Celebrations in Tahrir Square on February 11, 2011. Photo by Jonathan Rashad
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men…” – Colossians 3:23 (NASB)
Since I began blogging in earnest, I have occasionally referred to the fact that I spent a period of time in the employ of a foreign government: the Egyptian government, to be specific. It was a fascinating epoch in many ways, and yet thoroughly uninteresting in others. Out of respect for my former employer (and here I mean specifically my first boss), I have said hardly anything about this period in public. However, enough time has elapsed that I now feel comfortable sharing some of my experiences.
In 2009, I completed my Master’s degree and began looking for a job that would pay the bills. I applied to numerous think tanks, congressional offices, and government departments. I even considered joining the CIA. What I did not expect was to see a job listing with the Egyptian Press Office in Washington, D.C., a kind of satellite campus of the Egyptian Ministry of Information. Although I had never been to Egypt and did not speak Arabic, I applied. Shockingly, they invited me to D.C. to interview.
I suspect that there were three things that won me the job: 1) I had a good knowledge of politics and media in the United States, which was what they sorely craved. 2) I demonstrated sensitivity toward their culture and religion. 3) The person who interviewed me had attended the same graduate school as myself.
So it was that on a snowy December day, my parents helped me move all my belongings into an apartment in northern Virginia, from which I would commute to my new position as Assistant to the Director of the Egyptian Press Office. Continue reading
A few recent controversies have caused me to reconsider when and how we should criticize church elders – that is, pastors or overseers. As someone who often writes about theological topics, I am particularly concerned with how bloggers and other Christian authors choose to respond to well-known elders in the Church. This is certainly a sensitive subject and one that calls for wisdom based on the Word of God.
I myself have made occasional criticisms of various elders on this blog, particularly over the course of the past year. These experiences have taught me some things about how we ought to engage with one another for the good of the Church and in line with God’s commands. I know that I have not always met the high standard that I set for myself, and there are some things that I would change if I was offered a redo. Nevertheless, I hope that what I have to say today will be helpful to both myself and others in the future. Continue reading
An illustration of John the Apostle from the Book of Kells, circa 9th century
“How then can a man be just with God? Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?” (Job 25:4)
Questions like this have been plaguing human beings since the beginning of time. Those who believe in a righteous God naturally wonder, “Am I righteous as well? Does He approve of me? Will I escape judgment? Does He love me?” This desire for assurance has sent people on lifelong journeys, many of which fail to provide them with the clarity they lack. Some conclude that it simply isn’t possible to know if God approves of us.
While scripture tells us that, “There is no one who does good, not even one,” (Psalm 14:3b) it also promises hope of salvation through Jesus Christ. Moreover, it teaches that it is possible to be assured of one’s salvation, and that those who are truly in Christ will persevere to the end. Sadly, not all Christians cling to these scriptural truths. Instead, they spend their lives chasing any number of things that they hope will grant them some measure of assurance: the sacraments, good deeds, church attendance, etc. It is not difficult to see how this changes the Christian life entirely. Those who put their trust in these things have only a false hope, and many who try find their confidence ultimately shaken.
The Apostle John wrote a letter to address this very problem. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life,” he said. (1 John 5:13) Not a hope that you have eternal life. Not an attempt to gain eternal life. No, he said that we can know that we have it. Continue reading
“Martin Luther in the Circle of Reformers” by the German School, circa 1625-50
We haven’t hit the month of October yet, and already I have read so much about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation that I would just assume be done with it. Actually, that’s a lie. I could probably read articles about the Reformation until kingdom come. I am what is popularly called a history geek. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that this year has been so full of solas, beer steins, and papal anathemas that I hesitated to add to the deluge unless I had something to say that was rather different from what had already been said.
Well, here’s something you may not have heard from many Protestants this year: the Reformation was a tragedy. Yes, you read that correctly. In the midst of all this celebrating, I think we ought to take some time to mourn what we have lost. Great damage has been done to the cause of Christian unity, and 500 years later we have yet to recover.
“Hold on a minute!” you might be thinking. “Are you suggesting that the Protestants were wrong to break away from Rome? Do you really believe we should ignore major doctrinal errors in order to maintain a superficial unity?” No, that is not what I am saying at all. There are certainly aspects of the Reformation that we should be celebrating. The recovery of the doctrines known as the Five Solas (scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and the glory of God alone) was an absolutely essential development in the history of Christianity. Many of today’s doctrinal errors occur when we fail to cling to those biblical principles. Even so, I think we must celebrate with a twinge of sadness. Continue reading
“Why did God make me a woman?”
