Christmas: a bad ritual?

Dru Johnson

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(An excerpt fromHuman Rites: The Power of Rituals, Habits, and Sacraments, ch. 9 “Riting Our Wrongs”)

“We know that all Christians in the early church celebrated Easter, and that Jesus commanded us to celebrate other rituals like the Lord’s Supper. But the birth of Jesus was not celebrated—either by Jesus or his apostles. And we read about Jesus’s birth in only two of the four Gospels. Still, we celebrate the birth of Jesus every year.

But are we really doing that—or have the commercial attractions of Christmas completely overtaken our remembrance of Christ? We should give some careful thought to our Christmas rituals and what effect they have on us. What might we be able to do to change this?

We all know of the Christmas gift rituals that powerfully overtake a child’s entire being year after year. And how about the Santa Claus myth?

I couldn’t…

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Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ by Matthew W. Bates – Book Review


Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ

Wow! Coming off his last book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone, Matthew W. Bates dives right back into the subject with momentum and augmented detail.

The specific focus found in Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ breaks down the walls, barriers, and misunderstandings behind centuries of gospel definitions and misinterpretations.

Bates has no trouble getting straight to the point, comparing Scripture to the teachings of some well-known theologians, and clearing the clutter from erroneous tradition.

This is a must-read for pastors, lay-people, and anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of what “believing” in Christ Jesus truly means. You’ll walk away motivated, challenged, and with a refreshed outlook which will help grow your allegiance toward King Jesus.

Highly recommended!

Check it out on Amazon and Christianbook

Reading Revelation in Context: Quick Look (Gupta)

Crux Sola

My friends Ben Blackwell, John Goodrich, and Jason Maston have been editing a great series in the last few years: Reading Romans in Context, Reading Mark in Context, and now—Reading Revelation in Context. I was honored to contribute to the first two volumes (Romans, Mark), and so I have first hand knowledge of how helpful these books are.

But I will say—now that I have been able to peruse the Revelation volume—that this seems to me to be the most important of the three. Why? Because Mark and Romans make a lot of sense on their own, by just reading the text and following the story or argument. Yes, of course “reading in context” is helpful, highly insightful, and makes for an overall more accurate and satisfying reading. When it comes to Revelation—to be honest, most of us (including myself) just flip through the pages looking for 

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All About Thessalonians: A Bible Gateway Interview with Nijay K. Gupta


When and why were the ancient biblical letters to the Thessalonian church written and why are they important for us to read and apply in the 21st century? What were the social and sociopolitical dimensions of life in the Roman world back then and how were Christians treated?

Bible Gateway interviewed Dr. Nijay K. Gupta (@NijayKGupta), author of 1 and 2 Thessalonians: Zondervan Critical Introductions to the New Testament Series (Zondervan, 2019).

  • Who wrote the letters to the Thessalonians, and when were they written?

Dr. Nijay K. Gupta: The apostle Paul is mentioned in both First and Second Thessalonians as the author of these letters. Some scholars have raised doubts about the second letter, whether it was in fact written by Paul, based on some stylistic and structural features and perceived theological differences. But most scholars today consider both letters to come from the apostle Paul.

There’s no clear outline in the New Testament that lays out when his letters were written and in what order, but based on certain clues from the Bible (and information outside of the Bible) most scholars date both of these texts to the middle of the first century CE—2 Thessalonians appears to have been written shortly after 1 Thessalonians. It very well may be that 1 Thessalonians is the earliest of all the letters of Paul recorded in the New Testament. In fact, it may be the earliest Christian document that we have now.

  • Where was the Thessalonian church located and what were notable characteristics of the church?

Dr. Nijay K. Gupta: The ancient port city of Thessalonica was in the region called Macedon (modern day northern Greece). By the time Paul stepped foot in Thessalonica, it was a “free city” of the Roman empire. While Roman Thessalonica was technically ruled by the Roman emperor, it was given some measure of politic autonomy.

