What About Physical Anthropology?

So I have started teaching Cultural Anthropology again. In my intro to the class, I like to start with Anthropology as a general term to describe “The Study of Man.” And then I like to add my little note that in Old English, “Wer” meant adult male, “Wif” meant adult female and “Man” or “Mann” meant human or homo sapien, so Anthropology is not a sexist term. In fact the Greek term “Anthropos,” although male in ‘gender’ (a linguistic term) can be referring to men, or to women, or to people in general. However, we don’t really speak Old English today, and the feeling today is that Man is a term for adult males… so Anthropology is the study of human beings.

Wow… Did I go off on a tangent or what?

Anthropology is used theologically and scientifically. Theologically, the sub-field of the study of humans within Systematic Theology is called Anthropology. This is a very worthwhile thing for Christians to have studied. A lot of silly things floating around churches today, in part, because of pop theology and pop (sub-) culture influences.

Scientifically, the term “Anthropology” is broadly used. <Being more careful, I just deleted a new tangent where I point out that a lot of what is called “Science” does not actually use the scientific method, but rather a more logico-historical method (which is not that far from Theology, strangely). It doesn’t really matter… or does it?> Classically, Anthropology on the Scientific side of things is broken up into four main sub-fields. They are:

  • Physical Anthropology. The study of the progress or evolution of mankind.
  • Archaeology. The study of ancient mankind, especially through the artifacts left behind.
  • Linguistics. The study of how mankind has, and does, communicate.
  • Cultural Anthropology. The study of living (usually) cultures.

I like to tell my classes that Archaeology is useful for Christian ministers— especially, but not strictly limited to, Biblical Archaeology. I tell my students that Linguistics is valuable for Christian ministers, and especially missionaries, for reasons that I HOPE don’t need to be repeated here. And then Cultural Anthropology is important for all Christian ministers, and I spend the whole semester trying to drive that point home.

However, I commonly note that Physical Anthropology is an area of study that has little bearing on Christian ministers. This is especially true of Evangelical ministers, since I teach at an Evangelical school. Part of this is because Physical Anthropology tends to be structured through the framework of Neo-Darwinism. Most Evangelicals do not believe in Neo-Darwinism, although many may accept a more flexible Intelligent Design understanding such as Theological Evolution.

But I got thinking more about this. I have read a couple of books on popularized physical anthropology (one by Stephen Jay Gould, and another by Jared Diamond) and found them very interesting. Regardless of whether I accept all of their opinions, to say nothing of their underlying framework, I feel that there are some things that that are good for Christians to know.

<Note: If the following stuff makes you think that I have only an undereducated, surface-level knowledge of Physical Anthropology, you are correct. I am noting this more to remind myself that studies outside of one’s area of expertise is important.>

  1. We are made of this world and for this world. We are made of the stuff of this world and fit into the categories that exist for the things in this world. We fit into it genetically and structurally, and fit into the ecological systems of this world. We are not aliens. This world is actually our home. We were created here to be here.
  2. We are like other animals and yet distinct from other animals. Physically, we are animals. We are not only part of this world, but we fit into certain categories of things in this world. We are genetically programmed and reproduce as animals, and made of the same stuff as animals. Some like to point out that we share a high percentange of DNA with chimpanzees (in the high 90s), and yet there are key genetic differences. Those differences are shared by humans at an even higher percent. As humans we share commonality of DNA over 99%. There is no genetic overlap of Gaussian curves— we are physically animals, and yet unique.
  3. We are all one people. There have been theories of pre-Adamic races, or cursed races in Christian circles. There have been attempts at so-called “Race Science.” However, genetic testing, as well as physical comparisons point us toward a common ancestor. Also unlike comparison with other animals, racial or ethnic categories around the world vary only slightly from others around the world. The distribution of traits and alleles most definitely overlap, to the point that it is difficult to be certain of one’s racial or ethnic heritage simply by looking at one’s physical looks or genes. These differences are mostly, quite literally, “skin deep.”
  4. There are no superior or inferior groups. While early on in Physical Anthropology and Race Science, there were attempts to discover what group was the “most evolved.” No shock, the anthropologists came in with a firm bias that their own race was at the top. We seem to be all different, but far more in common than different. Some groups may be ahead technologically (in a specific point of time) but one cannot really line this up clearly with intelligence, moral superiority, or anything else. Stubbornly, we can’t seem to break ourselves away from the fact that we are diverse and yet united. We are equal but different.

