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Vanguard Church - Bob Robinson

a web resource . exploring missional horizons . navigating spiritual formation . journeying into vocational-incarnational living

Updated: 2018-01-15T11:28:40.067-05:00


New Blog! (re)integrate!


So, have you come over to my new blog yet? Lots of articles over there for you to interact with! Come over and comment!


Good Words from Obama - About Children Who Die Due To Abortion


President Obama's speech about what he intends to do to address gun violence was very good. 

But as I heard it and then read it online, the question occurred to me, "Mr. President, Why is this not all also true of the unborn that are killed by the violence of abortion?" 

Look at these excellent words from our President - and see how they are also applicable to the 1.3 Million children aborted each year.

"These are our kids... And so what we should be thinking about is our responsibility to care for them, and shield them from harm, and give them the tools they need to grow up and do everything that they’re capable of doing — not just to pursue their own dreams, but to help build this country.
"This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged...If there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try."
"This will be difficult. There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty — not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves. And behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any common-sense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever."
"That most fundamental set of rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness…those rights are at stake."
"… when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us, we must act now."

The Incarnation Dignifies Work


The fact that Jesus became a human and worked as a carpenter helps us reintegrate faith and work.this is a parallel post with my new website, (re)integrate.The reason Christmas fills me with wonder and awe is that it is the story of our all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal, sovereign, creator God humbling himself to become one of us.“In him (Jesus Christ) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Philippians 1:15-17)This is who Jesus is. And then there he is: Living for nine months in Mary’s womb – yes, Jesus was once a zygote! He grew into an embryo and then was birthed like every other baby. He was laid in a  feeding trough. The all-powerful creator God humbled himself to be completely dependent on Mary and Joseph to care for him.“Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7)Jesus grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52), under the care and tutelage of his parents. He apprenticed under Joseph and learned the noble vocation of carpentry.Let this sink in: Before Jesus began traveling around proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God, before he suffered and died for our sins, before he was raised from the dead for our justification and victory over death, he spent the majority of his life building things with his hands.Tom Nelson, in his must-read book Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship with Monday Work, writes,“No doubt Jesus had strong, well worn, calloused hands. It is all too easy for us to overlook the fact that Jesus knew what it meant to get up and go to work every day. Jesus experienced both the exhilaration and the exhaustion of putting in a hard day’s work. Jesus faced work and a workplace profoundly affected by sin. I am sure Jesus dealt with difficult and demanding people in the workplace who complained about this and that.”Jesus, the Son of God, worked.One of my favorite comedians, Jim Gaffigan, does a bit on Jesus and his being a carpenter: class="youtube" frameborder="0" height="380" src="" style="background-color: transparent; border-width: 0px; height: 380px; margin: 0px; outline: 0px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; width: 630px;" width="630">Why do I find this funny? Because it puts Jesus squarely on the earth – the same man who performed miracles built cabinets.Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, writes,“If he were to come today as he did then, he could carry out his mission through most any decent and useful occupation. He could be a clerk or accountant in a hardware store, a computer repairman, a banker, an editor, doctor, waiter, teacher, farmhand, lab technician, or construction worker. He could have run a housecleaning service or repair automobiles. In other words, if he were to come today he could very well do what you do. He could very well live in your apartment or house, hold down your job, have your education and life prospects, and live within your family surroundings and time. None of this would be the least hindrance to the eternal kind of life that was his by nature and becomes available to us through him.”Tom Nelson adds,Working with his hands day in and day out in a carpentry shop was not below Jesus. Jesus did not see his carpentry work as mundane or meaningless, for it was the work his Father had called him to do.This Christmas, allow yourself to be amazed by the incarnation. God, who is spirit, became human, for we are material. The fact that Jesus came to earth[...]

Voting Pro-Life. What Does That Entail?


A picture from the Facebook ad for "I Am Pro-Life"

So, here's the political conundrum for Christians:

We want to vote "Pro-Life," but what all does that entail? 

Certainly it means standing up for the marginalized voice of the unborn.

This is one of the moost pressing civil-rights issue of our time, in spite of what most Democrats mis-perceived it as (most Dems only see the abortion issue as a civil-rights issue for women, discounting the civil rights of the child).

Christians, in my opinion, must stand up for those that are oppressed by an unjust society - and there are none more oppressed than the unborn.

But being "Pro-Life" does not end in a woman's womb.

It also means standing up for the marginalized voices of those who's lives are in danger due to other issues that face society: wars, poverty, hunger, trafficking, environmental destruction that causes diseases and loss of life (just to name a few).

Which party is best positioned to deal with these Life Issues? To be Pro-Life, in other words, is more than the issue of abortion (though that is a major issue concerning Life). If a party seeks to expand the military, cut funds to the social safety-net, and ignore the impact of human actions that damage the environment because of business interests, is that "Pro-Life?"

What do you think? I'd love your input.

