The Nicene Creed
and of all things
And in one Lord
Acts 10:36, 11:17, Rom. 1:7, 5:1, 1 Cor 1:2, 6:11, 2 Cor. 1:2, 8:9
Gal. 1:3, 6:14, Eph. 1:2, 3:11, Phil. 1:2, 3:20, Col. 1:3, 2:6, 1 Thes. 1:1, 5:9,
2 Thes. 1:1, 2:14, 1 Tim. 6:3, 14, 2 Tim. 1:2, Philemon 1:3, 25, Heb. 13:20,
Jas. 1:1, 2:1, 1 Pet. 1:3, 3:15, 2 Pet. 1:8, 14, Jude 17, 21, Rev. 22:20-21
and was incarnate
by the Holy Spirit
of the Virgin Mary
and was made man;
The Holy Spirit
2 Cor. 3:17
1 Cor. 1:2
Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. [Luke 10:30-33]
I’ve heard many pastors preach on these texts. what often tends to happen is that they let loose on the Priest and the Levite, blasting them for their coldness and cruelty and lack of compassion. There is a tendency to pretty much excoriated these two men in this parable and cast them as unfeeling, heartless, soulless, unredeemed, and without an ounce of empathy in their bones. And I don’t think that’s a fair characterization whatsoever. Let me explain.
Jesus replied, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,…”” This is an actual road. It’s about seventeen miles long, and the road literally drops about 3,000 feet along that seventeen mile stretch. So when it says he’s going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, it really does go down. As it were though, this road wasn’t particularly safe. While these roads would have been patrolled by roman soldiers, they couldn’t be everywhere at once, and we see this play out by the fact that robbers set upon the man and strip him of his clothes and beat him to the point of death. And I think the state he was left in was significant. People’s nationality and background and even profession are identified by clothing and by dialect. It’s how we have historically identified our neighbours and kinsmen, and have been able to tell different people and groups apart. But this man has no clothes, and is unconscious and cannot speak, and therefore he cannot be readily identified, which will come into play pretty quickly.
Now to the crux of the matter. “Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.” I think the knee-jerk reaction is to be very hard on the priest, but I would argue that we need to be far more merciful to this guy than most have been historically. Let’s set the scene.
The priest is not walking by. As he would have been in upper level in regards to socioeconomic status, it’s almost certain that he would have been riding by on a horse or a mule. The priest is on his way back from his two week stint at the temple, and if he gets even within 4 cubits [6 feet] of this guy, he is ritualistically unclean. So he can’t even get close to this guy to see if he is okay according to religious law. If he gets within 6 feet of him or touches him, he will be deemed by the law ritualistically unclean and he will have to go back to Jerusalem and begin the rights of purification, which are going to require him to purchase a red heifer and turn that thing into ash. It will take at least seven days. He will then have to stand at the Eastern Gate with everyone else who has sinned against God until another priest who, along the same lines as him, purified him. So he would be filled with shame, filled with guilt, out a whole bunch of money, unable to take the tithes and offerings and food. Which means not only will he suffer, but his family will suffer if he helps this man. This is not an easy predicament to be in, and so we ought to be very careful not to judge the priest too harshly, or disregard the laws and the culture in place.
We can all sit back here and call this priest out on this, and talk about how we would surely never do such a thing, and that if we were in the same situation, we wouldn’t even think twice about it. But I’m telling you- it’s not a case where this man has nothing better to do and has time to kill and can call 911 and then be on his way. No. If the priest helps this man, he is an outcast, and it’s possible that he is unable to take care of his family for a few weeks. He’s going to have to purchase cattle, slaughter it, to through the ritualistic rites and probably be taken out of the priestly rotation for a season. It’s an unbelievably costly thing for him to engage this man, especially considering that violence and death were not that uncommon. I mean that. Seeing a man laying dead in a ditch, the victim of some form of barbarous act, would not have been completely out of the ordinary. It was a violent time, with Roman occupation and insurrection and thieves who descend upon a man, kill him and rob him, and disappear without a trace. It was a different time back then, and with no way of knowing who this naked man was, [if he was a fellow Priest or a hated Samaritan or a Gentile or a Roman] or if he was even alive- it at least makes sense that his religion and the burdens of such an action would keep him from engaging. So he sees him and goes along side of him and won’t help.