I suppose this is enough. One could argue that this doesn’t help since these are pretty consistent with good Theological Anthropology. My answer would be Yes. However, human nature always seems to push us towards creating Us versus Them groupings, and this leads towards deciding that the “We” are superior or more worthy (of something or other) than the “They.” It just seems as if Christians tend pick an choose what the Bible says (often embracing metaphors like “chosen race” or “holy priesthood”) to undermine or common humanity. Others sometimes embrace a semi-Platonic viewpoint that takes humanity out of its place in the physical world, while others relatedly, preach a rather anti-ecological message of “This world is not my home, I’m a just a passin’ through.” There may be ways in which these views have truth, but they don’t express the full Biblical or Theological Truth.

Maybe we need a bit of a reminder from Physical Anthropologists, even if we don’t buy into the total story they may give. We should not stop there. We need to go back to our Theology to understand what it means that we have “Openness to the World,” that we exist in terms of the “Image Dei,” and that we live in tension between our good creation, our state of fallenness, and our potential for restoration.

Potential Authoritarian

As most of you have probably noticed, in the last few years there has been an increase of popularity of demagogues. Demagogues are individuals who tend to “speak the language” of the masses with a level of charisma, and do so expressing themes that often emphasize empowerment and national identity, all the while commonly stoking the fires of ethnic, or religious hate. People who appreciate the message of these demagogues often see them as heroes… creating or restoring greatness to their own in-group. Those that do not respond to this message often see these demagogues as “neo-Fascist.”

Perhaps this uptick in demagoguery is the reason that so many Christians have recently expressed interest in Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His stance against the Fascist regime of his country is commonly seen as as inspirational today. Many have, often incorrectly, seen Bonhoeffer as a spiritual father of religio-political groups today.

But more interesting was that the predominant church in his country supported the Fascists, and even the “Confessing Church” of Bonhoeffer was far from a group actively opposing the government. It got me thinking to myself if there are themes in our institutional church that makes Authoritarianism (even if not full-out Fascism) especially appealing.

I am not asking “Are Christians Fascist.” There are a couple of reasons. For one, the term Fascist is way too broad. Umberto Eco, who grew up in Fascist Italy, noted that it is such a broad and varied ideology (or family of ideologies) that it is hard to pin down. Some of the common threads he noted were: Nationalism, Traditionalism (“cult of Tradition”), Life as Permanent Warfare, and Ethnocentrism (racism/bigotry). Theodor Adorno did research decades ago in his book, “The Authoritarian Personality.” His “F-Scale” (F for a tendency to open to be open to authoritarian or fascist thinking) listed a few things, some or which overlapped with Eco.

  • Conventialism/Conformism. Strong tendency to embrace cultural or societal norms.

  • Authoritarian Submission. The importance of submitting to one’s in-group leaders.

  • Authoritarian Aggression. Failure to conform to societal norms or submit to one’s leaders should be dealt with aggressively.

  • Anti-intraception.  Dislike of “wimpy,” feelings-oriented, subjective thinking. Prefer literal black-white thinking.

  • Stereotypy. Applying black and white categories to people. People are defined by their group rather than by their individuality or their humanity.

  • Power and Toughness. Equality in power is pure fiction… Inbalance of power is innate in society, so it is best if WE have the power and THEY do not.

  • Destructiveness and cynicism.  Generalized hostility to and vilification of humanity. Focus on the Fallenness of Man rather than Man created in God’s image.

  • Projectivity.  “The projection outwards of unconscious emotional impulses.”  Others are narrow-minded racist selfish bastards, so I need to be the same (to protect what is mine and that of our group).

  • Obsession with sex lives of others

Adorno’s work is interesting, but let’s use Eco’s shorter list to ask the question why MIGHT Christians (and perhaps other religious people) be likely to embrace authoritarianism.  I will deal with them in a different order.

