Narnia’s Aslan and The Biblical Trinity

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

The greatest fantasy works of the last century all have a character that feels larger than life, a leader that seems omniscient at times and full of wisdom all the time. I’m thinking of course of wizards like Gandalf and Dumbledore in literature and the Jedi Yoda in film. Each in their own way has an air of both invincibility and goodness to them so that you know the hero of each story is in good mentoring hands as they seek to vanquish the evil they must face.

Even among this specific genre of character, there is something wholly unique about C.S. Lewis’ Aslan the Lion, who impacted a wide range of heroes across seven distinct stories. As a Christian, his uniqueness is obvious after even a cursory reading of The Chronicles of Narnia—far more than a wizard or Jedi, he seems sovereign and completely transcendent over humans and every other being in the fantasy world in which he resides. To say it another way, he is godlike. And seeing as how C.S. Lewis’ intention in creating Aslan is not a secret, I think we can say he is Godlike. Capital G. It would be an exaggeration to say that I’ve learned more about God from Narnia than from Lewis’s non-fiction but it’s closer than you would think. Every time I’ve read these stories, this aspect of Aslan has struck me as more and more meaningful.

This year I completed my 4th reading of this series all the way through (having read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe maybe ten times), taking notes on this topic. And I was able to really zero in on this one thought as I read this time—Aslan not only communicates the attributes and personality of the Christian God, but also of each of his three persons, which are at times distinct. I think you can clearly see the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in his actions, words and general character. Today we at REO discuss them.  


Note that because the allusions to the Trinitarian God in LWW are so famous—notably that Aslan dies as an act of atonement and rises from the dead and that the Beavers refer to him as “good” but not “safe”—I will bypass that book and focus on the other six. Note also that as I cannot cover them all due to space restraints I strongly encourage our readers to share any I may have missed in addition to commenting in general. Lastly, I will be going in publication order. If you disagree with that, prepare for a Prince Caspian-esque fight to the death! (Just kidding.)

Prince Caspian

One of the remarkable things about Aslan is that, other than The Magician’s Nephew if I’m not mistaken, for such a dominant player in the story he actually has sporadic appearances. By the page count in my big one-volume version of The Chronicles of Narnia, this book begins on page 317 and Aslan doesn’t show up until page 373 and then it is only by Lucy seeing him ‘off camera’ so to speak. He doesn’t speak until page 378 and doesn’t appear in all his glory until the following page.

The fact he shows up before he is heard or “seen” is exactly what I’m talking about. Lucy sees him with her childlike innocence and faith (a carryover from LWW), and the whole scene smacks of the story of God calling Samuel, as well as biblical statements like, “The last will be first,” and “A little child will lead them”. Which Lucy subsequently does. Literally. And while there is no one verse I can point to that mirrors this, I love that Aslan tells Lucy that he seemed bigger because she had grown. On the other hand, Aslan telling her “All of Narnia will be renewed” has a clear parallel in Revelation 21:5.

Aslan’s later moment with Susan, forgiving her for not believing, definitely has a Jesus/God type feel to it. Especially since it’s the sin of unbelief.

Finally, I love that Prince Caspian responds to Aslan that he doesn’t feel sufficient to take up kingship in Narnia with Aslan replying, “Good. If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you are not.” There are few things as crucial to the Kingdom of God as being humble and meek. The New Testament reminds us over and over that the humble will be exalted. Just as Caspian was.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The most obvious example of my thesis as seen in this book is Eustace explaining how he regained his human form after being stuck as a dragon for a time. The way he describes Aslan removing his dragon skin as being painful and pleasurable at the same time sound exactly like something you’d read in the Bible, where conflicts live in tension. And where transformation happens in Christ.

And later Aslan says, “I call all times soon,” echoing a thought the Apostle Peter has about how God views time in his second epistle.

I also appreciate how at the end he is a lamb at first before metamorphosing back into a lion, since both animals are used to describe Christ in the New Testament.

The Sliver Chair

I confess Jill’s first encounter with Aslan in the second chapter of this book was the first passage that really birthed the idea of this article. There are few passages in the whole series that cause my heart and mind to dance with joy the way this one does.

Aslan inviting her to drink makes me think of Divine invitations in both Old and New Testaments to do the same (Isaiah 55, John 4). Drinking the water immediately quenches the thirst and not drinking it leads to death.

And I adore this quote by Aslan: “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” followed by the explanatory note: “It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.” That brings chills to my soul like few things outside of Scripture itself.

Their continued conversation just adds more and more to the image: He gets her to see her sin; He tells her that she would not call to him unless he called her first; at one point he replies to her question with “I am”, and he mandates her to “Say [the signs] to yourself when you wake up in the morning and when you lie down at night and when you wake up in the middle of the night.” The whole scene is overflowing with Scriptures—Deuteronomy 6, John 4, 6 and 8–that point to how God interacts with humanity.

Finally, it is perfect to me that Aslan uses his breath to send Eustace and Jill to Narnia from the cliff in this chapter, the same means he uses to bestow forgiveness on Susan in the previous book. Both Hebrew and Greek have a word that can be translated to “spirit” “breath” and “wind” and hence, it feels like yet another echo of deity.

The Horse and His Boy

Shasta’s intimate confrontation with Aslan is one that I could read over and over before moving on in the book. Especially this: “I was the lion who forced you to join with Ararvis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses new strength of fear for the last mile that you pushed bait in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight to receive you.” I can clearly imbibe of the sovereignty of the Father, the comfort of the Spirit, the protection of the Son (as promised to Simon Peter), the invisible God who protects and never gets tired. All in this one short speech.

And then Shasta asks him “Who are you?” And Aslan says, “Myself,” which sounds semantically different yet quite similar to YHWH’s answer to Moses in Exodus 3 to a similar question. Mere mortals do not give that kind of answer unless they are being obtuse. Which Aslan, nor God, ever is.