So let’s look at the next person to come along. “So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” A Levite is like a junior varsity priest, except he’s never getting bumped to varsity. The Levites assisted the priests in the temple but were in no way economically near what the priests made. So the Levite was a much more humble person in regards to what they made. The Levite is absolutely walking. And the thing about a road that goes for seventeen miles straight down is you could be 3-4 miles ahead and still see. So the Levite who serves the priest, who doesn’t have a lot of money, who is all by himself, passes by the man, bound by the same ritualistic law, already saw the priest pass by [this is a reasonable speculation] and I think must have thought, “If the priest wouldn’t touch him, I most certainly shouldn’t. Besides, where am I going to get the ability to help this guy?” He doesn’t have the kind of money and space that a priest would, and he probably would have had his own family to feed and take care for. So the Levite rushes past by also.
And here’s where the story would have turned scandalous. Up until that point no one would have been outraged or shocked by the actions of these two men, because they understood it.They get what’s going on. “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.” It’s real important that you see that that’s the driving force behind this, because let’s talk about the Samaritans. The Samaritans were halfbreeds: half Jews and half Samarians. When Israel was in captivity, they were men or women who married their captors and had children. In this century, the Jews believed that if you had anything to do with a Samaritan…well…let’s just say it’s in the Mishnah that if you ate the bread of a Samaritan is equal to eating the flesh of a swine. There were actually prayers in the synagogue during this period that asked God not to give forgiveness or grace to the Samaritans. That’s a pretty strong level of hatred, isn’t it? So you can see that there’s not a lot of love between these two ethnic groups. But the Samaritan is not a gentile! As such, he is bound by the same ritualistic laws as the Levite and the priest. In this though, the Samaritan is moved with compassion. “He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’” and he does the right thing.
I’m not going to take time to carefully exegete these passages, or offer my own interpretation, or talk about whether I am the good Samaritan and the beaten man that I am to help is my neighbor, or if the good Samaritan is Jesus, and the beaten, helpless man that needs saving is me. That’s not my concern. All I wanted to do, was hopefully make the case that we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the Priest and the Levite. It’s not so cut and dry to suggest that these were heartless and uncaring men who had no concern for anyone but themselves. It’s not right or fair or even contextually accurate to rip into them like some pastors do. There’s a lot more at play here, and while I believe that ultimately the Priest and the Levite were wrong not to stop, and that they should have had compassion and done the right, hard thing, It’s not as simple or as uncomplicated a thing to do as some would suggest.
“And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them, for they all out of their surplus put into the offering, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.’” Luke 21:1-4.
So I think it’s pretty clear what this text is not about. This passage has nothing to do with Jesus commending a widow for giving much, and exhorting us to do likewise. That is nowhere in the text at all. That’s just made up. It doesn’t even have to do with giving at all, and I’ll make the case that this is not a obscure of difficult passage to understand. It’s not even a particularly deep or insightful observation, but rather is simple. In the midst of his pronouncements of judgment and woe Jesus saw a widow give more than everybody else. In other words, her involvement in religion cost her more than it cost anybody else because it cost her everything. That’s all it is. It’s just an observation which the disciplines weren’t confused about, as they didn’t even ask any questions about it. And so over the course of this post I will hammer away at the same points over and over again to that point across. Fair warning.
Another thing to think about is that it seems the assumption in interpreting this as a model for Christian giving is that Jesus was pleased with what she did. But we don’t see that anywhere. It doesn’t say that at all. It doesn’t say that Jesus was pleased with her gift. It doesn’t say Jesus was pleased with her attitude or with the heart and mind that she gave this. It doesn’t say anything about His attitude at all, though I would make the case that if anything what this widow did in giving her two copper coins displeased Jesus immensely. I think it angered him and her giving this made his blood boil. When I consider my own life, as a Christian man who loves his God and cares for other people and cares about their needs, I have no tolerance for a morally bankrupt religious system that compels a poor, destitute widow who only had two coins left to buy her food for her next meal to give those two coins to said religious system.
The very idea outrages me! Something has gone terribly wrong in a system that encourages and even demands that. How else am I supposed to feel when I see an impoverished woman give to her religion her last hope for life to go home and perhaps die? I feel sick and repulsed just thinking about it. Listen- any religion that is built on the back of the poor is a false religion. What a sad, misguided, woeful, poor victimized lady. It’s tragic and painful, and I think that’s exactly how Jesus saw it. He saw that corrupt system taking the last two pennies out of a widow’s pocket who in her desperation hoped that maybe in that legalistic system her two coins would buy some blessing. The rabbis had said that with alms you purchase your salvation and so here she is, trying to buy her way into heaven, trying to buy relief from her desperation and her destitution. [Contemporary “evangelists” call this ‘seed faith’- “Give me your money and God will multiply it back to you.”] God doesn’t want a widow to give up her last two cents and you can’t find that concept anywhere in the bible at all. In fact, that’s the last thing God would want a widow to do.
