Saturday, March 31, 2018

Help Lee Davis Get a New Roof on His House

My friend Lee Davis called and shared that he needs his roof fixed, and needs some funding to do this.

Some of you know the story of how Linda and I became friends with Lee.

Lee has created a GoFundMe page. If God leads you to donate, thank you!

Here's a photo of myself, Lee, and John Standifer.


Image may contain: one or more people and people standing

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

ONE-HOUR SEMINARY TONIGHT - Why I Believe Jesus Was Raised From the Dead - 9 PM EST

Why do I believe the resurrection of Christ happened, in history?

Tonight on One-Hour Seminary I will answer this.

Facebook Live.

9 - 10 PM EST.

Thirty minutes of live teaching, followed by thirty minutes of live Q&A.

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God(May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018).

I am currently writing:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Presence-Driven Church Is Not Something You Shop For

Image may contain: drink and plant
Glass of water, at Olive Garden

When Jesus said, "I will build my church," this did not mean a church that existed for the sake of meeting people's needs. Rather, the church would be a temple that God inhabits. Jesus's followers would gather to meet with God. This distinction is important, since Consumer Churches have formed which have the people in mind more than they have God in heart.

The basic question of the Church is not, "What do the people want?" In the early, Upper Room Church, newcomers were not asked if they enjoyed the service. In Real Church people meet the One they need. As this happens, deep wounds are healed, and deep needs are met. The distinction is between consumer needs and existential needs. The difference is between shopping and worshiping, purchasing and being-bought.

When Christ found and rescued me forty-eight years ago, I found what I needed, but not in some consumer sense. I was not shopping for a religion. I had been met by God! The longing and emptiness in my heart discovered its fulfillment. This longing was like the "great sadness" in The Shack. Roger Olson writes:

"I believe there are such amazing truths in The Shack that God might use it to take away our Great Sadness. That's its purpose. The author surely wrote it with the hope that through it God would heal wounds of distrust and bring some readers back to himself." (Olson. Finding God in the Shack: Seeking Truth in a Story of Evil and Redemption, Kindle Locations 101-102)

This forms what is referred to as "the existential argument for believing in God. In its simplest form, it says that we are justified in believing in God solely because doing so satisfies certain emotional and spiritual needs." (Clifford Williams. Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith, Kindle Locations 87-88)

I am a follower of Jesus because: 

1) I believe it makes sense, or is true, and 

2) it meets existential needs. 

The second says, Christ has occupied the Pascal-type abyss in my soul. This is not something you shop for. It is Someone who has captured your entire being.

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God(May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018).

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Paul Vitz & the Psychology of Atheism

Here I've put together five things I've written on the psychology of atheism, taken from NYU Prof. of Psychology Paul Vitz. In addition to the article cited below, see Vitz, Faith of the Fatherless; The Psychology of Atheism

Can there be a "psychology of atheism?" Of course there can. Atheists are human, and are not psychologically neutral. And, BTW, atheists are not really "freethinkers," if this means thought unencumbered by genetics and personal history. And further, "freethinking atheist" is likely a contradiction, since on atheism-as-naturalism "free thinking" does not exist. 

The Psychology of Atheism: Part I

In "The Psychology of Atheism," by Paul Vitz, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at New York University. (In Dallas Willard, ed.; A Place for Truth) Vitz talks about the psychological reasons for unbelief. "Most psychologists view with some alarm an attempt to propose a psychology of atheism. At the very least, such a project puts many psychologists on the defensive and gives them at least a small taste of their own medicine. Psychologists are always observing and interpreting others, and it is time that some of them learn from their own experience what it is like to be put under the microscope of psychology theory and evidence." (136)

Vitz begins by giving two points that bear on his basic assumptions. First, Vitz assumes "that the major barriers to God are not rational but in a general sense can be called psychological... I am quite convinced that for every person strongly swayed by rational argument, there are countless others more affected by nonrational, psychological factors. The human heart: no one can truly fathom it or know all of its deceits, but at least it is the proper task of the psychologist to try." (Ib.) Psychological barriers to belief in God are both many and "of great importance." (Ib.) Further, "people vary greatly in the extent to which these factors have been present in their lives." (137)

Secondly, "in spite of serious psychological barriers to belief, all of us have a free choice to accept or reject God." (Ib.)

