Last Wednesday I spoke at the Ash Wednesday service of Heritage Christian Church. It was a bit of a “full circle” moment for me, as Heritage is where I started off in ministry after graduating from seminary. Our family has been attending there since I left the ministry last August, and it has been a good experience for all of us. You can watch the entire service here.

At the end of the sermon we stood and prayed this prayer of renunciation of appetite:

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you alone satisfy and fill me. Your way leads to life. My way leads to death. Place me, now, in your way.
I renounce my appetite for food beyond what I need to sustain me for your service.
I renounce my appetite for money beyond what I need to live generously.
I renounce my appetite for sex beyond the bounds of marriage.
I renounce my appetite for power not used in service of others.
I renounce my appetite for attention that brings me glory instead of you.
I renounce the indulgence of every appetite that conflicts with your righteousness.
Rescue me, Jesus, by the power of your death and resurrection, from this life of slavery to my appetites. Fill me with the Holy Spirit, that I may walk in the ways of the Father all the days of my life. Amen.

Ephesians 1

My wife, Breena, is in a Bible study at church on the book of Ephesians. The study material is written by a famous Calvinist, and Ephesians 1 is one of the key passages that Calvinists use to develop their doctrine of predestination/election. Neither of us are Calvinists, and so we interpret Ephesians 1 significantly differently from our brothers and sisters who believe that God has chosen before time began those who would be saved. Last week, I published a post in which I explained how I interpret Ephesians 1, but I got caught up in technical language, and didn’t produce an article that would be beneficial to most people. So I hope that this post will be something a bit more accessible.

Jesus and Abraham

Breena and I had a long conversation about Ephesians 1, and she found a couple of things very helpful. First of all, when New Testament authors talk about Christians being “chosen,” they aren’t inventing a new concept. The Jewish people were God’s chosen people. Christianity came out of Judaism, and almost all of the first Christians were Jewish. So when someone like Paul talked about being God’s chosen people, or how Christians are chosen in Christ, he was building on a long standing Jewish idea, using terms that were very familiar to him.

The Jews were God’s chosen people because they were the descendants of Abraham, the man that God uniquely chose to form a new nation that would bless all the nations of the earth. They weren’t chosen in the sense that God picked a bunch of individuals out of a crowd of humanity; rather, they inherited Abraham’s chosen-ness like a birthright. They were born into being chosen.

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Election in Ephesians 1

Ed. note: This post was originally intended to be much more accessible than it turned out to be. My hope was to write something that accurately reflected a good conversation that I had with my wife about Ephesians 1, but I indulged myself a bit too much, and it became more than I expected. I felt it was still worth publishing, and hopefully it will be fruitful for those who decide to read it. I will try, with my wife’s help, to write something a bit more down-to-earth on this subject in the near future.


Biblical election is a much-studied and oft-debated topic. Does God choose certain individuals for salvation? And if so, does that imply that he chooses the rest to be condemned? There are a few key Scriptures that deal with the issue of election, and one of the most important is Ephesians 1. Verses 4 and 5 are central to this discussion, and in them Paul writes: “For he [God the Father] chose us in him [Jesus Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (NIV) On the surface, this seems pretty straightforward: God chose believers before they were even born, predestining them for salvation.


Biblical election is headship election not individual election, it is rooted in Abraham, fulfilled in Jesus, and is the culmination of God’s redemptive purposes for humanity.

I contend, however, that there are many factors in play that cause the apparently plain reading of the text to be false, and that this false interpretation has led to doctrines which teach falsehoods about God, particularly regarding both his character and nature. God does not arbitrarily choose some individuals for salvation, while leaving the rest to eternal condemnation with no opportunity of escape. This is, frankly, contrary to both the character and nature of God as revealed in Scripture, and more importantly, in his Son Jesus, whom Paul describes elsewhere as “the exact representation of [God’s] being.” But it’s not simply a contradiction of God’s revealed character that leads me to interpret Ephesians 1 in the way I will describe below. I am convinced that we haven’t dug deep enough into this text, choosing instead to rely upon the assumption that we understand perfectly well what Paul means when he uses words like choose and predestine. But if we question our assumptions and look more carefully at the text, we will see that biblical election is headship election not individual election, that it is rooted in Abraham, fulfilled in Jesus, and that it is the culmination of God’s redemptive purposes for humanity.

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What Why Liberalism Failed Is About

The title is provocative for those who are politically inclined. How could anyone think that liberalism has failed? But Patrick Deneen isn’t talking about liberalism in the sense that we most often use it – as political and cultural progressivism. No, in Why Liberalism Failed, Deneen has set his sites on the entire political theory of liberalism, which is the very foundation of the American political system. This sort of liberalism is a political theory based on the premises that individuals should have the liberty to make autonomous choices about their lives, and that human beings must conquer nature in order to thrive.

The first premise, what Deneen calls “anthropological individualism and the voluntarist conception of choice,” is a radical redefinition of the word liberty. In classical thought – including Christian teaching – liberty was the power to rule oneself, to demonstrate the virtues over against the baser appetites. These lower desires, particularly those for food, drink, and sex, were understood to be tyrannical, and a man could not be free unless he was able to exercise self-control, or what the classical philosophers called temperance. Temperance was understood to be the true liberator, and a society could only be free insofar as its leaders exercised self-control.


Temperance was understood to be the true liberator, and a society could only be free insofar as its leaders exercised self-control.

Liberal theory turns this on its head, and posits that liberty is experienced only to the extent that individuals are free to make the choices they desire to make. “Liberal philosophy rejected [the] requirement of human self-limitation. …Liberalism instead understands liberty as the condition in which one can act freely within the sphere unconstrained by positive law.” (35-38) The only laws that liberalism allows are those which prevent us from directly harming other people. All else is permissible.

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Our oldest son, Cyrus, turns 13 this year. This is a significant time in his life, to say the least. He is transitioning from boyhood to manhood, a process that will no doubt take years to complete. But 13 is right around the age when it all begins. It’s both an exciting and challenging time, and I think a lot of parents are intimidated by their child’s adolescence and coming-of-age. Count me among that group. I’ve never done this before; Cyrus is our first child. But he’s never done this before, either. I’ve been where he is. I’ve gone through adolescence. (Some might say that I’ve never left it!) Part of my job, as his father, is to lovingly walk with him through a confusing, but crucial, period of his life. My job is to walk him through rites-of-passage, to help my son become a man.

How does a father help his son become a man in a consumeristic, suburban culture like the one in which I live? There are no rites-of-passage in our culture. There is no hunt, no warrior training, no vision quest designed for 13 year old suburban American boys to become men. Quite the opposite, actually. It seems as though our culture would prefer for its men to stay in a perpetual state of adolescence, an eternal arrested development. American rites-of-passage are most often passive events, more likely to be a matter of vice (first experience with porn, first drink of alcohol, first sexual encounter) than virtue. Boys who are initiated through pornography, sex, and alcohol become the sort of men who elicit #metoo stories, who become abusive, or who withdraw into distraction and entertainment. But that’s not the kind of man that I want my son to become.

I want my son to become a man who respects and honors others, especially women. I want him to be a man who uses his strength to protect the ones he loves by fighting for them, not with them. I want him to be wise, courageous, and just. I want him to be self-controlled, faithful, hopeful, and loving. That’s the kind of man the world needs. We have enough small men – insecure narcissists who think strength is expressed through rage and courage is found at the bottom of a bottle. We have enough disengaged, disinterested, and distracted men. We have enough blustering, arrogant bombasts. We need men of character and integrity, not perfect men, mind you, but good men. I want my son to become a good man.

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