The system that had developed in Judaism abused poor people on an economic level and a spiritual level. If I can draw a very similar comparison, anyone who withholds money from needy parents in order to give it to God is in direct disobedience to God and is dishonoring his word and substituting a man-made tradition for God’s Word. Basic human needs come first with God before religious offerings. Listen, God’s law was never given to impoverish people, but to help them, and that’s why it’s so wretched to see that this woman was part of a system that took the last two cents out of her hand on the pretense that this was necessary to please God; to purchase her salvation and to bring her blessing. She was manipulated by a religious system that was corrupt. This is not an illustration of heartfelt, sacrificial giving that pleases the Lord and this is not a model for all of us to follow. And so something very different is going on here. This is not about Jesus honoring giving, this is about a victim of a corrupt system who is literally made absolutely destitute trying to live up to that system and earn heaven.
Verse 1, “And He looked up,” I think this is important. If you read around this chapter, you see that Jesus just spent a chunk of time leveling blistering attacks against the false teachers, compounded with feeling physical drained and we get the image that he’s tired and exhausted and sad and resigned. So you get the image of Him sitting there in a moment of thought before He turns to pronounce the judgment for all his disciples to hear. And when He looked up, Mark 12:41 says, “He saw opposite, the treasury observing how people were putting money into the treasury.” Jesus had said in Matthew 6 that you were to do your giving in secret but the religious system had developed a very public prominent way to do it and Pharisees came along and had trumpets blown announcing their arrival to give, according to Matthew 6. And so Jesus looks up and there He sees the people coming, the treasury and how people were putting money into the treasury.
What is the treasury? Well the court in which Jesus was sitting is a large open court in the temple area called the Court of the Women. There was an inner court where only the men could go, but in this particular court both men and women could mingle, and it was in this court that Jesus taught on occasion. And Jesus calls this place that he’s looking at the treasury because there was a section of it that the leaders had designed as the place you give your money. They had set up 13 shofar-trumpet shapes in which people dropped their money. And each of them had a sign on the bottom of it indicating exactly what that money was to be used for. Old shekel dues, new shekel dues, bird offerings, wood, incense, gold, free will,etc, and they all were labeled and people would go by and they would in very open courtyard, publicly put their giving on display. As it were, we see several warnings in the bible that false religion is always about money in some way or another. When you get to the treasury, you get to the heart of false religion, and in this case the religious system demanded money in order make the guys who were in charge of it comfortable and prosperous and wealthy
Then there is the woman herself; a poor widow. That should sound very familiar to us because a few verses back we see Jesus saying “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes and love respectful greetings in the market places and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses” These are people who are building their success monetarily on the backs of widows. And so what happens? Jesus brings the pain and indicts them for their severe abuse of widows, along with the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the scribes who operated the system that abused the poor and the defenseless for whom they had only disdain. We know that these people any poor widow as being under the judgment of God, that’s why she was a poor widow. Furthermore, widows were women and women were second-class, and Pharisees every day prayed, “Lord, make me not a Gentile or a woman.” And because they were widows, they were defenseless and easy prey.
So what does this scene in particular show us? You have Jesus talking about poor widows being devoured and then nearly in the same breath he sees an example of this abuse. That was all. Nothing is said about her attitude, nothing is said about her spirit, nothing said about whether she did it in desperation or devotion, whether she did it in legalism or love, it doesn’t say anything about that. The Lord doesn’t commend her, doesn’t make her an example, doesn’t validate what she did, doesn’t say it was a worthy spiritual act that greatly pleased Him. All He said was, this religious system is preying on widows, this cost her more than everyone else. She put in relatively, comparatively more than anyone. The religious leaders were devouring widows and the more desperate these poor widows became the more they thought they needed to buy God’s blessing. Belittled by the establishment because they were thought to be in that state because of divine punishment, second-class women, they were defenseless, easily exploited and the system exploited them to the max. And so they took the last two cents of the poor woman and it was all, the end of verse 4 says, she had to live on, it was literally her life. She would probably go home and die.
Jesus isn’t commending her; she’s a victim. He’s not proud of her. He’s not making her an example of sacrificial giving. This is an absurdity. He is observing the corruption of the system that is going to be destroyed under the leadership of these corrupt condemned leaders. They’re exploiting the most defenseless, the most impoverished. Jesus certainly is not saying she gave her last cent and that’s what you should do, of course not. He doesn’t want you to give up everything you’ve got and go home and die. He’s given us richly all things to enjoy. It says nothing about percentages, nothing about proportional giving, nothing about giving with the right spirit, nothing about the measure of the gift is what you have left, nothing about giving up everything and living on faith. That’s not here. He’s observing the false religion that preys on the weak and the desperate and the defenseless and holds out hope to the hopeless if they just give their money. I don’t think Jesus was happy. I think Jesus was angry. And that’s why He says in verse 6, “As for the things which you’re looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.” And the disciples say, “When’s it going to happen?” And He says, “It’s going to happen,” and He describes it in the remainder of the chapter.