The Magician’s Nephew

There can be no doubt about the chosen passage for this book:

“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing…it seemed to come from all directions at once…Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful Digory could hardly bear it.” 

And then:

“Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”

There are few things as Godlike as the act of creating. Not just making or producing, though there is that, but creating from nothing. By nothing more than the spoken word. Creating life. Life with personality. As Aslan does here. This is Narnia’s Genesis 1 and John 1. And what is remarkable in view of this article, between those two biblical chapters we know the Trinity is fully represented by the creation of the universe. There can be no mistaking who Aslan is to Narnia. Creation depends on the Creator but not vice-versa.

I will also add that even though I said I would not reference LWW in this article, this part of The Magician’s Nephew takes me back to this exchange in the LWW movie containing a truth that is only implied in the LWW book:

Jadis: Have you forgotten the laws upon which Narnia was built?
Aslan: Don’t cite the deep magic to me, Witch! I was there when it was written.


The Last Battle

This scene gets me all choked up because it is so much bigger than fiction:

Then he fixed his eyes on Tirian, and Tirian came near, trembling and flung himself at the Lion’s feet, and the Lion kissed him and said, “Well done, last of Kings of Narnia, who stood firm at the darkest hour.” Not only does it sound like how Disciples Peter (Luke 5:8, pre-resurrection) and John (Revelation 1:17, post-resurrection) react to Christ, the words Aslan uses are clearly Christ’s to all those who remain faithful until the end (Matthew 25, Luke 19).

A similar scene with Emeth a few pages later has the same effect. He falls at Aslan’s feet only for Aslan to (again) breathe on him to raise him back to his feet, reminding me of Ezekiel’s encounter with God in Ezekiel 1 and 2. And he too is welcomed in, despite a life lived quite differently than Tirian, showing grace that our God does manifest in Scripture to people like Cornelius.

And there are these words of the Lord Digory:

“Listen, Peter, When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. They had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and will always be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. 

A whole article could be written just on the way this series ends. But suffice it to say that Aslan’s role in the world he created and the “real” world is a clear a picture of the Christian God as could be. It makes me long for the New Heaven and New Earth unlike anything else in fiction. And not to merely experience the new but to experience seeing my Savior with my own eyes, and not the eyes of faith. I feel like that is the most real thing there is.

I believe God’s fundamental attribute is that he is “other”. He is not like us. He is exalted, highly lifted up, above and beyond and distinct from all beings in history. There is none like him, he says over and over in Isaiah. He is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. If that is what it means to be “holy” (and I believe it does) then that is who God is at his core, far more than other adjectives we use for his nature.

That is the air Aslan has about him throughout the seven stories. And that is why he has taught me so much about our God. Kudos to Lewis for this timeless children’s series that impacts adults in such a meaningful way

Jesus Is Offensive: Let Him Be (Part 4)

Links to the previous three essays can be found at the end of this article.

Part 4: Jesus Is Offensive In His Judgments

Injustice or Jealousy? 

One of the hardest parables Jesus gave for me to preach is the one from Matthew 20 where Jesus talks about workers getting hired at different times of the day and all getting paid the same wage at the end of the day.

I think I get it in its interpretation. That’s not the problem. The reason I say it is hard to preach is that no matter how you interpret it, it just sounds unfair. It is bookended by the phrase “The first will be last,” which sounds intriguing. But everything that happens in between sounds like a fast-talking businessman who gets you with the semantics of the contract he had you sign even though there is something clearly wrong with how it played out in real life.

Welcome to the world of not being able to put Jesus in any boxes. For the record, I do not think Jesus is a fast-talking businessman. I think God, and by nature Jesus, are completely fair in their judgments. But what is fair to God may not sound fair to me. And hence, it can be offensive. And crazy enough, this example isn’t even close to how offensive Jesus as Judge over men’s souls can be.

Even Tolerance Is Exclusive 

It gets even more offensive, at least if secular American culture is any indication when you talk about how Jesus himself and his early followers claimed he was the sole path to get to God. In one sermon Jesus attested, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” This sounds like arrogance unless you consider that Jesus believed himself to be God himself and proved it by rising from the dead. Taking that into consideration I think he has the authority to claim which way is correct. Besides, you cannot escape claims of exclusivity by any view on this topic and the major world religions do not even try. Jesus also claimed the vast majority of people would not accept the one path, adding to the arrogant exclusivity effect.

The One Subject We All Want To Avoid

Yet it gets even more offensive. It is not enough that the vast majority of the world will not get to God because they choose manmade religion or human ego instead of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that those that do not end up in Hell. Whether we interpret the biblical imagery of Hell as literal or figurative, I find it quite difficult to get around the harshness of it being a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual reality. Maybe there isn’t really fire but there is real suffering[1. I learned a lot about this from Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle in Erasing Hell, 76-80.].

This may be the king of all the offensive Bible teachings[2. Tim Keller says it is in his experience in the multi-contributor book Is There A Hell Or Does Everyone Go To Heaven When They Die?]. When you hear atheists talk about it, often their ire will come in the form of them saying something along the lines of: “Say I live a good, moral life. I love people. I give to the poor. I live that way until I die. According to the Bible, God is going to send me to eternal fiery torment just because I didn’t believe in his Son?” George Carlin, the comedian who used humor to make serious points, said it this way:

“Religion has convinced people there is an invisible man — living in the sky — who watches everything you do…And this invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time…But He loves you!”[3. Cited by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, 317.]

These types of statements are a clever bit of searing verbal gymnastics but are abysmal biblical hermeneutics.

