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Review: The Gospel Comes with a House Key

Chris is currently pursuing an M.A. in apologetics from the Talbot School of Theology. Chris is interested in the intersection of apologetics and the church, especially the relationship between apologetics and the discipleship process.

In both life and Scripture, Christian hospitality is the place where truth is often revealed and people are exposed. And truth is edgy. Truth is divisive. Jesus died for the truth. Are we willing to live for it?

Rosario’s first book, Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, details her conversion to Christianity and out of the LGBT lifestyle. This happened through an outpouring of grace by an elderly Christian couple who for years opened their door to Rosario weekly for dinner. And it was through that open door a table was set for God’s irresistible grace to conquer Rosario’s heart. It was radical hospitality, and this couple’s home became her “two-year refuge” where she sought and found Jesus Christ. The book left me with a greater understanding of the importance of hospitality along with a desire to learn how I could practice it in my home.

In her new book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, Rosario answers that desire and more. She argues that hospitality is a duty of every believer and opens the door to her life, what she calls radical ordinary hospitality. She defines it as “…using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God. It brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed.” It is radical in that its Gospel centered, counterculture, and sacrificial. It is ordinary in that it is an everyday lifestyle, a routine, a habit. Each chapter unpacks real-life consequences (good and bad) that accompany this lifestyle along with a more in-depth than expected theological unpacking of many Biblical passages upon which she builds her case. The theological content surprised me the most. Rosario isn’t just telling us to be kind to our neighbors. She argues point after point with a solid exegesis of Scripture.

Rosario is an educated and gifted writer, and her style is engaging and well-paced. But, be warned, this book isn’t a casual read because it will push you into some uncomfortable spots. It was challenging because I felt it was not possible to be as hospitable as her, as though it were a unique gift upon her family. It became clear she is not arguing for all to copy her, but she is asking we make sacrifices for the good of our neighbors. More impressive, as I read on, she easily defeated every objection or doubt that crept into my mind as if she was anticipating every one, because she admits the difficulties and how she wrestled with them too.

Further, each chapter contains practical steps anyone could begin today to adopt this lifestyle. She convinced me through each chapter that I was missing the point with my objections. Before reading this book, I thought of hospitality as something I had to squeeze in after the hobbies were out of the way, chores done, and commitments fulfilled. Rosario and her family have created a lifestyle of hospitality. It is not an unwelcome burden or something they only do when they have time.

I don’t want to spoil too much regarding the encouraging and heartbreaking stories she masterfully weaves throughout. But the book begins with a reclusive neighbor across the street she is determined to befriend. Rosario quickly reveals this neighbor has some trouble with the law (understatement), yet Rosario’s reaction to this, especially in contrast to the other neighbors, is inspiring. While the book doesn’t focus on this one story, it does become something which she revisits throughout, even confessing a sin on her part that could have possibly changed the story of her neighbor. The rest of the chapters detail some aspect of radical ordinary hospitality by way of examples from her life, very pragmatic advice, and an abundance of Scripture. A chapter on “deathbed hospitality” which she titled, “Giving up the Ghosts: The Lamentation of Hospitality” was intensely personal and where she admits they had to put their usual hospitality routine on hold for almost two years.

Chapter Three “Our Post Christian World: The Kindness of Hospitality” is a summary of her conversion and the hospitality shown to her which she detailed in her first book. One surprising chapter titled “Judas in the Church: The Borderland of Hospitality” was as much about church discipline as it was hospitality, highlighting some challenges that do come to opening your door as she does. I enjoyed her wisdom of practical steps littered throughout as I made notes of small steps I can immediately do to create better habits of love toward our neighbors.

Her final chapter “Feeding the Five Thousand: The Nuts and Bolts and Beans and Rice” she asks, in light of all God is, “How does he use us?” She then unpacks issues like having boundaries for married couples, scheduling, dangers of hidden sin, and counterfeit hospitality. She concludes asking us to imagine a world where all Christian households adopted this lifestyle “…where no one languishes in crushing loneliness, where no abused woman or man or child suffers alone, where people take their real and pressing problems to Christians who have the reputation of being helpers, and where victims are not swept away, lost, forgotten.

Rosario never downplays how vital hospitality is for the follower of Jesus, and it is that honesty I appreciated. She knows most of us have chosen comfort and convenience over the soul of our neighbors and community when she declares “Radically ordinary hospitality begins when we remember that God uses us as living epistles and that the openness or inaccessibility of our homes and hearts stands between life and death, victory and defeat, and grace or shame for most people.” I know that can sound a bit strong, but like me, once you finish her book, I think you will agree with her.

At the end, Rosario left me asking this: Are we willing to open our doors, both our physical ones into our home and the metaphorical door of our heart, and let our home and life get a little messy, give up some comfort, let go of our routines, so that our neighbors know our house as a refuge where God’s truth shines brightly? Before reading this book, my answer would have been “Nice idea, but I don’t see how my home can be that place. The cost seems too high.” But now I’m armed with years of Rosario’s wisdom and experience, practical ways to reach out to my neighbors, and the encouragement of God’s word that the cost is more than worth it.

Invite People Into Your Home

Stephanie serves as the Women’s Discipleship Director at University Assembly. She is a licensed educator in both Colorado and Texas where she served as a public elementary school teacher for 10 years.

It takes courage to open your home to others, especially if you are not a social person. Our home is our sanctuary and many people keep that space all to themselves. But what if God entrusts our homes to us so that we can serve as a hospital for the hurting, the lonely or the new kid in town? What if our home isn’t only meant for us?

Maybe you have decided you want to be more hospitable but don’t know where or how to start. Here are a few steps to get you started:

Get out your calendar

Sit down and look at your calendar. Pick a date that will work for your family. Everyone is busy. There’s always a reason not to invite someone over. The semester is busy, the baby is fussy (my reason!), work is stressful, it’s a busy season. But really, is there ever a perfect time to have company? NO! Do it anyway. Once you have the date picked out, call or send a message to your potential guests and invite them! If they say no, pick someone else. You’re not off the hook because that date is now blocked off for hospitality! Begin with a goal of having someone over once a month. Then as you become more comfortable and find what works best, it will become part of your rhythm of life. Don’t get discouraged if your first encounter is not a home run. Sometimes it takes a few meals together to get past the awkward stage of a friendship. It’s worth the effort.

Keep it simple (or don’t!)

Not a chef? No problem. There are plenty of options out there. Make a Pinterest board of easy, go-to recipes for when you have company. One main dish and two sides will do the trick. If you are a great cook, go all out and make your guests feel extra special by serving an over the top meal. But don’t stress if that is not you (it’s not me). If you have been to our home for dinner you have probably had stuffed peppers, tacos or something from the grill. (Chad is the chef at our home). Have some go-to that takes the stress out of some of the planning. Ask your guests to bring a dessert if they offer to bring something.

Set the environment

Take the edge off of the awkward silence and have some music playing as they arrive. You can create a Pandora station to play when you have guests. We like instrumental or classical music. Or if you have a favorite artist, play that. This is a great start to conversation if they comment on the music choice. Make sure the volume is set at a level conducive for conversation. Next, have a plan for their arrival. Will they take off their shoes? Where will they put their coat? Will they come straight to the table? Or sit in the living room? It doesn’t matter the answer, but direct your guests as they enter. Light a candle and set your table. Have fresh flowers on the table and let your guest take them as a gift. You can get beautiful flowers at Trader Joe’s for under $5. It doesn’t have to break the bank, but you can create a beautiful environment with a little planning and thought.