I don’t know why pastors insist on reading into this text and eisegeting into it these ideas of the joys of giving all we have. There’s no denying that those ideas are imported. If you saw a widow give her last two cents to some religious organization in the hope that she could purchase salvation or purchase blessing, or buy healing, or buy prosperity, you wouldn’t commend her, you’d want to stop her and you’d want to shut down that religious system that preys on the desperate. This act did not please our Lord. She’s simply been taught falsely and she bought in to a system that destroyed her. No praise is given of her act or her attitude. She’s caught in the corruption of the system at the hands of those wretched leaders. She has given her last coins to a false religion. Jesus is angry. And that’s why He’ll destroy this den of robbers, which goes down in AD 70. This has to do with a woman giving all she had to a corrupt system, Jesus observing that she had indeed given her all, and reinforcing the idea that what this woman was doing was not right and that she was being preyed on by widow-devourers who were engaged in an ongodly spiritual scam which Jesus condemned and rejected. That’s it.That’s all there is to it. It’s simple and it’s easy to understand and it doesn’t need to be tinkered with or bred with assumed external interpolations in order to be made clear. This passage is not for us. We are not to emulate this woman who is being taken advantage of. If anything it’s a warning to us that we do not do the same, and put not our trust in broken systems that enslave us to works righteousness and the law, but rather put our trust in the loving mercies of Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins and for salvation.
The Myth of the Widow’s Mite
I’ve read endless commentaries on this story and have heard many pastors preach on it. Usually it has to do with some form of the merits of sacrificial giving, and I can’t get behind that at all. That understanding doesn’t make sense to me, even though that seems to be the universal application for this text. This story is seemingly always used to tell us that we ought to give the way this widow gave, or some variation thereof, and I cannot see any basis in the text for reaching that conclusion. All these pastors are wrong. All the commentaries are wrong. And I’ll show you why.
“And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them, for they all out of their surplus put into the offering, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.’” Luke 21:1-4.
To set the stage, this is all going down on Wednesday of Passion Week, which is the final week of Jesus’ life. On Monday He entered the city, on Tuesday He cleansed the temple, and all day Wednesday He has been teaching the multitudes in the temple area and has been confronted by the false religious leaders of Judaism. By this point his ministry had winded down and was effectively over. There are no more gospel invitations or any more clarifications to the crowds and to the leaders. They’ve all rejected him, and there’s a finality to it, and all that’s left is Jesus preaching an extended message of destruction and judgment upon them, which will come to pass 40 years hence.
In fact, the last words of chapter 20 are clearly words of judgment, “And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Luke 20:45-47. Luke is pretty gracious though, because Mark gives us the fuller account of the dangers of these false religious leaders, some 39 verses after this went down. He pronounced judgment on the leaders and therefore judgment on the nation for following those leaders and rejecting Him. And so what we see is that sandwiched between the condemnation of the false leaders and the pronunciation of judgment is a little story of a widow dropping two copper pennies into an offering receptacle in the temple. It is somewhat of an odd place to find such a story, and so we need to ask why it’s there and what it has do do with anything. How does something like this fit? Why does Jesus inject this moment of reflection on a widow giving an offering in the temple into this section between a diatribe against false leaders and all the people that follow them, and a pronunciation of judgment on the temple, on the city and on the nation?
Universally commentators will tell us that Jesus is giving us a little glimpse of true worship in the middle of the false worship that dominates the temple. They tell us that it’s a beautiful little story in the midst of ugliness. A little light in the midst of darkness, an illustration of giving till it hurts, contrasted with the selfishness of the spiritual leaders. This is the traditional, universal explanation of this passage with some variation. And you can’t really escape this. Some say that Jesus is teaching that the measure of a gift is not how much you give but how much you have after you give. Others say that the true measure is the self-denial involved; the cost to the individual which is a just another way to say the first one. They say the percentage given is really what the issue is relative to one’s expression of self-denial in that percentage. Obviously, the woman gave the highest percentage [everything] and so they make it about that. Another possibility related to the other two, is that the true measure of any gift is the attitude with which you give it. Is it selfless? Humble? Surrender? Expressing love for God, devotion to God and trust in God? The widow, we are told, had the least left behind, gave the highest percentage and must have had the best attitude. It’s always about this. Whenever someone preaches the story on the widows mite, it will always be one of these things. You know that’s true; pick your poison- you’re going to get a sermon on the importance of giving and giving extravagantly. There’s only one problem.