  1.  Traditionalism (Cult of Tradition). Christianity often likes to look backwards for answers. Part of this is natural to religious thinking, where there is an understanding that one’s religion expresses a greater truth, a greater reality, that was revealed at some point in the past. Beyond that, so many denominations of Christianity like to make the argument that THEY express the “real” first century church. This makes no sense— we need to embrace our role as the 21st century church, not 1st century. But this is common even among Christian groups that tend to eschew (at least in theory) traditionalism.
  2. Life as Permanent Warfare. The Bible uses a lot of metaphors. One of the classes of metaphors are war-related. There does seem to be a bit of fascination with war metaphors among many Christian groups. Evangelical groups especially like to throw out the war motifs for the Christian experience. As a missionary, I see this even more where “spiritual warfare” is not simply expressed as a metaphor, but is often expressed as the (only) reality of our work— often ignoring many other metaphors of Christian living in the Bible. Stephen Larsen (author of “The Shaman’s Doorway”) has posited that monotheistic religions are more prone to ethical dualism (good versus evil) than polytheistic religions. I suppose that could be true, but I am not sure that leads necessarily to a war picture of life.
  3. Ethnocentrism (racism and bigotry). It seems pretty reasonable to think that Christians would be LESS prone to ethnocentrism than other groups. Genesis 1-3 (and much of the rest of the Bible) puts us all as equal before God. Yet we certainly find many Christians quite prone to the strangest of bigotries. (I still try to rap my head around American Christians who are the children of immigrants who are bigoted against immigrants.) Adorno may have a suggestion in this area. He noted that people who are “conservative” in their beliefs (whether politically, religiously, or ideologically) tended to be, on average more prone to bigotry than those more on the liberal end of the spectrum. HOWEVER, among the more conservative, there was a strong divide between those who “converted” to their conservative views, and those who had their views essentially inherited from their parents. Those who were converts tended to be much less bigoted than those who were brought up culturally in their beliefs. This may suggest that culturally embedded Christianity is more prone to bigotry than found in “young church” settings.
  4. Nationalism. I don’t see nationalism is an inherently Christian problem. It is, however, a problem through out the world of “state religion.” When a religion becomes a pawn of the state, and justifies the activities of the state, the religion tends to lose its prophetic role. Religion becomes the court prophet supporting the state by echoing back the will of the state.

So are Christians more prone to being pro-Authoritarian or “Potential Facist.” Not necessarily. Of course some groups, like the Shepherding Movement, openly promote authoritarian structures, as do many denominations— young and ancient alike. If, however, one looks at Eco’s list, I think Christians are prone to be attracted to Traditionalism and a Warfare view of life. I also think that places where Christianity has become deeply embedded into the culture where it has a lot of civil power and a lot of members who “inherited their faith” there is a higher tendency to nationalism and ethnocentrism. 

We saw those situations in Germany, Italy, and Spain in the early 20th century. It is possible we will see more of this again.

By the way, Tom Nicholas has an interesting little Youtube on “Potential Fascism.” You can watch it, Clicking Here

Counterproposal Regarding Truth

I saw this picture on LinkedIn. I get the logic. I even think one could put together a few Biblical verses to support the saying.

Nevertheless, I think I can come up with a statement that is better.

Truth Sounds Like Hate to Those Who Have Never Heard Truth From One Who Knows How to Express Truth in a Manner That is Both Respectful and Culturally Resonant.

I realize this is not as… Snappy… as the one in the picture, but this version is More True, and that is a good thing.

Member Care and the Mission Agency

I am teaching Missionary Member Care this 1st Semester. I have taught it before, and have had some formal training— in seminary, in retreat, and online. I have been in missions for 16-1/2 years so I feel like I know a bit about the topic. The week area I have is with mission agencies.

I have never been with a mission agency. Back 17 years ago, my wife and I had applied to a mission agency. We were going through the process in what I considered a positive way. They determined that my body fat was above the limit they considered appropriate. I assume it was more of a gatekeeper issue since our missions recruiter in the agency had a higher fat percentage than I. He told me that the “chubbiness issue” could delay my being finally accepted and commissioned, but it would not slow down the evaluation process. It did, however, slow it down. In fact it stopped the evaluation process. And then while I was reducing my weight, the agency put a 1-year stoppage of bringing in new commissioning (because of financial issues at the agency).

I did feel like our missionary recruiter lied to us. However, he probably thought it was true when he said it. I remember my Navy recruiter telling me that it was “a great time to join the US military because there will be no war during my first tour. In fact, two years in, Desert Storm started. He wasn’t “lying” but was saying what he thought was true with an inappropriate confidence.

Celia and I went off on missions through our church rather than a denomination and ended up establishing accountability through establishing partnerships and NGOs in-country, along with supporting churches. While we were in country, we often worked missionaries who were tied to the mission agency we had applied to. They were, pretty much without exception, great people to work with. However, they slowly disappeared as the agency decided that the country they were working in was no longer a priority and the type of work they were doing was no longer part of the agency’s mission. Additionally, some missionaries left that agency because of a change of theology in the agency that required the missionaries to ascribe to or get out.

All of this kind of left of us thinking that we dodged a bullet. Of course, years later we had some problems with partners (both on field partners, and supporters back home) that made realize that there are advantages to having a big agency.

Still, I wonder whether agencies are still valuable today. I suspect they are… especially in creative access countries. Some missionaries are pretty creative and don’t need the help, but others really do need an established platform.

