Jesus Untangled: Crucifying our Politics to Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb

A.W. Tozer once remarked: “Christianity is so entangled with the world that millions never guess how radically they have missed the New Testament pattern. Compromise is everywhere.”

Reader beware: Keith Giles is out to change that. In his new book, Jesus Untangled, Keith cuts through the fog of our collective Christian ignorance with furious passion. In all the years I have known Keith he has appeared to me as a man on a mission, and this book is no exception; his critique of “Christian” nationalism, while scathing, is also bursting with grace.

What a shocking story to begin the book from Philip Yancey, set in the battlefield of World War II. A special unit Christian soldier has been dispatched to kill wounded Germans left in the field, and upon finding a healthy German who begs a moment to pray before being put down, the Christian spends a delightful moment praying and reading scripture with him. Sadly, he then turns the gun on his brother and shoots him in the head out of allegiance to one earthly kingdom over another. Behold, with shocking clarity, our problem.

Keith then breezes through a narrative with which I am very familiar, and perhaps you are too: The purity of the early church regarding her disentanglement with religious and political powers, followed by the onslaught of persecution, waning commitment to the way of Jesus, and the ultimate compromise following the emperor Constantine’s alleged conversion. It wasn’t long before Church and State were wed in the most unholy of all alliances, the fallout from which we have been dealing with ever since. Fast forward to the Moral Majority’s effort in America to blend free market economics with Christian values during the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Keith shares interesting history from behind the scenes of that movement, urging the reader to turn his or her faith from political power back to the weakness of the cross and the third way of Jesus.

Also intriguing is the little-known history concerning the illicit connections between American corporations and the German and Japanese war machines during World War II. This chapter will have you looking for footnotes, I assure you. If the connections are as explicit as Keith affirms, these are facts that everybody needs to know.

The most powerful point is found in Keith’s discussion of Christian identity. With great conviction he urges the question of who “we” are upon the reader. Many western Christians will throw this word around in regards to the State, as in the typical retort toward nonviolence, “Well then, what should we have done about Hitler?” But the very language reveals our confusion. As followers of Jesus, are we American patriots or “strangers and aliens” in a foreign land? The way a person uses the word “we” will tell you what they believe.

Jesus Untangled is a powerful primer on how to live the Way of Jesus within the shadow of the Empire. Keith’s book will lift you up, knock you out, and leave you thirsting for more. Either that or it will make you so mad you’ll want to spit nails. Either way, it will not leave you indifferent, and that is what I love most about Keith’s writing.

It’s alright to be human

January 17, 2017 — 10 Comments

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Three weeks ago I wrote a post about the best way to build community, highlighting my recent service with small groups and reflecting on what works and what (generally) doesn’t work in getting people to share their lives with one another. After fifteen years of pursuing Christ in community, my most mature conviction about how to do this is to simply take the life I’m already living and invite others to be part of it (as opposed to constantly adding more meetings, more commitments, and so forth).

This week I caught up with my friend Nelson Klaiber to talk about his response to that post. I thought this would interest you because Nelson is the pastor with whom I am currently working as a small group director. Nelson is also a firefighter and an all-around great guy. Continue Reading…

Guns don’t work

November 28, 2016 — 10 Comments
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Photo Credit: BigGreengo Flickr via Compfight cc

Lately I have been more and more impressed with the undeniably nonviolent character of the life and teaching of Jesus. I believe it has tremendous significance for our day and age as Christians seek to answer the question: What does it mean to follow the Lamb who was slain?

Yesterday I was talking with a good friend about the plight of the poor and oppressed (news concerning the death of Fidel Castro got us moving in this direction). While I wondered how world leaders could speak admirably of a man who allegedly murdered so many people, my friend urged me to consider the political and historical context that formed Cuba’s circumstances in recent decades.This led to a discussion about the role of violence in resisting evil: To what extreme must we who follow Jesus hold the conviction of nonviolence? What allowance should we make for those oppressed peoples who finally break under pressure and decide to hit back? How much can I really relate to their suffering as a white American male living in the shadow of the world’s greatest superpower? Continue Reading…

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Photo Credit: @superamit Flickr via Compfight cc

“Community” is something of a buzzword these days; different people use it to describe different things. Overall, though, most people who use the word envision deeper, more intimate relationships between themselves and other people.

Christianity community centers around the person, work, and teaching of Jesus, but the core concept remains the same: Community means sharing life with each other. Church leaders, ministers, pastors, small group practitioners, and workers of all sorts are engaged with this question of how to form, create, build, or otherwise enjoy a deeper experience of community. Continue Reading…

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Photo Credit: Tom Kavana Flickr via Compfight cc

In case you haven’t heard, there was an election in America last week. People are up in arms about it on both sides of the table, with some even taking to the streets in protest. Social media is aflame with opinions, accusations, predictions, and scapegoating of every sort. World leaders are watching with angst over what it will mean for their countries. Minority groups are afraid for their very lives. Indeed, these are strange and trying times for many people.