The problem with it at its core is defining what a good moral life is. Take this statement from the late atheist Christopher Hitchens: “My challenge—Name an ethical statement or action, made or performed by a person of faith, that could not have been made or performed by a nonbeliever.”[4. Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, 289]

The answer to that is simple and it is the basis for all of Christian morality. A nonbeliever could not give glory to God in covenant relationship. It is foolish to use the Old Testament Law to try to castigate the Christian’s basis for morality since we are no longer under it (Romans 6:14; Galatians 5:18). Our basis of morality is in a relationship with God, similar to children to a Father and a bride to a husband, worshipping him with our lives. And those who have and do that will spend eternity with Him. Those who do not, will not. Make no mistake, if I live a moral life by the world’s definition but do not humble before God by confessing I am not moral by his standard[5. Remember, Jesus said put lust in the same category with adultery, and once disintegrated a rich young ruler’s morality, utterly humiliating him, after the man claimed he was righteous by God’s law], I am worthy of eternal punishment according to the Bible. If I never relationally enter into his kingdom to give Him all honor and glory for all that is good, I am worthy eternal punishment according to the Bible.

Here is what I mean: If there is a God who created you and gave you life and strongly desires a relationship with you in spite of you being sinful by his standards and you say, “Nope, I’m good. I got it on my own,” then that is about as terrible an insult as you can throw at him. Reading Ezekiel 16 gives a graphic allegory of why God sees it that way. As a result, human pride–defined in the Bible as living life without giving God the glory in covenant relationship—is listed over and over as something that God hates. And it is at times listed right beside things like the murder of innocents (Proverbs 6:16-19).

I expect the secular world to bristle at that and find it deeply offensive or just ludicrously stupid. But to me, it makes sense if there is a God. God’s standard of perfection cannot be attained and he offers committed relationship anyway, as the lone sovereign Creator of the universe. And to spit at that is the worst we can do. In Ezekiel 8 God tells his people he wants to show them the most abhorrent, vile, repugnant thing he can. And does he show them rape? Bestiality? Torture? No. He shows them God’s people worshipping other gods. For many the false gods are their own appetite and earthly things (Phil 3:19). Or to say it another way, it is themselves.

Hell in that sense makes rational sense to me. There will be people who end up in Hell who never killed a person or committed adultery. But there isn’t a single person in Hell who didn’t fail to give God the glory in covenant relationship. And if that is as evil as murder or rape or child abuse–and biblically I believe it is—then Hell makes sense. You can argue that even child abusers do not deserve Hell if they die without repenting, but putting it in that context definitely causes you to not take George Carlin or many atheist proclamations about biblical morality and Hell quite so seriously.

I hasten to add that I am adamant about saying Hell makes rational sense to me. It does not make emotional sense and I’m not sure it ever will. It causes me to be nauseous often when I think about it. It wages war on my emotions any time I preach it and no topic in the world makes me more uncomfortable. But if it is what the Bible teaches, I have to man up and deal with it.

Only Christ Can Judge You, And He Certainly Will 

Jesus clearly laid claim to deity by claiming to be the Judge of all humanity. He said in John 5, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son…And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” And he also claimed his judgments were fair and true (John 5:30, 8:16). I think we can also add one heavy adjective to his judgments as well: offensive.

It has not been my fundamental intention to bring a downer to the Christmas season this year. It’s simply to rediscover who Jesus is, at a time of year when people are talking about him and taking advantage of an innocent baby to make him someone he wasn’t. I guarantee understanding the real Jesus of Scripture will only help us to worship him more biblically this time of year.

And that is what REO is all about.

Read Part One Here. 

Read Part Two Here. 

Read Part Three Here.


Jesus Is Offensive: Let Him Be (Part 3)

Read Part One Here.

Read Part Two Here.


Part III: Jesus was offensive in his teachings


If your message isn’t different than an atheist’s, it isn’t the Gospel 

The first time I heard Matthew 25:31-46 I found it offensive. Jesus speaks of treating the hungry, the prisoner and the stranger as if they were literally Jesus himself. By calling them “brothers” it sounds like he means outcasts who are Christians. Regardless of what he means, we know from the rest of Scripture that Christians are mandated to help the poor whether they are believers or not.

These days, while I believe the Church still has a huge responsibility to teach this and similar passages, it is not offensive to my ears. It has been taught so often and so passionately in my circles, and my church is so intentional about it, that the zing of it is gone. And while I could always do more to practice this passage, it has been a source for several articles I’ve written for REO, which you can read here, here and here. (I add that because our culture is so honed in on this teaching, often wielding it imprudently as a political statement[1. There is no question Christians should practice it but to what extent the government uses it as a policy guide it isn’t close to clear in my mind] that its offense has been greatly diminished on a broad scale. Even nominal Christians who do nothing for the poor likely aren’t offended by the suggestion.)

Additionally, the idea of “helping the poor” is something atheists can agree within a vacuum. So there are many other passages Jesus taught that are far more inherently offensive. If we are to understand Jesus as offensive, I want to focus particularly on things that will offend all people to some extent.

Christians, Family and Hate 

One of the most obvious to my mind is that Jesus taught that we are to “hate” our family if we are to follow him. Correctly, preachers and teachers for millennia have taught that Jesus did not mean this literally, as that would contradict a bevy of other Scriptures on loving your family. But what he did through the use of hyperbole is make it clear that if love your family more than you love him you are not his disciple. Is that offensive? It is to me, and essentially everyone in every culture of the world I would guess. In fact, I have a friend from China who left his family to come to the US to study to be a pastor and his family thinks he hates them because he chose Christ over them. That is how he filters this passage.

Another similar one is when Jesus taught to not invite your friends and family over to your house for dinner but to invite the poor, the lame, the crippled and the blind. This to me is offensive because it is on a different level than “help the poor”. It’s one thing to go serve at the Pacific Garden Mission occasionally on a Saturday. It’s another to have those who are shunned by society sit at your dinner table as equals. That passage is in our Bibles and it doesn’t seem to be confusing in its interpretation or application. Yet a tiny minority practice it regularly in the U.S. I would guess. Because it is utterly offensive. 