It’s wrong. That’s not what’s happening here. Look- in spite of the popularity of these views, none of these explanations makes any sense. They just don’t. I don’t get it at all and I can’t help but feel that everything that’s said about this is being imposed on the text and is absolutely ridiculous. And here’s why; Jesus never made any of those points. Jesus never said anything about what’s left behind, what percentage, what attitude, or that we should do likewise and give everything. He didn’t. Jesus never makes any of those points. He does not say the rich gave relatively too little and that they had too much left over. He doesn’t say the rich gave too low a percent. He doesn’t say the widow gave the right amount. He doesn’t say the rich had a bad attitude and the widow had a good attitude, or good spirit. He doesn’t say that.
In fact, He doesn’t say anything about their giving except that she gave more than everybody. He doesn’t say why or with what attitude, or whether she should have, or shouldn’t have, or they should have, or shouldn’t have. Her outward action is all that you see. It is no more or less good, bad, indifferent, humble, proud, selfish, unselfish than anybody else’s act. There is no judgment made on her act as to its true character. There is nothing said about her attitude or her spirit. She could be acting out of devotion. She could be acting out of love. She could be acting out of guilt. She could be acting out of fear. She could be acting out of pride. We don’t know because Jesus doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t say anything about the rich, doesn’t say anything about the widow, doesn’t draw any conclusions, doesn’t develop any principles, doesn’t command anything, doesn’t define anything. Why? Because none of that matters.
The only thing I can conclude is if Jesus wanted to say any of that here, He could have said it. If He wanted to say “Now you need to give like the widow, she had a good attitude and she gave a maximum percentage and what she had left behind was little. This is the kind of sacrificial giving that we’re after.” He doesn’t say that. The story then is not designed to teach any of those things. It’s not designed to teach us about percentages, about how much you have left over, about attitudes. It’s not designed to teach anything about giving or about tithing or giving of ourselves. If there is one thing apparent here it is that she gave everything. So if there’s one lesson that would be obvious and wouldn’t need to be stated, it is that God expects you to give 100 percent of everything that you have and posses.
That’s ridiculous. That’s irresponsible. That’s foolish. It’s not designed to talk about the principles of giving. There’s only one comment that Jesus makes, she gave with her two copper coins relatively a great deal more than all the others because all the others gave out of their surplus, which means they had some left. She gave out of her poverty all she had to live on. That’s all there is. No comment that the Lord appreciated her. No comment that the Lord loved her, commended her. No comment that she was now in the Kingdom of God. No invitation to the disciples to reach in to their little money bags and go up there and throw in everything they had because it was good enough for the widow, it should be good enough for the disciples of Jesus. And if she was truly spiritual, they should be truly spiritual as well.
For these reasons, the traditional explanations of this text make no sense to me at all. One thing I do know is this; God doesn’t expect you to give 100 percent of what you have so that you have absolutely nothing left and you are utterly and completely destitute. But that’s the only obvious principle here if you’re going to draw a principle. Besides, why would you inject the principle in giving in a context like this? This is no place to interject, “Oh by the way, a few words on giving.” What in the world does that have to do with anything? Jesus makes no comment about giving except that she gave more than everybody else relative to what she had. She is not commended. They are not condemned. No one’s attitude or spirit in the giving is discussed. And no principle regarding giving is drawn by our Lord. The narrative is not intended to deal with any of those matters. The reason the Lord doesn’t say anything about it is that’s not what it’s about. And if you look at the context before and after, this is all about the condemnation of wicked spiritual leaders and a corrupt religious system that is about to be destroyed. In fact, in verse 5, the passage immediately after this, some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, and He said, “As for these things which you’re looking at, the days will come in which there will be not one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”
So that is what it’s not about. It’s not about giving your all, giving until it hurts, giving so that you have little left, etc. It’s not about any of that at all. Which I suppose raises the question “If not that, then what IS it about?” I’ll answer that tomorrow in part II of this post.
A Prayer of St. John Chrysostom. [c. A.D. 347–407 ]
O Lord, deprive me not of Thy heavenly good things. O Lord, deliver me from eternal torments. O Lord, if I have sinned in mind or thought, in word or deed, forgive me. O Lord, deliver me from all ignorance, forgetfulness, faint-heartedness, and stony insensibility. O Lord, deliver me from every temptation. O Lord, enlighten my heart which evil desire hath darkened. O Lord, as a man I have sinned, but do Thou, as the compassionate God, have mercy on me, seeing the infirmity of my soul. O Lord, send Thy grace to my aid, that I may glorify Thy holy name. O Lord Jesus Christ, inscribe me Thy servant in the Book of Life, and grant me a good end. O Lord my God, even though I have done nothing good in Thy sight, yet grant me by Thy grace to make a good beginning. O Lord, sprinkle into my heart the dew of Thy grace. O Lord of heaven and earth, remember me Thy sinful servant, shameful and unclean, in Thy kingdom. Amen.
