The Story of Scripture Is a Story of War

Jul 23, 2014 | Trevin Wax

M00050220The story of Scripture is a story of war—a cosmic battle between a good King who loves His broken creation and the Evil One whose kingdom is marked by rebellion and suffering.

Miss the drama between these two kingdoms—the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness—and you miss a major part of the tension of the Bible.

But wait, there’s more. This battle of kingdoms isn’t just the story of our world; it’s your story, and mine. There is a battle for our souls.

What kind of people will we be?

Whose kingdom will we belong to?

We will worship; we will bow down; it’s in our nature as human beings to live under someone or something’s authority.

The question is who gets our loyalty? Will we bow the knee before the King of kings, or will we pursue our own kingdoms and live as if we are in charge?

This fall, The Gospel Project for Adults and Students is leading participants on a journey through the story line of Scripture once again, this time looking at the theme of God’s kingdom. I’m excited about this study for several reasons:

  • We’re tackling some tough passages, including the origin and fall of Satan (the rebellion in heaven before the rebellion on earth). Wedding biblical and systematic theology together in a way that is exegetically sound is challenging, but I believe the writers did an excellent job in helping us see the big picture of God’s kingdom.
  • We’ve made improvements to the personal study guide, adding some interactive and reflective elements, along with a “Live On Mission” page that sums up the missional impulse flowing out of each session.
  • For groups that don’t meet every week or want shorter studies, we are offering The Gospel Project in two 6-week versions, Longing for the King and Kingdom Come. And, like every volume, digital downloads are available for leaders who don’t want printed copies.

Every week, I pray for people studying the Bible and using The Gospel Project. This fall, I’m praying God reveals the hidden idols of our hearts, magnifies the greatness of King Jesus, and transforms us into heralds of the returning King.

May God make us a people who live under the lordship of Christ and speak of His excellency to those around us who have not yet bent the knee. The King has a mission, and we are His messengers.

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Worth a Look 7.23.14

Jul 23, 2014 | Trevin Wax

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKindle Deal of the Day: Rich Mullins: A Devotional Biography: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven by James Bryan Smith. $2.99.

A ”devotional biography,” giving readers an insight into Rich’s life, but more importantly, allowing the readers to learn what was most important to Rich – urging people to draw near to God.

Ten Numbers about Our Past and Future in Space:

Forty-five years ago Walter Cronkite, anchor and orator for a nation said, “The least of us is improved by the things done by the best of us.” It’s time to unleash the best of us again.

Jake Meador – 3 Thoughts on Kindle Unlimited:

Generally speaking with Amazon, I can get the logic of what they’re doing from a business perspective, even if I almost never approve of it. But in this case I’m really not convinced that this service is going to go anywhere. Unless Amazon can get a really fantastic selection of books for Kindle Unlimited, I can’t see this going anywhere. And based on their relationship with publishers, I doubt they can manage to do that.

Marc Cortez – Become a Heretic for a While:

I’ve noticed over the years that students have a hard time truly appreciated the beauty and power of the response because they can’t see the beauty and power of the problem. Orthodoxy shines less brightly when you think heresy seems so obviously wrong. So, if you want to understand heresy, here are at least three things you need to do.

Mosul’s Last Christians Flee Iraq’s Hoped-for Christian Stronghold:

There are no Christians left in Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul, across the river from the ruins of Jonah’s Nineveh, after an ultimatum over the weekend left them with three choices: convert to Islam, pay jizya (a poll tax levied on non-Muslims), or die at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).

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“Was Bonhoeffer Gay?” and Other Adventures in Missing the Point

Jul 22, 2014 | Trevin Wax

dbonhoefferA new biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Strange Gloryimplies that the German theologian experienced same-sex attraction toward Eberhard Bethge, his friend and confidante who later wrote a biography of Bonhoeffer and oversaw the collection of his works.

The response to the biography has been interesting. In his typically understated manner, Frank Schaeffer wrote an article, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer Was Flamingly Gay — Deal With It,” in which he predicted evangelicals would be up in arms about such an explosive claim.

In contrast, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reported on how different Bonhoeffer scholars and evangelical leaders have responded. Christianity Today gave a positive review of the biography, as did The Gospel Coalition, though the reviewers saw the biographer’s focus on Bonhoeffer’s sexuality as distracting.

