Friday, February 3, 2023

Are We Free of Not?

    Brian Sanderson

PH 501 Fall 2012

The Philosophy of Religion

Professor: Dr. Okello 


Paper 1. Topic #3 Are humans free or are they determined? Defend your position


The Concept of Freedom Analyzed critically from within assigned readings to include “The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647”   


     “The Westminster Confession of Faith” (WFC) was compiled by a group of theologians, assembled in 1643 by the British Parliament, and held at Westminster Abbey for the purpose of achieving doctrinal unity and clarity among a diverse group of Christians.[1] This document is representative of Calvinist orthodoxy. It was hoped that this assembly would end the religious doctrinal disputes that divided the country.

     The purpose of this paper is to argue for human freedom by analyzing and criticizing the concept of freedom operating within chapters three and ten of “The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647.” This will involve first identifying what view or views of freedom are found therein, and supporting that analyses using text from the Confession itself.  Once identified, I will render criticism of the philosophic adequacy of the concept of freedom presented. In order to deal philosophically with this theological stance, I must presuppose the doctrine of predestination hypothetically. This will maintain the necessary “boundary between theology and philosophy.”[2]

     The concept of freedom that I draw attention to relates to the, “the conflict between our sense of freedom of choice, and the many reasons which seem to suggest that our actions are not free but rather necessitated,” (Hasker 31). The labels used to identify positions of freedom are taken from the texts, notes, and lectures from Dr. Joseph Okello.

     Chapter three within the WCF is entitled “Of God’s Eternal Decree.” In discussing freedom of choice, any decree from God that fixes future events, based on His will can certainly affect freedom. The very first statement of this chapter has strong implications in that respect. It states, “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” There are other statements with equal importance as follows:

By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestined and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished. (Ch. III, par. III & IV)    

     Hasker quotes Augustine as stating, “The will of God is the necessity of things” (51). There seems to be no question, given the above statements that God has unchangeably mapped out the future and this predestination logically produces determinism. Hasker calls it “theological determinism,” (51). In light of the language noted so far, I would label it hard determinism, thus negating the freedom of choice.

     There is other language, however that seems to be an attempt to soften the determinism and allow for a degree of freedom. An example of this can be found in the phrase, “Nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures” (Ch. III Par. I). This statement, at first glance, could suggest that some freedom is granted but in Par. II the following is stated, “Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed any thing because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.” This clearly points to God’s omniscience, and further claims His decrees are in no way related to that foreknowledge. His decrees are a function of his own will, and are not swayed by any other factors. It appears freewill of the creature is again nullified.

     One again might suppose that this absence of freedom is problematic for some people. Especially having one’s ultimate eternal fate foreordained could lead to fatalism. The authors of the WCF may have been attempting to prevent this reaction by offering the following statement:

The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel (Ch. III, Par. VIII).

     I argue that this attempt is weak at best. It is an attempt to give consolation to the effect by providing a way to be sure they will receive everlasting life “from the certainty of their effectual vocation.” This is God’s will, revealed in His word, calling one to obedience and the religious life. The breakdown comes late in Ch. X, Par. IV. It states, “Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore can not be saved.” If both the elect and those not saved can be called by the Word and even be affected by the Spirit, it seems beyond the bounds of possibility to attain the consolation offered. Therefore, what here prevents a fatalistic view if that’s truly intended?

       Hard determinism has another problem area relating to moral conduct, reward, and punishment. Given predestination and the absence of freedom of choice how can a person be worthy of either praise or punishment? Yet the confession states:

The rest of mankind was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withheld mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice, (Ch. III. Par. VII).

     It would seem problematic to discuss “dishonor and wrath for their sin,” and use the term, “glorious justice” within the same breath if there is no freedom to affect any aspect of one’s behavior. Humans have choice. The experience of choice carries with it the powerful belief that various alternatives are within our power. Nothing prevents a person from choosing one thing or another. Assume all human actions

are causally determined, then who could ever be morally responsible for any action? Nevertheless, rational people believe that in most situations people are indeed morally responsible for their actions. Therefore, not all human actions are causally determined. Whether one cares to admit it or not we hold deep beliefs that we are responsible for our actions.  Just try envisioning a social order that would abolish the belief in responsibility completely. 

     It has been my intention to critically dissect a “best calculated,” “peculiarly excellent” work compiled by "learned, godly and judicious Divines" of the Reformed Tradition. I have argued for human freedom by analyzing and criticizing the concept of freedom operating within “The Westminster Confession of Faith.” The revelation is that the WCF leans most closely to a hard deterministic stance, which therefore excludes human freedom. The authors may have attempted to use language to demonstrate soft determinism, but not successfully. Another failure in my opinion is to effectively eliminate a potential fatalistic response to this confession.     



[1] Readings in Christian Thought Kerr Hugh, Nashville: Abingdon Press 1990, pp.182-185.

[2] Metaphysics Hasker William, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, p.50.