As you open your home, pray that God would use you and your table as an instrument of His grace extended to others. Not every meal will be perfect, not every guest will become your closest friend, but people are looking for a place to belong. Maybe they will find it at your table. Who do you plan to invite this month?

 

Speaking in Tongues: Ecstatic Babel or Foreign Language?

Brandon C. Benziger is a recent graduate of Fresno Pacific University and Denver Seminary, currently serving as Biblical Integration and Curriculum Development Manager at Sevenstar Academy, LLC.

In his 2001 book Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, biblical scholar Craig Keener tells the story of a man he had met in a charismatic church, who came up to him during congregational prayer and began interceding for him.[1] Instead of praying in English, the man made a series of buzzing sounds like a bee, which Keener supposed he thought was speaking in tongues.

Several months ago, I met a man who claimed to have the gift of tongues. As he was detailing his testimony, he began relaying stories of how, when the Spirit exercised this gift in him, nearby acquaintances were able to discern what he was saying, though in languages other than his native English—including, if I remember correctly, Hebrew and French.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was sharing with a former professor of mine about my experience in seminary. After mentioning the various biblical and Semitic language courses I’ve taken there, he asked, “So do you have the gift of tongues?” Befuddled, I paused . . . and then responded, “Not the spiritual gift, but I do have a gift for learning languages.” The question may have been metaphorical, but it got me wondering . . . .

As these vignettes begin to illustrate, little else in Christian practice is as mystifying as the nature of speaking in tongues—or as theologians like to call it, glossolalia. Quite apart from questions about its ongoing validity or cessation, or even about its use today, we must ask: How is this gift defined in Scripture? Does it consist of ecstatic gibberish, unintelligible utterances like the buzzing in Keener’s story? Or is it, as in my first story, what scholars call xenolalia—i.e., the miraculous speaking in actual, previously unlearned languages? If the latter, only human languages or also, purportedly, angelic languages? Lastly, does this gift include a propensity for learning languages, as my professor may have suggested?

It’s fascinating to note that the first instance of tongues-speaking in the Bible isn’t in 1 Corinthians 12, but in Acts 2, which provides the essential background for Pauline instruction on the topic. Here, as the fulfillment of Jesus’s promise in Acts 1:5, the earliest church is said to have been “filled with the Holy Spirit” and to have begun “to speak in other tongues [heterais glōssais] as the Spirit enabled them” (v. 4). The ensuing passage (vv. 5–11) fairly clearly identifies this phenomenon as xenolalia.[2] Not only does the text overtly affirm on three occasions that the nearby Jews—representing at least fifteen different regions and languages (see vv. 9–11)—recognized the inspired speech as their own native languages (vv. 6, 8, 11); it also uses the Greek terms glōssais (vv. 4, 11) and dialektō (vv. 6, 8)—the latter of which unmistakably denotes the language of a given nation or region—interchangeably!

If Acts 2 refers to xenolalia, then where might one go to find support for an understanding of glossolalia as anything other than actual human languages? Oddly enough, Paul’s famous “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13. There in vv. 1–3, the Apostle writes:

1If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

This appears to be the only place in the Bible that distinguishes between “the tongues/languages of men” (tais glōssais tōn anthrōpōn) and “the tongues/languages of angels” ([tais glōssaistōn angelōn). However, scholars are not exactly sure how to interpret the latter. According to some, “tongues of angels” refers to the Corinthians’ estimation of this gift, not necessarily to a normative, apostolically endorsed avenue of tongues-speaking.[3] Others, however, highlight the repeated three-step heightening in each verse of this passage (human tongues, angelic tongues, and love in v. 1; prophecy, mountain-moving faith, and love in v. 2; giving to the poor, subjection to hardship, and love in v. 3) and interpret angelic tongues as a rare, “deluxe version” of xenolalia. As Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner write, “the rhetorical pattern [in vv. 1–3] would suggest that speaking in tongues would most frequently entail speaking of (unknown) human languages, with the ability to speak angelic languages seen as an even more wonderful version or extension of the same gift.”[4] Still, given the hypothetical language of these verses (e.g., “If I speak . . .”), it is best to avoid dogmatism on the issue.

In either case, however, the gift mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:1, as in Acts 2, entails speaking in actual, previously unlearned languages, not unintelligible utterances or fabricated lingo—even if the language in question sounds like gibberish to those who don’t know it, and even if we have no means of discerning, in practice, whether it’s human or angelic in nature. As the Assemblies of God itself has asserted, “There is no justification for interpreting the word [glōssa] as strange or ecstatic sounds.”[5] Neither, may we add, is there justification for interpreting this gift as a natural affinity for learning and using languages. It is precisely the miraculous speaking of previously unlearned languages that is in view!


[1] Craig S. Keener, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 125.

[2] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 115.

[3] Cf. Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, New International Version Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 259.

[4] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 626 (emphasis mine).

[5] Assemblies of God, Where We Stand (Springfield, MO: Gospel, 1990), 147. Cited in William W. Menzies and Stanley M. Horton, Bible Doctrines: A Pentecostal Perspective (Springfield, MO: Logion, 1993), 138n5.

Can “Allah” and “God” Be Used Interchangeably?

Dr. Craig Blomberg is currently a distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. Dr. Blomberg completed his PhD in New Testament, specializing in the parables and the writings of Luke-Acts, at Aberdeen University in Scotland. In addition to writing numerous articles in professional journals, multi-author works and dictionaries or encyclopedias, he has authored or edited 20 books, including The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.

For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:23)

Timothy George wrote an excellent book exploring the similarities and differences between central Christian and Muslim beliefs, published in 2002, and provocatively entitled Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? Among other things, George observed that Old Testament Jews were strict monotheists, much like Muslims. Without an explicit concept of the Trinity, prior to the coming of Christ and New Testament revelation, their doctrine of God closely resembled Muslim understandings of Allah. In fact, the etymologies of Allah and El (or Elohim), a common Hebrew name for God in the Old Testament, are probably related in pre-Arabic, pre-Hebraic Semitic tongues. Jews who did not become followers of Jesus often stumbled over the very thing Muslims do, the notion of the deity of Jesus or of a Triune God more generally. So perhaps Muslim views of Allah approximate pre-Christian Jewish understandings of Yahweh. Because the New Testament can properly speak of Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel, as Jesus’s father, then maybe the Father of Jesus is the God of Muhammad.

George, however, concludes that this is going too far. The God of the Old Testament was a Triune God from all eternity past, whether most Jews ever realized it or not. There are at least hints of a plurality within the Godhead in the Old Testament in ways there are not in the Qur’an. There is nothing in the Old Testament that unequivocally states that God cannot have a Son, as repeatedly appears in the holy book of Islam. Read both the Jewish Scriptures and the Qur’an and despite the occasional picture of Allah as compassionate, the dominant impression one gets is of an all-powerful, all-knowing being whose mood is almost always one of judgment, primarily on outsiders to Islam. Read the Old Testament—actually read the whole thing and don’t just trust someone else’s simplistic summary—and Yahweh, God of Israel, is predominantly a God of love. When judgment does appear, most of the time it is against God’s own people. The major exception, with the inhabitants of Canaan in the days of Joshua, came only after centuries of God’s patience, until their sins had reached “full measure” (Genesis 15:16).