The facts in the case of Bonhoeffer are clear: he was engaged at the time of his execution, and he wrote about the fact he would die as a virgin. No biographer or scholar claims that Bonhoeffer engaged in a sexual relationship with anyone, male or female, whatever his attractions may have been.

I believe the conversation about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality tells us more about life in the sexualized culture of the 21st century than it does about Bonhoeffer. In fact, if we pay attention, we will see how Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy directly challenges several commonly held assumptions today.

Assumption #1: Life lived to the fullest must include sexual fulfillment.

Bonhoeffer lived faithfully – emphasis on fully – as a virgin. One should not miss the countercultural reality on display in his life.

Post Sexual Revolution, people often define themselves by their sexual identity. For this reason, many people see any restriction or moral restraint on how sexuality is expressed as oppressive, a dagger to the heart of a person’s life and dreams.

For the Christian, such an exaggerated view of sexuality is a pernicious lie. It feeds the falsehood that, without sexual fulfillment, it is impossible for someone to live a full and engaging life. In contrast, Christians believe celibacy is not a pitiable choice but a beautiful calling.

Bonhoeffer’s witness (along with evangelical heroes like John Stott, not to mention Jesus Himself) testifies against the assumption that self-actualization must include sexual relationships. His life challenges a culture that says you are your sexuality.

Sam Allberry, a pastor in the UK who experiences same-sex attraction yet believes homosexual behavior to be sinful, is familiar with the accusation often made against evangelicals, that adhering to Christianity’s sexual ethic contributes to teenage angst and suicide. His response is spot on:

“No, the problem is a culture that says your entire identity and sense of who you are is bound up with fulfilling your sexual desires. You are the ones who have raised the stakes that high. So that the moment you don’t fulfill your desires, you have nothing left to live for.”

Society’s view of a Forty-Year-Old Virgin is Steve Carrell. Christianity’s view of a forty-year-old virgin should be Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Assumption #2: Affectionate male friendships must be romantic in nature.

History is replete with examples of robust male friendships that are full of affection and expressions of love and yet are not sexual.

Unfortunately, the sexual revolution has made it more difficult to imagine passionate philos apart from eros. That’s why revisionist historians read romantic notions into Teddy Roosevelt’s affectionate letters to his closest friends. People wonder out loud about Abraham Lincoln’s sharing a bed with his friend, Joshua Speed. It’s hard for our society to understand how King David could weep so terribly over the lost love of Jonathan unless there was some sort of romance between them. And now, Bonhoeffer’s relationship with Bethge is put under the microscope of 21st century assumptions.

In fairness to the biographer, it is certainly possible that Bonhoeffer was attracted to Bethge, even though acting on such a notion was always out of the question. But it’s also possible, even likely, that Bonhoeffer’s friendship was, like many male friendships of the time, strong and affectionate, with a passion that did not include sexual desire.

The speculation about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality distracts us from the greater loss of slowly disappearing same-sex friendships, the kind of love we see in literature between Sam and Frodo, relationships that many today can hardly conceive of, apart from some sort of sexual longing.

Assumption #3: Sexual attraction must define one’s identity.

Because our society has adopted the notion that sexual expression is wrapped up in our identity, some may think that getting to the root of Bonhoeffer’s sexuality is the only way to truly understand the man he was. But I suspect Bonhoeffer himself would dispute such a notion, and so would most people throughout history.

When we assume sexual orientation is fixed from birth and unchangeable, the question of identity naturally comes to the forefront: “Was he gay or not?” But Christianity rejects such a reductionist view of sex and identity. Everyone is warped in sexual attraction, at least to some degree. We are all sexual sinners in need of the grace and mercy of God. We are marked by our need for grace, not our longing for sex.

Bonhoeffer’s identity was not defined by sexual attraction, but by his costly discipleship following in the footsteps of his King. Going beyond letters and writings and personal correspondence to speculate on the unspoken sexual longings of a figure from the past says more about us and our own preoccupations than about the person under scrutiny.


Evangelicals aren’t going to go crazy in responding the new Bonhoeffer’ biography. Why? Because the idea that Bonhoeffer may have experienced same-sex attraction doesn’t matter all that much in assessing his legacy. He was a faithful man of God who immersed himself in Scripture, read the signs of the times, stood boldly against the Nazi war machine, and died as a hero.