Thursday, October 13, 2022


     We've all been there or will go there soon---the place of grief. I was going through old seminary notes as I was doing some research and came across this piece on grief (SHARE). SHARE is an acronym to help you while going through the process of grieving. 

S.H.A.R.E. Grief




S   ____________________________________________.

The most important gift that we give to one another is a place to be heard.  Those who express rather than suppress their thoughts and feelings tend to manage crises better.  As a caregiver we need to create a place of safety through our willingness to listen.  We may even need to listen to the same story or memory over and over again.



H  _____________________________________________.

The Holy Spirit has a wonderful way of ministering to us in our own way.  Following what feels “right” to do may be exactly what will promote healing.   Write a letter.  Create a card.  Give blood.  Go for a walk.  Start a support group for others.  Take a meal.  Be alone (though not for long periods).  Put a hand on a shoulder.  Ask or give hugs – touch can be stabilizing in a de-stabilizing period.



A  ___________________________________________________________________.

One important contribution to appropriate grieving is to accept that doubts, worries, fears, and anger are a part of the process.  We must listen to ourselves as well as others with acceptance.  This is seldom the time to correct theology or give trite advice.  We shouldn’t speculate about God’s specific will or give explanations.  We all feel drawn to such “remedies” when we are faced with painful circumstances.  



R   _____________________________________________.

Don’t stop grieving, but gradually bring back the normal routine of life.  Remember to eat nutritiously, sleep regularly, and work appropriately.  Don’t expect to perform at the same level at first.  Grief is very distracting and disruptive for all of us.



E   ______________________________________________.

In times of grief, our faith can be a tremendous anchor.  All of the previous steps are about getting in touch with others and experiencing God’s touch through the members of our community.  We cannot forget to yield to that natural desire in these times to talk directly to our Father.  He wants to hear the good and the bad, the faithful and the doubting, the settled and the upset – He wants to hear it all. 



S. P. Stratton (1999).  SHARE our Grief.  Chapel presentation.  Asbury College, Wilmore, KY

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

John Wesley’s Model for Discipleship: An exploration into John Wesley’s Class Meetings: Societies, Classes, and Bands for Church renewal


John Wesley’s Model for Discipleship

An exploration into John Wesley’s Class Meetings: Societies, Classes, and Bands for Church renewal


     John Wesley initiated an instructional system, or in todays terminology a system for coaching or apprenticeship that brought about a sweeping spiritual renewal to eighteenth-century England.  His methods for nurturing and equipping Christian disciples brought moral formation as well as personal transformation to tens of thousands of working class individuals and a nation as a whole.  “Methodism started as a movement culminating from ideas and institutions within the history of Christianity, and the social and political situations to ask the questions of, WHY and HOW?”[1] “Methodism,” as the movement became known recognized that at its core existed a method, one that was transformational, and effective.  Within this research I hope to uncover what Wesley’s model for discipleship was and offer a contemporary word of exhortation to include examples for implementation in todays context.   

    Early in the Methodist revival movement, “Wesley found the role of spiritual guide thrust upon him. ‘In every place people flock to me for direction in secular as well as spiritual affairs,’ Wesley wrote to a friend, ‘and I dare not throw… this burden off.’ This role Wesley willingly embraced.”[2] People looked to Wesley for spiritual guidance because he modeled the life they wished for themselves.  He simply addressed the needs of those people who came under his spiritual direction to the best of his ability, combining and modifying existing pastoral methods into an effective structure.  

    As Wesley went around on his circuit riding adventures he wouldn’t just preach, see people converted, and then leave.  Alternatively, Wesley took great pains to organize those who responded to his preaching into small groups, mini communities of believers and seekers.  “These groups would meet with each other to grow together in heart holiness and in the disciplined life of loving service.”[3]  Gregory Clapper states that, “There’s no question that these little churches within the church were the secret of early Methodism.” 

    Wesley knew that our past spiritual defects, our pride, and ignorance was best revealed to us within honest, loving, reflections with those who know us well. Clapper claims that for Wesley it was only with such “self knowledge” (a term that Wesley used as an equivalent for true repentance) that we could be set free from our egoistic reception of the gospel and grow in grace and love.  The Methodist bands, classes, and societies demonstrate Wesley’s commitment to community and the grace that results from sacred fellowship.              

    In Wesley’s view, to fully become the people God created, “requires Christian nurture (education, socialization, a series of conversions); nurture is a social process.  Wesley’ own childhood had taught him that man is not a solitary creature. He requires being cared for, and this care must be personal and loving, but open to widening vistas of social experience.  This means that small groups are the natural and optimal settings for personal and interpersonal maturation: first the family and then the opening, widening arc of voluntary associations and involvements.”[4]  

    Wesley’s groups specifically, the “societies” fared better than any other revival of the eighteenth century because of their unique foundations for the Christian nurture of their members.  Albert Outler quotes Wesley as saying, “Converts without nurture are like stillborn babies.  Follow the blow, never encourage the devil by snatching souls from him that you cannot nurture.”  To follow up on the initial conversion experience would be membership in a ”class” or “band.”  