From a missionary member care standpoint, agencies seem to vary wildly. Some do seem to do a pretty good job. The best ones are able to send someone for special counseling or care to specialists. Celia and I went off to specialists before. We were thankful that we found supporters who were willing to help us do that, but if they had not, we would have been responsible ourselves.

Some agencies fund their missionaries while others act as a conduit for support. The agencies that fund the missionaries are quite nice in some ways, but tend to be more controlling, and often end up disconnecting the missionaries from their supporting churches. Positively, they can (potentially) supply a better furlough experience in terms of frequency, length, services, and opportunities. On the other hand, the conduit-type agency gives their missionaries more freedom, but then offers them less. At their worse, they take a percentage of money from the missionaries for doing what the missionaries could do themselves.

Training opportunities are often better for agency missionaries. In some cases it can be too good. I have a friend who was a missions mobilizer who would talk about missionaries turning in their monthly activities and it was dominated by different trainings. Training is good, but less good if it is training to train to be more trained. I can relate to that from when I was in the Navy. We trained to be train to be more trained. Being independent missionaries we get less support for training, but we also have more freedom to do training that we think is valuable to us.

I guess in the end, I will do okay with my class. My experiences working with agency missionaries point to the fact that their are more universal problems among missionaries than distinctives. We share more in common being human and in vocation/calling than we have differences due to type of oversight.

A missionary friend of mine who was with a full-service agency talked to me a decade ago when we were considering going under an agency. He said— if you have adequate support and platform, why go with an agency? You have the freedom to do as God leads. He was speaking from a personal experience as his agency was forcing him to move.

Anyway, looking forward to teaching the course. I have taught it before, but this will be my first time online.





Getting One’s Message Heard, Lessons from the “4th Umke”

Stephen Larsen tells a story of the Umke,

“In the late fifties and early sixties a strange little man used to stand with his podium and flag on the corner of 116th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, across the street from Columbia University. He would preach


loudly and emphatically to whoever would listen, and even sometimes when there was no one there to hear. He was unquestionably sincere and hardworking in his evangelism. He was on that corner almost every day, rain or shine, even in winter. The only problem was that the man was almost incomprehensible. Finally, from listening to him several times and reading his literature, I began to get the gist of his message: he was a messiah, at least potentially. He called himself an “Umke,” (a word with private associates no doubt) who was one of four “Umkes” abroad in the world. When the four finally got together they would rule the world. A new dynasty for mankind would ensue.

During the many years I watched this man I do not think he made many converts. People usually walked away muttering or smiling. Sometimes students came to tease, whereupon the “Umke” man would become furious and even more incoherent and would march to another corner. Perhaps it just appealed to Columbia students to have a chance to bait a messiah. But more meaningfully, I think they were testing. And they found what they wanted. A few inches below the surface of this would-be-world-transforming messiah was a snarl of personal problems: inadequacy, temper, irascibility. The Umke-man’s religion was a personal one and had no room in it for anyone else (except maybe those three other Umkes).”

-“The Shaman’s Doorway” by Stephen Larsen (Station Hill Press, 1988), pages 47-48

Larsen’s use of the story was pointing towards the issue of being TRANSPERSONAL. Does the message have value that bridges to others… especially to universal truths that relate to the great questions of our existence. In the example that Larsen gives, the “Umke” had a thin veneer of having a message for all mankind, but in fact did not. Rather, he just wanted to be heard.

Being heard is not enough. It needs to be TRANSPERSONAL. But that is not enough either. Larsen’s point here was that once the Umke was put to the test, he failed the test by yielding to his own weaknesses. Good point. But let’s suppose this did not happen. Suppose, when put to the test, the Umke responded with appropriate concern and thoughtfulness, personal vulnerability, and differentiation. Is that enough?

Well, of course not. One can be fully comfortable in one’s own skin, and yet still be wrong. Truth matters. Certainty of truth, however, is beyond our reach. A message may “make sense” to us, but it is hard to go beyond that point. The scientific process doesn’t really work for the most important questions (sometimes called the “existential questions” of life like “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” What is my purpose in life?” “Is this all there is?” “What matters most?” and so forth).

Therefore, in the search for truth, we in practice place things through the filter of CULTURE RESONANCE.

“Cultural Resonance is achieved when your audience uses what you’ve created to talk to each other about something meaningful that they’ve been observing in their culture.”

-Mike Arauz. “Difference Between Relevance and Resonance.” Internet
Address: http://www.mikearauz.com/2009/02/difference-between-relevanceand.

I talk more about this thing of cultural resonance in my book Theo-storying, Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture.