Vitz believes there is "a widespread assumption throughout much of the intellectual community that belief in God is based on all kids of irrational, immature needs and wishes, but that somehow or other skepticism or atheism is derived from a rational, non-nonsense appraisal of the way things really are." (137-138) 

Vitz then gives his own story of how he became an atheist as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan in the 1950s. One of the major factors for this was "general socialization," though Vitz was unaware of it at the time. He was embarrassed about his upbringing in Cincinnati and "wanted to take part and be comfortable in the new, exciting, glamorous, secular world into which I was moving at that time at the University of Michigan as an undergraduate." (139) Such "socialization pressure" has pushed many people away from God-belief "and all that this belief is associated with for them." (Ib.)

Another kind of socialization matter for Vitz's atheistic turn was that he desired to "be accepted by powerful and influential psychologists in my field. In particular, I wanted to be accepted by the powerful and influential psychologists in my field." (139)

A final, superficial-but-very-strong-irrational-pressure to become an atheist, was "personal convenience." (139) Simply put, it is inconvenient "to be a serious believer in today's powerful neo-pagan world." Which meant, for Vitz, the world of academia. "It's not hard to imagine the pleasuresthat would have to be rejected if I became a serious believer." (140) And the time it would require.

For Vitz, his "decision" to become an atheist was more a matter of his will than his intellect. Because of his "personal needs for a convenient lifestyle," and his "professional needs to be accepted as part of academic psychology," "atheism was simply the best policy." (141) But there are deeper psychological reasons for atheism, to which Vitz then turns.

Vitz has sympathy with atheists who have deeper psychological reasons for being an atheist. They are often the most passionate of atheists, and not just unstudied Facebook atheists. Vitz begins by talking about Sigmund Freud's psychology of religious belief, because Vitz is going to use Freud in forming a psychology of atheism.

The Psychology of Atheism: Part II

Our front porch - a great place
for theological thinking.
Paul Vitz, in his presentation "The Psychology of Atheism," looks at deeper psychological reasons for atheism. (In Willard, A Place for Truth) And why not? Lots of psychological work has been done on religious belief and behavior, and lots of internet ad hominem "analysis" goes on by the village atheists among us. So why not a psychology of atheism, subjecting it to analysis? Atheists are no more immune or psychological "neutral" than are theists. Indeed, for most of the confessing atheists I have met I have concluded that their nonbelief is far more related to, e.g., emotional and psychological issues than being a result of "objective, rational thought." This is not a criticism of atheism as such. Theists suffer this, too. It is, however, a criticism of the myth of epistemic neutrality and objectivity. And this also cuts both ways, affecting theists who claim a neutral, fully objective and "rational" view of things.

Perhaps the most famous, and infamous, psychology of religion is Freud's The Future of an Illusion. It is to Freud that Vitz now turns.

"Freud was the first prominent psychologist to propose that people's belief in God could not be trusted because of its origins. In other words, what Freud did was take the ad hominem argument and make it a very popular and influential one." (141) Uh-oh. Ad hominem arguments, in logic, are a no-no, an epistemic non-event.

Freud argued that we can't trust the source of religious beliefs. Religion is neither true nor false, but "is a psychological illusion that arose from our primitive needs for protection. Our basic, infantile, unconscious needs for a father who would look after us, and therefore an illusion." (142) Because of this we cannot accept the truth value of theism.