    Unique to Wesley’s “method” was a combination of several overlapping meeting styles to organize a ladder of personal spiritual growth.  Any committed Christian, no matter their level of maturity in the faith, intelligence level, or background could ascend the ladder to spiritual maturity if committed to the method.  The stages or steps of Wesley’s ladder of discipleship were small interactive gatherings of participants within the models of: “the societies, “class meetings” “bands,” “select bands,” “penitent bands.”  Each gathering was designed to achieve specific growth goals, and each gathering had its own meticulously defined roles, and methods in order to achieve those goals. 

    Many historians have called the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, organizational geniuses, but why? “Historians often say that the secret of the Methodist movement was its small groups.”[5]  In the eighteenth century the Wesley’s were exceptionally fruitful at working within the oral tradition of a working class, semi-illiterate civilization.  There weren’t any handbooks for small group or class leaders at the time.  The church provided the context for the ministry structure.  “A connection was to be made between the order of salvation and the ministry structures of Methodism.  The church was to cover it all- birth, life, and death.  The church has the opportunity and responsibility to mediate these structures.”[6]  To achieve the mission of the church Wesley designed a particular model for discipleship.  

    “Wesley’s originality appears in four major areas: his openness to offer the gospel to all; his immense organizational skills; laced with a touch of pragmatism; his model of discipleship; and his utilization of the laity, both men and women.”[7]  Through his insights and gifts Wesley took the ailing structure of the Anglican religious societies and rejuvenated them, giving them a focus and goal through the structural means of fulfilling his program for effective evangelism and discipleship.  

    Methodism began as an organization within the Church of England. Societies already existed in England, started by Anthony Horneck in the mid seventeenth century, “the religious societies were also small groups of laity who represent an almost spontaneous fusion of moralism and devotionalism, with a zeal for the promotion of ‘real holiness of heart and life.’”[8]  Societies were the group that included all Methodists in a given area.  The term “society” is much like the term “congregation.”  The society included all of the official members and also followers or “seekers” who attended other functions led by the group.  

    The Methodist society was the centerpiece of group identification.  As the society would relate to the other groups/models for discipleship within the Methodist structure, the society was the center of all other activities.  The society was the umbrella group of Methodism where all of the other groups came under its supervision.  The primary function was to be an educational channel where the beliefs of Methodism were taught, through: lectures, preaching, public reading, hymn singing, and exhorting.  The audiences were often in excess of fifty or more participants arranged in rows, and separated by gender.  This model did not allow  for personal response or feedback.    

    Wesley commented in the Rules of the United Societies that, “Such a society is no other than a company of men having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their own salvation.”[9]  Societies did not hold meetings that would come in conflict with the Anglican worship schedule as to not bring about competition or opposition.  This careful scheduling demonstrates Methodism’s submission and loyalty to the Church of England.  “The Methodist Society at Oxford where both John and his brother Charles studied was established in High Church mold with frequent observance of the Lord’s Supper and reading of prayers.  But nowhere in pre-Aldersgate days did Wesley carry his High Church zeal so far as when he was in the American colonies.”[10]  

    The society became a type of local congregation that met in chapels, halls, and homes of those who Wesley formed into small groups as a ministry beyond his preaching.  In Methodism to be apart of the church was to be apart of a “society.”  To be in a society the only requirement was to have a desire to flee the wrath to come.   

    The society was subdivided into classes of about twelve persons.  Every member of the society was expected to participate in a class regularly or they would be expelled from the society.  In the class men and women, rich and poor, the educated and the uneducated met together.  At first classes met in homes, stores, schoolrooms, anywhere they could all meet together.  When Methodist chapels became more prevalent the classes would meet in small rooms connected to the chapels.  

    Members of the classes met weekly to give an account of the state of their souls (personal spiritual growth), but had to do so within the confines of the rules and procedures Wesley had carefully developed.  The class began with a hymn, then a leader would begin the meeting by reporting on their walk with God the previous week, and then others would follow suit.  The testimonies usually consisted of honest and open communication within an atmosphere of love and concern for one another.  The class would close in prayer and a song. 

    A great deal of the success of the class system had to do with the leadership.  Here are a few key principles as established by Wesley: The leaders were appointed.  In the bands the leaders were elected by the group, but not in the classes.  The majority of these lay leaders were women.  Selection of leadership was based on moral and spiritual character, as well as common sense.  In the classes, there was also plural leadership, that is, more than one leader.  Spiritual oversight was shared.  Groups were not started unless there was leadership to manage the group.

    The goal of the classes was personal holiness and nurture, not doctrinal issues however; Methodist doctrines, sermons and practices could be explained.  The class meeting proved to be such an effective tool for personal spiritual growth that it became the essential element within the Methodist movement, the mode of transformation where the Wesley’s messages could be internalized.  When the Methodist revival movement came to America the success of the Sunday school absorbed the energy and life of the class meeting forcing it into the background.  In todays context the class meeting is best expressed as our Sunday school classes, and small group Bible studies.              

