The Gospel Conflict

Over the last couple years at our church, we have spent a lot of time studying the gospels, and I have noticed how much of the gospels are focused on a conflict that shapes the story and message. The gospel, as presented in scriptures is foremost presented as the story of Jesus. And like many stories, it is based around a conflict; the distinctions between the antagonist and protagonist define the meaning of the story. I think that (in America, at least) we often try to define an “elevator pitch” summation of the gospel, that focuses on what we view as our problem and God’s solution, and while this has value and merit, it can completely omit the conflict that is prominent in the gospel story found in the Bible. And omitting the central conflict of a story, fundamentally changes the nature and even message of the story. And I believe the conflict in the gospel story is not just historical trivia, but this conflict defines how we are to view what the Kingdom of God is working against, and working towards in our present world.

The visible antagonist in the gospels is pretty easy to identify: it is the Pharisees, the religious leaders, those who had accumulated influence, wealth, and power for their own gain. Numerous entire chapters of the gospels are devoted to Jesus railing against these leaders, often calling them hypocrites. And antagonism went both ways; the death of Jesus was primarily driven by this group.

I call these the “visible antagonist” because we also know that “our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities”. Ultimately Jesus was facing off, not against the religious leaders themselves as individuals, but rather against the forces that animated them. We must look carefully at what these forces were. He was not warring against their culture or race, Jesus was Himself a Jew and part of their culture. Nor was this even just a theological fight (he even told the people to follow their teaching in Matt 23:3). Jesus was not opposed to their culture, but their hypocrisy, priorities, and value system.

So what did these religious leaders represent, what forces animated them, that Jesus was challenging? There is actually a lot of nuance to these conflicts and what they teach, and I don’t want to over simplify these, but I will try to highlight some of the core values and priorities that were in conflict (although certainly re-reading the gospels to really examine the narrative conflicts is worth more than reading my post).

First, these leaders held to the idea that their religious practices and norms, and their adherence to it and propagation of it had earned them a place of moral superiority and justification before God. They also represented privilege. They had power and influence. And probably had decent amount wealth and security. They were accepted and treated well among their peers. And this leads to one of the most challenging realizations of the gospels for me:

I look a like the Pharisees within our society. I fit the description closely, in socioeconomic terms, in privilege, and even as a church leader. This is very humbling. I grew up in family, a community, and a culture, and continue to be part of community and culture that looks an awful lot like privileged religious communities of the first century, in relation to their society. Our gospel is often so sanitized that sin has been defined as a legal issue to be resolved, rather than seeing a gospel where we often resemble the antagonists, and are prone to follow the same patterns that Jesus had so opposed.

And while this may not sound look “good news” (gospel), I believe Jesus challenged these religious leaders and adherents because He loved them, and was offering a better way to them. And there were those that chose to follow him, like Nicodemus, Joseph and even Paul. But their path was not one of simply continuing to follow the religious status quo and its value system. They had to be willing to give up their self-justification and moral supremacy that they found in their religious code to truly encounter Jesus. And as challenging as the gospel conflict is to me, Jesus was offering the Pharisees (and me!) hope and a new way of life.

From a historical perspective, we know that Jesus entered into society that was looking for a “messiah”, that would restore power to the Jews over and against their enemies. They wanted a Jesus that would make Israel, the political nation state, great again (to use a contemporary phrase). They were looking for something similar to what this phrase means today. They wanted power to achieve religious “liberty”, institute their moral code, and keep outsiders away, just as is common today.

The value system of the pharisees was one that demonstrated that they found their vindication and superiority in their religiosity, power, adherence to their norms, and their traditions. The forces that animated this can be described as legalism and control. In Matt 23, Jesus condemned the leaders for how they were exercising power over others in trying to control and dictate their behaviors in accordance to their religious norms they had developed. They found their vindication and moral superiority in these traditions, history, and procedures, and found their honor and stature in making converts and followers that would then lift them up, and maintain their place of power and influence.

And from this place of feeling superiority and power, they seemed to believe that they were serving God by the degree that the could enforce, even use state or punitive means of force, to dictate the religious law (John 8). They looked for a political force that would maintain their status quo of position and tradition and raise up their influence to the national level. And they saw this as service to God. This misses the reality of the law helping people to understand and relate to God, not because God was needing service or servants, and lacked the power on His own to get this. Forcing conformance does not provide a service to God that He is otherwise lacking. This is just as true today with misguided efforts to legislate moral decrees that are about our vertical relationship with God.

Based on Pharisees behavior, as Jesus described it, they idealized and looked to a leader that could represent their values with great force, pomp, show, and gusto. Jesus was the absolute antithesis of this. Jesus taught and demonstrated that the pinnacle of leadership was servant-hood. He interrupted their status quo of legalist tradition, by showing that it wasn’t that law and its prescriptions itself, like sabbath-keeping, that were of value, they ultimately were pointing towards living on behalf of others. He challenged their hierarchies of power, and instead lifted up those that are weak, poor, and powerless. The pharisees wanted their tribe and people to be the favored people of God, over and above others. Instead, Jesus declares that his gospel will go to all the nations.

Jesus also criticized how they extended, and developed their own extra-biblical set of values and statutes (Matt 5:43, 23:18). These religious statues often started with OT dictates, but were twisted well beyond the original meaning. Likewise modern American “Christian values” often have come to encompass an entire extra set of statutes around “small government”, gun-control, and when life begins, that have evolved and developed far from real teachings of the Bible.

In the midst of this conflict, Jesus contrasts His values against the natural religious tendency of humanity. The tendency to gravitate to finding vindication in specific codes and behaviors is contrasted with the “weightier matters” of “justice, mercy, and faithfulness”. The hypocrisy that Jesus condemns is in the pursuit of religious show or propagation (Matt 23:5, 15), instead of the humble pursuit of living sacrificially for others. If our Christian values aren’t being pursued through generosity and sacrifice in feeding the hungry, welcome stranger, and caring for the least of these, we may need to humbly ask if they are really Christ’s values.