According to Acts 17:1-10 and 1 Thessalonians 1:2-2:16, Paul and Silas brought the message of the gospel to this Greco-Roman city and witnessed many lives turned to Jesus Christ by the miraculous work of the Spirit. But this also caused great persecution to fall both on the new believers and on Paul. Luke mentions that this community of believers contained both men and women, mostly Gentiles (Acts 17:4). Paul teaches them to continue to work with their hands, implying most of these Christians were “working class” laborers and not the wealthy elite (1 Thess 4:11). Famously, Paul reminds them how they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess 1:9).

Dozens and dozens of deities were worshipped in Roman Thessalonica. Their adherence to Christ meant severing from these gods, which led to all kinds of social and political tumult. This undoubtedly factored into the advice Paul gave in 1 Thessalonians about finding comfort and joy in the midst of suffering and persecution.

  • What are the main subjects of each Thessalonian letter and how do they apply to us today?

Dr. Nijay K. Gupta: Both 1 and 2 Thessalonians dwell extensively on “eschatology.” This is one of those big theology words, but it’s actually very important in the Bible. Eschatology relates to “last things”—what happens at the end of normal time. Paul dwells on the return of Jesus Christ in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11. He doesn’t do this as a scare tactic to get Christians to behave and unbelievers to repent. His focus is on hope—that Christians can be confident, hope-filled, and even joyful in the midst of resistance and challenges knowing that Christ will return as the living Lord to make all things right. Second Thessalonians also highlights eschatology, but underscores perseverance. God’s people will have to survive many challenging things before that glorious end.

Another key theme of both of these letters is personal integrity. Just as now, as also then, humans sometimes trick, deceive, and cut corners to gain for themselves. Paul repeats the command that believers should participate in honest work, they should try to be as self-reliant as possible, and should maintain a positive reputation in society (1 Thess 2:9; 5:14; 2 Thess 3:11-15).

  • What is “rapture doctrine” and how do these letters play a part in it?

Dr. Nijay K. Gupta: The rapture doctrine is a theological theory about the end times. Developed in the 19th century, this theory teaches that Christ will return in two stages. First he’ll snatch up (or “rapture”) Christians away from the world. Then, later, he’ll return in final judgment. The word “rapture” comes from the Latin translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (rapiemur), but this verse itself doesn’t make explicit that this is the first of two phases. Most theologians throughout history have believed in a single-event return of Christ.

  • What is considered by Bible scholars to be a particularly challenging text in each letter? Why? And what conclusion do you draw in your book?

Dr. Nijay K. Gupta: In 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16, we have an extended statement by Paul whereby he pronounces judgment and wrath on “Jews.” Some scholars have claimed that this section of text was not written by the real Paul, and it was inserted into this letter later on by an editor or scribe. But because we don’t have a version of 1 Thessalonians without this section, that theory is highly speculative. Others think this statement makes Paul anti-Jewish. But if you read these verses carefully, Paul isn’t saying all Jews are evil; rather, he’s comforting the suffering Thessalonians and telling them that God will re-balance the scales of justice by punishing those particular Jews who are persecuting followers of Jesus.

In 2 Thessalonians, you have reference to the “Man of Lawlessness” (2 Thess 2:3) who will oppose God and the church in the end times. Throughout the years, theologians have invested significant effort into figuring out who this person will be. Unfortunately, Paul doesn’t offer specific details about this person aside from his wickedness and grandiose aspirations for world domination.

What we do know from Paul is that the Man of Lawlessness will show great power, and he’ll deceive many people into following him. But Paul is also clear that he’ll be no match for Jesus Christ, who will vanquish him swiftly and effortlessly.

For Paul, when it comes to matters of the end times, it’s not crucial to analyze and prepare for specific details. More importantly, believers must (1) test everything and discern if they truly point to Jesus and (2) live in a state of vigilance, always ready for the Master to find them faithful and honest. And (3) Christians can live in the comfort and hope that Jesus Christ will be victorious in the end and live and reign with his people in peace and joy.


Purchase Gupta’s commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians through Amazon or Christianbook.

Original article published here.

How the Body of Christ Talks by C. Christopher Smith – Book Review


C. Christopher Smith brings yet another wonderful book to the fellowship table of the church. Following in the brilliant trajectory of his “Reading for the Common Good” and co-authored “Slow Church,” Smith masterfully expounds and encourages the church to begin talking again.