    The bands were smaller same-gender groups of no more than six people who were committed to personal holiness and holding one another accountable in their goals.  “Bands” came from the idea of the bands around a barrel.  The point is for the church to provide the structure for grace to be mediated to the people.  Wesley felt that the bands were the Methodists best attempt at mirroring the New Testament Church.  Wesley D. Tracy (footnote 2 above) records five (of the eleven) questions asked to those interested in joining a band: “1. Have you the forgiveness of sins and peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ?  2. Have you the witness of God’s spirit with your spirit that you are a child of God?  3. Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you?  4. Do you desire to be told all your faults, and that plain and home?  5. Is it your desire and design to be, on this and all other occasions, entirely open so as to speak everything that is in your heart without exception, without  disguise, and without reserve? 

    Wesley also wrote questions for the bands, theses are paraphrased for modern language: 1. What spiritual failures have you experienced since our last meeting?  What known sins, if any, have you committed?  2. What temptations have you battled with this week?  Where do you feel most vulnerable and weak, presently?  3. What temptations have you been delivered from this past week?  Please share how you were victorious.  4. Has the Lord revealed to you any sinful attitudes, motivations, or lifestyle that you would like for us to join with you in discernment?  5. Is there any spiritual concern that you hat you have never been able to talk about with others or God?  Wesley D. Tracy (footnote 2 above) claims that the revival and camp meeting emphasis in America diminished the bands in the nineteenth century.  The Sunday schools became the purveyor of almost all of Christian nurture.  

    Michael Henderson brings up an old adage that, “the societies aimed for the head, the class meeting for the hands, and the band for the heart.”[11]  Henderson also states that although the class meetings were the most beneficial instructional models within Methodism, the band was John Wesley’s favorite.  It never attained the favoritism Wesley had hoped for with others.  The bands did however; function as a vital ministry within the society during his lifetime.  The band was the earliest mode of Methodism, from which other ministries were birthed.  For Wesley the band was to function as the place for close conversation and soul-searching, and as always with the goal of spreading scriptural holiness throughout the land.  

    The penitent bands, or “the backslider’s band” was a group within Wesley’s model for discipleship designed specifically for those who couldn’t overcome particular sins.  Michael Henderson claims that is was for those who “lacked the willpower or personal discipline to live up to the behavioral demands of the class meeting but still had a desire to overcome their personal problems.”[12]  This group would meet on Saturday nights; one could surmise this was to keep them from their destructive routines.  In today’s context the penitent bands would be similar to Alcoholics Anonymous.  The aim of the penitent band was to heal and build up its members to the mainstream of society again.           

    The actual format of the penitent bands is all but lost to the modern Methodist.  Henderson’s research does give us Wesley’s vision of the penitent band as follows: “And yet while most of these who were thus intimately joined together, went on daily from faith to faith; some fell from the faith, either all at once, by falling into known, willful sin; or gradually, and almost insensibly, by giving way in what they called little things; by sins of omission, by yielding to heart-sins, or by not watching unto prayer.  The exhortations and prayers used among the believers did no longer profit these.  They wanted advice and instructions suited to their case; which as soon as I observed, I separated them from the rest, and desired them to meet me apart on Saturday evenings,” (125). 

    The Select Society was also a small group but only established for the benefit of leaders within the Methodist movement.  The determined and committed were the only ones invited.  Unlike the other models the Select Society had no rules, no defined agenda, and no particular leader.  Concerns of the leadership team could be discussed.  Wesley’s initial goal was to help lead this group to perfection, to grow in love for one another, to improve on leadership skills, and to vent as needed.                                         

    Aside from the society, class, and band models Wesley encouraged other means of discipleship for holiness and moving from grace to grace.  Family religion, twin souls, and the service of spiritual fathers and nursing mothers were other models.  In the family Wesley recommended family worship and study twice a day, in the morning and the evening.  As the week moved on Thursdays were to be used for one-on-one, parent-to-child teaching.  Saturdays were used to debrief on the weeks learning.  


    Wesley even provided written material to aid families in their filial faith, he provided: A Collection of Prayers for Families, Prayers and Devotions for Every Day of the Week, Prayers for Children, Lessons for Children (included 200 Bible Studies), and instruction for Children (included 58 lessons to assist in the Christian walk).  Wesley insisted that at the end of each family study that the parent lay their hand on the child’s head and pronounce a blessing in Jesus’ name.                 

    Twin Souls is a model found through the reading and study of Wesley’s letters.  Within Wesley’s letters one-to-one spiritual guidance is gleaned as an important concept to Wesley.  Wesley introduced Twin Souls for the means of mutual spiritual direction.  The principle that Wesley found at work within Twin Souls is that our Lord has blessed us with each other in relationship that we may strengthen each others hand in Him.  