I think it is tempting to treat the gospel conflict as just historical chronicles and antiquated in relevancy and application to our present world. We may think that we live in a very different world, and have different forces that we are working against, whether it be secularism, globalism, or liberalism (or perhaps deeper and crazier conspiracy theories), than described in the gospels. But I believe that the gospels, including the gospel conflict, were written because they speak with clarity, precision, relevance, and direct application to us, in our times, to understand clearly what the conflict and forces are in our present world. In the first century context of Jesus, God’s shows the greatest focus of His rebuke towards those that are religious and claiming to be people of God, and likewise warns of harsher wrath and judgment for those that claim to be religious leaders and followers of God than even infamous Sodom (Matt 11:23). Should we pretend these same forces do not apply to us today? Just as the Jews misidentified the true conflict, and the true values of the Kingdom, if we don’t apply the gospel conflict to understand our situation, we may fail to humble ourselves, and pursue His Kingdom and to have the right perspective on present conflicts.

The forces of religious power-seeking, legalism, and tribalism are just as active and in contrast to the way of Christ today, as they were then. The gospel conflict casts a clear line down on our society. There is an unmistakable force that insidiously seeps into our values, our churches, our leaders, that can animate us with the same priorities as the pharisees: that we “win” by achieving greater religious influence and power in government, by protecting our religious “liberty”, by maintaining our norms and status quo by keeping outsiders away with walls and security, by lobbying and pushing for institutes to adopt/codify our definitions of gender, sexuality, and formation of life. But Jesus defined completely different priorities, declaring that our focus shouldn’t revolve around defending against (possible) persecution, retributing those that have sinned, or gaining power. Rather Jesus presents a clear and contrasting set of values, that we live relationally with others, caring for them, and lifting those in need, and living in relationship with God, not “achieving” favor through legalistic behaviors, but by sharing his heart, his cares and concerns.

We are not immune from the same religious tendencies by identifying as “Christians”. Jesus declared the Jews “right” in who they worship (John 4:22). Likewise having “Christian” affiliation and the right object of worship does not put us on the right side of this conflict. Nor do labels of “Christian worldview”, “Christian values”, or “Christian music” afford us exceptional favor. If anything, the self-assurance of religion put us at greater danger of following in the Pharisees footsteps. And again this applies to me, I freely confess that I look a lot like, and have a similar position and privilege as the pharisees.

And as someone that can easily fit the profile of a pharisee, my hope is that Jesus was preaching good news to the pharisees too. In his challenges to the leaders, he was offering an invitation to a more abundant life, even to me, to us. And we know some of them even took up Jesus’ invitation. Even as He challenged them and us, He offered an invitation to live for this new Kingdom, and Nicodemus was an example of a pharisee that heard and responded. Likewise, when Jesus challenged the rich and powerful to use their resources for the poor, one rich young ruler walked away in sorrow, but the other, Zaccheus followed him and found great joy! I have grown up believing many of the same things as the Pharisees and still seeking to become free of these to follow Christ.

We have been going through the sermon on the mount where Jesus commands us to serve one master, and have singular focus (your eye should be “singular” in its focus). I have heard a lot of people say it is confusing to discern truth and know what to care about these days. And indeed in the world of social media where a “share” and “retweet” buttons lead constant broadcasting of noise, rumors, and distorted values, we are deluged with false information that can be disorienting; it is challenging! On top of that, in an election year, the Christian Pharisees are out in full force telling us how critical it is that we focus on fighting for our religious liberties and fight against the various “enemies” out there; nearly the exact opposite value system of Jesus and those we called us to love. If you are trying to “balance” the priorities of Pharisee values with the value of Christ, it will be struggle. Trying to balance that is too much bear! Jesus is inviting us to have a singular pursuit that gives focus and clarity about what to care about.

I believe an accurate understanding of the gospel, the good news, is predicated on an accurate understanding of what this good news is contrasted with. And ultimately, there is hope found in the gospel conflict, because out of conflict comes truly good news. Lord, have mercy on me, on us, and lead us out of our religiosity and help us to understand and take you invitation to be free of the way of the pharisees, the worry about if our power or influence might wane, and take up the singular, beautiful way of Christ, living out the mission of His Kingdom to live sacrificially, lift up the poor and powerless, and welcome all the nations to Him and His way.


Let There be Light

In this post I wanted to write about how I understand the creation and fall story in Genesis based on New Testament teaching on light, darkness, and the trajectory of God’s relationship with humanity and His creation.

As scripture unfolds, Christ (and the rest of the NT) gives new insight and clarity on how to properly interpret the Old Testament, and I want to understand Genesis through this lens. First, 2 Timothy 3:16 indicates that scripture’s purpose is in showing us righteousness. But more centrality, the gospel of John provides a very direct commentary on Genesis. John 1 very directly echoes Genesis 1, bringing a sharp focus on the concept of light and darkness as how we are to understand God’s righteousness revealed in Christ. Light and darkness is incredibly powerful metaphor because the nature of light and darkness reveal so much about the nature of righteousness and sin. Specifically, the defining characteristic of the relationship between light and darkness is in their asymmetry. Darkness is the absence of light. Light is not the absence of darkness. Applying this to righteousness turns our typical notions of sin upside-down. The traditional Old Testament pattern of thinking is to see righteousness as the absence of sin; we are righteous by avoiding a set of condemned behaviors. The New Testament brings a new revelation and focus on seeing sin as the absence of righteousness; we pursue righteousness in actively loving others and God, and passively failing to do so is sin.