Israel once experienced a similarly distressing time of transition: Her king, Saul, was descending into madness, while her soon-to-be king, David, was amassing an army of malcontents in the wilderness. Saul was hunting David like a dog in a wild bid to prevent David from gaining the throne, but the people who had tired of Saul’s reign were defecting to David day by day and revolution was in the air. Scripture says that among the people who joined David’s ranks were “men from the tribe of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).

As I survey the landscape of the western world today, especially among the professed followers of Jesus, I wonder: Where are the men and women of Issachar? Where are the people who understand the times and know what we should do? Does the Church have any prophetic voice left in her? Can she speak to the issues of our day with any vestige of divine authority?

I spend a lot of time with both liberals and conservatives, and most of them are well-meaning human beings, believe it or not. I often lament with Elbert Hubbard that “if men and women could only know each other, they would neither idolize nor hate.” Yet I also realize there are genuinely bad people in this world who have no business holding positions of power and that there are systems in place which desperately need to be renewed. These matters should not be ignored.

What should we do, then? I don’t know. What I do know is that both the political left and right are continually speaking past each other. Politicians are pontificating as usual and social media pundits are hurling anathemas to no practical end. Opinions abound, but the clear voice of authority–the word from God–is hard to decipher amidst the cacophony.

Where are the men and women of Issachar? Today, unfortunately, I have only the question and not the answer.

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Photo Credit: Don Pino Esposito Flickr via Compfight cc

I’ve been a fan of Shane Claiborne since I read his first book, The Irresistible Revolution, way back in 2006. It’s been ten years since I discovered his work and I can tell he’s been busy since then. Lately his focus has fallen on the death penalty, in particular on abolishing it. As he says in his latest book, Executing Grace, “Death is the problem, not the solution.”

The death penalty has been with us for a long time and has existed in many different forms. In fact, it is so historic and common place that most people just take it for granted as a necessary evil in society. At least that was the notion I took toward capital punishment whenever it crossed my radar as a young Christian. At first I didn’t think about it at all; when I did, I just kind of accepted it as part of the fabric of life in a fallen world.  Continue Reading…

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Photo Credit: Mimadeo Flickr via Compfight cc

Lately I’ve been reading Edith Hamilton’s classic book on mythology, in particular her chapter on Norse mythology. I was struck by what she describes as the dominating characteristic of the Norse mythos:

The world of Norse mythology is a strange world. Asgard, the home of the gods, is unlike any other heaven men have dreamed of. No radiance of joy is in it, no assurance of bliss. It is a grave and solemn place, over which hangs the threat of an inevitable doom. The gods know that a day will come when they will be destroyed. Sometime they will meet their enemies and go down beneath them to defeat and death. (314)

The only consolation for the Norse people in the face of ultimate defeat (the inevitability of death) was to face it with unrelenting courage. Despite being aware of their mortality, the gods were committed to resist their demise to the bitter end. Humans took their cue accordingly and sought to attain a place in Valhalla (one of the halls in Asgard) through similar acts of bravery, though even Valhalla was destined to perish all the same. Hamilton continues: Continue Reading…

The following essay was the final assignment for a college course I recently completed, and while I was limited to only five pages for the assignment, I would like to expand this content into a more comprehensive treatment of its subject: the Christian's relationship to war. I would appreciate your feedback on what direction to go from here. Leave a comment or shoot me a private email with your suggestions. Thanks!

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Photo Credit: Håkan Dahlström Flickr via Compfight cc

History knows him as Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish Rabbi and figurehead of the world’s largest religion; Christians know Him as Lord of all. When once the King of kings stood before a Roman governor in question over his alleged crimes against the state, He answered, “My kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my kingdom is not of this world” (NLT John 18:36, emphasis mine). Jesus then bore witness to this truth by laying down His life on a Roman cross, and in doing so He set the standard of nonviolent resistance over armed conflict for all who would come after Him. Continue Reading…

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Photo Credit: silaaa via Compfight cc

As a writer, I know the challenge of the blank page.

The blank page stands witness to all this is not and all that could be. It invites the writer to express his innermost thoughts and to form them into an offering worthy to present to the world.

For this very reason, the blank page intimidates, as well. For there it sits–an invitation, yes–but quite possibly an invitation to failure. What if the words don’t come out right? What if they fall on deaf ears? What if nobody cares?

These are the kind of thoughts I normally center upon when, as a writer, I consider the blank page.  Continue Reading…