The main idea is that cultural relevance is simply to have things to say that include cultural ideas that people are well aware of within the culture. The Umke apparently was culturally relevant. The idea of a messiah and of a new age (NWO) certainly peeked the interest of the students at Columbia. They liked novelty and the man was indeed novel. They apparently wanted to hear his message and see where that message goes.

But relevance is not enough. In the end, the message was incoherent. That is, it did not make sense to the hearers. He got their curiosity but did not get their hearts.

We all have messages that we want to share. We want to have an influence on some level. Most messages are pretty incoherent to those who do not already believe them… and that makes sharing messages harder. That is part of the reason that Evangelists (religious or otherwise) tend to share their message with those already within a similar worldview. So a Christian Evangelist will almost invariably reach out to cultural Christians or to Christians from a different, but somewhat similar, sect. It is a short-cut. The recipients of the message already are believed to have a similar culture so that it would already be culturally resonant. And if the hearer already thinks it is culturally resonant, then one may not have to prove it is transpersonal. Most people outside of one’s own social echo chamber do NOT share enough commonality to ignore these concerns.

I will “cut to the chase here. If your message is really so important and so valuable, take the time to understand its relevance to all (Transpersonally Valuable), and put it in a format that is comprehensible and resonant to the target audience (Culturally Resonant).

The 4th Umke did not do this. Was that good or bad? We will never know.

Speculating on the “Mark of the Beast”

Okay, so when I was young, like in the 1970s and 1980s, I was told in books (Hal Lindsey’s books come to mind, but there were others) and occasionally in some church groups that the “Mark of the Beast” on the forehead and hand (Rev. 13:16-17;

close up photo of hand with tattoo
Photo by Mehndi Training Center on Pexels.com

14:9-10; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4) was some sort of tattoo. I believe that the spin on it was that it would be a bar code. (Today, they might have pushed for more like a QR code.) Such a code would essentially be like government regulated credit card I suppose.

But there were problems. Human nature is likely to balk at having a barcode on one’s forehead, and probably even the hand. It is too reminiscent of slavery. (We will get back to that idea later.) So later, there was a bit of a shift among some Christians to suggest the mark would be an ultraviolet (“black light”) tattoo. These utilize dyes that are nearly invisible when exposed to visible light, but glow quite visibly under UV lighting. They would act like the visible light tattoo as described before but is less likely to be rejected societally due to human vanity. Negatively, we are starting to play more fast and loose with the idea of a mark. Is a mark that is only visible under special lighting still a mark? Maybe, but then, would a tooth filling be described as a mark then since it is visible with an fluoroscope or x-ray photography?

More recently, special new ideas for the mark have been brought up including nano-devices. RFIDs have gained a certain fascination in eschatological circles. However, we are moving still further afield from “the mark,” as well as its placement, since it is quite unlikely to end up on forehead and hand.

These ideas spring from a rather literalist interpretation of Revelation. Yet, these literalists are tending to become less and less literal in the interpretation. I thought, therefore, that I would continue the trend to be less literal.

The Revelation is an apocalyptic work written to the early church. I won’t get into theories of authorship and exact date of writing. I am not competent to evaluate these. However, it is clearly written to several relatively early and highly persecuted churches in present-day Turkey. The work appears to have two main purposes– to give warning to the churches to remain faithful to God, as well as comfort that God is ultimately in control and will prove faithful to His own.

Although some see elements in the work to suggest a late-date writing, one reason to believe that it is fairly early is that the writing uses an awful lot of imagely that would be familiar and comfortable to Jews. This could suggest that the seven churches who were the primary recipients were still predominantly of Jewish background.

When we read Scripture, we need to remember that it was written FOR US, but not, strictly speaking, TO US. John wrote his revelations for our benefit, but to the seven churches in Asia Minor.  Thus, we should be cautious of an interpretation that makes an awful lot of sense now, but would be completely mystifying then. I am not saying it is impossible that John gave a message that only we 2000 years later could understand (I believe in the possibility of predictive revelation) but we should first look elsewhere. If the primary recipients would interpret it as (A) we should first consider (A) before going to (B).

Assuming a largely Jewish or Jewish-influenced primary recipient, I would have to think that the mark on the forehead and hand would make them think of the Shema. This passage of Jewish identity. Speaking of God’s message through Moses to the people of Israel,

“Bind them as a sign on your hand and as a symbol on your forehead.”   -Deut. 6:8

Perhaps even more clearly, the same message is shared again,

“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your hearts.”   -Deut 11:18

Both passages enforce an interpretation that the Word of God is to impact ones thoughts and actions. Therefore one should hear the message of God, meditate on the message of God and act according to the message of God.