Let’s apply this key metaphor and teaching to Genesis. Again, Genesis 1 is a perfect fit for this metaphor, from the beginning (vs 2) the focus is on light and darkness and the parallel with John 1 seems unmistakable. But first, I want to list a few commonly held descriptions of Genesis that I believe are incorrect and that this metaphor corrects:

  • Creation was perfect and complete.
  • Sin began at the fall and undid the perfection of creation.
  • At this point disease, natural disasters, and other calamities began.
  • We are seeking to restore creation to its original state.

I don’t believe this an accurate Biblical account of creation. This interpretation may seem somewhat reasonable from the lens of the religious assumptions of those described in the Old Testament, but from the New Testament, we can gain a much more accurate understanding.

First, the creation account begins with darkness. Again, we may be tempted to see this as a neutral or unspoiled universe, but the NT definition of “sin” is described as darkness. Now obviously this universe has no active evil from men, but with NT understanding, this is a universe that is devoid of justice, grace, love, beauty, compassion, and redemption. It is unrighteous until God introduces light into it.

From here, God declares “Let there be light”. Here goodness and beauty is introduced into a moral universe of darkness. God is setting in motion the beginning of all that is good against a backdrop of universe that was devoid of any good (and He declares that it is good after each step). But this is just the beginning. The is the first sparkle of goodness into our world.

Next, God declares that the “light was good”. In fact after each act of creation, God echoes this declaration that it “was good”. Indeed this light and all that God has created was definitely good and introduced beauty into our world. However, this word does not indicate completion. And this isn’t for lack of a better word. The Hebrew word “tâmı̂ym” is used frequently in scripture and means perfect or complete. I believe there is critical importance to the fact that that word is not used here. God is not declaring that creation is done, perfected, or completed. I believe a reasonable analogy would be a composer working on a great symphony that has finished composing the melody that will dominate this symphony. This melody can be a beautiful sequence of notes that forms the backbone of the whole work and can possess tremendous potential, but the symphony is far from finished, there is still much harmony and intricacies yet to be written. Likewise creation was good in that it formed the backbone of all continuing creation. It was brimming with potential for all future creation. Creation was good. But it was not complete, and would and does continue to this day.

After the story of creation comes the fall, the familiar story of Adam and Eve eating from the forbidden tree and being banished from the garden. Romans says that “sin came into the world through one man” (5:12). Here we must notice the critical distinction between the beginnings of sin, and its entrance into our world of humanity. Again, the story begins with the backdrop of universal passive “sin”, a universe in darkness, yet to be filled with goodness. And even with the narrative of the fall, the originator of active evil, the devil, predates the temptation, fall of humans, and entrance sin of into humanity. Quite clearly, at least evil existing in the devil before it came to man. This represents not the beginning of evil or darkness, but the introduction of sin to man.

Furthermore, this story also centers around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What does this mean? First, we can be quite certain that God’s prohibition from eating from this tree was not because knowledge of good and evil is itself bad. The Bible itself is largely about revealing, and giving us knowledge of, good and evil. It would be rather contradictory to conclude that God didn’t want us to know good from evil. He repeatedly reiterates that He does want us to understand this, and ignorance of good and evil is folly. What does this tree mean then? I think it is helpful to consider how the trajectory of God’s relationship with humanity as described in Galatians 3:24-26, where God is taking us from the children operating under strict law, to sons of God, given freedom to carry out his mission. Extrapolating backwards, I believe we can properly understand Genesis as the nursery or sanctuary stage of humanity (in the narrative, there is no reason to believe Adam and Eve were more than a few years old at the fall). As a parent, I want my children to grow up to understand evil and injustice and fight against it, but as infants we shield them from these realities, giving them a sanctuary of innocence for the youngest years. Likewise, I believe Genesis was showing God’s gift of sanctuary of innocence for Adam and Eve. Their fall and rebellion was not because God never wanted them to understand good and evil, but because they sought a premature loss of innocence. And unfortunately the loss of innocence was a one-way street. And perhaps this is a little tangential, I also don’t see any indication that if Adam and Eve had avoided the first temptation, that the devil didn’t have more temptations to offer, that may even be more alluring than apples.

So does this fall mark the beginning of disease, natural disaster, and calamity? The most direct answer is that this is just simply not taught in scripture. Now to be sure, the “curse” definitely introduced man to some bad stuff, and pains and frustrations that they (and creation) would encounter outside this sanctuary. But this curse did also have a specific scope, and I don’t think we should read into this passage more than it says. It does not describe a far-reaching alteration to fundamental behavior or mechanics of nature. To imagine nature of the entire earth (outside this sanctuary) without any of dangers of tectonic plate movement and earthquakes, weather without hurricanes, bacteria without any harmful effects is to imagine a nature very unlike the nature around us.

Romans 8:18-23 describes the broader state of creation that is “longing”, and experiencing “corruption”. I believe it goes well beyond what is described in this passage to conclude this all began at the fall. I believe the most faithful reading of this passage is that this “longing”, and “bondage” has simply existed as long as creation has existed without any specified demarcation. And this aligns with the metaphor of light and darkness that Genesis was the start light being introduced into the darkness, that it was beginning of God’s beauty unveiled, but it was not the end or the completion. The metaphor of childbirth point to how the initial act of creating nature was a start, it was created pregnant and full with possibilities that are to be realized in Genesis’ future, unfolding through history, and fully realized in an ultimate future. Creation did not “fall” into “pregnancy”.

Now, it is worth noting that we can draw analogy with “futility” and “pains of child birth” with the curse that have frustrated creation; the curse did affect creation and bring pain in some ways. But, it goes way beyond the Biblical description to assume this introduced disease and calamity into a creation that was somehow free of dangerous bacteria, awe-inspiring weather patterns, and tectonic forces. Furthermore, according to Genesis, the curse did not even begin the pain of childbirth. Rather it “increased” or “multiplied” it. Active sin and evil adds to the “bondage” and frustration to he longing and path of creation. And one does not even need to reach for some type of magical force to rearrange the laws of nature to see how that comes to pass. Our greed and disregard for the environment has created enormous burden and degradation to creation around us. That being said, even with frustrations, creation began on a trajectory: the fundamental state of the longing towards fulfillment and revelation and the metaphor of expectancy of pregnancy is not the curse, it is the path and trajectory of creation, as God intended to take it through.