Jesus Didn’t Always Aim for “Church Growth”

Perhaps the most obvious example in the Gospels of Jesus offending the masses is in John 6. After miraculously feeding the 5,000 Jesus later teaches them that they must believe him to be his disciple. They ask for a sign like the manna for their ancestors in Exodus. Jesus, as the master teacher, turns their words into a brilliant (if disturbing) illustration: to believe in him you must consider him the bread of life and in a figurative sense eat his flesh and drink his blood. The offense is not foundationally in the grotesque imagery, though it is that to any non-savage culture. It is offensive because as he did in Luke 14:25-35 above, he is demanding complete association with him to be his disciple.

And how do they respond? Most of this free lunch crowd confesses it is too hard a teaching and they walked out. I am not advocating modern churches practicing this often (nor am I saying not to), but what if we were willing to preach a Jesus or Jesus teaching so offensive, that the majority of our Sunday morning crowd decides they can’t accept it and do not come back? Even if we do not scare people off, at minimum people in the seats need to know that Jesus is offensive enough to accomplish that kind of mass rejection.

The point could be belabored because in nearly 100 chapters in our Gospels, Jesus offends people over and over and over by what he teaches: The rich young ruler walks away sad, unwilling to part with his wealth…the lawyer tries to justify himself and gets put to shame…Jesus claims Gentiles are important so a crowd prepares to stone him…Jesus fastens a whip out of cords and violently drives moneychanger out of the temple, rebuking them for making his house of prayer for all nations into a den of thieves…Jesus regularly preaches on Hell and final judgment for those who reject him…and on and on. Jesus was a compassionate man to those who were hurting and humble (and even then he wasn’t always, as we saw in the last article). But you cannot escape how often he caused people to feel anger, shame and conviction when he taught. It is no wonder that Peter and Paul both interpreted Isaiah to mean that Jesus was a rock of offense, causing people to stumble. 

Offensive Can Be Good 

One connotation issue in American English is that our word “good” seems often to be associated with things that are pleasant, nice or agreeable. These are not synonyms for good in a biblical sense. If I work too much and God needs to slow me down, he could cause me to become violently ill. And that would be good, even if not nice or pleasant. Similarly, in a few weeks my wife is going to give birth. My understanding is that event will be painful and undignified and the opposite of agreeable or delightful. But will it be good? According to many fathers I talk to, it will be the best.

That is how we need to process Jesus and his teachings. Offensive seems bad, and not good, if we have poor definitions. Jesus’ hard teachings are good as only God’s goodness can be. But they are not easy to accept. They will knock us to our knees, cause us to weep with conviction and make us feel deep shame if we let them. Jesus makes no sense to an unbroken, self-sufficient people. That is the heart of offense and that is what Jesus does.

May we stop trying to portray him otherwise.



Jesus Is Offensive: Let Him Be (Part 2)

Read Part One Here.


Part II: Jesus was offensive in his language


I am thankful that some modern Christian leaders wisely advocate for graceful speech to others on social media (and off social media for that matter) when we disagree. Especially about politics. I myself have done so for REO, even linking an article by Tim Keller that helps deal with polemics in a mature and nuanced way.

So I want to be clear that, generally speaking, I think name-calling and demeaning language are not things Christians should practice. Quite often I would say they are sin since we are mandated by God to speak gracefully and to consider others more important than ourselves.

Sticks and Stones

Yet, when we read the Gospels, we discover that Jesus had zero issue calling people insulting names and being harsh in his speech in general. This, as much as anything, is proof that the real Jesus—and not the Politically Correct, Flannelgraph, Buddy-of-Sinners American Jesus—can be quite offensive to our ears and sensibilities.

One of the most obvious examples is how he referred to the hypocritical Pharisees as “whitewashed tombs” and children of Satan. That is pretty debasing language. But I’d like to spend more time in this article on other examples of this type of behavior from Jesus because one thing even the “Just Love Don’t Judge” crowd has no trouble recognizing is that Jesus was harsh to the Pharisees. The high and mighty religious crowd is the obvious exception. Often the Inoffensive Jesus advocates see the modern parallel for the Pharisees as Christians who preach even the judgmental portions of the Bible.

This is erroneous thinking. And even if it weren’t, Jesus’ scathing words to the Pharisees don’t begin to cover it when it comes to ways Jesus talked to people that can shock modern ears. A few others that are significant to me:

“At that time some Pharisees said to him, ‘Herod Antipas wants to kill you!’ Jesus replied, ‘Go tell that fox that I will keep on casting out demons and healing people today and tomorrow…'”

‘Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. ‘Get away from me, Satan!‘ he said.” 

Then Jesus said to the [Gentile] woman, ‘I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel…It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.’”

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.”

“Then Jesus replied, ‘Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!‘ (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)”

None of the people on the receiving end of these insults could be described as the “religious crowd,” at least not in the typical New Testament Pharisaical sense. You have a follower who abandoned Christ and (I believe) ended up in Hell, a follower who remained faithful to death, a woman who was a complete stranger and foreigner and just needed help, a general crowd of people including his apostles, and a Gentile ruler. In each case, Jesus is not graceful with his speech, but downright rude at best and vicious at worst. If Jesus is our example, this really turns the “Love Thy Neighbor No Exceptions” T-shirt on its head.

Trying to Rationalize It

Now I know in the case of the Syrophoenician woman, that a rejoinder is that Jesus did end up helping her and perhaps came across as curt and even racist to make a point to her to be persistent. Yet can you imagine, in that case, or any of the above, a modern comparison? Christians calling our governmental leaders and former leaders names is extremely common on social media. But if I seriously called one of my church staff “Satan” in one of our meetings, I would be confronted for being a jerk. Even worse (and this is incomprehensible), if a woman of another ethnicity came to my church and asked for help and I used a slur about her people as I at first refused to help, I’d get fired. Even if I did help her eventually.