The best way to honor Bonhoeffer is to not to speculate about his sexuality, but to see how his example counters the errant assumptions of a sexualized culture.

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Worth a Look 7.22.14

Jul 22, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity, and the Bible by William Lane Craig. $3.99.

Followers of Jesus need not fear hard questions or objections against Christian belief. In A Reasonable Response, renowned Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig offers dozens of examples of how some of the most common challenges to Christian thought can be addressed

James K. A. Smith – Marriage for the Common Good:

What would society look like if all of our homes were just privatized enclaves for romance? What sort of society would we get if all of our marriages reflected the mythology of Weddings, Inc?

Well, we might get a society a lot like our own. It would be a society where “private” interests are pursued to the exclusion of the common good, as if the two are in competition and the wider community is a threat. A society where marriage is romanticized, which is why they so often fail. When we expect marriages to be extensions of idealistic weddings, we’re not only setting ourselves up to fail, we are abandoning the call to “household,” to curate open homes where others are welcome and from which we lean out to serve the good of our neighbours.

Samuel James – Helicopter Outrage:

I’ve noticed two trends that are becoming lately characteristic of American culture. One is outrage. We are a society brimming with anger, some articulate and much inarticulate. We are quick to be offended and even quicker to call our offenders to account for themselves. Worst of all, we are losing our ability to exchange in the marketplace of ideas without verbally assaulting “the enemy” (ie, all those who disagree).

Scott Sauls - Choosing Grace Over Outrage:

The commitment to feel 1) right and 2) wronged seems to be a fairly common phenomenon. But is this a fruitful way for Christians in particular to engage in public conversations about the issues of the day? I think Jesus taught us another way.

Derek Rishmawy - Giving Jesus Credit Where Credit Is Due (Or, Soteriological Maximalism and Atonement Accounts):

What do I mean? And where am I going with this? Well, essentially, whichever position presents us with a greater, more complex, and comprehensive view of salvation wrought through Christ ought to be preferred. In other words, whichever view of salvation gives Father, Son, and Spirit more credit for getting more done through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, all other considerations being equal, we should opt for that one.

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Reading Matthew With An Eye For Parallels

Jul 21, 2014 | Trevin Wax

I caught up with Raymond Johnson at the recent annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention where we talked about our individual Ph.D. work. In talking about our favorite subject (the Gospels!), Raymond shared some fascinating insights from his research in Matthew. I asked him to share here on the blog.

Christ_at_the_Cross_-_Cristo_en_la_CruzReading Narratively: Baptismal Types in Matthew’s Gospel

One of the keys to reading the Gospels well is to read them with the literary features of a narrative in mind. This is especially true when reading the carefully crafted literary masterpiece known as the Gospel of Matthew.

Two of the crucial questions readers can ask while trying to understand individual scenes throughout the Gospel are:

  1. “Where will I see this again?”
  2. “Where have I seen this before?”

This is particularly pertinent when interpreting the beginning of the Gospel narrative in light of the end, as well as the end of the Gospel narrative in light of the beginning. For, at both the beginning and end of his Gospel, one of Matthew’s chief concerns is clarifying the identity of “Jesus”—Who is this man?

Parallels in Jesus’ Birth and Death

A familiar example for readers can be seen in the uniqueness of the events surrounding the birth and death of Jesus. On the one hand, at the beginning of the Gospel he is

  • conceived of the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20)
  • in the womb of a virgin (Matt 1:18)
  • in fulfillment of the Scriptures (Matt 1:23)
  • after being announced in a dream by an angel (Matt 1:20).

On the other hand, at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, after crying out with an earth-rending voice and yielding his spirit (Matt 27:50), several cataclysmic events occur:

  • the curtain of the temple is torn (Matt 27:51a),
  • the earth shakes (Matt 27:51b),
  • the rocks split (Matt 27:51c),
  • the tombs open (Matt 27:52a),
  • and lifeless people whom Matthew calls “saints” are raised to life (Matt 27:52b).

Again, when Jesus was born, children were slaughtered (Matt 2:16); when Jesus died, the dead were raised to life (Matt 27:52).

Reading with the literary features of a narrative in mind accentuates Matthew’s point—Jesus is one uniquely born; Jesus is one who uniquely dies. The uniqueness surrounding his life teaches us something about his identity and mission.