    “Spiritual Fathers” and Nursing Mothers,” were terms Wesley used for faith mentors.  Many times Wesley would connect a new convert or downtrodden soul to the care of a mature saint.  Wesley Tracey calls these mentors “God’s Ushers” who would offer whatever guidance they could.  Wesley would often offer additional guidance.  Faith mentoring may be the great hope for winning and nurturing souls within our postmodern context.     

    Mildred Wyncoop claims that Wesley was a mentor and that we should take note of the definition of “mentor” and find ways of imitation in our personal ministries.  “A mentor is a guide and critic.  His task is to introduce his charge to sources of information; to prevent the student from drifting into unfruitful, erroneous byways; and encourage him to exploit is own potential as he learns to master his field.  A mentor is satisfied when his student outpaces him.”[13]  The mentor is to tap the resources of creativity and personal fulfillment in their student.  He or she is a transformer opening doors to transformation and freedom.  

    In today’s culture a recommitment to the small group models to include faith mentoring appear to be promising methods for conversion both within and outside the church.  This would mean that we commit more time with fewer people and teach the faith through counsel, coaching, mentoring, and modeling.  However, in order to fulfill such a high calling and privilege one must be guided by the Spirit of God, established in prayer and the Word of God, known for holiness of life, patient, able to listen, and understanding.  The big idea is to impart the righteousness of Christ through unconditional love to lost and hurting people toward the goal of transformation.          

    Wesley Tracey reminds his readers that, “Wesleyan Spirituality isn’t made for monks, hermits, or ascetics” (p. 333, footnote 2).  Wesley’s method for discipleship was to avoid such spiritual systems.  The church is to be a community of disciples who make disciples.  We accomplish this mission through faithful worship, nurture, face-to-face study groups, fellowship, soul friends, faith mentors, and service.            

[1] Class notes Jan.7th 2013, J-Term, ppt. one ‘History of Methodism’ 

[2] Tracy D. Wesley. “Spiritual Direction in the Wesleyan Holiness Movement.” Journal of Psychology and Theology 2002. Vol. 30, No. 4, 323-335. Rosemead School of Psychology. P. 324. Accessed 1/14/13.

[3] Clapper, Gregory. “Making Disciples in community,” The Wesleyan Paradigm for Renewal Chilcote, Paul. Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2002. Pg.111.   

[4] Outler, Albert. “Pastoral Care in the Wesleyan Spirit.” Perkins Journal. Vol. 25 No. 1 fall 1971, p 4-11. Accessed 1/14/13 ATLA Religious Database,

[5] Albin, Tom. “Finding God in Small Groups.” Christianity Today, Aug2003, Vol. 47 Issue 8, p42, 3p. Accessed 1/15/13 ATLA Religious Database,  

[6] Harper, Steve. Class notes. DO 690 John Wesley’s Theology for Today, Ecclesial Theology II. Church provides us with a context, A. Ministry Structure. 2009.  

[7] Hunsicker, David. Wesleyan Theological Journal, “John Wesley: Father of Today’s Small Group Concept.” 31 No. 1 spring 1996, p 203. Accessed 1/15/13 ATLA Religious Database,

[8] Heitzenrater, P. Richard. Wesley and the People Called Methodist. p.21. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995

[9] Henderson, D. Michael. A Model for Making Disciples. P.84. Nappanee, Francis Asbury Press, 1997.

[10] Beals, Duane. Wesleyan Theological Journal. “John Wesley’s Concept of the Church.” 9 spring 1974, p 28-37. Accessed 1/15/13 ATLA Religious Database,

[11] Henderson, D. Michael. A Model for Making Disciples. P.112 Nappanee, Francis Asbury Press, 1997.

[12] Henderson, D. Michael. A Model for Making Disciples. P.125 Nappanee, Francis Asbury Press, 1997.


[13] Wyncoop, Mildred. “Wesleyan Theological Journal.” John Wesley Mentor or Guru? 10 spring 1975, p 5-14. Accessed 1/18/13 ATLA Religious Database,

Friday, May 27, 2022

Public Issue: Gun Control

Public Issue: Gun Control


     I had to write a paper in seminary for a course on Public Theology: Engaging the World. Below is my argument that Christian theologians have a word to speak in the arena for gun control debate. I demonstrate that Christians do have a word to speak and it is established that the word be spoken publicly. Every individual Christian is a public theologian who actively proclaims with their life and words the gospel of Jesus Christ that has the power to transform individuals and societies.

     “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” “Doesn’t more guns equal more crime?” “When guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns.” “Control humans, and you control guns.” “It’s not a gun control problem; it’s a cultural control problem.” These are only a small sample of popular responses to the issue of gun control in North America today. Gun control is an issue that most Americans have been exposed to, and most have an opinion on. The rhetoric on both sides of the debate is heated and consistent. In this paper I will posit the question, “Shouldn’t a Christian theological position be permitted in the arena for this public debate?” 