But this is not convincing. Freud thought that all the contributions of civilization, including science and literature and even psychoanalysis, could be understood as due to infantile, unconscious needs. "So," Vitz says, "if the origins of a belief make us no longer accept its truth value, then according to Fried, we shouldn't accept the truth value of all the other accomplishments of civilization that he said arose from the same kind of motivation." (142)

Further, Freud claimed that among the oldest psychological needs of the human race is the need for a loving, all-powerful father. But that is unconvincing, because if it were true than most or all religions would project the idea of "God" as a loving, protecting, all-powerful "father." But this is not the case. "Many religions don't have that understanding of God at all, particularly many of the pre-Christian or pre-Jewish religions in the Mediterranean area. Some major religions either have no God or their understanding of God is quite different."

Vitz thinks Freud's assumption of a universal, human need of this type is unconvincing. Because were it true, then we'd find "the same kind of religion everywhere we looked." (142)

Next: Vitz looks at the Feuerbachian roots of Freud's atheism.

The Psychology of Atheism: Part III

NYU psychologist Paul Vitz, in his presentation "The Psychology of Atheism," looks at deeper psychological reasons for atheism. (In Willard, A Place for Truth)

See my two previous posts on this here and here.

Vitz looks at the atheism of the psychologist Freud. Freud's atheism comes from what has been called the "projection theory" of German philosopher-theologian Ludwig Feuerbach. Vitz writes: "When Freud was writing his Future of an Illusion in the 1920s, he was updating Feuerbach." (142)

Freud's atheism is not itself part of his psychoanalysis. Vitz writes: "The thing to keep in mind is this: Freud had very little experience, maybe none at all, with the psychological study of people who believed in God. (143) Freud published no case histories of people who believed in God at the time of their psychoanalysis. "So Freud was really not an expert on the unconscious psychology of people who believed in God." (Ib.) Freud, therefore, did not give us a good theory of religious belief since his idas are not psychoanalytically rooted and are not at all based on much personal experience with God-believers. Freud merely warmed up Feuerbach's projection theory. This is not good scholarship.

Feuerbach's theory is found in his The Essence of Christianity. Feuerbach wrote:

  • What man misses - whether this be an articulate and therefore conscious, or an unconscious, need - that is his God. 
  • Man projects his nature into the world outside himself before he finds it in himself.
  • To live in projected dream-images is the essence of religion. Religion sacrifices reality to the projected dream. . .
Elsewhere Vitz explains: "What Freud did with this argument was to revive it in a more eloquent form, and publish it at a later time when the audience desiring to hear such a theory was much larger. And, of course, somehow the findings and theory of psychoanalysis were implied as giving the theory strong support."

"Strangely enough, however, Freud has inadvertently given us a basic theory for understanding why people would not believe in God, why people would be atheists!" (In Willard, op. cit., 143) The projection theory cuts both ways. To understand this Vitz looks at the one idea Freud is famous for, and which is central to his theory: the "Oedipus Complex."

Next Psychology of Atheism post: Freud's Oedipus Complex & atheism as an example of Oedipal wish fulfillment.

The Psychology of Atheism: Part IV

NYU psychologist Paul Vitz, in his presentation "The Psychology of Atheism," looks at deeper psychological reasons for atheism. (In Willard, A Place for Truth)

Atheists have a psyche. Let's look into it! (At least theists can affirm that atheists have psyches. On atheism-as-philosophical naturalism nobody has a "psyche." Hence there can be no "psychology" of anything. Neurobiological explanations may be used, which have their own philosophical problems.)

The "Oedipus complex" was central to Freud's psychoanalytic theory, even as he applied it to religious belief. Vitz writes: "The interesting thing about the Oedipus complx is that Freud said it's universal. There's no reason to believe this, but Freud argued that it is universal, that it is unconscious, and in the case of the male child, the unconscious desire is to reject or remove and kill his father and to have some kind of erotic possession of the mother." (143)

Say "whew"... and thank God that this is not common (says Vitz, who doesn't find this kind of thing in his own counseling work)!