Finally, this should shape our relationship to creation and the world around us. I think that it is a mistake to see our mission as essentially a restoration project. I believe a more Biblical concept is a story of God intentionally introducing and continually growing light amidst darkness, a continuing story of redemption that was intended from the beginning, and not just fixing up a broken story. I believe we are not called to be security guards in a museum or mausoleum of God’s static stale relics and remains, but rather we are called sons of God; we are called to join him in his workshop of creation, seeing the beauty and wisdom of how he builds, and joining him in his ongoing dynamic and creative work!

In addendum, perhaps it is questionable how I could attempt to discuss Genesis without any attempt to discuss young earth vs old earth. I have intentionally sought to look at Genesis with the focus of shaping our understanding of righteousness. But what of the physical mechanics of our universe’s development? I believe Psalms 19 gives direction for where we can look for this knowledge: “The heavens declare the glory of God… night reveals knowledge”. And what I see and hear from looking deeply into the heavens is the echos of 13.8 billion years of declaring the praise and glory of God.

2017 Book (and Product) Reviews

Most of the books that I read in 2017 were recommended to me by friends or family, and were opportunities to discuss the content together. Hopefully I will have more opportunities for that in 2018. I have done yearly book reviews in the past, but I thought I would add some other products (at the end).

Sacred Mundane – Kari Patterson

My sister’s book! And this is a great book! I have written about this a number of times already, but the key message of this book is so valuable: The seemingly mundane life of daily chores, work, relationships, and so on, is deeply sacred and valuable. Following Christ is demonstrated in the simple, humble life of serving others, being willing to spend our lives with the small, the weak, with children, and of persisting without fanfare is a beautiful life, a reflection of Christ and completely the opposite of the bombastic, spotlight-seeking, power-hungry attitudes we so often see, seeking to dominate our attention.

The 3D Gospel

This is a very short book, but succinctly delivers a compelling idea, that the gospel can be viewed from three distinct perspectives, facets, or dimensions. The three dimensions are:

  1. The good news of justification, being made innocent of guilt.
  2. The good news of power, being delivered from fear (of the spiritual realm)
  3. The good news of honor, being delivered from shame.

The book then asserts that western culture tends primarily have an individual-centric guilt/innocence mindset, we mainly tend to think in these terms and assess situations by the contrast of whether an individual was guilty or innocent. And (consequently), typically we primarily and almost exclusively express the gospel in guilt/innocent terms. However, not all cultures of the world built around these terms. Asian cultures tend to be very honor/shame driven (seeking to do that which the community has deemed honorable), and many African and tribal culture are power/fear driven (fear of evil spirits). And the gospel has very Biblical expressions in these terms.

In fact, one of the most compelling aspects of this book was hearing their articulations of the gospel in each of these three dimensions and being admittedly surprised (I’m pretty western) at how each seemed to be just as well scripturally sourced and Biblically faithful.

My one critique is that the book seems to just leave these three dimensions as kind of distinct and equal peers. However, it seems like there are lot interconnections between these dimensions and I think these connections are often asymmetrical; some of these build on each other. For example (and maybe this is western bias), guilt/innocence seems to build on top of power/fear; justification from someone seems pretty meaningless unless you have already established them as having power behind the justification. And a full understanding of the guilt/innocence needs to take into account the needs of the community (typically more honor/shame focus). And honor needs to be defined in ways that transcend just the local preferences of a community.

That being said, this is a very short book. And it delivers a compelling idea with brevity. and it is quite natural (and good!) that it leaves with you plenty to think about and wrestle with. It is definitely well worth an hour of your time if you are interested in seeing the gospel from different angle.

I Love Mormons – David Rowe

This book is focused on the culture of Mormonism and how to build relationships with those in the LDS community. This focus is contrasted with just seeing Mormonism as a religion that needs to be argued down. In many ways, this book is more broadly an introduction to Utah culture as well. I have read this book before, but we read this as part of our small group. I noticed there were a number of observations on culture here that really resonated now that I have lived here for over a decade.

Total Truth – Nancy Pearcey

The basic premise and aim of this book is great: seeking to integrate a holistic theology of the physical and spiritual, breaking down false dichotomies that often undermine the important Biblical call to be working in and contributing to our world around us. She emphasizes the “cultural mandate”, with neo-calvinistic Kuyperian influences that I would identify with as well.

One of her critiques is against moral relativism in our society. She takes aim at fields like philosophy and mathematics. However, I’ve been through math-intensive graduate studies and worked in a field largely driven by math-driven analysis, and her assessment of how mathematics is taught in academia and used in industry seemed completely disconnected from reality. And the alternative moral theory that she offered was basically divine command theory, which is essentially another form of moral relativism (just established by God, but still not truly objective in an absolute sense). I believe this is an unfortunate belief, as I believe that the whole of creation exists to objectively demonstrate God’s goodness, to glorify, not just for His goodness to be self-attributed.

This books also seems to drift disappointingly close to dominion theology, which is the belief or perspective that expects or pursues the Kingdom of God to come by Christian domination or power over others in the world. Fortunately, this book doesn’t overtly support such a belief, but the epistemology that is described in the book subtly creates a foundation with the enticing idea that we have the superior intellect, knowledge, and insights that should endow us with power and domination. I’d suggest this is quite opposite of a Biblical epistemology that begins with humility, that we are broken people seeking repentance and recognizing our need to be changed, and from this foundation, seek to learn, listen, serve, and identify with the weak and powerless, not domineer.

