸν/misthón, “compensation.” It’s a synonym for wages. But it gets translated “reward” by various bibles (KJV, ESV, NIV, NLT, NRSV), which gives people the wrong idea. When the King James Version was published in 1611, “reward” meant something you earned through your efforts. Today it means a prize you get for stumbling across a missing person or thing. But a misthón is earned, like Paul said. Ro 4.4 Laborers don’t win their wages; they deserve ’em. Lk 10.7, 1Ti 5.18

Various stingy Christians claim God owes us nothing when we do good deeds. ’Cause we should be doing ’em anyway, right? True. But they’ve got the wrong mindset. We’re not just God’s kids, who work for him for free: We’re his employees, who work to further his kingdom because we have a stake in the company. Employees should be doing their job anyway—and they get paid for it. Same with us Christians: We work for God, and do what we oughta do for our Boss. And God doesn’t skimp on our wages.

Unless of course we’re not working for God, but for our own gain. Unless we’re not making him any profit, but swiping all that profit for ourselves. And this is what Jesus addresses in this lesson: Hypocrites who only do good deeds to make themselves look good. Ostensibly they work for God, but really they’re growing their own little fiefdoms instead of his kingdom.

There are three hypocritical practices Jesus objects to in the Sermon: Self-serving public charity, self-serving public prayer, and self-serving public fasting. Today I deal with the charity.

I already dealt with the fact Jesus’s objections appear to contradict what he previously said about us being the world’s light:

Matthew 5.16 KWL
“So shine your light before the people so they could see your good works,
and think well of your heavenly Father.”

The difference has to do with motive. If you’re doing ’em for God, good!—shine your light. If you’re doing ’em for praise, bad Christian!—human praise is all the earnings you get. That’s the context.

And the way Jesus recommends we make sure we’re doing ’em for God—if we have any question about it—is to do these acts privately. If it’s public, it’s for the acclaim of others. If it’s private, only God sees it—’cause it’s only for him to see anyway.

Spirituality. Which leads to religion.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 September
SPIRITUALITY spɪ.rɪ.tʃu'æl.ə.di noun. Being concerned with the human spirit, as opposed to material things or the material world.
2. [Christianity] Following the Holy Spirit.
[Spiritual 'spɪ.rɪ.tʃ(.u)əl adjective]

I regularly meet pagans who consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” I sometimes like to poke back at ’em by describing myself as religious, not spiritual.

Of course pagans and Christians have very different definitions for these words. By spiritual they mean they’re trying to be mindful of their spirit. And they have some idea what a spirit is. They know it’s the immaterial part of themselves. Frequently they mix it up with the soul, and use those words interchangeably—and to be fair, so do many Christians who likewise don’t know the difference. If they believe in afterlife, they figure their spirit lives on when they die. Otherwise… they kinda associate everything in their heads, which they think is immaterial, with their spirits. Namely their thoughts. Particularly any thoughts which really make ’em feel good. The more emotional it makes ’em, the more “spiritual” they find it. Weddings, tear-jerking movies, a nice sunset, a happy occasion, an inspirational book: For your average pagan, spiritual is just a way to make their happy thoughts sound more metaphysical.

Likewise religion to pagans means “organized religion,” i.e. church, where supposedly a preacher is gonna order you what to think, and they prefer to think for themselves. Of course if they’ve ever visited a non-cultic church, they’d know preachers aren’t supposed to tell us what to think; only the Holy Spirit gets to do that. And it’s not like the people of the church obey the preacher anyway!

These pagan definitions have wormed their way into Christendom. So much so we now have Christians claiming they’re “spiritual, not religious.”

But y’might notice the way Christians practice our “spirituality”… is mighty religious. We pray. We read bible. We go to church. We tithe. We read Christian books, tune in to Christian radio, listen to Christian podcasts. We do good deeds. We share the gospel with others. We just won’t stop posting out-of-context bible quotes on Instagram. We might try to claim to our pagan friends we’re just as “spiritual, not religious” as they, but to pagans we’re totally religious.