Entrusted with the Ministry of the Reconciliation of All Things


this is a parallel post found at my new site, www, God’s Mission and Our Mission of ReconciliationGod’s mission to reconcile all things to himself drives his purpose in calling a particular people to be the Church. As Ray Anderson states, “Mission precedes and creates the church” (The Soul of Ministry, p.158).The Church’s mission is determined first by God’s mission through Christ, which is the mission of reconciliation.Let’s compare Colossians 1:15-20 with 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)God’s mission, in a word, is reconciliation. The scope of Creation was “all things;” the scope of the Fall was “all things,” and the scope of redemption, therefore, is “all things.” That is God’s mission in the world. This brings us to our mission in the world.So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God wasreconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, andentrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)God’s mission through Christ of reconciling all things back to himself begins when he “reconciled us to himself through Christ,” and continues when we, as his “ambassadors,” perform “the ministry of reconciliation.”In other words, our mission is to be God’s agents of restoring all aspects of the created order back to God’s loving rule and standards, reconciling all things back to God through Christ.God the Creator is the ruler of all of his creation, not just the natural created world, but also of the human endeavors in society and culture (see my previous post). As Alan Hirsch says in his excellent book, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church,“Therefore, everything—one’s work, one’s domestic life, one’s health, one’s worship—has significance to God. He is concerned with every aspect of the believer’s life, not just the so-called spiritual dimensions…There is no such thing as sacred and secular in biblical worldview. It can conceive of no part of the world that does not come under the claim of Yahweh’s lordship. All of life belongs to God, and true holiness means bringing all the spheres of our life under God.”In other words, God is in the process of reconciling “all things” back to himself, not just the individual souls of people, not just the natural creation, but everything, including society and culture. All things were createdby him, and he wants it all back.But there’s a problem in American evangelical Christianity: we have lost the biblical understanding of God’s reconciliation ministry, and have replaced it with a neo-Gnosticism that truncates the gospel. More on that next.[...]

David Barton exposed on NPR


(image) I'm still amazed how many evangelicals, because they WANT to believe that America was founded as a Christian nation, buy into David Barton's revisionist history.

His new book on Thomas Jefferson is a farce.

NPR’s “All Things Considered” has an excellent piece on Barton, interviewing evangelicals like Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College and John Fea of Messiah College. Listen to this (or read the transcript).

Listen to the Story  [9 min 8 sec]

The Most Influential Evangelist You've Never Heard Of

Of course Christians should seek to influence society so that it better reflects the will of God... but we do not need to make up history to do so. This simply serves to undermine our task.

(re)integrate is on its way!


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Keepin' you in the loop: Reintegrate is on its way to becoming a reality! We have approval from the State of Ohio to be a non-profit, we are very close to closing in on our board members, and we will be sending in our paperwork for the federal 501(c)(3) status in a few weeks! Please pray for:
  1. The $850 needed for filing to the federal government for 501(c)(3),
  2. The development of our website,
  3. The publication of our first line of curriculum
  4. The establishement of partnerships with CCO, Qideas, Hearts & Minds Bookstore, The Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation, and Culture, and The High Calling.

How the Media Wastes Our Time During Political Campaigns


Have you ever watched coverage of political campaigns on television and wonder, “Why does this sound so much like ESPN? The experts on politics on cable news channels, on Meet the Press, This Week, and Face the Nation sound more like they are talking about a NASCAR race than a political race – who is out in front, how the guy trailing can gain on the leader, strategies for moving up and past the leader, strategies for saying in the lead. When the public is in desperate need for thoughtful analysis on public policy issues, the media instead focuses on other things. Now we know why. A new report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (reported at examined in detail the media’s coverage of the Republican primary race. “The media often focus heavily on tactics, strategy and the numbers of the horse race. On top of that, during the primaries the policy differences between candidates are sometimes fairly minimal as rivals contend for the favor of party primary voters. In 2012, horse race and strategy dominated, but not to the degree they had in 2008. From November 2011 to April 15, 2012, the coverage devoted to the strategic elements of the GOP primary fight (horse race, tactics, strategy, money and advertising) outnumbered the combined attention to all foreign and domestic policy issues by about 6:1. Overall, 64% of campaign coverage examined was framed around polls, advertising, fundraising, strategy and the constant question of who is winning and who is losing… Over the last five and a half months, the candidates’ policy proposals and stands on the issues accounted for 11% of the campaign coverage. The vast majority of these focused on domestic issues…[which] accounted for 9% of the coverage… There was far less attention paid to foreign policy issues such as Iran’s nuclear program, negotiations with Russia, and relations with Israel, all of which accounted for just 1% of the campaign coverage… The candidates’ public records accounted for 6% of the overall campaign coverage studied.” So, only 17% of the media’s campaign coverage was focused on the issues: the candidates’ stands on issues and their records. We Christians are complicit in this demise of political public discourse in the media. Instead of taking the time to read deeply and widely about policy, we watch the claptrap that the media serves and parrot it back to each other. We rarely seek to understand the opposition’s arguments. Instead, we act like simpletons, watching only the shows that we think we already agree with so that we don’t have to think too deeply. Instead of debating with civility with others about issues, we mimic the talking heads on our favorite cable talk shows by attacking the opposition’s character. We take this easy route since it is so much easier to dismiss those we disagree with by portraying them as utterly evil. Instead of demanding that mass media coverage dive deeper into public policy issues, we continue to watch the junk the media shows, providing them with high ratings and little incentive to change their ways. [...]