These are not the only places where such language is used. The Passover Feast, one of most important religious celebrations in the Jewish calendar was instituted in Exodus 13. In that passage, the importance of the feast is laid out:

Let it serve as a sign for you on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, so that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth.  –Ex. 13:9a

Later in the same chapter a similar wording is again used for keeping of the Passover:

“So let it be a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead, for the Lord brought us out of Egypt by the strength of His hand.”  –Ex. 13:16

In these passages, the language of signs or symbols on forehead and had suggest learning, remembering, and obeying.

Another interesting passage is Ezekiel 9:4, in talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, where

“…the Lord said to him, ‘Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”    -Ezek. 9:4b

The suggestion here is that those who are faithful to God will receive a “mark” on their foreheads by God and will be spared in the massacre. John utilizes that same imagery in Revelation 7:3 and 9:4 where the mark is described as a “seal of God” on their foreheads.

Most people I know would not accept the idea that the saved have (or will have) a physical seal placed on their foreheads. I agree and think it is meant to be more… symbolic. The mark suggests an identification for protection. In less comfortable language, it establishes the faithful as the “property of God.”

Bringing these images from Scripture to the “mark of the Beast” it seems likely that the mark is not a physical or visible mark, and the same is true of the mark or seal of God on the faithful.

The mark of the beast would then suggest belief in the message of the beast, and obedience to the beast. It may also suggest enslavement to the beast. Certainly, such marks can be read as branding for the purpose of property, and this is reinforced with the idea that only those with such a mark are able to buy and sell.

But why does this matter? Stuff matters when beliefs turn to action.

Right now we live in a time where people are rejecting vaccinations because they believe they will herald the “new world order” and will be implanted with nano-chips that will mean that they are under the control of the Antichrist. Strangely, this is a highly imaginative and non-literal interpretation from people who are alleged proponents of literal interpretation of prophecy. And, if they are wrong, they are risking the health of themselves, their children, and their neighbors. It seems to me this interpretation is not only HIGHLY dubious, but also highly destructive.

The far more likely interpretation is that one is to trust in God’s word, be faithful to God, and be obedient to God even when we live in a world of power(s) at war with God.

We really need to be cautious of interpretations of Scripture that are based on a shaky foundation. I actually have a very personal reason for this, I have heard so many discussions about what 666 (6 three score and 6) means. Some are so far from good Biblical scholarship that they are nothing more than “sanctified” numerology. That concerns me greatly, in part, because of my name. Count it out if you want. God bless.


PS. I know this is not my typical stuff on missions, but I do like to point out that theology has consequences. Missions has to be grounded in good theology, and is (unsurprisingly) damaged by bad theology.




Ethical Loyalties in the Church (by looking at the same in the military and police)

I was reading an interesting article entitled, “Why the US Military Usually Punishes Misconduct but Police Often Close Ranks.”

The article promotes the idea that while both

army authority drill instructor group
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

the military and paramilitary (police) may cover-up crimes done by members, it is far more likely for the police to do this, and more likely that the military will successfully police itself.

I had to think about this for a bit. I have never served in the police, and only interact with the police rarely (ministerially or otherwise). I did, however, serve in the US Navy. My initial reflection on the US Navy is that when something disgraceful comes up, the institution first goes into cover-up mode— and if that doesn’t work, then it goes into witchhunt mode.

But as I thought about it more, I realized that my distinct memories of these occasions of corruption stick out in my memory 30 years later, in part, because of its infrequency. As I thought about it more, I do remember distinctly a cultural attitude that when someone broke the rules, it was likely that fellow sailors would normally want justice imposed on the violator. Often the harshest judges would be peers and colleagues.

Why is this? According to the author of the article above, the military (US military at least) tends to create a culture of loyalty to the organization, while the police (at least US police forces) tend to create a culture of personal loyalty.

Let me give an example— I was on shore patrol at a liberty port in the Med (as in Mediterranean Sea). While I was there a couple of enlisted shipmates were walking a fellow sailor (a gunnersmate, or GM) back to me and the ship van. He was heavily drunk. He had gotten into an argument in a bar, and that argument had gotten violent. Being heavily drunk that violence hurt himself more than anyone or anything else, so no one at the bar wanted to press charges. I felt good. I can just get him onto the ship’s van and back to the ship before he creates any more problems. Sadly, as he was getting into the van he started loudly making drunken racist statements. I thought to myself, “Oh crap… well, at least I tried to help him.” He goes back to the ship. A few days later he went to Captain’s mast (non-judicial hearing), and then from there to a process where he was “kicked out” of the Navy.