Which stands to reason: When we read our bibles and we come across the words “spiritual” or “spiritually” (Greek πνευματικός/nefmatikós) it refers to following the Holy Spirit. Not our spirits. Not human spirits. Definitely not being led by our emotions, which can be influenced by all sorts of outside factors, including devilish ones.

And if we’re truly following the Holy Spirit—who of course is gonna encourage and empower us to follow Jesus—we’re easily gonna slide into a disciplined, structured life of doing what it takes to grow our relationship with God. Like prayer, bible, church, worship, service, goodness. Our spirituality becomes religion.

Yeah, even if you really don’t like to use the R-word.

Christians who don’t know the Holy Spirit.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 September

A few years ago I was checking out a local Baptist church’s faith statement on their website. These faith statements come in handy when you wanna know what an individual church emphasizes. Not all Baptists are alike, y’know. Pretty much the only thing they have in common is they’re Protestant, and they insist you gotta believe in Jesus before you’re baptized; they won’t baptize babies. Beyond that, they could be liturgical or loose, be run by elders or by popular vote, be Calvinist or Pelagian; be egalitarian or sexist or racist—any stripe of Christian you can imagine.

In this specific Baptist church, turns out they don’t know the Holy Spirit.

I know; you’re thinking, “What Christian doesn’t know who the Holy Spirit is?” Well, heretic Christians. Thing is, you’re gonna find this particular heresy is startlingly common. Too many Christians don’t understand who the Spirit is and what he does in their lives—that he’s probably the only person of God’s trinity they’ve ever interacted with!—because their churches simply don’t know anything about him, and therefore don’t teach on him.

In my experience, these Christians have swapped Holy Bible for Holy Spirit, and make a big to-do about following that instead of following him. Often it descends into full-on bible worship. They don’t know to follow the Spirit’s guidance, but they do know how to obey biblical commands… or, instead of actual biblical commands, “biblical principles” which the leadership might make ’em obey instead.

But of course they’re not gonna follow the bible correctly—because they’re not listening to the Spirit!

So, how’d I tell from their faith statement they don’t know the Spirit? First, the one and only time he gets a mention on the entire website, is in this line about Jesus:

He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.

That comes straight from the Apostles Creed. But name-dropping the Spirit doesn’t automatically mean they know him. If you know him, you know what he does—and a few paragraphs down it demonstrates they totally don’t. ’Cause they say this about Jesus:

He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord.

And in fact he doesn’t. That’s the Holy Spirit dwelling in all believers. Ep 1.13-16 Whereas Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand, ruling over all, Ep 1.20-23 and speaking to the Father on our behalf. 1Jn 2.2 (Their faith statement actually declared as much in their previous paragraph!)

So what does this church think the Holy Spirit does? Apparently nothing. They may believe God’s a trinity—their faith statement doesn’t explicitly say so, but they use trinitarian language. But functionally they treat God as a duonity: There’s Father and Son. And both of ’em wield “the holy spirit,” not capitalized, not even really a person, as kinda a force to make stuff happen. He’s not someone you have a relationship with; he’s the power ring which turns us Christians into Green Lanterns.

Now. I remind you the faith statement is what the leadership of a church believes, and what the leaders strive to teach in their sermons, messages, and classes. But properly a church is people. Not the leaders who write the faith statements. The people might have entirely different ideas. I’ve been to many! The leaders want to reach the world with the gospel, but the people wanna sit in comfortable chairs, listen to enjoyable music, listen to an invigorating message, have the kids not complain about how boring the children’s service is, and be out of there by 11:30 so they can make it to the restaurants before the after-church crowds hit. Conversely, as I’ve seen in other churches, the people are totally orthodox but the new pastor has been reading the latest Rob Bell or Greg Boyd or Bart Ehrman book, and has some radical new heterodoxies (or outright heresies) he wants to try out on ’em.

So at this particular Baptist church, the people might totally know who the Spirit is and follow him… but they don’t lead! The leaders do. And when brand-new Christians attend that church and wanna learn about God, they’re usually gonna listen to the leaders, not the people… and when the leaders don’t know the Holy Spirit, the newbies aren’t gonna learn about God. Not accurately.

