Category Archives: Gospel

Is God eternally traumatized?

The first words of Alwyn Lau’s “Saved By Trauma” essay remind us that the work of Jesus Christ on the cross is the foundation and center point for all of Christianity.§ Without the cross, there is no Christian faith.

The Christian faith is centered around the historical trauma of the suffering, death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. Christian theological reflection starts from and eventually relates back to the work of Christ. Indeed, for some theologians, the resurrection points back to and affirms the cross. The apostle Paul’s declaration that the Christian pronunciation is essentially “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23) ontologically entrenches trauma, destabilization, and anxiety at the heart of kerygymatic [sic] proclamation. (p.273)

Sit with that last sentence a bit. Christianity is at its core or essence a faith wrapped up in trauma. Yes, there is an all-important resurrection, but a resurrection cannot happen without a traumatic story (false-blame, injustice, torture, abandonment, and death). If Christianity is ANYTHING, then it is a faith that takes seriously the impact of brokenness.

So then, Lau makes an important next point about what a Christian theology should provide:

Theology proffers a distinct vocabulary to talk about personal and interpersonal wounding and trauma; the Christian community approximates a traumatic community. (ibid)

Victims of trauma ought to find great comfort and help from Christian leaders and communities because they observe a community that really gets their experience, both by word and deed.

Are we that community?

Or, are we a bit more like Job’s friends? Consider Lau again,

 Job’s friends, in presenting all kinds of explanations for why Job suffered the tragedies he did, were attempting to obscure the trauma of the truth of evil in the world. Job’s disagreement–and God’s eventual vindication and endorsement of his views over against that of his friends–demonstrated resilience in the face of such tempting illusions of closure. Job refused to look away from the void in his pain. He refused to accept cheap solutions to the problem and “causes” of his suffering. (p. 274)

To become a safe community for victims of trauma, we must continue to highlight that God and trauma are put together (albeit willingly) for eternity in the abandonment and death of Jesus on the cross. In this God takes trauma (injustice, torture, and death) into his own being–no longer does it exist in creation.  Again in the words of Lau, we need a “theology of Holy Saturday” if we are going to show that “hope can be spoken of only within the context of injustice, negativity, and despair; the joy and the Lordship of Christ takes place in and through sickness, death, and sin.” (ibid)

“If God’s being cannot be comprehended without factoring in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ…” (p. 275) then consider this statement:

“If indeed God suffers in the cross of Jesus in reconciling the world to himself, then there must always be a cross in the experience of God as he deals with a world which exists over against him.” (quote of Paul Fiddes in Lau, p. 275)

God is defined by trauma. But he, unlike creation, is not weakened by this trauma. Rather, Lau encourages us to see that “the God self-revealed  and depicted in the Judeo-Christian tradition is a begin who, out of love for the created order, chose the trauma of death as a central facet of God’s self-definition.” (276) In an immeasurable act of love that had been present in God from eternity past, God chooses self-sacrifice to break the power of sin and death. And since this love is not temporal, then neither is God’s character ever without the knowledge and drive to reconcile a people to himself–even through trauma.

So what? What if we really understood God’s experience of trauma?

  1. The church would follow her head in the care of the most vulnerable even at the cost of her own comfort and safety. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.” (Matt 12:20, quote of Isaiah 42:3)
  2. The church would regularly make room for lament (individual and corporate) as acts of faithful worship. Like Thomas, we need to see the wounds that remain in the risen Christ.
  3. Hope would be illustrated in her ability to equally cry out about the “not yet” part of God’s present kingdom even while she looks for the “already” present redemption and healing. There is as much hope in Psalm 88 and Lamentation 3 as there is in Revelation 21.


§Lau, A. (2016). Saved by trauma: A psychoanalytical reading of the atonement. Dialog, 55, 273-281.



Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, Gospel, trauma, Uncategorized

Vital Religion per Ben Franklin

I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue. And the Scriptures assure me that at the last day we shall not be examined by what we thought, but what we did

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

by W. Isaacson (Simon & Shuster, 2003)

My wife is reading this book and pointed out the quote to me. From Isaacson’s take, Franklin is less a deist than many have reported. And while he fought with some of his relatives over the meaning of faith, I think he does capture this sentiment right. It is possible to concern yourself so much with orthodoxy that you fail to miss the heart of the Gospel. Yes, Franklin did try to have virtue via his own power (a friend of his said something to the effect that Franklin’s efforts failed to tackle the virtue of humility or the vice of pride).  But nonetheless, virtue or act is what is asked of individuals. Did you clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned?