But one of our readers asks me to address this issue via a slightly different question: Can Allah and God ever be used interchangeably? Here I would agree with many missiologists, especially some who have served in Muslim contexts, that the answer is yes, so long as one goes on to define one’s terms carefully.

That’s exactly what Paul did on Mars Hill. Using theos, the general term for G/god in the Greek language, and based on an inscription to an unknown theos, he proceeded to define the term for the Athenians more accurately. But he never abandoned the term. “God” is an exceedingly common word for God in the Bible! There are plenty of accounts from the history of Christian missions of missionaries insisting on using a foreign word for God, or even creating a new word, in a given language because they cannot accept any indigenous word as close enough in meaning to the God of Scripture. Inevitably, additional barriers have been erected for the acceptance of the gospel. Now in some instances, this may have been unavoidable, if no term exists that is not inherently polytheistic.

But in Arabic, Allah is as monotheistic as words come. Arabic Christians, before Islam was even birthed in the seventh century, used Allah to translate the biblical words for God. Here is a history we can draw on. Theos, of course, was used by Greek translators of the Septuagint, long before the coming of Christ, despite it being a term very susceptible to polytheistic overtones, but not inherently so.

So it all depends on context. If one can use Allah and explain what one means by it and this is a bridge for sharing Christian beliefs, by all means use it. If among a different group of people, it is inextricable from distinctively Islamic tenets, one may have to abandon it. Great discernment is needed either way.

Two Kinds of Tolerance

Dr. Craig Blomberg is currently a distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. Dr. Blomberg completed his PhD in New Testament, specializing in the parables and the writings of Luke-Acts, at Aberdeen University in Scotland. In addition to writing numerous articles in professional journals, multi-author works and dictionaries or encyclopedias, he has authored or edited 20 books, including The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.

Guest post by Dr. Craig L. Blomberg

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. (Romans 14:1–7)

From the Gloria Hotel just inside the Jaffa Gate to the old city of Jerusalem, you can walk a block and be at the beautiful and inspiring Christ Church for Sunday morning evangelical Anglican worship. On Saturday morning, a group of Messianic Jews celebrate Shabbat there, in Hebrew, but with English translation for visitors. Don’t be surprised if you see a small group of non-Messianic Jews in the street outside the church at either time, singing their own liturgy. Head toward the Wailing Wall and you can pass by a couple of small mosques and an Arabic-speaking Christian Missionary and Alliance Church. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you’re likely to find someone worshipping—Roman Catholics and various branches of Orthodoxy—Armenian, Greek, Ethiopic, Coptic, and Syriac all take turns. At the Wailing Wall itself, you’ll find orthodox, even Hasidic, Jews dressed in traditional black garb, praying almost any time of the day or night, while above and beyond them Muslims revere the Dome of the Rock and worship at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. And there are still other small, old houses of worship dotting the old city, as well as a quite new, large, and ornate Evangelical Lutheran Church in what was an empty plaza not many years ago.

“Tolerance” might not be one of the first twenty adjectives that would come to mind when someone said “Jerusalem.” Perhaps it should.

D. A. Carson’s recent book, The Intolerance of Tolerance, explains in frightening detail how a concept central to American history has morphed into something that could destroy us. Historically, tolerance, especially in religious matters, meant that every person or group was free to express themselves, even in the public square, so long as they did not try to impose their beliefs on others. Evangelism through rational and courteous forms of persuasion was expected, but coercive attempts to establish a state religion were forbidden. In the last generation, however, too often tolerance has been redefined as not allowing any expression of religion in the public square for fear that it might offend someone. But the people promoting such a definition of tolerance don’t abide by their own rules. They aggressively, even coercively, impose their restrictions on others no matter who it offends!

Paul in Romans 14 gives a good biblical example of Christian tolerance. Some people believed they were free to eat all foods; others still felt bound by various dietary restrictions, whether the Jewish kosher laws or various Greco-Roman religious taboos. Some did not believe the Sabbath command carried over to the Christian era; others still kept it. Paul asks each group to respect the right of the others to worship differently. No one is being asked to give up their own convictions, but they are to treat those who disagree with them courteously and with respect. They may well try to explain their own approach and convince someone else they are right, but it must be done in a spirit of kindness for the other.

For the most part, that is what one sees in old Jerusalem today. Oh, there are exceptions, to be sure. The extreme right wings of any religious movement seldom show either kind of tolerance and sadly make the news for their occasional violent action of intolerance. But many, many people of good will in all the major religious traditions in Israel recognize that if they want to be free to express themselves religiously, including in public, they must grant this right to the other groups in town.

This is largely also the America I grew up in. No one ever thought of banning religion from the curriculum of the public schools; it was just important to give all the major faiths coverage, and instruction was to be descriptive and not prescriptive. Now not only the public sector but many private companies as well violate their employees’ constitutional rights (and occasionally, though not typically, some lesser courts even uphold those violations when litigation is brought), because people are either too uneducated or too cowardly to distinguish “freedom of religion” from “freedom from religion.”

Jerusalem still struggles at times with “freedom of religion.” But it would be ludicrous to ever imagine Jews, Christians, and Muslims here ever imagining a state with “freedom from religion.”

America actually has freedom of religion enshrined as a constitutional right. And Jefferson’s famous wall of separation is all about no religion having the right to become a religion established by government or law. Nothing was ever implied by that about not establishing moral principles in the legislation of the land. It was always assumed the electorate would use their understanding of morality as they promoted laws for the country.

What’s frightening is how widely this revisionist definition of tolerance has spread. Freedom from religion is itself in violation of the American constitution—not that every person must have an institutional religion; far from it. But the attempt to impose freedom from religion within the public square is itself one of the most intolerant movements masquerading under the guise of tolerance.

It’s time to reread Paul. It’s time perhaps to visit Jerusalem, from where I’m writing this blog!

The “All or Nothing” Syndrome with Biblical Imprecision

Dr. Craig Blomberg is currently a distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. Dr. Blomberg completed his PhD in New Testament, specializing in the parables and the writings of Luke-Acts, at Aberdeen University in Scotland. In addition to writing numerous articles in professional journals, multi-author works and dictionaries or encyclopedias, he has authored or edited 20 books, including The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.

Guest post by Dr. Craig L. Blomberg

In the late 1970s, the “battle for the Bible” pitted inerrantists against others with a high view of Scripture but who stopped just short of belief in inerrancy. A common argument in this debate featured “the slippery slope.” Give up inerrancy, it was alleged, and at first you may rest content with just minor historical or scientific errors in Scripture, but soon you’ll be questioning the theology and ethics of the Bible as well. Next you’ll doubt some of the fundamentals of the faith, and finally you’ll chuck Christianity altogether.