Review: “Christ & Culture Revisited” by D. A. Carson


I went to seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and had a number of classes under D. A. Carson. He is one of the most thorough New Testament scholars in the world today. However, this does not necessarily mean that he is an expert on whatever he applies his word processor to doing. In his book, Christ & Culture Revisited (Eerdmans: 2008, now in paperback: 2012) he seeks to contribute to the conversation about culture by having us re-think Niebuhr’s categories through the lens of biblical theology. Remember, H Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture assigned five paradigms to how Christians see Christ interacting with Culture: (1) Christ against Culture, (2) Christ of Culture, and (3) Christ above Culture (which includes the two subsets: (4) Christ and Culture in Paradox and (5) Christ the Transformer of Culture). However sincere Carson is at the task, he makes serious mistakes in this book. Carson first seeks to define “culture.” He defines culture by quoting Robert Redfield (“the shared understandings made manifest in act and artifact”) and Clifford Geertz (“an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic form by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life”). Therefore, Carson starts out the book defining “Culture” as both conceptual ideas and human artifacts. However, most of the book treats culture as simply conceptual ideas (he spends an inordinate amount of space on “church and state,” as if that is the primary form of human culture) and he very rarely talks about the things that human beings actually do to create culture. The major problem of Carson’s book is that he failed to do exactly what he said he intended to do. He says that the only way to properly understand the relationship of Christ with Culture is to have a thorough understanding of all the “turning points in the biblical history of redemption.” He writes, “The omission or dilution of one or more of them easily generates a truncated or distorted vision of Christianity, and therefore of the relations between Christ and culture. Indeed, much of the rest of this book can be read as a meditation on how a robust biblical theology tends to safeguard Christians against such egregious reductionisms.” (p. 82) However, in his chapter in which he seeks to trace the turning points in the biblical history of redemption, “Creation” is quickly married to “Fall.” Carson’s understanding of Creation spotlights on human beings and their duty to delight in God—serving him, trusting him, and obeying him. In one (just one!) paragraph, Carson says that humans are embodied beings that are made in God’s image. But with only one paragraph of space given to this topic, Carson basically reduces our embodiment and image-bearing to being made “to know and love and enjoy God,” with “responsibilities of governance and care.” With that, Carson moves quickly to the fact that we are a “fallen race,” which he defines as human beings “de-godding God,” or idolatry. The astonishing exclusion of the Cultural Mandate and a robust definition of the imago Dei as humans created to reflect God by making culture is a fatal flaw of this book. How can a Christian theologian write about culture without a thorough discussion of Genesis 1:26-28, 2:5, and 2:15, the most important texts that biblically root the cultural call upon the human race? If Carson thinks he is providing a “meditation on how a robust biblical theology tends to safeguard Christians against such egregious reductionisms,” he fails right out of the chute: With the first and foremost moment in the history of redemption! And his insistence on defining the Fall as simply the sin of human idolatry factor[...]

Continuing the Case for Health Care Reform


Fareed Zakaria is one of the most balanced, sensible reporters and commentators on international affairs going today. Because of this, he brings a global perspective to American domestic issues that many of the pundits lack. In this week's Time Magazine, he has a commentary entitled, “Health Insurance Is for Everyone” (CNN shows about half the article, the entire piece is on Time’s website that is accessed by subscribers).  In it he writes, The centerpiece of the case against Obamacare is the requirement that everyone buy some kind of health insurance or face stiff penalties--the so-called individual mandate. It is a way of moving toward universal coverage without a government-run or single-payer system. It might surprise Americans to learn that another advanced industrial country, one with a totally private health care system, made precisely the same choice nearly 20 years ago: Switzerland. Switzerland is not your typical European welfare-state society. It is extremely business-friendly and has always gone its own way, shunning the euro and charting its own course on health care. The country ranks higher than the U.S. on the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom. Twenty years ago, Switzerland had a system very similar to America's--private insurers, private providers--with very similar problems. People didn't buy insurance but ended up in emergency rooms, insurers screened out people with pre-existing conditions, and costs were rising fast. The country came to the conclusion that to make health care work, everyone had to buy insurance. So the Swiss passed an individual mandate and reformed their system along lines very similar to Obamacare. The reform law passed by referendum, narrowly. The result two decades later: quality of care remains very high, everyone has access, and costs have moderated. Switzerland spends 11% of its GDP on health care, compared with 17% in the U.S. Its 8 million people have health care that is not tied to their employers, they can choose among many plans, and they can switch plans every year. Overall satisfaction with the system is high. Zakaria continues, The most striking aspect of America's medical system remains how much of an outlier it is in the advanced industrial world. No other nation spends more than 12% of its total economy on health care. We do worse than most other countries on almost every measure of health outcomes: healthy-life expectancy, infant mortality and--crucially--patient satisfaction. Put simply, we have the most expensive, least efficient system of any rich country on the planet. Costs remain high on every level. Recently, the International Federation of Health Plans released a report comparing the prices in various countries of 23 medical services, from a routine checkup to an MRI to a dose of Lipitor. The U.S. had the highest costs in 22 of the 23 cases. An MRI costs $1,080 here; it costs $281 in France. In 1963, Nobel Prize--winning economist Kenneth Arrow wrote an academic paper explaining why markets don't work well in health care. He argued that unlike with most goods and services, people don't know when they will need health care. And when they do need it--say, in the case of heart failure--the cost is often prohibitive. That means you need some kind of insurance or government-run system. Now, we could decide as a society that it is O.K. for people who suddenly need health care to get it only if they can pay for it. The market would work just as it works for BMWs: anyone who can afford one can buy one. That would mean that the vast majority of Americans wouldn't be able to pay for a triple bypass or a hip replacement when they needed it. But every rich country in the world--and many not-so-rich ones--has decided that its people should have access to basic health care. Given that value, a pure [...]

NEW DAY (Based on the book, THE CURE)


This video hits us between that eyes, and right into the heart. Nicely done.