These critiques aside, overall, the majority of this book is actually good, is well-written, with some great exhortations. But, if you are looking for a good read on the cultural mandate, I’d probably suggest going to more of a historical source like Kuyper himself, or a modern author that articulates it better like Andy Crouch.

If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty – Eric Metaxas

In this book, Metaxas provides stories of how the concept of liberty was developed and defined in America, and a defense of the principles behind this liberty (with some effort to give a Biblical defense). One of his initial assertions is that God has given us liberty, that we might use it to benefit and serve others. I wholeheartedly agree with this.

However, I think the most core tenet of this book is a set of three interconnected principles (that form a circle) that he offers:

  1. Freedom requires virtue
  2. Virtue requires faith
  3. Faith requires freedom.

This cyclical principle is the key idea of the book, and the foundation that he builds on.

Unfortunately these principles suffer from one problem: they aren’t really true. It isn’t difficult to find countless counterexamples of all three of these principles. Plenty of people without virtue have freedom. Virtue is often demonstrated by those without faith. And faith, at least described in scriptures, is often described and celebrated in the absence of any human-granted freedom, in defiance to a government or society’s granting of any type of freedom (this principle may be the most opposite of true).

And I think this basic idea is alluring because it is a subtle form of flattery towards ourselves that suggests we since we have freedom, we must therefore be virtuous. It pats ourselves on the back with assurance that our freedom is rightly deserved and earned by our own merit; we are entitled to it. But even subtle forms entitlement undermine the concept of grace and our willingness to look at our own wrongs.

The Righteousness Mind – Johnathan Haidt

This is a great read. I love books that can synthesis and summarize years of research and hard-work on interesting subjects, and yield interesting and even surprisingly insights. And this book definitely delivers. I might try to do a little more thorough review/exploration of this book, but I’ll briefly offer a quick synopsis:

Haidt has a few key realizations from his research. First, is that moral framework, our values, is overwhelming driven by our intuitions, not reasoning. Reasoning does come into play, but we primarily use it to *defend* our moral framework, not to construct or determine it. Second, he describes 5 (or 6) key moral values: Care/(preventing) harm, fairness, loyalty, (submission to) authority, and sanctity (purity). He asserts that the key distinction between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives moral framework is based on all of these, whereas liberals give primacy to the first two (and conservatives are more concerned with risk/danger, and fairness is determined more by merit with conservatives). Third, he describes how humans are not so much driven by self/individual interests as driven by their own groups interests. He describes/defends the evolutionary processes that have worked to select humans work towards the interests of their “tribe”. This means humans tend to naturally have animosity towards outsiders, but also tend to naturally have a surprisingly high concern and loyalty for insiders. Finally, he attempted to bring some civility and reconciliation between the left and right by showing where each have strengths that we should listen to in the political conversation.

Anyway, the main idea I have been thinking about is how Haidt, coming from a non-religious perspective, seems much more willing to accept additional cultural-defined moral priorities besides harm/care and justice than I would coming from faith that God has defined and revealed an concrete moral framework that does indeed dictate priority and primacy to caring for others and justice above our natural intuitive cultural/tribal tendencies of adding and prioritizing our own morals.

Other Products

Zinus Mattress – We decided it was time to get a new mattress this year. We went to RC Wiley’s and tried out the new modern mattresses. They were super comfortable, but I cringed a bit at the prices. After further research of online mattresses, we eventually bought a Zinus mattress on Amazon. It is modern foam mattress with a memory-foam layer with great reviews, very similar to the other popular mattresses available, and under $300! And Nikki and I both love it as well. I believe it is actually on sale on Amazon right now, so if you are looking for a new mattress, this is a great deal.

This year my laptop monitor died (well, a quarter of it anyway), so I bought a new laptop, a HP Spectre x360, which I have also really liked. I also moved my desk to a bigger room and switched to using a 4K TV as my monitor. The TV is 55” TCL 4K ($400 as Costco), and it has worked really nicely as a monitor (I can sit about 5-6 ft from it). I haven’t watched much video content other than a couple movies, but they looked great on it.

2017 in Review

I have found myself regretting not sending a family update in our Christmas cards. I sort  of thought everyone would be too busy to want to read an update…but then I got other  updates from the people I love and really enjoyed reading them…even the really long ones. So behold, my best solution: a blog post year in review.

We got to go on several fun trips this year, including Zion, Phoenix, and Oregon. But I think we’d all agree the highlight was our very first camping trip to Lake Powell over Labor Day weekend. Our campsite was only accessible by boat, which meant we had a whole hillside and canyon to ourselves. The water was warm and we had so much fun exploring the myriad of slot canyons and waterways. We were so pleased with how well the boat did hauling all of our camping gear and us all over that we decided to rename it. While our little Bayliner may not be fancy, it is perfect for us and we are so thankful for the adventures we’ve gotten to take with it.


edit17Jennika turned 10 and decided to grow several inches this year. She still really loves dancing and is starting to enjoy playing the piano more and more. She danced in the H5pv83HvR92ojr4BE9lTRANutcracker this winter and really loved it. She was a party girl, which meant I got to learn how to roll her hair in curlers and she got to wear them for 6-12 hours before every performance!
She proved (once again) that she is a tough girl, getting nine stitches in her eyebrow after a run-in with a post and then later in the year a nasty and deep cut on her foot after stepping on a broken bottle in a river.
She continues to enjoy school and as a 5th grader also enjoys getting to rule the school. Her skills in speaking Mandarin continue to grow and we continue to be impressed and jealous.