Which you know is gonna create all sorts of problems. Problems in the way we relate to God, in the expectations we have for him, in the way we worship him together, in the fruit we produce, in the things we teach. That’s what heresy does: Poisons everything. It doesn’t mean we’re not saved, or not really Christian… unless it blocks our relationship with Jesus entirely, like Islam can.

You can be saved despite not knowing the Holy Spirit Ac 19.1-2 —even though he’s the very One who applies God’s salvation to your life. But man alive is your Christianity gonna be defective.

Do you know the Holy Spirit?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 September

Years ago a pagan relative of mine asked me, “You keep saying ‘Holy Spirit’ this, ‘Holy Spirit’ that. What do you mean by that? What’s the Holy Spirit?”

“Oh,” I said—half surprised, half not-all-that-surprised, she didn’t know. And since she’s pagan, the simplest answer was best: “Holy Spirit is another name for God.”

“Oh,” she said. And our conversation moved on.

Yeah, I could’ve given her the full-on theological explanation of what spirit is, how Jesus revealed him, who he is in the trinity, what he does, how he lives in Christians, and how he’s a he instead of an it. But that’s the introduction we really oughta save for new Christians. Mostly because they’ll want to know all this stuff. Pagans don’t always care.

But basically the Holy Spirit (KJV “Holy Ghost”) is God. “Holy Spirit is another name for God” is a quick-’n-dirty explanation which points people in the right direction.

As opposed to the wrong direction, which is all too common: Too many people think the Holy Spirit is a force, a power: God’s might, by which he gets stuff done. When God creates stuff, he does it using his spirit. When God heals people, he uses his spirit on ’em. When God saves people from sin and death, he dumps some of his spirit into them. When God drives out evil spirits, he knocks ’em back by throwing some of his spirit at them.

People call him “the spirit of God,” and think of that “of” as a possessive: A thing God has. Not someone whom God is. After all, the Spirit does so many things for God, and for us, it’s easy to get the idea he’s nothing but an instrument or tool. Kinda like the way certain bosses treat their assistants and employees, or children treat their mom: Like they’re servants or machines, not people. Same way with certain Christians and the Holy Spirit: We ungrateful humans treat him like a refrigerator full of treats, instead of the one who spiritually feeds and nourishes us.

The Holy Spirit is a person. He has a mind of his own, Ac 13.2, 16.6 even though he, same as Jesus, agrees with and does as the Father wants. Jn 16.13 He’s not the Father, because he comes from the Father. He’s not Jesus either, because Jesus sent him to us. Jn 15.26 He’s his own person. And he’s God, Ac 5.3-4 same as the Father is God.

In fact, he’s the God we interact with on a far more regular basis than we do the Father. Because he’s the God who lives within us, who actually saves us.

Multiple levels of truth.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 September

Matthew 5.33-37, 23.16-22.

Thus far the Sermon on the Mount stuff has had parallels in the other gospels. This teaching doesn’t. It’s only found in Matthew.

Matthew 5.33-37 KWL
33 “Again, you heard this said to the ancients: You will not perjure. Lv 19.12
You’ll make restitution to the Lord for your oaths. Dt 23.23
34 And I tell you: Don’t swear at all.
Not ‘By heaven!’—it’s God’s throne. Ps 11.4
Not ‘By the land!’—it’s the footstool of his feet. Is 66.1
Not ‘By Jerusalem!’—it’s the city of the great King. Ps 48.2
36 Nor should you swear by your head; you aren’t able to make one hair white or black.
37 Make your word, ‘Yes yes; no no.’ Going beyond this is from evil motive.”

True, Jesus used to punctuate certain sayings with “Amen amen,” Jn 1.51, 3.3, 5.19, 6.26, 8.34, etc. (KJV “Verily verily”) and the LORD used to punctuate certain commands with, “I’m the LORD.” Ex 6.2, Lv 18.5, 19.3, 21.12, 22.2, etc. Arguably these too are oaths; stuff our Lord said in order to make it crystal clear he’s not kidding.