     Almost all human societies have had some sort of religion and governing framework. Each is a deeply ingrained body of human existence. “As a result of the enduring presence of and power of both the church and the state in all human societies, one of the perpetual issues with which all societies must struggle is how these two vital spheres of human endeavor should relate to each other.”[1]  

     The second amendment of the U.S. Constitution is the most often sited source of rhetoric for the debate and it states, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”[2] The fight over the second Amendment to the Constitution and the bearing it has upon society is everywhere and being made available daily by all sources of media. There are many giving voice to this public debate, government agencies, the NRA (Nation Rifle Association), and individuals. Most claim that the argument isn’t over gun control but essentially one over individual liberty, states rights, and the role of federal government. Many gun control advocates will point to the 2nd Amendment as not guaranteeing the individual right to bear arms but that of the state for protection against federal and foreign invasion. 

    Those pushing against gun control essentially argue that any laws against the right to bear arms and protect oneself is unconstitutional and should be stopped. America was founded on the people of this country owning guns and protecting what they considered right. Americans are slowly having their rights removed because some people would rather feel safe than have true freedom. America is best with a limited government. Which constitutional right will be taken away next? If the government takes away “our” guns then only criminals and law enforcement will have guns, and there isn’t enough law enforcement to protect everyone. Therefore, gun control is bad. 

    The NRA offers an effective message mobilizing grassroots supporters and efforts through local laws and Supreme Court decisions to keep ease of access to guns available to the American public. “To achieve it goals the gun lobby uses its significant financial resources to influence legislators and couches its public message in American values such as personal freedom, patriotism, religious faith and family.”[3]  

    In an article for Patheos,[4] Dr. Ben Witherington a seminary professor and biblical scholar had the NRA in his sights when he challenged them to make five meaningful adjustments that would, according to him would strengthen gun control. In a response the NRA’s comments were: “Dr. W3, I think people would take you more seriously if you stuck to topics you were informed about. Sincerely.”[5] Why shouldn’t a theologian, (and I assume all Christians to be theologians to some degree or another) have the right to an opinion as it relates to the issue of gun control in the public sphere?  Shouldn’t the arena for this public debate be structured in such a way as to allow theological rhetoric? 

     “Theology, (from the Latin theologia, which comes from two crucial Greek root words: theos, God, and logos, discourse, language, study), is reasoned discourse about God gained either by rational reflection or by response to God’s self-disclosure in history. The essential purpose is to study and bring into a fitting, consistent expression the Christian faith. Christian theology is the orderly exposition of Christian teaching. It sets forth the understanding of God that is made known in Jesus Christ. It seeks to provide a coherent reflection on the living God as understood in the community whose life is “in Christ.”[6]

     Due to the increasing violence our society is experiencing, the church has a word to the spiritual concern as well as public responsibility regarding effective gun control and regulations. The time is fitting for reasonable Christians to bring to bear the teachings of God made known in Jesus Christ as part of any debates over gun control. James Krauss-Jackson claims, “Gun violence is of deep, valid concern to the community of faith whose members are called to a vision of the ‘peaceable kingdom,’ or ‘New Jerusalem’- a society where God’s justice prevails, where reconciliation replaces acted-out anger, where a welcoming hand and a turned cheek replace retaliation, where love of enemies is as important as love of neighbor.”[7]   

     The church has a message for the world. But the messengers must be indwelt by God’s Spirit and informed on the subject at hand. The public policy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) declare that handguns have, ‘have no social purpose.’ The Bureau of alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms estimates that the United States has 90 million handguns, with 3.5 million added annually. Since the 1960s the denomination has consistently asked for their strict control. James Atwood a Presbyterian Pastor claims that, “God calls each Christian to help build safe communities. To do so we must first educate ourselves about the problems of gun violence. Once we grasp its all-pervasive threat, we must wherever possible enter into dialog with gun owners and those who promote gun safety, so that we can build a safer and saner America.”[8]

     The United Methodist Church offers this statement, “We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress. We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world. We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept our commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world. Amen.”[9]

     Mary Ann Walsh, the director of media for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently commented that Gun control is a pro-life issue. “The church’s pro-life stand against abortion is undisputed. So is its pro-life stand in opposition to the death penalty. And in the most recent and all to common threat to human life, the church opposes the growing preponderance of lethal weapons on the streets. It stands as another important pro-life position. More than ever, the church and all people of good will must work together to confront the pervasive culture of violence and instead build a culture that values life, peace, and the inherent dignity of all.”[10]

     The church in North America is facing crises. The social role the church once played is gone. No particular church affiliation will be protected from the issues now causing deep skepticism and anxiety in churches now removed from positions of prior cultural influence. “The distress caused by this radical change in social role and cultural value manifests itself in various ways: a lack of focus, in the midst of a proliferation of church programs, loss of meaning in the work of clergy and laity alike, and an uneasiness that our faith does not really fit in the world we where we live. All these contribute to a dis-ease in our congregations.”[11]