Korban is now 8 years old and also decidededit14 to add a few inches to his height this year. Despite growing like a weed, he still has not lost any of this baby teeth, and therefore had a case of what’s commonly called Shark Tooth. His front adult teeth were starting to come in behind his front baby teeth. He thought this was super cool, especially the name, until he learned he would have to have his baby teeth pulled! He endured the process (twice!) really well and we are hoping all his other baby teeth will loosen and fall out naturally.
He loves all things Lego, Star Wars, and baseball. He cheered his heart out for the Dodgers during the World Series and I think we may have a lifelong Dodgers fan in the making.
As a red belt, Korban continues making steady progress towards earning his black belt in Taekwondo. It is amazing to see how much his skill, balance, and coordination has improved since he first started.
6cog3rkcrdye6ns5v37zq-e1514419381798.jpgKorban also made a big decision to get baptized this year. This was huge for him since he does not particularly enjoy getting up and speaking in front of people. He was very nervous but stayed strong and faithful. I think it will be something he always remembers because it was a hard thing for him to do.



Kris has become quite a craftsman, building a new bed frame for us and a desk for himself. He has also started a new project outside, re-siding our house.  He still loves hiking, running, and skiing back country but hasn’t has a lot of opportunity to do the latter this winter due to low snow pack. He continues to work as a software engineer analyzing medical studies for Doctor Evidence. They were excited to play a key role in the American Heart Association’s new blood pressure guidelines released this year.

I learned how to back-country ski this last winter and absolutely loved it. I also spent many hours hiking in our beautiful Wasatch Mountains. This Fall I took a part-time job at the kids’ school as a reading interventionist. I am really enjoying helping 1st-4th graders improve their reading skills.

Thank you for reading this far! I hope the end to your 2017 is sweet and that 2018 is full of good things.

Menu Monday 11/6-11/10

Here’s what’s cooking in our house this week!

Monday-Pumpkin Pasta with Creamy Sauce and Winter Salad
See previous post for recipes

TuesdayVegan Buddah Bowls
This is almost better as leftovers…almost.


ThursdayWhite Bean and Kale Soup and homemade rolls

Friday-Spaghetti (or as my son says, “Sghabetti!”) and Green Beans
We are not very traditional when it comes to how we like our spaghetti. No red sauce lovers in our house! Our favorite ways to eat spaghetti is with myzithra cheese and browned butter or with fresh basil, sliced green olives and a little bit of lime juice.

Also, some feedback on a couple recipes I’ve tried over the last few weeks. Remember the pickle and beef tacos? They were kind of, meh. It wasn’t bad, just didn’t have any real pop in the flavors or textures. I think I’m going to try it again with come really crisp pickles and see if that does the trick.

Menu Monday 10/30-11/3

There are few things I love more than flipping through a beautifully complied cookbook. The sense of possibilities is almost overwhelming. I picked up the the Pioneer Woman’s newest cookbook this week and am so excited to try a couple new recipes from it. It is one of the most beautiful and fun cookbooks I’ve seen, full of photos and yummy, approachable recipes.

MondayTurkey with Mushroom Cream Sauce and Winter Salad with Poppy seed Dressing

TuesdayBeef Stew and Bread
With most food I cook, I see a recipe as the guidelines and within those guidelines there is a great deal of room for creativity. I think soups and stews are the perfect place to start playing around with your creative side. Use the recipe I linked above as your guideline and add from there. Maybe a little red wine? Perhaps you like wild rice in your stew. Taste, add, adjust, repeat. And most importantly, have fun.

Wednesday-Hamburger Steaks with Mushroom Gravy, Salad (from Pioneer Woman’s new cookbook!)


Friday-TexMex Butternut Squash Soup (also from Pioneer Woman’s new cookbook!)

Menu Monday 10/23-27

It’s a busy week, so I’m breaking out some of my tried and true favorites. But I also threw in a new recipe for some excitement. I’m still developing the pumpkin pasta recipe but I can tell you it is so, so yummy. Until it’s ready, here’s the link to the recipe that inspired me. Enjoy!

Monday–BBQ Chicken and Black Bean Salad
No real recipe for this one. Just bake some chicken in your favorite BBQ sauce (I use Sweet Baby Ray’s). Remove and let cool. Then cut it up and pull out a can for black beans, rinsed. Chop up some lettuce and tomatoes. Pull out any toppings that sound delicious to you. We like shredded cheddar, corn, jalapeños, and black olives. I like to mix together some BBQ sauce, ranch dressing, and a dash of hot sauce for the dressing. Eat with chips and salsa.

TuesdaySchool Fundraising Night
Means dinner at Papa Murphy’s! 😉

Wednesday–Pumpkin Pasta and Roasted Broccoli
I’m SO excited to share this recipe with you! Soon!

Thursday–Good old Red Curry and Rice
Warms you up inside!

Friday–Beef and Pickle Tacos
This recipe is new and it intrigues me. Pickles?! I’ll let you know what I think. P.S. Joy the Baker is one of my most favorite bloggers and Instagram accounts. If you don’t follow her already and you love food (duh), you should be. It’s a no brainer.

Menu Monday (10/16-10/20)

It feels like fall here and so it’s time to break out the warming-your-insides recipes.

Monday–Fried Rice and Trader Joe’s Potstickers
(Check out my Instagram feed for my favorite short-cut fried rice recipe.)


Wednesday–Pasta with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce, Green Salad
(recipe in development, if it’s good, I’ll post it)

ThursdayChicken Pot Pie with Cream Cheese Biscuits

FridayButter Chicken, Rice, Cauliflower

Happy Fall!

Five Points on Calvinism

I wanted to share some thoughts on Calvinism and defense of it. This is topic that is often mentioned, but I wanted to put down a little more detailed description of my beliefs, and maybe something that can be discussed on top of these points. But first, let me clearly say that this is indeed a challenging topic that many have debated, and I hope to express some humility: I certainly don’t have the answers. However, I believe it is still worthwhile to think about and discuss with an attitude of humility. So here it is, my Five Points on Calvinism (sorry for the pun 🙂 ):

1. I consider myself a Calvinist. But I would also warn against Calvinism if it leads you towards fatalism or against the belief in free will and responsibility for your decisions. If you believe that predestination means that you have no agency or opportunity to shape the future, then reject predestination. The reality and truth that our will decides the future is a hundred times more important than any truth found in Calvinism. And any errors of Armianism or open theism is a hundred times less significant than the errors of fatalism.