Let me again be clear that I do not think people reacting by confronting or firing me in those cases would be wrong. This is really what I’m getting at: Jesus was, and is, offensive in ways that we should not be. At least not normally. And while we do not always mimic him, we do accurately portray him. And that is what I fear that American Christianity fails to do quite often. When we make Jesus the nonjudgmental guy who only showed compassion, we misrepresent him. And that is a frightening thing to do.

As far as it depends on you

If you read Paul, he can seem to contradict himself at times. As in Galatians 1 when he said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Contrast that with 1 Corinthians 9 when he says, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” How is this reconciled? 

Well, I think in large part the two passages are explaining two things. In one Paul is talking about preaching the Gospel. In the latter. he is talking about how he lives before lost people. That is a huge difference and it can be applied in 2018 this way: People absolutely should be offended by my Christianity. But they should be offended by Jesus, NOT by my behavior, attitude and even the way I talk[2. Both Peter and Paul advocated being respectful and gentle when sharing our hope or correcting opponents and Paul instructed to live as peace with others as far as “it depends on you”.]. I aim to remove every obstacle to the Gospel I can (especially cultural ones) but I cannot remove Jesus. And as Jesus himself noted over and over and over, HE is the offense. That is why people will hate us.

Now, Paul did refer to false teachers as “dogs” so I cannot say for sure that insulting language is always wrong[2. False teachers, in my opinion, are a special case of people who merit far less compassion and patience, biblically speaking, than other lost people but that is an essay for another day.]. But I can say for sure that generally speaking, people should not be offended by me. And equally as important–they should be offended by Jesus. It is the height of lamentable irony that we want to make Jesus inoffensive when he himself assured us that he is the worst offense there is. The kind that produces hate. I absolutely love my neighbor as myself, per Jesus’s command. But if I expect that to mean I will get along in perfect harmony with lost people, then I do not understand Jesus at all. He said himself that he came to bring a sword and divide people. It’s his name, his message, that people hate.

So do I speak the way Jesus spoke? Not necessarily. But do I preach him and his words—pure, unedited and without shame? Absolutely. It doesn’t make a nice T-shirt. Because you can’t be offensive and nice at the same time.




The Sea of Light

To the left drifts the glowing star
promoting the night with its oblong light
caressing the dark with a deep, deep rite.

We see the star, the star, the oblong star,
the longish memoir from beyond time’s time,

beyond the cosmic jar
of the speckled, swirling galaxies of light.

We see the glowing star,
here and here, there and there;
we stare there and here,
within the blowing seas of sand

the unseen devil in the constellations,
the gelatinous dragon with his hideous secretions,
the struggle with our Sea
stamped on our stars.

Of the star we watch,
we magi of the light,
classified before time’s time,
yes, our sights are on the light.

Beyond the glow, we watched with all of the
night’s inanimate riders of the oblong winds;

As such here and here, right and left,
we see the star in a sea, a sea of light,
classified beyond the first watches

of the time in time we watch,
our sights on the light to the left;
yes, our sights are on the Light.

Jesus is Offensive: Let Him Be (Part 1)  

You’ve probably seen this T-shirt floating around social media:

Let me be absolutely clear that, without further context, I agree with it. When it’s time to shovel my neighbors’ snow, I should not for one second allow their religions or sexuality determine whether I serve them. Or when I’m at Aldi and the person behind me has two things to buy while I have a cartful, these things don’t matter for me to allow them to go ahead of me.

But if you dive deeper behind much of American culture, even in the Christian subculture, my fear is that we limit what “love your neighbor” is to things that are as above, completely non-offensive and by most measures the opposite of offensive in that they are welcoming.

Further, the life and work of Jesus Christ is at the core of this thought. Because, after all, Jesus was a “friend of sinners,” right? Well, the truth isn’t nearly that simple. It typically is not.

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:6)

To be completely straightforward, my aim in this series of essays is not to blaze a new trail on the topic. Encouragingly, I have heard sermons and read internet articles that try to push back against the Inoffensive Jesus. My goal here to help with that. Based on the temperature of American Christianity, we are not going to lack for correction on this topic. We are a nation that thrives on offense being the worst thing in the world. Think just for a second about terms that have been added to our vernacular that seemingly crept in overnight but now are everywhere (especially social media): triggered, safe space, snowflake. 

I’m guessing that some people associate those terms with political views. That is not my desire here. My point is simply that the culture at large has begun to qualify with its vocabulary how much we loathe being offended. This is prevalent in the church also, where people seem content with coming just to big gatherings on Sunday and never getting deeper into the community (as is modeled for us in Acts 2), all for fear of being known and judged.

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? (John 6:61) 

I acknowledge that much offense, like racism, is terrible and in that sense needs to be battled. But in Christianity, offense is at the heart of our message. That cannot be changed. When people say Jesus was a friend of sinners I do not think they always represent that correctly.

There is work behind interpreting and applying the Bible and my efforts in understanding the passages that use that phrase do not leave me with a sense of “Jesus went out and showed great compassion to the disenfranchised tax collectors, refused to judge them and just loved on them.” No, I do not get that impression at all, even though that is often how I feel people want it to be applied.

Instead, in Matthew 9 we find Jesus calling Matthew to come follow him. We know when Jesus called people, he was as offensive as could be. He told them to forsake their families and to die to themselves. And just a few chapters prior Jesus demanded repentance from those who wanted to follow him. When people accused Jesus of hanging with the bad crowd, Jesus replied that he came to call those who were humble enough to need a doctor. How absurd would it be to imagine a doctor with a cure for a major disease partying with his patients and never telling them what is wrong with them or how to fix it? (I also hasten to add that I have at times heard people claim Jesus was only offensive to “religious” people, but that is nowhere close to the truth and I will deal with that myth in later essays.)