O Lord, accept me in repentance. O Lord, forsake me not. O Lord, lead me not into temptation. O Lord, grant me good thoughts. O Lord, grant me tears, remembrance of death, and compunction. O Lord, grant me the thought of confessing my sins. O Lord, grant me humility, chastity, and obedience. O Lord, grant me patience, courage, and meekness. O Lord, implant in me the root of good, Thy fear in my heart. O Lord, vouchsafe me to love Thee with all my soul and mind, and in all things to do Thy will. O Lord, protect me from evil men, demons, and passions, and from every other unseemly thing. O Lord, I know that Thou doest as Thou wilt: Thy will be done also in me a sinner; for blessed art Thou unto the ages. Amen.
So I mentioned yesterday that I had called the Breakforth Organization with some concerns with the speaker line-up, particularly William P. Young who is the author of the Shack. I was told that they would get back to me and I am pleased to report that I received an email this morning from Dr. Arlen Salte, who is the Executive Director of Breakforth. Here is the email in the entirety:
Thank you for calling to express your concerns about William Paul Young as a speaker at Break Forth Canada. Please understand that we investigate any main platform speaker at Break Forth Canada to ensure that they are in alignment with orthodox beliefs. This involves essential doctrines of the Trinity, as well as a denouncement of universalism. While we understand that there are some who still have issues with William Paul Young or The Shack, please rest assured that on essential core doctrines there is no wavering from the Apostles Creed.
I am very conservative in my theology and I take a very high view of scripture. Despite the high wire act of walking between so many different denominations (and those from no church background), I insist that anyone teaching a class at Break Forth Canada (aside from some technical classes) can at the very least stand on the Apostles Creed. It is our experience that anyone who bolts to prominence and who speaks in a creative manner will become the object of much controversy, predominantly on the Internet. For some reason, there is a relational disconnect that takes place when people move from the world of flesh and blood to the world of bits and bytes. What someone would never say to a person’s face all of a sudden becomes fodder in blogs and emails. This makes it doubly difficult to separate fact from fiction.
While The Shack has certainly garnered negative reviews, and people are very welcome to express their opinions (as long as it reflects Christian grace), The Shack has a lineup of evangelical luminaries who are very strong proponents. Let’s remember that Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message Bible interpretation and Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, B.C. had this to say about The Shack: “When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of “The Shack.” This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” did for his. It’s that good!”
There is little doubt that a man of Eugene Peterson’s status and biblical depth would carefully examine the theology of The Shack prior to agreeing to have his name and bold recommendation placed on millions of book jackets all over the world. Apparently, he believed strongly enough in the Biblical and Theological integrity of the book (wrapped in a story) to take a stand. Perhaps someone who disagrees with The Shack can at least extend the grace to acknowledge that something they perceive to be errant can be used by God to stir a person outside of the walls of the church to consider a relationship with Christ. For example; as much as I have serious theological disagreements with Godspell as it is in its original form, I know that many people have been drawn to a deep faith in the Jesus Christ.
Regardless of a person’s view on The Shack, William Paul Young is only speaking for 45 minutes at two elective classes and not a general assembly. During the time of the elective classes where he is speaking there are 57 other options to choose from. We understood that William Paul Young would be controversial in some circles so we wanted to ensure that there were many other options available to people. Our policy has always been that if a speaker makes significant theological errors at the conference, that they will not be invited back to Break Forth Canada. We have done this several times in the past. We also had many people of deep theological discernment last year in William Paul Young’s classes who we interviewed after Break Forth Canada 2009. We were assured by every single person that there was nothing said by William Paul Young in his elective classes that contained theological error. It is after this careful review took place that he was invited back to speak at 2 elective classes at Break Forth Canada 2010.
Simply put, we’ve done more ‘homework’ on an elective class teacher than most pastors would do before they allowed another person to fill the pulpit on a Sunday morning (which would be similar to having William Paul Young as a keynote speaker at Break Forth Canada, which I state again, he is not).Despite our apparent differences I pray God’s richest on you and your ministry.I also ask that you pray that God would touch the lives of the thousands who come to Break Forth Canada. Every year, many people are brought to faith in Christ, marriages are saved and many are changed for all eternity.