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ht: Miche

Work Matters! A Very Important Book


Here is an important interview with Tom Nelson (D.Min., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Leawood, Kansas, about his excellent new book, Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. (see a book review here, and purchase it from Hearts & Minds Bookstore). Here are the highlights (scroll down to watch the video) 0:20     Nelson’s heart behind the book “This book really found me because I struggle as a pastor trying to connect Sunday, life. and work and trying to make it make sense to people. And the book is really a response to my own inadequacies as a pastor of sort of looking at worship and work in very compartmentalized ways rather than a seamless fabric of the gospel, of faith.”2:39     The importance of a correct theology of work “To my congregation I apologized because I did not have a rich theology that helped equip them to live life to the glory of God where they were called… And I used language that created a sense of a bifurcation or a dichotomy when the Scripture teaches a seamless integrity about this faithfulness of honoring God in our work… And this impacted my ministry and the people I talked to and how I saw the world and it hindered them from being fully the person God had created them to be and to flourish in their environment.”4:24      The importance of creating a church with a major theology of work “If we miss one of the central threads of work and vocation throughout Scripture we are really not equipping people in the way we are called to equip them as pastors... So many people live under a drudgery that is poor theology that what they do doesn’t matter, that just what pastors do and what we do on Sundays is what’s really important…If you are a pastor, leader, or a lay leader, it will transform not only your life,  but it will transform your faith community. There is an energy, and a health, and a missional transformation that takes place when  vocation is really understood and applied in a gracious way. So I’ve seen the transformation ‘before’ and ‘after,’ and I don’t want to go back to ‘before.’”7:12      Comments on James Davison Hunter’s concept of “Faithful Presence” “When we understand that as we engage culture as faithful people that we are present in it, that Christ is present to us always…that the vast majority of the time we spend is in the workplace, wherever that is, wherever we are contributing… What James has done is he’s created a context for us to understand that the primary mission that we have is to be present where God has called us in that workplace…”8:32     The Mission of God and the workplace“God has designed the world in such a way in how we live that his mission flows through our workplace. The gospel is not only incarnated there, the gospel is proclaimed there, the gospel is lived out in the workplace. So if we miss the workplace, we miss a big aspect of the mission of God and being faithfully present in it.”9:15      A theology of work in light of unemployment “First, get a good definition of work… It’s contribution, not just financial remuneration…and all of us can contribute to God’s world, to the common good… And then I would call people to be a part of a community of faith, where there’s encouragement, where there’s good networking…because we need...hopefulness…We love God and our neighbor through the Great Commandment primarily through our contribution in work, and all of us can love our neighbor through serving them and work, even if we are not paid for it at the moment.” allowfullsc[...]

Tim Tebow is not Facing the Giants


This weekend, the New York Giants upset the defending champion Green Bay Packers while the Tim Tebow–led Denver Broncos fell to the New England Patriots. The Giants might make it to the Super Bowl, but Tebow will not, so that means that Tim Tebow is not facing the Giants. But not just on the football field, but in a much more profoundly theological way. A few weeks ago, my family sat down for movie night and watched Facing the Giants. Here is the trailer: height="360" src="" frameborder="0" width="640" allowfullscreen> It is an emotional story of a high school football coach, Grant Taylor (compellingly acted by Alex Kendrick, who also directed and co-wrote the movie), as he is facing the difficulties of his life (the metaphorical “giants”). He is on the verge of losing his job as coach of the Shiloh Eagles because they keep losing. He and his wife are heart-broken by their inability to have a baby. The couple are scraping by on his small salary and cannot afford to buy a new car. But then he prays. And his attitude changes. He decides that instead of worrying about all that’s going wrong in his life, he will live whole-heartedly to glorify God in everything he does. He tells the team that he is initiating a new team philosophy: “We need to give God our best in every area. And if we win, we praise Him, and if we lose, we praise Him.” It is at this stage in the story that miracles begin to happen: Somebody anonymously gives Grant a brand new pickup truck. The Eagles begin to win. And his wife discovers she’s pregnant. ***SPOILER ALERT!*** I have to tell the rest of the story of this movie in order to make my point. The culmination of the movie has this small Christian school’s football team making the state playoffs. I was hoping that they’d lose so that this movie can provide my three children (ages 13, 11, and 11) the lesson that winning is not all there is in life and that what the coach says is really true: “If we win, we praise Him, and if we lose, we praise Him.” And they did indeed lose! The sad coach says to his wife, “I thought for sure we’d win that game!” But wait a minute! The other team cheated by having an ineligible player on their team, so the Eagles get to advance in the playoffs due to the forfeit! What a miracle! Extraordinarily, the Eagles make it all the way to the State Championship against the big, ominous Giants, who are dressed in all black, and have a fat mean-spirited man as their head coach. Against all odds, the Eagles win on a field goal by the kid who also facing his “giant” of feeling inadequate to play on the football team. Wow! As the credits began to scroll, one of my kids said, “That was amazing! If this really didn’t happen, I wouldn’t believe it!” ”What?” This caused me to stop everyone from going up to bed. “This didn’t really happen,” I said, “This is a fictional movie.” That’s when the anger and crying began. They were so upset that this movie was not true. They felt that it was wrong, down-right lying, to tell such a story if it did not really happen. The movie’s premise was that if you prayed and gave your all to God, life will turn out wonderful and all the hardships in life will be overcome by miracles from God. You will win the big game. My kids wanted to believe that. And when I told my kids “This movie is fiction,” they understood that to mean “This movie is a lie.” Which it is. God never promises that if we give him our best in every area of our lives that all our trials will be overcome by miracles and that our lives will become wonderful. Exactly the opposite is taught: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you f[...]

The Gospel: The Story of Cosmic Restoration or The Plan of Salvation?


