Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: gospel

Guest Post: Death Penalty Vigil

by Emma Johnston

“One of the most effective means of disengaging the church from the work of justice is making injustice a philosophical concept” – Soong Chan Rah.

Over the past three years, I was a full time seminarian at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. From the very first class, my faith was challenged.  One of the most beautiful things of the seminary environment is that your faith is questioned, broken down, and then built up through deeper learning and understanding of Scripture and its interactions with other texts, and the ministry that we are engaging in during our internships.

In September of 2015, my small group and I endeavored to learn more about systemic issues in our world.  Our focus was the death penalty and for them, and for me, it was a chance to challenge our beliefs and to engage in a conversation that is often not had on college campuses.  We watched the movie Dead Man Walking, and some of the young women still felt like capital punishment was a viable option, whereas some were challenged to reflect more on the justice system that our country champions but on both sides, there was compassion and a willingness to listen and question themselves.

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Guest Post: Embodying the Gospel

by Brett Witcher

washing_3262c-2Read John 2:13-22

January 21, 2013 was one of the most difficult days of my life. It was one of those cold, dreary days where all you can see is gray and it feels as if you will never escape the wind that persistently cuts like a knife. Around 11:00am, dressed in my gray suit, I stood—nervous and unsure if I could get through the next few minutes—before a crowd of family and friends and began officiating the funeral of my mentor, my best friend, and my grandpa, J.C. Witcher. It’s difficult to remember exactly what was said as I tried to tell stories that reflected the life of one of the most compassionate people I had ever met. The thing I do remember sharing is the greatest lesson J.C. taught me. While he was devout in practicing the disciplines (especially prayer and reading scripture), the one thing grandpa always embodied was the truth and understanding that to follow the way of Jesus means a continual overturning of tables in our lives, so that our love for God and people can be renewed and deepened again and again. If our rules, customs, and traditions cause us to exclude or fear another person then maybe we need to rethink and redefine the meaning.

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Charlie Brown Valentine: Discussion Questions

I wrote this last year to use with my youth group after watching A Charlie Brown Valentine. It was a great discussion about God’s love in our lives.

charlie brown valentine

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Scandal 3.6: Icarus

Failure is not final.

KERRY WASHINGTONScandal has bought the Monopoly block of townhouses when it comes to effective flashbacks. In the opening flashback scene, we meet Maya, Olivia’s mother. It is a sweet scene where the teenage Olivia, complete with headphones in her ear, tells her mother goodbye before she gets on the plane that will eventually crash. It sets the tone for the rest of the episode.

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Guest Post: God’s Not Dead (2014)

God's_Not_Deadby Dr. David Baggett

The latest Christian film God’s Not Dead—inspired by the famous Nietzschean line “God is dead”—has its zealous and enthusiastic defenders along with its ardent critics. With the supporters, as a Christian I’m heartened by the central idea in the film that there are good reasons for our faith, that we need not check our brains at the door of the church. As a Christian philosopher, I’m convinced that the evidence for a generally theistic and specifically Christian worldview is strong, and, although the apologetics in the movie is cursory and quick, it gestures in promising directions. I have little doubt that the hearts of the film-makers here were in the eminently right place.

With the detractors of the film, though, I have my grave reservations. Perhaps the most serious problem the film manifests is a lack of honesty, as manifested in the various ways in which, as a movie, it is rather shoddy art. The characters tend to be one-dimensional; the movie indulges stereotypes of various sorts; much of the dialogue is laughably unrealistic. The premise of a secular college campus where there’s a conflict of ideological convictions and warring worldviews provided great fodder for a very good movie, a most engaging storyline, and believable characters. But the movie’s penchant for caricature, superficial analysis, pop psychological reduction of atheist convictions, and one spiritual sledge hammer to the head after the next resulted in an embarrassingly cheesy movie that quite failed to reach even a fraction of its potential.

Again, I don’t doubt the sincerity of the film-makers, but as someone who studied philosophy in a state university for both my undergraduate degree and doctorate, and did so as a Christian, I found the execution of the central premise to be sadly deficient. There are all sorts of Christians in academic programs—in philosophy and otherwise—in various and sundry state universities, not to mention immersed in secular contexts of other sorts, and attempting to conduct themselves with integrity and thoughtfulness. Each day brings new challenges to their faith, their reputation, their success in their chosen field, to their intelligence and ingenuity and creativity and faithfulness—and many look for and find new and innovative ways to think Christianly and be salt and light in a thousand ways on a regular basis, sometimes in big and dramatic fashion, but usually in quiet, understated ways. They do their work, share their testimony, value excellence, model the love of Christ, and in the process build bridges, encourage dialogue, rely on God’s direction and empowerment, and in the process showcase reasons for the hope they have within. Most of us in this country, however much we may be challenged for our faith, don’t experience anything like real persecution; to think otherwise trivializes the real persecution endured by many Christians in other parts of the world—not usually at the hands of secular humanists, incidentally.

God’s Not Dead is no doubt meant as an encouragement to Christians, and especially Christian young people whose faith gets assailed at public universities and elsewhere all too often. I am a strong believer in the importance of offering such encouragement and doing the hard work of equipping young people to know not just what they believe, but why they believe it.