There were, of course, numerous examples of people and institutions doing precisely this, which made the case persuasive to many. What was ignored was the long-standing rejection of inerrancy in the former British commonwealth, combined with a robust affirmation of the inspiration and authority of Scripture and the fundamentals of the faith in evangelical circles in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, etc. Ignored also were those who had “climbed back up” part or all of the slippery slope, most notably Karl Barth and neo-orthodoxy, moving from thoroughgoing liberalism to something much closer to, though not quite, full-fledged evangelical thought.

I remember once talking to D. A. Carson when I was his student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School about the consummate published version of this slippery slope argument, by Harold Lindsell, in his book The Battle for the Bible. I think I can still quote him verbatim. Carson replied, “Lindsell is on the side of the angels, but it’s a bad, bad book.” Human responses are just too diverse to package them into a “one-size-fits-all” model with respect to the apparent contradictions in and harder-to-accept parts of Scripture.

Ironically, Bart Ehrman’s account of his pilgrimage from evangelicalism to agnosticism, in his introduction to Misquoting Jesus, offers support for Lindsell and his followers. On one occasion a professor at Princeton, responding to a paper Ehrman wrote trying to harmonize Mark’s reference to Abiathar in Mark 2:26 with the OT character in question (Ahimelech), inquired of Ehrman why he didn’t just accept that Mark made a mistake. Already well aware of the fact that we do not have the original autographs of any of the books of the Bible, and that minor (and once in a great while, larger) changes were introduced by scribes in the copying process, Ehrman now felt free to apply the same language of “mistakes” to what the writers of those autographs themselves may have done. Oversimplifying the rest of his autobiography, but remaining true to its gist, we may then summarize what he says happened after that as one domino of his faith after another being knocked down until he came to call himself an agnostic.

Why do I call this ironic? Because when I was an undergraduate in a liberal college department of religion, it was all the liberals who consistently pooh-poohed this all-or-nothing mentality. The professors at that institution hold the same view today. Plenty of professors at Princeton when Ehrman was a student there, and again still today, would have agreed. It was always those rigid, inflexible fundamentalists who couldn’t see the many viable options for genuine Christian belief apart from the inerrancy of Scripture. But then Ehrman went to a fairly rigid, inflexible fundamentalist school for his undergraduate studies, so perhaps he had not previously heard those claims; I don’t know.

What I do know is that in the blogworld, among the so-called new atheists (by which is usually meant newly aggressive, unusually scornful of and discourteous toward believers), and in their small but influential collection of published works (particularly from Prometheus Books), I keep running into this same all-or-nothing mentality. I get e-mails from unbelievers who can’t accept this idea that ancient writers were satisfied with reporting accurately the “gist” of someone’s words, in a world before the invention of the quotation mark or any felt-need for it, and it reminds me of Christian fundamentalists’ responses. I have non-Christian friends tell me they’ve read some strange uses of the Old Testament in the New (who hasn’t?) and before they even start looking to see if there is some legitimate explanation for this, they say they are almost ready to give up on considering that the Bible is reliable anywhere. As many observers in other realms have pointed out, truly there is a fundamentalism of the left as well as of the right!

If trends continue, thoughtful inerrantists may discover they have greater allies in non-inerrantist wings of Christianity than they thought, and that they have far more in common with them than they do with those who hold the “all-or-nothing” mentality outside or inside the church!

How Have American Churches Responded to Marijuana Use?

Brandon C. Benziger is a recent graduate of Fresno Pacific University and Denver Seminary, currently serving as Biblical Integration and Curriculum Development Manager at Sevenstar Academy, LLC.

In this installment of our series on marijuana use, we survey the various responses of American Christians, churches, parachurch ministries, and denominations to the legalization of marijuana—both medical and recreational. How, for example, have churches in America dealt with marijuana use? What views have they espoused in the debate, and what political measures have they taken?

Most churches, especially most evangelical churches, I would venture to guess, have never officially or publically addressed the issue—or else have mentioned it only in passing in sermons, small groups, counseling sessions, and Sunday School lessons. As can be demonstrated in a brief google search, though, a few, at least, have addressed the issue in church-sponsored blog posts and e-publications (for example, Xenos Christian Fellowship of Columbus, OH; Life Bridge Church of Taylor, MI; and Mars Hill Church of Seattle, WA).[1] If the issue has been somewhat taboo in American culture at large, then it certainly has been in our churches—if not even more so.

Not surprisingly, the issue seems to have received more attention on blog sites and parachurch ministry platforms than in the pulpit. A search for “marijuana” on The Gospel Coalition’s website, for example, yields several articles, as it does for Patheos, Desiring God, and Evangelicals for Social Action.[2] Notably, many of these articles are written by influential church leaders, such as John Piper, Joe Carter, and Benjamin L. Corey.[3] While Piper and Carter are conservative evangelicals who oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana use, Corey identifies with the progressive Emerging Church movement and endorses the full legalization of marijuana use—both medicinal and recreational.[4]

Strikingly, according to Jonathan Merritt, evangelicals such as Piper and Carter have been “long considered to be among the country’s strongest anti-pot advocates.”[5] But it isn’t only evangelical leaders who have opposed decriminalization. Many evangelicals, Merritt says, “have opposed legalizing weed since at least the Reagan administration [1981–1989].” At the same time, however, “[t]he war on drugs, a cornerstone issue of the culture wars during the 1980s and 1990s, had all but flickered out in recent years. Americans, including religious ones, have been more focused on the economy, terrorism, and other social issues of late.” This suggests that opposition to legalization was dormant to some extent between the late 1990s and 2012, when the states of Washington and Colorado legalized the recreational use of cannabis.

In addition to individual church leaders and American evangelicals, the issue has received official attention at the denominational level as well. According to Lisa Jacks, in an article featured in Newsmax, specific denominations such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, and the Episcopal Church have all made statements in support of medical marijuana use.[6] In fact, the Episcopal Church may have been one of the first to do so, having officially supported medical marijuana use since 1982. In that year, “the Episcopalians passed a resolution regarding policy impacting the use of the substance that, in part, ‘urges the adoption by Congress and all states of statutes providing that the use of marijuana be permitted when deemed medically appropriate by duly licensed medical practitioners.’” However, as Jacks notes, such support does not imply a support of recreational use. “In fact, the Methodist Church considers it to be a gateway drug, and the Episcopal[ian]s say it can be disabling — the Presbyterians are not as strict, but do believe marijuana can lead to drug abuse.”