Parallels in Jesus’ Baptism and Death

A less familiar example can be seen in the scene preceding Jesus’ death and how it alludes to the imagery of his baptism; how it further clarifies the identity of the man called, “Jesus.” At his baptism:

  • Jesus speaks (Matt 3:15),
  • the Spirit descends upon him (Matt 3:16),
  • and the Father audibly testifies from heaven to his identity (Matt 3:17).

In the very next Gospel-scene after God the Father identifies Jesus as the Son with whom he is pleased (Matt 3:17), Satan challenges Jesus identify (Matt 4:3, 6).

Similarly, immediately prior to his death, the pharisaic naysayers challenge the identity of Jesus (Matt 27:40, 43).

Then, after crying out with a loud voice twice (Matt 27:46, 50) an unnerving silence pervades the scene before Jesus yields the Spirit and dies (Matt 27:50). It is only after Jesus’ death that Matthew notes how the Father testifies to Jesus’ identity as the “the Son of God” by means of the cosmological and apocalyptic imagery (Matt 27:45, 51-53); it is only after his death that the gentile centurion positively identifies him as the Son of God in response to the events that testify to his identity (Matt 27:54).

Why the Parallels Matter

The question, then, is “Why did Matthew intentionally employ this imagery in his Gospel-narrative?” The narrative structure is intended to accentuate Jesus’ identity—at his birth, wise men are confounded as a star guides them to the Lord of heaven and earth (Matt 2:1-12); at his death, the heavens, which he created, mourn in darkness (Matt 27:45) and the earth, which he created, breaks (Matt 27:51), giving back the dead as a testimony to his dominion as the Son of God (Matt 28:18).

As the Son of God, he saves people from their sins (Matt 1:21). Further, Matthew’s intentionality in his narrative structure is intended to accentuate the mission Jesus’ death necessitates—his death is life-giving and ultimately salvific for persons from every nation who profess faith in his name (Matt 28:16-20; cf. 27:54). Since Jesus is the Son of God and his life is unlike any other life, his death is a life-giving death (Matt 27:52); since Jesus is the Son of God and his life is unlike any other life, his death has meaning for the nations (Matt 27:54; 28:16-20).

Matthew concludes his Gospel with a reference to the beginning of his Gospel emphasizing the missional implications of Jesus’ life, for Jesus “bears fruit” through the disciples he promises to be with until the end of the age as they are on mission for the renown of the Triune God (Matt 28:20; cf. 1:23).


Raymond and his wife, Meghan, live in Louisville with their three daughters, Abigail, Charlotte, and Emily. He is a Ph.D. student in New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is on the ministerial staff at Ninth & O Baptist Church, teaches preaching as an adjunct instructor at Boyce College, and is the Assistant Director of Student & Alumni Services at Southern Seminary. Follow him on Twitter at @raymondj17.

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Worth a Look 7.21.14

Jul 21, 2014 | Trevin Wax

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKindle Deal of the Day: Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media by Bradley Wright. $3.99.

Sociologist Bradley R. E. Wright uncovers what’s really happening in the church: evangelicals are more respected by secular culture now than they were ten years ago; divorce rates of Christians are lower than those who aren’t affiliated with a religion; young evangelicals are active in the faith. Wright reveals to readers why and how statistics are distorted, and shows that God is still effectively working through his people today.

How To (and how NOT to) Minister to Families Battling Cancer:

Reflecting on our past and present experience with cancer, we have been blessed to have family, friends and a church family who have been wonderfully supportive. Quite often, people want to know how they can help and encourage someone going through the experience of cancer or other medical related trials. I hope that you will find this list useful as you minister to others. Here are a few things I found to be helpful and not so helpful in our journey.

5 Pleas from Pastors to Search Committees:

I want to share the perspective of many pastors about the process. On numbers of occasions, pastors have shared with me some challenges they have experienced with search committees. In this article, I present them as five pleas from pastors.

New York Times - How To Talk About Pain:

Stripped of its mysticism and its virtuous solicitations, pain was emptied of positive value. Rather than being passively endured, pain became an “enemy” to be fought and ultimately defeated. The introduction of effective relief made submission to pain perverse rather than praiseworthy.