But I don’t think a movie that depicts atheists as universally smug, arrogant, irrational, unreasonable, and obnoxious—all in patent contrast with brilliant, squeaky clean-cut, hand-raising Newsboys concert-goers—is the way to do it. The atheistic philosophy professor in the movie is so unbelievably harsh and dogmatic that it’s unlikely that what he was doing in his class is even legal; it’s certainly not in the spirit of philosophy rightly understood. However much some Christians might like to cast themselves as victims of such intellectual snobbery and atheistic animus, real-life philosophy professors anywhere near the vicinity of this fictional portrayal are, in my experience in this field anyway, exceedingly rare, if not nonexistent. Sure there are dogmatic atheists, and even fundamentalist-type obnoxious atheists, just as there are obnoxious Christian fundamentalists. Painting either group as a whole with such a broad and uncharitable brush is intellectually dishonest. If we don’t like to be stereotyped, pigeon-holed, and summarily dismissed in this fashion, we should refrain doing it with our interlocutors, whom we’ve been called to love and for whom Jesus died.

Rather than congratulating ourselves for not being counted among the unbelievers, and laud bad films just because we like their conclusions or resolutions, we need to learn how to listen to our secular friends, build relationships with them, reach out to them, and meet them where they are. As the opportunity arises, we need to share with them the good news of the Gospel and the reasons for the hope within us, and, yes, the reasons to believe that Christianity is true. But such preparation takes serious work; loving God with all of our minds isn’t something we’re able to do by reading a few books and immediately dazzling crowds and winning them over. It takes due diligence, study, work, preparation, and it’s a process that, for those called to do it, will involve gradual growth and development, occasional missteps and stumbles, but a steadily growing repertoire of apologetic resources at one’s disposal to use for God’s glory.

The idea that a college freshman, after reading a few books, can reduce a trained secular philosophy professor nearly to tears and systematically dismantle his worldview is an insult to thoughtful atheists and a trivialization of Christian apologetics. It’s not that easy, but it’s vitally important work. We need to pat ourselves less on the back and get busy doing the real work of preparation, and to do so with the intention of winning people, not just arguments.

Dr. David Baggett is Professor of Philosophy at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He is the co-editor of the book “Hitchcock and Philosophy.” 


Guest Post: Armor of Light

Slide3Rev. Sarah Wastella is the Associate Pastor at Larchmont United Methodist in Norfolk, Virginia. Her blog is She Offered Them Christ.
“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.  Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.  Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:11-14 NRS).

(Image courtesy of thegic.org)
We often think of armor as something that protects us from an outward attack, a defense mechanism, but what if the armor of light also protects others from our sin, which emanates from within?  Sin spreads quickly, like darkness.  Turn off a switch, and, instantly, the room goes black.  A bulb finally burns out and dies, and the desk is shrouded in darkness.  It can happen in the blink of an eye, and so can sin.  One minute you are out having a good time, and next thing you know one drink has turned into drunkenness, and then debauchery.  It does not have to be this way.  Indeed, not every drink turns into regret, heartbreak, and a run in with the legal authorities, but too many do.
Modern culture, like the Roman culture from which Paul writes in his letter to the Roman church, has a preference for alcohol.  Combine this with our inclination to sin, and you have a devastating combination.  We need protection for ourselves and for others, not just from alcohol abuse, but any course of action that leads to sin, and gives birth to evil.  Out of this context, Paul urges us to carefully consider what our decisions will bring about.  Do not focus on the body, but the spirit in union with the body.  The body will consume well past its point of being sated.  The spirit, a gift from God, is not a glutton, nor will it deny another for its own gratification.  Putting on the armor of light, this Christ-like aura that seeks sanctification over licentiousness, is to seal our sin within, and refuse to be swayed by the sinful influences of the outside.
Each day that passes brings the Day of Resurrection ever closer.  While we do not know when it shall come, we do know that we are to live each day as if it will be our last time to show mercy, reveal God’s truth in love, and proclaim the Gospel of salvation through Christ Jesus.  Our sinful selves would gladly put that on hold to accomplish our own will, but that kind of living is what necessitated the coming of Christ in the first place.  There will always be those who neglect the spiritual and over indulge the physical, yet Christ calls out from the lives of his disciples who willingly take on this persona of light and truth.  Darkness is thick and heavy.  It has to be to cover the multitude of sins that occur in its midst, but the light is gossamer veil of God’s grace, through which sin is held at bay.  We need that reprieve to put all of our effort and beings into the work of the Kingdom.  As it inches ever closer, our work is ever more imperative.  Our time to celebrate will come, and we will revel in the glory of God’s presence for all time when the Kingdom is brought to fruition on that day.  For now, the armor of light lifts our burdens from us, freeing us for joyful obedience, and protecting us from our darker selves.
Holy Spirit,
Surround me with your presence.
Swathe me in guidance and encouragement.
My sin would gladly break out and contaminate my life.
The sin of others entices me to follow.
Let Christ be ever in my thoughts and on my heart.
As his sacrifice clothes me in righteousness,
May his Gospel clothe me in light.
Fend off the darkness,
And make me a beacon for those who would seek refuge from it.
I am not perfect, Lord,
But willing.
Through you, I am able to do all things.
May they be done for your honor and glory.

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