Other denominations and parachurch ministries, however, have rejected the use of the drug altogether, even for medical purposes. These include Focus on the Family, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.[7] Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, for example, has been a major opponent against legalization.[8]

The Seventh-Day Adventist movement is less consensual. According to an article in Adventist Today,

The Adventist movement from its earliest days has taken a position against the use of alcohol and tobacco, which are common practices in many cultures. The Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, in the chapter on church standards of behavior (page 140, 2010 edition) states, ‘we abstain from all forms of alcohol, tobacco, and addictive drugs.’ This is part of the commitment that each person makes when they are baptized into membership. In the chapter on ‘Discipline,’ among the 13 items for which a member may be kicked out or put under censure is ‘The use or manufacture of illicit drugs or the misuse of, or trafficking in, narcotics or other drugs.’[9]

While this statement was crafted in the 1930s, the recent legalization of medicinal marijuana in multiple U.S. states has challenged its aptness for the twenty-first century. A variety of Adventist pastors, for instance, have recently claimed that medical uses of marijuana do not warrant church discipline or even oversight. “‘There is basically no biblical reference to this issue,’ said one pastor from a state where medical marijuana is legal. ‘People make these things religious [issues], when in reality, they are not.’ It is ‘only the opinions of people who need to draw lines and make boxes.’”[10]

Still other churches, especially of a syncretistic nature, have embraced marijuana use, even using pot in their religious services and making it a central part of their identity. Two examples suffice: (1) Coachella Valley Church in San Jose, CA, which self-identifies with Rastafarianism (a political and religious movement combining elements of Christianity, pan-Africanism, and mysticism); and (2) the International Church of Cannabis in Denver, CO, which exists “to offer a home to adults everywhere who are looking to create the best version of themselves by way of the sacred plant.”[11] What is striking here is not only how audacious these “churches” are, but how many there are. According to Barbara Feder Ostrov, “As more states ease access to marijuana, churches that offer pot as a sacrament are proliferating, competing with medical marijuana dispensaries and pot shops in the few states that have legalized recreational weed. While some claim Rastafari affiliation, others link themselves to Native American religious traditions.”[12] Accordingly, she goes on to list a variety of other so-called “Marijuana churches” in Indiana, Michigan, and California. “Marijuana churches,” Feder Ostrov adds, “typically require people to purchase a membership, then give or sell them marijuana and related products. They may ask for ID such as a driver’s license but don’t require a doctor’s recommendation or medical marijuana identification card.”[13]

[1] See Jim Leffel, “What about Medical Marijuana?,” Xenos Christian Fellowship, https://www.xenos.org/essays/what-about-medical-marijuana; Grant Agler, “A Biblical Perspective on Legalizing Weed,” Life Bridge Church, https://thelifebridgechurch.com/bible-weed/; Mark Driscoll, Puff or Pass: Should Christians Smoke Pot or Not? (N.p.: Mars Hill Church, 2012), accessible at http://s3.amazonaws.com/churchplantmedia-cms/bethany_baptist_church/puff-or-pass_marijuana.pdf. All access dates for websites in this post are as of February 13, 2018.

[2] See, e.g., Joe Carter, “Is Recreational Marijuana Use a Sin?,” The Gospel Coalition, January 6, 2014, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/is-recreational-marijuana-use-a-sin/; John Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot,” Desiring God, January 9, 2014, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-let-your-mind-go-to-pot; Roger Dowis, “The Legalization of Marijuana: What Christians Should Know,” Evangelicals for Social Action, October 15, 2014, http://www.evangelicalsforsocialaction.org/faith-and-public-life/the-legalization-of-marijuana-what-christians-should-know/.

[3] Note also Can I Smoke Pot? Marijuana in Light of Scripture (Minneapolis: Cruciform Press, 2016), which is coauthored by Tom Breeden, Assistant Pastor at Grace Community Church of Charlottesville, VA, and Mark L. Ward Jr., a Logos Bible Software Pro at Faithlife in Bellingham, WA.

[4] Benjamin L. Corey, “Jesus Created Marijuana, and It Should Be Legal,” Patheos, September 8, 2016, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/jesus-created-marijuana-and-it-should-be-legal/.

[5] Jonathan Merritt, “What Evangelicals Miss in the Marijuana Debate,” Religion News Service, January 27, 2014, http://religionnews.com/2014/01/27/evangelicals-missing-marijuana-debate/. All quotes in this paragraph are from Merritt’s article here.

[6] Lisa Jacks, “Christian Denominations with Most Conservative Stance on Legalizing Marijuana,” Newsmax, May 6, 2015, https://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/christian-legalizing-marijuana/2015/05/06/id/643072/. All quotes in this paragraph are from Jacks’s article.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Alexander Griswold, “Moore on Marijuana: Southern Baptist Thinker Rejects Legalization,” Juicy Ecumenism, January 25, 2014, https://juicyecumenism.com/2014/01/25/moore-on-medical-marijuana-southern-baptist-thinker-rejects-legalization/.

[9] Monte Sahlin, “How Adventists Are Responding to Legalization of Marijuana in the U.S.,” Adventist Today, January 22, 2014, https://atoday.org/how-adventists-are-responding-to-legalization-of-marijuana-in-the-u-s/.

[10] Ibid.

[11] International Church of Cannabis, “About Us,” Elevationists, https://www.elevationists.org/about, s.v. “Our Mission.” Cf. Jacey Fortin, “Marijuana on Religious Grounds? A Cannabis Church Opens in Denver,” New York Times, April 20, 2017,
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/20/us/international-church-cannabis.html.

[12] See Barbara Feder Ostrov, “At ‘Pot Churches,’ Marijuana Is the Sacrament,” USA Today, December 22, 2017, https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/12/22/high-praise-pot-churches-proliferate-states-ease-access-marijuana/971871001/.

[13] Ibid.

For Further Reading

Galanter, Marc, and Linda Glickman. “Substance Use Disorders and Spirituality.” In Religious and Spiritual Issues in Psychiatric Diagnosis: A Research Agenda for DSM-V, edited by John R. Peteet, Francis G. Lu, and William E. Narrow, 61–72. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2011.

Geiger, Abigail. “About Six-in-Ten Americans Support Marijuana Legalization.” Pew Research Center, January 5, 2018. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/05/americans-support-marijuana-legalization/.

Jacks, Lisa. “Christian Denominations with Most Conservative Stance on Legalizing Marijuana.” Newsmax, May 6, 2015. https://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/christian-legalizing-marijuana/2015/05/06/id/643072/.

Jones, Robert P., Daniel Cox, and Juhem Navarro-Rivera. “General Public, Christian Young Adults Divided on Marijuana Legalization.” Public Religion Research Institute, April 25, 2013. http://www.prri.org/research/april-2013-prri-rns-survey/.

Thomas, Charles. “Detailed Analyses of Religious Groups’ Divergent Positions on Marijuana.” In Pot Politics: Marijuana and the Costs of Prohibition, edited by Mitch Earleywine, 247–80. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

———. “How in God’s Name Do We Reform Our Marijuana Laws?” In Pot Politics: Marijuana and the Costs of Prohibition, edited by Mitch Earleywine, 228–46. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

A Survey of Arguments Both for and against Recreational Marijuana Use

Brandon C. Benziger is a recent graduate of Fresno Pacific University and Denver Seminary, currently serving as Biblical Integration and Curriculum Development Manager at Sevenstar Academy, LLC.

Search for “marijuana” and “cannabis” in any online Bible, and your search will inevitably come up empty. That Scripture doesn’t address the issue of marijuana use directly, however, has not kept Christians from reflecting on it biblically and theologically—or even from attempting to find cannabis where our modern translations purportedly obscure it. As with any other ethical or political debate in the U.S. today, pastors and theologians occupy various, even opposing, positions in the marijuana debate. The following is a brief, introductory survey of popular arguments both for and against such use. It does not conclude with any ethical reflections of my own (or of other Thinker Sensitive contributors, for that matter), but rather provides a mere catalog of arguments for the sake of introducing readers to the issues.

Pro-Recreational Arguments

Several biblical arguments have been made supporting the recreational use of marijuana and its legalization. Of these, two main arguments stand out; the rest are fairly minor and have not received as much attention among proponents.