Above is my graphical representation of the Gospel. It is the four-chapter story of God’s working in history for the restoration of the cosmos that He created.When I first present this to many Christians, they automatically place themselves, as individuals, into this timeline. “I was created, I sinned, I accepted Jesus and was redeemed/saved, and one day I will be in heaven.”It takes a lot of de-programming to help them see this timeline not individualistically, but cosmically: that each of us are certainly in the storyline, but that the storyline is bigger than each one of us.What God has been doing, through Christ, is the cosmic renewal of all things. When we get into the storyline, we begin to understand the story as portrayed in the Bible, not as portrayed in evangelistic tracts that seek to simplify the gospel to individual need and individual sin and individual salvation. We get the story of how God has been working throughout history to bring about his purposes.CREATIONGod creates a wonderful cosmos, and puts humanity in charge of it. “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’…God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Genesis 1:26, 28)FALLAdam and Eve, however, failed in their role. The world is cursed, in need of redemption, in need of restoration. And God begins using human beings for this very purpose. Why? Because humans are His image-bearers; We are the ones who have been called to rule God’s world in righteousness and Shalom.REDEMPTIONScot McKnight, in his new book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, writes, “What Adam was to do in the Garden—that is, to govern this world redemptively on God’s behalf—is the mission God gives to Israel. Like Adam, Israel failed, and so did its kings. God sent his Son to do what Adam and Israel and the kings did not (and evidently could not) do and to rescue everyone from their sins and systemic evil and Satan (the adversary). Hence, the Son is the one who rules as Messiah and Lord” (p. 35).In other words, the story of Jesus is the fulfillment of the story of Israel (and hence, the story of all of humanity). The story is about how Jesus, the Hebrew Messiah (“Anointed One,” “King”) fulfills the calling to govern this world redemptively on God’s behalf. The gospel is not first about my personal salvation from my sins, but the story of how Jesus is the King, the One that we must follow as he brings all things back into reconciliation with God (Colossians 1:19-20). Contrary to the popular notion of the gospel in much of American evangelicalism, the story of the gospel does not start with me and my sins. It starts with God’s creation and intention for his image-bearers to rule over his creation. The story of the gospel does not skip over what God was doing in the Old Testament with Israel as if it has no bearing on the story, but is rooted in that story of Israel: their calling, their failure. The story of the gospel is about Jesus fulfilling that calling as King. When Jesus is presented to people outside the framework of the story of Israel, all sorts of strange distortions happen to the gospel. Even with good intentions (trying to make the gospel more readily understood and accessible), when we disconnect the story of Jesus with the story of Israel, the story of humanity, and the story of cosmic rest[...]

Things the Government Has Done Quite Well


We’ve heard the suspicions, especially lately with the health care debate. People do not trust that the government can do anything well. I’ve heard a number of people use the United States Postal Service as the ultimate example. We stand in long lines at the Post Office. UPS and FedEx delivers packages more efficiently and at a better cost. Okay.

But I still think that the government has actually done some things quite well.

  1. (image)
    Building the interstate highway system: We boast the best auto and truck transportation system in the world.
  2. Public Libraries: Most nations don't even have these.
  3. National Park Service: Our National Parks are amazingly preserved and managed.
  4. NASA: Not only are we the only nation to step foot on the moon, but because of the space program, our nation has developed amazing advances in materials, electronics, communications, and medicine.
  5. The Food and Drug Administration: We can actually trust that the medicine we take is what's on the label because of the government, unlike most of the world.
  6. The Centers for Disease Control: This agency has shown to be exceptional in combating emerging diseases and health risks, including birth defects, West Nile virus, avian, swine, and pandemic flu, E. coli, and bioterrorism.
  7. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: Because of the FDIC, we can bank with confidence that our money will always be our money. Before the FDIC, if a bank lent more than it could support, people would lose their life savings.

So, contrary to what the pundits want us to believe, government is not always evil.

In fact, government is "God’s servant to do you good" (Romans 13:4).

Miroslav Volf Against Libertarian Economics


I’ve been reading Miroslav Volf’s absolutely excellent book, Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work. In the final chapter, he moves into ways a Christian theology of work can overcome the many ways we see work in our contemporary society alienating us from being fully human. His premise is this: “Human work, properly understood theologically, is related to the goal of all human history, which will bring God, human beings, and the nonhuman creation into ‘shalomic’ harmony.” (p. 85) Volf (Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale University Divinity School and the Founding Director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture) offers a pneumatological theology of work, in which the Holy Spirit gifts human beings with the abilities to provide not only for their own sustenance, but to work for the common good. “When God calls people to become children of God, the Spirit gives them calling, talents, and ‘enablings’ (charisms) so that they can do God’s will in the Christian fellowship and in the world in anticipation of God’s eschatological new creation. All Christians have several gifts from the Spirit. Since most of these gifts can be exercised only through work, work must be considered a central aspect of Christian living.” (p. 124) Therefore, if a large aspect of being a human is to work for the common good, then this leads Volf to criticize the economic philosophy of libertarianism, which centers on individual freedom, placing individual liberty as the most fundamental rule in economics. According to libertarian economics, we must let the free market rule itself. As individuals work for their own self-interests, the “invisible hand” of the unfettered free market transforms the individuals’ pursuit of their own interests into the public good. The best way to care for others, according to libertarian economics, is for everyone to work for themselves. The common good is best served when people do not take economic responsibility for others, but rather by seeking their own self interests. But such an economic system rubs against the way God has created human beings. “Individual self-interest can be pursued validly but it must be accompanied by the pursuit of the good of others. These two pursuits are not in principle mutually exclusive but complementary (though in concrete cases they often conflict). My own good and the good of the whole human family are both included in the shalom of the new creation. Therefore, no contradiction is involved when a person ‘gives himself up’ for someone and ‘loves himself’ at the same time (see Eph. 5:25-28). (p. 192) “Unlike libertarian philosophy, Christian faith does make demands on people to accept economic responsibility for others. And these demands are not only demands of generosity. They are demands on them to practice justice. Both in the Old and the New Testaments the concept of justice includes concern for the underprivileged (see Matt. 6:1; Ps. 112:9). Paul, for instance, calls the financial help of gentile Christians to the Jerusalem poor ‘justice’ (2 Cor. 9:9). Correspondingly, the mere refusal of the wealthy to aid the poor can be considered a criminal act (Ezek. 16:49).” (p. 194) “Important as it is, from a Christian perspective, respect for individual liberty will not suffice as a basic rule for the market game. Respect for the right of sustenance of all individuals must be added as a rule that is even more basic than respect for individual liberty. If the market will not behave according to this rule, it is the market that has to go, not the rule. For the basic criterion of the humanness of an economic system is w[...]