Jesus wasn’t Matthew’s drinking buddy. Nor was he merely “hanging out” with his friends and loving them in innocuous ways. I have zero doubt Jesus spent time with these people to preach to them. Since the core of the Christian life is a relationship (as seen by the Trinity), he didn’t just preach. He communed with them. How many of them were saved? I do not know. But I have no doubt Jesus didn’t commune with sinners without offending them.

And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me. (Matthew 11:6)

Jesus is far less offensive to the humble than to the proud. And the issue with the T-shirt above could be that I know that many of those neighbors that I am supposed to love by shoveling snow see zero need of Jesus in their life. At some point, they need to be offended by the truth of Jesus Christ. Isn’t this the most loving thing to do?

Jesus is the greatest proof that loving and offending can overlap. If my child needs a shot from the doctor, is it loving to prevent it because it hurts?  If the building I’m in is on fire and there is only one door to escape from certain death, is it offensive to try to tell people other ways out are wrong?  That’s a little simplistic but the point is true in Christianity, which claims quite offensively to be the only way to salvation.

So buckle up, REO readers. This year for Christmas we want to encourage you to block out all of the cultural noise and false “no offense” prophets and see Jesus for who he truly is. Because the truth is that he can be terrifying at times, and difficult to accept. Since he is by nature God, even clothed in humanity, we should expect him to be.

Part 2 coming next week.



The Biblical Truth of Rejection in Evangelism and Failure in Discipleship

I would guess that most Orthodox Christians that I know can tell you that there is at least something wrong with how preachers like Joel Osteen present the Bible.

There may be a range of opinions on how heretical he is or isn’t but most would have the wisdom to realize that there isn’t much if any content on God’s judgment or suffering. And not that I think just anyone can avoid these topics and still build a huge church, I have no doubt that people often have ears that want to hear only good news. And in spite of the success of what can accurately be labeled a “health, wealth and prosperity Gospel,” most true Christians I know see through the facade.

Yet I submit that even within genuine Christianity, where pastors and preachers deal with divine judgment, suffering and a whole host of other unpleasant topics in the counsel of God, there are topics we too often avoid.

One of them (or in reality two that are closely linked) is the rejection the church should often face when preaching Jesus, either immediately or eventually.

This is not a rare theology in our Bible. Jesus himself said the way to Heaven is narrow and the way to Hell is broad. Isaiah defined Christ as “despised and rejected by men”. And there is even a story in John 6 where Jesus preached a hard truth about how dedicated his followers had to be to him and John records that, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

Reality bears this out. As recently as 2015, Pew had 31% of the world claiming Christianity[]. And seeing as how undoubtedly that number includes cults, those who believe in works salvation and those who merely attend church without any real life transformation from the Gospel, we can be assured that far less than 31% of the world is following Jesus. Jesus testified this by saying that many who claim him are not his followers (Matthew 7:21-23), It is for this reason that I use qualifiers like “true,” “genuine” and “orthodox” when describing actual disciples of Jesus Christ.

Another thing that makes the number of true Christians hard to know is that one of Jesus’s parables states that there are four responses to the Gospel. One is flat out rejection. The last is acceptance and a fruitful life. But the middle two present more nuance and more difficulties in the topic of evangelism and discipleship. Without getting too sidetracked by the interpretation of the middle two types of seed, I think it is fair to say that there are many people who accept the message of Christ for a short time but do not finish. The fact that neither of the middle two groups is fruitful leads me to believe they are not genuinely saved.

This coincides with several verses that teach, or least strongly imply, that a person is not saved until they have lived faithfully until the end of their life. Consider:

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:22).

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13).

Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (Hebrews 3:14).

If we endure, we will also reign with him (1 Timothy 2:12).


It also not my intention to turn this article into an Arminianism vs. Calvinism debate but it is hard for me to miss the truth of what Jesus, Paul, the author of Hebrews and John all seem to agree on. This also supports the translation of present continuous in some verbs of belief, as Picirilli explains about John 3:16 and 3:36, etc. The whoever “is believing” is saved. Because the person can cease to believe at some point. The parable of the sower seems to confirm this.

But more than an area of theology this troubles me in practice. I suppose it is easy for me to say this as a pastor of a non-mega church, but I experience rejection in evangelism and failure in discipleship all the time. I’ve talked, witnessed and preached to countless people who never made a decision for Christ. And beyond this, there are two facts keeping me up at night from my 16-year ministry in Chicago: probably 90% of the teenagers that were being discipled when I was the youth pastor of my church are not actively being discipled today and the majority of people I’ve baptized (adults and teenagers alike) are not actively being discipled in a church today.

I have zero doubt that some of this is on me. I have faults and I have ignorance in the areas of witnessing and making disciples. But the Bible verses mentioned above make me realize that some of it is just the reality of how people respond to God, and not to me. Part of my goal in writing this is to get it out there for people who may feel similar. I would imagine just about every Christian who values evangelism and discipleship (which should be every Christian) gets this to some level. Even the megachurch workers and those who share the Gospel with hundreds of people each year. It just seems to me the books and blog posts and sermons and resources on these topics, even in conservative Christianity, focus primarily on success. Here is what to do to be successful. Failure or rejection may be acknowledged, but often only in passing. I feel that the New Testament gives it a thorough treatment.

Quite often in my life, because I’m sure God directs it this way so that he gets the glory, I feel like my experience and knowledge are so flimsy. I mean that sincerely, even as someone who writes for a website. So when I feel like I don’t know enough from my experiences to write to help people, all I know to do is interpret the Bible. That is how it should be regardless, but often it isn’t. So today, after years of frustration and failure in the two pillars of how the message of Jesus Christ impacts the world—evangelism and discipleship—I only offer a theology that is far more important than my experience.

If you feel the same or if you feel completely different, we welcome feedback below.


Enlightened Woman Leaves Christianity Due to Jesus and the Apostles’ Dehumanizing Language

Portland, Oregon – Emily Van Zant has been a churchgoer all her life, until now. She was born and raised attending church “any time the doors were open,” as she puts it. But recently, the more she reads the Bible, the more problems she has with the tone and rhetoric from some of Christianity’s key figures.