Dr. Arlen Salte; Executive Director
And so there you have it. I found this response to be particularly gracious, though it is a template, as I sent an email from another email address and received the same response. Do I agree with him? Not at all. I certainly understand where he’s coming from, but the reality is that the Shack, while quite bad and which does have major errors and heresies and is particularly troublesome, is not even my main issue. Rather it’s with interviews that he’s done with people, as well as his penchant for Universal Reconciliation. As well, the fact that Eugene Peterson has endorsed it means little to me, as while I do appreciate his theological contributions to other works, I consider the Message Bible to have done much harm to the Christian faith. Not only that, but the fact that he could even compare it to Pilgrims Progress tells me that he either has never read Pilgrims Progress, or has never understood it.
Lastly, it seems to me that these people have not been vetted nearly enough, nor do I think that holding them to the standard of the Apostle’s Creed is particularly helpful, as you can pick your poison of word of faith preachers or other heretics who would gladly hold to that. I think in a case like this that you need to deeply ascertain the theological underpinnings of any speaker, because otherwise you can get into trouble. I do appreciate though, at the very least, that there are some safeguards in place. As I said in an earlier post, I would be very surprised if he said anything sketchy to a crowd this large. I would imagine that he would be on his best behavior, as that sort of things lends credence in the public eye. In any case, I just wanted to pass that along to either put peoples minds at ease about going, or fortify their decision not to go.
I have seen a poster for Breakforth 2010 in two different churches now in the last little while, as well as have seen it advertised elsewhere across the internet. For those who don’t know what it is, it bills itself as the “largest equipping and renewal conference in North America” with about 15,000 people attending. It all goes down on January 29-31, 2010 and what it essentially is is a massive conference that teaches people and has workshops on every areas of the Christian life and church ministries that you can imagine, with a noticeably more heavy emphasis on the arts. I know that’s broad and general, but it’s not so much important to know what specific workshops will be taking place as much as it is to know “who” will be involved and will be speaking at this event. To list off some of the bigger names in speakers and musicians that will be included in the line-up: Anne Graham Lotz, Lee Strobel, Fancies Chan, Newsboys, Michael W. Smith, Frank Peretti, Sean McDowell, Fred Stoeker, Joel Rosenberg, Shannon Ethridge, Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill, and a host of others. There’s almost 200 different sessions you can go to, so it’s pretty packed. And that’s all well and good. There are several people there that I wouldn’t mind attending, especially Graham ,Strobel, Keaggy, and Stonehill.
But a few names really stood out to me as soon as I saw the poster and then later on as I did some more reading: William P. Young and Leonard Sweet, and to a lesser extent Alan Roxburgh, David Fitch, and Brad Jersak. The first two in particular really got my attention as they also reveived top billing. The former is the author of the infamous “The Shack,” and the latter is the founder and president of SpiritVenture Ministries. Why did this get my attention? For a simple reason- they’re both raging heretics.
These men are not Christians in any sense of the word but rather in fact have launched destructive assaults against the faith, some more direct than others. Sweet is a panentheistic, mystical, emergent new-ager whose books, while not all bad, advance Eastern mysticism disguised as Christian spirituality. The other three in particular all have close ties to the egregiously ecumenical emerging church, which is actually a de-formation and deconstruction of the Christian faith and is now morphing into a different kind of animal, apostate emergence Christianity. They may still regain some degree of orthodoxy, but at the very least their teachings are very, very aberrant. I’ve read some of their books, lectures, interviews, and blogs, and it’s bad. As for William P. Young, the man is not a Christian brother to anyone but rather is a universalist whose book “The Shack” contains no fewer than 10 major distortions or heresies of the Christian faith.
And so I ask myself, why does this conference exist? I don’t doubt that there will be some good stuff there, some solid teaching, and probably some good worship. I don’t see how there can’t be some great stuff there as there are some great speakers. I’m not familiar with the theological beliefs of these artists, so can’t really comment on that, but what fails me is how does one in good conscience share the stage at a Christian conference with men who don’t even share the faith? I’ll grant that Roxburgh, Fitch, and Jersak are possibly negligible in the grand scheme of things, though I would have my discernment cap on as I listen to them as they have some very bad ideas. But Leonard Sweet? We don’t need new-age occultism repackaged as spiritual formation. William P. Young? He comes across as really nice, and from all the interviews I’ve seen with him he strikes me as a very kind and gracious man. But that does not change the fact that the man is an enemy of the gospel and ought to be silenced and forbidden from teaching anything at a Christian conference. In fact the man should be run out of the conference, and the main organizer should take the stage and issue a public apology to everyone attending and explain to them why they are kicking him out and denouncing him, and then and pull a mea culpa for ever having thought it was a good idea to invite him.