Bill Moyers: plutocracy and democracy don't mix


Wisdom. Moyers is a Christian with a bias against plutocracy. I'm with him on this.
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Skye Jethani’s Church-365: Assist in cultural flourishing through vocation-based discipleship


Skye Jethani’s recent posts at Out of Ur (part 1, part 2, part 3) are a clarion-call for churches to re-imagine their purpose and function. He calls the posts Church365,  challenging the church to move away from the Sunday-centric model (Church52) that pushes church leaders into a job of ensuring the perpetuity of their institutional church rather than on empowering and equipping people to bless the world. In this five-part series (all of them are available at, Jethani is talking my language. I am in the middle of starting a non-profit for the purpose of equipping believers in the exact ways that he articulates here, to encourage discipleship by and through believers’ vocations.Jethani writes, “We come to believe that programs rather than people are the vessels of God’s Spirit and mission in the world. When this occurs we begin to honor people for their involvement in, or service for, the church. But what they do with the remainder of their time gets little attention. When this assumption is reinforced over decades, a hierarchy of importance is established with church leaders (pastors and missionaries) at the top. Others are then only celebrated when they behave like pastors or missionaries, or when they leave their ‘worldly’ professions to devote themselves to ‘full-time Christian service.’”What Jethani is asking the 21st-Century American church to do is to rediscover the Reformation’s deep theology of vocation. “It was understood that all callings were valid before God, and each glorified him and provided a critical service in the world. In other words, the life of the painter, politician, or podiatrist is just as God-honoring as that of the priest when done in communion with Christ and for the benefit of others.”Jethani says what I've been saying for years here at, that churches should be offering commissioning services for everyone in every line of work. Every Christian is in "full-time ministry," no matter what they are doing, no matter what it says on their business card, no matter if they punch a time clock or are on salary, no matter if they are doing technical work or people work, no matter if they are paid or a volunteer, no matter if they work for their boss or for their family as a housekeeper.He then interacts with David Kinnemann of the Barna Group (author of the new book, You Lost Me: Why Young People are Leaving the Church…And Rethinking Faith. In this book, Kinnemann insightfully states, “For me, frankly, the most heartbreaking aspect of our findings is the utter lack of clarity that many young people have regarding what God is asking them to do with their lives. It is a modern tragedy. Despite years of church-based experiences and countless hours of Bible-centered teaching, millions of next-generation Christians have no idea that their faith connects to their life’s work. They have access to information, ideas, and people from around the world, but no clear vision for a life of meaning that makes sense of all that input (You Lost Me, page 207).”I’m grateful that for the last six years, I’ve been doing ministry with the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO), a ministry that sees our mission as primarily that of equipping college students with discipleship that takes seriously how their vocations will be their way of living for Christ for the sake of the world. Now, with my future NPO, I will be doing that coupled with the task that Jethani advocates here:“(This is) going to be highly relational. It’s going to require an older believer in finance to mentor a younger one[...]

Waste Land: A Story of Redemption


As artists engage in the four chapters of the biblical narrative (Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration), they offer insight into the character of God in light of the way the world is meant to be. In my last two posts (about Banksy and Derek Webb), I looked at artistic depictions that are creative and also expose the fall, now we will look at the way art can offer glimpses of redemption and restoration. An artist that exemplifies redemption is Vik Muniz, who specializes in photographing unique physical creations and displaying them as enlarged photographs. Looking at one of Muniz’s photographs from afar, it looks like a regular image or a rendering of a familiar piece of artwork, but when examined up close, one discovers the use of various and surprising mediums, like chocolate syrup, peanut butter and jelly, plastic toy soldiers, and garbage. Muniz takes trash and discarded rubbish and transforms them into something beautiful, exemplifying the act of redemption. In the movie Waste Land, Vik Muniz takes a journey back to his homeland of Rio De Janeiro in order to meet those who live and work at Jardim Gramacho, the world's biggest garbage landfill. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="360" src="" width="640">As his helicopter first flies over the terrain of the landfill, he sees the hundreds of people working like ants, digging through the trash heaps picking out items that can be sold to recycling companies. He assumes that the “pickers” must be savages, filled with bitterness and violence. What he finds is different. As Muniz begins to talk with the people, getting to know their stories, he finds that the human spirit to more than just survive but to flourish, to find meaning and hope, is alive and well. There’s Tiaõ, the young, energetic president of the Association of Recycling Pickers of Jardim Gramacho. He has been a picker since he was eleven, and hopes that the fledgling union will grow in influence in order to improve the lives of the pickers. There’s Suelem, a young woman of eighteen who has been working on the garbage heap since she was seven. She has two kids and is pregnant with a third, but she is actually proud of the hard work she does at the landfill, because she has not taken the route of prostitute that she has seen many other pretty young women take. We watch her go home after a long day of work to the loving embraces of her children. There’s Irma, who loves her role as the landfill’s chef, cooking wonderful meals for the pickers made from the ingredients that she finds amidst the fresher garbage as it arrives at the landfill. Muniz convinces these pickers that they should let him take photographs of them in order to create his artwork. They understand that Muniz is a world-renowned artist whose artwork sells for incredible amounts of money. Muniz explains to them that by cooperating with him, he will be able to give them and their difficult work the recognition it deserves and that he will donate all the proceeds from his portraits back to the pickers. Muniz takes portraits of the pickers in different fascinating poses, and then blows up the black-and-white images to the size of the floor of a large warehouse. In the next step of the process, Muniz has the pickers help him fill in the details of the images on the floor with all sorts of discarded trash items that the pickers have saved from the landfill for recycling. There’s old sodapop bottles, toilet seats, plastic bins, traffic cones, shoes, etc., meticulously placed in such a[...]

Subversive Prophetic Music


In my last post, I asked, “What would it look like if a new generation of Christians took seriously the task of being subversive prophetic voices in their culture?”