“I tried for a long time to ignore the angry and hostile language that many of the Apostles were spewing. My breaking point was when I realized that this problem originated with Jesus. I decided I could no longer align myself with such intolerant and dehumanizing language and ideology. All people are valuable and created with the spark of divinity. Calling them ‘a brood of vipers’ or ‘white-washed tombs’ was just a bridge too far for me. Shouldn’t we be showing love to everyone, not just those that agree with us?”

Ms. Van Zant joins a growing number of disillusioned ex-Christians who are looking to live out their faith in a more inclusive and tolerant manner. Ms. Van Zant continues:

“I was already struggling with Paul calling Jews “dogs” in Philippians 3:2. But when a good friend of mine pointed out that Jesus called a Canaanite woman a “dog” I knew this sort of intolerance and bigotry was something I could no longer condone. I embarked on a journey of reflection and fact-finding, and I realized this intolerance went deeper than just language. It was foundational to the entire Christian faith. Jesus’ entire ministry and message were built on non-inclusivity, intolerance, and self-centeredness. He actually taught that he was the only way to heaven! The level of arrogance it takes to make that claim is mindboggling. That was his path, and I respect him for that, but you can’t force your path on anyone else. You aren’t allowed to tell other people that their path is wrong. That’s not how this works. More and more people are seeing the truth and coming to the realization that the party is over for Jesus and his good time buddies of intolerance.”

For the time being, Emily Van Zant is on her own path, seeking knowledge, wisdom, and faith in a number of religions and faiths.

“I will keep looking until I find something that works best for me. And once I do, I will be sure to tell everyone how intolerant and bigoted they are if they disagree with me.”

You Don’t Know Who Ty Cobb Was?

A baseball great.  Record holder. In the first class of Hall of Fame players inducted in 1936. Lifetime batting average of .366 – the highest of all time. Three times batted over .400 for a season. Possibly the greatest player of the early 1900s.

Violent temper with a reputation for viciousness and thought to be a racist.

Some recent studies seem to indicate that some of the things thought to be true about him may not have been factual. (This may have been due to an inept and extremely biased biographer.)

Earlier biographers depicted Cobb as extremely violent, sharpening his spikes and endeavoring to slide into other players and cut them. He is said to have attacked blacks and sought to inflict bodily harm on them. Even Ken Burns of the famous video series Baseball, presented that picture of Ty Cobb. In the movie “Field of Dreams,” the ghost player Shoeless Joe Jackson talks about not inviting Cobb to come to the magical field because “we hated the ____.”

More recent studies seem to show that he was not hatefully racist, was respected by teammates and opponents alike and tried to graciously reach out to fans. He was, according to Charles Leershen, in “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty,” an extremely complex man, far from perfect, but not guilty of many of the things alleged in earlier biographies.

Ty Cobb was born in Georgia in 1886, just 21 years after the Civil War ended. He played for the Detroit Tigers, and because of his attitudes and actions, and being a Southerner, he may have created more problems for himself than he should have.

Interestingly enough, Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in 1947, was also born in Georgia, 33 years after Ty Cobb. And recent information would seem to show that Cobb was not against African Americans playing in the major leagues. “The Negro should be accepted wholeheartedly, and not grudgingly,” he said. “The Negro has the right to play professional baseball and whose [sic] to say he has not?” And he was proved correct in the years that followed as African Americans reshaped the all-time baseball statistics from that point forward.

Now while I am sure there are those who do, it is likely that most people in China, India, or the heart of Africa would not know who Ty Cobb really was; in fact, he or she would never have even heard of him. Fame is not only fleeting, it’s also limited by time and place. In this case, the real and total truth about Tyrus Raymond Cobb is known only to God.

Historical facts, anecdotes, trivia and the like, are interesting, at least to some people, at certain times, and in at least a few places. They do serve as good attention grabbers, make for memorable illustrations, and help transition us to consider more important things. But only one bit of information and only one Individual makes any real difference.

It’s not Ty Cobb who must be known – it’s Jesus! Jesus, Name above all names. Jesus, who said of Himself “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the father but by me.” Jesus, supernatural birth, sinless life, sacrificial death, and glorious, bodily resurrection, all to save people from their sins. Jesus, of whom it was said: “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

If Ty Cobb remains unknown except for a small group of baseball aficionados and historians, it will make virtually no difference. But if Jesus is not known – and received – there are eternal consequences. He tells us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. His name is to be proclaimed in all the earth.

Last, but certainly not least: we must clearly and accurately communicate the message. If indeed historians have missed the boat on what kind of person Ty Cobb was – intentionally or accidentally – that is sad, to be sure. However to miss the message of Jesus, or to transmit or receive a distorted message, is tragic.

There are still hundreds of millions of people who are not only unreached with the gospel – the only message that can save them, remember – but are still unengaged in the sense that no believer or group of believers is plotting a strategy to engage them with the gospel. There remain some 1,600 languages and dialects that do not have even a portion of the Bible. Thankfully, major efforts are underway to change that and get the Word to them in their tongue.

Ty Cobb was a great baseball player and a complicated person and while it is interesting to know who he really was and what he accomplished, that knowledge holds temporal importance. The same cannot be said about the most significant person to walk the face of the earth – Jesus Christ. We are to know Him and to make Him known to the uttermost ends of the earth. We should proclaim the Good News about Jesus with clarity, accuracy, and consistency. There is nothing more eternally significant than this.

5 Truths About the Diversity of the First Christmas

O Christmas, do you ever remind us that people think their way of talking, writing, and celebrating is the way. Christmas starts quarrels over minutia more than all of the rest of the holidays combined. From what phrases to say to when to listen to music, we ironically turn this allegedly peaceful time of the year designed to put our focus on the birth of the most signifiant person ever into a self-aggrandizing time of opinions and disagreements. I realize many of these things are not meant to be taken too seriously (I honestly do not care if you consider Die Hard a Christmas movie) but if we are honest, we know that we get disproportionally passionate in defending some traditions.