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, Gospel, Great Quotes

Are you tempted to moralistic formation?

At the ETS meeting, someone handed me the inaugural issue of Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care. Despite the fact that I’m in the business of these activities I have to admit that I am often turned off by writings about spirituality and soul care. Maybe its because the words can mean so many different things.

Anyway, I finally had a chance to look at the articles and found this little treasure by John Coe, “Resisting the Temptation of Moral Formation: Opening to Spiritual Formation in the Cross and the Spirit” (p. 54-78).

Coe tells his reader that he is writing to dedicated Christians (rather than consumer Christians) who are very serious about their Christian growth and have a sincere desire for increased holiness. He says he sometimes calls this group the “dedicated neurotic.”

What I have discovered, however, is that these same dedicated persons often struggle with a secret, and sometime not so secret, burden of guilt and shame that they are not as mature as they should be, that their lives often feel spiritually dry and withered, that the Christian life feels more like work than joy. They wonder at times, “God, what is wrong with me? Where are the rivers of living water? Why do I still struggle with the same sins year after year? Why is my spiritual life so dry?” And so they might pick up a Dallas Willard or Richard Foster book or come to our Institute for Spiritual Formation with a hunger to grow, hoping to find something that will make their spiritual life work. (p. 55)

Ever experience this?

Coe goes on to say that he wants to tell this person,

…what they may not know is that they are in the grips of a great temptation… For some, there is a temptation to despair of their spiritual life, to despair that God will come, to tune out, to accept a spirituality of “dry bones.” For others there is the temptation to act out immorally, so that when frustrations mount in the Christian life, the temptation is to say in one’s heart, “I cannot take it anymore, I just want to escape for a while.”

However, I want to address a peculiar temptation, one especially relevant and (I think) universal to those who are dedicated to the Christian life and to ministry. It is what I call the moral temptation. (ibid)

What is a moral temptation? In Coe’s mind it is to,

attempt to deal with our spiritual failure, guilt and shame by means of spiritual efforts, by attempting to perfect one’s self in the power of the self. It is the attempt of the well-intentioned believer to use spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines, ministry, service, obedience–being good in general –as a way to relieve the burden of spiritual failure, lack of love and the guilt and shame that results. (ibid)

How do you know if you are a Christian moralist? Coe uses the following diagnostic?

Question one: When you are convicted by sin, what is your first response?Is it “I will do better…I need to work on that…” then you are a moralist. If this is not just your first response, but also your most abiding one then he really thinks you are positively a moralist. The law, Coe says, is our tutor to lead us to Christ. And we can tell the difference based on our response. Are we feeling condemned versus culpable. Are we feeling the “should do differently” versus “I cannot do it apart from Christ.” Are we thinking we should try better versus sorry for our failing. Are we making moralistic efforts versus seeking the spirit.

Question two: When you are aware of your guilt and failure, does it lead to“overwhelming and abiding feelings of frustration, sense of failure, and self-rejection so that you do no want to feel things things but, rather want to repress them from awareness…”? (p. 68) Or do you pray with the ancients, “O blessed vice, for it was you who taught me to cling to Christ”?

The next post we’ll look at some ways out of this moralistic pattern.


Filed under Biblical Reflection, book reviews, Christianity, Evangelicals, Gospel

Dividing the church over politics

In the last 2 weeks I’ve heard several stories of individuals getting into heated discussions with other christian friends about whether to vote for Obama or McCain. Each of these stories are told by someone considering Obama as their vote. Each one describes their friend as nearly or actually questioning their sanity or faith if they would vote for Obama. I have yet to hear someone saying that a vote for McCain has cost them a relationship in their church.

Seems to me there are a couple of key reasons some Christians get up in arms over Obama.

1. He is clearly pro-abortion rights. He has as much as said he will have a litmus test for Supreme Court Justice nominees. Thus, a vote for Obama is a vote for the continuation of abortion and probably a roll-back on restrictions that have been one in the last decade.

This argument has merit and I can see Christians having strong opinions and questions about the conscience of other Christians who are planning to vote for him. On the other hand, justice issues take many sizes and shapes. While you may disagree with the democratic plan for dealing with the poor, they are the ones more likely to talk about care. Justice and care for the widow and orphan (the poor) is considered to be one of the key facets of the Christian faith (Matt. 23:23). Should abortion trump all other justice issues. Do those who vote for McCain squirm over capitalistic idolatry and the false assumption that individuals will do enough to care for the poor? Do Republicans walk the walk about voluntary sacrifice (and so actually really give sacrificially to the poor) when they accuse Democrats of trying to force it via taxation?