Derek Webb takes a prophetic stand against the homophobia that exists in the evangelical subculture with “What Matters More.”

Webb’s label, INO Records, found the song too scandalous because Webb uses the word “shit” on it, so after much wrangling, Webb and the label agreed to not include it on INO’s release of the album Stockholm Syndrome while Webb could include it on his personal website’s version of the album.
The song is a subversive prophetic voice to those of us who act self-righteous with our words against homosexuality, showing that we have our priorities out of whack about the things that really matter.
If I can tell what's in your heart
By what comes out of your mouth,
Then it sure looks to me like
Being straight is all it's about. 
It looks like being hated
For all the wrong things,
Like chasing the wind
While the pendulum swings.
'Cause we can talk and debate
Till we're blue in the face
About the language and tradition
That He's coming to save.
Meanwhile we sit
Just like we don't give a shit
About fifty thousand people
Who are dying today.
Tell me, brother what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister what matters more to you?

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Besides being perhaps the first song from a Christian musician to use the word “shit,” this is perhaps the first to rage against the injustice of homophobia.

Of course, Derek Webb is not the first Christian ever to write something using a shocking word for excrement as a device to get our attention. The Apostle Paul, writing about all his past religious credentials, wrote to the Philippians,
“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as σκύβαλον (skubalon - dung, human excrement, “shit”) in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8-9).
Sometimes it takes a little rebellious language to get the attention of those who are “religious” while Christ and his Kingdom demand us to change our ways.

Art as Prophetic Subversion


I have already stated emphatically that art is good simply because it is creative. Art glorifies God simply by being imaginative and original. Art’s value is not based on its instrumentality or on its commercial value. What proceeds below must not serve to undermine this foundational assertion: Good art is good art; it glorifies God “as is.”Beyond the inherent goodness in art, there are also other ways that art can bring glory to God. Today we will look at how art can be both creative and prophetic. Tomorrow we will see how art can be redemptive and restorative. Art can be prophetic, creating critical awareness of injustice, brokenness, oppression, and the need for action to alleviate suffering. “Using the arts to create critical awareness is not new. In the Old Testament Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos, and other prophets used drama, allegory, and poetry to jolt people and nations into thinking about their lives in the world. Jesus, by his presence and his storytelling, often confused and angered those around him who did not want to recognize their own role in oppressing the poor. He created critical awareness among the poor by causing them to see and act on the new life of freedom that was possible outside the accepted cultural boundaries based on status, wealth, power, religion, gender, and ethnicity.” (Taking it to the Streets: Using the Arts to Transform Your Community, by J. Nathan Corbitt and Vivian Nix-Early, p. 129)In the movie, Exit Through the Gift Shop, an eccentric Frenchman Thierry Guetta has an obsession to videotape the secret lives of the most famous street artists as they create their art. Even though he tells the street artists he is making a documentary, he in fact has no ability to do so, he simply collects box after box of unmarked videotapes. In his exploits, Guetta meets many of the most famous street artists in the world, including Space Invader, Shephard Fairey (known for his Andre the Giant stencils and made famous through his colorful Barack Obama posters during the 2008 election) and the most famous and most mysterious street artist of them all, Banksy, whose legendary art mysteriously appears on walls, bridges, and streets throughout the world. All we know of Banksy’s identity is that he is a 30-something male from the Bristol area of England. In the film, Banksy’s face is obscured in black while he wears a hoody as he is speaks to the camera. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="360" src="" width="480">Banksy is one of today’s greatest creative geniuses. Most of his art is created through a unique stenciling technique (though he also creates physical props) and these masterpieces are often satirical and subversive, using irreverent dark humor to offer insightful social commentary. His art has appeared throughout the world, including buildings made derelict by Hurricane Katrina (one painting depicted an old man sitting on a rocking chair waving a small American flag under spray-painted words “No Loitering”), the wall that divides Israel and Palestine (where he created nine provocative paintings depicting escape, freedom, and beauty on an object that represents imprisonment and the ugly reality of political faction), and even Disneyland (where he placed a life-sized replica of a Guantanamo Bay detainee next to a roller coaster). When an art museum commissions Banksy to display his art, the museum is vacated while he secretly comes in and installs his art. One of his most provocative p[...]

We Need a Vertical and Horizontal Theology of Art and Culture


In what has been called the “Great Commandment” of Mark 12:28-31 and Matthew 22:34–40, Jesus tells us that we must love the Lord our God and love our neighbors. Artists that want to be used by God need to embrace both the vertical and horizontal aspects of this love. Art certainly can be a “vertical” expression of our worship of God. We should compose and play music, paint, draw, write, sculpt, photograph, film, etc. objects that directly worship God. Art that celebrates God is very important to the life of the church, for these artistic expressions are capable of moving hearts in ways that didactic teaching rarely does, making disciples through praise and worship. It is one of the primary ways that we fulfill the first of the two-part commandment—we are to love the Lord our God. But there is a second part to that commandment that many in the evangelical church have missed when it comes to the arts. Not only are we to create art that expresses our love for God, we are to create art that expresses love for neighbor. Art is not just for the praise of God, it is to be an instrument for good to our neighbors. J. Nathan Corbitt and Vivian Nix-Early correctly state,“Christian artists should indeed ‘lift holy hands in praise of God’ with their arts in the sanctuary and in their lives, but they should also be challenged and encouraged to give others ‘a cup of water’ in Jesus’ name and put a song in people’s hearts through the arts in the streets outside the sanctuary…Excellent worship demands excellent love and forcefully propels this love out of the sanctuary and into the public square.” (Taking it to the Streets: Using the Arts to Transform Your Community, Baker Books, 2003, pp. 20, 21.Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book on Art is appropriately titled Art in Action. In it, he states, “Works of art equip us for action. And the range of actions for which they equip us is very nearly as broad as the range of human action itself…Art—so often thought of as a way of getting out of the world—is man’s way of acting in the world.” (pp. 4, 5)This week, we will end this series dealing with Christian theology as it relates to popular art and cultural engagement by looking at ways that art can “love neighbors” through being creative, prophetic, redemptive, and through offering hope.[...]