As it were, I’m not necessarily knocking the other speakers who are attending this event. I’m sure that some of they may not have known who all else was involved in this, or perhaps they just don’t know much about the other headliners and guest speakers. It’s possible that they just don’t see it or don’t understand it. Which is not to say that it’s an excuse, as many of these people are solid and ought to know better, display some wisdom, and do some research on who they are partnering with, but I understand that’s not always possible. I’m also not blaming the people who go to this event. Perhaps they don’t know who these men are. Or perhaps they do know but have no intention of attending his sessions and are rather going for other reasons and other sessions. Kind of like swallowing the meat and spitting out the bones. I’m not convinced that it’s the wisest thing to do, as you are still supporting such a conference, but I do get it. I myself would not attend this, as I don’t see why I would want to attend a conference where light partners with dark, and I have other sources where I could get just as much out of [though I would love to hear that Stonehill and Keaggy acoustic set]. I’m sure that many people could attend this and get a lot out of it, and it’s possible that William Young, Leonard Sweet, Alan Roxburgh, David Fitch, or Brad Jersak won’t even say anything out of line. But I’m not convinced it’s a good idea to pay hundreds of dollars for conference tickets, food, gas, and hotels in support of this thing, even if you do have the wisdom to parse their words [which not all people do]. This sort of thing ought not to be encouraged, and they should be getting phone calls and emails expressing deep concern for the content of such a conference and the direction they’re heading. Although, looking back, this conference does have a history of lining up other shady speakers, so I probably shouldn’t be too surprised, but it still bothers me. I can’t help but believe this is a tacit approval of the men and of the message, and I would hate to have people leaving this conference thinking that these speakers are good to go and are faithful to the gospel of Christ.
edit #1. I’ll be updating this when I get a response, but I did call the organizers and spoke with a woman about their choice to have William P. Young there. She directed me to leave a message with someone who could help me, which I did. She also kindly explained to me that they knew he was controversial, but that there was a high demand to have him there. She said that as way to balance this, they have him speaking on the last day in two major electives, and in that way people can just stay for the first two days or bypass him completely, and that unlike the other headliners he would not be speaking to the main assembly at any given time.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:23-28 [also found in Luke 18:25 and Matthew 19:24]
Most people are familiar with this story, as it’s often preached in relation to issues of money and wealth. What I wanted to focus on though is one detail that I hear time and time again that I desire to dissuade people of. When pastors preach this story, many of them invariably mention the illustration of a camel going through the eye of the needle. In order to make sense of this, pastors and teachers tell a story of a gate in the Jerusalem wall called the “eye of the needle” gate, and that travelers would come to the gate and would have to remove all the supplies from their camel. That in order for the camel to pass through, because the gate was so small and low, the camel would have to bend down and shuffle through unencumbered and crawling on its knees. This is some great sermon material, with the parallel often being drawn that like the camel, we must of come to God on our knees without all our baggage and so forth.
There’s only one problem. No such gate exists. There has never been any evidence for such a gate called the “eye of the needle” existing, much less a gate of this nature at all in the Jerusalem wall. The entire thing is a complete fabrication which sounds good, and which has been passed down so many times that it has found itself to be a truism, but the whole story and illustration is a misguided riff on a mythic architectural structure. It doesn’t exist.
That’s only one take on it though. Other people suggest alternate explanations, with one solution coming from the possibility of a gGeek misprint. The suggestion is that the Greek word kamilos “camel” should really be kamêlos, meaning ‘cable, rope’, as some late New Testament manuscripts have. But even then this doesn’t solve the issue at all. I suppose a rope is smaller than a camel, but you’re still not going to get a rope through the eye of a needle. It doesn’t solve the problem.
And that’s the point. That it is impossible for it to occur. I hadn’t intended to write an explanation of this, but rather just deal with the eye of the needle myth, but when you look at the story in context you see that the camel was regarded as the largest land animal in Palestine, with the eye of a needle probably being the smallest opening found in the home. In this, Jesus paints a picture of something impossible in order to illustrate that even the seemingly impossible is possible with God. As stated earlier; there is no evidence for the popular interpretation that there was a gate in Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle,” which camels had to stoop to their knees to enter. Such an interpretation completely misses the point: it is not merely difficult for the wealthy to be saved; without God’s grace it is impossible. Anyone who trusts in riches as an idolatrous replacement for God cannot enter the kingdom of God; his life disposition is diametrically opposed to submitting to God’s will. The hyperbole of a large camel having to fit through the small eye of a needle stresses that such a thing is humanly impossible, and that it’s only by God’s grace that such a thing may ever be achieved.