That question surely crossed the mind of my ancestor, Empress Matilda. She was one of two legitimate children of King Henry I of England. When her brother was killed in a shipwreck, she was the last one standing: the only legitimate child who could succeed her father. If you think having a woman in charge now is controversial, just imagine what it was like in the 12th century! That was the time period in which Matilda lived, and somewhat predictably, the nobles of the kingdom – all of whom had sworn to make her queen upon her father’s death – threw their support behind her male cousin and crowned him king. This led to a bitter civil war in which Matilda surely wondered why God had decided to make her a female, or at the very least why He had killed off her brother.
For the past three years, I have been writing a series of novels based on Matilda’s life. The first one is about to be released as an eBook by Amazon. (Shameless plug…) It was never my intention that these books should join the feminist literary canon or be an exercise in man bashing. You will find within those pages examples of good and bad men, along with good and bad women. Nevertheless, Matilda’s sex is an unavoidable part of the plot. It affected nearly every aspect of her life. She must have been painfully aware of the fact that she was assigned the lot of the weaker sex.
All of this has caused me to reflect upon my own femaleness. Much like my ancestor, I live in a world in which I am constantly reminded of my place in both subtle and unsubtle ways. I am not referring to the way I am treated by society as a whole, for it is increasingly embracing the idea that gender doesn’t exist or can be assigned artificially, without regard for biological realities. I am talking about the Christian world: specifically, the evangelical Christian world. Continue reading
As you might have noticed, I have been writing a lot about baptism recently. I have approached the issue from a number of angles. The last one I intend to tackle is how New Covenant baptism fits in with the other covenants mentioned in scripture. It has become apparent to me that I need to do a lot more studying before I can write about this topic. I am currently tearing apart several passages, conducting word studies, looking for links, etc. I am evaluating and reevaluating. This is a complicated puzzle that is not easy to put together – at least, not for me. Therefore, please grant me the luxury of some time to try and tie this all together with a pretty bow. People have been fighting over this for hundreds of years. I shall reach some conclusions and present them to you.
I was honored this week to appear on the Council of Google Plus podcast, which is part of the Bible Thumping Wingnut Network. We discussed the issue of suffering in the life of the Christian, and I talked about what I have been learning in the midst of my health issues this year. We also had a special guest drop by: Coleen Sharp from the Theology Gals podcast! Drop on by and have a listen. I also recommend that you read Coleen’s recent blog post about her own experience of suffering.
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit the Sistine Chapel in this official White House photo by Andrea Hanks
Yesterday, I saw something in my Twitter feed that made me cringe: a story in The New York Times titled “Trump Says Jump. His Supporters Ask, How High?” What I objected to had nothing to do with the fact that Trump was elected, although I have previously shared my concerns on that score. It was not even anything particularly new. What caused me to cringe was the article’s mention of a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution last October, the month before Trump was elected. I seem to recall seeing it when it initially appeared, but being exposed to it again seemed to double the effect.
The issue considered in this poll was whether “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life”. I understand that this is a complex issue. Even in scripture, we see examples of people who did something terrible at one point or another (e.g. Moses or David) and yet were described as godly leaders (though somewhat compromised by their sins). Therefore, I would be willing to accept a certain variety of responses to this question, but what I am not willing to accept is the result of this poll. Continue reading
“Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness” by Francesco Cozza, circa 1665
One Bible story that has resonated with me for some time is the account of Hagar, the maid of Abram’s wife Sarai through whom he became the father of Ishmael. The story tends to receive attention these days for political reasons, but I see it as a shining example of God’s grace in reaching out to a woman who was in great distress.
Hagar enters the story of Abram (later Abraham) when he and Sarai (later Sarah) are unable to conceive…even after receiving God’s promise that they would have a child. The custom at the time was evidently for the patriarch of the family take on a concubine and raise up heirs through her. Thus, Sarai gave her maid, Hagar, to her husband. The two of them slept together, and Hagar indeed became pregnant. Predictably, Sarai had a change of heart about the whole situation. She complained that Hagar now despised her. Abram allowed Sarai to deal with his pregnant concubine however she pleased. When she began to be treated harshly, Hagar ran away. That is where we pick up the story. Continue reading
An acquaintance of mine on Twitter asked if I would be addressing the current controversy over DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and illegal immigration here in the United States. My initial reaction was, “Are you trying to get me in even more trouble?” This is a touchy subject to say the least, and I have no intention of offering a firm solution to something so complex and nebulous. Instead, I will briefly mention some of the factors that I tend to weigh when considering such issues, in no particular order. This is not going to be based on in-depth research, but rather the kinds of things I would say to you if you put the question to me on the spot. Therefore, you should take all of this with a shaker of salt. It is just one person’s opinion. It is not the gospel. Continue reading