Subversive for the Common Good: Seek the Welfare of the City


God, through the prophet Jeremiah, not only tells those in the Babylonian exile to live holy lives, he also gives them a calling as they live in the midst of this oppressive empire.
“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
As Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat wrote,
“This call is profoundly subversive—right up there with ‘pray for those who persecute you’ (Matt. 5:44)—precisely because it is completely antithetical to all the empire could ask or imagine. The empire wants nothing more than to break the spirit and will of the foreigners in its midst. But with the call to seek the welfare of the empire, the exiles are living out of the vision and hope of Genesis, for the good of the empire itself. This is a call to be God’s people by bringing shalom and healing in places of brokenness and despair. And what could be more broken and more in need of healing than the place of oppression, the heart of the empire?” (Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (InterVarsity Press, 2004), p. 68).
We who are in the Kingdom of God are called to bear witness to that kingdom within the broken world that we reside by our subversive actions for the common good.
In his first letter, Peter tells us that good deeds are the ultimate witness that Christ is Lord. As the Kingdom of God advances over the dark twisted ways of the fallen world, people will see that God is indeed good.
“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:13-16).
Doing what is right and good is simply a practical way of stating the “Great Commandment” of Mark 12:28-31 and Matthew 22:34–40, where Jesus tells us that we must love the Lord our God and love our neighbors. How can we create cultural artifacts that are for the common good, that act as leaven in the world, transforming it from the inside out?
Next: A Horizontal and Vertical Theology of Cultural Engagement

Christian Faithful Presence in the Culture


For the past month, I’ve been exploring a proper Christian engagement with popular cultural art. If Art is to be “Missional,” then artists must take seriously that the kingdom their work can act like yeast that is mixed into the culture (Matthew 13:33). In my last post, I quoted Al Wolters saying that the gospel is a leavening influence in human life wherever it is lived, which “makes possible renewal of each creational area from within, not without.”

James Davison Hunter, in his influential book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, calls this “Faithful Presence.”

Christians are called to be “fully present and committed in their spheres of social influence, whatever they may be: their families, neighborhoods, voluntary activities, and places of work…to create conditions in the structures of social life we inhabit that are conducive to the flourishing of all.” (p. 247)

This “flourishing” is the Shalom that I spoke of earlier, the way things are meant to be – “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight” (as Plantinga says in his book).

Hunter says,
“Faithful presence in our spheres of influence does not imply passive conformity to the established structures. Rather, within the dialectic between affirmation and antithesis, faithful presence means a constructive resistance that seeks new patterns of social organizations that challenge, undermine, and otherwise diminish oppression, injustice, enmity, and corruption and, in turn, encourage harmony, faithfulness and abundance, wholeness, beauty, joy, security, and well-being.” (pp. 247-8.)
What Hunter is advocating is for Christians, through their vocations, to act in subversive ways in order to bring God’s kingdom to bear upon the fallen world, “for he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:12-13).

NEXT: “Faithful Presence” as Subversive Art  within the Empire of Oppression

Structure and Direction: A Better Paradigm for Cultural Engagement


There is a superior way to deal with culture rather than the pietistic path of arbitrarily deciding what in the culture is bad and then shunning those things. Albert Wolters suggests that if we think in terms of the biblical storyline of “Creation, Fall, Redemption,” we will have a better paradigm by which to engage culture.“Creation” is the way things were originally created, “very good” in God’s eyes. It is the “structure” that God originally intended, not just for the primordial creation, but also the latent potential embedded in the creation from the beginning which enables humanity to create new technologies and art.“Fall” and “Redemption” are then the two opposing “directions” that humanity is now engaged in exercising upon this God-ordained structure. Thus, if we think in the paradigm of “Structure and Direction” we will be called not just to shun the things of the Fall, but rather to actively engage in changing the trajectory of those things toward Redemption.In Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, Albert Wolters writes,“This twin emphasis makes a radical difference in the way Christian believers approach reality. Because they believe that creational structure underlies all of reality, they seek and find evidence of lawful constancy in the flux of experience, and of invariant principles amidst a variety of historical events and institutions. Because they confess that a spiritual direction underlies their experience, they see abnormality where others see normality, and possibilities of renewal where others see inevitable distortion. In every situation, they explicitly look for and recognize the presence of creational structure, distinguishing this sharply from the human abuse to which it is subject.” (pp. 88-89)This paradigm then moves the Christian toward redemptive action. It is not enough to identify that which is good, true and beautiful as opposed to that which is evil, lies and distortion. It is the Christian vocation to intentionally turn that which is in the latter categories toward God’s good intentions. In Matthew 13:33, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Wolters writes, “We learn for this that the gospel is a leavening influence in human life wherever it is lived, and influence that slowly but steadily brings change from within. The gospel affects government in a specifically political manner, art in a peculiarly aesthetic manner, scholarship in a uniquely theoretical manner, and churches in a distinctly ecclesiological manner. It makes possible renewal of each creational area from within, not without…Everything in principle can be sanctified and internally renewed—our personal life, our societal relationships, our cultural activities…What was formed in creation has been historically deformed by sin and must be reformed in Christ.” (p. 90. 91)A “Missional” attitude for artists and for those who patronize the arts, then, is to be actively reformational: Intentionally seeking to be change agents, changing the direction of God’s good creational structure away from the depravity of the Fall and toward the re-creation of all things in Christ. [...]