Perhaps the most widely used argument, first of all, is the argument from creation. Proponents of this argument contend that God created marijuana (Genesis 1:11–12a), deemed it good (Genesis 1:12b), and permitted us to consume it (Genesis 1:29).[1] Sometimes, this is cast in terms of Jesus creating marijuana himself (an inference made from John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16).[2]

A second common argument is that from the analogy of alcohol. This argument assumes that since the Bible approves of moderate alcohol consumption (cf. Proverbs 31:6–7; John 2:1–10), it also, by analogy, approves of moderate marijuana use.[3]

A variety of other, less prominent arguments have been made as well. According to the argument from the analogy of caffeine, for example, the frequent use of caffeine among Christians—widely accepted as morally permissible, despite its mind-altering properties—suggests the moral permissibility of the use of other mind-altering drugs such as marijuana.[4] Moreover, the argument from ancient Israel states not only that cannabis was sanctioned as a healing gift from God (Ezekiel 34:29; cf. Isaiah 18:4–5; Revelation 22:1–2), but also that it was used in the Israelite cult without censure (Exodus 30:22–29).[5] The issue centers on the identification of the Hebrew phrases qĕnēh-bośem (Exodus 30:23) and maṭṭāʿ lĕšēm (Ezekiel 34:29; translated “plant of renown” in the King James Version [KJV]). Closely related, finally, is the pragmatic argument from religious aid, which suggests that the use of marijuana can aid religious experience (i.e., as an aid to meditation or even Bible study).[6]

Anti-Recreational Arguments

A variety of counterarguments and other stand-alone arguments have been offered as well. These can be summarized as follows:

  1. Counterarguments[7]
    1. The argument against the argument from creation: The argument from creation does not address the problem that not all created plants are edible, nor does it address the fact that the original creation was impacted by sin, such that some created plants may no longer be in their original state.[8]
    2. The argument against the analogy of alcohol: Whereas wine is associated in the Bible with dietary concerns, table fellowship, and weddings, cannabis has an exclusively intoxicating function.[9] In other words, the two are not sufficiently analogous.
    3. The argument against the analogy of caffeine: Whereas marijuana temporarily impairs the reliable processing of reality, caffeine ordinarily sharpens that processing.[10] Like the previous analogy, then, the two are not sufficiently analogous.
    4. The argument against the argument from ancient Israel: There is no indication that cannabis is referenced in Exodus 30:22–29 or Ezekiel 34:29. qĕnēh-bośem (Exodus 30:23) refers to “sweet cane,” rather than cannabis, and maṭṭāʿ lĕšēm (Ezekiel 34:29), translated “the plant of renown” in KJV, refers to the place of planting, not to the plants themselves.[11] For example, the New American Standard Bible translates this phrase as “a renowned planting place,” while the New International Version translates it as “a land renowned for its crops.”
  2. Constructive arguments
    1. The argument from intoxication: Intoxication is forbidden in Scripture (e.g., Ephesians 5:18). Since recreational use of marijuana is almost always for the sake of intoxication, such use is also forbidden in Scripture.[12]
    2. The argument from mind alteration: Unlike caffeine, marijuana use jeopardizes the Christian’s ability to discern God’s will and to love him with all of his/her mind (Proverbs 23:32–33; Matthew 22:37 and parallels; 1 Corinthians 14:20).[13]
    3. The argument from the sanctified body: The sanctified human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:13, 19–20). This implies keeping it ready for the Spirit’s use: not dulling our God-given powers of seeing clearly, observing accurately, thinking soundly, and remembering helpfully.[14]
    4. The argument from silence: The Bible nowhere provides guidelines for the moderate use of drugs, as it does for wine and other alcoholic beverages. Hence, Scripture does not intend even for the moderate use of marijuana.[15]
    5. The argument from virtue: Since the medical data reveals that recreational marijuana use is detrimental to the well-being of the user, it is a vicious activity, an instance of the vice of intoxication, and as such is morally illicit.[16]

Undoubtedly, many other arguments could be added to these lists. However, this provides a good starting point for ongoing research. See, for example, “For Further Study” below.

Notes

[1] See, for example, Family Council on Drug Awareness, “Marijuana and the Bible,” Equal Rights 4 All, http://www.equalrights4all.org/religious/bible.htm. All access dates for websites in this post are as of February 13, 2018.

[2] Benjamin L. Corey, “Jesus Created Marijuana, and It Should Be Legal,” Patheos, September 8, 2016, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/jesus-created-marijuana-and-it-should-be-legal/.

[3] See Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, “Marijuana: A Theology,” HuffPost: The Blog, January 2, 2014, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-susan-brooks-thistlethwaite/marijuana-christian-theology_b_4529031.html.

[4] This is an argument anticipated and argued against by John Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot,” Desiring God, January 9, 2014, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-let-your-mind-go-to-pot.

[5] Family Council on Drug Awareness, “Marijuana and the Bible.”

[6] Brooks Thistlethwaite, “Marijuana.”

[7] Among the few posts and articles read in preparation for this post, no counterargument is proffered against the argument from religious aid.

[8] H. Wayne House, “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?,” Christian Research Journal 38, no. 5 (2015): 8.

[9] Ibid., 9.

[10] Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot.”

[11] House, “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?,” 8–9.

[12] Ibid., 19; Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot”; Joe Carter, “Is Recreational Marijuana Use a Sin?,” The Gospel Coalition, January 6, 2014, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/is-recreational-marijuana-use-a-sin/.

[13] House, “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?,” 9; Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot.”

[14] Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot.” Note that Brooks Thistlethwaite appeals to the same texts (i.e., 1 Corinthians 6:13, 19–20), though in support of moderation and respect, not abstinence.

[15] House, “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?,” 9.

[16] Ezra Sullivan and Nicanor Austriaco, “A Virtue Analysis of Recreational Marijuana Use,” Linacre Quarterly 83, no. 2 (2016): 158–73.

For Further Study

Breeden, Tom, and Mark L. Ward Jr. Can I Smoke Pot? Marijuana in Light of Scripture. Minneapolis: Cruciform Press, 2016.

Brooks Thistlethwaite, Susan. “Marijuana: A Theology.” The Blog, January 2, 2014. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-susan-brooks-thistlethwaite/marijuana-christian-theology_b_4529031.html.

Carter, Joe. “Is Recreational Marijuana Use a Sin?” The Gospel Coalition, January 6, 2014. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/is-recreational-marijuana-use-a-sin/.

Corey, Benjamin L. “Jesus Created Marijuana, and It Should Be Legal.” Patheos, September 8, 2016. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/jesus-created-marijuana-and-it-should-be-legal/.

Driscoll, Mark. Puff or Pass: Should Christians Smoke Pot or Not? N.p.: Mars Hill Church, 2012. E-book available at http://s3.amazonaws.com/churchplantmedia-cms/bethany_baptist_church/puff-or-pass_marijuana.pdf.

Family Council on Drug Awareness. “Marijuana and the Bible.” Equal Rights 4 All. http://www.equalrights4all.org/religious/bible.htm.

Frame, John. The Doctrine of the Christian Life. A Theology of Lordship. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008. S.v. “Health and Safety,” 739–43.