But what does this have to do with God? Freud took his Oedipus theory and said people link their own fathers with God. God, said Freud, is a "father figure and our attitude toward God and our father are very similar." (144)

Freud thought this explained God-belief. Vitz says it is not universal, as Freud thought. But, ironically, if Freud's eccentric Oedipus theory explains anything, it explains atheism. Vitz says:

"Since Freud proposed that God is a father figure, this suggests that we should all have an unconscious desire to kill God, to be independent of God, to have the world the way we want it. In a sense, what he's saying is that an atheist has an unresolved Oedipus complex because normally the father is too big to kill and the child can't get away with it. And so, instead of killing his father, the child identifies with the aggressor, his father, and represses these aggressive and sexual desires, which then remain unconscious." (144)

Freud thinks all of us have a desire to kill God. Vitz thinks Freud is on to something here. Vitz: "I would propose that atheism is an example of Oedipal wish fulfillment. That is, it's an unresolved Oedipus complex in the person." OK. But Vitz does not think "Oedipal wish fulfillment" is anywhere near "universal." So Vitz thinks we need to go deeper. This brings us to the "theory of the defective father."

I'll explain this in my next post. For now I cannot begin to tell you how many atheists I have met who seem to me to especially be reacting to their fathers.

The Psychology of Atheism: Part V

NYU psychologist Paul Vitz, in his presentation "The Psychology of Atheism," looks at deeper psychological reasons for atheism. (In Willard, A Place for Truth)

See my four previous posts on this hereherehere, and here.

Freud said:

"Psychoanalysis, which has taught us the intimate connection between the father complex and belief in God, has shown us that the personal God is logically nothing but an exalted father and daily demonstrates to us how youthful persons lose their religious belief as soon as the authority of their father has broken down." (144)

Vitz calls this "the theory of the defective father." The claim here is that "once a child is disappointed in
and loses his or her respect for the earthly father, then belief in a heavenly father becomes impossible." Fathers can and do lose their authority and disappoint their children. This is what happened to Freud himself.

Freud's father, Jacob, was a great disappointment, even worse. His father was weak, unable to support his own family, and a wimp in his non-response to anti-Semitism. One time an anti-Semite called Jacob a "dirty Jew" and knocked his hat off. Jacob refused to respond, and young Sigmund was disgusted when he heard about this. Vitz catalogues other reasons for Freud's antipathy towards his father.

Vitz cites other famous atheists who had "defective fathers, to include Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Madeleine Murray O'Hare. O'Hare's own son has written, e.g., about the hatred her mother had for his grandmother. Once she tried to kill her dad with a ten-inch butcher knife!

Vitz writes quite a bit about the atheist psychologist Albert Ellis, who may have been in denial of his hatred towards his father. And then there's orphaned child Baron d'Holbach, Bertrand Russell, Nietzsche (whose "life fits the theory about as well as any"), Jean Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus. And Gene Roddenberry ("Star Trek") and Russell Baker and...  on and on...

Vitz adds, "for those whose atheism has been conditioned by a father who rejected, denied, hated, manipulated or physically or sexually abused them, there must be understanding." (151)

One more personal point. Whenever I see a father who is a religious "Christian fundamentalist" I am concerned for their children. I met, in my 11 years at Michigan State University, many kids of fundamentalist dads who had rejected "Christianity." They did not know that the so-called "Christianity" of their fathers was not the actual thing, and that the meaning of "fundamentalism" is: 1) no "fun," 2) too much "damn," and 3) not enough "mental." No wonder they rejected this!

(For Vitz's full work on the psychology of atheism see his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism.)

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God(May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018).

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Money Can't Buy You Life Satisfaction

Image result for john piippo happy
Store, in Ann Arbor
Berkeley sociologist Amitai Etzioni's Happiness Is the Wrong Metric: A Liberal Communitarian Response to Populism, is available FREE for Kindle.

I'm reading it this afternoon. 

Early in the book Etzioni cites massive sociological date supoorting the idea that increased income adds nothing to life satisfaction, beyond a point.

Here are some quotes.

There is a "rising disconnect between income and happiness."

"The preponderance of the social scientific literature suggests that once income reaches a certain threshold, additional income creates little additional satisfaction." 