     The church must admit that things have changed, humble herself, and follow God into the world offering a faithful response to the Gospel in every context the church finds itself, including the public sphere. This call to action is more than claiming a lost privileged position in society. Our culture has a need, moral and spiritual, and the church has the needed response. “It will mean learning to be a church that by its nature lives always between gospel and culture, recognizing, on the one hand, the cultural dynamics that shape us as well as everyone else in this society, and on the other hand, hearing the gospel that calls us to know and value and intend things in a very different way.”[12]

      There may not exist one single method for the church to adopt to speak to the issue of gun control but she must be allowed to speak and be prepared to do so as necessary. Ron Sider offers some basic goals of public theology: “to wholeheartedly submit our politics to the Lordship of Christ; to be uncompromisingly biblical; to be factually correct; to establish a comprehensive framework that helps us make consistent faithful and effective political decisions about very concrete questions.”[13]

     As I set out in the beginning of this paper I have posited that Christian theologians should have a word to speak in the arena for gun control debate. As I have demonstrated Christians do have a word to speak and it is established that the word be spoken publicly. The answer may best lie in every individual Christian becoming a public theologian who actively proclaims with their life and words the gospel of Jesus Christ that has the power to transform individuals and societies.


[1] Monsma, Stephen & Soper, Christopher. The Challenge of Pluralism (Lanham; Rowman & Littlefield Publisher Inc. 2009) P.1 

[2] Congressional Research Service, Second Amendment, Legal Information Institute. Accessed 04/15/2013

[3] Boyd, Drick. “Mobilizing for gun control: Limited Access” Christian Century, 128 no 15 Jul 26 2011, PP. 10-11. ATLA Religion Database, accessed 04/15/2013. 

[4] Witherington, Ben. “The Aurora Debacle.”, July 12th 2012. Accessed 04/10/13 

[5] Mcginniss, Mark. “Theologians and Gun Control.” Aug. 9th 2012. Accessed 4/10/13. 

[6] Oden, Thomas. Systematic Theology Vol.1 ‘The Living God’ (Peabody, Hendrickson Pub. 2006) P.5 

[7] Krauss-Jackson, James. Source: The New Jerusalem and Gun Control, Church & Society, 87 no 5 My-Je 1997, p. 47-49. Article ATLA Religion Database. Accessed 04/15/2013

[8] Atwood, James E. “Gun Control: Wrestling with the Principalities and the Powers.” Church and Society. 87 no. 4 Mar-Ap. 1997, P.74-81. ATLA Religion Database Accessed 04/16/13 

[9] The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, ¶ 166 Portion of ‘Our Social Creed’ (Nashville: The UM Pub. House 2012) P.141

[10] Lefebvre, Elizabeth. “Gun control: A pro-life issue” U.S. Catholic. Blog. accessed 04/16/13

[11] Hunsberger, George. & Van Gelder, Craig, The Church Between Gospel and Culture (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans 1996) P. xiii

[12] Ibid. p. xvii

[13] Edgar, Brian. “Reflections on Evangelical Public Theology.” Evangelical Public Theology, Part 4 on “evangelical Method.”  

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

What means do you use to maintain Sabbath, spiritual disciplines, and care of mind- body-spirit? 


     I have grown to appreciate the routines of Sabbath, spiritual disciplines, and care of mind-body-spirit. I set growth goals each year that focus on these gifts. I take a day off each week and try to spend as much time as possible with my family over the weekends. I enjoy a few personal pleasures, and have grown to value time with my family, and my own personal and spiritual health.  

     When I first arrive at a Church, I meet with Staff parish and part of this conversation centers on the necessity of Sabbath, spiritual disciplines, and care of mind-body-spirit. I love being a pastor and take the responsibility serious but personal boundaries and family are very important to me. I have a scheduled a day off each week where I do no church work. During my day off I enjoy doing things that provide me with rest and personal pleasure: I enjoy going to the movies, sitting in a bookstore with a latte reading random books and magazines while listening to music in my headphones. Depending on the time of year I may go hiking, hunting or fishing. I have grown to protect this day, as I learned early on it’s very easy to take a call, accept another meeting, or assignment on this day. I recently began walking/jogging around my neighborhood regularly.

     I have an insatiable thirst for reading and studying the scriptures. Admittedly, there are weeks where this thirst is met with only a sip from the faucet. I can’t always commit the time I desire so I set aside every morning to read devotionally and pray while seeking to apply the lessons to my life. I also practice the other instituted means of grace: Holy Communion, Fasting, and Christian fellowship. I receive Holy Communion each month with my church family. I practice fasting but could grow in this discipline. I meet monthly with other clergy. Annually, I retreat for spiritual nourishment and rest either on a trip, (most recently to Israel), to a conference, or retreat center. I pray continuously, but there are days where I walk into the sanctuary alone to pray at the altar, this began as a desire for it to be a weekly practice, but I have struggled to keep it routine. 

     I enjoy spending time with my family. Most evenings we sit together on the back porch and reflect on the day and share time in one another’s presence while cooking and relaxing. We also take a family vacation each summer; we usually spend a week at the beach or my wife’s family’s lake house back home. On the weekends we enjoy shopping, eating out, and exploring the town together. 