And furthermore, if you have any tendency to believe that just because God sovereignly ordained past events, that they prove and demonstrate God’s pleasing will, what he desires, then run from Calvinism. There are countless evil situations, evil leaders appointed, and tragedies that have occurred that God has sovereignly allowed. Let us not think for a second that this even suggests that this means God is pleased by these tragedies and evil. If you are prone to look at events in the world or your life and accept them as good simply because “God is in control”, I would suggest reconsidering what God’s sovereignty means. If these two dimensions of God’s will are confusing, Calvinism is not worth the confusion.

I would also warn against middle ground fallacy here, and seeking a compromise in semi-Calvinist views. I think the most reasonable alternative to Calvinism really is open theism. From my perspective, “middle grounds” seem more like mix and matching different views of God in whatever way is convenient. It is equally pernicious when we freely define some things as unavoidably according to God’s will and others as outside of His will based on whatever we like and dislike.

2. It is my conviction to avoid using the term “reformed” to describe my beliefs in predestination and free will and instead use the term “Calvinism”. I believe it is disingenuous and historically inaccurate to use “reformed” to describe a specific understanding of predestination. The reformation was not primarily a movement for or against a position on free will, but is best summarized by the five “solas” of the reformation, a dissent against other elements that were being added to the notions of grace, faith, and salvation. The primary debates about predestination actually consisted of reformed theologians on both sides (Arminius was definitely reformed). Declaring one side as true “reformed” is an example of “no true scotsman” rhetoric, not only a logical fallacy, but a underhanded means of attributing falsehood to dissenters by exclusion.

This is shady rhetoric, but it also blurs the focus of what being reformed should really be about. It is not a commitment to a specific understanding of sovereignty. What being reformed means to me, and what I prize is a commitment to the five solas: salvation defined by scripture alone, received by faith alone, through grace alone, by Christ alone, for the glory of God alone. These are the fundamental ideas that shape my theology and life, apart from any debates on the nature of sovereignty.

I also recognize that “Calvinism” is also not a historically accurate term either. John Calvin certainly taught on many subjects, and distilling it down to beliefs on predestination is simplistic. But, at least this term is also widely known, and I would rather misrepresent one person than the entire reformed tradition.

So, back to Calvinism…

3. The question of the nature of God’s sovereignty is not only a theologic question, but deeply intersects with the philosophy of determinism, and how we define the meaning of free will. Free will is the process of how we come to make decisions in our life. According to libertarian free-will philosophy, free will is only free if it is not predetermined. However, I believe this is confusing our feelings and perception of free-will, the feeling or experience of free-will as being from external constraints in our decision-making. However, as a Calvinist, I believe that our decisions are actually the direct result of our (mostly) internal thoughts, feeling, and goals. Every action, decision in the world is either the result of existing causes, or it is not, and when something is not meaningful related to some cause, it is by definition, randomness. Every decision is primarily either the result of our meaningful decision-making deterministically driven by our characters, values, and desires, or it is primarily randomness, unmeaningful rolls of the dice, coming out of nothingness.

Philosophically, Calvinism is known as compatibilitism. If God gives us the desire for chocolate ice cream, is our free will violated when then go to an ice cream shop, and gladly choose chocolate ice cream? No! If God gives us a passion for dance, and knows we will use it, have we then lost our free will if we then joyously choose to dance? No, absolutely not! God’s sovereignty over a deterministic universe and our free-will are not incompatible concepts, rather they point to the fact that our free-will is our experience of who we are, determining our decisions.

I believe that Calvinism, properly understood, should in no way diminish the consequences of our actions, or the responsibility that we bear in our actions. If we point a gun at someone, the decision to pull the trigger will leave the victim every bit as alive or dead, and leaves with every bit as much responsibility for the action, regardless of whether God knew or ordained it ahead of time. If our free-will is compatible with God’s sovereignty, so are the consequences and responsibilities that go along with it.

Therefore, I believe that our free will is primarily meaningful and deterministic, not caprice and randomness. And my belief in Calvinist determinism is a belief that God is directing a meaningful world, not a random world of people making decisions out of nothing, without cause or meaning.

4. Of course, the nature of God’s sovereignty is indeed very much a theological question, and receives such attention because it is crucial to theodicy: how does suffering and evil exist, if God is good?

It is worth actually considering two aspects of this question. First, does evil originate from God? And second, why does he allow suffering to persist in this world?

The Arminian answer is to appeal to human’s free will as the source of evil, in order to vindicate God. To these questions, the suggested answer is that our free will is the origination of evil, and suffering persists because of our sinful actions.

I simply don’t find this to be a very compelling. This vindication of God sounds like a child declaring that it is not “his fault, it is the thrown ball that decided to arc downwards into her sisters head that is to blame”. If you set something in motion, knowing how it will (or likely will) result, I believe there is (at least, to some degree) a responsibility for the outcome.

And while defining evil as originating from our wills may provide some semantic separation from God in origination of evil, it is does very little to answer the second question. The reality is that the majority of suffering and pain we experience is not due to direct evil actions on the part of others, but rather natural forces like disease, natural disasters, etc. Excusing a small part of our suffering to free will is like providing a 25% discount on God’s evilness. He may not be terribly bad, He is just really bad. And arguing that these diseases and disasters are somehow the actions that God had to inflict as a result of our sin is like the child who argues that he had to hit his sister in the face, because she was saying bad things. This is constructing an arbitrary and unnecessary cause and effect. It strikes me as a pretty weak answer to these questions. Do we really want to strip God of sovereignty to the point that he is relatively impotent demi-god, losing most of his battles, for the sake of excusing himself? Does this realistically offer much assurance of future victory?