"One’s socioeconomic status has a meager effect on one’s “sense of well-being” and no significant effect on one’s life satisfaction."

"Jonathan Freedman discovered that levels of reported happiness do not vary greatly among the members of different economic classes, with the exception of the very poor, who tend to be less happy than others."

"A 2010 study by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton identified the point after which there is less correlation between additional income and additional happiness: $75,000 (Kahneman and Deaton 2010). The study found that while a positive relationship existed between income and life evaluation,3 higher income did not improve emotional well-being4 (See Kahneman and Deaton 2010). Hence, whereas life evaluation rises steadily with increases in income, emotional well-being does not progress once an annual income of $75,000 is reached."

The preponderance of the evidence suggests that income above a certain level does not buy much additional happiness."

Individual happiness seems to be determined by one’s income relative to others, rather than one’s absolute income. One interpretation of this claim is the familiar concept of “keeping up with the Joneses”—an expression that captures the use of goods in a status competition among members of the community. Goods are used as visible markers of one’s standing in this never-ending race. This explains why an increase in a nation’s nation’s collective wealth often fails to increase reported happiness. If practically everyone has three televisions and two cars, owning three televisions and two cars may buy little pride relative to others. Moreover, even very wealthy people can always find someone who earns more than they do. The same factor also seems to explain why people in small towns are happier than those in big cities."

Friday, March 23, 2018



Our Pursuit Conference coming up for Thursday March 29th through Saturday March 31st for any 6th-12th grader. 

For our conference we will have a few people coming to share with our students. This includes and is not limited to:

Debbie Church will be sharing with us on Friday Night March 30th 
on how God leaves no one behind. He goes after His lost kids. When He looks at the world He sees the wounds and longings. Do we see what He sees? Where is our heart matching His heart both for those of the church and those of the world?
Debbie will also be doing a workshop on Saturday afternoon which she is calling "10 Hebrew words everyone should know." We cannot wait to have Debbie with us!

Patrick Taylor will be closing out our conference on Saturday Night March 31st. 
Patrick is the Young Life Leader for Monroe High School. His heart and passion to see students engaged in a life with Christ is contagious. He will be sharing with us how we are called to treat others and represent Jesus in everything we do and say. We are excited to have Patrick with us this year!

If you would like more information and even to register your student for our conference please check Redeemer's website!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Real Historians Consider a Supernatural Hypothesis

Shelby Mustang at our Ford dealership (just looking!)

This afternoon, in personal preparation for Easter week, plus my One-Hour Seminary presentation on Jesus' resurrection (3/27/18, 9 PM EST, Facebook Live), I am reading two books by N. T. Wright. 

They are Wright's massive The Resurrection of the Son of God, and The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion

Today, in Revolution, I read what may be the best presentation of "crucifixion" available.

And in Resurrection, Wright's chapters on ancient views of death and the afterlife are excellent.

In reading Resurrection I laughed, just five minutes ago. (I don't laugh a lot, in spite of being one of the happiest persons alive.) 

As Wright presents a historical case for the bodily resurrection of Jesus, we know some scholars are incapable of reasoning historically since they - by fiat, and by worldview - automatically rule out non-scientific, supernatural explanations. 

My funny moment came when Wright cites New Testament scholar Michael Goulder. (I read this book, edited by Goulder, in 1979.) If you are a professional theologian, as I am, get ready to be happy.

"Goulder is a good example of this tendency [to auto-reject the supernatural]. ‘We should’, he writes, ‘always prefer the natural hypothesis [as opposed to the supernatural one], or we shall fall into superstition.’ The natural/supernatural distinction itself, and the near-equation of ‘supernatural’ with ‘superstition’, are scarecrows that Enlightenment thought has erected in its fields to frighten away anyone following the historical argument where it leads. It is high time the birds learned to take no notice." (Wright, N. T.. Resurrection Son of God, Kindle Locations 32434-32437)

I'll explain more this coming Tuesday.


My first two books are...

Praying: Reflection on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing...