In such a culturally timely manner, Smith brings the reader along cutting through the divisiveness and noise of our society, to rediscover and engage in the lost art of conversation.

The aim, simply put in my own words, is that churches should lead the way in being the epitome of fruitful conversation. As Smith says, “intentional spaces of learning to listen and talk in the compassionate ways of Jesus. Our practices of talking together will make possible a multitude of formal and informal conversations that guide our congregations toward health and maturity in Christ” (p. 181).

Even in a world more connected and noisier than ever, it’s amazing how fragmented humanity is becoming. Smith not only diagnoses the heart of the topic but gives the reader techniques to begin to employ productive and abundant conversation in their own communities and churches.

A must read for every pastor, community leader, and even lay person!


My review of Smith’s other book Reading for the Common Good.


Available on Amazon, Christianbook, and other fine book retailers.

Eerdmans Sale on Kindle Books for July 2019

Reading Acts

During the month of July, Eerdmans has some great deals on Kindle versions of recent publicationsAlthough I prefer real books to digital (and Logos books to Kindle), these books are worth the price. If you do not own a Kindle device, you can get an App on most devices to read Kindle books. I use the iPad Kindle App, it is very convenient for travel (or reading in the dark).

Although used hardback copies are available for less, George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (1974) is $4.99. This was one of the most influential books on evangelical scholarship. Ladd “popularized a view of the kingdom as having two dimensions: ‘already/not yet’” (The Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax, A Theologian You Should Know).

Commenting on Ladd’s legacy John D’Elia said

Ladd’s legacy within evangelical scholarship is hard to overstate. I argue in the book…

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Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 20 (Gupta)

Crux Sola

Recommended Reading on Women in Ministry

Recent books and classic works worth consulting. [* = Highly recommended]

Non-Technical Books

(suitable for laypeople and readers with little or no theological education)

*James Beck and Craig Blomberg, ed. Two Views on Women in Ministry (Zondervan, 2005).

A helpful counterpoint perspective with multiple contributors.

Michael F. Bird, Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry (Zondervan, 2011, Kindle only)

In this short book, Bird gives his take on the issues; he points out non sequiturs in complementarian approaches and the dangers of overinterpretation.

Michelle Lee-Barnewall, Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian (Baker, 2016)

Lee-Barnewall notes how current conversations can be very individualistic, but God’s vision for the church (and its leadership) requires re-centering on the kingdom and the gospel as a people together.

Cohick.jpg*Lynn Cohick. Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (Baker, 2009).

Cohick is an expert…

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Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 19 (Gupta)

Crux Sola

Does 1 Timothy 2:12 Prohibit Women from Leading and Preaching over Men in the Church?

For those who argue that women should not be preachers, elders, or leaders (over men) in the church, they often appeal to 1 Timothy 2:12 as their most direct and clear biblical foundation. Here are some questions I want to discuss:

  • Is Paul offering universal and general teaching in 1 Timothy 2:8-15?

  • Does this passage teach that women cannot have authority over men in the Church?

1 Timothy is an occasional letter, not a comprehensive church leadership manual

The “Pastoral Epistles” are situational letters, from Paul to a particular individual (here Timothy) in order to address certain circumstances. Now, all of Paul’s letters contain some general teaching. But, sometimes, his teaching is more limited to one situation. Only the literary/rhetorical and socio-historical context will tell us whether the teaching is “once and for all.”


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Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 18 (Gupta)

Crux Sola

The Books that Helped Me Change My Mind about Women in Ministry (written before 2003)

I changed my mind in favor of supporting women in ministry around 2003, while I was in seminary. In this post, I will mention a few books then that moved me along on this issue towards that change. In a separate post I will point to more recent works of note.

Craig Keener, Paul, Women, and WivesHere is a conservative, biblical scholar who is absolutely brilliant, and he had answers to a lot of my questions. Craig is always careful with his scholarship not to overstate what the evidence can prove.

Beck and Blomberg, ed. Two Views on Women in MinistryOn the “pro” side you have Keener and Belleville, on the “not-pro” side you have Schreiner and Blomberg. This book helped me see the strengths of various arguments and how the…

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