Hershael York – 4 Reasons Why Some Preachers Get Better and Others Don’t:

On the first day of the semester, or the first time I hear a student preach, I have no way of knowing if he has what it takes or is willing to do what he must to be the preacher he needs to be, but I can usually tell by the second sermon if he does, because that is when he has to act on what I told him after his first sermon.

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May the Gates of Hell Crumble Before Them

Jul 20, 2014 | Trevin Wax

missionary1Dear Lord,

We thank you
for those who have fought the good fight,
who have finished the race,
who have kept the faith.

Now, Lord, my heart is full
as I see those who have stepped forward to say,
“We will take their place.”

The harvest is plentiful,
but the workers are few.
So thank you for answering our prayers
to raise up more laborers for the harvest field.

We ask, Lord,
that You give them everything they need for what lies ahead.

When they are called to step out of their comfort zone, give them the faith of Abraham.
When they face temptation, give them the integrity of Joseph.
When they face hard decisions, give them the wisdom of Solomon.
When their hearts are filled with fear, give them the courage of Esther.

Lord, they will face trials, so give them the perseverance of Job.
When life gets busy and they are surrounded by distractions,
sit them at your feet and give them the listening ears of Mary.
Wake them up every morning with the missionary urgency of Paul,
and through it all, above all, give them the heart of Christ.

And now, oh Lord, send them out.
Go with them, we ask,
as they go to Kansas and Kentucky,
to Kenya and Cambodia,
to the four corners of the earth.

May they go with a Bible in one hand
and a basin and towel in the other,
with your grace and truth.

May they go with the gospel on their lips,
the church at their side,
and the power of the Holy Spirit coursing through their veins.

Go with them
because we know there are evil forces arrayed against them.
March them into the very heart of Satan’s territory.
Use them as the tip of your spear,
to pierce the darkness until it bleeds light.
May the gates of hell crumble before them.

And Lord,
may the gospel be preached
and sin confronted
and sinners loved
and souls saved
and marriages mended
and children taught
and the grieving comforted
and the lonely welcomed
and the hungry fed
and the wounded healed
and communities transformed
and the nations reached with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Use them mightily for Your glory
and for the world’s good,
and keep them faithful until the day they hear You say, “Well done.”

We pray these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Mike Proctor (HT)

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Laughter and Holiness

Jul 19, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Laughter2Helmut Thielecke:

Should we not see that lines of laughter about the eyes are just as much marks of faith as are the lines of care and seriousness?

Is it only earnestness that is baptized?

Is laughter pagan?

A church is in a bad way when it banishes laughter from the sanctuary and leaves it to the cabaret, the nightclub and the toastmasters.

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Know Your Southern Baptists: Kevin Ezell

Jul 18, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Kevin EzellName: Kevin Ezell

Why you’ve heard of him: Ezell leads the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Position: Ezell is the president of NAMB, the SBC mission agency tasked with reaching North America with the gospel through evangelism and church planting.

Previous: For 14 years, Ezell was the senior pastor at Highview Baptist in Louisville, KY. He also pastored churches in Illinois, Tennessee, and Texas.

Education: Ezell has a bachelor’s from Union University, an M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a D.Min. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Why he’s important: Born in Germany where his father was serving in the Air Force, Ezell and his wife have six children, the three youngest of whom were adopted from three different countries.

A former megachurch pastor and now president of the SBC agency focused on the churches of North America, Ezell plays a vital role in the convention and larger evangelical life. In his work, he has displayed a passion for church planting, and he has made planting one of the focal points of NAMB. Through the Send North America strategy, the mission agency wants to help churches plant other churches in every region of the continent.

The goals of Ezell and NAMB’s Send are to:

  • Mobilize churches, church planters and other missionaries to penetrate lostness and connect unchurched people with a local congregation.
  • Equip church planters and sending churches for evangelistic church planting.
  • Plant churches within defined regions, people groups and large populations centers (cities).

Notable Quotes:

“We want to be about building the greatest church planting network in the world.”

“I am not going to approach our work in a territorial way, but in a kingdom-minded way.”

“Every mission effort we do in North America and internationally should ultimately be to reach someone so they come to know Christ.”

“The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is to plant churches.”

“Success cannot be defined based on how many people a church keeps, but on how many it sends.”

Others in the “Know Your Southern Baptists” Series:

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