But there’s a huge difference between the Lord’s motives for swearing an oath, and ours. His is to underline. Ours is to say, “Okay, you know the rest of the time I’m a horrible liar. But now I mean it. Now I’m telling the truth. The rest of the time… well, I’m generally truthful. But now you can trust me. ’Cause I swore to God.” Or swore upon of the other things people swore by in Jesus’s day, like swearing by the land of Israel, swearing by Jerusalem, swearing by one’s head. Nowadays it’s swearing on your mother’s grave, swearing on the lives of your kids, swearing on a stack of bibles, swearing “by all that’s holy.” Whatever you consider holy.

But you see the inherent problem with this, which is what Jesus wanted to highlight: The fact we have to swear to tell the truth, or swear to do what we say we will, implies we’re unreliable liars the rest of the time. Which is not who he wants his people to be.

Getting hold of our lusts… before we end up in the trash.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 September

Matthew 5.27-32, 18.8-9, Mark 9.43-49, Luke 16.18.

In case you didn’t read that last lesson, I should remind you: Christians too often read these teachings, and assume Jesus condemns people for being tempted. Tempted to get angry and act on it is treated as sin. Tempted, in today’s passage, to indulge one’s lusts is likewise treated as sin. But temptation is not sin. Everybody gets tempted. Jesus got tempted. His teachings are warnings not to act on these temptations. Same thing with his next lesson on adultery—and how it’s connected to lust. (’Cause duh.)

Matthew 5.27-28 KWL
27 “You heard this said: ‘You shall not adulter.’ Ex 20.14, Dt 5.18
28 And I tell you this: Everybody who looks at a woman to covet her,
has now adultered with her in their heart.”

The Textus Receptus has “You heard this said to the ancients.” It borrowed “the ancients” bit from Jesus’s previous instruction, Mt 5.21 to make it line up better.

First of all I need to remind you of the historical context of adultery. Our culture assumes it means extramarital sexual activity, and conservative Christian culture includes all nonmarital sexual activity. But that’s not what adultery meant in the 14th century BC, when the Ten Commandments were declared. Nor the first century when Jesus taught. It has to do with patriarchy. Women were subjects. Either of the head of their tribe or family; or if they were slaves they answered to a master. So if a man wasn’t her patriarch, husband, or owner, he had no right to have sex with her, and if he did it was adultery.

Or, more accurately, rape.

Yes rape. People keep presuming “adultery” in the bible was consensual. And in some cases it might have been. But that just makes it statutory rape, like when someone in our culture has sex with a minor: The woman’s “consent” wasn’t lawful.

God, and our current laws, did away with patriarchy and slavery. Yeah, various sexists try to re-implement it, or some form of it, and claim their variant is somehow biblical. Nevertheless (in the United States anyway) we live in a free society. Married women voluntarily belong to their spouses. Underage girls belong to their parents till they reach an age where (supposedly) they’ll be responsible. Every other woman is free: She belongs to no one but herself. And if she doesn’t agree to be yours, once again, sex with her is rape.

Yep. That’s what Jesus’s teaching now means in today’s culture.

If you thought doing away with patriarchy made things lighter, or gave us a bunch of loopholes, it really didn’t. Everybody who looks at a woman to deliberately covet her, who has no business nor permission to imagine such things of her, has raped her in their heart. People object to radical feminists (or even ordinary feminists) using such terms to describe the way men leer at them, or referring to their objectification as “rape culture.” Turns out they’re absolutely right.

And I remind you: Jesus’s instruction was primarily addressed to the young men he taught, but it applies just the same to women. Covet a man who’s not yours, and it’s either mental adultery or mental rape. So don’t go there.

The Word-for-Word Bible Comic: The Gospel of Matthew.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 September

When I was a kid our Sunday school classes had a take-home comic book called Bible-in-Life Pix. (Now it’s just called Pix.) As I recall it’d usually contain three stories each week:

  • Something about some missionary or preacher or saint who did something of interest.
  • “Tullus,” a fictional series about the adventures of an ancient Roman Christian who’d share Jesus with pagans. I found it so boring, so I’d skip it.
  • Excerpts from The Picture Bible, which is the only part I really cared about—and collected. ’Cause it’s bible. But a comic book!