House, H. Wayne. “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?” Christian Research Journal 38, no. 5 (2015): 8–9. Accessible online at http://www.equip.org/article/bible-teach-cannabis-plant/.

Lacine, Jeff. “Marijuana to the Glory of God.” Desiring God, January 7, 2017. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/marijuana-to-the-glory-of-god.

Merritt, Jonathan. “What Evangelicals Miss in the Marijuana Debate.” Religion News Service, January 27, 2014. http://religionnews.com/2014/01/27/evangelicals-missing-marijuana-debate/.

Parlor, Branson. “Medical Marijuana and a Theology of Pot.” Think Christian, November 27, 2012. https://thinkchristian.reframemedia.com/medical-marijuana-and-a-theology-of-pot.

Piper, John. “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot.” Desiring God, January 9, 2014. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-let-your-mind-go-to-pot.

Rochford, James. “The Ethics of Marijuana Use.” Evidence Unseen. http://www.evidenceunseen.com/theology/practical-theology/the-ethics-of-marijuana-usage/.

Storms, Sam. “10 Things You Should Know about Marijuana and the Christian.” SamStorms.com, March 13, 2017. http://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/10-things-you-should-know-about-marijuana-and-the-christian.

Sullivan, Ezra, and Nicanor Austriaco. “A Virtue Analysis of Recreational Marijuana Use.” Linacre Quarterly 83, no. 2 (2016): 158–73.

Van Wicklin, John F. “Drugs.” In The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity: An A-to-Z Guide to Following Christ in Every Aspect of Life, edited by Robert Banks and R. Paul Stevens, 318–21. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Why Go to Church?

Dr. Craig Blomberg is currently a distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. Dr. Blomberg completed his PhD in New Testament, specializing in the parables and the writings of Luke-Acts, at Aberdeen University in Scotland. In addition to writing numerous articles in professional journals, multi-author works and dictionaries or encyclopedias, he has authored or edited 20 books, including The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.

Guest post by Dr. Craig L. Blomberg

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24–25; Today’s New International Version)

In our consumer culture, I shouldn’t be surprised that people treat church like a product. But I confess I continue to be surprised how long-time, faithful churchgoers can suddenly “kick the habit” with seemingly little regret! Whether it’s a recent, young Denver Seminary graduate who was training to be a church leader or a middle-aged individual who just got tired of putting up with someone or something undesirable in their local congregation, people are abandoning regular church attendance in record numbers.

Hebrews 10, however, takes such a departure very seriously indeed. In the context of growing persecution of Christians in Rome in the early-to-mid-60s, one could almost understand why Jewish believers might want to play down their distinctives as followers of Yeshua and retreat to a form of worship indistinguishable from orthodox Judaism. They would thus retain their unique privilege as a religio licita, and not be forced to offer a pinch of incense in honor of Caesar as “Lord and God” as everyone else had to do. Once Nero unleashed his official, state-sponsored persecution against Christians in 64, they would be immune from imprisonment and martyrdom. Today, one can empathize with believers from North Korea and China to Iran and Afghanistan to Morocco and the Maldives, who might similarly hide their Christian identities and not gather regularly for worship and instruction with other believers, lest they be arrested and/or killed.

Ironically, it is precisely in such contexts where we also hear stories of great faith, great perseverance, and great sacrifice for the sake of Christ and fellow Christians, including for gathering together with them. It’s here in the U.S., in the Western world more generally, where so much less is at stake that we offer up such pathetic reasons (at least I suspect God considers them pathetic) for not joining together with fellow believers on a regular, weekly basis. And almost all of the excuses are anthropocentric rather than Christocentric. That’s a fancy way of saying we’ve in essence reworded the well-known praise song to make it say, “It’s all about me, Lord,” rather than “It’s all about you, Jesus!”

We all know the excuses. We don’t like the style of worship or music. We don’t like the preaching. We don’t like the new time for Sunday School. We don’t like the way the church spends our money. More seriously, we don’t like certain people we have to see when we go. The list seems almost endless. Yet the other irony is that we in the West, especially in the United States, have far more choices of churches than anybody has ever had anywhere else in the history of the world! Before the advent of modern transportation, the two major criteria for why a given person belonged to church x (rather than church y) was because it was (a) the closest church to where they lived (b) in their denomination. Before the Protestant Reformation, only (a) applied, except in those comparatively few places where both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy existed side-by-side. One generally learned to work things out with the same group of people over a long period of time.

Today we are victims of our plethora of choices. Now hear me well. I’m grateful for those choices. There do come times when churches have substantially changed their beliefs or practices that for a person to be faithful to their own basic convictions they must move to a different congregation. If that happens, then move! But don’t just stop going anywhere.

Hear me, too, please, when I say that “church,” as the New Testament defines it, can be a house-church; it can be independent of all denominational affiliation; and it can take many creative forms and gather at many different times. I’m not saying all believers have to gather on Sunday morning, in a distinctive church building, with one prescribed liturgy or order of service. Not by a long shot. But consider the implied hubris (a fancy Greek word for “arrogance”) implied by the person who claims to be a Christian, claims to be in submission in Scripture, and yet also claims that no existing expressions of Christianity anywhere close to them are sufficiently God-pleasing for them to favor those gatherings with their presence!

The book of Hebrews supplies the key to how to change one’s attitude in such situations. One goes to church not for what one can get but what one can give. Spur one another on toward love and good works and encourage one another. One of the occupational hazards of having studied the Scriptures to the extent that I have, and having visited as many diverse expressions of God’s family of faith worldwide as I have, is that it’s hard for any given worship service to affect me emotionally at the very core of my being with something that jumps out at me and says, “yes, that’s exactly how we should be doing things!” I occasionally experience a little something along those lines, but I stress the words a little.

But it doesn’t take much at all to get me pumped with the idea of going to see friends and acquaintances, and to meet new people, whom I can encourage and love and teach. If I keep track of how much attention, gratitude, and concern I am showed in return, I usually go away depressed (except when I’m a guest speaker somewhere, because at least some people have been trained to do such things). But if I remind myself that I shouldn’t be trying to keep track of such things, then I usually feel fulfilled. But even that is an anthropocentric criterion. I need to keep reminding myself that I go and do what I do simply because that’s what God wants and it’s what he has made me for.

The Love of Money and the Root of Money

I am a recent graduate of Denver Seminary, having completed an M.A. in New Testament Biblical Studies and am in the final stages of completing a second M.A. in Christian Apologetics and Ethics/Philosophy of Religion.


Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (English Standard Version)

A Basic Confusion

The above verses are from 1 Timothy 6:6–10. Many people who have read this passage have come away convinced that money is evil and that being rich is wrong. Who would want to fall into such temptation and risk so much? Who wants to face ruin and destruction? Yikes! It’s probably best to just stay away from money altogether, right? Well, no of course not. If we read Paul carefully, we note that he says that the love of money is the root all kinds of evil, not money qua money (and the desire to be rich is wrong, not simply being rich). Hmm, this makes things more complicated doesn’t it? Perhaps money isn’t intrinsically wrong, but we definitely shouldn’t love it. But just what is money anyway and why do we need it? If the love of money is so risky, wouldn’t it be better just to do away with money altogether? Is this possible?