Technology and Spiritual Formation

How God Changes the Human Heart: A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation

God-Centered Worship Devolved Into Human-Centered Happiness (The Presence-Driven Church)

Through a glass brick

New Testament scholar Gordon Fee called it the "presence motif." It runs like a river from Genesis through Revelation. It's in the garden of Eden, the throne and crystal sea of Revelation, the "for his name's sake" of Psalm 23, and the "hallowed be Your name" of the Lord's Prayer. It's why "better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere." It's reflected in the diminutiveness of humanity before God, in "what is man that you are mindful of him?"

The central figure in Scripture, about whom all things find their meaning, before whom all creation bows before, is God. Not us. It's all about God's presence, with his people.

The history of the Church reveals a battle to retain the presence motif, and sometimes failing. Church becomes a matter of us, not God. We see this in the original garden, in the golden calf, in the Entertainment Church, in the Corinthians' misuse of spiritual gifts, in the overturned tables in the Temple courtyard, in the nature of temptation, and in Jesus's "you cannot serve both God and Money."

The choices are - Who do you belong to? What do you exist for? Will it be a life of seeking self-pleasure and "happiness," or a life seeking the presence of God?

Years ago, in seminary, I took a class on Karl Barth. We had to read portions of his Church Dogmatics (multi-volume, 6,000,000 words). Barth's magnum opus was a protest against the Church of Self. John Jefferson Davis writes:

'Karl Barth's massive theological project in his Church Dogmatics can be seen as one long tremendous protest against the man-centered orientation of liberal Protestant theology from Schleiermacher down to the present: "man, namely his piety ... had become its object of study and its theme. Around this it revolved and seemed to revolve without release . . . here man was made great at the cost of God-the divine God who is something other than man, who sovereignly confronts him, who immovably and unchangeably stands over against him as the Lord, Creator, and Redeemer." (John Jefferson Davis. Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence, Kindle Locations 2480-2486).

Barth called for "a new Copernican revolution - a return to "God as primary Subject" in the worship and life of evangelical churches." (Ib.)

Barth protested against the Church's "turn to the human subject." Were Barth alive today, he would write 6,000,000 more words in protest of churches that exist to please people, rather than to please God. (Seen in expressions such as, "I liked/didn't like the worship"; "This church does/does not meet my needs." "What can we do to attract people?")

I write more extensively about the Presence Motif in chapter three of Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Light Penetrated the Darkness

I was waiting at Friendly Ford for my son Josh's car to get new tires.

I was sitting in a waiting area, facing a glass brick wall. The wall looked something like this.

Image result for glass brick wall

The glass bricks were colorless, distorting what was on the other side.

I wondered what it would be like to take a photo, up close, looking through the glass.

I captured four of the bricks and, to my surprise, this was the photo.

I liked the lower left block. When I got home I isolated and enlarged it. Here it is.

Looking at it, this came to me. There's an angel in the upper left corner, emanating white light, penetrating darkness, transforming all it touches.

The light shines in the darkness, 
and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:5

Book Bargain of the Day

N. T. Wright's The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion, is only $1.99 for your Kindle.

Editorial Reviews


“With this work, N.T. Wright topples the simplistic, personalized view of the cross and the bloodthirsty God that once wrecked my own faith. Instead, we find the cross illuminated by a God that invites us to bring goodness into this world instead of trying to escape it.” (Mike McHargue, author of Finding God in the Waves and host of The Liturgists Podcast and Ask Science Mike)

“The question ‘Why did Jesus have to die?’ has haunted the human race for two thousand years. Wright locates the crucifixion in the sweep of Israel’s story (and ours) with power, depth, and freshness of thought.” (John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Church and author of All The Places To Go)

“Many have wondered where N.T. Wright stood in the atonement debate. He applies his story of Israel and the church to the cross, setting it into a historical and narrative matrix that sheds light on the heart of the gospel that comes from the heart of God’s love.” (Scot McKnight, author of The King Jesus Gospel)