From my example, here is my point. It never occurred to me that anything different would happen. I knew that he would not get in trouble for bad behavior in the bar IF no civilians in the bar would press charges. I knew that there would be no problems. If I could get him back on the ship at this point, about the worst thing that could happen is he might be charged with drunkenness and have a minor punishment placed on him. I also knew that once he shot out with the racial slurs that there was no coming from this. I knew that no one would cover it up or try to place the blame elsewhere. Why did I know this? Because it was understood that the gunnersmate had violated the rules of the military, and had placed shame on his own shipmates. As such, his friends and other shipmates may wish him well in life, but still recognize that he must go.

According to the author, it is more likely for paramilitary (police) forces, it is more likely that things would go differently. If a police officer behaved like the gunnersmate, rather than expressing loyalty to the police force, and hold individuals accountable when they shame their organization and colleagues, they would express loyalty to the officer and lie and do other things to shield him (or her) from prosecution and just consequences.

Cultures are never that cut and dry, and as I said, I have certainly seen cover ups in the military. Still, culture includes a bunch of tacit beliefs and assumptions about what is good or bad.

What about in church or on mission teams? What is the culture of churches and mission teams? I think it varies.  Churches especially, can embrace a war metaphor— the idea that we live in an us versus them world— good versus evil. I believe that makes the personal loyalty drive stronger. You might think that this is opposite. After all, it is the military that primarily carry out war, so shouldn’t the war metaphor promote organizational loyalty? I don’t know, but historically, the military drift most into cover-up mode during wartime. Under such stress, members of an organization will commonly feel that protecting a member means protecting the organization. Under less stress, the military will see holding members accountable maintains integrity and reputation, and THIS protects the organization.

I know it seems to make sense to cover up problems. However, accountability works better long-term.

Churches and mission teams claim to serve God. If God is the standard, then the standard is not organizational culture, or community standards. How do we demonstrate that? Toxic organizations are like toxic families— they are as sick as their secrets.

The goal is to avoid cover up (because we must hold each other accountable because of loyalty to… God). However, the goal is also to avoid witchhunt. Our goal is not to kick everyone out who fails, but in accountability, work towards repentance, recompense, and restoration.




Caught Being Weak in the Garden

Okay, it happened again. I was reading some commentary on a Biblical passage. This one was from when Jesus said to His disciples in the garden,

“My soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.”
Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

The commentary argued that Jesus was not under great stress. After all, expressing a wish to have “this cup” removed might suggest that Jesus wasn’t fully committed the Father’s will and plan. The same commentator suggested that when Jesus on the cross expressed “My God, My God. Why hast Thou forsaken Me” He was simply quoting Scripture to (allegedly) fulfill prophecy.

I have a lot of problems with this, and it makes me have a few questions:

  1. Is it possible that Jesus was fully committed to the will of the Father, while still being absolutely horrified at the path ahead? I mean, do we ever commit to something because we know it is right while overcoming the fear and stress associated with the plan?
  2. Did Jesus need the support of friends in a time of psychological and emotional stress? Is asking for help a sign of weakness…. or a sign of strength?
  3. Could it be that Jesus in time of great pain and distress felt a sense of abandonment from the Father… much as many of us can feel abandoned in times of great trials? And if this is so, does admitting this demonstrate a lack of faith, or show emotional honesty?
  4. Is it possible that the story of Jesus in the Garden was placed there to help us understand that the path of God is not easy, but we have the example of one committed to faithfulness no matter the cost? Would the story be more inspirational if Jesus was immune to sorrow, dread, stress, and pain?

I struggle understanding the motivation of undermining the pathos of the Crucifixion story. What is gained (logically, exegetically, narratively) in suggesting that Jesus did not feel the pain He quite understandably would feel, but was instead quoting lines of Scripture that were disconnected with His situation?

Generally, I think it comes from the discomfort many theologians or expositors have with feelings. Feelings are unreliable, untrustworthy. Weakness is to be denied. Many a Christian Theologian appear to prefer a Gnostic Jesus– one who is disconnected from humanity, human emotions, and physical pain.