    The channels of God’s grace are converting and confirming me. I understand that growth in God’s grace is neither accidental nor automatic; one doesn’t stumble into Christian maturity. I have allowed this process to bend and shape me and remain open and committed to the work of God in my life. 

His Peace

Friday, August 20, 2021


     Servant leadership is an act of love where one denies themselves of comfort and surrenders the illusion of control by becoming present to others while taking on the nature of a servant.  As opposed to the common leader-first hierarchical model prevalent in our world, “The servant leader is servant-first.  It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first …servants first make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.”[1]  Michael Slaughter defines servant leadership as, “Bringing refreshment, restoration, redemption, and empowerment to other people for the purpose of God.”[2] At its basic level servant leadership says: “When the toilet overflows we can all grab a mop,” (Smith).

      Servant leadership is a spiritual matter, and the spiritually led Christian leader is called to a markedly different style of leadership. This is a foreign model in a sin-saturated power-hungry world where extrinsic rewards are the most sought after. Janet Hagberg asserts that “people who aspire to be leaders need to be more concerned with internal or inner power than they are with external or outer power.”[3] David Chronic describes this human condition as, “Apart from Christ, we all are “slaves to sin” and tend to serve our own interests (John 8:34; Rom. 6). So, it is not simply a question of becoming a servant. We are already serving something. The question is, “What do we serve?” Paul exhorts us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition” and to “not look to our own interests” (Phil. 2:3-4). We are called to have the same mentality as Jesus. It is a move from our self-centered way of serving to God’s way of serving.”[4] Serving God’s way reveals our tendency to serve our own needs and to waiver in our service of others.  Maybe we fear alienation, or the anxiousness of the world. We must humbly arrive at a place in our leadership where we ask God to relieve our guilt and shame, and to give us the freedom to serve others from the motivation of love.  Often, the temptation is to take pride in our work and to exaggerate our own achievements, but we acknowledge that these are the work of God’s grace in and through us.  A great way to test the motivation behind your service and to determine whether you are sincerely fulfilling the role of a servant leader Rick Warren offers, “The true measure of your servant hood is what you do when you’re treated like a servant.”[5] Ouch.  

      The opening account of Genesis reveals that God seeks unity and wholeness within His creation.  From the beginning of creation, God reveals the very nature of God’s self as servant. Other Biblical principles reveal that service is indiscriminate (Luke 22:24-40), and authority is to be wielded compassionately for the sake of the community as a demonstration of love.  Jesus serves with His everyday experiences, not just washing the disciple’s feet. Servant leaders pass the credit around, (John 13). Biblical texts also reveal leaders as humble servants who remember that people always take precedence over rules (Luke 14:7-14). In community, like mindedness is a must allowing everyone to share in the ministry of compassion (Phil.2:1-4). In sharing this vision as to the community, Dave Odom says, “A vision has to be translated into a set of activities that become habits,”[6] and illustrates this with the Biblical example of Paul’s exhortation to the Christians in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God (Romans12:2).  Knowing God’s vision, it’s our task to translate it into the culture where we live.  “The Christian leader views the world through the lens of who God is, where God is, what God is doing, and what God invites and calls us to.”[7]

     The paradox is when considering “leader,” we think up, power to help the people down below.  Servant, you think down, Jesus on His knees washing the feet of His disciples. The servant role is important for groups.  Servant leaders focus more on those in the group than on the ones at the top.  “Servants aren’t on a power trip; you’re always a servant and sometimes a servant leader.”[8]  Once we’ve confessed our love to Jesus, “Jesus sends us out to be shepherds, and Jesus promises a life in which we increasingly have to stretch out our hand and be led to places where we would rather not go. He asks us to move from concern for relevance to a life of prayer, from worries about popularity to communal and mutual ministry, and from a leadership built on power to a leadership in which we critically discern where God is leading us and our people,”[9] this is downward thinking, a life of downward mobility- the vision of maturity. The life that succumbs to relevance seeks to be the center of attention and is characterized by Stage 3.[10]


[1] Greenleaf, R. (1970). Servant-Leadership. Retrieved October 2011, from


[2] Class notes 9/23


[3] Hagberg, J. O. (2003). Real Power. p.xx. Salem: Sheffield Publishing Company.



[4] Chronic, D. (n.d.). The Servant Nature of God. Retrieved September 2011, from Qideas.



[5] Warren, R. Class Notes taken on September, 6th  from a lecture by Daryl Smith

[6] Odom, D. (2011). Habits are Keys to Transformative Leadership. Faith and Leadership , 3.


[7] Warner, K. L. (2011). Grace to Lead. p. 32. Nashville: Good News Publishers.


[8] Smith, D. (2011, September 13th). Class Notes. Orlando, Fl.


[9] Nouwen, H. J. (1989). In the Name of Jesus. pp. 92-93. Crossroad Publishing Company.


[10] Hagberg, J. (n.d.). Spiritual Life Inventory SLI. Retrieved September 2011, from