“Wright’s unwavering faith in the resurrection is quite evident as he defends the Easter narratives on historical and theological grounds.” (America Magazine)

“From the day Christ was crucified his followers have sought to understand the meaning of the cross. Wright has written one of the most important books on this subject ever written. Something deeper, more revolutionary, happened on the cross. This book will help you discover the meaning of the cross.” (Adam Hamilton, author of Making Sense of the Bible)

“Relevant Recommends: Wright invites us to explore the crucifixion within the broader story of what God is doing in creation” (Relevant)

“N. T. Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus revolutionized my theology. As I read The Day the Revolution Began, I kept thinking that it will similarly revolutionize the understanding of a new generation of readers. It is lucid, engaging, thorough, compelling, and profoundly important.” (Brian D. McLaren, author of We Make the Road By Walking)

“In his new book, Wright explains that Jesus’ death does more than just get us into heaven.” (Christianity Today)

“Wright’s bracing and thought-provoking exegesis should inform and encourage everyone concerned with Christianity’s continuing vitality.” (Booklist (Starred Review))

“Offers a comprehensive interpretation of Jesus’s sacrifice and its significance for the Christian Faith” (Publishers Weekly)

“A thought-provoking book…both simple and world-shaking. Highly recommended.” (Library Journal (Starred Review))

“Wonderfully rich and provocative . . . this book could be entitled Your Cross Is Too Small. Our individualistic views of the atonement and, for that matter, the gospel, don’t begin to do justice to the full implications of the New Testament understanding of the implications of Jesus’s death and resurrection.” (The Covenant Companion)

From the Back Cover

When Jesus of Nazareth died the horrible death of crucifixion at the hands of the Roman army, nobody thought him a hero. His movement was over. Nothing had changed. This was the sort of thing that Rome did best. Caesar was on his throne. Death, as usual, had the last word.
Except that in this case it didn’t. As Jesus’s followers looked back on that day, they came up with the shocking, scandalous, nonsensical claim that his death had launched a revolution. That by 6:00 p.m. on that dark Friday the world was a different place. They believed that with this event the one true God had suddenly and dramatically put into operation his plan for the rescue of the world. They saw it as the day the revolution began.”
Leading Bible scholar, Anglican bishop, and bestselling author N. T. Wright argues that the church has lost touch with the revolutionary nature of the cross. Most Christians have been taught a reduced message that the death of Jesus was all about “God saving me from my ‘sin’ so that I could ‘go to heaven.’” According to Wright, this version misconstrues why Jesus had to die, the nature of our sins, and what our mission is in the world today.
In his paradigm-shifting book Surprised by Hope, Wright showed that the Bible’s message is not that heaven is where we go in the future; rather, the Bible sees the primary movement as heaven coming down to earth, redeeming the world, beginning now. In this companion book, Wright shows how Christianity’s central story tells how this revolution began on a Friday afternoon two thousand years ago and continues now through the church’s work today. Wright seeks to wake up the church to its own story, to invite us to join in Jesus’s work of redeeming the world—to join his revolution.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Palm Sunday - Jesus Comes to "Hosanna" Us

In Jerusalem

This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Easter week. For those of us who are Jesus-followers, this is the turning point of human history, the fulcrum that tilts the universe from darkness to light.

We read about that first Palm Sunday in Mark 1:1-11, and Matthew 21:4-5.
1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.' "

[Matthew 21:4-5 adds these verses:
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
 5 "Say to the Daughter of Zion,
      'See, your king comes to you,
   gentle and riding on a donkey,
      on a colt, the foal of a donkey.' " 

Back to Mark... 

4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, "What are you doing, untying that colt?" 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 
9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
   "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
 10 "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!"
   "Hosanna in the highest!" 


When the people saw Jesus, and began shouting “Hosanna!,” they were calling out to Jesus, “Save us!” 

“Rescue us!” 