To understand why Paul says that the love of money is the root all kinds of evil, and not money itself, we must explore what money is, its origins, and function. (Note: I’m not saying Paul had the below in mind when he wrote 1 Timothy. I don’t pretend to know his understanding of economics).

The Origins and Necessity of Money

Money is a medium of value exchange. It arises from the inefficiency of bartering. In basic societies that have not yet developed (or modern societies whose currency has collapsed), the basic means of acquiring what you need to survive is to either create it yourself or trade with others (or perhaps, unfortunately, steal or kill for it). Since no one is completely self-sufficient and thus unable to create for themselves every single thing they need to survive, trading become paramount and inescapable. Trading in this case takes the form of bartering as two people directly trade their goods with each other, assuming that each has what the other wants. The best way to describe this is through an example. Say that I own an apple orchard and you are a carpenter who specializes in making elegant chairs. It just so happens that I’ve been eyeing your handiwork and really want one of those chairs, and happily for me, you just love apples. So we talk one day and decide that you’ll make me one chair and I’ll give you 100 of my best apples. In this deal, we have assigned subjective value to what we own and what we want. I have judged that acquiring a chair is worth giving up 100 apples; you have determined that gaining 100 apples is worth the time, energy, and resources it takes to make a chair. Notice that this is not an objective value—meaning, we didn’t consult some pre-existing Divine Trading Value Scale that told us that 1 chair = 100 apples. It is a subjective valuation and particular to both of us and the mutual decision we came to as to the value of the chair and apples. It very well could be that had I decided to trade with Amy down the street who also makes chairs—but of a different kind and size—then she would have wanted 150 apples for one chair. And it very well may be that once I see the quality of her chairs, I might even be willing to fork over 200 apples.

So back to the story. We have decided that you will give me one chair and I will give you 100 apples. So you whip up a chair and I go and pick 100 of my best red, shiny apples. We make the exchange and we are both happy! At least for a while. However, two weeks later we run into each other and strike up a conversation. Eventually we get around to discussing the trade we had made a while back. You ask how I like my chair. I love it, I say! I ask you about how you are enjoying the apples. You tell me they are some of the best apples you’ve every had . . . except there is one problem. What’s that? I ask. You proceed to tell me that even though you just love apples and eat about one a day and bake one pie a week that uses five apples, over the last couple weeks you’ve only been able to get through about twenty-five or so apples, one-fourth of your supply. Unfortunately, over that time the rest of the apples went bad—75 of them! You complain to me that you were cheated out of your end of the deal because even though I’m still able to enjoy the chair you made me, you were only able to utilized a fraction of what you received. I tell you too bad. It was a mutually agreeable deal when it was made; perhaps you should have thought ahead as to how long the apples would have lasted and made fifteen extra apple pies to use up all the apples before they went bad. However, you are still dissatisfied (because who really wants to make 15 apple pies?) and decide you won’t trade with me anymore.

From this example we can see that while direct trading of goods and services in a bartering economy might seem like a good thing up front, it can create problems and dissatisfaction, which can lead to strife and tension. There are many other problems with bartering; I will just briefly mention two. First, what if there is no mutual interest to begin with? Say I want to trade you apples for your chair, but you don’t like apples. Instead, you like bananas—and again, you want 100 of them. Thus, I am forced to first find a banana farmer and make an exchange with him (apples for bananas) in order to give you the bananas you want for your chair. This kind of third, fourth, fifth, etc., party exchanging quickly becomes extremely complex. Or perhaps you go directly to the banana farmer yourself and make a direct trade with him because he also likes chairs; this allows you to skip a step and simply exclude me and now I’m left out to dry. Or say when I go to the banana farmer he doesn’t want apples, but he does want some milk from the cow farmer down the street and he just happens to know the cow farmer does like apples. Then, in order to get the chair from you that I want, I have to go barter apples for milk, then milk for bananas, and then bring the bananas to you—and all this assumes that I will be able to get the 100 bananas you require. If it turns out I’m only able to get 50 bananas from this first trade, I will have to repeat this process with different traders all over again. This is exhausting and very inefficient. The second problem with bartering is what if instead of a chair-maker, you craft wagons and raises horses. I want a horse and carriage, but we decide that such fancy transportation is worth at least 10,000 apples. This places a heavy burden on me to grow 10,000 apples. And of course you don’t want, nor could you use, 10,000 apples. Thus I am forced to determine what else you want and then trade my apples for those things so that I can bring to you an assortment of goods that you would be willing to take in exchange for the horse and carriage. As you can see, bartering simply isn’t conducive for efficient exchange, let alone the fact that it fails to provide people with what they really need in a timely fashion. When you multiple such complexities by millions of people in a society, the problems become overwhelming.

This is where money comes in. Money, in a sense, serves as a middleman between the two goods being bartered. We decide that we will mint coins—or dollar bills—and one coin will be valued at one apple. Thus, 100 apples = 100 coins. This way, I am able to grow 100 apples, sell them to various customers who will pay me in coins and once I have 100 coins, I can give them to you for the chair. This eliminates the direct exchange and all the problems that comes with it. If everyone does this, if everyone uses the same kind of money as a medium of value exchange, then many of our bartering problems will be solved. I am free to grow and sell apples as fast or as slow as I want as I will continually be saving coins from which I can then buy chairs or a horse and carriage as I desire. And you are free to make chairs and sell them then use some of that money to buy apples and some to buy bananas. Money, as a common-denominator exchange medium, is the universal lubricant that allows the gears of trade to turn endlessly and painlessly for all people in a society (and internationally). Without money, society would grind to a halt and all of us would be in a world of pain. Money is a gift from God, a creation of humankind that is a necessity, and a resources that should be used wisely.

The Love of Money

Those who think money is the root of all evils simply misunderstand what money is. Money is not evil in and of itself; it is just a medium of exchange that makes trade—the buying and selling of goods and services—possible. In addition, those who accumulate, horde, and lust after money are throwing their pearls before a perilous resource. Monies come and go; currencies rise and fall; and often, entire countries and civilizations with them. Those who value money above all have actually confused money with wealth. Real wealth consists of the goods and services that are being exchanged with money. And if we dig even deeper, we find that goods and services don’t exist—and can’t exist—without humans to create, innovate, problem solve, and learn and perfect their skills. Wealth? Wealth is humanity—a human being created in the image of God who has intrinsic value, worth, and ability; a human being who has been given the command to subdue and cultivate the earth (Genesis 1:28) and all that the earth’s resources have to offer us. From humanity’s productive (and collective) efforts we create goods and we render services. And these goods and services are traded in mutually-beneficial exchanges with the medium of money. The lover of money has severely lost his or her way; they are worshipping the created instead of the Creator who has endowed his most special creation with the mark of the divine: the ability to create wealth, and from that wealth to share generously and provide for those in need so that all may be blessed and flourish.

Resources

Thomas Sowell’s eminently accessible and powerful read, Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy, 4th ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2011), discusses money and wealth in chapter 16 on the money and banking system (pp. 386–413).

Samuel Gregg covers the issue of money in two of his books. First, Economic Thinking for the Theologically Minded (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2011), pp. 113–117. Second, in Banking, Justice, and the Common Good (Grand Rapids: Acton Institute, 2012), Kindle location 505–617.