If we study the first Christmas, we find that it was quite diverse. And I have no doubt an application to this is that we really need to realize that diversity matters to God. Much of (and dare I say most of) our way of “doing” Christmas are not absolute truths to be followed and argued. And it may be that these silly differences of opinion about Christmas represent bigger and more serious issues we have with a lack of diversity in things things that do matter. Like worship and community life.

With that in mind, here are five things about the first Christmas and its diversity that can teach us to embrace the differences we have with others.


The worshippers were diverse 

Mary was a young virgin. Joseph was a carpenter descended from King David. The Magi were astrologers and may have been kings. The first group of people commanded to go see Jesus were laity shepherds. Zechariah was a priest and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Anna was a very elderly prophetess. Matthew, an author, was a Jewish tax collector. Luke was a Gentile doctor. The messengers from God to man about Jesus were angels and not even human. And I’d even include the animals as well, since their feeding trough is mentioned by name in the story.

The voices of Christmas are far more diverse than were are accustomed to in our lives. Perhaps Christmas should awaken us to this fact and motivate us to long to hear from a variety of sources on how to understand and serve Jesus. And it could be very edifying to worship with a diverse community and buck against the typical cultural model of a church filled with people as similar to me as possible.


The reactions were diverse 

The Angels comforted Mary and the shepherds, both of whom were terrified. The shepherds told people about Jesus and glorified God. Mary pondered the events deeply and treasured them in her heart. The magi bowed down to worship and brought gifts. Anna, Zechariah and Simeon gave prophecies. Simeon held Jesus in his arms. John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb. Elizabeth gave a glad cry.

How we react to the Christmas season may seem so important to us that we expect others to feel similarly. When in fact there are many ways to react to Christmas and if they do not have anything to do with gift-giving or Santa or even huge family gatherings, they can still be good. As long as they are legitimate reactions to who Jesus is.


The geography was diverse 

Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. After his birth they went to Egypt for a while and then back to Nazareth were he was raised. The Magi were from “the East” and while it is impossible to say for sure where exactly that meant, it was a long distance from Galilee.

The lady who leads the prayer time at my church on Sunday mornings before Sunday school often brings requests from magazines that talk about places and people I have never heard of. I appreciate this instead of always just praying for our church, our neighborhood or our missionaries. God is indeed a God of the whole world and even Christmas reminds us of that.


The prophecies of Jesus as Savior were diverse 

Jesus’s name means “Jehovah is salvation” so centering the idea of Christmas around “Jesus is our Savior” is perfect. Yet even that phrase was broken down theologically that first Christmas. Consider just in Zechariah’s song in Luke 1:67-80 that he teaches, among other things, that Jesus would be:

A Redeemer 

This is a word that in and of itself has layers of meaning. A first century Jew who knew their Scriptures could think of Ruth, Job or even Levitical law and understand that Zechariah meant that God sent Jesus to rescue us from spiritual slavery and that in some way he was going to purchase us for God out of our pathetic circumstances. As a family-redeemer. This explains why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6 that “you were bought at a price” and in Acts 20  he claimed the church was “purchased by the blood Christ”.


A Warrior King

The literal phrase Zechariah used was “horn of salvation” which is found in several places in his Scriptures to communicate victory over enemies and security and refuge. Combine this with the fact that Zechariah references David, the general king who led Israel to many war victories, some translations call Jesus “a mighty king” in this prophecy.

The Jesus of the Gospels did get angry and even violent (Mark 11) but he came to die and was a willing sacrifice who did not fight back against his human enemies. Yet to Zechariah’s audience, they knew that God was a Mighty Warrior King, as in Isaiah 42:13:

The Lord will go forth like a warrior,
He will arouse His zeal like a man of war.
He will utter a shout, yes, He will raise a war cry.
He will prevail against His enemies.

And then Revelation describes Jesus this way:

“And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His name is The Word of God. The armies which are in heaven were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

We know from the New Testament that our enemies are not other humans. They are Satan, sin and death. And that Christ came to conquer them all. I think the resurrected Jesus is very much an image of the Old Testament Triumphant Warrior God and also of King David the War General, not victorious  over the Philistines or Assyrians but over evil forces of darkness and over physical and spiritual death. And I think Zechariah prophecies this. The doctrine of the first Christmas goes much deeper than the incarnation and the image of baby Jesus.


Our covenant. 

Zechariah referenced Abraham, which was the covenant he knew at the time, but we now know a covenant that is better and forever in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:15).


A light to all nations. 

Darkness has a strong association with secrecy and wickedness and confusion. All of these things were true of most nations spiritually before Christ. But he came to bring knowledge of not mere morality but of salvation to God for everyone.


And there are more I could discuss. But what all of these phrases have in common is that they describe Jesus as Savior in terminology that demonstrates how profound, complex and marvelous that phrase is.


The object of worship was not diverse

And this is the most important thing of all. It is easy in our culture to bow down to diversity so far that we consider all beliefs and religions equal. And while I do not unnecessarily disrespect any belief or worldview, I without shame proclaim Jesus Christ as my Lord and God, the only means to get to God and the unique object of my worship. Christianity is exclusive by its nature because of Jesus, as any monolithic religion is and as all truth claims have to be in some sense. Christianity is significant not for how inclusive it is of all beliefs, but rather how distinct it is. It desires to be inclusive of all people, notably all types of people and the New Testament reiterates this over and over. Yet the way to Heaven is narrow. Jesus is the only door.

No matter your traditions this Christmas, the original story is exhaustively about Jesus and his role in human history. It wasn’t just a birth. It was a collision of God and humanity that changed everything that matters in eternity.


As always, we welcome feedback in the comment section below.