Hosanna is a Hebrew word (hoshi`ah-na) that had become a greeting or shout of praise, but actually meant "Save!" or "Help!" Not surprisingly, forms of this word were used to address the king with a need (cf. 2 Sam 14:4; 2 Kings 6:26). The palm branches are symbolic of a victorious ruler. 

"Hosanna" has the sense of immediacy. It would be correct to translate it as, "Please save us, and do it now!"

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (rather than a stallion), in his upside-down Kingdom way, desperation was in the air. The Jewish citizens were under the heavy yoke of the Roman Empire. They had heard about Jesus. Rumor was that he claimed to be a king. Even, the Messiah. When word got out that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem, he was greeted as a king. 

There were shouts of “Blessed is the King of Israel!” Clearly,  the people saw in Jesus the answer to their nationalistic, messianic hopes. 

Earlier, a crowd had wanted to make Jesus king (6:15). Now, this gathering was recognizing him as king, in the city of the great King. Here was the great dream of a Davidic ruler who would come and liberate Israel, establish peace, and subdue the Gentiles

The way Jesus entered Jerusalem was a deliberate, prophetic “Zechariah 9:9 act.” Zech. 9:9 reads: Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt. 

Jesus enters Jerusalem in a kingly way, and the people respond in a kingly fashion. The imagery is regal, even messianic, though this is a humble Messiah. As the people spread their garments (NIV: their cloaks) on the road, a "red carpet" of sorts is produced. 

He has come to rescue them. They people were about to be "hosanna-ed." But it was not going to happen as they imagined. Because Jesus is a different kind of king. He will "hosanna" the world by dying on a cross.

The meaning Jesus attaches to his triumphal entry is different from the peoples' expectations. N.T. Wright says, "That, perhaps, is where we can learn the most from this tory today."
People often turn to God when there’s something they want, and they want it to look a certain way. Here, in our Palm Sunday story, everyone wants Jesus to ride into the city and be the kind of king they say he ought to be. “Help!” “Save the life of my sick child!” “Pay my bills!” “Give us peace, now!”

Jesus does intend to respond to the people’s cries. He has come to seek and save the lost. He has come for people who need help. He will be there for people who are sick and need a doctor. But he is not coming to be all things to all people. He is not riding into Jerusalem to conform to the expectations of the crowds. He is going to answer, in his own way.

The people wanted a prophet. This prophet, Jesus, will tell the people they are under coming judgment. 

They wanted a Messiah. This one is going to be enthroned on a pagan cross. 

The crowds wanted to be rescued from evil and oppression. Jesus is going to do that, but in a far, far deeper way than they could envision.

Jesus is going beneath surface evil, into the depths of the human heart. N.T. Wright says: “Precisely because Jesus says ‘yes’ to their desires at the deepest level, he will have to say ‘no’ or ‘wait’ to the desires they are conscious of, and expressed.” (NTW, Matt, 68)

Once you cry out “Hosanna,” Jesus will “hosanna” you more thoroughly than you imagine, more deeply than you wanted. The hosanna-ing Jesus brings is not just a band aid. On Palm Sunday we are given “an object lesson in the mismatch between our expectations and God’s answer.” (NTW, Matthew, 69)

The bad news is that the crowds are going to be disappointed. The good news is that their disappointment is on a surface, shallow level. “Deep down, Jesus’ arrival at the great city is indeed the moment when salvation is dawning… The “Hosannas” were justified… they were correct…. but not for the reasons they supposed. To learn this lesson is to take a large step towards wisdom and humility, and towards genuine Christian faith.” (NTW, Matt, 69)


1. If you are a Jesus-follower, you have been hosanna-ed. You called. He answered. He came to your rescue. Think of how God has become your Rescuer. Make a list of things he has hosanna-ed you from. Carry it with you, and give God thanks.

2. Christ has not stopped loving you. He remains your Redeemer, your Rescuer. If there is an area in your life that needs hosanna-ing, identify it, and cry out to him in prayer.

My first two books are...

Praying: Reflection on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing...

Technology and Spiritual Formation

How God Changes the Human Heart: A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation