Most Important Teachings for a New Believer

About a month or so ago I was asked what I felt was the ‘what’s the most important thing(s) a new believer needs to know/understand?’ In pondering this question, I have landed on two words: incarnation and movement.

1)      Incarnation

Typically, when we talk about Jesus of Nazareth, we tend to focus on the cross – especially when dealing with salvation. And while the cross is extremely important, I feel that we need to back up and talk more about who Jesus is. As in, Jesus of Nazareth isn’t just our savior, but he is “visible image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) whose humility “made himself nothing…being made in human likeness” (Phil 2:7). It is because of the incarnation that we have a “high priest… who has been tempted in every way, just as we are” which allows us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:15-16). Sadly, all too often people forget about in incarnation and the fact that the Creator became the created, dwelling instead on the divinity of Jesus which makes him unapproachable and his actions unrelatable. How or why, for example, should I forgive my enemies when Jesus only did that because he was God?! However, I would submit to you all that the overwhelming gist of the New Testament is that we should be imitating the life of Jesus as he is the truest representation of humanity. It is as St. John the Evangelist says, “anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived” (1 John 2:6).

In addition to the above, it is noteworthy that the question about the nature of Jesus (i.e., the incarnation) was THE primary issue debated by the early Church Mothers and Fathers for the first 500 years after the live, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus (this is why the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed includes so much detail about who Jesus is). Most (if not all) of the heresies through church history has to do with the nature of Jesus of Nazareth. Gnosticism, for example, is a heresy that started in the 1st century but lives on today in a lot of churches that states that physical material existence is flawed and evil whereas the spiritual is holy and right. Depending on the stream of Gnosticism, Jesus was either a human who attained enlightenment (i.e., a pure and holy God would not spoil himself by taking on a physical body) or he was a purely spiritual being who fooled his followers into thinking he had a physical body. Another historical, but also modern, heresy is Arianism which states that Jesus isn’t the same as God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Rather, Jesus is the first created or begotten creation of God; hence, removing him from the Trinity. The LDS church teaches a form of Arianism with some twists here and there that makes it a semi-Arianism or such heresy. Definitions aside, understanding the incarnation and who Jesus is will go a long way to helping people stay the course while avoiding the various heresies out there today.

2)      Movement

One of the hallmarks of modern Evangelism is the salvation experience. We talk about it all the time: Are you saved? When were you saved? Do you remember the time in which you were saved? Etc. While this time of talk can be helpful, it can also be harmful. Afterall, if we – the church – were doing things correctly, our children would be raised in the faith from the time of their birth to their death. They wouldn’t have a ‘salvation experience’ per se in that they would have grown up walking with Jesus. This, in fact, is my own story. I have never denied Jesus nor left the church or any of the things people say you do when you ‘backslide’ or ‘leave Jesus.’ As such, I don’t have a ‘cool’ salvation story that says that used to do this and that but now I don’t. (Oh, the stories I can tell you about the pressure of having to come up with cool conversation story to tell so that I could fit in with everyone else!!). Instead of a single conversation experience, I have had multiple Holy Spirit experiences in which the Lord has drawn me deeper and deeper into a relationship with him. As such, I would suggest that we focus on movement rather than moments.

Historically, the first followers of Jesus were known as followers of The Way (Acts 9:2, 19:9, 19:23). Some of their neighbors, however, had a hard time understanding this phrase so they called them “Christians” (Acts 11:26). Though the terms are different, buried deep within both of them is the concept of motion or movement. The phrase “The Way,” for example, carries within itself the idea of moving towards something while emphasizes the concept that there is a certain manner in which one is to be moving. Hence, we can talk about a ‘way of life’ or the ‘way to do something. Closely connected to this self-designation is the idea of being a pilgrim. In that we are people, as Eugene Peterson declared, “who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ.” The second term, ‘Christian,’ is from the Greek word Χριστιανός which means means “little Christ” which can be further defined as “follower of Christ.” Hence it is a term that emphasizes movement as being a follower of someone suggests that we are active adherents or disciples of that person. As disciples of Jesus, we are, to quote Eugene Peterson again, “people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ” in an ever “growing-learning relationship.” We are to be so in love with Jesus that we seek to emulate him in every thought and deed. As St. Maximos wrote, “he who loves Christ is bound to imitate Him to the best of his ability.”

Philosopher James K.A. Smith builds on this concept in declaring that “being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behavior; rather, it’s a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly – who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love.”  Hence to embrace being a Christian is to radically change the manner in which we engage the world around us while moving beyond simple answers of certainty. It is to put our hands into the hands of Jesus and trust him as we walk into the darkness of the unknown.

Movement is the one thread that runs throughout all these terms. To be a member of the Way is to embrace a new way of life whereas to be a Christian is to be a follower of Christ. Being a disciple means emulating Jesus while being a pilgrim entails being on a journey with Jesus. The concept of movement is buried deep within the core of Christianity. In reflecting on this, Bishop Kallistos Ware declared that “Christianity is more than a theory about the universe, more than teachings written down on paper; it is a path along which we journey – in the deepest and richest sense, the way of life.” 

And yes, if you picked up on the slight change of tone, I did shift into quoting my book The Mystery, the Way, and the Journey. =P Movement in following Jesus is just something I’ve been pondering for a few years now so I grabbed some text I already had written down.  Following Jesus is more than just believing in him (after all, even the demons believe, James 2:19), rather it is a way of life that changes the way we drink coffee, talk to our spouses/kids, work, etc. It is as St. Paul said, “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Col 3:23).

Remembering Our Interconnectedness

Gadugi. Though only a few syllables in Cherokee, it carries within its vocalization a value system centered around people becoming one with each other and helping each other. It is a recognition that we are more than just individuals burning time on a spinning planet in the middle of nothing. Rather to speak of gadugi is to feel the connection we have as members of a community and, in that connection, strive to help each other according to what is best for the other.

Echoes of the Cherokee’s gadugi can be found in the instructions of the Creator for the people Israel to practice a year of rest every seven years. Similar to the Sabbath day which happened each week, the Sabbath year was a time of rest in which the people were told by the Creator not to sow their fields or prune their vineyards (Lev 25:1-7). Rather they were to give the land rest in remembrance of the seventh day of creation when the Creator rested. The food that was to be eaten that year by the people, their livestock, and the wild animals was to be not from plowed lands, but from the natural produce grown by a land in rest (Lev 25:7). 

Though we might forget about it, the Creator made a covenant with the land, plants, and animals (Gen 9:10, 12, 15, 16, 17) just like he did with humanity. In fact, humanity is part of nature as we are all interconnected though relationship with each other. Hence to observe a Sabbath year would be to place yourself at the mercy of nature and the Provider. It would be to practice a type of gadugi in which our non-human relatives help feed us as we walk through a time of individual and community purification and soul seeking. 

After seven such purifying years, the people would celebrate a Year of Jubilee in which liberty was proclaimed nationwide and each person returned to their ancestral home (Lev 25:8-10).  The land was to rest for a second year in row while all debts were forgiven, slaves of Hebrew blood were set free (others, sadly, stayed in captivity), and families throughout the nation gave away the property that they had acquired over the years to the families who were originally granted the land by the Creator (Lev 25:11-55). 

In following these instructions, the people of Israel would be acting out gadugi in that they would be helping each other while remembering their own interconnectedness. The outcast would be able to return home with debts forgiven. Those in slavery would find freedom along with access to resources to change their family’s future. The wealthy would be given the chance to stave off the destination of their soul that comes through unchecked growth and greed by having the opportunity to give away that which they have acquired. The land, plants, and animals would be able to show their gadugi to the people while the people showed gratitude to the land from which they came.   

Though the original Year of Jubilee was given by the Provider to a people group many years removed from us, I feel that the celebration is still valuable. We need to be reminded just like the people of old that we belong to a community beyond ourselves (gadugi). We need to have a check on our own greed and desire to accumulate material things. We need to remember that the land around us is living, breathing, and working to keep up with us. We all need rest. We all need time to stop and reflect upon our interconnectedness while giving glory to our Creator/Provider. We are all in need of a year of Jubilee.

Hell: My View on this DEBATABLE Topic

Hell. It is a painful topic for some while divisive to others. Even sadder, hell has become a symbol of Christian orthodoxy within the US Evangelical church. Countless statement of faiths published by churches across the country include the belief of literal eternal damnation as a key part of the faith. Historically, however, the church at large has ALWAYS allowed for different views on hell as it isn’t a salvation issue. 

Though my admit at writing may pale in comparison to others before and perhaps even after me, I am going to try to outline some of the key points of consideration in rethinking the typically literal view of hell. I will also include my own personal option on the topic for those who may be curious about where I stand on the issue. =)

Rather than jumping straight into the biblical text, I feel that we must start by looking at history to see what our fellow Jesus disciples have thought about the topic. From there we can shift our focus to the bible though it would be best if we started with an understanding of the grand story of the faith as well as the central message of Jesus as that will impact how we read/understand the few verses that reference ‘hell.’


“We do not read the Bible as isolated individuals,” Bishop Kallistos Ware of the Eastern Orthodox Church reminds us, “interpreting it solely by the light of our private understanding, or in terms of current theories about source, form or redaction criticism. We read it as members of the Church, in communion with all the other members throughout the ages” (The Orthodox Way, 110).

I call this out as we should always reminder that we are but one link in a long chain of the Faith. Though we may feel passionately about this topic or another, we should nevertheless hold things humbly knowing that Christianity belongs not solely to the living but also to those who walked on long before we graced the surface of this planet.

In looking back towards the early church it is extremely noteworthy that the doctrine of hell was not included in the major ecumenical Creeds which outlined the faith (e.g., Creed of Nicaea, 325 AD; Nicaea-Constantinoplitan Creed, 381 AD; Chalcedonian Creed, 451 AD)). Nor was the doctrine of hell considered important enough to devout a church council for nor was it used as a boundary line to say who is and isn’t a Christian. Rather the Church Mothers and Fathers recognized that the Scriptures allowed for multiple views of the subject.

To put this into perspective, we should remember that the Church Mothers and Fathers debated just about every part of the Faith for HUNDREDS of years. Yet despite their hyper-focus on a lot of things, they choose to leave the doctrine of hell off the list of key points of the Faith. IMHO, I feel that this fact should give us pause before we start trying to include our particular view of hell in the list of non-negotiable items. Rather we should keep things open handed while noting that is it okay if Christians differ on this subject.

A quick side note on a few things before moving on as I’m sure someone will bring this up. It is true that the Apostles’ Creed (120-250 AD) mentions hell; though the reference is in the context of Jesus descending into hell in order to conquer the powers therein. What the creed does not do is outline what ‘hell’ is nor the fate of people who don’t follow Jesus.

The Athanasian Creed (500~AD), which was NOT written by Athanasius of Alexandria despite the name, includes a line towards the bottom that says that those who have done evil will go “into everlasting fire.” This would, I grant, be considered a doctrine of hell – specifically in support of the eternal damnation view. The thing to remember, however, is that this creed was not crafted nor adopted by any of the global church councils. Rather it is a creed of unknown origins that showed up in the six century among the western European portion of the church. As such, this creed is more of a subset of the Faith rather than a major ecumenical creed agreed upon by the church at large.

Major Views on Hell

Before we start looking at the Scriptures, I wanted to list out the three major views of hell along with some proponents of the views. I’m not going to go into detail about each of the views, rather my goal is just to highlight the fact that there are solid Jesus followers who hold these views.

  • Literal eternal damnation – the belief that those who don’t follow Jesus will be tortured by fire and brimstone for eternity; this is the main view within US Evangelicalism
  • Annihilationism or Conditional Immortality – the belief that those who don’t go to heaven will simple cease to exist; proponents include John Wenham, Edward Fudge, Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd, and John Scott
  • Christian Universalism the belief that all humans will ultimately be restored in relationship with the Creator; proponents include Karl Barth, Jurgen Moltman, Gregory MacDonald (aka Robin Parry), David Bentley Hart, and Brad Jersak

In addition to the above three, there are variations and other views – including the Roman Catholic view of Purgatory or the belief that hell is simply a state of being rather than place.

The Hebrew Scriptures

The bound book that we call the Bible is actually a collection of 66 books written over approximately 1,500 years by at least 40 different authors. Of these books, 39 are in the Old Testament. Interestingly enough, if you were to read through these books you will find that heaven and hell does NOT place a role in any of these books. Rather the Hebrew Scriptures are fairly focused on the here and now – though, I would admit, there is a certain amount of eschatological hope within the books that point to something in the future. However this future hope was not centered on living forever in heaven or hell; instead it was centered on the coming rule of the Creator in Heaven breaking into this current broken world (see chapters 2-7 in my book The Here and Not Yet for more details)

The Old Testament does, however, mention sheol. Though sometimes confused with ‘hell’, this term referred to a place of darkness to which all the dead go (both the righteous and unrighteous). In other words, to the ancient Hebrew people, when you die, your body was buried and your soul went to sheol. Period. There was no resurrection, rewards, punishment, etc. You were just dead.

Now during the inter-testament period of the Second Temple (500 BEC – 70CE) things begin to change. The Jewish people came into contact with Greek and Roman culture which started to influence their thought process. Slowly the thought started to develop that righteous people went to Abraham’s Bosom while the unrighteous went somewhere else. The concept of a personal resurrection also came into being as seen in 2 Maccabees 7.

All of this is notable because it shows how the doctrine of hell WASN’T an issue for the followers of the Creator for MOST of human history. Rather the concept of hell is fairly new once placed upon the grand timeline of human history. =)

The New Testament Scriptures

Jesus, Paul, and all the other early church leaders/writers grew up under the overarching rule of the Roman Empire. Though they were ethnic Jewish people (well, Jesus, Paul, and most of early leaders), they were also heavily influenced by the surrounding Greco-Roman culture. Throughout the lands in which Jesus walked there were Roman/Greek temples, buildings, armies, entertainment, etc. This reality is VERY important because both first century Judaism and then Christianity afterwards was influenced by Greek/Roman theology and philosophy.

Immortality was something the Greek philosophers pondered quite a bit. Plato, for example, believed that the body was mortal and the soul immortal. Hence it was important to focus on what was immortal while denying that what was mortal. This view – and others – started to shift Judaism to the point in which they started to see things differently than they used too – as I noted in the previous section. I call it out here as I wanted folks to understand that views about afterlife (i.e., hell and heaven) are fluid rather than unchanging.

In turning to the New Testament, we must note that hell isn’t a major topic. Paul never talks explicitly about it nor do any of the evangelistic passages in Acts (i.e., there is no ‘turn or burn’ passage in Acts). The Gospels record a few references to Gehnna, Hades, and fire. Typically these references are within stories told by Jesus with the main message being about other topics rather than hell itself. This quote from UK Evangelical Alliance study The Nature of Hell summarizes things nicely (pulled from Stephen Burnhope’s book How to Read the Bible Well, page 156):

Matthew, Mark, Luke, Jude, and Revelation refer mainly to Gehenna, Hades, and fire, and imply some duration of punishment. John, Paul, and other letters refer mainly to perishing, destruction, and death.

The verses that imply duration would seem to support eternal damnation while perishing or death verses seem to support annihilationshism (i.e., to perish is to cease to exist).

Time and space does not allow for us to breakdown every verse or concept within the New Testament. If you are interested, there are multiple books which do that. Instead, I would like to highlight a few items of note.

  • Gehenna – Mark 9:42-48 is one of the main passages within the Gospels that folks brings up about hell. Though some English bible translations may use the term ‘hell’ for place of ‘gehenna’, these terms are not the same. Gehenna refers to a valley outside of Jerusalem that was also called the Valley of Hinnom. It was a place of idolatrous worship during the Old Testament where the Hebrew people offered child sacrifices to Molech and Baal. During the time of Jesus this place as a rubbish heap where the people of Jerusalem would throw their waste. As such, it was a nasty place with methane gas, worms, and other things connected with sewage dumps.
  • Hades – The Gentile writer Luke mentions the term hades in chapter 16 of his letter within the context of a story told by Jesus (Lazarus and the rich man). Hades, it should be noted, is a Greek/Roman term typically used of the underworld where the dead went. Hades was also the name of the Greek/Roman god who ruled the underworld. It was not a place of torment per se but rather a place of “shadowy existence, hardly conscious and without memory of their former life” (The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary). In using this term, I would suggest that Jesus is painting a world picture for his audience to help them understand his main point – which wasn’t about hell but money, rich, and poor.
  • Eternal – Of special note to me is the term ‘enteral’ as used within the Gospels. As noted within chapter 8 of my book The Here and Not Yet , the phrase ‘eternal life’ is directly connect with the phrase ‘kingdom of God’ which was about the coming rule and reign of the Creator. Hence the Greek terms normally translated as ‘eternal life’ is better translated as ‘the life of the age to come.’ (NT Wright, as a side note, does this in Mark 10:17 of The Kingdom New Testament.) In following this same inaugurated eschatology view of things, I would suggest that ‘eternal punishment’ in Matthew 25:46 isn’t about lasting forever a kin to the Greco-Roman view of immorality, but rather about receiving the punishment of the age to come in this age just like those who do follow Jesus receive the life of this age to come in this age.

Practical Considerations

Now that we have outlined some of the issues concerning hell, I feel that it is time to think about the practical outworking thereof. Though it is easy to forget, theology isn’t something done in a vacuum or somewhere removed from daily life. Our theology directly impacts our daily lives and how we treat people so we must think through the implications of our theological viewpoints.

  • Literal eternal damnation – Practically speaking, if we believe that people who do not follow Jesus are doomed to spend eternity in torture, what does that say about us? Why is it so important that people burn in hell while others spend eternity in heaven? Is it so that we who follow Jesus can somehow feel special? Should it not pain us to think of such eternal punishment? Also, what does it say about our God? How could a God of love create and sustain such a torture location? Furthermore, as history has shown, the belief in a literal hell has been used to control people (i.e., believe my way or burn in hell, pay this money to escape hell, etc.).
  • Annihilationism – If people just cease to exist, should that not motivate us to tell them about Jesus? For in this case, following Jesus become not only about today but also about gaining life eternal.
  • Christian Universalism – Practically speaking, if everyone makes it to heaven then why would we spend our time telling people about Jesus? At least that would be a common thought. My response is that following Jesus is about the here and now just as much, if not more so, than about the afterlife. Hence we should be sharing Jesus with people because of what is happening now. We all need more the Age to Come in our midst today.


Early on I established the fact that historically the doctrine of hell has never been key to the Faith. Also despite US Evangelicalism focus on hell, the bible supports multiple views. As such, it could be said that we have a choice on what we think. And if we have a choice, why not choose a view that shows grace and love? Would that not be in keeping with the life and message of Jesus?

For me personally, I fall into would be called a ‘hopeful universalist’ in that my hope is that everyone will be restored in relationship with the Creator. However, I’m not a full universalist as the subject has a certain amount of ambiguity surrounding it that I can not be fully certain. As such, I will occasionally drift towards the annihilationism camp in that I can see the concept of evil just ceasing to be. What I can not do is support the literal eternal damnation view of hell in any way. To me, that view has more to do with Greco/Roman philosophy and culture then with the character of the Creator. And, well, since the Faith gives us a choice, I will gladly choose life, grace, and love over punitive punishment.

The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended

A few months ago in March a very important book was published dealing with the organism gap between women and men within the Evangelism/Pentecostal church. The book, The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended by Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, and Joanna Sawatsky, is a MUST read for pretty much anyone and everyone.  And by that, I mean – husbands stop what you are doing and read this book!

Though I’ve been around the Evangelism/Pentecostal church for all my life, I have been on the edges of the church world in that I don’t watch Christian TV, go to marriage seminars, or pay attention to any of the big name pastors/celebrities out there. My interests has been in the early church, Celtic Christianity, spiritual formation, history, and the like. Hence I just didn’t hear about a lot of the patriarchal marriage advice being taught by so many people throughout the church. Now that I know, I am very, very upset and just floored that Christian pastors are promoting marital rape and other horrible things. Yeah, it is that bad!!


I share more about my thoughts on the book and the topic in the related YouTube video linked below (note that it is age-restricted due to the nature of the content).

The bottom is this: love one another and don’t force anyone to anything they don’t want to do. Period.

Book Release!!

It is with great joy that I announce the launch of my newest book, The Mystery, the Way, and the Journey: Walking into the Darkness of the Unknown. This book started off as a personal project before morphing into a MA thesis and then into a book. I pray that you all will enjoy the content as I feel that the message is crucial for today’s Jesus followers.

We live in a time of certainty and extremes where questions must be answered and spiritual salvation is centered on a single moment. By drawing on the writings of St. Maximos the Confessor (580–662 CE), this book seeks to introduce the reader to a new, albeit old, way of following Jesus of Nazareth into the darkness of the unknown by embracing the mystery of uncertainty as a way of life in which each person’s journey is different. Interwoven together, the concepts of the Mystery, the Way, and the Journey provide a way forward through the uncertainty of the future by following the path set forth by the ancient church while understanding that we are part of something bigger and older than modern American Christianity.

“In a world where faith has been defined as facts and arriving at a destination, Josh Hopping gives us the option to pursue truth and stay on a journey with the Triune God. If you are tired of easy answers and want to learn how to live in the mystery of walking with Jesus, then this is the book for you.”

–Ramon Mayo, author of Reclaiming Diversity

“There has been, in the last few decades, a growing restlessness and unease within the conservative evangelical tribe with the excessive simplicity of how the faith journey is understood and interpreted, and the corresponding and addictive need for absolute certainty that is constrictive and suffocating. Many of the more curious, thoughtful, and creative people within such a small womb are feeling the birth pangs and emerging into a fuller vision of life–such is the maturing beauty of Joshua Hopping. . . . It is best when reading a good book to step beyond merely reading for information and allow the book to be a midwife of transformation. Certainly, Joshua’s book can do this if read in the spirit in which it was written. I highly recommend multiple meditative reads of this pure diamond of a book.”

–Ron Dart, Department of Political Studies, Philosophy, and Religious Studies, University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, British Columbia

Rethinking the Atonement (with Powerful Decolonial and Missiological Ramifications!)

Despite the Cross being central to the Way of Jesus, it is also one of the most misunderstood parts of Christianity. We all know that Jesus of Nazareth died upon the Cross, was buried, and then was resurrected three days later. But why? What was the purpose of the Cross? How does Jesus’ death fit within the story of Israel and how does that death and resurrection affect us today? These are the questions Stephen Burnhope seeks to answer in his book Atonement and the New Perspective: The God of Israel, Covenant, and the Cross.

Starting with the doctrine of the atonement, Stephen shows how the various atonement theories normally tossed around (e.g. ransom, Christus Victor, penal substitutionary, etc.) within the Evangelicalism carry within them a thread of supersessionist in which the story of Israel is effectively removed from the Cross. In response to this trend, Stephen proposes a view of the atonement in which “Israel’s story is both the context in which God’s covenantal work in Christ is situated and the means by which it can best be understood” (pg xxx).

It is this framework that makes Stephen’s book worth buying as he helps us remember the story of Israel and the importance of the Torah – which, contrary to popular option, isn’t about ‘works’ or ‘earning one’s salvation.’ Rather the Torah helped guide Israel in their response to God’s saving race. As Stephen puts it, “Just as the covenant ‘in Torah’ brings about and maintains an atoned relationship, so too does the covenant ‘in Christ’” (pg 235). The Cross isn’t about a legal transaction in which we gain a relationship with God but rather the way in which we are to live within that relationship. Our relationship with the Creator has always been there, it was just fractured and damaged due to the death, sin, and pain present within the world.

To return to Stephen’s book, “Atonement ‘in Christ’ defined in this manner does not start at the cross, any more than ‘in Torah’ it starts with a sin offering. In each case, it begins with a decision in the heart of God to enter into a covenant with humanity…The covenant provides the framework and terms according to which an at-one relationship is firstly established and secondly maintained” (pg 235). Though this may strike many within Evangelicalism as being out there, this framework and conclusion is actually more Scriptural than most atonement theories – especially penal substitutionary atonement which relies on 16th century European culture more than Scriptures.

In addition to grounding the atonement in the story of Israel, Stephen’s view of the atonement opens a fairly powerful decolonial and missiological door. “By reconceiving the relationship of the gospel to Torah in this non-competitive way, accepting each way of relating to God – ‘in Torah’ and ‘in Christ’ – as valid, but different” (pg 226) allows us to think missiological about the ways in which God worked in and through other cultures and people. Consider the story of Jonah, for a moment.  You have a Israelite prophet who goes to a foreign country and preaches a message of repentance to a bunch of people who don’t know a thing about the Mosaic covenant. There are no priests, temple, altars, Levities, etc. Nothing. And yet, the Creator honors their heart and breathes his mercy and grace upon them without having them abandoned their culture (i.e. they repented in accordance with their customs and culture).  “Human life,” as Stephen notes, “has always been lived under the blessing of a covenant promise of God that offered relationship with him through a covenantal nomism” (pg 243).  

For those getting nervous, I must point out that accepting the legitimacy of the Torah (or the repentance of Nineveh within their culture) doesn’t lessen the work of Jesus. Isn’t about the “efficacy or permanence of one [Torah] versus the other [Jesus]” (pg 226). Rather it is about knowing the Creator directly through Jesus or indirectly through the Torah (pg 219). Though Stephen doesn’t go there, I would say that just like God showed himself indirectly through the Torah to the Israelites, we can look for echoes of the Creator within the culture, stories, and customs of people groups around the globe. In finding these echoes, we can use them to introduce people to Jesus of Nazareth, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15, NET).  Powerful ramifications to say the least!!!

ST. Paul, Ephesus, Multiculturalism, and the Church

In the book of Ephesians, St. Paul encourages two vastly different cultural groups to come together as one body. Though it is easy to skim over, this encouragement was – and is – HUGE! Think about it: Paul isn’t saying that the Greek-Romans have to give up their culture to become like the Jews; nor does he say that the Jews have to give up their culture to be like the Greek-Romans. Rather he is calling for both groups to embrace the discomfort that comes with having two cultures intermingled as one. Powerful teaching that is need today more than ever before! Learn more about this topic in the below video as we look to become one body with multiple cultures.

Reclaiming Diversity: Destroying the Myth of the White Man’s Religion

The ‘good news’ of Jesus is one that embraces all cultures and ethnicities. Sadly, however, Christianity as a religion has been used to harm people of color to the point that some are now looking at dismissing the Faith as simply a ‘white man’s religion.’ It is against this false narrative of Christianity being a European invention that my friend Ramon Mayo wrote his book Reclaiming Diversity: Destroying the Myth of the White Man’s Religion.

Written in a conversation tone, Ramon does a phenomenal job at tracing the roots of Christianity from its Middle Eastern beginnings to growing up within North Africa. As Ramon so eloquently writes:

“The Christian faith was blossoming and flourishing in African and Asian soil way before Islam overpowered Egypt and the rest of North Africa. The major doctrines of the faith were hammered out in Alexandria and Antioch before the tribes of Europe wholeheartedly embraced them. To believe Christianity is the white man’s religion is to ignore the truth of its origins.”

And in learning the truth, we shall be set free as Jesus of Nazareth once said (Jn 8:32). How so? Well, in dismantling the colonial whitewashing of Christianity we do two things:

  1. We allow those of us who are of a white-European heritage to embrace the multi-cultural multi-ethnicity nature of the Faith, which, in turn, will take us deeper into the love of the Creator which is poured out for all of creation (human and non-human).
  2. We open the door for those of us who are Indigenous and people of color (IPOC) so that we can embrace Jesus of Nazareth while remaining true to who we are within our own ethnicity and culture.

If I may return to Ramon once again as he summarizes things beautifully:

“There are enormous benefits to following Jesus, and it’s credible regardless of the baggage you get with it. But if you can drop the baggage then it makes it more bearable. Then you don’t have to defend something that doesn’t need defending or make apologies for it. The unnecessary baggage is what gets ridiculed and insulted by well-meaning atheists and armchair philosophers. Only a bigot full of hatred wants to be a part of a belief system put in place to help one group oppress another group.

“There’s a certain cognitive dissonance when it comes to Christianity if you are a person of color. Christianity came along on the boat as a tool and goal for colonization. Who would want to be a part of something used for that agenda? And this is where you get the talk about how the Black man’s original religion was taken from him. This is where you get the talk about how Christianity was used to justify slavery and keep slaves in line.

“This is not the Christianity I’ve outlined and explored in this book. And this is why this book had to be written. For the first thousand years, Christianity was a global religion. It stretched from China all the way to the western coasts of Spain. It was not just the property of Europe. It navigated its way to Nubia and modern-day Afghanistan. It was as much at home on the coasts of India as the coasts of Greece.”

Wow! What a powerful statement full of life and truth! I highly recommend and endorse Ramon Mayo’s book Reclaiming Diversity. Do yourself a favor and go pick up a copy. =)

Following The Spirit Wherever He Goes