My only beef with The Picture Bible was it wasn’t the whole bible. Stories were abbreviated. Some stories were skipped altogether. Sometimes for very good reason; most of Judges really isn’t for children! But you know how literalist children can be: If you present ’em a comic-book bible, they want the whole bible. All of it. Genesis to maps.

My other beef with The Picture Bible came much later, once I majored in biblical history in school and found its pictures weren’t all that historically accurate. Yeah, some of this is my usual rant about White Jesus in a toga. To be fair, the illustrators were trying to create images which 20th century American Christians were already familiar with through western art, instead of startling them with reality. The unfortunate side effect is whenever the Holy Spirit himself tries to wake us up to reality, too many of us figure it can’t be the Spirit, suspect it’s some other spirit, and embrace our favorite fictions all the tighter. But that’s another rant.

The Word for Word Bible Comic: The Gospel of Matthew by Simon Amadeus Pillario. Word for Word Bible Comic.

Clearly English graphic designer Simon Amadeus Pillario had the same issues. So he did something about it! In 2014 he began a Kickstarter campaign to finance the first book of his Word for Word Bible Comic, in which he was gonna illustrate the full text of Judges. (Yeah, Judges, which I just said isn’t for children. Gotta get the rough stuff out of the way, I guess.) And he was aiming for historical accuracy: Ancient middle eastern Hebrews which look like ancient Hebrews instead of white Europeans; buildings and landscapes which are accurate to ancient Canaan instead of looking like 20th century Jesus movies; angels which don’t generically look like Anglos.

He completed Judges; then did Joshua, Ruth, Esther, and Mark, and this weekend he’s releasing Matthew—hence this article. He sent me an advance copy of Matthew to read. It’s good stuff. You might want it; along with the other books, all of which are on his website.

Witnesses and testimony. And us.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 September
1 John 1.1-4 KJV
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2 (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 3 that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

John and the other apostles knew Jesus. Knew him personally; saw him with their eyes, touched him with their hands. He taught ’em bible. More importantly he taught ’em what he meant when he got the prophets to write it.

These experiences with Jesus became their testimony. And yeah, Christians tend to treat this word like it has a special religious Christianese meaning. No it doesn’t. It means the same thing as it does in a deposition or a courtroom: We saw stuff, or we know stuff—we really know stuff, and aren’t just repeating what was told us, ’cause that’s hearsay. We’re a witness to the things we know. And we’re sharing what we know.

Every Christian has a testimony, ’cause every Christian has interacted with God to a certain degree. Many of us have full-on God-experiences. Some of us have even seen Jesus, ’cause he still appears to people. Far more of us have heard God speak back to us in our prayers, had those prayers obviously answered, seen miracles… you know, other God-experiences which are a little more mundane than any special-effects light-show. We witnessed these things. We know what we saw. So that’s our testimony.

Those Christians who claim “witness” and “testimony” mean something different: It’s because they haven’t actually witnessed anything.

Usually because they’re mixed up in cessationist churches, or their favorite preachers likewise believe God stopped doing that sort of thing back in bible times. So even when they do see God actively working in the world, their churches and preachers tell them to ignore those things. Disregard ’em. Don’t share them. Because those other Christians don’t believe in those things, and insist they’re tricks of the devil—even when there’s no reason whatsoever for the devil to trick people into glorifying God.

So for cessationists, their only “testimony” is that once upon a time they said the sinner’s prayer. And ever since, their lives have been good; or at least they feel content about things. (Or they’ve learned to feel content, because they’re successfully suppressing all their angst.) Their “witness” is that story of how they said the sinner’s prayer, and their absolute certainty they’re now going to heaven.

Is that what the apostles meant when they used the word μαρτύριον/martýrion in the bible? Not even close. They saw stuff. And yeah, not everyone believed it, and mocked it, and thought they were nuts. Ac 26.24 So what? Plenty realized these guys were on the level, turned to Jesus… and eventually had their own testimonies of what the risen, living Lord had done in their own lives.