2. Obama is a socialist and is for big government control and mandate into all aspects of life. Our faith rights will be restricted under his power.

Again, it is an interesting debate about the role of government. I think we should be discussing the size and influence of government. Do all Americans have a right to health-care?  Should the government pick up the tab? Why? These are good questions. But, should a debate here lead to the questioning of one person’s faith? I don’t see that. Scripture doesn’t support a capitalistic or socialistic government, a small government or large one. We are commanded to submit to our leaders. We are commanded to care for the poor.

Let’s not divide the church and question each other’s faith when we have political differences. The issues are important and there will be real consequences when either candidate gets elected. Let’s debate those and not the faith commitments of our brothers and sisters.


Filed under Christianity, church and culture, conflicts, Doctrine/Theology, Gospel, News and politics, Relationships

The psychology of our culture-shift and other thoughts

Thought I’d repeat some of Dean Trulear’s comments regarding the culture change at a recent emerging conference. Things that may hinder our church culture change:

In a world of change, we tend to seek places where I don’t have to have change. Trulear says, “Its hardest to mobilize the person who attends bible study every day.” He says so because they come primarily for stability and comfort. In fact, this may be what drives the desire to form mega churches. He suggests that mega churches create a mega-illusion (not growing up stealing sheep, focusing on the external bells/whistles, without showing the

But rather than see that our individualist culture is going to hell in a handbasket, Trulear suggests there are artifacts of true biblical community showing up just the same, and these are signs of hope.
1. Clothing: supposedly an expression of individualism, but really clothes identify people with others of the same kind
2. Friends with Benefits: the hook-up is all about the sexual experience, and yet it isn’t anonymous sex. If it were all about sex, then why not just seek truly no strings attached sex?
3. Rap & R & B: Despite the popularity of individualist rap, R & B (all about love and relationship) still flourishes
4. Loyalty over honesty: Why do stars still hang with their homies? Because of loyalty. Unfortunately, the value of loyalty clouds the need for honesty.
5. Gangs are families: Gangs sometimes perform deaconal services better than the church

Question: How do we teach Seminarians to love looking for the vestiges of the Gospel in current culture, no matter how pagan it may be. If Romans 1 is true, then whatever decadence the World develops, we’ll still see signs of the Gospel–and therefore find entry gates to the human heart.

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Filed under Cultural Anthropology, Gospel

The Psychology of Self-centered Christianity

Yesterday our church had a send off service for a church plant. Our long-time pastor and several elders are leaving to plant a church a few miles away. The pastor said something yesterday that reminded me of a thought I had some weeks ago. He quoted Tim Keller (pastor of a church in Manhattan) saying that we (American?) Christians have done a good job internalizing the positive benefits of salvation by grace alone but have not done so well in going out to find the lost. The heart of the Gospel is a going out (like Paul and Barnabas) to the lost. It is not primarily about holding on to good feelings. The church should not be a country club where we come to get away. Rather, it should be “boot camp” to prepare us to go out.

I think this shows up in the kinds of songs we sing for worship. A couple weeks ago I started noticing how many of the songs we sing are focused almost completely on thanking God for what he has done in my life, for his grace, forgiveness, love, etc. Singing about these things is great. But do we also sing songs that move us out? I suppose “Onward Christian Soldiers” might not be our first choice, but do we have any contemporary songs that would parallel that hymn’s focus? How about something similar in sentiment to the African American national anthem (Lift Every Voice and Sing)?

Maybe some of you readers could remind me of contemporary songs that are not so self focused…


Filed under Gospel, Uncategorized

What is the Gospel recap

Yesterday’s Faculty meeting was spent ruminating on the character of the Gospel (multi-faceted) and how we have tendencies to focus only on one part (e.g., what are the minimum beliefs you have to have to be a Christian, penal substitution, etc.). What happens to our sense of the Gospel if we move away from easy believism and self-focused, individualistic aspects of the Gospel (am I really saved?).

Seems we need to be having some questions to help shape the Gospel:

1. What is God doing? (covenanting and reconciling a people for himself)

2. What does he call us to do/be as a people of God?

What passages might I use to articulate the core of the Gospel?

1. 2 Cor. 5:16f (reconciling the world tohimself, making us agents of reconciliation)

2. The 1st and 2nd Greatest commandments (love God, love neighbor)

3. 1 Cor. 15 gets some key ideas down (as was reminded by a colleague)

4. 1 Thess 1 gives the idea of the Gospel as believe, serve, and wait

 What would you use to articulate the Gospel without missing key facets?


Filed under Doctrine/Theology, Gospel