Rather than making excuses for and lessen God’s control of the world, I believe it is far more compelling to look towards transcendent purpose and meaning in the meta-narrative of this world. I find a compelling analogy in God as an author. An author isn’t evil because he has crafted a story with evil characters, these are part of what provide the contrast, the challenges, the twists for good to be displayed most vividly, for good to be victorious in a meaningful way.

The Biblical analogy of light and dark points to the value of contrast to bringing meaningful illumination. Indistinguishable light may be comforting, but does not fully and truly reveal the light source, and our show the beauty of colors against the backdrop. And this is meaningful in time as well, God’s progressive and gradual revelation brings greater significance and clarity to His righteousness.  In answering the question of why suffering persists, it is because of the beauty of contrasts, and gradual unfolding of His story.

Scriptures make no effort to obscure God’s role in ordaining and creating those that who are perpetrators of evil, and clearly indicates the purpose of showing the contrast of good and evil, to fully show His goodness. Paul (Rom 9:22-23) plainly says that He is made “vessels of wrath” to contrast against those that act merciful, which He “prepared beforehand” in order to make “known the riches of His glory.”

But how do we answer the first question, of the origination of evil? Does this mean we are claiming that God created evil? This would indeed be the case, and would be an unacceptable claim (Psalms 92:15, 1 John 1:5), except that this conclusion is actually based on a false assumption: that evil needed to be created to exist. But again, the scriptural analogy of light and dark is revelatory: darkness is not an actual entity that is created, it is the absence of light. And likewise, evil is really the absence of righteousness. In other words, God created a world, in which His righteousness is not fully and instantly revealed and applied. And because His righteousness has not entered every part of the world, the absence of righteousness, evil, is plainly visible and common. God didn’t create evil, he create a world that was not fully imbued with His righteousness, and the manifestation of this world lacking righteousness, is man acting evil. This doesn’t mean that evil isn’t an active and powerful force, it certainly is, but it is a force that consists of suppressing light, oppressing good, a force defined in the negative.

In short, rather than trying to vindicate God by trying to remove or lessen His role in precisely and exactly ordaining a world that has tragedy in it, I think we should see creation, in its current form, as a point in a path, the necessary and meaningful way for God to destroy evil with the progressive unfolding of His goodness and righteousness. While acknowledging this may feel uncomfortable, this seems to me, to align most closely with scriptures.

5. As hotly debated as this topic is, from my observations, the behavioral implications seem pretty small (whereas beliefs like cessationism, dispensationalism, prosperity theology, and Zionism seem to have more substantial and observable negative implications). This is a key reason why I try to refrain from being dogmatic about this issue (and as mentioned earlier, would even push people away from my belief if it would cause fatalistic or other negative implications). However, that being said, I think there are a couple implications that I believe should result from Calvinism (although they certainly don’t always).

First, I believe that acknowledging others’ lives and decisions as inevitably affected and shaped by the numerous forces and experiences they have lived through, helps us to empathize with them. Ignoring this often results in looking at others, judging them by an isolated view of the “bad decisions they have made”. But this implicitly involves superimposing the expectations derived from the benefits of our own life experiences, education, and upbringings, than expecting the same outcome in others. A deeper view of how our decision making actually works brings us greater sympathy towards others.

Furthermore, a naive idea of others decision making as an equal isolated islands of free-will, allows us to free ourselves from any responsibility in our lives. But a fuller perspective of a deterministic world, with every life developing from many complex inputs, in a complex web of interactions, where we are all deeply intertwined, should cause us to recognize the ways that our interactions with others is significant and meaningful.

Again, it is easy to look at someone’s broken life, and blame them for their “bad decisions”. But along the way, did they grow up in a disadvantaged home, that we ignored? Was their education neglected in ways, that we could have helped out with? Did they go hungry, when we could have fed them or advocated for them? Those living with their poor decisions, certainly bear responsibility for their own decisions, but in a Calvinistic worldview, so do we, if we have neglected them.

Second, Calvinism brings focus on the glory of God as the highest and central goal of God and us, as followers. This stems from the fact that in a universe sovereignly and deterministically ordered by God, defining any smaller goal, any of the battles we try to win, as the ultimate goal is nonsensical, as God could simply end or win such battles instantly. Calvinism forces us to see that the only truly coherent overarching goal of God is one in which the struggles of humanity persist because the process of, and the way they are overcome, can be manifested, showing God’s glory.

An analogy might be to consider how a shift in goals affects our own behavior. First, imagine the goal of driving across the country to get to New York. This goal, wholeheartedly pursued, simply involves getting across the country as quickly as possible, with as little interruption as possible. Now imagine changing the goal to driving across for the purpose of writing a book about it. This second goal, while on the surface may look similar, is actually very different. Taking the time to make the trip significant and memorable, and doing the trip well, become the primary objectives, so that the journey can be fully appreciated. In other words, the “glory” of the trip, and how it can be shared, takes precedent over simply getting to the other shore. Having a higher, transcendent purpose overarching the goal of getting across America completely transforms our approach.

Likewise, pursuing God’s glory properly shapes our view of goals like evangelism, discipleship, church growth, social justice, and other pursuits as subordinate to the ultimate goal. And consequently how we do them, in a way that reflects God’s ways, is as important as the results of the subordinate goals.

To be clear, these implications of Calvinism are perspectives that I believe Calvinism should hopefully point people towards. However, in reality these perspectives can be shared by non-Calvinists as well, I simply think it is more of direct implication of Calvinism.

Regardless of how we attempt to understand and make sense of mysterious concepts of determinism and free-will, I do hope we can grow in our understanding of how deeply our lives are intertwined, and that we can more fully appreciate and enter in to God’s beautiful story of revealing His goodness, and make that our ultimate vision.