I am reminded of the quote by B.B. Warfield

Our Lord’s emotions fulfilled themselves, as ours do, in physical reactions. He who hungered (Matt. 4:2), thirsted (John 19:20), was weary (John 4:6), who knew both physical pain and pleasure, expressed also in bodily affections the emotions that stirred his soul… Not only do we read that he wept (John 11:35) and wailed (Luke 19:41), sighed (Mark 7:34), and groaned (Mark 8:12), but we read also of his angry glare (Mark 3:5), his annoyed speech (Mark 10:14), his chiding words (e.g. Mark 3:12), the outbreaking ebullition of rage (e.g. John 11:33 and 38), of the agitation of his bearing when under strong feelings (John 11:35), the open exaltation of his joy (Luke 10:21), the unrest of his movements in the face of anticipated evils (Matt. 27:37), the loud cry which was wrung from him in his moment desolation (Matt. 27:46).”
-BB. Warfield

Paul said in II Corinthians 12 that God allows us to remain weak so that we can experience God’s grace. Strength is found in overcoming the weakness, not denying the weakness.

I have likewise heard similar words on Elijah where a commentator expressed shock that God would call such a “weak” man as Elijah… one who WHEN THREATENED WITH DEATH… runs away. I wonder whether that is the point. God works with lots of weak people. I don’t think God created any strong people, and if He did, I doubt He ever would work with them.

God only works with weak people.

Missionaries as Colonizers

The following is an extended quote from the new book by Adesegun Hammed Olayiwola, “PERSPECTIVES OF THE AFRICAN CHURCH ON AFRICAN MISSIONS: The Past, Present & Future Challenges to Missions In Africa.”  Missionaries during the colonial era struggled with their role of utilizing the advantages of having colonial powers in charge in their mission field without becoming pawns of the colonizers. Some missionaries, however, did not struggle with this as they embraced both roles. There is a lot of disagreement in this area. However, Olayiwola expresses a common African perspective– and perspective is important.

According to Lamin Sanneh, “At its most self-conscious stage, mission coincided with western colonialism, and with that juncture students of the subject have gone on to make all kinds of judgments about the intrinsic bond between the two forces.”i He claimed further that, “In the nineteenth century this idea persisted under the slogan of “Christianity and 6percent,” by which it was understood that mundane interests prospered under a religious guise. Thus mission came to acquire the unsavory odor of collusion with the colonial power.”ii Michael Crowder believed that, “the functional relationship and unity, which existed between missionaries, traders and administrators in colonial Africa, was not accidental. Early missionaries in West Africa had a dual purpose to promote legitimate trade between African and Europeans and to convert Africans to their own religion.”iii

Since missionaries, the traders and even the colonial governors and administrators knew they were British, Spanish, and Portuguese residents in various part of Africa with a common interest to protect. Okon claimed that, “they cooperated and united as vital element in the attainment of their set goals. Missionaries in critical times of need, depended on traders for funds, and relied completely on administrators for physical security and protection.”iv Mbiti even claimed that, “A Gikuyu proverb says that, there is no Roman priest and a European- both are the same!”v Although, there is a no scholarly consensus on the role of the missionaries in the colonization of Africa, Okon insisted that, “the argument seems to favor the view that some missionaries cooperated essentially with colonial authorities in the exploitation and cultural subjugation of Africa.”vi

Walter Rodney in his How Europe Underdeveloped Africa contended that missionaries were agents of imperialism. He claimed that, “The Christian missionaries were as much part of the colonizing forces as were the explorers, traders and soldiers… missionaries were agents of colonialism in the practical sense, whether or not they saw themselves in that light.”vii Okon claimed that, “Rodney accused missionaries of preaching humility and submission in the face of gross injustice, inhumanity and dehumanization. While British traders were exploiting their African customers, the missionaries preached peace, forgiveness and good neighborliness, which actually prevented genuine rebellion, self-preservation and determination. Missionaries worked towards the preservation of the status quo and upholding of the master-servant relationship between Africans and Europeans.”viii

Rodney lamented that, “The church’s role was primarily to preserve the social relations of colonialism… the Christian church stressed humility, docility and acceptance. Ever since the days of slavery in the West Indies, the church had been brought in on condition that it should not excite the African slaves with doctrine of equality before God.”ix Okon claimed that, “If it is correct that missionary sermons suppressed genuine rebellion that could have ushered in freedom for the oppressed, and then the linkage of the missionaries with all the visible evils of colonialism may be justifiable.”x

i Lamin Sanneh, Translating The Message: The Missionary Impact On Culture. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1989), 88. In Okon, 198.

ii Sanneh, (1989), 88. In Okon, 198.

iii Michael Crowder, The Story Of Nigeria. (London: Faber and Faber, 1962), 111. In Okon, 198-199.

iv Okon, 199.

v Mbiti, 231. In Okon, 199.

vi Okon, 199.

vii Rodney, 277. In Okon, 199.

viii Okon, 199.

ix Rodney, 278. In Okon, 199.

x Okon, 200.