Well, you’re expected to be a witness of Christ Jesus too. You need some testimonies to share of what he’s done in your life. I expect you have some already. If not… start getting some!

Christian apologetics: Kicking ass for Jesus. (Don’t!)

by K.W. Leslie, 01 September
APOLOGY e'pa.le.dzi noun. Justification for one’s behavior, theory, or religious belief; usually in form of a logical argument.
[Apologetic e.pa.le'dzet.ik adjective, apologist e'pa.le.dzist noun.]
 
APOLOGETICS e.pa.le'dzet.iks noun. The study and use of logical arguments to defend [usually religious] beliefs.

Years ago a pastor introduced me to a visitor to our church thisaway: “He knows a lot about apologetics.”

“Well, theology,” I corrected him.

’Cause at the time this pastor didn’t really recognize much of a difference between theology and apologetics. In fact a lot of Christians don’t. Theology is what we know about God. Apologetics tends to be based on those beliefs, and regularly argues in favor of them. But ’tain’t the same thing.

Yeah I actually do know a lot about Christian apologetics. Before I studied theology, it’s what my church taught me. Started in high school. My youth pastor (same as a lot of undereducated youth pastors whose job is to babysit the teens, not actually pastor us), wasn’t all that solid in theology anyway. But his youth pastor taught him Christian apologetics, and in college he got into apologetics-heavy ministries. So he taught what he knew. And it turns out lots of youth groups get taught apologetics instead of theology. ’Cause kids already wanna argue and debate… so why not lean into it?

So I learned all the standard arguments in favor of Christ and the bible. And now I can fight anybody!

Let me emphasize that word again: FIGHT.

If you’re a brawler, if you love to argue, apologetics gives you full permission to indulge. It’s why the practice is so very popular. Apologists even claim it’s a form of spiritual warfare: They’re battling false beliefs! They’re striking down lies and half-truths and misrepresentations and faulty logic! They’re contending for the kingdom!

True, they’re totally contending. With other people.

St. Paul explicitly said our fight isn’t with flesh and blood. Ep 6.12 We’re fighting spiritual forces and devilish ideas. But that passage about God’s armor is about fighting the forces which lead us to sin. Not fighting other people. Not fighting nontheists and antichrists who have no intention whatsoever of turning to Jesus. Jesus himself told his students to shake the dust off their feet at such people and move on. But Christian apologists don’t obey Jesus: They just keep fighting, and claim maybe some of this arguing is “planting seeds.”

Fighting, argumentativeness, making enemies, quarrels, and factions are works of the flesh. Ep 5.20 Christians should know this already, and back away from any form of Christian apologetics which descends into verbal brawls. But too many Christian apologists do no such thing. They figure the ends—y’might win someone for Christ!—justify their fruitless means.

Hence Christian apologetics is a field that’s full of abuse. Too many apologists can’t keep their emotions and temper in check. Too many of ’em love to belittle their opponents, mock their intelligence, tear ’em down, or call ’em evil and devilish instead of just mistaken or misguided. Too many of ’em love to win a debate—so much so, they’ll ditch the logic they claim to uphold if it’ll make ’em feel they’ve scored a point. Too many of ’em will even claim things that simply aren’t so, or use false testimonies, false information, and bear false witness, just to win.

There’s a lot of unchristlike behavior in Christian apologetics. It’s why I gotta warn you away from getting mixed up in it. It’s produced way too many Christian jerks. Don’t become another one!

We don’t get a free pass just because we’re “fighting for Jesus.” In fact engaging in such behavior alienates the people we fight. It makes enemies. Makes ’em more bitter and resentful, and drives them even further away from Jesus, repentance, and the kingdom. We’re unwittingly doing the work of the wrong side.

So no, I’m not into apologetics. I’m into theology. I stick to what the scriptures have to say about God, how our God-experiences and the scriptures confirm one another, and the importance of being fruity like Jesus wants. And then I take questions.

I don’t wanna create yet another Christian know-it-all who’s eager to go slap down some naysayers.